the Education secretary, Nicky Morgan, placed the Education and Adoption Bill 2015 before Parliament last week, setting out plans to force all “inadequate” schools to convert to academy status and make all “coasting” schools eligible for intervention.
In a statement, the Department for Education (DfE) said that “coasting” schools would be put on a “notice to improve” and given support from a team of expert headteachers, but that those that do not show improvements will see their leadership replaced.
Officially recognising “coasting” schools as being eligible for intervention will also mean that the DfE can push for them to be taken over by academy chains.
However, despite the Bill being submitted to Parliament on Wednesday, June 3, as SecEd went to press this week no definitive explanation of what a “coasting” school actually is had been published.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the government “can’t delay this information any longer”.
He added: “The government has provided some extra detail on its approach to so-called ‘coasting’ schools, outlining a process of warning, support then replacement of leaders. This provides more reassurance, as requested, but it has still, crucially and unhelpfully, failed to define what it means by coasting. This creates unnecessary fear and confusion.”
Previously, the term “coasting” has been linked to the Ofsted rating of requires improvement, but Ms Morgan has also linked it to pupil progress, hinting that the new Progress 8 measure could play a key part. Ms Morgan told the BBC last month that while schools in Ofsted’s category of “requiring improvement” would indeed be targeted under the coasting policy, it would also be “about (student) progress” and whether students are “reaching their potential”.
A DfE statement this week added: “The Bill includes plans to tackle coasting schools by putting them on a notice to improve. These schools will be given support from our team of expert headteachers, with those schools that continue to be unable to demonstrate a clear plan for improvement given new leadership.”
The Education Bill has also drawn widespread criticism because of its plans to forcibly convert all “inadequate” schools into academies.
The DfE has said it expects up to 1,000 local authority maintained schools to be converted into academies under the new legislation.
However, critics argue that academy status is not a silver bullet for school improvement and point to an Education Select Committee report in January in which MPs concluded that “current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children”.
Critics have also questioned the capacity of the academy system to take on more schools, pointing to the fact that 18 academy chains have been prevented from expanding further because of concerns about standards in their schools.
Furthermore, there is anger over plans within the Education Bill that would see the duty to consult local stakeholders over academy conversion scrapped for “inadequate” schools being forced to convert.
Any “coasting” school that ends up converting would also not be required to consult locally.
Ms Morgan said it was a “landmark Bill”. She continued: “It will sweep away the bureaucratic and legal loopholes previously exploited by those who put ideological objections above the best interests of children.
“Hundreds of schools, often in disadvantaged areas, are already being turned around thanks to the help of strong academy sponsors – education experts who know exactly what they have to do to make a failing school outstanding.”
However, Mr Hobby added: “Parents who have campaigned against the opaque and centralised process of academisation will be dismayed to see themselves dismissed as obstacles to be eliminated.
“To suggest some distinction between ‘education experts’ and campaigners against academisation is wrong – especially when the evidence for the performance of academies is so weak. There are as many education experts that remain sceptical about academisation as there are who are supportive.”
Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, added: “Perhaps one of the most disturbing elements of the Bill is the provision which appears to be a direct attack on the fundamental right of parents to have a say in the type of education they want for their child.
“Abusing the legislative process to seek to gag critics and stifle opposition is a chilling theme running through far too many of this government’s legislative plans and we all should be concerned when governments abuse their power to attack fundamental rights and freedoms.”
Meanwhile, Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has warned that academy conversion is not necessarily the best solution for all schools and has called, once again, for the recruitment crisis to be prioritised by the government.
He said: “In many cases, academisation may be the best solution. However, in itself it is not a magic wand. Schools fail for a number of reasons and simply changing their structure may not address the whole picture.
“In many parts of the country, for example, it is almost impossible to recruit maths teachers. So, simply converting a school into an academy will not address this issue. A wider solution is needed to deal with the teacher recruitment problems which are affecting many schools.”
Education and Adoption Bill: An outline
Plans to target “coasting” schools by bringing in new leadership or forcing academy conversion have been placed before Parliament.
The Education and Adoption Bill 2015 sets out plans that will see “coasting” schools become eligible for intervention, including potential academy conversion should improvements not happen quickly enough.
The Bill, however, does not define what “coasting” means, but merely states: “The secretary of state may by regulations define what ‘coasting’ means in relation to a school.”
The Bill also sets out proposed legislation that will require the secretary of state to make academy orders in respect of any schools considered to be “requiring significant improvement or schools requiring special measures”.
Currently, six per cent of England’s more than 3,000 secondary schools are rated as inadequate while two per cent of the more than 16,000 primary schools are in this category – although these figures include schools already converted to academy status.
Around six in 10 secondary schools and around 13 per cent of primary schools are now academies and free schools – this equates to more than 4,300 schools.
On coasting schools, the 12-page Bill, which updates provisions already set out in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and the Academies Act 2010, states: “A maintained school is … eligible for intervention if the governing body of the school have (sic) been notified that the secretary of state considers the school to be coasting … The secretary of state may by regulations define what ‘coasting’ means in relation to a school.”
On academy conversion, the Bill adds: “The secretary of state must make an academy order in respect of a maintained school in England that is eligible for intervention by virtue of Section 61 or 62 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (schools requiring significant improvement or schools requiring special measures).”
The plans have caused further controversy by scrapping duties contained within the Academies Act 2010 for consultation over academy conversion for schools deemed to be coasting by the Department for Education or inadequate by Ofsted.
The Bill states: “Before a maintained school in England is converted into an academy, the school’s governing body must consult such persons as they think appropriate about whether the conversion should take place.
“But this section does not apply if an academy order under Section 4(A1) or (1)(b) has effect in respect of the school.”
These two sections refer to schools requiring significant improvement or in special measures and to schools eligible for intervention under the Education and Inspections Act 2006 – which would be updated by this Bill to include “coasting” schools. In these cases, the Bill also states that the secretary of state may “specify the period within which any steps must be taken” by a school’s governing body to facilitate academy conversion.
The Education and Adoption Bill is available at http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/educationandadoption.html Photo: MA Education