Policy Watch

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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 Eye - week ending June 5 2015

    It’s been one of the busiest weeks in the education year so far with exam halls (and students) at full stretch, a series of reports and updates released, the new Education Bill published and to top it all off, some cuts or ‘in-year departmental savings’ including for education, announced.

    The week summed up

    The new mantra coming out of government at the moment is “the sooner you start, the smoother the ride.” The Chancellor’s used the phrase twice now in as many speeches and ended his speech with it again yesterday. The aim of course is to demonstrate intent and seize leadership of key areas when other parties are resolving their own issues and will set the tone for much of this year. The Prime Minister’s announcement earlier in the week of ten new implementation taskforces to keep things on track in areas like apprenticeships and childcare offer further proof of this.

    The two big education policy issues at the moment are the cuts and the Bill.

    The cuts were announced in the economic debate yesterday and follow a report from the OECD earlier in the week urging the Chancellor to limit the pain so as to avoid harming growth. The savings, as the Chancellor prefers to call them, affect both DfE and BIS, each of which will contribute £450m to the £3bn of savings listed, arguably from what the DfE called “underspends, efficiencies and small budgetary reductions.” Exactly where axes will fall is not clear yet but non-essential activity, some agency activity and non-protected areas like 16-19, adult learning and HE look most vulnerable and will be biting their nails even further as the July Budget approaches.

    As for the Education Bill which was laid this week and will be subject to further consultation on some of the detail later this summer, debate has continued all week about proposals which grant the Education Secretary new powers over the intervention and conversion (to academy status) of so-called ‘coasting’ schools. The TES and Schools Week both have useful summaries of the Bill and an accompanying Policy Watch briefly outlines some of the issues which broadly come down to the question of whether academisation really is a silver bullet, what impact such centralisation of powers will have on schools in general and heads in particular and whether this more forceful approach is the best way of raising standards.

    Some important reports were also published this week. Stand-outs include Ofqual’s latest ‘Perceptions’ survey which found confidence in core qualifications remaining pretty high but some concerns about the pace and nature of change. Also two annual surveys in HE, one from OFFA on how universities are meeting their access agreements (90% have been met) and one from HEPI/HEA on the student academic experience (87% positive.) All details below.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘The surprising success of Britain’s university spin-outs.’ (Monday
    • ‘Teachers need respect, world leaders insist.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘All failing schools to be Academies under Education Bill.’ (Wednesday
    • ‘Too many disadvantaged university students dropping out despite rise in acceptance rates, says watchdog head.’ (Thursday
    • ‘George Osborne announces fresh cuts to education budgets.” (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Education BillChildcare Bill and the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, three of the education-related Bills which have all now been published
    • The Prime Minister who announced a number of new taskforces to help ensure manifesto policy commitments in key areas such as youth employment and childcare are delivered to schedule
    • The Chancellor who announced £4.5bn of spending cuts from current budgets with £3bn of that coming from dept savings including both DfE and BIS 
    • The Chancellor who headed to the Midlands early in the week to outline ways in which the region could become Britain’s engine for growth
    • The DfE and BIS Depts who completed the lists of ministerial responsibilities
    • The DfE who have promised to conduct a review of childcare funding and provision before the summer to help ensure the new childcare commitment could be implemented a year earlier than planned
    • New Minister for Universities Jo Johnson who used a maiden speech to the 2015 Going Global Conference to back more international students coming to the UK to study
    • Graduate Prospects who have been appointed by the HE Minister to help ensure websites and providers provide genuine information and services to international students
    • HEPI and HEA’s latest survey of students’ academic experience which found 87% of students surveyed fairly or very satisfied but many concerned about how their money was being spent, about contact time and their future prospects
    • The Office for Fair Access whose latest annual report on university access agreements showed that although the actual amount spent on financial support had dropped, the total money spent on widening participation had increased and 90% of targets had been met
    • Former Education Secretary David Blunkett who is to become chair of Global University Systems’ newly acquired University of Law
    • The British Council who commissioned a survey of which degree courses the world’s most successful people take and found that while just over half had taken a social sciences or humanities degree, no one particular subject stood out
    • The CIPD who published a report on how young people are supported and developed in the workplace and found an increasing number of organisations now offering programmes aimed at 16-24 yr olds alongside the more established graduate programmes
    • The Guardian who invited six leading education ‘experts’ to define the term coasting and ended up with a range of interpretations
    • Chief Regulator Glenys Stacey who wrote to secondary schools to explain a bit more about how the national reference test is intended to operate when it comes in from March 2017
    • Ofqual who published its latest annual survey on views about particular qualifications and found that while confidence in traditional qualifications among the public and profession was still high, concerns remained about some aspects of the current reforms such as GCSE grading and de-coupled AS levels
    • Ofqual who published a little digital postcard to help explain the new GCSE grading system
    • Ofqual who invited comments on the prototype for its new look register of regulated qualifications and reported back on GCSE spoken language assessment arrangements
    • The Sutton Trust who published a report into why so many pupils who do well at age 11 fail to translate this into success at GCSE and concluded that dedicated school monitoring and a new fund was needed to support what they called this ‘missing talent’
    • Character education, the subject of a new report from the think tank Demos and Birmingham University’s Jubilee Centre which called for it to be embedded in schools’ curricula and given a specific focus in Ofsted inspections
    • The Arts Council who have helped set up a new scheme for creative writing in schools starting this October
    • Phenomenon, unnecessary and disappearance, three of the words in KS2 spelling tests that adults found most difficult to spell in a recent survey.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Teachers being asked to be Einstein, Mother Teresa and Tony Soprano rolled into one.” @tes
    • “Nicky Morgan: Heads should not fear for their jobs.” @tes
    • “Johnson: no cap on international students and no intention to introduce one. Ambition is to grow.” @JMorganTHE
    • “The most pressing education battles of the next 5 years seem all to concern capacity.” @russellhobby

