Over 400 schools stuck in cycle of poor performance

A new Ofsted report has found that 415 schools in England are ‘stuck’ in a cycle of low performance and need better and more tailored support to improve.

The report, Fight or flight? How ‘stuck’ schools are overcoming isolation, sees the education watchdog define stuck schools as those that have not been judged good or better since September 2006, and have had at least four full inspections during that time. Currently, the 415 schools that fall into that definition serve 210,000 pupils but have potentially left two whole cohorts of children without a good education.

Such schools, often in deprived areas, were found to struggle with a combination of issues, including isolation, poor parental motivation and unstable pupil populations. However, Ofsted found that other stuck schools with all of these issues were able to ‘unstick’ themselves by focusing on a few core areas: high academic standards, getting behaviour right and improving governance.

Often in towns or small cities with a neighbouring major city that is more attractive to teachers, and has more jobs and opportunities, the report found that the three areas with the highest proportion of stuck schools are Derby, Southend-on-Sea and Darlington.

The research found that some stuck schools had a deep and embedded school culture, resistant to change, with staff not believing that it was possible to overcome the factors that stood in the way of children receiving a great education. Other schools were chaotic and continually changing, with one school found to have been under the leadership of 14 different headteachers in 10 years.

Stuck schools have been inundated with improvement initiatives from central and local government over the years, few of which have proved successful. By contrast, schools that have improved have been able to identify their specific needs and get support tailored to those needs. It’s clear that identifying what has gone wrong is vital to then getting it right.

The report recommends that the government funds Ofsted to trial a longer, deeper inspection approach with some of these schools, with the aim not of passing judgement but of enabling support to improve. 

HM Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said: "Stuck schools are facing a range of societal problems such as cultural isolation, a jobs market skewed towards big cities and low expectations from parents. However, we have shown that schools in these places can still be good or better by holding teachers to high standards, tackling bad behaviour and getting the right leadership in place. Our inspectors have found that the majority of schools in challenging areas are providing children with a good education that sets them up to succeed in later life. What the remaining stuck schools need is tailored, specific and pragmatic advice that suits their circumstances – not a carousel of consultants. They are asking Ofsted to do more to help, and we agree."