More south coast woes?

What is it about the south coast of England that seems to affect the learning of a disproportionate percentage of children? Today’s data from the DfE on coasting schools at Key Stage 2 contains a higher than expected number of south coast local authorities with a high than the national average percentage of their schools seen as coasting.  Five of the top ten local authorities in terms of percentage of coasting schools are on the south coast.

Poole 24% – worst in England as a percentage of schools

Southampton 14% – 4th

Bournemouth 13% – equal 5th

Dorset 13% – equal 5th

Portsmouth 9% – equal 9th.

Of the three South East local authorities with no coasting schools at Key Stage2, only East Sussex is a coastal county. By contrast, 24 London boroughs are recorded as having no coasting schools at key Stage2. Whether these schools will be able to keep up this enviable record once the new National Funding Formula kicks in, only time will tell.

Not all coastal locations have large percentages of coasting schools, Torbay, The Wirral and Sefton are three with no such schools. Across all local authorities, the average is three per cent of schools that were recorded as coasting.

One interesting aspect of the distribution, especially in the light of the new Chief inspector’s remarks, in the Daily Telegraph three days ago, is the presence of authorities with grammar schools at both ends of the table. How do parents in the coasting schools in both Poole and Bournemouth feel about the effects on the chances of their offspring passing the selection examination for grammar school if the school could be doing better? In our more litigious society might the fact that a school is coasting at Key Stage 2 be a matter for litigation if a pupil just missed a place at a grammar school? We shall no doubt see in due course.

There are a couple of caveats in terms of the data. Small schools are excluded from the dataset, so some authorities may have fewer schools included than others. Secondly, authorities are of different sizes so the Poole result is due to just four schools, whereas there are 12 coasting schools in Dorset. Norfolk, another county with a lot of coastline has the most coasting schools of any authority, 20 in number.

What will happen to coasting schools? Originally, the intention was to turn them into academies, assuming they weren’t already a school of that type. However, Oxfordshire is still waiting for a sponsor to be found for one of the first group of coasting schools identified last year. It will be up to the Regional School Commissioner to decide the governance fate of these schools. I suspect those schools that are also below the ‘floor’ in outcome terms are most likely to see the swiftest intervention. What happens if they are already academies will be interesting. A change of MAT, seems on the cards in those circumstances. At least, it is now difficult to blame the local authority for these outcomes.




Where the long grass grows

It doesn’t look like there will be rapid action on coasting schools. Neither, despite it having been an issue for many years, does it seem as if the DfE has yet completed work on a scheme for a national funding formula for schools; another two years work is estimated to be required. With coasting schools being judged on outcomes up to 2016 that presumably won’t be available until early in 2017, schools that can do so have time to meet the criteria announced yesterday by the Secretary of State.

I had suggested using data for two years in my earlier post on coasting schools, so measuring progress over three years up to and including 2016 provides an even longer time scale.

The DfE announcement suggests:

The new measure … sets out a clear definition of what a coasting school is.

Those secondary schools that fail to ensure 60% of pupils achieve five good GCSE grades and have a below average proportion of pupils making expected progress over three years, will be classed as coasting.

From 2016 onwards those secondary schools who fail to score highly enough (over a three year period) on Progress 8 – our new accountability measure that shows how much progress pupils in a particular school make between the end of primary school and their GCSEs – will be deemed to be coasting.

At primary level the definition will apply to those schools that for three years have seen fewer than 85% of children achieving level 4, the secondary ready standard, in reading, writing and maths and which have also seen below average proportions of pupils making expected progress between age seven and age eleven.

Of course, the Bill Committee might amend the definitions in some way or at least put a clear appeal procedure in place; perhaps for small schools where the introduction of one child not speaking English  late in the day might tip the balance for the school. As I suggested last time, schools must be able to recruit the staff to teach pupils effectively. It would be silly for the government to create a staffing crisis and then penalise schools that suffered as a result.

I was amused to read of the Regional Commissioners that the Secretary of State’s announcement said that the eight education experts had in-depth local insight supported by elected head teacher boards from the local community. How local is the knowledge for the Commissioner and associated Board of six about Oxfordshire when their remit stretches from Brimsdown in Enfield to Burford on the Gloucestershire borders seems questionable, but perhaps this statement is just government hyperbole.

However, of more importance is where the cash to pay for extra powers for Commissioners will come from? Surely, it is time that the Treasury asked how we can afford to run two parallel system of local authorities and Commissioners, not to mention the costs of transferring schools between the two systems. Money is still tight, yet the education department and the Conservative government seems willing to waste money on a governance system no longer fit for purpose. Either schools are run by elected officials or they aren’t: if not, then should the government not put all schools under the control of Commissioners and treat the issue of ‘coasting’ as a problem to be solved and not a reason to change the governance of individual schools.

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. .