Confusion over 'coasting' definition sparks concern in schools

Kaye Wiggins

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A lack of clarity about how schools will be defined as “coasting” and targeted for rapid academisation could raise unnecessary fears and further damage the profession’s relationship with the government, teachers and school leaders have warned.

Under measures announced in the Queen’s Speech today, schools defined as “coasting” or failing will be targeted for rapid intervention, and in many cases, turned into academies.

However, the speech did not contain a definition of a “coasting” school. A report said the definition would be “set out in due course according to a number of factors”.

TES understands the Department for Education’s definition will include those with relatively good results but low levels of pupil progress. Ofsted results, pupil attainment and the progress of disadvantaged groups are also set to be judged.

The definition of a “coasting” school will be set by the DfE, but decisions about interventions are expected to be taken by the eight regional schools commissioners. 

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, told TES: “A more humane approach would be to define the term before using it, otherwise you risk making everybody afraid that they’re going to be included in it.

“If you want to form better relationships with the profession, being really clear about who you’re going to target and who you’re not would be a good step.”

Mr Hobby said he expected the first schools to be targeted would be those in Ofsted’s “requires improvement” category whose pupils were making low levels of progress.

“Common sense tells us they won’t have the capacity to use this widely,” he said. “At worst, it will be a subset of the ‘requires improvement’ category.”

But Anne Heavey, education policy adviser at the ATL teaching union, said others, including grammar schools, could be targeted. “Schools that are serving very middle-class intakes may have no problem with floor targets but they struggle with value-added data,” she said. “If you’re not stretching kids that come in with the highest grades from primary school, you could be at risk.”

She said she expected trends in the proportion of pupils gaining five A*-C grades at GCSE to determine, in part, which schools would face intervention. Other measures could include value-added, league table results and whether a specific cohort such as white working-class boys were failing to make good progress, she said.

Ms Heavey said the measures announced in the Queen’s Speech ignored the issue of failing or coasting academies. “If I were a parent of a child at an inadequate academy, I’d be asking, what are you doing for my child?” she said.

A DfE briefing document about the measures, published today, said the purpose of the new Education and Adoption Bill was to “strengthen our intervention powers in failing maintained schools”.

“It will be clear that the solution for inadequate schools is to become a sponsored academy,” the report said, adding that “barriers” to academy conversions would be removed.

It said: “[The legislation] will also give us powers to intervene in coasting schools and will allow us to require action from those schools which have not seen pupils make sufficient progress.

“It would make schools that meet a new coasting definition, having shown a prolonged period of mediocre performance and insufficient pupil progress, eligible for academisation.”

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said: “Labour supports having the option of converting coasting schools to academy status and the devolution of school improvement decisions away from Whitehall. But unlike the Tories we realise that raising standards and tackling underperformance requires far more.

“We need from government a much stronger focus upon raising the quality of classroom teaching, greater collaboration between schools at a local level and better support for headteachers so standards stay high.”

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Kaye Wiggins

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