Excellent schools achieving against the odds in tough areas can sustain their success by sticking to the basics and not overstretching themselves, a report has concluded.
Ofsted has published a paper on 12 secondaries judged outstanding in two or more inspections despite serving "poorer communities" that suffer from problems including drugs, gangs, racism and violence.
It suggests answers to one of school leaders' trickiest questions - how to keep initial hard-won success going in the long term.
"For schools to sustain excellence, more than anything else they need to focus on the things that made them excellent in the first place: maintaining the right ethos and culture; ensuring that teaching is of a consistently high standard; and ensuring that behaviour is well managed and the school calm and orderly," the report said.
"They do not overstretch themselves and are careful not to jump on bandwagons. Senior leaders have a thorough understanding of which developments are right for their school and which are not.
"They scrutinise new ideas and developments and ask hard questions about what value they will have for students' learning and achievement."
Ofsted noted that the schools, selected from across the country, had "generally not been rushing into diplomas", although several were developing sixth forms that could change that. And it said there were few signs of the schools using vocational qualifications, deemed to be worth several GCSEs, simply to climb the league tables.
The secondaries had managed to tackle one of the scourges of urban schools - high staff turnover - by creating an ethos that encouraged good staff to stay.
"Their approach runs counter to the orthodox view held in many schools that it is good for staff to gain experience and move on," the report said. "If teachers are good, the heads seek to retain them, giving new challenges, responsibilities and experience within the school."
Christine Gilbert, chief inspector of schools, said she hoped the leaders and governors of the two out of five secondaries still judged to be no better than satisfactory would read the report. "Every child deserves an excellent education," she said. "These schools show that excellence does not happen by chance."
The report identified establishing good behaviour with clear ground rules as the starting point for improving schools. Banning pupils with shaven heads and formal assemblies were among the successful strategies used by the schools.
Paul Grant, head of Robert Clack School in Dagenham, east London, suspended 300 pupils in his first week and then made a point of seeing the parents of every excluded child, sometimes at unsociable hours, the report noted.
Other factors in the success included excellent leadership, tracking pupil progress, supporting those that fall behind, introducing high expectations and strong values and providing a relevant, attractive curriculum.
- 'Twelve Outstanding Secondary Schools. Excelling Against the Odds' can be found at www.ofsted.gov.uk
THE 12 SCHOOLS
Bartley Green School, Birmingham
Challney High School for Boys, Luton
Greenwood Dale School, Nottingham
Harton Technology College, South Tyneside
Lampton School, Hounslow, west London
Middleton Technology School, Rochdale
Morpeth School, Tower Hamlets, east London
Plashet School, Newham, east London
Robert Clack School, Barking Dagenham, east London
Rushey Mead School, Leicester
Seven Kings High School, Ilford, east London
Wood Green High School, Sandwell.