This amendment would provide that the Secretary of State may only use the power to make regulations under subsection (2) once in any 12-month period.
Amendment 79, in clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(3B) In section 182 (Parliamentary control of orders and regulations) in subsection (3) before (a) insert—
“() regulations made under subsection (1) of section 60B (Coasting schools).””
Mr Chope, welcome back for the final furlong of our race to the end of the Bill—via the beginning. This group of amendments relates to clause 1, but fear not: we have disposed of most of the rest of the Bill in your absence and are getting near the end.
Amendment 73 would require the Secretary of State to make the regulations that define a coasting school. Amendment 74 would provide that the Secretary of State may use the power to make regulations under proposed new section 60B(2) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 only once in any 12-month period. Amendment 79 would require regulations about notifying schools that they are coasting to be subject to an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
At present, all that we know about how Ministers intend to proceed comes mainly from Department for Education press releases and from some of the exchanges that we have had in Committee. No comprehensive draft of the regulations is available. Given this level of uncertainty and the savage criticism of the initial definitions received, there is a need to pin Ministers down on some clear and transparent procedures, which is what we are seeking to do now.
The amendments say that regulations should be made; it should not be an option that Ministers proceed on the basis of informal letters or other imprecise forms of guidance and discover what they have got wrong only after a couple of months have passed. Elsewhere in the Bill, as we debated earlier, the Ministers are very keen to use the word “must” in relation to what Ministers do. We encountered that in clause 7, which we debated before clause 1. Under clause 7, Ministers “must” make an academy order in certain circumstances, but in clause 1, Ministers seem to want to leave the options open in relation to making the regulations on coasting schools and having them subject to parliamentary scrutiny. At this point in the Bill, we have the word “may” instead of “must” and we would like to find out a bit more about why that is the case.
Given that the initial draft is a bit muddled—
May I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that we will issue regulations? Indeed, that is why there is a draft of the regulations before the Committee for our information.
I am grateful for that assurance, but it prompts the question why the word “may” was used here rather than “must” and the word “must” was used elsewhere rather than “may”. Of course, these are draft regulations; they are not regulations themselves, although the Minister has put it on the record, helpfully, that it is at the very least the Government’s intention that Ministers will issue regulations. We cannot just assume that things will come out all right on the night. We need to ensure that precise procedures are in place to ensure that the Government get this right.
As for amendment 79, if the Ministers, who may issue regulations, decide to go ahead and do so, there is a question about how those regulations will be used. Are they to be advisory for regional schools commissioners? Will the regional schools commissioner be able to overrule what the regulations say about a coasting school? Will the regional schools commissioner be able to notify a school that it is coasting on the basis of his or her professional judgment, even though regulations do not indicate that it is? What happens if the Secretary of State has not made regulations? Will the regional schools commissioner be able to notify a school that it is coasting on the basis of his or her professional judgment?
Interestingly, since this morning’s proceedings, when we discussed the status of regional schools commissioners quite extensively and I predicted a problem because they were not properly set out in statute—the way they are selected is rather informal, like the bad old days of the quango state in the 1980s and 1990s when Ministers phoned their friends, members of the same club and so on to ask them to be the heads of various bodies—we have heard that one of the regional schools commissioners has been stood down. There are now not eight but seven in post. Will the Minister confirm that that is the case—I see that he is seeking inspiration as we speak—and shed some light on it? It is very pertinent to our discussion about the role of the regional schools commissioner in the regulations on coasting schools. What happens if all of a sudden they start falling like ninepins because they have not been through a rigorous, open and transparent selection process, but have been chosen at the whim of Ministers? We would be very grateful for any light that the Minister could shed on this breaking news from the Education and Adoption Bill Committee. We need to get this right and require Ministers to justify the final shape of the regulations to Parliament, hence the proposal for an affirmative resolution procedure.
Has my hon. Friend noted that education legislation passed under the previous Labour Government applied parliamentary accountability to regulations of this importance? The affirmative resolution procedure applies, for example, to the designation of a rural primary school, or repeal of school travel scheme provisions, under clauses 15 and 80 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. These are important matters, but surely no more important or controversial than these regulations, with the sweeping changes that they imply to our school system.
I am not surprised that my hon. Friend, with her usual copious research and command of detail, has spotted that. I am a big fan of the affirmative resolution procedure. I am not going to say that in every case the previous Government applied it as vigorously as they should have—I have made that point before—but I am a big fan of the affirmative resolution procedure because it is important that Parliament should scrutinise the Executive closely. It is something that you have done assiduously yourself, Mr Chope, on many a Friday and on other days of the week. It is important that we have the opportunity to debate these matters and have an enjoyable discussion, as we are having now, on the detail of Government policy. On that basis, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
Clause 1 creates a new category of schools eligible for intervention, as we discussed this morning—coasting schools. Clause 1 also gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations defining schools deemed to be coasting and therefore eligible for intervention. We have provided the Committee with draft regulations setting out our proposed definitions. Amendments 73, 74, and 79 relate to the process by which the Secretary of State will make these regulations.
Amendment 73 seeks to go further than the power provided by clause 1, by placing a duty on the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out the definition of “coasting”. As I said in my intervention on the hon. Member for Cardiff West, the amendment is unnecessary. We have already said that we will make such regulations, and we have provided an indicative set of regulations to show precisely how we intend to use this power and give the opportunity for the details of those indicative regulations to be debated in Committee.
