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.

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  • Pocket Watch – The 14-19 Conundrum

    14-19 education has always been fraught. It’s the time when youngsters go through the most changes, when we cram in the most exams and when youthful hopes and fears battle it out in equal measure.

    Getting the curriculum and support systems right at such a critical stage in a young person’s development remains one of the big challenges for the education system and many have the scars to prove it. Recent weeks have seen fresh momentum in this area with the government setting out plans for a core curriculum built around the EBacc, the CBI and the Opposition calling for a review if not overhaul of the whole 14-19 package and a group of enterprising teachers opting to seize the initiative and devise their own National Bacc. It’s eleven years since the legendary Tomlinson review attempted to do much the same for 14-19 provision and much has changed on the surface but essentially four challenges remain. 

    Four big challenges

    1. 14 or 16, at what age should students choose different curriculum and potentially future career paths? Many countries start the process at age 14 although in fairness they have systems that allow for transfer between pathways as students progress. This is not a new debate here, the Skills Minister referred to it as ‘an age-old debate that will not be settled in this parliamentary term but one we should have again,’ when he raised it in a recent debate in Parliament. Supporters point to the fact that starting at 14 could overcome some of the drifting that can happen at KS3, that youngsters are more savvy now about career choices and that we already have some institutions that operate this way, UTCs being the obvious example. Opponents, and this seems to include the DfE at present (“a rigorous curriculum until age 16 is the best way to ensure that every child succeeds,”) argue that 14 is too young to make what could be difficult choices and that what’s more important at this stage is securing a basic level of skills that provide the platform for more specialised learning.

    2. A common core. The government’s latest pronouncements about provision of the EBacc package has once again raised questions about a) the need for a common core and b) what should be in it. As Professor Chris Husbands has indicated, curriculum entitlements always tend to raise hackles as to what’s in and what’s out and the EBacc model is no different; what’s different this time is the emphasis on a more ‘academic’ core which could exclude some students and could divert attention from some wider learning. For Professor Sandra McNally: “the requirements of the EBacc seem like a minimum for a developed country”as long as they incorporate those wider employability skills. It comes down in other words to what constitutes a balanced curriculum which is where professional expertise should apply.

    3. Exams at 16. The perpetuation of an exam ‘hurdle’ at age 16 at a time when not only participation to age 18 is becoming the norm but fears about schools becoming exam factories are growing is a no-brainer to many. The poor old GCSE has been under assault for some time now and the CBI’s John Cridland was very clear in his speech last week that it should go. The problem as the FT pointed out recently is that our education system has been put together haphazardly, the bits don’t all join up neatly but do serve particular purposes, in this case a measure of performance in a system that needs a post-16 gateway. On that basis any demise could be regarded as premature.

    4. Parity of esteem (between academic and vocational routes.) A phrase that has bedevilled reform in this area for some time and is as much structural as cultural. Many would like to see the phrase dropped in favour of a focus on desired outcomes, different routes but similar results, leading to rounded and successful youngsters rather than sheep and goats.
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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in June 2015

    Six weeks on from the election and the education agenda appears in full swing. 

    Key headlines from the month

    • Funding cuts. DfE and BIS budgets each facing cuts of £450m from current budgets
    • School funding. Possible developments around new formula due later this year
    • 16-19 funding. Signatories come together to urge the Chancellor to help
    • Childcare Bill. Bill published as taskforce set up to consider costs
    • Education Bill. Completes second reading
    • Primary schools. Pupil numbers in England up 2.1% in latest census
    • Coasting schools. Experts seek to define as the DfE confirms consultation
    • School Leadership. New profession-led Foundation announced
    • School behaviour. New practitioners’ panel set up
    • Ofsted. New inspection arrangements confirmed
    • National Reference Test. Ofqual explains all in letter to schools
    • GCSE grading. Education Secretary confirms L5 as the new ‘good pass’ grade
    • Singaporean maths. Beginning to have impact according to latest research
    • EBacc subjects. Government prepares to mainstream
    • 14-19. Labour leaders call for a full review of provision
    • A level science assessment arrangements. Ofqual consults
    • Voc Quals. Latest annual celebration heralded
    • Apprenticeships. New taskforce set up to oversee progress towards the 3m target
    • Training providers. Growth budgets frozen in build-up to the Budget
    • Institution for FE. Gains its Royal Charter
    • Adult participation. Up slightly though not for disadvantaged groups
    • FE. Skills Minister continues to muse about refining college missions
    • HE fees. Willetts suggests system working but needs 5-yearly MOT
    • Maintenance grants. Fears grow about their long-term future
    • Migration. Government calls for advice about new skills levy on Tier 2 visas. 

