Posted in education, opinion, policy

Coasting along?

Working hard today, or just coasting? The new Education Bill has foretold of “coasting” schools being converted to academies, but nobody seems quite sure what “coasting” means.

At this stage, I was going to write a diatribe concerning the ambiguous wording, and hazard a few guesses (some in jest) at what coasting could mean, but Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, has done the job for me during a recent session in Parliament:

“When the first word of the first clause on the first page of the Bill – “coasting” – is yet to be defined by the Government, they are showing an extraordinary discourtesy to this House [and to all school leaders, in this editor’s opinion].

“As it stands, “coasting” could mean anything: Ofsted results, progress data, attainment scores. In fact, it could just as easily relate to any passing whim of the Secretary of State.

“Too many children swinging on chairs? Coasting. Too many kids studying the humanities, of which we know the Secretary of State disapproves? Coasting. Too many teenagers aspiring to apprenticeships? Coasting.

“We just do not know what the answer is, but what we do know is that this is no way in which to approach the serious job of reforming our schools system.”[1]

Rather than define the term in the drafted Bill, it is flagged as something to think about down the line – not entirely helpful for those fearful of forced academisation:

“(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations define what “coasting” means in relation to a school for the purposes of subsection (1).”[2]

Perhaps in response to the abundant criticism, Nicky Morgan has pledged to publish the definition of coasting schools when the Bill reaches the committee stage.[3] The Bill had its second reading on 22 June, and the committee stage is expected to begin on 30 June.

David Cameron has joined the fray by providing his own take on “coasting”:

“Coasting schools are those where standards have been mediocre for too many years and aren’t improving quickly enough. Schools where standards could and should be higher, given their in-take and potential.”[4]

The good news is, “coasting” schools will not face automatic interventions. Regional schools commissioners will be responsible for deciding upon the course of action to be taken. If schools have the capacity to improve sufficiently, we are told they will be given the opportunity to get on with it, without distraction.

Some schools will be paired with educational experts, a local school or a national leader of education. We are told that “when, and only when, a coasting school has no credible plan or is not improving sufficiently,” academy conversion will be forced upon them.[5]

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to determine what could be deemed sufficient improvement if no one is sure what the problem is in the first place. Also, academisation as the cure for all ailments is a risky route to take, particularly given that little evidence has emerged to show long-lasting change.

The thought emerges – what happens to a “coasting” academy? Forced into an MAT, or, perhaps, nothing at all? What about a “coasting” MAT? Forced to join a larger MAT? Again, unlikely to be an issue. It strikes me that it isn’t the school type that determines willingness to “coast”, but the attitude and ability of the governors and school leaders at the helm.


[1] Tristram Hunt (2015) ‘22 Jun 2015: Column 652’, para.2 <http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm150622/debtext/150622-0002.htm#1506227000831&gt; [Accessed 24/06/15]

[2] Education and Adoption Bill, section 1 (3) (2)

[3] TES reporter (2015) ‘Morgan pressed to define coasting schools’, para.6 <https://www.tes.co.uk/news/school-news/breaking-news/morgan-pressed-define-coasting-schools&gt; [Accessed 24/06/2015]

[4] Ned Simons (2015) ‘David Cameron Targets Coasting Schools That offer Mediocre Education’, para.4 <http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/06/22/david-cameron-targets-coasting-schools-that-offer-mediocre-education_n_7635104.html&gt; [Accessed 24/06/2015]

[5] Nicky Morgan (2015) ‘22 Jun 2015: Column 645’, para.5 <http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm150622/debtext/150622-0002.htm#1506227000831&gt; [Accessed 24/06/15]

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