By Angela Harrison
Education reporter, BBC News
Many coasting schools are in rural areas or leafy suburbs, officials say
Hundreds of secondary schools in England could do better, ministers say, and are to be urged to do more to stretch their pupils.
Schools Secretary Ed Balls has identified what he calls "coasting schools", where pupils should do better given their abilities when they join.
He has set out a policy designed to help such schools "raise their game".
Head teachers say they do not want schools to be vilified and hope the new strategy will support improvement.
The policy follows one which targeted secondary schools with the lowest results in the country, known as the National Challenge.
Schools in that category have fewer than 30% of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including maths and English.
This new policy targets those above that level and will take in schools with results which look superficially acceptable but where pupils are not making the progress they could.
It is understood the government believes there are as many as 500 secondary schools in England which are "coasting", potentially letting down half a million pupils.
Mr Balls said: "Our ambition is for every school to be a good school: satisfactory should not be a stopping point.
"'Coasting schools' could and should be doing better. They are schools which get results which can look acceptable or even good, but which are not fulfilling the potential of their pupils.
"Either average pupils are not making enough progress, or gifted and talented pupils are not being given the support they need or support is not being given to pupils with special educational needs."
No 'name and shame'
There was an outcry earlier this year when the government targeted the 600-plus lowest-performing schools in the National Challenge programme.
Some of the schools which fell below the 30% GCSE level complained they were being pilloried even though they were improving.
It is thought officials do not want to provoke a similar outcry this time and will not "name and shame" schools, although local authorities - who are being asked to identify such schools - might do so.
The schools they have in their sights, officials say, are those which might typically have 30% to 50% of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including maths and English. The national average is 47%.
Crucial is how much progress children make between the age of 11 and the time they sit their GCSEs or vocational equivalents. This is calculated as "Contextual Value Added" (CVA), a measure which compares a school against other schools with similar intakes.
The government wants to target those with "neutral or negative" CVA.
At some schools, for example, pupils might arrive with Level 4 attainment (the expected level for someone leaving primary school) but not progress beyond that level by the age of 14.
One in seven pupils do not progress a whole level in English between the ages of 11 and 14, the government says.
Officials believe many coasting schools are in rural areas or suburbs.
Local authorities will be asked to identify such schools and agree action plans with them, which could then attract financial or practical support from central government. This could be in the form of money for training teachers on how best to track of pupils' progress, or in terms of experts being brought in to advise on improvements.
Money per school would probably be in the realms of "tens of thousands", it is understood.
Signs of coasting
Pupils fail to progress
'Disappointing' Ofsted ratings, given intake
Weak tracking of pupils' progress
CVA scores significantly below average
One key way officials believe schools could improve would be to put them in a federation with other schools, with the aim of spreading "best practice".
The National Association of Head Teachers said it was "deeply concerned" about identifying schools as "coasting".
It said "attaching unhelpful labels" would not help schools.
In a statement, the union said: "The terminology of, for example, 'failing', 'coasting' 'hard-to-shift' is a convenient shorthand but demeans the school and misleads the public.
"If the package of support is truly meant to help schools, then its inception does not need to be heralded by a ministerial fanfare."
Dr John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "I hope that the government will introduce this strategy in a way that avoids the vilification of a list of schools said to be coasting.
"If, on the other hand, the government is developing a strategy to help under-performing schools improve, then that would have the support of the schools, the teachers and the parents."