It’s grim up… where? Coasting, the north, and the problem of definition

Karen Boyd

Communities and local government minister James Wharton, tasked with creating a ‘northern powerhouse’, came in for some flak recently after ducking the issue of where exactly ‘the north’ is.

“The exact extent of the north … is not prescribed by the government”, the minister told Newcastle MP Nick Brown in June.

It’s the sort of language we’re very used to hearing from government here at The Key. “Ofsted has no specific requirements regarding the format and type of attainment data that schools should produce”, we’re told; “There are no additional regulations on windows that are specific to schools”, a DfE spokesperson insists.

The government’s efforts to reduce red tape and promote greater autonomy, particularly for academies and free schools, can sometimes leave school leaders feeling a little lost. Non-statutory advice and examples of good practice can help, but the burden of independent decision-making without clear boundaries can still be a heavy one, when so much depends on choosing the right path.

James Wharton MP

James Wharton MP (Wikimedia Commons)

Recently, when it was announced that schools could find themselves under threat of enforced leadership change if they’re deemed to be ‘coasting’ , there was initially no clear definition put forward for what a coasting school might look like. School leaders were understandably concerned that they might find themselves being judged against vague ideological criteria rather than explicit measures of pupil progress, safety and quality.

The progress and attainment measures that will define coasting schools have now been clarified in a press release from Nicky Morgan, and it’s likely that the details will firm up further over the next few months once the Education and Adoption Bill is passed and the policy writers at DfE get to work on implementing it. But it’s meant an uncertain and anxious time for many of our members – that arguably could have been avoided by the government setting out its definition at the same time as announcing the proposals.

The North

Which way…? (Wikimedia Commons)

Meanwhile, as part of The Key’s continuing mission to help you navigate the tricky educational landscape, I’m determined to get to the bottom of where the north begins, by conducting a highly scientific poll of the office.

As a Tyneside lass myself, I’m convinced that anything off the bottom of Yorkshire and Lancashire is ‘down south’. Our Glaswegian researcher Jenny says that Manchester is definitely south, while Sara, who hails from the leafy home counties, claims The North starts at Watford Gap.

Well, that’s about as clear as mud. So, what’s next to map out?Head of quality Tom’s definition, on the other hand, was both detailed and bewildering – his north starts at “a wiggly line. Retford’s not in The North, but Worksop is, even though Retford’s further north. The Peak District is in The North, but Chesterfield isn’t.  Skegness isn’t in The North, but Mablethorpe is”.

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