Coasting schools: three strikes and you're out

29 July 2015
What was claimed

Three in four academy chains contain secondary schools which could be seen as 'coasting' under the government's definition.

Our verdict

It's impossible to know yet how many schools will be labelled 'coasting', as it depends on performance in 2015 and 2016.

"Three quarters of academy chains contain school below 'coasting' definition, research finds"—Telegraph, 24 July 2015

New measures from the government will mean conversion to academy status for schools in England that are judged as 'coasting', if they have no clear plan for improvement.

The Telegraph and Independent have both reported on research they say shows that three in four academy chains contain at least one such school. But the government has protested that it's "wrong and misleading" to use the figures in this way.

There's certainly more to the figures than you might pick up from the headlines. To be classed as coasting when the new definition begins to apply in 2016, secondary schools will have had to fall below certain standards in three consecutive years; 2014, 2015, and 2016. Of these three years, last week's research only looked at results for 2014. Without a crystal ball we can't know how many academies, or other schools, will be classed as coasting in 2016.

We won't know how many academies are 'coasting' until 2016

The charity behind the research, the Sutton Trust, told us: "We are showing the scale of the pool that could be seen as coasting under the government's new definition".

That's right in so far as the schools in question could potentially be classed as coasting in 2016, as long as they also fail to meet certain standards in 2015 and in 2016. It would be incorrect to say this is the number of schools that could currently be seen as coasting based on the government's definition.

Performance in 2014 may not be indicative of how likely schools are to meet the standards in following years. For one thing, schools which fail to meet 2014 standards might well improve enough to meet them in 2015.

And to complicate matters further, the standard used for secondary schools in 2016 will be an entirely different one. A school could conceivably fail to meet the standards for 2014 and 2015, not improve, but pass the new standard for 2016.

These nuances didn't make it into the Telegraph or Independent headlines, although both articles mentioned the government's objections to the figures.

Three strikes and you're coasting

Schools which are deemed to be coasting will be referred to one of the government's eight regional schools commissioners, who will then make a choice. If the school is judged to have a credible plan to improve its results, it will be given support to do so. If not, it will be turned into an academy.

In 2016 secondary schools will be considered to be coasting if:

  • In both 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve 5 GCSEs at A* to C, including English and Maths
  • AND in both 2014 and 2015 the proportion of children achieving 'expected progress' is below average, based on their progress since the end of primary school
  • AND in 2016 they fall below a certain level of improvement as defined by a new measure, 'Progress 8'.

From 2018 onwards schools will be coasting if they've fallen below the expected Progress 8 level for three consecutive years.

Primary schools will be considered to be coasting if:

  • For the first two years fewer than 85% of children achieve level 4 in reading, writing and maths
  • AND for the first two years the proportion of children making 'expected progress' is below average, based on their progress from Key Stage 1 exams (usually taken aged 7) to Key Stage 2 (usually aged 11)
  • AND for a further year it fails to meet a new level "set by a different accountability regime".

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