Bad schools must admit failings, says Ofsted

FAILING SCHOOLS must face up to their shortcomings quickly and avoid going into "denial" if they are to recover, inspectors said yesterday.

A study from the Office for Standards in Education of the first 250 failing schools said that failure for a school is like bereavement.

"Schools which recognise that they may experience emotions akin to grieving and take steps to cope with the feeling of bereavement have taken the first actions that will help to secure the school's rebirth," the report said.

The first step to recovery was to admit failure and inspectors quoted one school where staff allowed their anger to rumble on, which slowed down the process of improvement.

"Morale can be damaged for a long time if the staff indulge in retrospective apportioning of blame," the report added.

Schools which waste no time in tackling their problems can be turned round in as little as 12 months, the report said. Most schools can be turned round in two years.

More than 850 schools have been failed or put into "special measures" by inspectors since 1993. Now around 400 are in special measures, 2 per cent of all schools.

The study said there was no panacea for failing schools' problems but it offered some general conclusions. Discipline, attendance, and punctuality must be tackled quickly. Schools must help pupils celebrate their achievements and raise their self-esteem.Clear-sighted heads who monitored and rewarded teachers' success were also essential, it added.

The report was published as Estelle Morris, the Schools Standards minister, addressed a London conference for heads. She said that failing schools were being turned round faster than ever before. During last term 149 schools came out of special measures while 135 were failed. The average amount of time for coming out of special measures has fallen from two years to 18 months since May 1997.

Ms Morris said: "This is the first time this balance has been achieved and the prospects for the summer term seem even better."

Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "Ofsted has a part to play too. All too often its blanket criticism of teachers has shattered the profession's morale."