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “I will launch an ‘Inspiring the future’ project, bringing together  businesses, voluntary and community activists and union members to encourage them to go into state schools and show how education can transform children’s lives.” Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall on helping raise the value of education
    • “Driving the roll-out of universal broadband and better mobile phone connections, to ensure everyone is part of the digital economy.” The terms of reference for the new Digital infrastructure and inclusion taskforce
    • “One of my regrets in my time as Minister is in not funding students to go abroad.” Former HE Minister reflects on failures to extend the fee loan system to studying abroad
    • “The tanker seems to be turning.” Les Ebdon, director of the Office for Fair Access commenting on the latest stats that point to more students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to top universities
    • “It’s one of those terms that makes much more sense politically than educationally.” Professor Michael Jopling on the term ‘coasting,’ as in ‘coasting school’
    • “And we’re going to expand the fantastic Birmingham Bacc so that even more pupils get the chance to work on projects designed by local businesses.” The Chancellor of the Exchequer praises the local Bacc in helping raise skill levels for young people on a visit to the Midlands.

    Number(s) of the week 

    • £450m. The cuts announced for each of the DfE and BIS in the Chancellor’s latest announcement   
    • 10 and 14. The number of new Implementation Taskforces and Cabinet Committees now confirmed
    • 58%. The proportion of employers, in a survey by Universum, who rated work experience as more valuable in graduate recruitment than a specific grade from a specific university
    • £628m. The amount of money spent by universities on widening participation in 2013-14, up £64 on the previous year according to the latest figures from OFFA
    • 12 hours a week. Average taught contact time for HE students reported in HEPI/HEA’s latest survey
    • 54%. The percentage of parents in Ofqual’s latest survey yet to get to grips with the new GCSE grading scale
    • 300. The number of secondary schools each year who will be asked to take part in the national reference test intended to support awarding in English and maths GCSE
    • 600,000. The number of families expected to benefit from the new free childcare arrangements.

    What to look out for next week

    • National Bookstart Week
    • Universities UK Conference on ‘Enhancing the International Student Experience’ (Tuesday)
    • VQ (Vocational Qualifications) debate in Parliament (Tuesday)
    • VQ Day (Wednesday)
    • Nick Gibb speech at Policy Exchange (Thursday)
    • National Education ICT Conference (Thursday). 
    read more
  • Pocket Watch – Unravelling the Education Bill

    Mindful of the Prime Minister’s word at his first Cabinet meeting that they shouldn’t “waste a minute,” Depts have moved swiftly to publish a number of the Bills that were listed in last week’s Queen’s Speech.

    The Education and Adoption Bill has attracted particular interest; here’s a quick summary of what’s involved.

    What does the Bill say?