Amendment 74 seeks to restrict the number of times that regulations can be changed, so that they can be amended only once in any 12-month period. We intend to keep substantive revisions of the regulations to a minimum. The published draft sets out long-term definitions for both primary and secondary schools, based on reliable metrics. Schools need clarity and certainty about the circumstances in which they would be judged to be coasting. Making frequent substantive changes to the regulations would create confusion and an unnecessary workload for teachers, something we are trying to tackle with great energy at the moment.
It is important that the Secretary of State retains flexibility to amend the regulations in future if necessary. If we were to alter the coasting definition or make smaller, technical changes, the most sensible point to do so would be as the relevant performance data are published. Since primary and secondary data are published separately at different times, it could be necessary to alter the regulations twice in any one year to give schools clarity on the relevant coasting level as soon as possible. The amendment would therefore be too inflexible, leading to primary schools having to wait until secondary results were published before finding out their coasting level. However, as I said, we intend there to be some stability in the definition of coasting schools.
Amendment 79 seeks to make the regulations subject to the affirmative procedure, and so require parliamentary debate before the regulations are laid for the first time and before any subsequent amendments to them are made. The negative procedure is in keeping with much delegated legislation on education, and I see no reason to adopt the approach in the amendment. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley gave some examples of education regulations that are subject to the affirmative procedure, but that is not consistently the case. For example, section 94(1) of the Education and Schools Act 2008 permits the Secretary of State to make regulations to prescribe the standards that independent schools must meet to be registered; the negative procedure applies to those regulations.
I have already set out plans for further public consultation on the draft regulations. Any future changes would also be subject to wide and comprehensive public consultation. The negative procedure provides the House with the opportunity to pray against amended regulations, something that I am sure the hon. Member for Cardiff West has done in the past, as I have. That leads to a debate in which any serious concerns can be discussed.
The negative procedure therefore provides the necessary flexibility that is appropriate for regulations of this kind while retaining an opportunity for debate whenever hon. Members feel that necessary.
Proposed new section 60B(2) of the 2006 Act makes it clear that if “coasting” is to be defined, it will be defined in regulation:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations define what ‘coasting’ means in relation to a school for the purposes of subsection (1).”
Subsection (1) of the proposed new section deals with whether a maintained school is eligible for intervention. So unless the word is defined in regulation, the regional schools commissioner will not have the power contained in the 2006 Act—in all those different sections; 60, 60B and so on—to intervene in such schools.
If, as suggested by the hon. Gentleman, the Government tried to define “coasting” in guidance or letters, that definition would not take effect for the purposes of the clause and would not give the regional schools commissioner the power to intervene if the school was eligible for intervention.
Will the regional schools commissioner be able to notify a school that it is coasting in his or her professional judgment, even though the regulations indicate that it is not coasting? In other words, after the regulations are laid, is it possible for regional schools commissioners to exercise a judgment based on their professional beliefs, or do they have to rely on regulations in order to deem a school to be coasting?
If the regional schools commissioner wants the powers that are available in the 2006 Act that apply when a school is eligible for intervention, a definition of coasting other than that which is in the regulations will not be sufficient. However, the regional schools commissioner may well feel, based on his experience and the experience of the headteacher board, that a certain school is causing concern, which may trigger an informal intervention with the school. We will be issuing for consultation revised guidance on schools that are causing concern.
However, we rely on regional schools commissioners to use their experience and therefore on the headteacher boards to talk to schools when they have a concern. If they want to use a specific power in the Education and Inspections Act 2006, the school has to fall into one of the following categories—first, a failing school, secondly, a school that has received a warning notice but has not met the conditions in it, or a coasting school. The school has to fall within one of those definitions for RSCs to be able to use the intervention power.
I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman and that he will now be able to withdraw the amendments.
I am disappointed that I did not think about tabling an amendment in relation to regional schools commissioners that are causing concern, given the breaking news that we heard earlier, to which the Minister did not refer in his response. Perhaps he needs a little bit more time to do so and by the end of our discussion of this clause we can have some more information, because it is entirely pertinent to the issues that we have under discussion. I think that the Committee ought to be told what is going on in relation to regional schools commissioners and why we hear today that one of them has either stood down or been stood down—I am not quite sure which it is and what the detail is. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us more very shortly.
Just to put the hon. Gentleman out of his misery, the regional schools commissioner to whom he is referring, has not stood down, but has resigned through his own choice. These people are very talented and we are very grateful to Paul Smith for the energy and enthusiasm that he has brought to his role. His contribution has been greatly valued. We will be advertising for a replacement, but people of his experience and talent are sought after in the educational world. I suspect that many of our regional schools commissioners will be approached by all kinds of educational institutions because of their ability and talent. I hope that that will not happen, but on this occasion it has happened and we are very grateful for the tremendous work that Mr Smith has carried out over the last period.
I am grateful to the Schools Minister for his response, and I apologise. I did not realise that there was a distinction between standing down and resigning, but obviously there is. It is a subtle distinction that is lost on me, but I am sure that we will hear some more about why he stood down at some point in the near future. I congratulate Mr Smith if he has been poached by some other employer for his great talent. It is a wonderful thing if that is the case, although the timing seems a bit odd, while we are completing the Committee stage of the Bill, where we are discussing all these matters. As the Minister pointed out earlier, this is a very new system and regional schools commissioners have been in place for a very short period of time. However, if it is the case, as the Minister has intimated, that Mr Smith has been headhunted and offered a higher job elsewhere, we should all congratulate him on that. If there is any other reason behind his leaving his post, I am sure that we will find out what it is in due course.
