Education Matters: ‘Coasting’ schools action will make recruitment crisis worse

Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI Upper School in Bury.

Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI Upper School in Bury. - Credit: Archant

Many of us like fresh starts, the idea of a new beginning, the chance to put behind us the messiness of yesterday and capture the optimism of a new dawn, writes Geoff Barton.

A new parliamentary term for a new government ought to provide us with the same optimism of a fresh start. So it was a bit dismaying when last weekend was characterised by the unappetising dark arts of the government’s media machine.

The Sunday Times reported that squads of headteachers were going to descend on ‘coasting’ schools and the existing head would be sacked. It was a squalid little idea, limp in its thinking and destined to fail.

It was based on a fuzzy notion of what constitutes a ‘coasting’ school. It also involved Ofsted – never a good idea in government policy. Are we really sure we can any longer trust Ofsted’s judgement about which schools are better than others? As I said to Etholle George on BBC Radio Suffolk this week, the inspectorate has become education’s version of the National Lottery.

And who exactly are all these headteachers lining up to take on schools from which they – if they don’t perform – will be unceremoniously sacked? School leaders are already in short supply. This madcap scheme will only make the recruitment crisis worse.


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Instead of this corrosively critical approach to education, the education secretary would do far better to frame her ideas in a different form.

So, at the risky of being a teeny bit presumptions – which frankly hasn’t stopped me in the past – here’s my draft of a speech that the education secretary might have delivered instead:

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“We owe a great deal to teachers and school leaders. Even though the past five years have seen a huge reform agenda, they have responded to the many changes and continued to raise standards. Ofsted confirms that we have more good and outstanding schools than ever – and that’s against a backdrop of tougher inspection standards.

“So I salute what all those in our schools are achieving.

“But we still have too many children in schools that aren’t good enough, some of them coasting, some of them frankly not yet fit for purpose. We have to do something about this.

“So I shall be working with school leaders to put in place a fast-track leadership programme that prepares more future heads to help us to address underperformance in schools where progress is too slow. These school leaders will work with others to move more schools up to good. We will need them to work with speed and determination.

“We will take all the knowledge we have – from existing leaders and from top academics – on how best to make this work, on how to improve school leadership and student performance faster than ever.

“It will be part of a national mission, a training corps of those who have led some of our most improved schools and who are now ready to invest their wisdom more widely. We will spread that talent and bring more success to more of our children.

“I look forward to focusing on this – just on this – over the coming months and years so that in partnership the nation’s school leaders and government will make all our schools as good as they can be, as good as our young people deserve.”

Now that would be a fresh and uplifting message for a Sunday - or indeed for any day.

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