    Apart from a brief section on Local Authority adoption functions, most of this Bill is aimed at what are termed: ‘schools causing concern.’ In simple terms, the Bill creates a new category of school, the so-called ‘coasting’ school and gives the Secretary of State new powers to deal with them by amending, generally in favour of the Education Secretary, the existing powers of intervention and conversion originally set out in the Education and Inspections Act of 2006 and the Academies Act of 2010 respectively. It means a school could be directed to convert, “be required to take all reasonable steps to ensure this” and to do this within a set timescale.

    Why is the government introducing this Bill?

    Three reasons. First because it can; it was in the manifesto, the Party now has a mandate and believes it has a duty as part of the ‘good life’ promised in the election to ensure “all families have the security of knowing your children are getting a great education.” Second, because as the Prime Minister said earlier this year, the government is determined to tackle what it sees as ‘mediocrity’ in the school system and believes that “turbo-charging the academy programme” is the way to deal with it. And third, because it wants to remove what it feels have been ‘roadblocks’ to system reform whether it’s been professional opposition and/or local authority tardiness, hence the concentrating of powers in the hands of the Secretary of State and the use of the word “force” in the accompanying DfE press notice.

    What have been the reactions?

    The press notice cited a number of supporters from leading academy sponsors but there’s also been widespread criticism as well. The main criticisms are as follows. First, the concentration of powers in the hands of the Secretary of State, sections 4-11 of the Bill for instance are riddled with new powers over local authorities, governing bodies and schools in general; the TES provides a helpful summary of these. Second, the continuing failure to define just what a ‘coasting’ school is, section 1 doesn’t help much and for the moment it’s pretty much left to the Education Secretary to determine. Third, as many have pointed out, the case for academies has yet to be proven; to quote Brian Lightman, ‘academisation is not in itself a magic wand’ and conversion, let alone a rushed one may not work for everyone. And fourth, will this new punitive approach work? As the BBC’s Chris Cook argued: “I’m not clear that you will get more from pushing schools harder;” many agree.

    What happens next?

    The Bill receives a Second Reading in two weeks when some of the general principles will be discussed; further consultation will be undertaken this summer. Potentially 200+ schools a year over the next five years could come within scope creating up to 1000 more academies.  

    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending May 29 2015

    The legislative programme outlined in the Queen’s Speech this week, with its spread of over 20 Bills, means that the new Parliament will escape the fate that befell the last one of being described as a zombie Parliament.

    The week summed up

    The Prime Minister called it “challenging but doable,” the CBI said it was “jam packed,” the Times said ‘it was the moment where Cameron finally got real.’ 

    The new legislative programme runs to a clear theme and for anyone in doubt, it was repeated six times in David Cameron’s accompanying introduction. That theme is ‘One Nation,’ an epithet long associated with the Conservative Party, briefly snatched by Ed Miliband and now reclaimed by the Conservatives as they seek to claim leadership of the heartland of the electorate, the roofers and retailers and hard-working families that David Cameron referred to when he launched his initial pitch earlier this year. It is to their aspirations, a word incidentally derided by John Prescott this week as being meaningless, that the legislative programme is intended to speak to with its Bills on an EU referendum, Housing, Immigration and Education. The challenge will be balancing the big ticket items such as the EU referendum and a British Bill of Rights with the more fundamental issues of schools, housing and the minimum wage but as the Guardian put it, in education as in the other two big public service areas of health and welfare, “the overall tone is steady as she goes rather than a change of course.”

    Current thinking is that the ‘steady as she goes’ approach for domestic policy will last for at least the next couple of years partly to allow in education at least for the current reform programme to be implemented and bed down and partly because the government has bigger fish to fry most notably in the early commitment to an EU referendum.