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

    • Perceptions of A levels, GCSEs, Other Quals in England. Ofqual’s latest annual survey of views on the quals system finds confidence still strong but concerns about some changes
    • Missing Talent. Commissioned research from the Sutton Trust looks at why children, especially bright boys from disadvantaged backgrounds, struggle to convert KS2 success into GCSE success
    • Education and Adoption Bill. The government sets out its new Bill intended to ‘speed up the turnaround of failing schools’ but leaves many details open for summer consultation
    • Outcomes of access agreement monitoring. OFFA reports on its monitoring of HE access agreements over 2013/14 and finds a drop in financial support but an increase in other support
    • HEPI/HEA 2015 Student Academic Experience Survey. Satisfaction remains high in this latest survey but students want more contact time and to know how the fees are being spent
    • Character nation. The think tank Demos in partnership with the Jubilee Centre call for a stronger focus on character development in schools in a new report
    • Council support for 16-19 participation. The latest survey from the Local Government Association finds councils having to reduce their levels of funding and support as cuts bite
    • A digital student learning experience. Eduserve finds a lack of funding, commitment and clear procurement policies hampering the management and provision of learning resources in FE
    • Developing Great Teaching. The Teacher Development Trust and TED Global get together to report on what makes for effective professional development for teachers
    • The Economic Role of UK Universities. Universities UK publishes its latest assessment of how much UK universities contribute to UK GDP and finds it now totalling nearly £40bn
    • Raising the Productive Potential of the Economy. The lifelong learning organisation NIACE lists some of the skills priorities ahead of the Chancellor’s Budget and Productivity Plan
    • Inspection Handbooks for Schools and for FE. Ofsted lays down the new arrangements and lists of things it will look for in inspections from this Sept
    • How to run a country: Education. The think tank Reform continues its build-up to the Spending Review by looking at how to make the school system more productive
    • Student Funding Panel. UUK’s Funding Panel reports on its year-long review into HE financing and concludes that while maintenance support needs changing, the fee system needs more time
    • Social Mobility Report. The Commission’s latest report highlights the barriers faced by many disadvantaged young people seeking entry into ‘top’ professions
    • Colleges and Employers. The AoC publishes a selection of case studies showing how colleges are working with employers to deliver the training and skills needed
    • College mergers and federations. BIS and the FE Commissioner offer best practice guidance for those thinking of taking the plunge
    • Heading for the precipice. Professor Alison Wolf makes a compelling case for re-balancing higher funding around technician training as the basis for economic recovery.  

    Speeches of the month

    • New HE Minister Jo Johnson’s 1 June speech to the Going Global Conference extols the virtues of international students and commits to helping the market grow
    • Nick Gibb’s 11 June Policy Exchange speech argues the case for core academic subjects to be at the heart of the curriculum for most pupils at KS4 but adds that consultation will follow
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw’s 15 June ‘Future of Education Inspections’ speech confirms the new shorter, more frequent inspection model and other changes coming in from this September
    • Nicky Morgan’s 16 June King Solomon Academy speech sets out the new tough expectations on schools in areas like the provision of the EBacc, GCSE grading and pupil behaviour
    • Glenys Stacey’s 17 June Grammar School Heads Association speech updates on the latest developments in the GCSE and A level reform programme
    • Nicky Morgan’s 18 June Festival of Education speech commits to a long-term plan of excellence for all and confirms that education remains high on the agenda
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw’s 18 June Festival of Education speech offers a paean of praise for teachers and challenges some of the unfair media portrayals of them
    • John Cridland’s 19 June Festival of Education speech re-opens debate about the nature of 14-19 learning and the need to incorporate skills, opportunities and guidance for all
    • David Cameron’s 22 June ‘Opportunity for all’ speech argues that the new tough stance on school improvement will help extend educational excellence to all. 

    Quotes of the month

    • “For as everyone knows, when it comes to living within your means, the sooner you start the smoother the ride.” The Chancellor on taking the rough before the smooth
    • “What the rest of the G7 finishes making on a Thursday afternoon takes us until the end of Friday to get done.” The Shadow Skills Minister highlights the issue of productivity
    • “I don’t want anyone to mistake stability for silence, to presume that education is no longer a priority for the government.” The Education Secretary on silence not being golden
    • “I would suggest a full-blooded commitment to building a proper 14-19 baccalaureate curriculum.” Tristram Hunt on where Labour’s education policy needs to go next
    • “The general sense we’re getting from heads is that it’s worse than 2002.” The chief executive of Teach First on an impending teacher recruitment crisis
    • “It won’t be a cliff-edge experience.” The Chief Inspector on the new inspections
    • “I want to see the date for the last ever GCSE circled in the Education Secretary’s diary.” The DG of the CBI wants a sell-by date on GCSEs. 

