Ofsted has called for more government funding to carry out longer inspections aimed at helping schools that have been rated as less than "good" for more than a decade.
The watchdog has identified 415 “stuck schools”, which it says have been in a cycle of low performance despite receiving inspections and support designed to help them improve.
In a new report, it reveals how stuck schools can be geographically isolated, struggle to recruit and retain staff and see themselves as “dumping grounds” for unwanted pupils.
Spielman: Stuck schools are a scandal
Ofsted has said it is well placed to help these schools diagnose their problems and is now calling for more funding from the Department for Education to trial longer, deeper inspections. It declined to specify how much extra funding was needed.
Ofsted warning about 'stuck' schools
The inspectorate said it needed to "increase the depth of diagnosis we give these schools". "We are recommending 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," a spokesperson said. "We have made good progress with the Department for Education already.
However, unions say Ofsted needs to address its own role in creating obstacles for schools struggling to improve.
The Ofsted report published today identifies "stuck" schools as those that have been judged less than "good" since September 2006 and that have had four full inspections in that time.
It also identifies "unstuck" schools as those that have broken this cycle to have two consecutive "good" Ofsted judgements.
It warns that in some pockets of the country, two whole cohorts of children have gone through all their primary or all their secondary education without ever attending a "good" school.
Ofsted says that at the end of August 2019, there were 210,000 pupils being educated in stuck schools.
Its report, In Fight or flight? How ‘stuck’ schools are overcoming isolation, follows Ofsted highlighting the issue of stuck schools in its 2018 annual report.
The new report says: “Despite the system of support, intervention and inspection designed to improve schools, nothing has changed for these children.”
Ofsted found that some stuck schools suffered from a "deep and embedded culture" and an antagonistic union voice which makes them resistant to change while others were "inundated" with central and local government initiatives that failed to match up with the school needs.
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."
Ofsted 'part of the problem'
However, trade unions have warned that Ofsted inspections are part of the problem facing these schools.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: “Ofsted identifies the problem of 'stuck' schools but persistently and resolutely fails to recognise its own role in creating the problem.
“Schools in deprived circumstances are much more likely to find it hard to get out of the Ofsted category than schools in leafy suburbs.
"Fear of Ofsted is a key factor in school leader and teacher flight from these schools. Far from being a force for educational improvement in the areas that need it most, Ofsted is unfortunately part of the problem, not the solution."
Stephen Rollett, curriculum and inspection specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Ofsted highlights that one problem in stuck schools is the lack of stable leadership because of a churn of headteachers. But this problem is the result of an accountability system of inspections and performance tables which is extremely harsh and makes leadership perilous."
The NASUWT's acting general secretary Chris Keates said it was disappointing that important messages in the report about the challenges facing schools are "distracted from by the inclusion in the report of unverified assertions by two schools that ‘antagonistic union voice’ had been an obstacle to their progress'."
She added: "Unfortunately, it is sometimes the case that poor employers persist in not seeing the work of trade unions in legitimately representing the concerns of their members as part of the solution to the challenges they face."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "Ofsted plays an invaluable role in improving standards and we are working with them to look at how best to support these schools.
"We have also created a specialist academy trust to work with these schools and make improvements, as well as six new training hubs to ensure the best leaders can provide support."