    A period of calm may be no bad thing, it’s what many in the profession have called in the past and Nicky Morgan recognised as such in her TES webchat yesterday. But of course as this week’s reports from the OECD and Boston Consulting show, the challenge of preparing and supporting young people for a fast moving and changing world remains. The evidence is telling. According to the OECD, the gap in literacy skills between our young people in work and those not is one of the biggest in any Western country. And as for using that education to support health, wellbeing and growth, according to the ranking used by the Boston Consulting Group Report, Britain comes well down the charts. Whether more academies, more apprenticeships and so on will do the trick remains to be seen but we should have some sense over the next couple of years.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Guardian Uni tables: Coventry slip past Russell Group peers to enter top 20.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Britain’s graduates are bottom in maths.’  (Wednesday)
    • ‘UK behind Poland in key education indicators, report.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Points plan for degree grades.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The government who lined up 26 prospective Bills under its new legislative programme announced by the Queen
    • Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown who in a speech to the UN called for urgent action to help the increasing numbers of refugee and displaced children in what he dubbed ‘a year of fear’ for them
    • Former Education Secretary Estelle Morris who outlined three areas where Labour could start to offer some alternative thinking on education
    • Professor Louise Richardson, currently vice-chancellor at St Andrews University who from next year will take over as Oxford University’s first female vice-chancellor
    • Neil McIntosh, former CEO of CfBT, who has been appointed as the first President of CMRE, the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education
    • The Guardian who published its 2016 University Guide showing how universities had performed in any one of 53 taught subject areas
    • The HE Academy who reported on its recent two year pilot of a new hons degree classification system using a national grade point average system
    • The Enterprise Research Centre who published the first innovation map of the UK showing that Oxfordshire has the most innovative economy in Britain and that many areas in the North actually outperform those in the South East
    • The OECD who published an updated report on the skills outlook and employability prospects for young people and painted a pretty depressing picture for those with low skill levels
    • The 157 Group of colleges who got together with economic modelling specialists (EMSI) to demonstrate the economic importance of colleges to learners, communities and taxpayers
    • The Skills Funding agency who published the latest data on success rates and learner satisfaction in FE under the FE Choices data platform
    • Ofqual who published the latest data on exam entries for summer 2015
    • Professor Chris Husbands who highlighted some of the practical issues in the government’s plans to raise school performance
    • The commentator Gifted Phoenix who published a useful blog trying to make sense of the government’s manifesto commitment that only secondary schools offering the full EBacc range of subjects could be awarded a top inspection grade
    • ‘Hashtag’ which emerged as children’s word of the year in a competition run by the BBC and summarised by Oxford University Press who noted that words like ‘email,’ ‘television,’ ‘mobile’ and ‘Facebook’ were also being superseded by new technology-based words.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Coasting schools still not defined but they’ve been around since at least 1999. Is that a coasting description?” @seanjcoughlan
    • “@Nicky Morgan. There’s a certain confidence that is the hallmark of outstanding schools.” @tes
    • “Time to stop tinkering with school structures, invest in teachers instead.” @TeachForAll
    • “Erasers are instruments of the devil and should be banned from the classroom because they shame mistakes.” @Telegraph
    • “Want proof of what’s possible in education? You’ll find it in Korea.” @SchliecherEDU
    • “I am changing the staff room so that it is a place to drink coffee, chat and relax. No school timetables and rubbish.” @Oldprimaryhead1

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • GPA. Grade point average, a degree classification system providing a more rounded picture of HE student performance that is used abroad and which has been piloted here over the last couple of years
    • SET. The Society for Education and Training, a new membership organisation for practitioners working in the FE sector launched this week.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Our school reforms in the last Parliament were bold…in this Parliament they will bolder still.” The Prime Minister in his introduction to the Queen’s Speech
    • “Recent evidence suggests that standards of literacy and numeracy in our schools are falling. That is unacceptable.” Nicole Sturgeon announces a campaign to raise standards in Scottish education
    • “We’re challenging the system. We’re bringing in new forms of pedagogy and listening to students.” John Latham, vice-chancellor at Coventry University which has risen to 15th in the latest Guardian University rankings
    • “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.” The OECD’s Secretary General invokes Aristotle’s famous definition of vocationalism as he launches the OECD’s latest Skills Report.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 35m. The number of 16-29 yr olds currently neither in education nor training across OECD countries according to the OECD’s latest Skills Report
    • 8.6m. The number of children worldwide thought to be in slavery according to UN figures
    • 12%. The drop over the last year in the number of people applying to teacher training courses according to latest UCAS figures
    • 67%. The number of intermediate apprentices who were already employed by their company when they were granted an apprenticeship according to research commissioned by the Local Government Association
    • 11.2%. The average return on investment in terms of higher future earnings for FE learners according to research commissioned by the 157 Group
    • 5. The number of state funded secondary schools who entered the whole of their KS4 cohort for all EBacc subjects last year according to a blog by Gifted Phoenix.   

    What to look out for next week

    • Education debate following the Queen’s Speech (Wednesday).
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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in May 2015

    The month may have brought an unanticipated general election result but its been pretty much business as usual ever since, especially for the world of education where familiar faces returned to their Ministerial desks ready to start work on implementing some of the 38 education-related manifesto commitments.