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Funsultant.’ For when staff need perking up … 
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  • Policy Eye - week ending June 26 2015

    For a change it hasn’t all been about schools this week.

    The week summed up

    With a major conference and a significant new report a lot’s been happening in the world of skills while HE appears to be bracing itself for a further set of developments around quality assurance as HEFCE’s review and government plans on teaching quality both gain momentum. They’re not the only ones adopting the brace position. The summer Budget is now just over ten days away and given the likelihood of further cuts (the manifesto spelt out at least two years of austerity), a number of bodies have been making their pitch to the Chancellor. The recent papers from Universities UK and the Association of School and College Leaders provide good examples of these.

    But to start with schools where this week the Prime Minister added his voice to the current school reforms: “the whole purpose of our education reforms is to extend educational excellence and opportunity to every school and community and not just a privileged few,” and MPs got to debate some of the details as the Education Bill received its Second Reading; links to both are below. Little new came out of the debate although the Education Secretary did reveal the three criteria on which the definition of a coasting school would be based, namely pupil progress, pupil performance data and institutional performance over a 3-year period. Further details at the Committee stage.

    On to skills where the government this week released the latest batch of stats on training and take-up, largely positive, training providers and others were in conference at the AELP Annual Conference and Professor Alison Wolf published her latest seminal report, this time on the importance to both the country and to individuals of a vibrant adult skills training service. Skills providers face many challenges but funding chief executive Peter Lauener put the latest one in perspective when he told the AELP conference that meeting the government’s 3m apprenticeship target, would mean ‘more than one apprentice starting every minute of every day over the next five years.’ Unfortunately the Minister was unable to use his speech to discuss funding figures but Alison Wolf’s report (linked below) did, confronting one of the big challenges in the training system currently, namely the Cinderella funding treatment of 19+ skills training compared for example to that of higher education. “I think we should be very alarmed,” she said, echoing the comments of employers who like the construction sector recently have concerns about a lack of skilled workers.

