Thousands of schools will be exposed as “coasting” as a result of a tougher new inspection regime, a former top policy adviser to David Cameron warns today.
James O’Shaughnessy, one of the Prime Minister’s inner circle until he resigned earlier this year, said there was likely to be a fivefold increase in the number of schools declared under-performing - from 600 to 3,000
He said the new system introduced by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog Ofsted, would reveal “seam of chronic weakness” in England’s state schools, adding: “There is a ‘hidden crisis’ where coasting schools have been allowed to bump along in mediocrity for years, delivering a sub-standard education to their pupils.”
Headteachers expressed alarm at the “demoralising effect” the new regime would have on schools and teachers.
“There is a lot of worry and concern about the demonising approach,” said Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.
Under the new inspection regime introduced by earlier this term, the classification “satisfactory” has been banned. Schools previously listed in this category will be told they “require improvement”.
If they stay in that category for two years, they could then face closure or being forced to become an academy.
Mr O’Shaughnessy, in a pamphlet for the right of centre think-tank Policy Exchange, argues that it will need a tougher “three strikes and you’re out” failure regime to police the changes.
Under this, any school told it “requires improvement” should immediately be forced to seek a new academy sponsor.
If this fails to secure the necessary improvements, it will then be forced to join an academy chain set up that has a record of improving results at a faster rate than the averasge school.
If that fails, then a private company - possibly operating at as profit - should be called in and paid by the government on a “payment by results” basis to turn the school round.
The pamphlet argues that - despite improvements in the state sector - “there is a broad recognition that standards in too many schools are both unacceptably low and fairly dismal by international standards”.
Mr O’Shaughnessy adds: “My fear is that the new reforms ... will be turning out thousands of unsatisfactory schools which have been told to sort themselves out but which, by definition, lack the capacity to do so.
“A growing view at the top of government is that there has been a fundamental blind spot in the reform strategy that successive governments have followed: namely the quality of teaching. learning, behaviour and leadership that occurs in so-called ‘coasting’ schools.”
Mr Lightman added: “I wouldn’t want a one-size-fits-all approach to be used for schools requiring improvement. Many of them will be academies.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “A school that requires improvement is not a failing school. It is a school that is not yet good.”
His union is also concerned at new moves by Ofsted to restrict its complaints procedure by shortening the time for making complaints.