Policy Watch

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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 April 24 2015

    According to a YouGov poll this week, education is one of two topics that voters believe is not being discussed enough in the current election campaign; the environment is the other.

    The week summed up

    Education did start the election from a fairly low base as seventh out of ten most popular voter issues but rose for a while to fourth and clearly remains an important concern for many, so what’s going on, why the scant attention? One reason is that politicians have been fixated by the top three issues of health, wealth and welfare, let alone the more recent issue of the SNP, even if as the poll shows, voters are becoming increasingly tired by the heavy focus on Scotland in particular. Another reason, as Aditya Chakrabortty highlighted in a widely trended piece in The Guardian this week, is that politicians have become increasingly distant from people’s real concerns “democratic leaders have parted ways with their voters,” he argued. A third reason is that there is no dramatic new political vision for education heaving into sight as there was with Michael Gove in 2010 and Tony Blair in 1997; little therefore to get your teeth into.

    But there is a fourth, perhaps more significant reason, and that as the survey by The Key and Ipsos Mori indicates and can be seen in Friday’s headline below, is that actually there’s little in the manifestos or in what politicians are saying either to get excited about or that gets to the root of current problems. Politicians may talk about school brands, performance management and college responsiveness but the real issues as the latest survey shows are about constant change, teacher workload, funding and the quality of teaching.

    In fairness, there have been a number of education developments this week with Nicky Morgan pledging to protect minority languages, Tristram Hunt highlighting further possible 14-19 reform and Nick Clegg hinting at Lib-Dem interest in heading up any future education dept but whether these are the sorts of announcements to galvanise debate on education, we’ll have to wait until two weeks to know.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Trainee teachers deterred by complexities.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Clegg demands control of education in any coalition.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Question and Answer session with Nicky Morgan.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Labour could replace GCSEs with baccs to end stigma.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Head teachers unhappy with all Parties’ education policies.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Nicky Morgan who pledged that a future Conservative government would protect GCSEs and A levels in minority subjects
    • Tristram Hunt who indicated that a future Labour government may well look at replacing GCSEs with a single Bacc award at some point over the next decade
    • The Labour Party who pulled together pledges on the minimum wage, tuition fees and internships into a manifesto pledge for young people
    • The Lib-Dems who re-iterated their education manifesto pledges in the form of a ‘Five Point Plan’ for teachers and parents and published a new strategy for the creative industries
    • The FT who wrote a piece about how overseas demand was fuelling a boom in London universities
    • The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) who have created a so-called ‘Wall of Shame’ of current disingenuous HE election pledges and issues
    • Alex Salmond who has been awarded an honorary degree from Glasgow university
    • Nolan Smith who has been promoted to director of Finance at HEFCE from 1 May 2015
    • Megan Dunn who has been elected to succeed Toni Pearce as president of the National Union of Students
    • The National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) who set out a list of ten policies for an incoming government to help improve adult learning provision
    • The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) who officially launched its new website of resources and guidance to help providers adopt the new Prevent requirements
    • Ken Robinson, the influential educational polemicist, whose latest book on developing creative schools was praised by Tristram Hunt and others in an article in The Guardian
    • The SSAT who reported on the work of its Vision 2040 group which is attempting to set out a new vision for education for over the next 25 years
    • The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) who published a route map and 10-point plan to help improve teacher recruitment
    • Geoff Smith, vice-chairman of the UK Maths Trust, who argued that it was counter-productive for high-fliers in maths to take their GCSEs and A level early and that they would be better served by being stretched in their current work than fast tracked
    • The Conversation who examined the issue of choice and provision of primary school places 
    • NFER who listed five questions schools might want to ask when choosing a baseline assessment scheme.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Revision: just go to the movies, teachers say.” @SchoolsImprove
    • “We don’t need digital detox but there is a need to rethink our relationship with technology.” @JISC
    • “J.Hattie suggests every school should have an expert in interpreting data and evidence.” @tes
    • “There’s now a moratorium on the ‘Shakespeare bard from pub’ joke. Anymore and you’ll be bard from participating.” @tes

