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Leadership, Redesigning Schools

Coasting Schools Or the Hard Improvement Miles

If I ever come across a school where the governors and head teacher can’t be bothered, the senior leaders are bone idle, lazy and ineffective and the teachers couldn’t give a monkey then close it, academise it, sack the lot.  But that isn’t my experience.

Photo Credit: Tonko43 via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Tonko43 via Flickr cc

“Shining a Light on Complacency”

I want high standards in all schools and by all staff for all students.  Now having all agreed that we want the best for schools, staff and the pupils in them we just need to determine how best to achieve this.  We’re not arguing about what we want the debate is how best to achieve it.

My flabber was well and truly gasted this morning to read that any secondary school below 60% five good GCSEs and who fail to make above average levels of expected progress  in English & Maths, from Key Stage 2 to 4, will be classed as coasting.  The expected progress changed to Progress 8 in 2016 and will be fully replaced by it in 2018.

In primary schools, if fewer than 85% of 11-year-olds achieve a level 4 in reading, writing and maths and fail to make expected progress in reading, writing and maths, between Key Stage 1 to 2, then you’re a coaster.

The good news first, no-one’s going to call you a coaster until 2016 as rolling three years of data will be considered initially from 2014, 2015 and 2016.  Schools have to be below the bar in every one of the three years and in each element to be coasting.  Also the definition is likely to evolve, it’s unlikely to be set in statute as this is too unwieldly to change, and consequently there is an opportunity to influence it over time, as they say.

The challenge is uneven with some schools coasting to 60%+ five good GCSEs – can’t imagine too many grammar schools or those in affluent areas losing sleep tonight – whilst for others attainment at 40%+ or 50%+, still below the threshold, would be a massive achievement and in no way complacent.  The challenge will increase with many more schools likely to coasting when the new GCSE grading comes in and a “good pass” is 5 (top end of the current grade C/lower end of B).  The challenge will be greater the more disadvantaged your intake is or if it has low prior attainment.  Statistically these adversely affect both your progress and attainment measures.  Schools in challenging situations will be held accountable for problems society hasn’t yet solved.  As schools we are part of the solution but making it increasingly unattractive to work in challenging areas won’t help.

Laura McInerney & Schools Week have been fabulous on this issue today. Please click to read their nerdy guide.

Laura McInerney & Schools Week have been fabulous on this issue today. Please click to read their nerdy guide.

Imagine if this morning’s announcement had heralded a £100,000 per annum for a decade support fund for coasting schools with a mid-point review for any school identified as coasting.  For the first five years you have a named HMI and executive leader/national leader of education to work with you.  If you’re not making progress after five years you will be required to join a hard federation or multi academy trust.  Or instead of being refused an outstanding grading by Ofsted related to whether all students are doing the E-Bacc you can’t be considered outstanding unless you have above 20% (random threshold by the way) of the school’s pupil population entitled to pupil premium.  To be outstanding the pupil premium children also have to achieve highly.  This might see a change in the distribution of disadvantaged children in schools, designation of national leaders of education and teaching schools status.  Different solutions but still aimed at system wide school improvement.

No School in the Bottom Quintile Thinking

I’m no statistician but I’m going to go out on a limb in the security that Professors Dylan William, Robert Coe and Tim Leunig won’t be reading this.  Next year I predict that when the data dashboard is released for your school there will be 20% of schools in the bottom quintile.  Pushing the bounds of my statistical crystal ball gazing a further 20% are going to hit the top quintile and this is going to happen for years to come.

Further my powers of fortune telling predict that between 65-70% of students will get a grade C or better in GCSE Mathematics this summer and similar for GCSE English.  These “pass marks” won’t change much until 2017 when the new grading system will lead to the “good pass” falling.  The percentage of schools getting 60%+ five good GCSEs will plummet further.

The problem with so many of the benchmarks we use is that the examination system builds in limits to what is actually achievable.  This isn’t meant to be a criticism, it just is.  The political narrative of no school or child below average and get above 60% or 85% or else, with pretty much fixed pass rates, is becoming rather tired.  It sounds good in some quarters but if we want to be really aspirational our metrics have to change to be sensitive to genuine improvements, or regressions, within the system.

