Low Ofsted ratings leaves schools ‘stuck’ in spiral of low outcomes 

A new report warns that schools that have received low grades from Ofsted often find themselves in difficult circumstances and are unable to improve.

A new study, “‘Stuck’ schools” funded by the Nuffield Foundation, has explored the underperformance of 580 schools in England that consistently received less than good Ofsted inspection grades between 2005 to 2018.

The report finds that ‘stuck schools’ often face more challenging circumstances including higher teacher turnover, higher levels of disadvantaged pupils and pupils with special educational needs. However, ‘stuck schools’ are not unique. These challenges are shared by many other schools, but they have managed to avoid a cycle of poor inspection judgements.

Researchers identified and analysed the data behind 580 ‘stuck’ schools compared with schools that were not ‘’stuck’, combined with stakeholders’ experiences from both groups taken via  interviews and focus groups with 16 case study schools.


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They discovered that schools with a lower initial Ofsted score tend to have higher teacher turnover and more students. This contributes to the difficulty of reversing the negative Ofsted assessment. The more schools continue to receive a less than satisfactory rating, the more difficult it is to improve them.

However, the research also finds that a poor inspection judgement is only a modest contributing factor of ‘stuck’ schools’ lack of improvement or decline over time.

Joining a multi-academy trust showed small positive effects for secondary schools, in relation to lower teacher turnover and a lower chance of remaining ‘stuck’ in subsequent Ofsted inspections. For primary schools that were not enrolled in a multi-academy trust, there were no similar positive effects.

Commenting on her research, report co-author Dr Bernadita Munoz-Chereau, a principal research fellow at University College London’s Institute of Education, said:  “How to solve the stubborn underperformance of around 580 ‘stuck’ schools in England is high on the government’s agenda. Our mixed-methods study is robust and expands Ofsted work by combining quantitative and qualitative methods to better understand patterns of change over time and stakeholders’ experiences in ‘stuck’ schools and their comparison group. Its results are timely as they show that inspections can have a detrimental effect, but also that ‘stuck’ schools can get ‘un-stuck’ given the right time and support.”

Jo Hutchinson, report co-author and director for social mobility and vulnerable learners at the EPI, said: “Stuck schools face many challenges such as increasing deprivation, professional isolation and very high teacher turnover. These issues and the experience of being given an adverse grade did not determine their ongoing struggle with poor results in inspections. However, there were clearly visible signs that these could make recovery more difficult. While academisation has helped many secondary schools to reduce the challenges they face, having a change of head teacher made things more challenging in the short term, and for primary schools, the same benefits of academisation were not evident in our analysis.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The researchers’ findings demolish the government’s claim that joining a MAT will improve schools’ outcomes.  The researchers found no positive or negative effect on primary schools joining a MAT.  Ministers must recognise that a change of a school’s governance is not the magic solution they claim it to be.

“It is not at all surprising that staff in ‘stuck’ schools have grave concerns about the fairness of Ofsted inspections – and in particular the ability of inspectors to recognise the work done in ‘stuck’ schools to support pupil progress.  It is extremely concerning that school staff’s impressions of the unfairness of Ofsted inspections are reinforced by data which shows that some ‘stuck’ schools actually achieved significantly higher rates of pupil progress than not stuck schools.  Ofsted has some explaining to go.