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • Prevent. A duty, set out in the recent Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, which requires  education providers to help ‘prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Britain needs skills, skills, skills or else we’re stuffed.” Labour’s Tristram Hunt on the importance of skills
    • “It’s a big, hairy conversation that you have to begin early.” Tristram Hunt on reforming the 14-19 curriculum
    • “What we need is a period of calm and stability to help the changes of recent years to bed in and spread throughout the system.” Nicky Morgan on avoiding too much chopping and changing
    • “If you are a teacher, be assured the Liberal Democrats will get politics out of the classroom and give you the freedom you need to teach your pupils.” Nick Clegg re-assures teachers
    • “Unfortunately the electorate is at best armed with only an incomplete picture of what they can expect from any of these four Parties.” The Institute of Fiscal Studies assesses the spending plans of four of the main parties but is left scratching its head.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 0.3%. The amount of time given over to discussing HE in the current election campaign according to research from Loughborough University
    • 64.3%. The success rate for 16-18 year olds in Functional Skills according to research identified by FE Week
    • 1,000. The number of extra training places for nurses Labour is proposing from this Sept
    • 600,000. The additional number of free childcare places the Conservatives are proposing
    • 8.7. The number of hours a week of homework that a 15 year old Italian 15 year old typically faces according to research, the highest amongst EU countries. England comes in 15th on the chart, apparently with 4.9 hours a week per pupil
    • 6½. The number of hours a day young people spend on social media and gaming consoles according to recent research.

    What to look out for next week

    • Last full week of electioneering.
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending April 17 2015

    It’s been manifesto week with Labour first out of the stalls on Monday followed in quick succession by most of the other Parties as the week progressed. 

    The week summed up

    The manifestos have come in all shapes and sizes with the Lib-Dems at the moment claiming the prize for the heftiest at 157 pages, and at 70+, the Conservatives listing the most proposals. There have also been some interesting settings for the launches, a UTC in Swindon for the Conservatives and a pub in Essex for UKIP but how much they really tell us and how much they’ve really changed things is open to question. The polls have changed only marginally during the week and voters have remained at best bemused and at worst disenchanted, leading the commentator Andrew Marr to ponder why it’s proving to be ‘such a tooth-grindingly awful election.’ His conclusion? “The Parties have chosen to refuse to tell us what we need to know.”

    How far this relates to education depends on where you start: whether you have an interest in a particular phase of learning or have heard it all before? It’s true that a lot of the proposals have been touted around for some time but there are notable points of interest for each sector whether it’s Labour’s wrap-around childcare, the Conservatives’ EBacc condition or the Lib-Dems’ funding guarantees. Funding has inevitably featured prominently with the Lib-Dems making a big pitch not just with their cradle-grave funding protection but also for the prospect of extra funding in the second half of the next Parliament if growth continues. However as the Institute of Fiscal Studies has reminded us, further cuts are inevitable and even protected areas could suffer from rising costs in areas like staffing and pensions so a sense of perspective helps.

    As to what stands out? From the Conservatives it’s probably the requirements for 11 yr olds to retake tests, for secondary schools to take EBacc subjects to ensure an Outstanding Ofsted grade, for the scrapping of more ‘low-level’ provision and the use of more performance data for FE and for a quality framework for HE. For Labour, it’s the return of the extended school model at primary, the focus on teacher professional development, schools standards and vocational learning at secondary, the creation of specialist Technical Institutes and pursuit of English and maths in FE and the cut in tuition fees and development of the tech degree route in HE. The Lib-Dems would no doubt point to their commitment to the Pupil Premium, their focus on a core curriculum and parental guarantee for schools, their Young Person’s Discount Card for 16-21 year olds and their pledge to establish a review of HE finance sometime in the next Parliament.  