    Finally, HE where funding issues apart, the sector is awaiting a keynote speech from the Universities Minister and further developments about the future of quality assessment. HEFCE’s review of this area still has some way to run but the government it seems remains keen on ensuring that strengthened procedures are in place as the market expands. More to follow. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Four in ten students say university not good value-survey.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Let’s end this disgraceful charade over academies: Estelle Morris.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Skilled workers may vanish if further education budget cuts continue.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Numeracy crisis threatens to hold back UK in global data race.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘National tests could return for infant pupils.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who outlined the government’s new ‘zero tolerance’ approach to schools in a speech setting out the government’s long-term plans to extend opportunity to all
    • MPs who debated coasting schools, the pros and cons of Academies and adoption procedures in a lengthy debate on the Second Reading of the Education Bill
    • Shadow Education Minister Tristram Hunt who called for local ‘city regions’ to be given oversight of school standards as part of the latest debate on the Education Bill
    • MPs who in another debate this time on support for English as an Additional Language (EAL) called for the resurrection of targeted funds to support those Authorities where EAL numbers are greatest
    • The Higher Education (Information) Private Member’s Bill which will require institutions to provide greater information for students on how its tuition fees are being spent, which received its first reading this week
    • The Skills Minister who addressed this week’s annual AELP conference and as ever raised a number of key questions about skills provision and college structures
    • BIS who published latest stats showing higher apprenticeship and trainee starts both up and NEET numbers down
    • Michelle Obama, who following her successful UK visit last week, has announced the creation of a US/UK partnership ‘to improve girls’ access to education around the world’
    • Professor Debra Humphries, currently vice-provost at Imperial College who has been appointed as the new V.C. of the University of Brighton from the end of this year
    • Universities UK who in the build-up to next month’s Budget set out a case for why the government should invest in higher education and research arguing among other things that English universities have delivered over £1bn in efficiencies and account for 2.7% of all UK employment
    • The UK Graduate Careers Survey of students graduating this summer which reported a big increase in the number expecting to go straight into work from university, generally after some work experience, and with consulting, marketing and the media as the most popular options
    • The National College for Teaching and Leadership who announced a lifting of the cap on recruitment numbers by universities and schools for postgrad initial teacher training courses starting in 2016/17
    • The OECD who published a report on how the digital economy was growing showing that internet use across OECD nations had soared from 60% of adults ten years ago to nearly 95% now, especially among young people
    • Two academics from the University of Birmingham who ahead of the Chancellor’s likely announcement of further cuts in his forthcoming Budget Statement reflected on whether student maintenance grants might be for the chop
    • The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) who ahead of a promised Treasury report on Productivity published its own recommendations including better usage of employee’s skills and better skilled managers
    • Professor Alison Wolf who published a powerful indictment about the lack of funding and support for adult skills training and the damage this could cause both the economy and society generally
    • UCAS who reported on how applicants use those two key words ‘career’ and ‘passion’ in their personal statements
    • The Education Funding Agency who issued the latest guidance on the funding arrangements for core aims in 16-19 study programmes
    • The DfE who published a summary version of what constitutes the EBacc
    • The British Academy who issued the latest report to warn about the pressing problems of low levels of numeracy and data skills in the UK, and who called for a more concerted push on improving teacher recruitment and quality
    • Careers guidance, the subject of two reports this week, one from London Ambitions and backed by the London Mayor and the other from All About School Leavers reporting that over 80% of teachers wish they knew more about options other than HE
    • Former Education Secretary Estelle Morris who wrote a strong piece in The Guardian criticising the government’s obsession with Academies
    • Progress 8, where the closing date for schools wishing to opt in early closes on 30 June
    • Teachers who in the latest Eurydice report on the profession across Europe listed: help with teaching students with special needs, with developing ICT skills and with applying new technologies across the workplace as three of their top development needs
    • Teaching, apparently one of the most attractive professions for those looking for partners.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “What I’d like to see is universities telling students exactly where their money is going.” @nickhillman
    • “Skills has never been so high up the agenda. Where we lead, government follows.” @aelp2015
    • “Is productivity the new buzzword in FE?” @ FENews
    • “We have to consider whether a general FE college is a model we want for the future when resources are constrained @nickboles.” @tesfenews
    • “Sir Ian Diamond: teachers nervous about numbers deliver number-nervous students.” @roclandb
    • “Maybe Ofsted should move to 3 categories: waving, coasting, drowning.” @joehallg 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “This (helping the unemployed back to work) is an essential ingredient of my 2020 vision with 20% more jobs, 20% more university places and a 20% increase in apprenticeship take-up for black and ethnic minorities by the end of the decade.” The PM on his 2020 vision
    • “Work experience has changed from something that was seen as nice to have on a CV to something that’s become a necessity.” High Fliers research on how to compete in the graduate job market
    • “The examiner’s report provides our tutors with an all too rare chance to prove that they are indeed in possession of a sense of humour albeit as part of a package deal with encyclopaedic knowledge and ruthless expectations.” An Oxford university student responds to some scathing comments from this year’s examiners about levels of English and general knowledge
    • “This is no way to run whelk stalls, never mind a national economy.” Alison Wolf questions the lack of money spent on adult skills training
    • “It’s ironic that the students who need the most expertise get the adults with the least expertise.” Professor John Hattie on his latest ‘What Works in Education’ polemics
    • “When I see my kids playing educational games on iPads or looking up how-to videos on You Tube I feel a stab of jealousy. But then I think of the tests and targets and homework that I didn’t have and I feel a bit sorry for them.” A parent reflects on primary education in an article for The Daily Telegraph. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • £23,700. What new graduates from top universities are looking for as a starting salary according to the latest survey by High Fliers Research
    • 52%. The number of final year undergraduate students (the first to be paying fees up to £9,000) reporting that their university education had been value for money according to a Radio 5 Live survey
    • £26. What you get in return for every £ invested in a L2 apprenticeship according to latest BIS commissioned figures
    • 2000. How many more head teachers may be needed each year to fill vacancies let alone turn schools round according to recent figures from Education Datalab
    • 23%. The number of children who reckon playing a computer game with a friend is a form of exercise according to a survey from the Youth Sports Trust
    • £210. How much girls, on average, spend on their prom outfits. The average spend for boys meanwhile is half that.  

    What to look out for next week

    • MPs Questions to the BIS Dept (Tuesday)
    • The government’s Productivity Plan and HE QA developments (both expected during the week). 
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  • Policy Eye - week ending June 19 2015

    Is 14-19 education emerging as the latest battleground in education? 

