Teachers demand clarity over definition of ‘coasting schools’

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The Department for Education's 'coasting schools' policy will target ‘requiring improvement’ schools, but Nicky Morgan says it will also be about student progress and whether young people ‘reach their potential’. Her comments have sparked calls for more c

Teachers and school leaders are calling for clarity over the government’s plans to intervene in so-called “coasting” schools.

At the very least, they want to have a clearer definition of what the term “coasting” actually means.

They have also warned the government that its discourse so far about the new policy is not a “helpful way of finding a solution” to often-complex problems.

It came as, over the weekend, education secretary Nicky Morgan revealed details of the policy – which was part of the Conservative election manifesto – to the media.

The manifesto document stated that “any school judged by Ofsted to be requiring improvement will be taken over by the best headteachers – backed by expert sponsors or high-performing neighbouring schools – unless it can demonstrate that it has a plan to improve rapidly.”

However, on Sunday (May 17), Ms Morgan said that while schools in Ofsted’s category of “requiring improvement” would indeed be targeted, the policy would also be “about (student) progress” and whether students are “reaching their potential”.

The plans are to be included within the Queen’s Speech next week, and will come alongside new powers to intervene in “failing” schools, including giving Regional Schools Commissioners the ability to bring in new leadership and support from other excellent schools and speeding up the process of turning schools into academies.

Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Ms Morgan sought to clarify the coasting schools policy. She said: “We will look and see at the schools, whether it is that they are in the requires improvement category, but it is also about progress. 

“We’re introducing a new measure in secondary schools looking at the progress that students make over the course of their time there. Why is it that in some schools students are reaching their full potential and in other schools they’re not? It may be down to leadership.”

She continued: “I want to be very clear. Where heads show that they absolutely have the capacity to improve, they have a plan, they’re working with their governors, we want to give them time to do that.

“But where it is clear that the school does not have the capacity or the plan to get themselves out of requires improvement or be helping their students to fulfil their potential, to make their progress then ... we will intervene, we will put in support, there are National Leaders of Education, and of course we will look at the academy model too.”

And writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Ms Morgan added: “We’ll introduce new powers to intervene not just in failing schools, but in coasting schools – with a clear message that it is not okay to be just above the level of failing.

“These schools must improve too and will be put on immediate notice and required to work with our team of expert headteachers. Those that aren’t able to demonstrate a clear plan for improvement will be given new leadership – we know this works in turning schools around.”

There are 3,150 secondary schools in England, 23 per cent of which are currently within the requiring improvement category – around 725 schools. Seventy per cent are good or outstanding and six per cent are rated “inadequate”.

Teachers said this week that they want more clarity about the policy. Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “It’s really unclear at the moment what they mean by coasting schools. For some people, it seems to be suggesting that every school has to be above average and that’s statistically impossible.”

Writing in his blog on Monday (May 18), Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the government’s “vague and generalised comments” would contribute to “a widespread atmosphere of fear”. He added: “How does the government define a coasting school? What interventions do they plan? What is sufficient evidence of a plan of improvement? How many schools will be targeted? A government serious about rebuilding bridges with the profession would have answered these questions before making an announcement.”

The Association of School and College Leaders, meanwhile, said that Ms Morgan’s discourse was “unhelpful”. General secretary Brian Lightman said: “Where schools are not good enough, the teaching profession and the government need to work together to put that right.

“However, a discourse about failing and ‘coasting’ schools is not a helpful way of finding a solution. The problems involved are often complex. For instance, a school may be underperforming in maths because it cannot recruit maths teachers as a result of the recruitment problems currently facing schools. 

“What is required is a carefully planned strategy for each school which addresses its particular issues. Simply changing the school structure or headteacher might not be the answer.”

Mr Courtney said that educational underachievement was often linked to poverty and urged the government to focus on social justice.

He added: “The government is looking in completely the wrong place if they are interested in social justice. There is no convincing evidence that the academies programme has improved education overall or for disadvantaged children. 

“However, there is overwhelming evidence that the poverty and inequality many children face is a real obstacle to their educational achievement. The government should act on poverty reduction urgently.”

Photo: iStock

   


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