Last reviewed 20 July 2015

Politics is an unpredictable business, so it’s difficult to identify what will happen over the course of a parliament. However, as Tony Powell explains, there are two important developments already in the pipeline.

Two broad developments

In the early stages of this Parliament, we can identify two broad developments that will fundamentally alter the political context of education. The most immediate is the radical change in Ofsted inspection from September 2015. Barring an equally radical reversal, the new system should remain in force for at least three years.

The second is the determination of the Secretary of State to continue her predecessor’s policy of converting schools that are not up to the mark into academies. This will be taken forward by the Education and Adoption Bill 2015/16. So we can expect even greater levels of intervention by the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted.

Common Inspection Framework

The Common Inspection Framework (CIF) sets out how Ofsted inspects maintained schools and academies, non-association independent schools, further education and skills provision and registered early years settings in England. The CIF is supplemented by detailed handbooks for each of the four remits. It is important that all providers use both the CIF and their separate handbook because, while they are complementary, they are not exactly the same.

Under the new framework, there will be greater emphasis on:

  • safeguarding, including preventing radicalisation

  • the curriculum and the type and range of courses and opportunities offered

  • preparation for life and work in Britain today, including in relation to personal development, behaviour and welfare.

Judging overall effectiveness

Overall effectiveness is a judgment on the quality of education provided. From September 2015, the judgment will be based on the following areas, using the current four-point scale.

  • Effectiveness of leadership and management.

  • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment.

  • Personal development, behaviour and welfare.

  • Outcomes for children and other learners.

Education and Adoption Bill 2015/16

The Education and Adoption Bill 2015/16 had its second reading in the Commons on 22 June. It is expected to become law in late 2015 or early 2016. For schools, the main thrust of the Bill is about making provision for schools causing concern, intervention powers and conversion to academies.

Clause 1 of the Bill amends the Education and Inspections Act 2006 to introduce the category of “coasting schools” which are “eligible for intervention”. “Coasting” will be defined by regulations set out by the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State informs a school that it is “coasting”, she will be able to intervene directly, rather than requiring the local authority to act.

Other clauses define how a maintained school may become eligible for intervention after a warning notice has been given and the powers to act. These powers include issuing a warning notice, appointing additional governors or an Interim Executive Board and suspending the right to the delegated budget. The Secretary of State may issue a notice to the governing body of a maintained school, requiring it to take specified action to secure improvement of the school’s performance. This includes contracting for the provision of advisory services, collaborating with another maintained school or further education body, or forming or joining a federation of maintained schools.

The Secretary of State will have the power to make an academy order in respect of a maintained school that is eligible for intervention by virtue of the fact that the school has been found to require significant improvement or special measures or is found to be “coasting.” In these circumstances, the governing body will have a duty to facilitate conversion to academy status.

Definition of “coasting”

The definition of “coasting” is, therefore, crucial to schools. The Prime Minister first defined coasting schools in 2011 as “the ones that are content to muddle along without trying hard to improve”. He subsequently called a meeting at Downing Street to address the issue in January 2012. It was prior to this meeting that Sir Michael Wilshaw scrapped the “satisfactory” grade and replaced it with “requires improvement”. This move was fulsomely welcomed by the Prime Minister.

On 30 June, the Secretary of State defined “coasting” as the Education and Adoption Bill moved to its committee stage in the House of Commons. Schools that will be eligible for intervention will be those that have been below the defined “coasting” level for three years. Since this will start from 2014, it will be 2016 before the first tranche of schools are identified.

A secondary school will be “coasting” if:

  • in 2014 and 2015, fewer than 60% of pupils achieve 5 A* to C including English and maths 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, which will be set after the 2016 results are known.

A primary school will be “coasting” if in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 85% of children achieve level 4 in reading, writing and maths, and which have also seen below average proportions of pupils making expected progress between across Key Stage 2. For the 2016 year, the “coasting” level will be set against the new accountability measures for primary schools.

The regional schools commissioners will then assess whether the schools have a credible improvement plan. Schools that have the capacity to improve will receive support from expert Heads. If a school cannot improve, it will be turned into an academy under the leadership of a sponsor.

Ofsted and the importance of leadership

From September, there will be five Ofsted school categories.

  1. Outstanding.

  2. Good.

  3. Requires improvement.

  4. Inadequate.

    1. Serious weaknesses.

    2. Special measures.

The new DfE category of “coasting” will not come in till 2016 but presumably there are already “potentially coasting” schools, ie those that have fallen below the set standards for 2014 and 2015. There is no “coasting” category in Ofsted inspections but it would be bizarre if this DfE priority and definition were not built into the process of making judgments about and grading schools. For example, what would be the position if Ofsted inspects a school in 2015 and judges it to be “good” and it is then identified as “coasting” in 2016?

In his speech on 15 June, launching the dissemination conferences for the new inspection framework, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI) emphasised the importance of leadership. This is particularly important when judging the school’s internal capacity to improve where a school’s results or one of the key areas are weak. For example, the regional school commissioners will use capacity to improve to decide on support or intervention to force academy status.

HMCI listed the following in determining whether a school has the capacity to improve.

  • Do leaders fully understand strengths and weaknesses?

  • Have they communicated their strategy for raising standards to the key stakeholders?

  • Are they focused on what really benefits children and young people?

  • Do they refuse to accept excuses for underachievement and are they prepared to go the extra mile to compensate for family background?

  • Are they simply presiders over the status quo, content to take the path of least resistance or are they prepared to challenge staff and students to do better?

  • Have they built, or are they developing, a culture that is calm, orderly and aspirational?

  • Are they, for example, people who tolerate scrappy worksheets?