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DfE proposes definition on ‘coasting’ schools

Consultation outlines which schools count as ‘coasting’, and what happens next

The Department for Education today released ‘Intervening in failing, underperforming and coasting schools’, a report that outlines proposals for tackling maintained schools that are causing concern, and how the defines maintained schools which are eligible for intervention.

The Education and Adoption Bill, currently being considered by Parliament, introduces new measures designed to speed up the process by which failing schools become sponsored academies, and seeks to identify ‘coasting’ and other ‘underperforming’.

The clarification of what defines a ‘coasting’ school has been called for ever since the term was first used. But the insistence on transforming these schools into academies in the hope (and despite any real evidence) that this will improve the education standards of the schools, has been met with understandable criticism.

You can read the full report here, but here are the main points relating to primary schools. You can also respond to any of the proposals online or by emailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address):

Three groups of schools will be eligible for intervention
1. Schools that have been judged inadequate by Ofsted – an academy order will be issued for all such schools, requiring them to become sponsored academies
2. Schools that are coasting – Where a coasting school does not have a sufficient plan and the necessary capacity to bring about improvement, the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) will use the powers of the Secretary of State to intervene
3. Schools that have failed to comply with a warning notice

When will the ‘coasting’ definition be implemented?
We propose that a school will only be identified as coasting in light of three years of results – in the first instance results from 2014, 2015, and 2016 – and therefore RSCs will be able to notify schools that they are coasting at the point of publication of performance tables reflecting final 2016 results. No school can be identified as coasting prior to that point.

Whether and when special schools and pupil referral units might be considered to be coasting is yet to be determined, and will be subject to responses to this consultation.

Proposals for definition on coasting schools
The Education and Adoption Bill makes provision for coasting schools to become eligible for intervention. The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to define coasting in relation to maintained schools in regulations.

Unlike failing schools, where there is no question that swift intervention is required, we want our approach to coasting schools to focus on support and tailored action. Where a coasting school can demonstrate that it can improve sufficiently, it should be allowed to do so.
• We want a clear, transparent measure to define ‘coasting’ so schools are in no doubt when they have fallen within the definition.
• We therefore think that it should be based on published performance data.
• We want to ensure that the coasting definition reflects the progress that pupils make at a school. We think the starting point of pupils should be considered rather than simply their attainment, to recognise the variation in schools’ intakes and how well a school helps its pupils to achieve their potential.
• We do not believe that coasting should be about isolated dips in performance but about identifying schools which have consistently not stretched their pupils sufficiently over a number of years.

Proposed definition
A coasting school is where data shows that, over a three year period, the school is failing to ensure that pupils reach their potential. A school will only be coasting if performance data falls below the coasting bar in all three previous years. No school will be identified as coasting until after the final 2016 performance data is published, when there will be 3 years of data available (for 2014, 2015 and 2016). We are seeking views on this overall approach and the technical detail set out below.

Proposed bar for primaries from 2016
A school will be coasting if in three consecutive years fewer than 85 per cent of pupils achieve the new expected standard across reading, writing and mathematics and pupil progress is below the progress element of the definition. The same progress metric will be used in both the floor standard and the coasting criteria, but a higher progress bar will be set for the coasting criteria in 2016 than for the floor standard.

What does this mean for primary schools?
From 2016, primary schools will be measured on both the progress pupils have made when compared to pupils with the same starting point and the proportion of pupils whose results in reading, writing and mathematics show they are ready to succeed at secondary school.

When fewer than 85 per cent of pupils in a primary school reach the standard we expect and pupils are failing to make enough progress then we would be concerned that the school was not fulfilling the potential of their pupils.

If a primary school continues to perform below these standards for three years, then the school will be coasting. These schools will need to demonstrate that they have sufficient capacity to improve or face further action. If a school is below the 85 per cent performance standard but above the progress standard, or vice versa, in any of the three years they will not be regarded as coasting.

What can parents expect?
This new approach to tackling coasting schools means we will look at the performance data of schools in a new way. Schools that have been doing “just enough” for three years will now be formally challenged and supported to improve.

For primary schools, we will look at both test results and the progress pupils make from the end of Year 2 to Year 6. Where these fall below the expectations we have set over three years, we will take action to ensure the school improves. This could range from some short-term support from a stronger school, to becoming an academy with the support of an experienced sponsor.

Primary schools have to be below our standards on both test results and progress to be classed as coasting. So a school that didn’t quite reach the standard on test results but where the pupils have made good progress would not be coasting.

Which schools are covered by the proposed definition?
Local authority maintained mainstream schools
The definitions above will apply to local authority maintained mainstream primary and secondary schools. However, because the Education and Adoption Bill does not apply to academies (because they operate under a different legal framework from maintained schools), these schools could be exempt from the intervention powers that can be imposed on mainstream schools.

What will happen when a school is coasting?
As set out in the revised statutory Schools Causing Concern guidance, where a school’s data as published in final performance tables shows it is coasting, the relevant RSC will notify the school that this is the case. At this point a school will become eligible for intervention.

A coasting school will not, however, automatically be subject to intervention. RSCs will consider whether the school has a sufficient plan and the capacity to bring about the improvement needed. In some cases additional support may be necessary, for example from system leaders such as National Leaders of Education or other schools.

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Pie Corbett