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!

The latest from Policy Watch

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

    Much of the month was spent nervously awaiting the Chancellor’s 2015/16 spending announcements.

    In the event, school protections continued but other parts of the system faced a mix of efficiencies.  Elsewhere, it’s been a difficult month for trees with a huge number of Reports published notably on GCSE reform, disadvantaged learners, funding and HE

    Key headlines from the month

    • Schools. Labour offer thoughts on changes to the school system
    • Disadvantaged pupils. Still a big concern in latest Ofsted Reports
    • 14-16 yr olds. DfE issue guidance on enrolment in colleges
    • National Curriculum. History gets a further rewrite
    • GCSEs. DfE and Ofqual launch latest bout of consultations
    • A levels. New review panel announced
    • Exam marking. Ofqual publish first in series of Reports
    • ICT. Government issue order for switch to Computing
    • Teaching. Education Committee announce inquiry into a College of Teaching
    • Careers. National Careers Council sketch out a new vision
    • Destination Data. Latest historic data published on outcomes for 16 and 18 yr olds
    • FE. LSIS publish valedictory Report
    • HE. Series of Reports set out challenging funding context.

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Ed Balls’ 3 June British Economy speech outlines some tough new realities for the Party including a zero-based spending review for the first year of a new Labour Government
    • David Cameron’s 10 June Plan for Britain’s Success Speech lists the economy, welfare reform and education change as the big 3 pillars of an aspirational society
    • Michael Gove’s 11 June Statement sets the machinery in motion for the reform of GCSEs
    • Stephen Twigg’s 17 June RSA speech tackles the issue of school system reform
    • George Osborne’s 26 June Spending Announcement spreads the load across the spending Depts for 2015/16.

    Quotes of the month

    • “The economy is coming out of intensive care and heading for the recovery room.” The Chancellor delivers a better prognosis for the economy
    • “Conduct great meetings in which you have the relevant people around the table all with an equal voice. Get the rational first then test the irrational.”  Lord Browne on good decision making
    • “I wonder how many times over the last half a century some movement in technology has been hailed as the solution for low cost education.” PA Consulting surveys changes in HE
    • “They could provide a model of the very best practice that would be available to colleges.”Labour considers a return of CoVEs (centres of voc excellence)
    • “Teaching has, in some cases, been twisted into an exercise in passing on exam techniques, not a way of inspiring deep thinking.” Michael Gove makes the case for reforming GCSEs
    • “A mark is a human judgement of a candidate’s work and is only ever an approximation of the candidate’s true score.” Ofqual on the challenges of good marking.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Iron discipline.’  What Ed Balls wants from future Labour spending plans
    • ‘Poverty of expectation.’  What Sir Michael Wilshaw feels hovers over the education system
    • ‘Smart austerity.’ Makes belt-tightening feel better.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in May 2013

    A month when the exam season has been hotting up even if the weather hasn’t.

    Away from the exam hall, the use of phonics, the design of GCSEs, the role of the AS and the future direction of the UK exam system have all come under the spotlight recently. Elsewhere, the month has seen consultations close on school accountability, Key Stage 5 qualifications and apprenticeships, the Government launch its proposals for Traineeships, the Opposition release its interim Skills Report and HE mull over the management of student numbers both now and for the future.

    Key headlines from the month

    • SPAG. Spelling, punctuation and grammar feature in this year’s KS2 SATs
    • Reading. Latest National Literacy Trust survey points to digital switch
    • GCSE. Grading and tiering remain key design issues
    • AS. DfE release data to illustrate AS not necessarily best predictor of HE success
    • UK exam system. Beginning to head in different directions
    • School accountability. Latest consultation closes
    • School buildings. DfE announce funding for 46 new building projects
    • Careers. Government defends but MPs challenge in latest debate
    • Traineeships. Implementation guidance published
    • BTECs. Prove valuable for employment purposes according to latest research
    • Labour Skills policy. Interim thinking published
    • FE. Sir Geoff Hall and Lord Lingfield head up the Guild and chartered status bodies
    • Adult Learning. Annual Survey by NIACE finds little change in participation
    • Student visa applications. Down by 10% except in HE
    • HE fees. Minister calls for greater transparency over how the money is spent
    • HE student numbers. HEFCE consult on future arrangements
    • HE undergrad information. Unistats website proves valuable according to HEFCE research
    • HE. HEPI outline variables in contact time
    • Unemployment. Slight rise overall to 2.52m but slight drop for 16-24 year olds.

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

    Speeches of the month

    • The Queen’s May 2013 Speech list 15 new Bills for the next session of Parliament and confirms the direction of current education policy
    • Michael Gove’s 9 May Brighton College speech reflects on what makes for an educated person and how the current curriculum changes can support this
    • George Osborne’s 15 May CBI Annual Dinner speech affirms the importance of education reform to the economy
    • David Willetts’s 15 May HEPI speech considers the quality and value of the student experience in the light of fee reforms and highlights a number of emerging challenges
    • Michael Gove’s 16 May Sir Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture takes a sweeping look at how current Government policy builds on the social conservative ‘Joseph’ legacy.