That is probably something that is for the Minister to answer, rather than for me to speculate on. I am not a mind reader, but he may well have something to tell the Committee about that in due course. It is a serious matter, and I accept there may be a very good reason for Mr Smith’s departure. However, up-to-date information about regional schools commissioners is pertinent to the Committee’s proceedings, given that they featured so much in our discussions—even though their role is not set out in statute—and that so many of the Bill’s provisions will be implemented by them. It is right that the Committee has the most up to date, breaking news on regional schools commissioners and their current status.
It is not our intention to press matters to a vote on this particular group of amendments. Given that this is the last day of our proceedings, I hoped that the Minister might have felt generous enough to make a traditional Government-type concession on the negative resolution and affirmative resolution issue that we often debate, as a gesture towards the rest of Parliament. Perhaps further down the parliamentary line we might be offered that little titbit for all our efforts in Committee. However, at this stage, the Minister is obviously feeling that he needs to be a little tighter with his concessions than we had hoped for at this stage of the Bill. He is a good-natured and generous-hearted individual, so who knows—down the line we may be able to get that concession from him and others.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“(2D) Regulations under subsection (2) must specify, if used in the definition of ‘coasting’—
(a) the minimum pupil roll of a school,
(b) a school’s admission arrangements,
(c) the age range of pupils in attendance at the school,
(d) the handling of data about pupils with special educational needs or a disability,
(e) information about the socio-economic characteristics of the area where the school is situated,
(f) the role of professional advice which the Secretary of State must consider.”
This amendment would require specific factors to be included in the regulations which define a coasting school.
Amendment 80, in clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(3C) In section 182 (Parliamentary control of orders and regulations) after subsection (3) insert—
‘( ) A statutory instrument which contains regulations under subsection (2) of section 60B (Coasting schools) may not be made unless—
(a) the Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority certifies that Official Statistics used to determine whether a school is coasting are used in a statistically correct manner, and
(b) a draft of the instrument and the certificate have been laid before each House of Parliament, and the draft instrument approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.’”
This amendment aims to ensure that any Official Statistics used in the definition of a coasting school are used in a statistically correct manner and provides that a report is to be submitted to Parliament confirming that this is the case, and requires a draft of the regulations defining coasting schools to be approved by each House of Parliament.
Amendment 76 would require specific factors to be included in the regulations that define a coasting school. Amendment 80 aims to ensure that any official statistics in the definition of a coasting school are used in a statistically correct manner—a recurring theme of the Committee’s discussions—and would provide for a report to be submitted to Parliament confirming that that is the case. It would also require a draft of the regulations defining coasting schools to be approved by each House of Parliament.
Ministers are usually keen to make international comparisons, particularly in relation to the far east and jurisdictions such as the state of Singapore and the city of Shanghai in the People’s Republic of China. The Minister for Schools will have read the recent blog from the Institute of Education, which addresses the broad issue of how areas such as Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong are moving away from the categorisation of schools simply according to academic results. The blog says:
“Whilst the systems of Shanghai and Singapore previously used public league tables to rank schools, these have been abandoned in favour of a more supportive and developmental role…In Hong Kong, Territory-wide System Assessments, as part of the accountability mechanism, is meant to inform policy and school improvement rather than make comparisons.”
I commend this article. I am not going to read the whole thing, but it makes interesting observations about the changes that have been happening in places such as Singapore in recent years, which seem to contradict some of the categorisation of their approach that Ministers have outlined in recent years.
Much has been made of the need to base policy on best practice from around the world. Ministers need to be able to tell us which jurisdictions, if any, operate the kind of system that they are advocating here. Which jurisdictions operate the system based on a rather crude categorisation of schools according to their results, and on intervention that is based not on support and improvement, but on allocating blame and imposing structural changes including—preferably, from the Minister’s viewpoint—academisation?
The Institute of Education at University College London recently established a unit to study the far eastern educational superpowers, as we might call them. The Government have a great interest in that work. The unit is staffed by Professor Paul Morris and Dr Christine Han, both of whom have spent a long time in the far east studying and helping develop school systems. We know about the Minister’s love of international comparisons. During the passage of the Education Act 2011, we debated the subject many times in relation to, for example, standards in qualifications and participation in international surveys. Professor Morris and Dr Han have written about coasting schools and what can be learnt from international best practice. We would like to know where school systems like the one proposed in the Bill are used.
Amendment 76 would ensure that many factors are taken into account before a judgment is made about whether a school can be identified as coasting. For example, I think we all agree that statistical data are much less valid in a small school. Most obviously, the current draft criteria seem to make it almost impossible for a grammar school to be found to be coasting—rather difficult to believe, but that would appear to be the case—and much more likely that a secondary modern school in a grammar system would be found to be coasting, which seems to defeat the object. How many grammar schools does the Schools Minister expect to be coasting, under his definition? I assume that he has made some kind of assessment of how many are likely to fall into that category.
The nature of the challenge faced by a school as a result of its intake needs to be taken into account. Pupils with significant SEN are likely to make less than average progress. We know that and we debated it a little bit this morning. For example, the data for a primary school with a SEN specialism unit will be seriously affected as those pupils will be a significant proportion of the school roll. To what extent is that taken into account?
It is established that, statistically, pupils from more challenging socioeconomic backgrounds tend to make slower progress. We can discuss, as we did a little bit this morning, how we try to tackle that statistical reality. Nevertheless, it still features in our debate about the definition of a coasting school. The judgment on a school should not just be data-driven. There should be a requirement to seek professional advice about the quality of the school’s work beyond pure data.
