Tighten up to be good, loosen up to be outstanding

New report offers pointers


Whilst schools will know what ‘Outstanding’ means in Ofsted terms, knowing how to get there and what it means in practice are less clear, according to a new report.

The CfBT Education Trust report ‘ To the next level: good schools   becoming outstanding’ , launched on 9 May, analyses the processes by which  ‘good’ schools move  up to ‘outstanding’, as rated  by Ofsted .

The report includes eight case studies.

Graham Stuart MP, Chairman of the Education Select Committee, said at the reports launch, on 9 May, that that while the report was not earth shattering in its findings and included few  real surprises, it nonetheless  offered valuable insights, particularly through its  case studies as to how schools can transform  their rating from ‘ good’  to  ‘outstanding’ . He warned ,however, that it would be wrong for a school   that is gradually improving to assume that more of the same will guarantee its continuous improvement.  To move, for example,  from satisfactory to good may well require a different set of actions than moving from ‘ good’  to  ‘outstanding’.

Stuart was particularly struck by the comment of one of the Heads interviewed. Of the journey to outstanding, the headteacher observed: ‘You have to tighten up to be good.  You loosen to become outstanding.’ He was describing the process by which high levels of quality control, securing good provision, evolve into yet higher levels of quality assurance, so that a whole-school culture of excellence is created in which teachers and students alike feel empowered to take measured risks.

A key difference between being a good school and being an outstanding school involves going beyond tight quality controls towards the quality assurance of a self-confident, self-critical community in which learning is interactive and permanent.

Based on in-depth case studies with schools which have recently achieved ‘Outstanding’ status the report identifies 5 key themes which schools need to focus on in order to become outstanding: consistency of and creativity in teaching; a personalised curriculum; engagement of students; relations with the outside world; and inspirational leadership.

Tony McAleavy, Education Director for CfBT Education Trust, said: “Helping schools to make that step from good to outstanding is not only important for individual schools, but because the role of outstanding schools as change agents for others is increasingly being recognised across the sector. For schools simply looking at what they need to be achieving in the Ofsted framework for outstanding schools can be overwhelming and seem like too much of a challenge, but by identifying best practice and practical recommendations for making that change hopefully this report will make the goal seem more achievable to many of the 41% of schools currently classified as ‘Good’.”

So what do outstanding schools share in common?.

‘Outstanding  schools insist on  excellence in the  quality of classroom  teaching, and have  systems in place  which mean that  leaders know the  strengths and  weaknesses of all  the teaching staff.’ An outstanding judgement is only given when a school, having fulfilled all the criteria for a good judgement, has in addition demonstrated sustainable excellence in, for example: quality  of teaching; pupil autonomy in learning; confident self-critical ongoing review of the school’s  achievements and development needs by its leaders; and sophisticated and mutually profitable  communications links between the school and the wider community it serves. It is possible for schools even in the most challenging socio-economic circumstances to be judged as outstanding.

What characteristics do outstanding schools have?

Their leadership is inspirational in providing clear vision and direction. Leaders who take a school from good to outstanding focus on: raising attainment and accelerating  progress; improving the quality of teaching and learning; improving the conditions for learning; and  developing the school as a professional learning community.

They place high expectations on all their students. They have a broad range of curricula to engage and support students, personalised to accommodate individual aptitudes and needs.

Insist on excellence in the quality of classroom teaching, and have systems in place which mean that leaders know the strengths and weaknesses of all the teaching staff.

They operate an evidence-based approach to what is happening in classrooms. If staff teach less than very well, arrangements are in place to offer support. At the same time, outstanding schools have a relaxed collegiate culture in which teaching and classroom management ideas are shared  unselfishly and problems acknowledged without fear of blame.

They set challenging targets and the good use of arrangements for assessing and tracking pupils’  progress. These arrangements are supported by sophisticated information technology to which all  relevant staff have access.

They are highly inclusive, having regard for the educational progress, personal Development and well-being of every student. They prove that socio-economic disadvantage need not be a barrier to achievement. Speaking English as an additional language can support academic success.

Senior leaders make sure that the professional development of all staff, teaching and non-teaching, is relevant, continuous and of high quality. Most of this professional development takes place in school.

Building and retaining links with parents and local communities is integral to raising aspirations and ambitions for children in outstanding schools. They are also broad in their outlook, for example by having links with schools in other countries. Outstanding schools may well take on a responsibility to support other schools which need to improve.

An outstanding school goes beyond tight quality controls towards the quality assurance of a self-confident, self-critical community in which learning is interactive and permanent.

The authors recommend that good schools, seeking to be outstanding ‘would be well advised to study closely the comparative criteria for ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’  judgements in Ofsted’s inspections framework. They may want to set up working groups to plan how to get from good to outstanding across all the areas which an Ofsted inspection covers.



Practical tips for schools include:

· Read reports from outstanding schools – focus on key phrases and think about what your school would need to do for that phrase to be applicable.

· Make sure that everyone in the school knows and understands the language of the Ofsted framework.

· Set up working groups amongst staff to focus on specific elements of the framework.

· Share with staff how the inspection process works – provide reassurance that the inspector is focusing as much on students’ learning and progress as they are on teaching.

· Support a more outward-facing culture where staff are encouraged to bring good ideas back into the classroom from external sources.

‘To the Next Level- good schools becoming outstanding’; Research Report; 2011-CFBT Education Trust- Peter Dougill ,Mike Raleigh ,Roy Blatchford, Lyn Fryer Dr Carol Robinson, John Richmond


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