Hundreds of schools will be branded as “coasting” and face being turned into academies under a new measure to be unveiled by Nicky Morgan today.
The education secretary will spell out new proposals that will define coasting schools as those that have failed to push every pupil to reach their full potential over a number of years.
Controversially, the measure used by the goverment should effectively spare grammar schools from the “coasting” label and any resulting intervention until 2018, because of the high GCSE scores achieved by the pupils they select. The decision comes despite evidence that many grammars are “performing modestly” and failing to stretch their brightest students.
For a secondary school to be judged coasting, fewer than 60 per cent of its children must have achieved five A*-C GCSEs in 2014 and 2015 and it must be below the median level of expected progress. It would also have to fall below a still unspecified level in the new Progress 8 measure from 2016.
At primary level, the definition will apply to schools at which fewer than 85 per cent of children have achieved level 4 in reading, writing and maths for three years, and at which below-average proportions of pupils have made the expected progress between ages 7 and 11.
The Department for Education is unclear on just how many schools will fall into the coasting category because the judgement will partly be based on future 2015 to 2016 results. But officials state that the definition would currently apply to “hundreds” of schools.
Ms Morgan said the new measure would ensure that schools in “leafy areas with more advantages than schools in disadvantaged communities” did not fall beneath the radar. However they are unlikely to include grammars until the raw attainment element of the definition is replaced fully by Progress 8 in 2018.
In 2012, a report by the SSAT, formerly known as the Schools Network, called for grammar schools to be judged by tougher targets as the current five A*-C measure was failing to stretch the brightest students. According to a study by the SSAT, there was “considerable variance” in standards between England’s 164 selective state schools and many were “performing modestly”.
Ms Morgan said: “I’m unapologetic about shining a spotlight on complacency and I want the message to go out loud and clear, that education isn’t simply about pushing children over an artificial borderline, but instead about stretching every pupil to unlock their potential and give them the opportunity to get on in life.
“I know that schools and teachers will rise to the challenge, and the extra support we’ll offer to coasting schools will help them do just that.”
Schools identified as coasting will be assessed by the local regional school commissioner to check they have credible plans to improve. They will then be supported by “expert headteachers” in a bid to improve. Those judged unable to improve will be converted into academies.
The announcement follows warnings from prime minister David Cameron of a “hidden crisis” among England’s schools as too many institutions in wealthy areas are not pushing middle-class children.
Today’s announcement comes in the same week that officials expect the 5,000th academy to open. In 2010, just 203 academies existed.
Kevin Courtney, deputy general of the National Union of Teachers, said: “We congratulate Nicky Morgan on finally arriving at a definition of ‘coasting’. This took an impressive 45 days – but still shows a real incoherence in government policy, especially in primary schools.”
He added that the definition was inconsistent with previous government announcements.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We feel this announcement is premature as consultation about this definition has not been completed, and that the criteria it sets out for what constitutes a coasting school is muddled.”
He added that by using an attainment measure, the policy would “focus most attention on schools which are in challenging circumstances, rather than being a measure which assesses progress in all schools, including those with high-attaining intakes”.