    The TES has revealed this morning that Labour has the teachers’ vote although in fairness, there’s a strong body of support for the Conservatives as well. Everything still to play for.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Half of schools short of teachers in core subjects.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Hothousing and testing violate children’s rights.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Lib-Dems pledge £2.5bn for education.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Thousands of children miss out on primary school places.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Miliband pledge to end long-term unpaid internships.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Conservatives who confirmed proposals to protect per-pupil funding for 5-16 yr olds, introduce resit tests for 11 year olds, support the importance of core subjects in schools, create FE National Colleges and 3m apprenticeships, and introduce a new framework for ‘high-quality’ HE teaching, in their manifesto
    • Labour who underlined proposals in their manifesto for protected budget funding for 2-19 yr olds, maximum class sizes in primary, fully qualified and trained teachers, a ‘gold-standard’ vocational route and a reduction in HE tuition fees to £6000
    • The Lib-Dems who pledged to put education at their heart of their manifesto and back it with protected funding for 2-19 yr olds and with additional money from any economic growth evident from 2017/18 
    • The Green Party whose manifesto included plans to scrap SATs, league tables, Ofsted and HE tuition fees but did include proposals to increase funding for each sector
    • UKIP whose manifesto included proposals to scrap KS1 tests, cut teacher workloads, support grammar schools, abolish the AS level, improve voc education and stop tuition fee loans to EEA students
    • The Institute of Fiscal studies who provided a further useful report on how the three major Party’s spending plans for schools were shaping up; link here  
    • Sir Anthony Seldon who has been appointed as Vice-Chancellor of Buckingham University from this September
    • TES Global whose acquisition of Australian company UniJobs will bring together an extensive global network of university opportunities
    • Gordon McKenzie, Deputy Director for HE strategy/policy at BIS who will take over as chief executive of Guild HE from July
    • The FE Trust for Leadership which released its first publication and announced its second round of bids under its grants programme
    • Three East London colleges (Newham, Tower Hamlets and Redbridge) who, as more cuts loom, are getting together to share some resources and facilities
    • The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) who are drawing up a 10-point plan to help overcome teacher recruitment concerns
    • The Sutton Trust who published a Social Mobility Index for parliamentary constituencies in England highlighting best and worst for improving social mobility for young people
    • Tackle behaviour, strengthen teaching, conduct regular assessment, provide high-quality experience; four steps to be taken in in order if you have to turn a school round according to a head who has been there, seen it and done it
    • Tim Oates who set out to debunk some of the myths still perpetuated about the Finnish education system such as there is no inspection system and there are no private schools: there is and there area, but different
    • Primary school parents who have been finding out this week if their offspring have gained places at their preferred primary school from this September
    • “Which five-letter word means a stupid or silly woman in Mexican Spanish, a university canteen in German and in the English-speaking world an organisation founded in 1946 for people with high IQs?” One of 10 started questions answered correctly by the captain of the winning team on this year’s University Challenge (Answer: Mensa).

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Mediocre failures? My children are simply being what they are.”  @ssat
    • “College of Teaching has no benefit to profession says union.” @tes
    • “Labels are for jam jars not children.” @osirisedu
    • “How did we get to a point where ‘we’ll ensure good primary schools’ is the pinnacle of school policy?” @miss_mcinerney

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • FETL. The Further Education Trust for Leadership, an independent charity and think tank set up to help share and develop leadership in the FE sector.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “The next five years are about turning the good news in our economy into a good life for you and your family.” David Cameron on the good life as he launched his Party’s manifesto
    • “I do not offer a government that tries to carry on from where the last Labour government left off.” Ed Miliband on a new beginning as he launched his Party’s manifesto
    • “The Liberal Democrats will add a heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one.” Nick Clegg on winning hearts and minds as he launched his Party’s manifesto
    • “Our position is perfectly clear; we want our country back.” Nigel Farage on being clear as he launched his Party’s manifesto
    • “Last time round it was a piece of cake compared to what might happen this time.” Former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell on how difficult Coalition arrangements might be this time
    • “Further education is a Rubik’s cube of a thing, adept at dealing with colourful twists, turns and about-turns in policies, purses, politicians and partners.” Dame Ruth Silver in her introduction to the first publication from the FE Trust for Leadership.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £7bn. How much the Conservatives are promising for ‘good’ school places during the next Parliament
    • 70,000 teachers and 10,000 learning assistants. How much the Lib-Dems claim their extra cash for schools is worth
    • 74 and 52. The number of pledges in the Conservative and Labour manifestos respectively
    • 157. The number of pages in the Lib-Dem manifesto making it the largest by far so far.

