The Education and Adoption Bill

5 Jan

The Education and Adoption Bill aims to empower the Secretary of State for Education to intervene and convert schools that are not providing suitable education into academies. She will also be authorised to make joint arrangements for carrying out local authority adoption functions in England.

So what are the categories of schools judged to be unsatisfactory which will come under the Secretary of State’s scrutiny?

The Secretary of State already has powers to take measures against schools that are inadequate and compel them to become academies.   A school which has been given a notice to improve is constantly under Ofsted’s microscope.   Inspectors visit the school at regular intervals.   If there is no improvement over a period of two years, the school is deemed inadequate and academisation follows.

However, the chestnut that this Bill introduces is a new category of institution, called the “coasting” school.

A primary school will be judged to be coasting if in the first two years (following promulgation of the definition) “the school has fewer than 85% of children achieving level 4 and above in reading, writing and mathematics and below-average proportions of pupils making expected progress between the age of 7 and 11 followed by a year below the coasting level set against the new accountability regime, which will see children expected to achieve a higher standard and against a new measure of progress”.

A secondary school will be judged to be coasting if “in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve five A* to C including English and mathematics and they are below the median level of expected progress and in 2016 they fall below a level set against the new Progress 8 measure.  This level will be set after (the) 2016 results are available to ensure it is at a suitable level.  A school will have to be below those levels in all three years to be defined as coasting.  By 2018, the definition of coasting will be based entirely on Progress 8 and will not have an attainment level”.

Progress 8 is designed to encourage schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum at Key Stage 4 and reward schools for teaching all their pupils (rather than those on the borderlines of C and D).   It will be based on students’ progress measured across eight subjects: English, mathematics, three other English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects (science, computer science, geography history and languages), and three further subjects which can be from the range of EBacc subjects to any other approved, high-value arts, academic or vocational subjects. From 2016, the floor standard will be based the school’s results on the Progress 8 measure.  A quick and relatively easy way of measuring Progress 8 can be found here.

Vocational subjects which will contribute to the Progress 8 measure can be found here.

According to the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), 60% of primary schools which will be classed as “coasting” (by the government’s definition) are currently good or better by Ofsted’s standards.   Secondary headteachers and governors are also disturbed. Any sanctions of the 163 grammar schools were effectively ruled out by the government – because all schools where at least 60% of pupils gain five good GCSEs will not be affected.

In the closing days of 2015, the Lords amended clause 1 of the Bill.  The amendment was sponsored by Lord Hunt and Lord Watson and stated that the government would crack down not just on coasting schools but also coasting academies, an omission in the Bill when first drafted.

Dame Rachel De Souza of the Chief Education Officer of the Inspiration Trust said it is the function of all coasting schools and academies to secure rapid improvement and be held accountable if they do not succeed.

The Regional School Commissioners will act on behalf of the Secretary of State in assessing the plans of coasting academies before deciding on action to be taken.   Elsewhere I have written that their workload will increase phenomenally.  Among other tasks, they will now have to broker deals with Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) to take on coasting schools which are compelled to become academies.  There are two problems related to this.

First, insufficient successful academies and MATs wish to take responsibility for failing ones.  To buck the trend, the government has invited academy chains to bid for a share of £10 million of extra Treasury money to help with the expansion of academies in North England.   The DfE, it appears, has also been discussing with the ARK chain, which runs several academies in London and the South-East, to take on struggling schools in the Manchester region.

Secondly, the levels of staffing RSCs currently have will be insufficient to secure efficiency and effectiveness.  Led by the newly appointed Sir Frank Carter, the RSCs are at the moment under the scrutiny of the Education Select Committee which is looking at their remit, resourcing and structure.  The move, de facto, is to make the RSCs a parallel force to the local authorities.

The Education and Inspection Act 2006 gave local authorities powers of intervention in a school judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted or the LA.  The LA can issue a performance standards and safety warning notice. The LA can also issue a teachers’ pay and conditions warning notice – where governors are hyping up the salaries of the headteacher and staff.  This Bill does not change those arrangements.

The performance standards and safety warning notice can be issued on three grounds.

  1. The standards of performance of pupils at the school are unacceptably low, and likely to remain so unless the authority exercises its powers.
  2. There has been a serious breakdown in the way the school is managed or governed which is prejudicing, or is likely to prejudice, such standards of performance.
  3. The safety of pupils and/or staff of the school is threatened (whether by a breakdown of discipline or otherwise).

The 2006 Act defines low standards as

  1. where the standard of attainment at the school is below what pupils could reasonably be expected to attain;
  2. below previous levels of attainment in the school; or
  3. below standards of attainment in comparable schools.

After the notice is issued, the LA can

  1. require the school to co-operate with another school to improve performance;
  2. suspend the school’s delegated budget;
  3. appoint additional governors; or
  4. remove the governing body altogether and replacing it with an interim executive board (IEB).

These LA powers will also be bestowed onto the Secretary of State, Mrs Nicky Morgan.  The RSCs will exercise these powers on her behalf.   Consequently, if the LA fails to intervene, the RSCs on Mrs Morgan’s behalf may do so.

In brief, the overall responsibilities of the RSCs will be as follows:

  1. monitor the performance of the academies in their area;
  2. take action when an academy is underperforming;
  3. decide on the development of new academies;
  4. address underperformance in local-authority-maintained schools through sponsored academy arrangements;
  5. make recommendations to ministers about free school applications;
  6. encourage organisations to become academy sponsors; and
  7. approve changes to open academies, including:
  8. changes to age ranges,
  9. mergers between academies and
  • changes to multi-academy trust arrangements

Currently, any school which “qualifies” for intervention can be made subject to an academy order – i.e. made to convert to academy status. Headteacher boards (HTBs) have been set up to support and advise RSCs.

However, governors are conspicuous by their absence on these boards.  The National Governors’ Association is not a happy bunny about this because it is not the executive of the school but the governing and trust bodies whose performances are under scrutiny. The NGA has consistently, though not fruitfully (so far), raised their concerns in the House of Commons and with the Select Committee on Education.

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