    The week summed up

    A glance through the week’s education news headlines which even provoked one education blogger to revoke the spirit of 200 years ago by indicating that education was facing its Waterloo, suggests perhaps it is

    The cause of the latest angst is the government’s recent pronouncements on the EBacc, a form of core curriculum that it wants to see formally adopted by schools for new pupils from this September. “There may be a small group of pupils for whom this won’t be appropriate. But our goal is for pupils starting year 7 this September to study the EBacc subjects when they reach their GCSEs,” so said the Education Secretary in a keynote speech at the start of the week.

    The move comes, as part of the government’s long-term plans to ‘enshrine the excellence’ that the government claims to have unlocked in some schools and spread it to all. It is partly therefore about social opportunity, opening out opportunity to all but it raises some fundamental questions.

    Arguably three stand out. First, and perhaps most practically, have we got enough history, geography, language and other teachers to teach the full range of EBacc subjects? As Education Datalab have pointed out, we need a couple of thousand more language teachers for starters and yet as is widely recognised, we’re facing a teacher recruitment crisis which seems likely to get worse before it gets better. Second, is a force-fed diet of the EBacc what 21st century youngsters need? The debate about balance in the curriculum, what we should teach the next generation is not new of course and many people can still point to the scars of previous skirmishes such as the emblematic Tomlinson reforms of over a decade ago, as evidence of this. If the week is anything to go by, a new reform momentum is building on those reforms with the Shadow Education Secretary calling for a cross-party review of 14-19 provision and the director general of the CBI going for equally wide-ranging reform including the scrapping of GCSEs. And third, is government best placed to determine what’s most appropriate for learners? The NUT have called the idea “poor,” the Design and Technology Association let alone other subject groupings have complained about the downplaying of their subjects outside the EBacc while the SSAT survey of school leaders suggested, many may turn a Nelson’s eye to the instruction. In other words this raises once again an issue that was bubbling around before the election about how far curriculum design should be de-politicised, left to professional experts rather than politicians to determine.

