The Education and Inspections Act 2006 specifies that a maintained school is ‘eligible for intervention’ in the following circumstances:
- where the Local Authority have served a ‘warning notice’ and the school has neither appealed against it to Ofsted (or its appeal has failed) nor done what the notice requires: section 60. The circumstances in which a warning notice may be served are set out below.
- where the school requires ‘significant improvement’: section 61. That is explained below.
- where the school is in ‘special measures’: section 62.
Section 60(2) specifies that:
A local education authority may give a warning notice to the governing body of a maintained school where the authority are satisfied—
(a) that the standards of performance of pupils at the school are unacceptably low, and are likely to remain so unless the authority exercise their powers under this Part, or
(b) that there has been a serious breakdown in the way the school is managed or governed which is prejudicing, or likely to prejudice, such standards of performance, or
(c) that the safety of pupils or staff of the school is threatened (whether by a breakdown of discipline or otherwise).
And, by section 60(3):
For the purposes of subsection (2)(a) the standards of performance of pupils at a school are low if they are low by reference to any one or more of the following—
(a) the standards that the pupils might in all the circumstances reasonably be expected to attain,
(b) where relevant, the standards previously attained by them, or
(c) the standards attained by pupils at comparable schools.
The most likely claimed justification is of ‘unacceptably low standards’ (i.e. the section 60(2)(a) case above). But, as as above that requires consideration of:
- the standards which the pupils in all the circumstances might be expected to attain (which is likely to make a crude application of a ‘floor standard’ which takes no account of the school’s circumstances unlawful); or
- the previous performance of the pupil (which again, precludes simple floor standards and requires consideration of progress); or
- the performance of pupils at other comparable school (again meaning that application of a fixed standard based on schools generally, rather than comparable schools would be unlawful.
If the Secretary of State thinks a local authority is acting unreasonably by not issuing a warning notice he can (by section 69A of the 2006 Act) direct the local authority to issue a notice.
Whoever it is that asserts that standards are unacceptably low (local authority or Secretary of State) will need to explain the basis for that assertion and by reference to the considerations above. In my experience they do not always (or perhaps ever) actually do that properly.
Schools requiring significant improvement
A school requires ‘significant improvement’ where Ofsted has reached that conclusion following an inspection and not, in a follow up inspection, given the all clear. There is a good argument to say that the local authority or Secretary of State should wait for the follow up before jumping in, particularly where there are grounds for thinking that the follow up will indeed give the all clear.