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'Coasting' schools: Unions warn over academisation 'conflict of interest'

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Headteachers' and teachers' leaders have said decisions about whether a school classed as “coasting” should become an academy should not be taken by regional schools commissioners, because a “conflict of interest” means they are likely to back academisation.

Speaking at a briefing event held in Parliament this week, union leaders said they were concerned that England’s eight regional schools commissioners had been given responsibility for deciding the future of “coasting” schools, because their performance was judged partly according to the number of academies in their region. 

“The regional schools commissioners have performance targets in respect of their own remit to cause more schools to become academies,” Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT teaching union, said. “You’d think that represented a conflict of interest wouldn’t you? That if they were actually supposed to be taking a serious, cool and detached look at what education might look like across their region, that actually their performance targets are to academise places.”

Tony Draper, president of the NAHT headteachers’ union, said it was wrong to suggest commissioners could “objectively judge" whether schools were coasting, because their incentive to support academisation meant “their decisions can never be unbiased”.

“It should be for a school to decide whether it wants to convert, and then select the sponsor it wants to work with,” he said.

Under measures proposed in the Education and Adoption Bill, schools classed as “coasting” will have to present a plan for improvement to their regional schools commissioner. If the commissioner is not satisfied, they will be able to compel the school to become an academy.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The role of the RSCs is to make decisions on whether schools can convert to academy status, increasing the number and effectiveness of academy sponsors, and tackle underperformance in all schools using academy measures where appropriate.

“All of these aims are reflected in their key performance indicators and none are viewed in isolation.”

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