Page last updated at 13:31 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

How best schools beat the odds

classroom scene
Pupils understand that the rules will be enforced

Schools that succeed in tough areas have a disciplined focus on being learning communities, inspectors say.

In a special report highlighting a dozen English secondary schools, Ofsted says they have strong values and high expectations, applied consistently.

Pupils are expected to turn up, look smart and be prepared to work - in return for an interesting curriculum and excellent teaching.

Chief inspector Christine Gilbert said: "excellence doesn't happen by chance".

Ofsted's report, Twelve outstanding secondary schools - Excelling against the odds, says that to visitors the outstanding school may not appear to be a challenge because experts can make the difficult look easy.

Dysfunctional families

"Such schools seem to run like clockwork: oases of calm purpose, highly focused on learning, with well-turned-out students and staff.

"Appearances are deceptive. These schools are extraordinary communities, exceptionally well-led and managed. They have to be."

They work with many young people with complex personal histories, dysfunctional families, who are in council care or who are themselves young carers.

All the schools have a higher than average proportion of students in receipt of free school meals, a standard deprivation indicator.

Typically people living in the area had little education beyond school, and did not have fond memories of what they did get.

The exceptions were some minority ethnic groups who placed a higher value on education.

These were particularly "those immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers who, as one head teacher said, 'have come to Britain to seek a better life for their families'."


Discipline was strict - and pupils knew it.

Youngsters at Robert Clack School in Dagenham, east London, told inspectors, "staff enforce the rules", the report said.

When the head teacher, Paul Grant, took over he suspended 300 pupils in his first week.

He made a point of seeing the parents of every one of them, sometimes early in the morning or late at night.

He also introduced "vital" formal assemblies and toured classrooms telling pupils how he expected them to behave.

"The first students to challenge those expectations were dealt with swiftly and severely so that other students gained confidence and became less fearful."

He permanently excluded 11 in his first year. But in the past seven years, only two students have been removed.


Ms Gilbert said: "Every child deserves an excellent education and these schools have shown a passion for providing this.

"The scale of challenge faced is considerable; none has any evident advantage except the quality of leadership, staff and the teaching and learning provided.

"These schools show that excellence doesn't happen by chance."

She added: "Much of what they do is already widespread in schools but in each case they do everything well.

"They show how to balance discipline with what one head movingly calls the 'healing and invigorating power of praise and celebration'."

The chief characteristics of the schools' success are:

  • They excel at what they do for a high proportion of the time
  • They prove constantly that disadvantage or not speaking English at home need not be a barrier to achievement
  • They put students first, invest in their staff and nurture their communities
  • They have strong values and high expectations that are applied consistently and never relaxed
  • They provide outstanding teaching, rich opportunities for learning and encouragement and support for each student
  • They are highly inclusive
  • Their achievements happen by highly reflective, carefully planned and implemented strategies
  • They operate with a very high degree of internal consistency
  • They are constantly looking for ways to improve further
  • They have outstanding and well-distributed leadership.

The 12 schools and their local authorities - click the name of any school for its page in our league tables:

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