'Commited head' key ingredient in Ofsted's recipe for success

2nd October 2009 at 01:00
New report defining education watchdog's vision of excellence highlights outstanding school leader as integral factor

Has your primary been rated as "outstanding" twice by inspectors? Has it above average test scores? Is it in what Ofsted refers to euphemistically as "challenging circumstances"?

If the answer is Yes to these questions then there is every chance that it appears in the education watchdog's latest missive attempting to reveal the commonalities between exceptional schools.

The report, Twenty outstanding primary schools: excelling against the odds, published today, looked at 20 primaries across the country. The aspects of management the schools were found to have in common are not likely to set the education world on fire.

For example, one essential ingredient in developing a successful primary school is, apparently, having a "headteacher with a long-term commitment".

The schools identified had other aspects in common, such as a caring ethos and commitment to the children, strong links to the community, a "can-do" culture, high-quality teaching, and a lively and relevant curriculum.

"Many schools nationally do some of the same things," the report concluded. "The secret appears to lie in the glue which holds them together. This is a powerful mixture of vision, determination, consistency, teamwork, culture and high expectations."

Crucial to all this, said Ofsted, were the headteachers.

"The schools have become consistently high-performing through having outstanding leaders who have been willing to project their vision well into the future and make a long-term commitment.

"They have stayed long enough to embed the culture of excellence through the organisation and establish its integral and valued place in the community."

Keith Duggan, head of Gateway Primary School, Westminster - one of the 20 primaries - initially offered to help out at the school for a week when volunteers were needed to staff a trip. That was in 1990.

"I had been working as ICT co-ordinator for the Inner London Education Authority," he said. "After that was broken up, I was going to take a year out and do an MA.

"I offered to help Gateway take the children away for a week and I knew they were short staffed, so when we got back, I offered to do some supply. I stayed on, was appointed deputy head and never got to do the MA."

Half of the pupils at Gateway are on free school meals. The majority are Muslim Asians, with a growing population of eastern European migrants.

However, Mr Duggan challenged the characterisation of his school's situation. "I don't think we have got challenging circumstances. We serve a very stable community who get on really well with us. It sounds trite, but it's a matter of treating people as you'd like to be treated yourself."

The report notes that these heads build great teams, staff turnover is low, and the strong emphasis on team-working seems to be indispensable to sustaining excellence.

Ofsted chief executive Christine Gilbert said other primaries should look to these schools' recipe for success.

"(In these schools) children are treated as individuals and have the support and expectation to achieve. High-quality leadership ensures no effort is spared to give pupils a strong foundation."


Ofsted looks for schools that score highly, but I wouldn't start with the exam results. They are a knock-on effect of happiness in schools - so you have got to get that right first.

One way to get the measure of a school if you're a new head is to walk into a classroom. Do the teachers smile at you? Or do they jump because you are management? When I go round the school, the children rush up to me, show me their work, and chat to me. I know all their names, because I still teach. My advice for a heads to get to know the children as quickly as possible. Get a high profile. A good head is everywhere, accessible to parents, children and staff.

It's also important to get your vision clear. Know what you want to do, then get together a group of teachers with the same philosophy as you and trust them to get on with it.

Mike Kent, Headteacher, Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London, and TES columnist

Comment, page 48


How to achieve excellence

- To make teaching and learning consistently effective, provide a broad, balanced, stimulating and relevant curriculum, and track pupils' progress.

- Recruit the right staff.

- Transformational leadership is about purpose, vision and values, developing high expectations, managing behaviour, motivating, and starting as you mean to go on.

How to sustain excellence

- Emphasise the centrality of the child in everything.

- Strong early years education plays a hugely important role in subsequent achievements.

- Constant development of staff, honing of teaching, and enriching the curriculum. Relentless monitoring and evaluation.

- Gain the trust of parents and communities over time.

How to be 'outstanding'

- Is there a need for more rigorous tracking of progress?

- Is teaching not yet consistently good or learning effective?

- Have you asked pupils how you could do a better job for them?

- Do you need an injection of leadership to overcome limited ambitions?

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