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‘Intractable’ schools: can an Ofsted judgment prevent sustainable improvement?

Researchers: Dr Bernardita Munoz-Chereau | Prof. Melanie Ehren ...

Project overview

Ofsted has recently noted the existence of a small group of schools in England that have been rated as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ consistently since 2005. These schools have been described as ‘intractable’ and their existence raises questions about why some schools struggle so hard to improve.

This mixed-methods study will be the first to focus on ‘intractable’ schools. It aims to develop a detailed picture of their characteristics, as compared with similar but ‘non-intractable’ schools, and the reasons why they have been unable to improve. It will also address the claim made by some headteachers that a persistently low Ofsted rating can act as a barrier for change. 

In order to answer these questions, the team will conduct secondary analysis of data from Ofsted, on school performance, and on the school workforce. They will also conduct 16 case studies, looking in depth at five intractable primary schools, five intractable secondary schools, three comparison primary schools, and three comparison secondary schools. Each case study will involve a series of interviews and focus groups with headteachers, teachers, parents and governors to explore the factors that seem to have influenced school improvement efforts.

The findings of the research will inform policy efforts to drive school improvement and improve the school accountability system. In addition, they will support schools by highlighting examples of good practice.


  • Dr Bernardita Munoz-Chereau
    Institute of Education, University College London
  • Prof. Melanie Ehren
    Free University of Amsterdam
  • Jo Hutchinson
    Education Policy Institute

  • Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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