    For the moment, attention will turn to the Education Bill which moves on to its second reading this week but the issue of the core curriculum will not be far away. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Schools face pressure under plans to target academic GCSEs.’ (Monday)
    • ‘GCSEs: Pass mark raised in exams shake-up.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Hunt wants cross-party exam consensus on 14-19 curriculum.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Schools will reject requirement to teach EBacc to all.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘CBI head call for GCSEs to be scrapped.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Education Secretary who set out a number of new measures under the banner of raising school standards that included more formal adoption of the EBacc, setting the ‘good’ pass grade at GCSE at level 5 and creating a new group to help teachers deal with disruptive behaviour
    • BIS and the FE Commissioner who as cuts continue to bite and colleges increasingly look at partnerships, mergers and federations as ways of reducing costs, published some guiding principles on how to make such arrangements work
    • The government who announced that the forthcoming Enterprise Bill will include plans to protect the legal status of apprenticeships and that ensure all public bodies recruit apprentices
    • Neil Carmichael, Iain Wright and Frank Field who have been selected to chair the Education, BIS and Work and Pensions Select Committees respectively as new Parliamentary business gets under way
    • CBI director general John Cridland, who in a major speech to the Wellington Festival of Education, called on the government to conduct a major review of 14-19 learning with an emphasis on improving careers guidance, bringing back work experience and finally putting GCSEs out to grass in an effort to ensure the system provided for all rather than some
    • The Social Mobility Commission whose latest research highlighted how difficult it can be for working-class applicants to gain entry to elite professions 
    • The UK Commission for employment and Skills who reported on the demise of the Saturday and other part-time jobs for young people and found that the pressures of studying were making it more difficult to combine work and study especially for 16/17 year olds
    • The think tank Reform who as part of the build-up to this autumn’s Spending Review investigated value for money and productivity returns in the schools sector and concluded that more autonomy, better accountability and a fairer funding system would all help
    • The Office of the Independent Adjudicator, the body that deals with HE student complaints, whose latest annual report identified academic issues as the biggest source of complaints
    • David Willetts, who in a pamphlet for the Policy Institute at Kings College, argued that the HE fee system should be reviewed on a regular five-year basis but equally that the current fee ceiling may need to increase although the repayment threshold should stay
    • The Student Funding Panel, set up by Universities UK two years ago to look at the fee loan system, whose final report this week concluded that no immediate change was needed to the current system but that student living costs remained an issue
    • Ian Pretty who will take over as Chief Executive of the 157 Group when Dr Lynne Sedgemore retires this Sept
    • Tom Bennett, director of ResearchED, who has been asked by the Education Secretary to lead a group of practitioners in helping teachers become better at managing classroom behaviour
    • Belinda Vernon who is taking over as acting Chair of National Numeracy, the charity dedicated to promoting maths/numeracy
    • The Association of Colleges who published a set of case studies showing how colleges are working closely with employers in developing the sort of skilled workforce needed
    • Tutor Voice, a new group, launched to support those who work in the FE sector with among other things a Bill of Rights for professional practice
    • The SSAT who surveyed school leaders about the latest requirement on schools to provide the EBacc and found considerable concerns particularly about its application to all pupils
    • Ofsted who announced new inspection arrangements for this Sept and which include a recognition scheme for outstanding leaders, regional scrutiny committees, more serving practitioners as inspectors, and shorter but more frequent inspections
    • The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher who reported on the emerging success of Vietnam in raising school standards and cited 3 critical factors: committed leadership; a focused curriculum; and investment in teachers
    • The education commentator Warwick Mansell who as the new Education Bill approaches its second reading, examined how the government was likely to deal with the issue of defining a ‘coasting’ school
    • Regional School Commissioners whose responsibilities will be extended from the start of next month to include sponsorship and funding of some sponsored academies
    • The East Asian Maths Mastery programme, which focuses on mastering fewer topics but in greater depth and which appears to be having a positive effect according to research undertaken by the Institute of Education and Cambridge
    • The Design and Technology Association which is preparing to launch a campaign to protect and promote the role of D/T in the school curriculum
    • BAM Construction who will start work this autumn on preparing the Old Admiralty Building in Whitehall in readiness for the arrival of the DfE in 2017
    • “What’s your favourite quote?” Highlighted this week as one of the toughest questions to be asked in an interview.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Wilshaw: Ofsted has reformed, is reforming and will continue to reform.” @tes
    • “I know we’ll never be loved but I do aim for greater respect for the inspectorate.” @HarfordSean
    • “Tech ed works best when it’s neglected by politicians whose esteem it should never try to seek.” @andrew_1910
    • “Escalator from low to high skills is broken - middle skill jobs gone.” John Cridland@CBItweets
    • “My classroom is the most benevolent of dictatorships but it is, and shall always remain, a dictatorship.” @tes 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “I don’t want anyone to mistake stability for silence, to presume that education is no longer a priority for the government.” The Education Secretary tells delegates at this week’s Education Festival not to be lulled into a false sense of ease
    • “I think it is a very gloomy picture.” The view from one sixth-from college principal as the Sixth Form Colleges Association prepares to discuss the funding crisis facing the sector
    • “Have the leaders got a grip on the institution? Do they fully understand its strengths and weaknesses?” One of the seven standard questions inspectors are likely to ask when the new inspection regime comes into effect this September
    • “Here’s the special homework for the holidays that I have left to my guys for the summer.” An Italian teacher’s holiday homework for his class goes viral after it includes instructions ‘to watch the sunrise and walk by the sea, thinking about the things you love most’
    • “If university graduates have their moment in the sun so should people who undertake apprenticeships.” The Skills Minister on plans to protect the legal status of apprenticeships
    • “Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry.” The Social Mobility Commission on the difficulties working-class applicants often face when they try and access top jobs
    • “Some absurdists claim that a noisy classroom that rocks with spontaneity is the perfect crucible for learning. It isn’t.” The government’s new behavioural expert on some of the basic rules of learning
    • “A great teacher takes a class with him. A poor robotic teacher takes them to boredom and mischief.” Piers Morgan on what makes for a good teacher. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 139,200. The number of businesses in England who use local colleges to train their staff according to figures from the AoC
    • 11,000. The number of Oxbridge graduates now teaching in UK secondary schools, a big increase over the last decade according to the Sutton Trust who carried out the research
    • 84.2%. How many applicants were offered a place at their first choice secondary school this year, down 1.0%
    • 7 out of 10. The number of Ofsted inspectors who will also be practitioners from this September
    • 82%. The number of schools and FE providers judged good or outstanding by Ofsted in its latest official data
    • 18%. The number of 16/17 year olds combining work with studying, a drop of well over 50% over the last 20 years according to research from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. 

    What to look out for next week

    • AELP National Conference (Monday, Tuesday)
    • Education Bill Second Reading (Monday)
    • Westminster Hall debate on government support for pupils with English as an additional language (Tuesday). 
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  • Policy Eye - week ending June 12 2015

    Teaching and learning have been very much at the forefront this week. 

    The week summed up

    The Schools Minister made a keynote speech on the importance of the core academic curriculum, MPs debated vocational qualifications, Ofqual continued with its flow of information on the reformed GCSEs and A’ levels, the Education and Endowment Foundation published its latest batch of project reports on innovative approaches to assessment and the Teacher Development Trust launched a major new report on ‘Developing Great Teaching.’

