Education and Adoption Bill

Written evidence submitted by Janet Downs (EAB10)

I am a retired teacher, education researcher and blogger on the Local Schools Network.


The education part of the Bill is based on the false premise that academy conversion is the only method of school improvement. This is not true. The Bill gives the Secretary of State (SoS), future as well as present, powers to force schools to become sponsored academies, to force governing bodies and local authorities (LAs) to cooperate, and to force LAs to close schools – this gives too much power to the SoS. The Bill removes the ability of parents and others to exercise their democratic rights by giving the SoS power to ignore any protests against enforced academy conversion – this cannot be acceptable. The increased role of Regional Schools Commissioners in monitoring improvement plans for ‘coasting schools’ before deciding whether academy conversion is required will add further to the work of already overstretched RSCs. This is likely to lead to flawed decisions. There is also a conflict of interest between this new responsibility and the way RSCs are remunerated.


1 ‘This is a bill that will make provision about schools in England that are causing concern, including provision about their conversion into academies and about intervention powers’. ‘Causing concern’ is a vague concept. ‘Causing concern’ can be whatever the SoS, future as well as present, decides ‘concern’ is.

2 ‘The Bill takes forward a range of Government commitments which are intended to improve education for all children.’ The Bill’s main method of improvement is academy status. There is increasing evidence that changing the structure of schools does not ‘improve education for all children’. The Education Select Committee told politicians to stop exaggerating academy success. [1] The National Audit Office found informal interventions such as local support were more effective than formal interventions such as academy conversion. [2] The Centre for Longitudinal Studies found ‘ no evidence that government investment in particular school structures or types – for example, academies, free schools or faith schools – has been effective in improving the performance of pupils from poor backgrounds…’ [3]

3 ‘It also ensures that intervention is possible in a new category of schools, labelled 'coasting schools', where such intervention is deemed necessary.’ ‘Coasting schools’ has been defined as secondary schools which don’t reach a new increased threshold of 60% and whose pupils don’t reach the median for progress over a period of three years. For primary schools, the threshold has been increased to 85%. These higher thresholds will be applied retrospectively – schools deemed above the threshold in 2013/14 will now be below the threshold.

4 The ‘coasting schools’ definition will disproportionately affect schools with lower ability intakes especially non-selective schools in selective areas. [4] It will, however, not identify those schools with an intake skewed to the top end where pupils don’t make as much progress as should be expected. A grammar school, for example, would easily get over the 60% threshold but does anyone think that a selective school where fewer than 90% of their pupils don’t reach the benchmark is successful? Their intake was specially chosen to gain at least Grade C GCSEs – fewer than 90% gaining the benchmark should ring alarm bells. But the definition as it stands would still allow such schools to fall through the net.

5 The ‘coasting schools’ definition ignores Ofsted judgements. This implies that Ofsted is irrelevant and the only way to judge schools is by results and ‘progress’. A school previously found Good or better could be judged as ‘coasting’ irrespective of the quality of education provided. The Education Endowment Fund found many below-floor schools (described as EEF schools) were in fact doing a good job in difficult circumstances: ‘…a very high proportion of EEF secondary schools received a rating of ‘Outstanding’ in their most recent Ofsted inspection; similarly, almost a quarter of EEF secondary schools receive a ‘contextual value added’ score that is significantly above the national average.’ [5] The Coalition scrapped contextual value added but it remains important to consider a school’s context before deciding whether it’s ‘coasting’ or not.

6 The Bill ‘provides no such consultation requirement if a school is eligible for intervention and subject to an Academy order which has been made under section 4(A1) or (1)(b) of the Academies Act 2010 (schools eligible for intervention).’ This removes the democratic right of parents and others to influence the future of their schools. This goes against the Government’s alleged support for localism whereby local people have more say on local issues. The Bill allows for even more centralised control.

7 ‘The new section allows the Secretary of State to revoke any Academy order issued under section 4(A1) or (1)(b) of the Academies Act 2010 (schools eligible for intervention), for example if the Secretary of State decides it would be better to direct the local authority to close the school’. The Academies programme has already made it more difficult for LAs to manage school place supply effectively. Giving the SoS – future as well as present – the power to direct school closure undermines this ability further. It would be better to offer struggling schools local support than close it. The National Audit Office (see above) found informal interventions were more effective than formal ones such as academy conversion. The same applies to school closure which seems an extreme measure to apply to struggling schools.

8 ‘The Bill is intended to improve the overall quality of education received by children in England…Swifter intervention in all failing schools and some coasting schools will need to be paid for from the Department for Education's budget and is therefore likely to result in an increase in public spending.’ As mentioned above, the NAO found informal interventions to be more effective than academy conversion. They are also considerably cheaper.

9 There is a conflict of interest between the requirement for Regional Schools Commissioners to decide whether a ‘coasting school’ is providing sufficient plans for improvement to avoid academy conversion and the performance incentive which rewards RSCs for the number of academy conversions. There are only eight RSCs and these have few staff. It is difficult to see how RSCs will have enough time and resources to do their present job correctly without heaping more responsibility on to them.

CONCLUSION: The education part of this Bill should be scrapped. It is bad legislation which goes against the evidence. The Secretary of State Nicky Morgan told the Times (Saturday 4 July 2015) that happiness was as important as exam grades. She was right but her policies increase pressure on schools which in turn increases pressure on pupils. Research commissioned by the NUT (published 4 July 2015) found the stringent accountability measures in England were having a negative effect on children and young people. This backed up the OECD warning, given in 2011, that there was too much emphasis on exam grades in England. This, he OECD said, was a cause for concern. Since then it has worsened and will get even worse.

July 2015






Prepared 7th July 2015