Policy Watch

Education’s always changing, and it can be hard to keep track. Policy Watch is the easy way to make sure you stay up to date with the latest developments.

Keep up with what’s happening in education policy

Policy Watch is our regular policy update service, covering national and international developments in the world of education. We try to keep things simple, sharing the latest news and information with you through weekly updates, monthly summaries, papers and events.

You can access the Policy Watch service through Steve's Twitter feed @SteveBesley or by signing up for email updates.

About Steve

As head of UK education policy at Pearson, Steve’s been running the Policy Watch service for almost 20 years. He’ll keep you informed on all things education, along with the rest of his subscribers – there were more than 10,000 at the last count!

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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in March 2013

    A generally education-lite Budget provided the set piece occasion of the month although there were some important related pronouncements on growth, pay, sector strategies and efficiency.

    Away from the Budget, the month also saw subject specialists out in force about revisions to the National Curriculum, a petition raised against a standalone AS qualification, consultations launched on criteria for 16-19 performance tables and apprenticeship reform, wheels greased for the creation of a Single Local Growth Fund and reflections cast on the HE reforms

    Key headlines from the month

    • Primary schools. KS2 floor standard raised to 65% for 2014
    • National Curriculum. Critics take up their pens to protest about ‘forced’ knowledge
    • School improvement. Ofsted report 74% of schools now good or outstanding
    • School sport. £150m for each of next 2 yrs announced
    • PSHE. DfE confirm no change
    • 16 – 19 performance tables. Consultation under way on future course criteria
    • A levels. Debate hardens over the case for a standalone AS
    • Apprenticeships. Over 800 activities in the annual National Apprenticeship Week
    • Apprenticeship reforms. Consultation under way following review response
    • HE fees. Maintenance grants up but no increase in fees for 2014/15
    • P/t HE. UUK launch a review
    • National Numeracy campaign.1 year old and some important developments ahead
    • Adult Voc Quals. Whitehead Review launched, reporting Sept 2013
    • Single Local Growth Fund.  Set for launch in April 2015
    • Industrial Strategy. 2nd of 11 key sector strategies published

    Reports/Publications of the month (in order of publication)

    Speeches of the month

    • David Laws’s 5 March speech raises the bar at Key Stage 2 from next year as part of the crusade to close the achievement gap
    • David Laws’s 6 March National Education Trust speech highlights some of the new accountability measures being introduced to raise standards
    • David Cameron’s 7 March Economy speech sets the context for the forthcoming Budget with its emphasis on sticking with Plan A
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 7 March Institute of Education speech highlights the continuing importance of English and maths as part of the A level reforms
    • David Cameron’s 11 March Apprenticeship speech argues that the apprenticeship route should become a new norm for school leavers
    • Glenys Stacey’s 14 March School Leaders’ Summit speech explains how Ofqual is approaching the challenging task of reforming GCSEs
    • Stephen Twigg’s 16 March ASCL speech sets out Opposition thinking on school reform
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 18 March Fellowship Commission speech looks at the proposed freedoms offered by the new National Curriculum
    • George Osborne’s 20 March Budget speech sets out the gory details on the economy

    Quotes of the month

    • “ I know that is tough but it is fair.’  The Chancellor caps pay rises for another year
    • “Higher education in England is a success story; it is adaptable and resilient and will continue to move from strength to strength.” HEFCE expresses confidence in UKHE
    • “It’s been proven that every pound the Government puts into Apprenticeships pays off 20 times over.” The Prime Minister helps launch National Apprenticeship Week
    • “If the journey was an alphabet in which we are seeking to travel from A to Z, I would now judge that we are somewhere around M.” The Schools Minister on the education journey
    • “This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think.” 100 academics condemn the changes to the National Curriculum
    • “If these qualifications are not ready by say Dec 2014 we will put the flag up and look at whether we keep faith with the existing qualifications for another year.” The Chief Executive of Ofqual on the race to get new GCSEs ready

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘National attention deficit syndrome.’ What some experts think too many internet obsessed children suffer from
    • ‘Aspiration.’  The Chancellor said it a lot in his Budget speech.
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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in February 2013

    A busy month for schools with an orderly retreat sounded around some of the proposed changes to the Key Stage 4 exams system and further consultation launched on both the emerging National Curriculum and a more balanced secondary school accountability framework.

