The number of failing schools has fallen for the first time in the six years since regular inspection was introduced by the Office for Standards in Education.
Estelle Morris, the school standards minister, announced this week that in the spring term 149 schools were deemed to have improved sufficiently to be taken off the list and 135 schools were added to the list.
Failing schools are also recovering more quickly. According to Ms Morris, schools currently spend 18 months on average in special measures and ministers expect the time to reduce further. Before 1997 schools stayed on the failing list for an average of two years.
However, schools have been warned that if they do not improve within two years, they will be considered for either closure or Fresh Start - a new school on the old site.
The figures were announced as Ofsted published its analysis of what methods the first 250 failing schools used in order to raise standards. The report, Lessons Learned, sets out a range of strategies, but makes clear there is no one simple solution.
It says: "It is important to remember that a strategy which works in one school will not necessarily work in others."
The report suggests that schools need to come to terms quickly with being labelled as failing. An initial morale booster might be to improve the physical state of the buildings.
In some cases, governors need to take tough action where the head is considered to be a poor manager. The action plan might include measures to tackle unacceptable behaviour or truancy by pupils, as well as training to improve the quality of teaching. Overall, schools need to have high expectations of pupils, says the report.
Lessons Learned is available from OFSTED publications centre, PO Box 6927, London E3 3NZ.