Hundreds of 'good' primary schools could be classed as 'coasting'

Kaye Wiggins

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Three-fifths of the primary schools likely to be classed as “coasting” – and therefore subject to government intervention and possible forced academy conversion – have been rated good or better by Ofsted, analysis suggests.

The research by the NAHT headteachers’ union, shared with TES, applies the definition of “coasting” unveiled by the government this week to primary school results from the past two years. Russell Hobby, the union’s general secretary, said the analysis showed that about 60 per cent of the 700 or so primaries that would have been classed as coasting on their 2012-13 and 2013-14 data had been rated good by Ofsted, and a few were outstanding.

On an initial analysis, Mr Hobby said, about twice as many of the “coasting” schools were rated good as were judged to require improvement. “It makes life difficult for a headteacher if you’ve got one organisation telling you that you’re good and another telling you that you’re coasting,” he warned. “You can understand a head’s frustration when they have met every goal that has been set and then the goals get changed.”

Definition defended

But in a TES interview this week, schools minister Nick Gibb defended the government’s definition of what will constitute a coasting primary, and the decision to focus on schools where less than 85 per cent of pupils have reached the expected benchmark (level 4) in reading, writing and maths.

“It’s quite important that we get as many children to that attainment level as possible throughout the country,” Mr Gibb said. “There are schools serving in some of the most deprived parts of the country that are getting 100 per cent of their children to level 4, and that is our aspiration.”

The government’s definition of a coasting secondary is also controversial. Any sanctions on grammar schools are effectively ruled out in the initial years of the new measures, because all schools where at least 60 per cent of pupils gain five good GCSEs will be excused intervention. The rules will be applied from 2016; schools judged to be coasting and without a credible plan to improve will be forced to convert to academy status.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan said: “For too long a group of coasting schools, many in leafy areas with more advantages than schools in disadvantaged communities, have fallen beneath the radar.”

But analysis by researchers at the Education DataLab reveals that schools in more affluent areas are in fact far less likely to be classed as coasting under the new measures. It finds that, based on the past three years of data, nearly 1,200 schools could fall foul of the rules, including four schools (two primary and two secondary) that are rated outstanding by Ofsted.

The inspectorate will have no role in the government’s anti-coasting initiative, neither in identifying the schools nor deciding what to do with them. The duty will instead fall on the government’s eight regional schools commissioners. But major doubts have been raised about the commissioners’ capacity to do the job, as they have no more than seven staff each.

Lee Elliot Major, chair of social mobility charity the Sutton Trust, told the MPs scrutinising the Education and Adoption Bill: “My gut instinct is that you will need more capacity. I just can’t see it any other way.”

Read more in the 3 July issue of TES. You can read it on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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Kaye Wiggins

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