    For FE the month saw Lord Heseltine give evidence on the case for a single funding pot for adult skills, Sir Michael Wilshaw defend Ofsted’s reporting of FE, consultation on a proposed FE Guild draw to a close and a mixed bag of stats on apprenticeship starts, youth unemployment and the Work Programme released. For HE, debate continued about numbers and future funding while HEFCE started the process of cutting the ever slimmer grant cake ready for 2013/14

    Key headlines from the month

    • Children and Families Bill. Now published and with new SEN arrangements included
    • School improvement. Ofsted sets out how it intends to inspect LA provision
    • National Curriculum. Latest proposed Programmes of Study for KS1-3 published
    • GCSE English. Wales declares separate approach to grading
    • Maths. Further research highlights concerns about international performance
    • GCSEs. Back in place but subject to ‘radical’ reform
    • A levels. HE continue to come out against the standalone AS
    • 14-19. Both Labour and Lib-Dems seek further views
    • School accountability. New criteria for secondary schools put out for consultation
    • Ofsted. Regional directors announced, School Data Dashboard launched
    • FE Guild. Rapid fire consultation draws to a close
    • 24+ Learning Loans. Further details on loan facility conditions issued
    • QCF. SFA identifies lists for cull of low number qualifications
    • Skills system. BIS Committee examine Heseltine proposals
    • HE funding. HEFCE start to apportion funds for 2013/14
    • Apprenticeships. New starts up 13.9% on previous year but dips at pre-19
    • Employer Ownership Pilot. Bidding for Round 2 now under way
    • Work Programme. Further criticisms from the Public Accounts Committee

    Reports/Publications of the month (in order of publication)

    Speeches of the month

    • Michael Gove’s 5 February SMF speech offers a vigorous defence of his qualification reform policy and argues that it provides the real progressive agenda now
    • President Obama’s 12 February State of the Union speech emphasises the importance of educational opportunity and affordability
    • Ed Miliband’s 14 February Bedford speech highlights the importance of skills as part of his One Nation economic reform programme

    Quotes of the month

    • “I cannot envisage circumstances where Government support for those things will be reduced in the next spending round.” Vince Cable draws up the ramparts around his Dept as the Treasury sharpens its knife
    • “The regime there now is, there is no age limit on fee loans.” David Willetts encourages the older generation to keep on learning
    • “I have decided not to make the best the enemy of the good.”  Michael Gove tells the House why he has decided not to move ahead with EBCs and exam system change
    • “We need a revolution in vocational education and apprenticeships.” Ed Miliband confirms the importance of vocational education to Labour’s Skills Taskforce Review
    • “Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.” President Obama includes a number of education announcements in his annual State of the Union Address
    • “I will be a bit like King Lear touring the country, meeting with these eight regional directors and finding out what is happening.” Sir Michael Wilshaw tells the Education Committee how Ofsted’s new regional tier will operate

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Rhetorical afflatus.’  What the Secretary of State thinks the current National Curriculum has too much of
    • ‘Bending spending.’ How Michael Heseltine thinks funds should be stretched
    • ‘Festina lente.’ What one MP advised Michael Gove to do. ( ‘make haste slowly’ for non EBacc graduates).
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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in December 2012

    The key set piece development this month was the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement where in an effort to help stimulate growth, the government put money into school and college capital building but equally significantly signalled a shift towards local devolution of skills training and provision through Local Enterprise Partnerships. 