The Academisation Distraction

I worry that I’ve hit the phase of life best described as grumpy old man but I’m beginning to think all the froth and angst of the coasting school and academisation programme is a well-timed diversion from the concerns of shortage of school places, a teacher recruitment crisis, shrinking budgets and incoherent curriculum change.  I know, call me a cynic, but a good distraction at this moment in time is politically a great idea.  If we could find some evidence that academies have a positive impact on achievement even better.

For some in the profession this will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, particularly in more disadvantaged areas, for others it will just bring the breaking point a step closer.

It’s Time to Walk the Hard Miles & Walk the Hard Miles

Schools and the people who work in them are committed, well-meaning and want the children and young people in their care to do well.  It’s time to walk the hard miles again.  If the government genuinely believes that academisation is the only way forward for school improvement then organise the conversion of all schools, in alphabetical order, over the next five years.  Whilst I disagree with this it has a simple honesty and transparency about it that appeals to me.  We formed a multi academy trust nearly a year ago as one of the schools in our family was under pressure.  It suits us but then our previous hard federation arrangement between St. Mary’s and Christ the King had the same benefits of deep partnership which I believe is a crucial part of the school improvement journey.

Photo Credit: M Hilier via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: M Hilier via Compfight cc

The hard miles we need to walk are increasingly clear to us.  Transition from primary to secondary schools means too many students take a step back before they move forward.  We are now all over this with primary and secondary teachers working together to make the curriculum sing of greater progress at the transition point but also asking some hard questions about progress within each phase.  Our children can’t afford for us to stall, as John Hattie says, “One year’s input must equal one year’s progress”.  For many of our children we need to do better than this.  Nowhere more so than in early years with so many children entering behind age related expectation.  Alongside redefining what excellence looks like for each group of children, some really interesting work around assessment – find out what they don’t know and teach them it – is making a lot of sense.  We’re seeing impact in terms of greater progress and staff are embracing it as the bleedin’ obvious.  We’re making the shift to teachers’ work within the class room being informed by data, feedback, research and their own and colleagues’ experience These are hard miles but great fun and hugely satisfying.  These are the hard school improvement miles.

People ask but what about coasting academies?  If such a beast actually exists, they can be moved from one trust to another so the illusion of improvement can be maintained even if no impact is actually being made.



14 thoughts on “Coasting Schools Or the Hard Improvement Miles

  1. Reblogged this on Esse Quam Videri.

    Posted by heatherfblog | June 30, 2015, 8:13 pm
  2. Stephen

    Bottom line if a school did have inadequate not caring leaders it would be doomed. Even in schools that are ‘rated’ inadequate there are staff working as hard as any staff even in the highest rated schools. My concern over this mass a academisation is where the hell are all these outstanding leaders coming from with the capacity to be parachuted in to coasting academies to turn them around.

    Great blog again though, thanks


    Posted by mracalvert | June 30, 2015, 8:39 pm
  3. Hi,

    I think the government are attempting to change EYFS through stealth and aim it at Reception rather than nursery or childcare provision for earlier years. This is a necessary step as children simply do not learn enough in the early years to be able to cope with formal learning and then it means Year 1 teachers have to start off like EYFS and end up teaching them so they are ready for Year 2. This is desperately unfair on Year 1 teachers as the gap is huge to bridge in one year. Instead it should be Early Years that starts off the way they do and end up with children ready to start Year 1. This pressure does need to be applied otherwise nothing will change in schools with high levels of deprivation. All the language, reading, phonics interventions need to go to them first not in a panic in Year 2.

    Most primary schools with challenging intake need to break out of the cycle of throwing resources and interventions at Year 2 and 6. It was never the idea or intention that SAT’s years would be revision years rather it should be a year in its own right not simply filled with more literacy and numeracy as you can squeeze into 8 months. The end result is for all to see and those in secondary school know that the children come to them with huge gaps, misconceptions and errors. We need to change things earlier not later, before issues become ingrained when it will take less time to sort the problem out rather than spend more and more hours in Year 6 getting children to catch up.

    It seems universally accepted that children are under too much pressure but the only way to take it off is to intervene early and often in the basics. I would also see a reduction of the number of foundation units in KS1 and 2 (already the case with science which is down to 4) so that there can be much more focus on the basics, more reading, more numeracy, and for this to be linked to other areas of the curriculum such as music.