Amendment 80 would ensure that any official statistics in the definition of a coasting school are used in a statistically correct manner. We should all welcome and support that. It would also ensure that a report is submitted to Parliament confirming that that is the case. The amendment would require a draft of the regulations defining coasting schools to be approved by each House of Parliament. We have had substantial discussions about statistics, and more independent assessment of the way in which the Department for Education uses statistics would be very welcome. An amendment to ensure that official statistics in the definition of a coasting school are used in a statistically correct manner would be helpful to everyone—Ministers, Opposition Members, parents, governors, schools commissioners, pupils and local authorities—concerned with the running of a school and concerned about a coasting school in their area. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response. If he does not accept the amendment, what steps will he take to ensure that any statistics are used in a statistically correct manner?
Amendments 75, 76 and 80 apply to clause 1, which introduces new provisions to allow the Secretary of State to identify schools that are coasting, so that regional schools commissioners—all seven of them—can provide them with the challenge and the support they need to improve.
A coasting school is one that does not consistently ensure that children fulfil their potential. If we are to ensure that every child receives the best possible start in life, we should give regional schools commissioners the power to intervene so that these schools improve and offer a higher quality education to their pupils.
The definition of coasting is based on published performance data, so that the basis for determining whether schools are eligible for intervention is objective and transparent to schools and the public. It will apply from 2016, looking back to data from 2014, 2015 and 2016. The definition for each of those years will be based on the same data and measures as the existing floor standards for the same years. These measures are already familiar to schools, and are already used for school accountability.
Amendment 75 would require the regulations that will define coasting schools to use definitions already in use in other countries. We want to compete with the best education systems in the world, and we look closely at other countries to learn from international best practice. International surveys show that reform is essential. Our 15-year-olds are on average three years behind their peers in Shanghai in maths, as assessed by the Programme for International Student Assessment survey. We are the only OECD country whose young people do not have better levels of literacy or numeracy than their grandparents’ generation. This international evidence informed our recent announcement that when the new reformed GCSEs are taken for the first time in 2017, a good pass will be a grade 5 on Ofqual’s new grading scale. This means that the new good pass will be more demanding than the present grade C, and broadly in line with what the best available evidence indicates is average performance in high-performing countries such as Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
The Minister mentions international comparisons and draws attention to the outcomes that are achieved by other countries. Is not the real lesson that these countries have a focus on standards, which has delivered their outcomes, whereas the Bill proposes a focus on organisational status?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. It is always a combination of standards and structures. Structures do help. They give autonomy to professionals, they improve accountability, and they allow the types of intervention that are set out in the Bill and that were legislated for in 2006 by the then Labour Government. We have to do that together with a standards agenda, which is why we have rewritten the primary curriculum. There is now a much more rigorous and demanding curriculum for maths, English and science. That is why we have reformed GCSEs and A-levels to ensure that they are more demanding, and that they start to deliver the kind of education that employers and colleges demand. The hon. Gentleman is right that we need a combination of both. The Bill deals with the structural side of the reform programme, but we certainly need to do both and we cannot rely on only one or the other.
International benchmarks are valuable because they allow us to compare the performance of our education system as a whole with those in other jurisdictions. They are less suitable for underpinning comparisons of individual institutions between countries. PISA and other international benchmarking assessments are based on a sample approach. They would therefore be inappropriate for school-level accountability, including identifying individual schools that are coasting or failing. While international comparisons should continue to inform our expectations for young people and guide our reforms, as they have done, the amendment would require the Secretary of State to take an unworkable and inappropriate approach to the use of international evidence.
Amendment 76 seeks to require the regulations defining coasting schools to include other factors, such as the number of pupils in a school and their socioeconomic background.
Some other jurisdictions use performance data to evaluate school performance, but we are not aware of a definition of “coasting” in use internationally that could be used as the amendment proposes. Relatively few education systems internationally have the quality of reliable performance data in the public domain that we have in this country.
Amendment 76 would require the regulations defining coasting schools to include other factors, such as the number of pupils in a school and their socioeconomic background. Some of those factors are relevant when reaching a considered assessment about whether to intervene and what action to take, and that is what regional schools commissioners will do.
Although schools will not be identified as coasting until 2016, the Department already uses discretion and takes additional contextual school data into account when making decisions about school improvement. For example, Morgan’s Vale and Woodfalls Church of England voluntary-aided primary school in Wiltshire applied to convert as a stand-alone academy. It was due to open in September 2013 but its key stage 2 results fell by 10 percentage points. As our policy is to allow only schools that are performing well to convert without a sponsor, we looked carefully at the school’s circumstances before deciding whether to allow it to open as an academy. It is a small school with fewer than 90 children on roll, and only 12 pupils took the test in 2013. The Department recognised that each child’s performance would have a significant impact with such a small cohort. Given that context and that the school had a track record of performing above the national average in previous years, Ministers at the time decided to allow the school to convert. In 2014, 100% of pupils achieved level 4 or above at key stage 2.
While many of the factors proposed in the amendment are ones that regional schools commissioners will take into account when deciding what action to take for a coasting school, it would not be appropriate to specify them all in the regulations that define coasting. It is important that the definition of coasting is simple, transparent and based on established, published performance data, so that schools and others can easily identify whether they are coasting and understand the basis for determining that.
