Sword of Damocles

I assume the government knows what a coasting school is, but it seemingly just doesn’t want to tell the rest of us until it has seen the new Education and Adoption Bill pass through parliament. The alternative view is that the government is keen not to reveal its hand even then and that the definition will be changeable depending upon circumstances.

My starting point for a discussion about a definition might be something like this:

a) Any school that is two or more quintiles below similar schools in reading, writing and mathematics if a primary school or English and mathematics if a secondary school, as measured by the ofsted dashboard or such similar measure as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State, shall be regarded as a coasting school once the school has been in such a position for a period covered by two sets of such measurements.

b) A school shall be able to challenge any classification of it as a coasting school, and the consequences for any such classification, if it can show that the staffing of any of the appropriate classes or subjects contributing to the measurement was hindered by a shortage of qualified staff. A school would need to demonstrate that it had been unable to recruit sufficient staff trained and qualified in the teaching of the relevant classes or subjects.

Trained and qualified staff means teachers both with Qualified Teacher Status as awarded by the DfE or such other awarding body as the DfE may licence to award such a qualification and with a subject or phase qualification appropriate to the teaching of the relevant pupils contributing to the assessment of performance or other measure on which the assessment of coasting is to be judged.

Any school that successfully challenges an assessment would have twelve months from the designation of it as a ‘coasting school’ to no longer be two or more quintiles below similar schools. If it failed to make such an improvement it would be confirmed as a ‘coasting school’. Any school whether community, voluntary or academy can be defined as a ‘coasting school’ if it meet the appropriate criteria cited above.

There might be a discussion as to whether or not a fund to help such schools improve could be established. This might, after all, be a more cost-effective way of improving standards than changing the administrative structure of the school when that has not proved to be at fault.

A more serious concern is whether such an ill-defined threat as the academisation of coasting schools may affect the labour market for teachers. Will teachers shun certain schools until the government makes clear what will happen to teachers in schools judged as coasting by the un-disclosed definition? Will it also affect recruitment into the profession?

I suppose that the churches will be content as long as any change of status for a voluntary church school allows it to remain within a mutli-academy trust led by the church. But, what if the bill fails to provide for such a guarantee and Regional Commissioners are granted a free hand as to where to assign control of schools judged to be coasting? The same question will no doubt be asked by governors of other voluntary schools, some established several hundred years ago, that could be taken over when the Bill become law.

I think the lack of a definition at the discussion stage is too serious an omission to be allowed to pass unchallenged because the consequences for the control of schools could be immense and needs to be properly thought through. That cannot happen if the parameters of what is a coasting school are not enshrined in primary legislation. .


6 thoughts on “Sword of Damocles

  1. One key aspect is that they should be in partnership with ‘experts’ to raise standards – a process that will occur before any forced academisation. These experts could be from a university education department and indeed our teacher education department is working with local schools on improvement. Who is to say that LA schools cannot sign up with local universities to use a locally derived solution to issues around performance and achievement rather than be allocated to a non-geographical chain with no links or mandate for the local community?

    • Thanks, James. If the government want to run schools then they should say so and get on with it and stop this charade. A political Bill to satisfy a manifesto commitment.

  2. Interesting and perceptive letter in ‘i’ newspaper today could have been written by you John – “Why the Government continues to pretend that the policy of turning failing schools into academies is about standards of eduction I don’t know. It is obviously about taking control of education away from the local authorities and from local communities…etc”

  3. The Bill (downloadable here http://schoolsweek.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/16004.pdf) says ‘The Secretary of State may by regulations define what “coasting” means in relation to a school for the purposes of subsection.’

    Note – the wording is ‘may’ not ‘will’. This implies the SoS may put regulations in place which give the definition of ‘coasting’ (or she may not). The phrase ‘in relation to a school’ is ambiguous. Will the definition ‘in relation to a school’ cover all schools? Or will the definition change between ‘a school’ and another school?

    • Janet,

      If the SoS doesn’t then surely that part of the bill is a waste of time and money as any SoS would surely be open to a JR on the basis of acting unreasonably by not defining what a coasting school was before taking any action. Unless defined, I would assume a court would adopt the obvious definition of a school as any school funded by the State.To avoid this pitfall the Bill will need to define a school in its section on definitions.

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