    For many, this is a welcome shift away from the often distracting obsession with school structures and systems and a focus on what really matters, namely high-quality teaching and learning. As former Schools Minister Jim Knight put it at the launch of the Teacher Development Trust Report this week; “I wish we didn’t have the role of schools minister in this country. We spend way too much time obsessing about schools-their structures, their schools, their accountability, their buildings. Instead we should have a teaching minister.” Maybe. But there’s a further interesting development to note as well and that is the extent to which the teaching profession is now taking a lead role in some of these developments. The College for Teaching, the Foundation for Leadership in Education and the Institution for FE, all of which have also been in the news this week, are all teacher led while the mantra ‘Own your Curriculum’ is beginning to gain momentum. 

    We shall no doubt hear more next week when Professor John Hattie’s latest Papers are released under the Pearson ‘Open Ideas’ series and the Sunday Times hosts its annual two day education-fest at Wellington College.

    For the moment, it’s worth just noting some of the messages that came out of this week’s burst of activity. On the move to strengthen the position of the core academic curriculum, Nick Gibb in his speech to the think tank Policy Exchange last night, made a strong case for this being part of a moral mission, ensuring that disadvantaged pupils were given the same opportunities to secure the same high-value qualifications as everyone else. Further details on the mechanics such as whether all pupils will have to follow the requirements are due shortly. On vocational qualifications, Nick Boles, the Skills Minister, posed three questions which seem to encapsulate where government thinking is at present; none new but all important: should they start at age 14 or 16; should colleges specialise more; have we got the right qualifications? As for ‘Developing Great Teaching,’ where considerable evidence of effective professional development for teachers in other countries was presented, it’s very much a case of sustained support rather than occasional drip feed that we should be aiming for. Bye-bye Baker days perhaps. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Leading girls’ school to scrap homework over stress fears.’ (Monday)
    • ‘QAA reviews could be abolished.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Crack down on fake universities launched in England.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Traditional GCSE subjects for all pupils.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Teach First warns recruitment crisis is worse than 2002.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Schools Minister Nick Gibb who set out government plans to strengthen provision of a core academic curriculum in schools with further consideration of some of the details to come
    • MPs who discussed some of the perennial issues surrounding vocational qualifications including status, funding and take-up in a debate on the eve of national VQ Day
    • BIS whose latest quarterly stats on graduate employment suggested that the unemployment rate for young grads is at its lowest for 8 years despite the fact that a survey from the NUS found students pretty pessimistic about their future job prospects
    • The Migration Advisory Committee who have been asked to advise the government before the end of the year on how to restrict work visas to ‘genuine’ skills shortages and how to boost apprenticeship funds through a new skills levy on Tier 2 visas raising concerns among some employers
    • Labour Education spokesman Tristram Hunt who reflected on Labour’s election defeat and suggested that when it came to education, ‘muddled priorities’ were largely to blame 
    • Universities UK who published their latest (2011/12 based) assessment of how much UK universities contribute to the UK economy
    • The founder of the Wonkhe website who posted a useful blog on how the debate on proposed changes to quality assurance arrangements in higher education is shaping up
    • The University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) who issued a call for good case study examples of HEI involvement in Higher Apprenticeships and Degree Apprenticeships
    • The Edge Foundation, the ‘hosts’ of this year’s VQ Day, who published a survey of the skills most valued by neighbours and found that having a plumber, an electrician or a doctor living next door came high up the list
    • The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) who ahead of next month’s budget published a set of four proposals for helping improve the skills system
    • The NFER who produced a literature report for the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCGQ) on the value of vocational qualifications offered in the UK to learners, business and the economy
    • Training providers many of whom have been concerned to receive letters from the Skills Funding Agency telling them that growth funding, the funding they can apply for when they deliver more than allocated, will be frozen until after the July Budget
    • The UK Commission for Employment and Skills whose latest sector ‘special’ report looked at the digital and creative sector which they calculated was going to need 1.2m new workers by 2020
    • Eduserve who published the results of a report into digital learning resources in FE and identified three current barriers: insufficient funding; ineffective procurement; low levels of staff engagement in new technologies
    • The Institution for FE which was granted its Royal Charter this week
    • 7 bodies, including the AoC, ASCL and Sixth Form Colleges Association, who got together to pen letters to the Chancellor and Education Secretary highlighting 16-19 funding concerns
    • The Local Government Association (LGA) who published the results of a survey into how local councils were supporting 16-19 participation and found that 91% have had to reduce expenditure in this area since 2010 and 54% have outsourced provision 
    • A new national funding formula for schools which according to the TES may see developments later this year and which has already generated strong feelings
    • The TES who produced a useful set of charts from the recent DfE school census data on rising pupil numbers
    • Ofsted who in its latest Annual Report and Accounts suggested that new inspection arrangements would be able to generate annual savings of around £6.5m from 2016/17
    • Ofqual who launched a consultation on new rules and guidance for assessing practical skills in AS and A level sciences
    • The ‘Claim your College’ group behind the College for Teaching who have produced a new awareness pack to be used in promoting awareness of the College
    • Three organisations, the ASCL, NAHT and National Governors’ Association, who are getting together to develop qualifications and training for school leaders under a new Foundation for Leadership in Education
    • The Teacher Development Trust who along with TES Global launched a report on best practice in teacher professional development which recommended a shift away from the traditional one-off events to more sustained, supportive events matching current needs
    • Chris Riddell who will take over from Malorie Blackman as children’s laureate
    • ‘Invictus’ by W.E.Henley and ‘It’s Work’ by Benjamin Zephaniah chosen by teenagers as the top pre-1914 and post-1914 poems respectively in this year’s Poetry by Heart competition. 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “I once had an inspector tell me children were bored in lessons. Evidence? One looked out of the window.”  @tombennett71
    • “GPA degree classifications are coming but will getting a 4.25 ever match up to a 1st?” @timeshighered
    • “Be more like Aldi, boarding schools told.” @schools­_­ontap
    • “Two nominees for Public Accounts Committee chair mention need to scrutinise schools sector. Could be interesting.” @warwickmansell
    • “Social media turned exam angst into a different kind of event this summer with its own instant commentary and millions reading stories.”@seanjcoughlan 

