Lord Nash misleads peers on "coasting" schools

Henry Stewart's picture

In advance of the second reading of the Education and Adoption Bill in the House of Lords, Lord Nash has sent a letter to peers, which includes this sentence on the measures in the Bill to tackle coasting schools: “Our focus on coasting schools is about identifying and helping those schools that may be achieving respectable results, but which are not ensuring pupils reach their full potential over time.” It is not clear whether Lord Nash realises it, but this explanation bears little or no relation to what the government is proposing as its definition of coasting schools. It would be an accurate description of the old Labour attempt to identify “coasting” schools. This defined a coasting school as one which achieved benchmark results above a figure like 60%, but where pupils made below average progress.

The Conservative definition is the opposite of what Lord Nash has described

A key part of the proposed Conservative definition is that the school has below average KS2 or GCSE results. It is not clear why this is a “coasting” school or how Lord Nash can describe it as “achieving respectable results”. The definition is clear – it is about schools not achieving “respectable” results. A grammar school where pupils achieve Bs or Cs instead of As will not be identified as coasting. A secondary school with an intake strong enough to get 80% through 5 GCSEs, but which only achieves 60% will not be identified as coasting. A secondary school that achieves valued added in the top 20% of the country but has below average GCSE results could be a coasting school, despite doing more than either of the previous two examples to help pupils "reach their full potential". There are at least 20 schools that meet that last criteria that have valued added in the top 20% in the country but, with below average GCSE results, would be classified as "coasting" on their 2014 results. These 20 also have below average "expected levels of progress" in both Maths and English, because this measure relates more closely to their starting point than to their progress.    

"Expected levels of progress" is not a value added measure

The "reach their full potential” suggests use of a value added measure, that accurately reflects the progress of all children. However the proposal is instead to use the deeply flawed "expected levels of progress" measure for English and Maths. This states that the "expected levels of progress" is 3 levels from age 11 to age 16 (ie, level 4 at KS2 to a C at GCSE, or level 5 to an A). It sounds reasonable but the likelihood to achieve 3 levels is hugely dependent on the KS2 starting point. For pupils achieving a 5a at age 11, fully 99% of pupils achieve three levels of progress. But only 43% of those achieving a 3a, and 15% of those with a 3c, get three levels of progress. (I give secondary examples but exactly the same is true of the "expected levels of progress" in primary schools.) See "How to use data badly" for more on this. Secondary schools will be classified as “coasting” if their GCSE results are below average and if the “expected levels of progress” are below average, taken over three years.

Is Lord Nash deceiving deliberately or by accident?

So it doesn’t address schools achieving "respectable results" and doesn’t use a valid measure of whether pupils achieve their "full potential". Instead, for secondaries, it will overwhelmingly affect schools who have a pupil intake with below average results at age 11 – even in some cases where they achieve above average value added for these pupils. This raises an interesting question. Does Lord Nash realise that the government's coasting criteria bears no relation to the definition he has given to the Lords and he is deliberately deceiving his fellow peers? Or does he himself not understand what the government is doing?   Note: This description may change when the measure switches to Progress8, although we cannot yet be certain. Although it is a value added measure, there are suggestions it will also be biased in favour of pupils with higher KS2 results. See this from Education Datalab

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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 04/11/2015 - 08:38

Lord Nash was due to speak at the Politics in Education Summit on Monday. He didn't show. Perhaps he could have explained the mismatch between his statement and what the Government is proposing.

I love his use of woolly word 'respectable'. It's as subjective as Morgan's use of the word 'properly'. A cynic might say the use of these imprecise words is to make it difficult to pin definitions down - they mean only what the politician uttering this waffle takes them to mean. But they're empty words devoid of precision.

Lord Nash used the same sentence in the Lords on 20 October (scroll down, column 585).

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 04/11/2015 - 12:26

Once again Henry reveals multiple aspects of the sheer nonsense of holding schools to account on the basis of high-stakes-for-the-school KS2 SATs projected to five years later high-stakes-for-the-school GCSE results.

However there is an even deeper fallacy underpinning the entire testing based approach to promoting more effective teaching and learning in our schools.

It is the 'developing the full potential of the child' concept. This is a classic 'common sense' fallacy that requires the uncritical acceptance of the idea that the potential of any person, baby, child or adult is in any way fixed at any age.

The following is from Section 1.2 of 'Learning Matters' is entitled, 'What are schools for?'

" The arguments in this book [Learning Matters] are based on the validity of general intelligence as set out by [the late Philip] Adey and others but with the insistence that although resilient, such general intelligence is plastic and that its development should be the priority of all good schooling. ‘Plasticity’ is a precise engineering term relating to properties of materials. A ‘plastic’ material is one that can be permanently deformed (shape altered) by the application of an external stress. The opposites are ‘brittle’ (cracks under stress) and ‘tough/resilient’ (does not break under stress or permanently deform - may spring back). In this book 'plastic intelligence' means that cognitive ability and levels of cognitive sophistication can be permanently changed through perception/experience combined with the right sort of teaching/learning.

‘Plastic’ general intelligence is a significantly different concept to ‘fixed intelligence conferred at birth’. It opens the door to the development of the intellect of all children (and indeed adults) through good quality education. However much education practice commonly believed to be ‘good’ is in fact ‘bad’ and does not result in cognitive growth.

That is a theme that runs throughout the book."

