Morgan has delivered the definition a month after the term was introduced in the Queen’s speech, alongside a warning that she wants to “shine a light on complacency”.
The move will dramatically raise the bar for headteachers and lead to hundreds of schools being targeted for improvement and many converted to academies.
Under the current framework, secondary schools are classed as falling beneath the government’s floor standards if fewer than 40% of children achieve five or more A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths.
In addition to the 60% GCSE benchmark, schools will also be judged on pupils’ progress. From 2016 onwards, secondary schools that fail to score highly enough over a three-year period on “Progress 8” – the government’s new accountability measure that shows a child’s progress between the end of primary school and their GCSEs – will also be classed as coasting.
Primary schools will similarly be deemed to be coasting if, over a three-year period, fewer than 85% of 11-year-olds achieve a level 4 in reading, writing and maths, and a higher-than-average proportion of pupils fail to make expected progress. Currently, the threshold for intervention in primaries is if fewer than 65% of pupils get a level 4.
For headteachers in areas with more demanding intakes, the move is likely to represent a daunting new challenge, with potentially dramatic consequences for school communities.
Schools classified as coasting will be asked to come up with a credible plan for improvement for consideration by the government’s eight regional schools commissioners; if the plan is convincing, schools will be supported, if it’s not good enough, they will be taken over and turned into academies.
The government’s plans to tackle coasting schools were outlined as part of its education and adoption bill in the Queen’s speech last month, but until now there has been confusion in the absence of any official definition of the word “coasting”.
Teaching unions have expressed widespread concern about the coasting schools initiative. 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 the criteria it sets out for what constitutes a coasting school is muddled.
“We are pleased to see that there is an emphasis on supporting schools which are deemed to be coasting. However, it seems the eventual outcome will be to turn many of them into academies as though this is a solution in itself.
“As we have said previously, academisation is not a magic wand. Schools in challenging circumstances require individual support which takes account of their specific situation. For instance, academisation is not a solution to a severe supply shortage of high-quality teachers in key subjects like maths, science and English.”
In announcing the new measures, the education secretary said: “Our one nation approach is very much about making sure children are being properly supported to achieve their best in school. But, for too long, a group of coasting schools, many in leafy areas with more advantages than schools in disadvantaged communities, have fallen beneath the radar.
“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.”
Part of the Department for Education’s aim is to identify schools that have previously fallen “beneath the radar” in leafy areas such as Oxfordshire and Surrey; results seem good, as they have high-attaining intakes, but the department says children are not being pushed to reach their full potential.
Many schools may have been rated “good” by schools watchdog Ofsted, but under the new framework will be classed as coasting and therefore in need of prompt intervention. Morgan also wants to identify schools that have previously escaped scrutiny as they have focused on getting lots of pupils over the crucial C/D borderline.
The government has already announced plans to turn all schools rated “inadequate” by Ofsted into academies, with promises to sweep away “bureaucratic and legal loopholes that previously prevented schools from being transformed”.
At the heart of the debate about so-called coasting schools is the question of how effective academies are at raising attainment. Earlier this year, the Commons education select committee found there was as yet no proof that academies – as opposed to maintained schools run by a local authority – raised standards overall or for disadvantaged children in particular.
Nicky Morgan’s announcement about coasting schools today coincides with the publication of the academies annual report for the 2013/14 academic year which the government says shows that “established sponsored academies” have GCSE results “well above” those of their predecessor schools – 6.4 percentage points higher after four years, compared to 1.3 percentage points in non-academies.
It also claims that sponsored primary academies improve their test results at more than double the rate of non-academies – 9 percentage points compared to 4 percentage points after two years.
Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Very many good secondary and primary schools – as defined by Ofsted, and as defined by parents – will now be classified as coasting. They will now stand the risk of losing their heads and other staff as uncertainty reigns in their school.
“Nicky Morgan says that coasting schools will ultimately be transformed into academies but, by her own definition, very many academy schools will also be coasting.
“Schools are already under enormous pressure to placate the whims of government and Ofsted. Today’s arbitrary target will only serve to sharpen teaching to the test and a concentration on borderline students. This already results in a narrowed curriculum and, for many pupils, disengagement.”
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