I am reminded of our debate this morning about schools in leafy suburbs and whether the attainment level is appropriate for pupils of those schools. In particular, the hon. Member for Hyndburn referred to the 85% attainment level. However, only a small proportion of primary schools would fall into the category above 85%. Only 16% of schools currently have 85% or more of their pupils achieving the new, higher expectation of an equivalent of level 4b. When we add to that the fact that a school needs to achieve that for three years, it becomes a very small proportion.
We want all pupils to reach the level of attainment that makes them ready for secondary school. We therefore make no apology for having an attainment level, because we want to push the level up so that more—in fact, all—pupils are ready for secondary school when they leave primary school.
It will be less than 16% because we have to take into account the three-year requirement. As my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South pointed out, other tools can be used to ensure that those schools are performing well, one of which is Ofsted. Ofsted is quick to point out in its judgments when schools are not delivering for every ability range, which can lead a school to go into special measures despite having high attainment levels.
Amendment 80 would require a certificate from the UK Statistics Authority each time regulations are made, to certify that statistics have been used correctly. The data published in performance tables have been used for many years to assess schools’ performance and hold schools to account for the outcomes that they achieve. Those are the data we have used for many years to set the floor standards that determine when schools are failing to achieve our minimum expectations, and the data used by Ofsted in inspections and by schools to evaluate their own performance relative to others and to identify areas for improvement. The data are classified as official statistics and published in official statistical first releases every year. The DFE is currently working towards the designation of the data as national statistics. That is the highest quality mark that the UKSA can give official statistics. I am, therefore, very clear that the data we will use to define coasting schools are robust and independently verified. In light of that and the other arguments I have made, I hope the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
That was interesting. We have discovered that, in bringing forward the proposals on coasting schools in clause 1, the Minister does not have any international model or comparisons in mind. He told us that, although other jurisdictions use data, he could not name one that took this approach towards coasting schools. That tells us that the Government are carrying out something of an experiment. It is not based on previous experiences elsewhere. Somebody always has to be first but, when embarking on an experiment with schools that will have an impact—one hopes, a positive impact, as the Minister intends—on the education of young people, it is wise and better to pilot it properly. That is especially so if it is a groundbreaking experiment that has no international example to call upon. At least amendment 75 has drawn out that fact; that this is a completely new approach that is not based on the high-achieving jurisdictions that Ministers are often keen to cite as evidence in support of their approach to education policy. That has been helpful.
In relation to data, no one doubts that these are official statistics; we understand that. It is not the raw data that count but how they are processed. We have seen that time and again during our discussions. What counts is the way data are contextualised and processed. That is why we called for a check on that from the body set up to verify statistics independently and appropriately by Government, namely the independent UK Statistics Authority. It might have been appropriate for the processed data rather than raw data to be subject to some stamp of approval from the UK Statistics Authority to ensure that the actions being taken are justified by the statistics. I will not press the amendment to a vote at this stage, but it has been a significant feature of our discussions.
We have also learned a little more from the Minister. We now have seven people holding the very important position of RSC. As our deliberations on the Bill progress, they expose the need for further scrutiny and transparency about the actions and work of regional schools commissioners. At this stage, in order to proceed and get on to the clause stand part debate, although there are many issues that we have not discussed, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
As we have discussed, the clause enables the Secretary of State via the regional schools commissioners to identify schools that are coasting, and gives her and the relevant local authority power to intervene in those schools when necessary. The Government’s manifesto was clear that, as well as moving more swiftly to tackle failure, a commitment to every child receiving a good education means that we must also tackle those schools that have been coasting.
The principles behind our coasting definition have been clear. We want to capture those schools where data show that over a three-year period they are failing to provide an acceptable level of education. Clause 1 would give us a regulation-making power allowing the Secretary of State to set out precisely what criteria sit behind the principles. The Committee has been able to consider the draft regulations in detail, but this debate has been helpful in reiterating some key points.
First, the draft regulations will not identify any school as coasting until after a school has performance results for 2014, 2015 and 2016. In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question about the number of grammar schools which fall into the definition, it is very difficult until we have the 2016 results.
I should also point out to the hon. Member for Cardiff West that progress 8 and the new primary progress value-added measure compare pupils with others who have the same prior attainment. Grammar schools with a high-attaining intake will be compared against others with the same level of intake, as will schools with tougher and more challenging intakes. No school can be judged as coasting until 2016 results are available, so it would be wrong for us to try to estimate the number of grammar schools that might fall into the coasting definition.
Secondly, another principle established during this debate is that a school will only be coasting if it falls below the set level for three years. Thirdly, the draft regulations propose to set levels from 2016 against the new, robust accountability measures that will exist both for primary schools and, through progress 8, for secondary schools. For 2014 and 2015, prior to these new systems being in place, the regulations specify interim levels for these two years only. These levels have been set against the existing accountability measures that schools knew they were being held to in those two years. We are not applying the new accountability systems retrospectively.
We have committed to consulting publicly on the coasting definition in the regulations after the summer recess and will also use this opportunity to gather views on whether and how it might be possible to define “coasting” in pupil referral units and special schools.
The hon. Member for Cardiff West raised the issue of a school with a large special educational needs unit. Such schools will not automatically be excluded from the coasting definition. The presence and impact of a SEN unit is of course exactly the type of issue that we would expect the regional schools commissioner to consider when deciding whether a school that falls within the definition of “coasting” has the capacity to improve sufficiently or whether it requires support and challenge. The RSC will look at the data intelligently and at the circumstances of the school based on their experience and the advice of the headteachers’ board.