    Quotes of the month

    • “The low hanging fruit has gone.” Ministers scour Dept cupboards for any further possible savings for the 2015/16 spending round
    • “This all adds up to an average of about £5,000 of public resources behind a student every year.”  David Willetts on how the Government is continuing to support HE students
    • “My Government will also take steps to ensure that it becomes typical for those leaving school to start a traineeship or an apprenticeship or go to university.” The Queen’s Speech outlines Government policy for school leavers
    • “Traditional teaching of these subjects in a school setting does not get the best out of many young people.” Labour’s interim Skills Report makes the case for wider Eng/maths provision in FE
    • “But what makes the setting of higher expectations more difficult is the culture of low expectations and low aspirations which some in the education establishment still defend.”Michael Gove in defiant mood over education standards
    • “We’ll finish this after lunch.” Is the apostrophe here for omission or possession? Sample question in the Key Stage 2 English tests this year.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘A zeitgeist of collaboration.’  HE’s version of partnership working.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in April

    A lot of consultations at the moment. Consultation on the National Curriculum drew nosily to a close earlier this month while those on secondary school accountability, school system efficiency, vocational qualifications at Key Stage 5 and apprenticeships are all due to complete in the next few weeks.

    Elsewhere this month, proposals for a Tech Baccc performance measure were announced, guidelines on operating performance-related pay for teachers released, another strategy Paper for the FE sector published and future funding and flexibility for HE came under the spotlight as HEFCE held its Annual Conference

    Key headlines from the month

    • National Curriculum. Consultation closes with subject critics out in force
    • GCSE English. Ofqual consult on changes for 2014
    • Maths. Government commits more money to support KS3 and A level teaching
    • AS/A level. MPs debate the changes while Wales holds firm
    • Tech Bacc. Government outline details of new performance measure
    • Academies. Pupil numbers top 2m
    • Studio Schools. 16 open, 15 coming, 13 more approved
    • School holidays. The Secretary of State raises blood pressures by challenging their length
    • School efficiency. Dept launch consultation
    • Teachers. DfE issue guidelines to schools on managing performance related pay
    • Teach First. Extends to Early Years
    • Careers Guidance. Government sets out position in latest Committee Response
    • National Careers Service. Celebrates its 1st birthday with a new mobile website
    • National Apprenticeship Service. Moves into bed with the SFA
    • Sixth Form Colleges. 10 get together for form the Maple Group
    • SFA. Government confirms priorities and funding for 2013/14
    • FE Guild. Latest Plan maps out steps to launch in August
    • FE. New strategy puts emphasis on rigour and responsiveness
    • 24+ loans. Application system now live
    • ESOL. Ofqual confirm minimal changes following consultation
    • Alliance of SSCs. Becomes the Federation for Industry Sector Skills and Standards
    • HE Student Numbers. Government sticks with ABB but further consultation pending
    • HE-Business. Witty Review gets under way
    • Moocs. 3rd platform opens at Stanford

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

    Speeches of the month

    • David Willetts’s 18 April HEFCE speech confirms that the Government is looking at further flexibilities around student numbers while continuing to encourage wider access
    • Michael Gove’s 18 April Spectator speech suggests that longer school days and shorter school holidays may help schools raise performance levels
    • Lord Heseltine’s 18 April LEP Conference speech spells out how some of the vision behind his greater localism Report is beginning to be realised
    • Liz Truss’s 19 April Early Years speech summarises Government policy in this emerging area putting renewed emphasis on staff training and development
    • Michael Gove’s 25 April National College speech highlights the growing importance of teachers and offers support for the creation of a Royal College

    Quotes of the month

    •  “The old adage has it that there is only one thing better than having a university in your city and that is having two.” The VC of Exeter University on the importance of withstanding an avalanche of changes for HE
    • “The whole delivery system is in the process of changing and there has to be some way of saying which online courses give you what you need to know to be certified.” Bill Clinton enters the debate on Moocs
    • “We will invest in facilities, champion excellent provision and take tough action to tackle inadequate colleges.” The FE Minister on the latest injection of ‘rigour’ into the FE sector
    • “We are simply laying the trellises, defining the borders and marking out the footpaths.” Liz Truss on how the secret curriculum garden has been re-cultivated
    • “I think this national curriculum may well be the last national curriculum because in future teachers will be doing it for themselves.”  Michael Gove looks to liberate the National Curriculum
    • “Continued good performance as defined by an individual school’s pay policy should give a classroom or unqualified teacher an expectation of progression to the top of their respective pay range.” The Dept issues guidance on the new pay system for teachers

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Learn and forget.’ The Schools Minister’s view of the current A level system
    • ‘Sushi curriculum.’ One critic condemns the new ‘snatch and grab a fact’ National Curriculum
    • ‘Hunger Games.’ What the current spending review is apparently turning into. 
    read more
  • 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.
    read more
  • 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).
    read more