Intervention measures for ‘coasting’ schools set out in the new education and adoption bill could be extended to around 400 pupil referral units (PRUs) across England at the discretion of the government, schools minister Nick Gibb has confirmed.
Mr Gibb told the final day of the committee stage of the bill that the education secretary had the power to extend any legislation which applies to maintained schools to PRUs under legislation in the 1996 education act.
It means that the government could begin intervening in PRUs considered to be coasting under the same definition as schools if Nicky Morgan or one of her successors decides it is appropriate.
Mr Gibb added: “We want all schools to support their pupils to achieve their potential. The explanatory statement to the committee confirmed that we plan to consult about possible approaches to addressing coasting in alternative provision, including how a coasting pupil referral unit might be defined, in due course.”
Shadow schools minister Kevin Brennan said there did “not seem to be any particularly good reason” why alternative provision should be “outside the terms of the bill”, adding: “The criteria currently proposed would of course be entirely inappropriate for pupil referral units, so if they are to be included, there would need to be a significant rethink on definitions and criteria.”
Labour MP Steve McCabe said it was “remarkable” that alternative provision, the “very pupils for whom one would have thought we would have the maximum concern”, was “relegated to two lines at the bottom of the government’s explanatory statement”.
But John Pugh, the sole Liberal Democrat voice on the committee, warned that it might not be possible to apply a three year assessment of data to PRUs, as set out in the regulations for schools.
He said: “There is another special problem with pupil referral units in so far as their population is very volatile, it changes all the time.
“A longitudinal assessment over three years might be quite hard to accomplish to help decide whether a school is coasting.”
School leaders in special schools have also noted the lack of definition for their sector in the Education Bill.
Simon Knight, deputy headteacher at the Frank Wise special school in Oxfordshire, said he thought it was “coincidental” that the review of assessment of pupils with lower attainment by special school headteacher Diane Rochford had been announced during the passage of the bill, and said alternative and special needs provision should also be “part of the debate”.
He told Schools Week: “It’s not necessarily about being treated exactly the same, but having the same expectations of effectiveness.
“They would need a different set of criteria for SEN provision. For example, we can’t be judged on the GCSE measure because so many of our kids don’t sit those exams, but from my point of view it’s important that the government evaluates quality of all provision and not just mainstream education.”
It is not yet known when the government plans to consult on the definition of coasting in terms of PRUs.