I am grateful to the Minister for referring back to that point. That almost seems to suggest that a school with a large unit of this kind is almost certainly to be categorised as “coasting” because of the rigid nature of the assessment. Does the Minister see how dispiriting it might be for a school that is doing work with children with special educational needs to find that it is deemed to be coasting due to the rather rigid definition in the regulations?
We want all pupils, regardless of their background or any special educational need, to do as well as possible. That is why it is important for the regional schools commissioner to look at the standard of SEN education as well as non-SEN education being delivered to pupils. So I do not apologise that a school with a large SEN unit will perhaps fall within the definition of coasting. Remember that the definition is based on prior attainment, and a school that takes a child with low prior attainment and manages to deliver a high-quality education will see very good progress levels recorded in their metrics.
Clause 1 provides that, once a school has fallen within the “coasting” definition and the Secretary of State has notified it, it will be eligible for intervention. We have been clear however that, unlike failing schools, in which intervention will be automatic and from day one, coasting schools will be given the opportunity to demonstrate that they can improve sufficiently.
Regional schools commissioners will take into account the context of the school—as I have just said with regard to schools with large SEN units—and will look at its capacity to improve sufficiently before deciding what support or intervention may be necessary. Some coasting schools may have the capacity to improve and, where this is the case, they should be given the opportunity to improve. Other coasting schools may require additional support and challenge from a national leader of education or a strong local school, but where a coasting school has no credible plan or is not improving sufficiently, the regional schools commissioner will be able to bring in an established academy sponsor.
Clause 1 reflects the Government’s commitment to social justice alongside other measures in the Bill. The clause should ensure that schools improve and children get the education that they deserve. I therefore move that the clause stand part of the Bill.
To reiterate what I said on the first group of amendments, we do not have a problem with the concept of trying to deal with coasting schools and schools that, although superficially doing well, are not meeting the needs of all their pupils in as effective a way as they can. There is a laudable aim behind what the Government are trying to do. The clause seems deceptively brief and simple, but it raises a series of issues that go to the heart of why there are flaws in the Government’s approach to improving coasting schools and schools more generally.
At the heart of the approach, I am sorry to say, there is a degree of political posturing. It seems that Ministers can, by legislating at the stroke of a pen, transform thousands of schools because they have a unique insight into what needs to be done. It seems that they have an insight that the tens of thousands of heads, teachers, parents, governors and others involved in the schools have for some reason never discovered.
Before we go into the detail of the muddle that is in the clause, it is useful to stand back and look at the fundamentals of the approach. We have already heard in debates on the amendments that the most effective school systems internationally are realising that the simplistic approach to ranking schools in order to praise some and blame others has had its day. We see that in Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Such approaches have had a part to play, but a lesson is emerging from the highest performing jurisdictions in Asia that perhaps times have moved on.
Nor do such effective systems agonise about school structures in the way that we seem to in this country as we try out different forms of governance. They get on with the fundamental task. The point that we have always made, which is at the heart of any attempt to improve our school system, is that we should try to improve the quality of teaching, learning and leadership within our schools. In other words, we need to design the systems to support teachers, rather than continually blame them. We need to focus on helping teachers to learn how to improve what they do.
I am afraid that we have been subject in recent years to the big man theory of education reform, which is that a great person will come along and transform everything. I prefer what I like to call the Sir David Brailsford approach to improvement. He was the coach of the very successful UK cycling team in the Olympics. He brought about that wonderful success through the accumulation of marginal gains over a period of time, and through understanding that we get improvement by tweaking what is wrong and improving the quality of staff and resources that are used to bring about improvement.
It is politically beguiling for Ministers to be able to claim to have transformed our schools system at the stroke of a pen, but it does not work that way. We all know it. Ministers in their heart of hearts know it. Certainly anybody who has ever worked in education and has been at the frontline in a classroom knows that improvements come about over a period of time. All the mantras and sloganising about instantly transforming schools overnight is a little misleading. We need quality leadership, quality local authorities and quality academy sponsors, and we need to work on developing those together, in partnership. That is the way forward.
It is instructive to look back at the coasting schools initiative started by our party at the latter end of the Labour Government, in 2008-09. No one can deny that some schools achieve well but do not do well enough. That is why we signalled our support for doing something about this, and we were in the process of doing so. The broad definition back then was that coasting schools had an intake that did not fulfil its earlier promise and could achieve more. We probably share some common ground with the Minister on that.
However, the current approach seems to have departed from that insight and is rather rigid. We thought that identification of coasting schools was better done by those who were close to the schools, which is why we wanted local authorities to be involved, taking into account local factors and individual circumstances. We heard earlier about schools with a large special educational needs unit. That should surely be taken into account in some way, shape or form before a “coasting” judgment is made, given the negative impact that the judgment could have if it is not justified.
Our proposals recognise that many factors can affect a school’s raw data. The word “coasting” is not always a fair description of a school with relatively high attainment but below-average progression. It cannot be a one-size-fits-all strategy, and that is why we asked local authorities to get involved in identifying schools appropriately. Such an approach is very different from the simple data-driven exercise that seems to be at the heart of the regulations. It will be interesting to see how the consultation that the Minister outlined pans out over coming months.
It has been suggested that the Government’s criteria will constitute guidance to regional schools commissioners—seven of whom, as we heard, are left out of the eight—rather than being applied automatically. We heard something about that from the Minister, but if it is the case, each commissioner will be asked to make judgments about several thousand schools, of which they can hardly have a detailed knowledge. We are concerned about regional schools commissioners’ capacity to carry out those functions.
