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`Good' schools may be `coasting', too

Ofsted admits clash could occur but plays down implications

A senior Ofsted official has told TES that he is not worried about the fallout from schools being officially judged as "coasting" and "good" at the same time.

Early analysis of the government's proposed clampdown on coasting schools suggests that the category could take in as much of 60 per cent of all primaries, and that it will include many judged as "good" by the inspectorate under a different accountability measure.

Now Sean Harford, Ofsted's national director for schools, has acknowledged that it will be possible for rapidly improving schools judged as "good" to be described also as "coasting".

But when asked about headteachers' fears that having such different judgements on the two accountability measures would be confusing, Mr Harford said: "It's a perception that they might be confused in the future. Personally, I don't worry about things I might be confused about in the future."

He pointed out that no school had yet been identified as coasting, and added: "I worry about the future in terms of how do we get there, where do we want to be?"

Mr Harford said that because the definition of a "coasting" school was based on three years of data, schools that were turned around quickly and rated "good" could fall into this category. "We don't wait for three years to take them out of [special measures]," he added. "Typically a school comes out of special measures in 18 months. We wouldn't let the coasting schools definition stop us from saying, `This is a good school'."

The start of a conversation

Under measures in the Education and Adoption Bill, "coasting" schools will have to present an improvement plan to their regional schools commissioner. If the commissioner is not satisfied, they can compel the school to become an academy.

Mr Harford said it was "really key" that if an improving school were defined as "coasting", there should be no automatic presumption that it would become an academy. Good schools in this situation would be able to make a "cogent" case to commissioners that they should not be forced to change status, he said.

"As the [schools] minister said, the identification of a coasting school is the start of a conversation," he added. "In those cases, that conversation is, `We know why you've been identified through this measure, and Ofsted is saying it thinks you're a good school, so that would be [a] perfectly cogent [argument]'."

Mr Harford cited the hypothetical example of a school at which standards had dropped before new leadership was brought in and ensured that things were "on the up". "Is that a coasting school?" he said. "I don't think so."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said: "It's logically incoherent that you can be both coasting and good. If one part of the government is telling you you're doing the wrong thing and another that you're doing the right thing, I think heads will lose faith. I'd [like to] say they should pay no attention and follow their own definition of good, but there are serious penalties attached to both definitions."

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