Leading article: 'Coasting' schools should be watched

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The Independent Online

The announcement by the Government that it intends to put more pressure on schools that are coasting has not met with universal support from the teaching profession. Teachers' leaders argue that there is enough accountability within the system already without the new measure. From now on, councils are required to give warning notices to schools thought to be in danger of failure, and, possibly, to sack governing bodies and replace them with boards made up of more experienced educationalists. Alternatively, they could team the school up with a successful neighbouring school or business partner.

The Government's argument is that, if coasting can be stopped and any weaknesses ironed out quickly, it may be possible to prevent a school failing its full inspection by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, and having to be placed in special measures, which can be traumatic for any school. In the words of the Schools Minister Andrew Adonis, local authorities have a duty to ensure that pupils spend as little time as possible being taught in the classroom by struggling teachers.

The argument has merit. Far more worrying is the question of whether the local authorities have the inclination and the personnel to take on this new policing role. Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said last week that there is evidence that local-authority inspectors are beginning to turn up unannounced at schools to observe lessons. He regarded that as an unwelcome further intrusion upon the teaching profession. Indeed, a motion at his union's conference, to be discussed over Easter, complains about the increase in classroom observation. If it is targeted and done in the spirit of the former HMI observations aimed at helping teachers to overcome their weaknesses - rather than the, "in and out" approach of Ofsted, in the words of Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which leaves schools to sort out their own problems - it should be welcomed.

To ensure that approach, it may be that more funds should be allocated in Gordon Brown's spending review so that enough staff can be appointed - and trained - to carry out this important new role. If that happens, then the fall in the number of schools in special measures, down from 524 to 240 in a decade, will be sustained.

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