The key point is that although general intelligence is plastic, we are talking about a very resilient form of plasticity, which not only requires specific approaches to teaching and learning for development to take place (See Part 5 of Learning Matters) but that 'Bad Education' (as described in their 2012 book subtitled, 'Debunking Myths in Education' edited by Philip Adey and Justin Dillon), can hinder development and even reverse it so making children and adults 'dimmer'.

If you don't like talk of 'intelligence' and many on the left (who haven't read my book) don't, then the Nobel prizewinning economist Daniel Kahneman comes to the same conclusions though his identifications of 'System 1' (slow) thinking and 'System 2' (fast) thinking. This is explained in Section 5.6 of 'Learning Matters' entitled, 'Thinking Fast and Slow'.

" Firing up System 2 takes effort and if System 1 jumps to a convincing conclusion quickly enough, as it nearly always does, then System 2 is not even deployed even by the brightest and most expert. System 1 thinking can be readily tested in a malign and ill-informed school accountability system such as that which is strangling our schools.

Effective education is therefore not just about developing System 2 so it is able to cope with complex problems but also making us sufficiently mentally resilient that we routinely make the conscious effort of actually ‘using our brains’."

It is encouraging when independent thinkers from different disciplines converge to the same conclusions.

Another such can be found at the 'Slow Education' movement here.


The nonsense that Henry reveals is not just theoretical - real lives and futures stand to be stunted.

None of this is even on the radar of the 'Educational Lysenkoism' ideology (see Section 5.9 of 'Learning Matters') that has such a tight hold on the UK and US education systems and where in both countries, the mainstream media continue to fail to understand let alone critically report on the damage this is doing to the education systems and the hopes and lives of children and adults on both sides of the Atlantic.

John Fowler's picture
Wed, 04/11/2015 - 18:54

The confusion is present in the definition which is out for formal DfE consultation until 18 December.

The draft 'Schools Causing Concern: Intervening in failing, underperforming and coasting schools: Guidance for local authorities and RSCs' contains the following definition of coasting schools which

“are schools where performance data shows that, year on year, they are failing to ensure their pupils reach their potential” (page 9)

However, in another part of the consultation package 'Intervening in failing, underperforming and coasting schools', the following definition is proposed

“A coasting school is where data shows that, over a three year period, the school is failing to ensure that pupils reach their potential. A school will only be coasting if performance data falls below the coasting bar in all three previous years.”

The second sentence is pivotal and introduces the floor target, or as Lord Nash might put it, coasting schools are schools which do not have “respectable results”. And the two sentences are not consistent.

Readers might want to point this out to the DfE in the consultation exercise.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 05/11/2015 - 12:02

Thanks John. The link to the consultation for any readers who wish to respond is here.

Guest's picture
Thu, 05/11/2015 - 13:30

I may have missed something along the way regarding expected progress but it strikes me that the language of the government and Lord Nash fails to acknowledge the previous SoS Educ's action in scrapping national curriculum levels and sub levels. That is to say, assessment without levels. The latter effectively placed Raise and FFT in an difficult position (i.e. in the absence of levels there is no fine number tracking possible) and in turn the data behind attainment/progress and VA reported in the DFE school performance tables would appear to be hurtling to oblivion. That is to say, the legacy period is rapidly coming to an end.

It seems inordinately odd then that any formulation of determining 'coasting' contains measurements of expected progress data?

Barry Wise's picture
Fri, 06/11/2015 - 11:47

Guest, I think the plan is for KS2 results to be expressed from 2016 as a scaled score. What is now level 4b would be pegged at 100 and the raw marks of each paper would be scaled such that a score higher than 4b would be expressed as a number >100, while those less than a 4b would be a number <100.

Each individual's scaled score would then become the baseline for the Progress8 measure through to KS4.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 06/11/2015 - 13:08

Barry - Do you mean a statistically standardised score with a defined Mean (100?) and Standard Deviation?

This would be like an IQ score but one obtained from content based tests designed, controlled and imposed by the government on all schools and all children.

This would label all children on entry to secondary education on a standardised scale based on content based tests where the government imposes the content and increasingly the way that teachers are forced to impose it on children.

If this is true then it makes Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler look to me like flower power hippies.

Guest's picture
Fri, 06/11/2015 - 15:43

Barry, I am grateful for your feedback re end of KS2. The last I dipped my toe into that area was before Gove left and the word was that the KS2 results would be couched in terms of Secondary Ready or Not Secondary Ready. This left the door open for questions about holding the latter back a year until the SoS intervened and said that pupils who were not secondary ready would resit their KS2 assessment/test in Y7.

Notwithstanding the underlying point score attached to the KS2 results there still appears to be a gaping hole left covering progress in KS3 and thence 4. That is to say, with no level and sub levels being tracked and reported by secondary schools how does the 'system' know/determine whether a pupil has made or exceeded expected progress across KS2-4? Indeed, what formula/calculation is made to project the KS2 result into a KS4 projection?

This is underscored by the fact that the Ofsted approach is that there is no recommended strategy as to how secondary schools should evidence and track progress across KS3-4. Rather Ofsted is charged with ascertaining what method has been adopted and then judging whether it is sufficiently robust/reliable. The latter placed an enormous burden on Inspectors and HMIs in knowing/determining what methods are adequate for the task, and needless to say exceedingly few if any will have the foggiest.

agov's picture
Sat, 07/11/2015 - 13:31

Roger, this -


seems to be the link.

I haven't worked out what it means yet. Let me know if you do.

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