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Coasting schools – illustrative regulations

16 July 2015

The term ‘coasting school’ was formally introduced as part of the Education and Adoption Bill (the Bill). It has now been ‘illustratively’ defined by the Government through the publication of draft regulations.

You can view the draft regulations here

These illustrative regulations were made available to the Public Bill Committee a few weeks ago to assist with its Parliamentary analysis of the Bill and follow a previous announcement from the Department for Education regarding how coasting is to be defined.

What is a coasting school?

It’s fair to say that the illustrative regulations are still quite patchy and will need further refinement. However, we can glean that there is a separate definition of coasting for primary and secondary schools and that the criteria for all three years must have been met for a school to be coasting.

in 2014 and 2015, had fewer than 85% of its pupils achieving level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths; in 2014 and 2015, had a below median percentage of its pupils making expected progress (two levels of progress in reading, writing and Maths at KS2); in 2016, had fewer than 85% of its pupils achieve the expected attainment standard in reading, writing and maths and pupils not making sufficient progress (the progress level to be announced once tests taken in 2016). At secondary phase, a coasting school will be one which:

in 2014 and 2015, had fewer than 60% of its pupils achieving 5 A*-C (including English and Maths); in 2014 and 2015, had a below median score for the percentage of its pupils making expected progress in English and Maths; in 2016, had a Progress 8 score at or below a specified score to be introduced next year.

Can any type of school be coasting under the regulations?

The regulations (and indeed the Bill as a whole) currently only apply to maintained schools, not academies. Further, the regulations as drafted only apply to mainstream maintained schools, not special schools. We understand that there will be separate regulations or provisions to legally define coasting special schools but to date, these have not been made available.

Why can’t an academy be classed as coasting?

As the Bill has progressed through Parliament, the Government has come under pressure to explain why it is proposed that coasting maintained schools are to become eligible for intervention but with no similar approach being adopted in relation to academies. Nicky Morgan has suggested that the Regional School Commissioners (RSC’s) will identify and focus on coasting academies as well. However, there is currently no law which enforces this or details any formal intervention measures that would apply to a coasting academy.

It has been suggested that the model funding agreement for academies will be updated to bring academies within the definition and give the Secretary of State contractual powers to intervene. However, a revised funding agreement has not been made available to date and, in any event, such terms would only apply to future academies, not those that already have their funding agreements in place.

How will a school know if it is coasting?

Schools will receive a notice setting out that they have been designated as a coasting school. We expect this notice will come from the relevant RSC.

What will be the impact of a coasting school designation?

The DfE has explained that when a school is labelled as coasting, it will be given the opportunity to demonstrate capacity to make sufficient improvement. To quote the DfE, “the plan is not automatically to seek academy solutions for all schools which fall within the definition of coasting”. To avoid academy sponsorship, a coasting school will need to have a clear improvement plan to present to their RSC.

From a legal perspective though, being designated as coasting will mean the school immediately attracts the status of ‘eligible for intervention’. Under the Bill (and indeed existing law), this status empowers both the local authority and the Secretary of State to exercise formal intervention powers, such as the imposition of an interim executive board or the making of an academy order.

When will the regulations come into force?

We understand that the regulations will not come into force until the end of 2016. In the meantime, the DfE has promised to carry out a public consultation on the coasting schools definition set out in the illustrative regulations. That consultation process has not yet commenced but schools may well want to take the opportunity to respond to it when they can.

The Bill itself is likely to come into force before the regulations. This begs the question of whether schools will be told they are coasting and come under intervention pressure before the regulations are in place. The Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, has assured the opposition that this will not happen.

Closing comments

As with various aspects of the Bill, the provisions around coasting schools raise questions around the capacity of the RSCs and also the sponsors, who will apparently be required to take over the running of those schools that cannot convince their RSC that they can improve as a maintained school.

The regulations are not due to come into force until another four terms have passed but schools are essentially now already on notice. For those whose 2014 and 2015 data meets the coasting criteria, the next academic year will be a critical one.

This content is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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