    Posted by teachwell | June 30, 2015, 8:59 pm
  4. “I’m no statistician but I’m going to go out on a limb in the security that Professors Dylan William, Robert Coe and Tim Leunig won’t be reading this.” At least one of us is…

    Posted by Tim Leunig | June 30, 2015, 9:30 pm
  5. You make some very good points.
    I don’t understand how 2014- 16 data can be used as an accurate measure of progress though. 2014 data was based on a suspension of NC, 2015 has been the first year with age related expectations (ARE) and I suspect 2016 will be a recalibration of those expectations. So when, and where, will there be standardisation? My primary school has tried to level writing and found that the old level 4 we used to think was average for Y6 is now the equivalent of old level 5 when Y6 ARE are used. At this rate the children are having to ‘jog’ to keep up. When is there the curriculum time for this ‘catch-up’?

    I am all for aspiration, but I’m concerned we could be setting children, and schools, up to fail.

    I disagree with you on your assertion that primary and secondary are working together. In my area, unfortunately, we haven’t seen any evidence yet, despite our best efforts. There does need to be a serious investment of time and communication to support children through this transition. Secondaries are correct when they highlight fundamental gaps when Y7s arrive. We do spend too much time in Y6 with teaching for SATs, because of data & Ofsted anxieties, pushing children on rather than ensuring they are ‘masters’ and ready to move on.

    I do think you’re right that a growing interest in good research can be a very powerful tool in our armoury and, if the DfE take note of it in the round, we might be able to have an education system that is more evidence based than ideologically driven.

    Let’s hope that a genuine dialogue with DfE will happen and support with HMI and across and within schools will always be the first approach rather than knee jerk academisation.

    Posted by Leigh Taylor | June 30, 2015, 10:15 pm
    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. The bit about primary and secondary schools working together was just a reference to what is beginning to happen to some depth between the schools in our MAT. Early days but I think it might have real impact.
      Your data points are spot on. There’s so much turbulence in the system at the moment it’s even more challenging to make comparisons across years.

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | June 30, 2015, 10:28 pm
  6. Good post. Clear and sensible.
    I guess that fellow Headteachers will agree with you.

    When a naughty student makes mistakes, we point this out to them.
    When they keep making mistakes we try to be patient and maybe give them another chance.
    Eventually we realise that just pointing out the mistakes is not making any difference to their behaviour.
    Just pointing out their mistakes is merely reinforcing their bad behaviour because they can see that there are no other consequences. Worse than that, other students become demoralised because it seems that you don’t have to play by the rules of civilised society. Your teachers become fed up because no one seems to be sorting out this naughty pupil and the teachers seem to have to dance to their tune.

    If the DfE said “we make no apologies for requiring all schools to have 100% of students above average”, would any part of the teaching profession do anything other than point out that this is not fully thought through? I think there would be a few grumbles and Headteachers would then put their heads down and try to achieve this. Sadly.

    Posted by AssemblyTube (@AssemblyTube) | July 1, 2015, 10:43 am
    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. The bit about primary and secondary schools working together was just a reference to what is beginning to happen to some depth between the schools in our MAT. Early days but I think it might have real impact.
      Your data points are spot on. There’s so much turbulence in the system at the moment it’s even more challenging to make comparisons across years.

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | July 1, 2015, 11:59 am
  7. Hi Stephen,
    I agree with everything you have said; coming from a 51% PP, high deprivation area we are naturally concerned that the school’s best efforts, and that of our weakest students, some of whom have had the most horrendous start to their young lives and who are working their socks off, will never be good enough. I am also really interested in what you have said about your primary transition work. Having just read ‘The Tail’ I can see that this is the area where we need to be working smarter. Have you any suggestions?

    Posted by wendymaria100 | July 2, 2015, 6:15 am
    • Emailed some primary heads yesterday asking would it be a hassle to send us the best piece of writing from each of their pupils who will be joining us in September. They said they would be happy to. I’ll pass to new English teacher – it’ll act as the minimum standard we’ll accept. Quick win. Also appointed AHT to act as numeracy lead across the Trust – great impact already. Good luck.

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | July 2, 2015, 6:30 am


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