£18m academy growth cash ‘shows coasting double standard’

New rules enable government to force schools with two consecutive less-than-good inspections into new trusts

New rules enable government to force schools with two consecutive less-than-good inspections into new trusts

18 Nov 2022, 5:00

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The National Education Union has accused ministers of “double standards” after they offered several academy trusts extra funding to take on under-performing schools when some of their own are “coasting”.

New rules this term enable the government to force schools with two consecutive less-than-good inspections into new trusts.

School leaders are also angry about rehashed “coasting” rules, warning against “naming and shaming”.

Last month, the Department for Education awarded £18 million in trust capacity fund (TCaF) grants to 104 trusts with a “focus on supporting strong” trusts to expand.

But analysis by the NEU shows that eight winning trusts have nine “coasting” schools, as defined by the government. They received a combined £1.8 million, almost a tenth of the pot.

Four of the schools were rated ‘requires improvement’ (RI) twice in a row. For instance, the Orme Academy in Staffordshire, which joined the Shaw Education Trust in 2015, was rated RI in 2018 and 2021. Shaw recently received £283,500 in growth funding.

‘Double standards for MATs’

NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney academy

Kevin Courtney, the union’s joint general secretary, said: “There is a double standard at work whereby trusts with schools that meet the unfair threshold for DfE intervention are being provided with cash to expand, whereas the same opportunity is not extended to local authorities, which are being starved of funding.”

The government has begun alerting schools if they are designated as “coasting”.

If they are maintained or standalone academies, officials have a “presumption in favour” of transferring them to new MATs. But no such transfer presumption applies to schools already in trusts.

Courtney accused the government of focusing on its MAT drive “rather than seeking to provide support for effective school improvement”.

However, the government’s expansion cash could equally be seen as undermining its own “coasting” label – rather than the idea recipient trusts are not strong.

Five of the successful applicant trusts’ “coasting” schools actually improved from ‘inadequate’ to RI at their latest inspection.

Academy trusts criticise ‘coasting’ labels

Tim Coulson, the chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership, criticised the “naming and shaming” of schools such as Felixstowe School.

He said staff were “heroes” and Ofsted had dubbed it as ‘improving’, even amid Covid’s challenges. Seven of Unity’s secondaries are ‘good’, Coulson added, and growth funding helped to improve trust-wide HR and take on a school.

Meanwhile, inspectors said leaders at Marden Vale CofE Academy in Wiltshire had “improved the school markedly”, albeit with “significant work” needed to become ‘good’.

The Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust school is rebuilding its curriculum “subject by subject”, with leaders praised for avoiding “quick fixes”.

Mark Lacey, the trust’s chief executive, said its schools were “in no way coasting” and its “significant track record bringing about improvement” had the confidence of the government.

Other schools drew Ofsted’s praise even where headline RI ratings remained unchanged. Senior leaders at the Orme Academy have “begun to make the changes the school needs”, and it was rated ‘good’ for personal development and leadership.

A Shaw Education Trust spokesperson said staff were “incredibly disappointed” by the ratings. He said most of the trust’s 28 schools were rated ‘good’ or better.

Even Ofsted previously cautioned that schools with RI ratings “may be improving and under strong leadership”. It has warned the government the coasting label may encourage “quick fixes to avoid a second RI”.

‘Urgent action needed’

Leora Cruddas, the chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) , said “poorly drafted” coasting regulations should be amended as they could disincentivise trusts from sponsoring struggling schools.

CST and others also say the coasting label is unfair as schools are included after a single poor Ofsted rating before a trust steps in.

Six of the schools at trusts given growth cash joined new trusts between inspections, and several trusts noted they had improved a grade since.

Carol Dewhurst, the chief executive of Bradford Diocesan Academies Trust, said the DfE recently sent a letter designating one of its schools as “coasting”, but said improvements meant no intervention was required.

New guidance has also “clarified” all intervention decisions are case-by-case.

But Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the coasting policy was confused and used to boost MAT growth rather than “looking at what is best for the school concerned”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “All of the trusts that were awarded Trust Capacity Funding have demonstrated a track record of improving schools or maintaining high standards.

“Most of the schools identified are only technically eligible for intervention, and we are writing to them to confirm no action will be taken.”

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