What makes a good school? Or rather how does a good school become so, often against the odds and in challenging circumstances?
The answer according to Ofsted is strong leadership – having a vision and getting the whole school, staff, governors and pupils on side while at the same time retaining the flexibility and courage to change tack if something is found lacking.
Inspectors say it is about having and communicating high expectations; leading by example in modelling the kind of behaviour expected of colleagues and children and having in place a robust performance management system that holds staff to account.
In its report, Getting to Good: How headteachers achieve success, Ofsted looks at how the leaders of 12 schools – secondary and primary – achieved vast improvement in standards by the way they managed the school.
It examines what measures those schools took and what similarities lay between them. While each school may be unique, inspectors found common threads to their journey from satisfactory to good.
The report states that the traits exhibited by successful leaders included shared themes in their pursuit of improvement.
For example, they all insisted that all pupils could achieve highly regardless of background; they had established a non-negotiable requirement for good teaching and believed that satisfactory teaching was not good enough. They accepted nothing less than good behaviour from pupils, and expected their staff to improve and be responsible for their own development. They were also willing to change the curriculum so that it met the needs of all pupils.
They also had to deal with “weak” staff and leaders and not be afraid to hold difficult discussions that might lead to colleagues leaving the school, the report said.
Developing middle leaders, who cascade good practice down to colleagues and show leadership, as well as ensuring the effective tracking of pupil progress, were crucial to raising standards, Ofsted said.
Proper and effective performance management structures were necessary to ensure that staff were aware of their strengths and areas for development. Professional development needed to be targeted to each individual’s needs.
Many of the best improving schools also hired only the best staff available, and refused to compromise even when their need was pressing, inspectors found.
Crucially, heads had to be brave enough to review and change the curriculum if needed. Schools making the best progress had English and maths teaching at the centre, with all subject departments paying close attention to literacy levels. In some cases lesson times were reviewed to maximise learning, and schools provided top quality careers advice to motivate and encourage young people.
In most of the schools inspected, governance had been weak at some point and heads worked with local authorities to provide training and ensuring all members were committed to the role – a move that led some to resign.
In the biggest improvers, governing bodies now took a role in strategic planning and in evaluating school performance.
Similarly, relationships were fostered with parents and families, which led to improvements in pupil behaviour and attendance. Consultation made parents feel more empowered and involved in the education process.
From now on Ofsted will expect schools to improve to a good standard within four years and has said it will take a more pro-active approach in supporting and challenging schools to secure the necessary improvements.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, said the new approach will support schools to get to good, or outstanding. Inspectors will be assigned to schools that “require improvement” to ensure they make progress, and will decide whether this has been achieved, or to place the school in special measures.
Commenting on the report, Sir Michael said: “I make no apology for scrapping satisfactory. Take a typical ‘good’ secondary school and a typical school judged ‘satisfactory’ at its last inspection. In the good school, many more of the high achieving pupils from primary school are likely to achieve an A or B grade in maths and English GCSE.
“If they miss out in the satisfactory school, then this shuts the door on these subjects at A level, and in turn access to the top universities. Meeting the needs of every pupil is the difference between a good school and a weak school.”
Sir Michael said that unless there were headteachers who are willing to “take on the difficult challenges of school performance and adopt a no-excuses culture, we are never going to make the improvements we need”.
Further informationDownload the full report from www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/getting-good-how-headteachers-achieve-success
- Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education journalist.