    Main talking points

    Elsewhere, the latest batch of international test results for 10 and 14 yr olds saw England and in particular Northern Ireland performing well in reading and maths though less well in science; the Bacc movement continued with new two variants emerging; colleges gained the right to set up new 14-16 centres from next September; and universities saw a drop in entrants this year confirmed in UCAS’s end of year report.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Key Stage 2 tests. Test results confirm performance up and underperforming schools down
    • Schools. The Chancellor puts in £980m to help create new free schools and academies
    • School teachers. Prospects of a performance linked pay structure move a step closer
    • Baccs. 2 more emerge: a (Ken) Baker Bacc and a Government based post-16 Tech Bacc
    • 14-16 yr olds. Colleges prepare to take on 14+ yr olds from Sept 2013
    • Post-16 maths. New 2-yr problem solving based course proposed
    • Ofsted. Education Committee announces witness session to consider latest Annual Report
    • Wales. Prepares to set up a new qualifications and regulatory body
    • Chartered status. Consultation launched for new college status
    • FE. Additional £270m provided for college estate
    • Adult skills funding. SFA confirm teaching and learning budget of £3.2m for 2013/14
    • Employer Ownership Pilots. Topped up by £90m to £340m
    • LEPs. Granted key role and funding to lead development of local skills plans
    • HE. New partnership emerges to develop MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).

    Reports/Publications of the month (in order of publication)

    • Engineering UK 2013. The engineering sector’s latest landscape Report points to considerable demand and job opportunities in the future
    • Responses to the consultation on extending access to independent careers guidance. The Dept confirms an extension of the current model to year 8 and to 16-18 yr olds
    • Specialisation in public and private FE. The Skills Commission’s inquiry into FE concludes with a call for more branded specialist colleges: Dyson; Google; even Virgin perhaps
    • Autumn Statement 2012. All the gory details and proposals for the economy laid out in this latest Treasury’s latest Report
    • Economic and Fiscal Outlook. The number crunching provided for the Chancellor’s Statement in this latest outlook Report from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)
    • Update on the Growth Plan. An update on how the 5 year rolling Growth Plan is taking shape, 3 of the 12 education and skills measures now complete, others on course
    • Skills Funding Statement 2012-2015. BIS and the SFA set out the funding available for adult skills for 2013/14
    • FE College Capital Investment Strategy. BIS and the SFA include three new elements in the enhanced capital improvement programme for colleges for 2013/14
    • History for all? The All Party Parliamentary Group call for ‘a connected narrative’ of history teaching through to age 16
    • Post-16 maths. The Advisory Committee on Maths Education (ACME) make the case for an alternative post GCSE maths qualification with an emphasis on problem solving
    • PIRLS 2011: Reading achievement in England. The DfE publish analysis of the latest international benchmark test results in reading for 10 yr olds
    • TIMMS 2011: Maths and science achievement in England. The DfE publish analysis of the latest international benchmark tests in maths and science for 10 and 14 yr olds
    • End of Cycle Report 2012. UCAS bring to a close a momentous year for university applications with a Report suggesting a 54,000 drop in numbers starting university in 2012.

    Speeches of the month

    • David Laws’ 4 December LGA speech extols the role of Local Authorities as agents of crucial services and performance in the new, autonomous education system
    • The Chancellor’s 5 December Autumn Statement puts the emphasis on growth and capital investment as he continues to administer the economic medicine
    • Liz Truss’s 11 December Reform speech sets out the context for the latest batch of international test results.

    Quotes of the month

    • “It’s a hard road but we’re getting there.” The Chancellor on the long and winding road to economic recovery
    • “The headline numbers in this report signal the challenging environment for recruitment in 2012 for some parts of the UKHE.” UCAS on the difficult recruiting context in which UKHE is operating
    • “I am keen to ensure the best possible provision for young people that meets their need.”The FE Minister opens the door for FE recruitment of 14+year olds
    • “If you did not exist, you would need to be invented.” The Minister of State for Schools sees a continuing role for Local Authorities
    • “For some the arrival of Christmas is signalled by a party or a tree. For me the arrival of 3 freshly minted (international benchmarking) tomes marked the beginning of the festive season.” The Dept’s Under Secretary gets her festive pleasures where she can
    • “My very, very strong view is that we should stick to the timetable we have set but of course if a red light flashes, we will take account of it.”  The Secretary of State tells the education Committee he’s going to stick with his reforms to GCSEs unless he sees flashing lights
    • “These recommendations are a significant step towards the destruction of the current national system governing teachers’ pay and conditions.” The profession rounds on proposals to link teachers’ pay with performance.

