DfE consults on ‘schools causing concern’

On 21 October the Department for Education (DfE) published an important consultation on new measures relating to failing, under-performing and coasting schools in England.

The Education & Adoption Bill will extend the powers of intervention held by the Secretary of State for Education – powers that will be exercised on her behalf by the Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs), who for the first time will have a role vis-à-vis maintained schools. It will also introduce a new category of under-performance: ‘coasting’.

The first part of the consultation deals with revised guidance for local authorities on what they must do about ‘schools causing concern’, working with the RSCs.

Any school judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted will immediately have an academy order imposed on it by the RSC, who will ensure the school becomes a sponsored academy. The governing body and the local authority will be under a duty to work towards the conversion, and there will no longer be any requirement for the governing body to consult “such persons as they think appropriate”.

The second part of the consultation proposes a definition for ‘coasting’. A ‘coasting’ school will be one where performance data fall below a certain bar in all three previous years.

From 2016, the bar for primary schools will be less than 85% of pupils achieving expected standards across reading, writing and maths; and pupil progress being below expected. A higher progress bar will be set for the coasting criteria than for the floor standard.

The bar for secondary schools will be at a level set against the new Progress 8 measure – again, the bar will be higher than for the floor standard.

If an RSC decides a school is ‘coasting’, they will consider the school’s characteristics, its current improvement plans and its capacity to improve and decide what sort of intervention is needed. They have several options:

  • take no further action, because it looks like the school is on its way to improvement;
  • agree additional support and challenge for the school, for example through partnership with another school;
  • appoint additional governors or even replace the entire governing body; or
  • make an academy order.

For these proposals to work, RSCs are going to have to have very good relationships and lines of communication with local authorities; and they will also have to increase their already-stretched capacity. Jon Coles, former Director General at the DfE and now chief executive of United Learning academy trust, has also suggested that they need to become more consistent in the way they work.