When we were in government, we selected criteria that would support the identification of schools to which the definition “coasting” might reasonably apply. The Government seem, at least initially, to have selected criteria that are almost perfectly designed to miss the very schools that they say they are targeting. When the “coasting” definition is first introduced, any secondary school with an attainment level of above 60% for the GCSE measure will be exempt, even if they should be getting 80%. Why are they exempt at the beginning of the process? If it is so urgent for us to get this right from day one, why are those schools exempt? Would it not mean that they were coasting if they got 60% but should be getting 80%? Any primary school getting 85% of students to level 4 will be exempt, even if they should be getting 95% and lots of level 5s. Why? If that is the case, does it not mean that the school is coasting?
As far as progress measures are concerned, we know from research—my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley raised this issue earlier—that pupils starting at a lower level make slower progress, even when they are taught in the same school as pupils starting at a higher level. The Government’s measures, as outlined, will lead to the identification of schools with challenging intakes and will let off other schools with more favourable intakes, at least at the beginning.
At the extreme, it seems virtually impossible for a grammar school to be found to be coasting, but the Minister was not able to tell us about any number crunching that the Department has done on that. Why? It does not seem logical to assume that grammar schools cannot be coasting. Does the Minister think that there are no grammar schools that are currently coasting? And if he does think there are some that are coasting, why has he not more quickly devised a means to attempt to identify them, using some other means than these data, which will not enable us to do so, particularly in the early years?
This is what the Secretary of State said about all this:
“For too long, a group of coasting schools, many in leafy areas with more advantages than schools in disadvantaged communities, have fallen beneath the radar.”
So, according to the Secretary of State, at the heart of this policy are those schools in the “leafy” suburbs, which have strong intakes. She gives a very strong impression in her remarks that this policy is all about dealing with those coasting schools, and that they are to be found mainly in “leafy” suburbs, and have strong intakes. However, the point is that they will meet this measure, and yet they will still be failing their pupils in terms of their progress.
Some schools in “leafy” suburbs will meet the “coasting” definition, and some that are not in “leafy” suburbs will be above the “coasting” level. But many, many schools in “leafy” suburbs, which seem to be the hon. Gentleman’s main concern, will fall within the definition of “coasting” schools, notwithstanding the attainment levels of 60% for secondary schools and 85% for primary schools.
The Minister touched on the issue, saying that the Bill would pick up on underperformance and coasting in areas of affluence. I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the evidence given to the Committee by Rebecca Allen from the University of Central London. She said:
“My concern about the metrics that have been chosen to define coasting schools is that they display exactly the same type of what I call a social gradient. By that I mean that if a school serves an affluent community then it will not be judged to be coasting using these metrics.”––[Official Report, Education and Adoption Public Bill Committee, 29 June 2015; c. 7, Q2.]
Does my hon. Friend agree that that is exactly the problem with this Bill?
Yes, and my hon. Friend has cited in an exemplary way the oral evidence that we were given, in order to bring home that point. It is a real point, and I am sure it is one that will emerge very strongly during the discussion of the Government’s draft regulations. That is because these schools are supposed to be the “coasting” schools, as defined by the phrases used by the Secretary of State, and not the ones with weaker-ability intakes, which seem to be destined, as per the evidence we heard from witnesses at the oral evidence sessions, to be hammered by the new definition.
However, there was a big difference in the approach that we had proposed previously. There was an interesting article recently in Schools Week by Laura McInerney, which I will quote from:
“Labour define coasting schools as those with GCSE scores above a threshold BUT have below average progress. Labour’s plan specifically targets the schools doing well in terms of their GCSE pass rates but whose pupils, having come in with average-to-high ability rates, only come out with Bs or As – rather than A*s.”
She went on:
“This compares to the current Conservative definition which specifically protects these sorts of schools by stopping any school above a 60% GCSE pass rate threshold from being considered as ‘coasting’. As datalab’s research shows this helps stop schools in wealthier areas – ‘the leafy suburbs’ – from being hit.”
I know that the Minister will go on to argue that if this is a problem—he does not seem to accept that it is—it will all disappear after 2018, because at that time “coasting” schools will be defined only by a progress measure. So, if we have got a problem here, I assume he will say, first, that it is not really a problem, and secondly, that if it is a problem at all, it will go away in time.
The problem is that schools with high-ability intakes tend to progress more quickly than those without such intakes. We should all be passionately interested in why this is. I think we can agree that we want to find ways to tackle that. Presumably, the Minister is hoping that Government policy is the way to do that so that people from a lower start can progress as quickly as people who have started from a higher level. We can debate that and have different views about the best way to achieve it, but I am sure it is an aim that we all share. However, that is not what the Secretary of State was talking about in relation to coasting schools when she made her remarks. In the absence of any other approach to coasting, the Government will end up targeting only schools with poorer intakes, rather then those in the leafy suburbs, which I thought was supposed to be the central point of the policy, certainly according to what the Secretary of State said.
What do the Government intend to do about these schools once they have been identified? We are told:
“Those that can improve will be supported to do so by our team of expert heads, and those that cannot will be turned into academies under the leadership of our expert school sponsors”.
The suspicion remains that forced academisation is really what this is all about, particularly in view of the academy performance targets that the seven remaining regional schools commissioners have, and of the point that was made in the Conservative manifesto.
