'Are you worried about the Education Bill? Are you in a coasting school? What on earth is a coasting school?'
The Education and Adoption Bill has begun its journey through Parliament. It creates a new level of intervention in "coasting" schools. Are you worried? Are you in a coasting school? What on earth is a coasting school?
The fact is, we don't know. The only clue in the legislation is that a coasting school is one that has been told by the Secretary of State that it is coasting. And has not been told that it is no longer coasting. The detail is to be provided in later regulations.
This is the wrong way to do it – it creates a climate of fear. Too many schools are now wondering whether they should expect intervention. This is not the atmosphere to establish calm and purposeful school improvement and it is not the atmosphere to encourage leaders to take on challenging schools.
Here is what I think. Coasting is not a synonym for requires improvement. It will be connected to sustained underperformance. Being defined as coasting will not automatically lead to academisation. However, this is far from sufficient. We don't even have an established measure of progress at the primary level or a well-tested measure at secondary following the assessment reforms.
Approaching the challenge from a different angle, the government has serious issues regarding its capacity for intervention. They haven't even intervened in all failing schools. There is a lack of sponsors willing to step up; there are only eight regional commissioners; there isn't a long queue of new headteachers waiting to replace those who have been sacked. This creates a practical – I would place it at around 500 schools.
Intervention is, sadly, sometimes necessary. However, a government serious about building a better relationship with the profession would have provided a clear definition first. So those who need to worry can, and those who don't can get on with their work without looking over their shoulders.
Have we not learned the lesson of the last five years? The tools of high-stakes accountability have been worn out. The challenges of the next five years almost all concern capacity: securing places and talented teachers and leaders in an era of austerity. Vague rhetoric like this actually hurts the building of capacity. The government needs to work urgently with the sector to define what coasting is and clarify the process that will be applied to such schools.