    Word or phrase of the month

    •  ‘Prozac leadership.’ An observed form of leadership not found in the textbooks but observable apparently in some corridor.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in November 2012

    A big month for learning and skills with the CBI Conference, the AoC Conference and this year, the Skills Show following in quick succession and provoking a range of announcements. 

    Main talking points

    Not much quieter elsewhere with notable developments on performance tables, A levels and apprenticeships and Reports from the CBI, Ofsted, Ofqual, NAO and both Education Committees amongst others all helping to keep the lights burning.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Primary Schools. 400 underperformers to be converted to Academy status by end of 2013
    • Calculators. Banned for KS2 tests from 2014
    • Performance Tables. The Dept publishes the KS4 list for 2015
    • GCSE English. Raw grades only to be issued for Jan 2013 assessments
    • EBacc. 22 academics sign an open letter expressing concern
    • RE. Cross party MPs get together to stop the subject being marginalised
    • Engineering Diploma. Royal Academy of Engineering work up new model
    • English and maths. SFA confirm additional monies for adults and apprentices
    • A levels. Jan resits to go from Sept 2013
    • School Governors. Education Committee announce new Inquiry
    • 16-19 VQs. Government to consult on criteria for performance table recognition
    • College estate. Further ‘renewal grant’ money allocated
    • FE Guild. Project team put together, consultation due Jan 2013
    • Employer Ownership Pilots. Round 2 bids launched
    • Earn or learn. Scheme proposals due early next year
    • Work Programme. Latest data indicate target likely to be missed
    • Graduate jobs. Futuretrack survey reports job market remaining challenging
    • University status. 10 more Colleges await university nomenclature
    • University access. HEFCE and OFFA prepare report for mid Jan
    • University freedom. New group set up to defend the freedom of British universities
    • Unemployment. Drops to 2.51m, 963,000 for 16-24 yr olds but p/t working up.

    Reports/Publications of the month (in order of publication)

    • GCSE English 2012. Ofqual offer a second and more detailed surmise on the issues afflicting this year’s GCSE English
    • Governance and leadership of the DfE. The Education Committee reports on its inquiry into the running of the Dept and considers some of the impact of rapid change
    • Skills Survey 2012. The Chartered Institute of Insurers report on strengths and weaknesses in the skills supply chain to their industry
    • Financial Health of the HE sector. HE passes the HEFCE medical but it seems that much depends on the strength of future student recruitment cycles
    • BIS Committee Inquiry into Apprenticeships. The BIS Committee complete its 11 month Inquiry into issues around apprenticeships and come up with 32 recommendations
    • DfE Review Report. The Dept follows up its own internal review by proposing some important changes to the future size, structure and workings of the Dept
    • Tracking the decision making of high achieving HE applicants. BIS and the Sutton Trust identify the barriers facing particular groups of students
    • Analysis of the consultation on A level reform. Ofqual report on the 1,000 or so responses to its summer consultation on A level reform and announce some initial change to resits
    • Decoding learning. NESTA reflect on the promised land of digital education and see schools purchasing a lot of kit with little regard to how it can best be used
    • First Steps. The CBI turn their attention to schools and throw their weight behind a streamlined curriculum, a balance between skills and knowledge and testing at 18 not 16
    • Employer Ownership of Skills Pilot. BIS and the UKCES release the Prospectus for Round 2 bids following the successful approval of over 30 bids from Round 1
    • Annual Innovation Report. The latest Foresight Report highlights over 50 new and developing technologies that could help stimulate future economic growth
    • Managing the expansion of the Academies Programme. The NAO report on how the Dept is managing a rapid expansion of the Programme and the effect on Dept budgets
    • Regulating AO Training Events for Teachers. Ofqual follow up their initial report by launching a consultation on some new regulatory measures for ‘exam’ board teacher seminars
    • Consultation on Chartered Status for FE Institutions. BIS follow up the Lingfield Report by asking for views on what should constitute the criteria for chartered status
    • Choice and Competition in FE. The Institute of Government offer a history lesson on the various attempts at reforming FE
    • The Richard Review of Apprenticeships. The latest Apprenticeship Report proposes a stronger shift towards funded employer ownership of standards and delivery
    • Ofsted Annual Report. Ofsted’s latest Annual Report sees 70% of providers performing well but concerns about provision in some parts of the country
    • Review of Qualifications for 14-19 yr olds in Wales. The Welsh Government go for a single Qual Body but keep GCSEs, A levels and voc quals as part of a strengthened Welsh Bacc.