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • TNE. Transnational education, typically students who start their degrees abroad on courses run or recognised by UK universities and the subject of a research report from HEFCE this week.  

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We don’t export enough; we don’t train enough; we don’t save enough; we don’t invest enough; we don’t manufacture enough; we certainly don’t build enough; and far too much of the economic activity of the nation is concentrated in the centre of London.” The Chancellor’s ‘don’t get me started’ list of current productivity challenges
    • “We have just done one of the biggest data studies undertaken by government, matching people’s education performance and their earnings as recorded by HMRC.” The Skills Minister highlights the importance of qualifications that can improve people’s job prospects and earnings potential as he rounds off the debate on Voc Quals Day
    • “To those who criticise our focus on academic subjects or suggest the EBacc is a Gradgindian anachronism, I have a simple question: would you want your child to be denied the opportunity to study a science, history or geography or a foreign language?” The Schools Minister challenges critics of the government’s focus on core academic subjects
    • “In a decade’s time, if we have still got GCSEs in England, Britain will be completely out of kilter with other European countries and not giving young people what they need.’ Labour’s Shadow Education Minister remains committed to an overhaul of 14-19 education
    • “We are urging you to address the growing and significant funding disparity in the funding for the education of 16-19 yr olds in schools and colleges.” Leading organisations write to the Chancellor urging him to review 16-19 funding provision
    • “I’ve never worked in a profession before or since my time in the classroom in which people talked about ‘getting out’ the way a seasoned prisoner might discuss making a run for it.” A correspondent in The Daily Telegraph muses over how many teachers still hanker after an escape route.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 9. The age at which children apparently stop wanting to be firemen and women or nurses and want to become TV reality stars
    • 94,000. The number of extra pupils in primary schools in England this year, up 2.1%, according to the latest School Census figures
    • 41%. The number of adults who have undertaken some form of learning over the last three years, up 3% (although not for the unemployed) in NIACE’s latest participation survey
    • £39.9bn. How much UK Universities contributed to UK GDP in 2011 in the latest set of figures released by UUK
    • £143.3m. Ofsted’s budget for 2015/16 according to its latest Annual Report and Accounts
    • 8. The number of factors that make for effective teacher CPD as identified by the Teacher Development Trust and TES Global in a report launched this week. 

    What to look out for next week

    • Adult Learners’ Week (all week)
    • MPs Questions to the DfE (Monday)
    • Launch of two new ‘thought piece’ papers by Professor John Hattie under the Pearson ‘Open Ideas’ series on what works/what doesn’t in education (Tuesday)
    • Chairs of Parliamentary Select Committees selected (Wednesday)
    • Sunday Times Festival of Education (Thursday/Friday)
    • UVAC/Edge Seminar on the ‘Future for high level voc ed in England’ (Friday). 
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