Being branded as “coasting” did nothing more than heap more pressure on a school already doing everything it could in challenging circumstances, one headteacher in a deprived area believes.
“The phrase ‘coasting’ makes me so angry because everybody in that school was battling like hell to get the best for the children and for the school and the community. There was nothing ‘coasting’ about it,” she says.
In her case, once the required data from three consecutive years officially classed the school as “coasting”, the regional schools commissioner decided it required some extra challenge and support – in the form of a consultant brought in to advise staff, which cost £10,000.
“The way it helped the school was that a really nice ex-head came in and thought that we were doing everything that he could think of,” she says.
Hailing from a teaching school alliance, the consultant had a background working in a middle-class area – and so had little experience to offer a school in a mainly white, working-class community, that had high numbers of new arrivals who spoke English as an additional language, she says.
The consultant was “observing lessons and talking to the kids, saying ‘you are on track’ – for £500 a day”, she adds.
The “coasting” designation proved traumatic, with pressure from the top of the school’s multi-academy trust (MAT) cascading down to the headteacher.
“If you are the CEO of a relatively small MAT and you know that your schools are improving, but not necessarily fast enough and not necessarily on these headline figures, and you think it’s going to trigger a ‘coasting’ letter, then you are worried for your MAT and your job and your legacy.
She lists the forms of accountability that schools can already be subject to – including local authorities, Ofsted, floor standards and academy trusts – and believes the coasting category is “just another label to slap on more schools that causes an awful lot of stress, but does not necessarily change anything”.
She adds: “I’m having money cut from budgets left, right and centre – not only unfunded pay increases, but also SEND budgets.
“They seem to find money to add more accountability and more stress. It does not seem to make any sense at all.”