    Speeches of the month

    • Elizabeth Truss’s 9 November speech sets out how the Government is setting about raising maths standards such as removing the use of a calculator in KS2 tests
    • Michael Gove’s 9 November speech offers a stout defence of external exams and tests as helping ensure equal treatment and social justice
    • Glenys Stacey’s 14 November speech considers some of the challenges faced by the regulator when confronted by significant reform of the qualification system
    • Vince Cable’s 19 November CBI speech outlines how the Government is trying to encourage growth through its long-term Industrial Strategy
    • Matthew Hancock’s 21 November AoC speech brings some new funding but also a number of reforms to: apprenticeships; traineeships; qualifications; and standards.

    Quotes of the month

    • “It is probably neither as good as the zigs suggest nor as bad as the zags imply.” The Governor of the Bank of England on the uncertain state of the economy
    • We’re not going to write great books about Joseph Conrad by getting them out sooner.”The Council for the Defence of British Universities on the pressures of market forces in HE
    • “It is complicated and off putting to an employer to have to undertake paperwork gymnastics to pigeon hole their system into a pre-defined set of curricular approaches.”Doug Richard gets the message across about freeing up the apprenticeship system
    • “Education England is not yet on the medal podium but is picking up pace.” The Chief Inspector reflects on the state of English education in his Annual Report
    • “I am as it happens a huge fan of teacher assessment, properly designed and administered but teacher assessment alone cannot bring the benefits proper external assessment can secure.”  Michael Gove makes the case for external tests and exams.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘RAPID.’  Recommend, Agree, Perform, Input or Decide: a planning model adopted by the DfE
    • ‘Sandpit.’  Space away from the frontline to be creative; apparently another planning term.
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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in October 2012

    October is traditionally a heavy month for policy announcements and Oct 2012 has been no different, with some significant Conference speeches and some hefty Reports.

    Main talking points

    Three Reports, all listed here, perhaps best capture where interest is at its sharpest. For schools, the Education Committee Report confirms the changes to GCSE, A level and the exam system; for FE the Lingfield Report provides an interesting overview of sector professional development while for HE, HEPI’s Paper on the financing of tuition fees raises important questions.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Key Stage 4 results. Provisional figures point to slight drop in A*- C performance
    • ABacc. Stories grow that Government is edging towards an IB type A level model
    • Northern Ireland. Launches own review of GCSE and A levels
    • Teachers. Stiffer entry tests announced for 2013
    • Apprenticeships. Higher apprenticeships up but under 19s down in latest stats
    • 24+ loans. Further round of factsheets released
    • Commission on adult voc teaching and learning. Closing date reached for evidence
    • University students. Survey suggests many spend the first term’s loan in first month
    • UCAS. Early figures for 2013 university suggest entry up 2% on previous year
    • Numeracy. Details of new National Challenge announced, launch next spring
    • National Minimum Wage. Edges up to £6.19 an hour for adults, £3.68 for 16/17 yr olds
    • Unemployment. Down to 2.53m in latest stats, down to 957,000 for 16-24 yr olds
    • Growth. Increased by 1% over the summer according to latest figures
    • Transparency. Review of public sector data launched.

