Home / Education / Possible Strategies for Turning Around an Under Performing School

In January 2019, the government released the latest statistics on school performance in the UK, showing a rise in the number of schools deemed to be under performing. From 365 education centres under performing in 2017, to 382 in 2018, the growing number of under performing schools is worrying to say the least.


Recent OFSTED statistics support the difficulty that some schools are having in ensuring pupils progress at a suitable pace. The 2017/18 OFSTED report states that 490 schools in the UK have been stuck in the same cycle of under performance since 2005, with 14% of schools not achieving a score of ‘good’ or outstanding’.

The recurring trend of under performance that some schools are experiencing and the growing number of schools not reaching government standards provide evidence that effective strategies are needed. But what strategies are the most effective? Here are two examples of strategies that schools could implement to improve their performance:


strategies for turning around an under performing school

strategies for turning around an under performing school

The Three-Part Plan: Create, Focus, and Get Support

In 2016, the Harvard Business Review published the results of a study that examined failing schools. The researchers studied a large sample of 160 academies that OFSTED had put into remedial measures within the previous seven years. The documented journey of the academies to turn around their performance provided a unique insight into the most effective strategies to solve under performance.

Based on the data from the schools, the researchers created twelve ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ recommendations for schools facing similar problems. This included ‘dos’ such as improving leadership and all year groups, and ‘don’ts’ such as using zero tolerance policies and reducing the size of classes.

To conclude the study, three important findings from the research were put forward, forming the base of a strategy for schools. These can be summarised as:

  • Create – Schools need to create a better environment before changing other areas.


  • Focus – Schools need to focus on the students by establishing multiple student pathways and preventing bad behaviour.


  • Plan ­– Schools need to plan for financial problems and where possible, get the support of a bigger group.


What are the five types of leader described by 'The One Type of Leader Who Can Turn Around a Failing School?'

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Architect Leadership: The Leadership Style for the Failing School

The second strategy for turning around under performing schools that they recommend is to focus on leadership, or more particularly, use the right kind of leadership. This strategy, published by the same researchers who examined the 160 academies, is based on interviews with 411 leaders in education. The research article they published, ‘The One Type of Leader Who Can Turn Around A Failing School’, explores five types of leadership identified from the in-depth research, these were:

  1. Surgeons
  2. Soldiers
  3. Accountants
  4. Philosophers
  5. Architects

The researchers examined each category of leadership in detail, and for the first four, found them to be lacking in some way. While there was benefit in these leadership styles, there were also short-comings that in the long-term would make them unsuitable for turning around failing schools. In contrast, they identified the architect style of leadership as the only style that could transform an under performing school with lasting results.

Architect leaders use long-term plans and the best traits of the other four leadership styles to completely redesign a school environment. Instead of focusing on early wins, they focus on a lasting legacy built on a strong foundation. Implementing this long-term leadership strategy to reform schools may sacrifice early success, but the long-term achievements could be worth the wait.


Strategies for turning around under performing schools are varied, but it seems many successful strategies have things in common. A great strategy builds strong structures that support every aspect of a school, starting with the environment and branching out to all other areas of school life for sustainable success.



Do you disagree with these suggestions? leave your comments below, or perhaps you have a far better, even proven strategy, we want to hear from YOU!

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