Turning around low-performing schools has often been seen as more of an art than an exact science, but a new American study is attempting to shed some light on the key ingredients that led to the most sustained turnarounds.

The Institute of Education Sciences’ Turning Around Low-Performing Schools project is a comprehensive attempt to identify key interventions in schools which were chronically underperforming for at least four years. The study schools included the lowest 5 percent of schools in each of the three states, with achievement in the bottom 15th percentile for that state and less than 40 percent student growth over time in both reading and mathematics.

Just 15% of the schools that were studied showed a sustained improvement for three years, the remainder  had performance that fluctuated. However, just 3% were able to show sustained improvements in both reading and mathematics, and this group had the following characteristics:

  • An emphasis on teacher collaboration with school principals creating time specifically for teachers to discuss and compare pupil performance and plan/share/discuss teaching strategies.
  • External expertise brought in to bring about successfully targeted use of pupil data to monitor the success of teaching approaches in specific cohorts of pupils
  • Strong leadership and management that focused primarily on the quality of teaching and the ability to learn clear lessons from data.
  • Intensive, ongoing professional development that was closely matched to specific issues in the school’s development plan.
  • Low turnover of highly qualified teachers, with strategic teacher recruitment to fill gaps

Other strategies used by some of the turnaround schools were:

  • Use of mentors for the school leader, from the local district/authority.
  • A push for greater parental involvement
  • Modifying teaching practices to promote independent learning
  • Extending the school day.

At the Teacher Development Trust we are developing our new Teacher Enquiry Network which provides carefully designed support for schools to help them carry out the most effective professional development which harnesses rigorous data and most effective evidence.

You can find out more about the study here: