Success against the odds: here's how..

After studying the work of 'exceptional' secondaries, Ofsted says it knows how to stop deprivation being a barrier to achievement

Ofsted claims to have discovered the holy grail of teaching - how schools serving "very challenging" areas can become outstanding, with consistently good results.

The TES has been given a preview of the schools watchdog's study of the "exceptional" work of 12 secondaries from Tyneside to Tower Hamlets that are "succeeding brilliantly against the odds".

Inspectors asked the schools for the key ingredients for achieving excellence in areas with high levels of socio-economic disadvantage; all the answers were remarkably similar.

Christine Gilbert, chief schools inspector, revealed that factors in the schools' success included never losing a "tight focus" on the individual, forging close links with parents and the wider community and ensuring that all staff were "active learners".

"All, whether teachers, learning support staff or concerned with school business management and administration, are primarily focused on the education and wellbeing of pupils, with learning at the core of this focus," Ms Gilbert said.

"These schools provide new challenges, experience and opportunities for staff as well as pupils, building leadership capacity and ensuring that momentum is sustained whenever a key person leaves. Staff tend to find considerable professional satisfaction and turnover is low."

But some of Ofsted's findings may seem obvious. The report said the schools' success was due to high expectations and consistency, appointing the very best staff, ensuring that "all lessons are at least good and preferably outstanding" and "listening hard" to pupils.

But according to Ofsted, doing the obvious is part of what makes the secondaries succeed. Ms Gilbert said: "The schools, as one head said, 'concentrate on doing the important things well... keeping it simple'."

She added: "Through this report, I am championing the best while challenging and encouraging other schools to learn from the success of their peers, to help raise standards and improve lives.

"There is no reason why the quality of any school should be less than good, and the schools featured in our report show by example how it can be done."

All 12 secondaries received the highest possible rating in at least two Ofsted reports.

The areas in which the schools are sited include Birmingham, Luton, Rochdale, Barking and Dagenham, and Sandwell.

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