    Reports/Publications of the month (in order of publication)

    • Baseline designs for Schools. The Dept issues new building blueprints for austere times, multi functional but no follies
    • Introducing the HEAR. The Steering Group recommend universities develop Achievement Records (HEAR) for graduates
    • Young participation rates in HE. The latest update points to considerable variation in rates around the country with the N.E suffering most
    • How to develop, strengthen, improve and increase the number of apprenticeships. AELP update their policy paper on apprenticeships and call for a more ambitious approach
    • The effects of the English Bacc. DfE commissioned research suggests most schools now adopting EBacc subjects but concerns remain about the impact on different types of schools
    • World Economic Outlook: Coping with High Debt and Sluggish Growth. Not much more to add to the title of the IMF’s latest quarterly Report which downgrades growth forecasts again
    • What do Graduates do? Apparently many, 62% find jobs within six months of graduating but not all of them in traditional graduate employment areas according to the latest stats
    • Competition meets Collaboration. The think tank PolicyExchange propose a 3 strike process for school improvement: Ofsted inspection; Academy chain; private sector involvement
    • How HE Can Advance Social Mobility. Alan Milburn’s latest social mobility report suggests diverting bursary funds to schools and lowering some offers to boost participation
    • New Qualifications for Teachers and Trainers in FE. LSIS consult on a ‘simpler’ system of prof quals, 4 levels of generic quals, 3 specialist, implementation from Sept 2013
    • Postgraduate education. The HE Commission argue that it’s time to bring post grad education in from the cold and fund it properly through a loan scheme
    • Professionalism in FE. The Final Report from the independent Inquiry sets out a new professional structure for FE around a Guild, a Covenant and chartered institutes
    • Ensuring quality in apprenticeships. Ofsted report on sub contracting in the apprenticeship system and call for closer monitoring and better value for money
    • The cost of the Government’s reforms of the financing of HE. HEPI do the maths and question some of the assumptions made about fee levels and debt repayment
    • Jewels in the Crown. The Russell Group of universities claim the title and call for greater investment if such ‘jewels’ are to withstand global competition
    • A risk-based approach to quality assurance. HEFCE feeds back on the recent consultation on QA in the new HE system and outline a new QAA based review cycle
    • Response to the Education Committee Report on the Exam System for 15-19 yr olds. The Government confirms its reforms to EBCs, A levels and the operation of the exam system
    • No stone unturned. Michael Heseltine’s comprehensive economic plan argues that the skills system isn’t working and calls for better alignment with local needs.

    Speeches of the month

    • Ed Balls’s 1 October Conference speech sticks with his 5-point growth strategy but acknowledges that Labour would have to conduct a tough Spending Review
    • Chuka Ummanna’s 1 October Conference speech announces that Lord Adonis will lead a business team to help develop a stronger enterprise capacity for BIS
    • Ed Miliband’s 2 October Conference speech identifies changes to apprenticeships and voc provision as part of a plan to raise skill levels in the new ‘One Nation’ Britain
    • Stephen Twigg’s 4 October Conference speech announces that Chris Husbands will lead a review of 14-19 qualifications
    • David Cameron’s 10 October Conference speech highlights growth, welfare reform and education performance as key ingredients of a new aspiration nation
    • Glenys Stacey’s 10 October Cambridge Assessment Conference speech highlights some of the major risks involved in qualification design and reform
    • Stephen Twigg’s 22 October National Numeracy Challenge speech identifies three specific challenges: no can do attitudes; early intervention; adult engagement
    • Michael Gove’s 23 October Politeia speech seizes the mantle of Blairism to propel reforms of the education system and portray critics as reactionaries.

    Quotes of the month

    • “Those school reforms are the single most important long-term economic investment we can make.” The Chancellor singles out the education reforms in his Conference speech
    • “We cannot succeed if we have an education system that only works for half the country.”Ed Miliband calls for an education system for the whole nation in his Conference speech
    • “There’s nothing fluffy about transparency.” The Cabinet Office Minister calls for increased data and transparency to help stiffen the backbone of reform
    • “A levels will not be replaced under any circumstances.” The DfE clarifies the position as ABacc rumours increase
    • “We work in an area that is high volume, complex, high stakes and where media interest is high risk and risk tolerance low.” The Chief Executive of Ofqual on life in a pressure cooker
    • “We were a cocksure crew of precociously assertive boys.” Michael Gove apologises for his behaviour at school.

    Word or phrase of the month

    •  ‘Jinxed Generation.’ 20 yr olds who now face being worse off than their parents
    • “I can do maths.”  The National Numeracy Group want us to keep saying it.
     
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