    For schools, where Nicky Morgan was quickly out of the stalls promising to tackle so-called ‘coasting’ and struggling schools, the new Education Bill has enshrined new intervention and academy conversion powers but left open the question of just what a ‘coasting’ school is. Either way, the issue of school performance is set to run through the rest of this year. For FE, who will have more than one eye on the forthcoming Summer Budget, its ability to deliver required training volumes particularly for the young and low-skilled who have been the subject of a couple of fairly bleak OECD reports this month, will remain under scrutiny. As for HE, where there was little new either in the Conservative manifesto or the Queen’s Speech, the challenge of creating a high-level technical route remains as does the visa issue as the recent Immigration Bill indicates.   

    Key headlines from the month

    • Early Years. The Pre-School Alliance sets out a post-election manifesto plan
    • Children. The Children’s Commissioner publishes a 7-point vision for the new government
    • Reading. Latest National Literacy Trust survey finds more children reading for pleasure
    • 49%. The no of MPs who had a comprehensive education according to the Sutton Trust
    • Arts subjects. 2 Organisations join forces to call for greater opportunities in the school curriculum
    • EAL. The Education Endowment Foundation invites bids to undertake more research
    • GCSE maths. Sample assessment materials to be amended following Ofqual research
    • A level subject take-up. Ofsted reveals the gender differences
    • ‘Coasting’ schools. The government targets them as others try and define them
    • Regional School Commissioners. Education Bill proposes new intervention powers
    • Free schools. Next round of applications opens
    • College of Teaching. New survey suggests 80% of teachers would support
    • Teacher recruitment. Concerns grow as recruitment pipeline slows
    • Careers. Government turns to Jobcentre Plus advisers for extra help
    • Apprenticeships. AoC blog looks at ways of meeting the government’s 3m challenge
    • Apprenticeship numbers. Statutory annual reporting on progress to be made
    • FE inspections. Ofsted confirms it’ll scrap graded lesson observations from Sept
    • FE impact. 157 Group report suggests av impact of a college on its community can be £550m
    • FE staff (1). UCU survey highlights increasing levels of workforce stress
    • FE staff (2.) The Education and Training Foundation launches new professional body
    • HE. Universities UK builds up its campaign for the UK to stay in the EU
    • Devo max. Core Cities and LGA publish proposals for further local devolution
    • Local Gov Devolution Bill. Government proposes new legislative framework.

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

    • Improving Schools in Sweden. The OECD assesses what changes are needed to help the country regain its former educational glory
    • Universal Basic Skills. Another hefty OECD report this time highlighting the importance of basic skills for young people where the UK ranks 20th in the OECD ranking of 76 countries
    • The new digital learning age. The RSA examines the role of technology in learning and highlights some ways in which its potential could be unleashed
    • Technology, Distraction and Student Performance. The Centre for Economic Performance examines the impact of mobile phones in schools and concludes they can be a hindrance
    • London Calling. Business firm London First and PWC crunch the numbers and calculate that international students bring a net benefit of £2.8bn a year to UK GDP
    • The accounting and budgeting of student loans. A new pamphlet for the HE Policy Institute delves into the impact of current loan repayment arrangements on future policy making
    • English Devolution. The Local Government Association makes the case for wider devolution of responsibilities ahead of the Cities Devolution Bill
    • GCSE maths. Ofqual publishes the full research report and subsequent required actions following its investigation into assessment standards in GCSE maths
    • Summer Exam Entries. The latest stats from Ofqual on exam entries for summer 2015 show a drop in GCSE and AS entries but an increase for L1/2 Certificates and A levels
    • OECD Skills outlook 2015 on Youth, Skills and Employability. The OECD builds on its 2013 adult skills survey and finds a depressing scene for many young people especially the low-skilled
    • The economic impact of FE colleges. The 157 Group and economic modelling experts EMSI point to the positive economic benefits of colleges on learners, communities and the taxpayer
    • Grade point average (GPA.) The HE Academy reports on its 2-year pilot project to develop a more finessed hons degree classification system based around a GPA scale.  