There is also no sensible account in these proposals about the interaction between Ofsted and these measures. This came up in our oral evidence sessions. Are we going to get schools rated good and outstanding one week, only to be deemed to be coasting the very next week? How will staff, parents and pupils make any sense of it if they receive a letter from the school saying, “Our school has been rated ‘good’” or “Our school has been rated ‘outstanding’” one week, and the very next week they get a letter saying, “Our school is deemed to be ‘coasting’”? How will they, let alone the general public or the media, make any sense of it? What kind of headlines would it produce in the local papers for Members of Parliament concerned about schools in their constituencies? Will the Minister explain how that kind of situation would be managed? Would it have been better for some kind of interaction to be thought through between Ofsted and the coasting regulations and the way in which regional schools commissioners react to the coasting definitions? Could they have been made to interact more effectively so that such apparent anomalies would not arise? Perhaps the Minister is not worried about it, but it seems to me that it will cause confusion in the system.
My hon. Friend makes a point about the forced academisation of some schools in the “leafy” suburbs. Some schools in the “leafy” suburbs to the north of me are very small. We talk about class sizes of 30; I am not sure that some of these have school sizes of 30. Is an academisation process in those “leafy” suburbs unwelcome and perhaps financially unviable? Do they need to remain within the local authority education system?
My hon. Friend is better placed than me to comment on the schools in his area and his constituency, but he makes a very valid point when he say that the size of schools should be taken into account when considering these kinds of interventions and approaches.
A big difference between the approach that we favoured towards coasting schools and the current one is that we proposed a comprehensive package of support to help these schools improve.
Why does a coasting school have to be bigger? Why cannot we have coasting small schools, medium-sized schools and large schools? What is the problem with the number of pupils at a school?
Of course, it is perfectly possible for a small school or a school of any size to be coasting. The problem is that if we define coasting simply in terms of data, we know that data can be skewed when there is a smaller sample. It commonly happens that a relatively small difference, for example in the nature of the intake, can make a big difference in smaller schools to the result of an Ofsted inspection or the coasting regulation. The hon. Lady is right that any school might be in that category and we need a little more subtlety in the way in which we apply the data.
There is also the question, which we have discussed elsewhere, of what will happen to coasting academies. It remains to be seen where all the experts, heads and sponsors are to be found. More importantly, nowhere in the Government’s proposals is there any analysis of what will actually change in classrooms. Our concern was to focus on learning outcomes and approaches, rather than simply on structures. It was a serious attempt to address how to improve teachers and teaching and how to motivate and encourage pupils—and to have some resources to match that.
The initiative’s intention is laudable, but the execution is flawed. It is based on the Government’s view that change in structure is all that is needed. We do not think it will identify the right schools. We do not think it offers a proper analysis of why schools might be coasting or many useful suggestions about ways in which schools might be improved, other than the inevitable desire to force them to be academised.
Much of the Bill is less about action and more about seeming to act. Out in the real world it will make precious little difference, except to contribute more to the disillusionment that is so widespread in our schools, unless there is a better definition of coasting. I will quote Laura McInerney of Schools Week, who states that,
“if you truly want to find the real coasting schools then you wouldn’t begin with a definition, as is currently proposed until 2018, which protects those schools above a certain GCSE threshold. Instead, you would go after schools that have high GCSE pass rates and very low progress rates, just like the Labour plan suggested in 2008”.
Why have Ministers chosen to take this approach rather than an alternative approach, which truly would have identified those schools that the Secretary of State said she wanted to identify?
Let me briefly address some of the hon. Gentleman’s points. On “coasting” and “outstanding” schools, Ofsted’s judgments are a snapshot at any one given moment, whereas the definition of coasting takes into account three years of figures, so there will be discrepancies because of that, particularly if the Ofsted inspection took place some time ago.
Yes, and the data two or three years ago may be very different. It is only over three years that the definition of coasting kicks in and the school may have been below the level of coasting for two of those years, but Ofsted will not have regarded it as coasting, because it felt that there was capacity to improve, although in the third year the school failed to improve sufficiently to be taken out of the definition. As the definition of coasting permeates the education system, I think we will find that more and more people will take it into account as part of their analysis of data, when this type of analysis of schools is conducted.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the 60% attainment level not being fair, because it will exclude schools in affluent areas that have poor progress from the definition of coasting. We could have taken the approach of retrospectively applying the progress 8 measure to the years 2015 and 2014, but we felt that was not the right approach in assessing and applying the definition of coasting. By 2018, three years of progress 8 data will be available to regional schools commissioners, of whom, by the way, there are still eight, notwithstanding my tongue-in-cheek comment about there being seven, because Paul Smith does not leave office until December 2015 at the very earliest. In 2018, there will be three years of data but we felt that it would be wrong to retrospectively apply that.
We want primary schools to achieve the figure of 85% of students getting level 4s. If we had taken the Schools Week or the Labour party approach to looking only at schools above 85%, we would have ignored that whole tranche of schools with attainment that was above the floor but below the coasting definition—above 65% but below 85%. That would be a mistake because schools with between 35% and 15% of pupils not achieving level 4b in reading, writing and maths need to be addressed. We are keen to do that.
I hope that I have said enough to persuade the Committee to support this important clause. It is designed to deal with coasting schools and allows us to take the powers that we need to ensure that those schools receive intervention. If Opposition Members feel that we should include more schools in the definition of coasting or if they feel strongly that we should apply a retrospective measure to defining coasting in 2014-15, I urge them to respond to the consultation, or to respond now.
It is a bit early to respond to the consultation. For the record, although it is not our intention to vote against clause 1, because we think that coasting is an important matter, we reserve the right to come back to some of these issues on Report when we have had more of a chance to look at the regulations and hear other people’s responses.