Saturday, 13 January 2018

Coasting? You’re taking the p*ss!

I recently read an Ofsted report for a school judged inadequate and placed into special measures. The report contained the following statement in the ‘outcomes for pupils’ section: 

The school met the government’s definition of a coasting school in 2016 and looks likely to do so again in 2017. 

Although the school has not been officially identified as ‘coasting’ - it would need to be below the so-called ‘coasting’ elements three years in a row to receive that label - it is fairly damning and anyone reading the report will certainly draw that conclusion.

And this really winds me up.

I know this school. I know that it is in an area of very high deprivation - probably the highest in its LA. Many of its pupils have SEND, percentages of pupils on free school meals are well above average, and pupils on entry to the school are well below ‘typical’. Yes, results at key stage 2 are low, but how appropriate is it to describe such a school as coasting? 

In my interpretation of the word, this particular school is as far from coasting as you can get. Coasting suggests it’s all a bit of a doss. But this school is not some kind of country club, where teachers are sitting around relaxing whilst able, well supported, high prior attaining children just get on with their work and pop out the other end with decent results. This is a school with very high levels of disadvantage; with many social challenges. A school where teachers have to sprint to stand still. In short, describing this school as coasting is, quite frankly, taking the piss.

The coasting measure is massively flawed. If anything, it should be identifying schools with above average results but low progress; those schools that benefit from the high attainment of their intakes without trying too hard (if such a school exists). Instead, we have another measure that singles out the lowest performing schools, usually in areas of high deprivation with the most disadvantaged pupils.

Or junior schools, of course. Let’s not forget those junior schools, that are disproportionately represented amongst the ranks of coasting schools. 

Essentially, the coasting measure is an additional floor standard seemingly designed to catch those schools that managed to scrape through the first round. I still haven’t decided whether it’s ‘Floor Plus’ (because the thresholds are higher) or ‘Floor Lite’ (because it’s over three years), but whatever it is, it’s not doing what it should be doing. 

If the government really wants to identify so-called coasting schools, this measure needs a complete rethink. Remember the quadrant plots in RAISE, where VA was plotted against relative attainment? That would provide a far better method. Schools plotting ‘significantly’ in the bottom right quadrant (i.e. those with above average attainment and well below average progress) three years running are the coasting schools. And perhaps those schools plotting ‘significantly’ in the bottom left quadrant (well below average attainment and progress) three years running are those deemed to be below floor. This would provide a clearer distinction between the two types of schools. Certainly clearer and more logical than the current, confused (and confusing) approach. 

Or, better still, just scrap the whole damn measure.