    Speeches of the month

    • The Prime Minister’s 8 May election victory speech sets out the principles for the new majority Tory administration including better schools and more apprenticeships
    • George Osborne’s 14 May Northern Powerhouse speech outlines government plans to encourage local councils and LEPs to take a lead in planning local skills training and other functions
    • Sajid Javid’s 19 May Business enterprise speech confirms a number of measures to support small businesses and enterprise as part of a new Enterprise Bill
    • George Osborne’s 20 May CBI speech highlights deficit reduction, a re-balanced economy and increased productivity as the three pillars of the government’s economic plan
    • The Prime Minister’s 21 May immigration speech includes calls for more training of the indigenous population and continued curbs on cases of visa abuse
    • The Queen’s Speech of 27 May lists 26 prospective Bills for the forthcoming Parliament with at least six of particular interest to the world of education.

    Quotes of the month

    • “We can make Britain a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing.” The PM promises the good life on his return to Downing street
    • “Just good enough is no longer good enough.” The Education Secretary outlines the case against mediocrity in schools”
    • “A coasting definition will set be set out in due course according to a number of factors.” The new Education and Adoption Bill says a definition is coming
    • “My budget is shrinking.” A head writes an open letter to the Ed Secretary as she returns to her desk
    • There are only two things that parents can ever say to teenagers taking their exams. The wrong thing. And the wrong thing.” Pressure builds as another exam season looms
    • “GCSE and A levels are like an egg timer squeezing a wealth of experience and learning through a narrow bottleneck of testing.” The departing head of Eton on the modern exam factory
    • “The results suggest that low-achieving students are more likely to be distracted by the presence of mobile phones while high achievers can focus regardless.” Latest on the mobile phone debate.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘One Nation.’  What the government says it’s aiming to create over the next five years. 
    read more
  • Pocket Watch - Lining up the Bills

    This week saw the first set piece occasion of the new Parliament when the government outlined its legislative programme in the Queen’s Speech.

    In the words of the Prime Minister, it was “a clear programme for working people, social justice and bringing our country together,” stitched together under the banner of ‘One Nation’ and offering as the manifesto put it, ‘security and opportunity for everyone at every stage of life.’ For many people, notably in education, the more challenging half of the government’s life plan comes in July when the Chancellor announces his Summer Budget but for the moment, there’s plenty to concentrate the mind with at least six Bills likely to affect education in some way, the first three in particular. Details below.

    Six education-related Bills

    1.    Education and Adoption Bill. This is the Bill that deals with the government’s manifesto pledge to tackle so-called ‘coasting’ and underperforming schools. It’s a theme that the Party has been pursuing for much of the year most notably in the Prime Minister’s ‘all-out war on mediocrity in schools’ speech in February. The Bill itself incorporates two core elements: stronger intervention powers and speedier conversions to academies but leaves open a number of fundamental issues such as just what a coasting school is in the first place. The Bill hints at a definition but prefers to leave the detail to later. Other questions also remain open such as the benefits or otherwise of academisation, whether there are enough ‘top’ leaders ready to leap in and help run such schools and as Prof Chris Husbands has indicated, whether the deeper issue is as much performance differences within rather than between schools. This will run

    2.    Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill. As the title implies, this Bill aims to link work and benefits much more closely and saddled with some big employment targets is also likely to attract considerable attention. The government wants to make work more attractive by ensuring that the minimum wage remains tax free but it also wants to ensure that enough jobs are available so this Bill will introduce annual reporting on the progress against its core targets of 2m new jobs and 3m new apprenticeships. There are two other proposals in the Bill that may prove contentious. One is the proposal to pull in Jobcentre Plus advisers to supplement careers guidance and the other is the introduction of a more punitive Youth Allowance for 18-21 year olds. In both cases as the OECD has shown this week in its Youth, Skills and Employability Report, the question remains whether enough is being done to help young people into work

    3.    Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. This Bill, now published, builds on work the Party has already done to try and stimulate local economic recovery through devolved powers and responsibilities in areas like transport, housing and skills training. The drive here is re-balancing the economy through mechanisms such as the Northern Powerhouse. This Bill is key to the Treasury so will be closely watched and may yet see further ceding of skills planning to local partnerships

    4.    Childcare Bill. This Bill enshrines the manifesto pledge to provide 30 hours a week of free childcare to eligible families which in turn will mean more trained childcare workers are needed

    5.    Immigration Bill. This Bill further strengthens the government’s immigration measures by in particular reducing the demand for skilled migrant labour. Among the proposals is a new visa levy on businesses that use foreign labour without advertising in the domestic market first

    6.    Enterprise Bill. This Bill is intended to reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses and thereby encourage job creation but it also aims to encourage more entrepreneurship.

    read more