    What to look out for next week

    •  SNP manifesto launch (Monday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending April 10 2015

    The week the election campaign moved up a gear with some important policy announcements including a number on education. 

    The week summed up

    On Wednesday, the Conservatives announced that 11 year olds who hadn’t reached a level 4 in their Key Stage 2 English and maths SATs would have to retake them in the first year of secondary or as Nicky Morgan described it, they would be ‘resitted.’ The announcement, which was trailed a month or so ago by the Education Secretary, has perhaps predictably not been universally acclaimed: “Eat, sleep, test, repeat,” tweeted one critic pretty much capturing the mood of many. The government’s argument is that KS2 tends to be a platform if not a predictor for KS4, ‘only 7% of the 100,000 pupils who fail to reach level 4 at age 11 go on to secure the five good GCSEs including English and maths that are so important’ but for those concerned about the perils of a test-driven culture and its impact on children, the proposal adds a further concern. As for parents, the story here is that the Conservatives are considering encouraging schools to run maths classes for parents so that they can help with the homework. Ed Balls is perhaps one parent who wouldn’t need it. He was faced with the now obligatory maths challenge while out on the road this week, in this case: what’s 6 x 7; he got the answer right.

    A day after the Conservatives made their KS2 announcement, Labour went the whole hog and launched its education manifesto. Its theme, very much Labour’s theme tune at present, was that things could be better and as if to emphasise the point, the manifesto listed 24 things a Labour government would do to make things better in areas like school standards, vocational learning, careers guidance and a fully qualified profession. The proposals, many of which build on the Party’s independent Task Force Report which was chaired by Professor Chris Husbands and reported just over a year ago, have been cautiously welcomed by the profession, with the promised funding for a face-to-face careers guidance system particularly popular. The emphasis is very much on preparing young people for a changing world, perhaps a deliberate attempt to distance things from the recent bout of qualification-driven reform and suggest that the Party is keen to tackle what has long been regarded as the Achilles heel of the English education system, namely vocational education and training.

    A week which started with a Guardian editorial suggesting that schools so far ‘have ranked only as a second order issue’ in this election has ended with schools higher up the order. It shows how much things can change in a week.  

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Schools aren’t getting enough attention in the 2015 general election.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Failing pupils will be ordered to take extra tests, says Cameron.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Labour pledges face-to-face careers advice in schools.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Hundreds of schools face new compulsory tests.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Conservatives who announced that as part of their education plans they would require  pupils who didn’t reach level 4 in their SATs in Year 6 to resit them in Year 7
    • The Labour Party who launched their education manifesto with a focus on school standards, vocational learning and carers guidance
    • The Australian government who has agreed to fund research into a potential new quality framework for international higher education agents many of whom operate without external regulation
    • Professor Charles Crook of Nottingham University who tackled the issue of whether university lectures should be automatically recorded and concluded that while it could overegg performance at the expense of student attendance, it should remain an option
    • The CBI whose latest economic-activity survey reported good growth in many sectors in the first quarter of this year and business optimism remaining high
    • The RSA’s Matthew Taylor who wrote a blog about the three dimensions of efficacy and how they help generate creative tension
    • Bath, Loughborough and Sheffield who came first, second and third respectively in the latest Times Higher student satisfaction survey. The universities of Surrey and Newcastle moved into the top ten for the first time
    • Guardian columnist Fiona Millar who looked into some of the manifestos coming from different parts of the education world and found the issue of school inspections emerging as one of the dominant themes
    • 80 former and current school leaders who penned a letter to the Daily Mail calling on Labour to stick with current academy freedoms
    • Independent fact checkers fullfactorg, who looked at the issue of qualified v unqualified teachers and concluded that while there was no clear evidence to prove qualified teachers were any better or worse than unqualified ones, subjects such as combined science, music and biology had more qualified teachers and subjects like citizenship, engineering and media studies had more unqualified teachers (based on the number of teachers with relevant subject degrees)
    • The Read On, Get On campaign which called on politicians to support and invest in a new strategy that would improve the teaching of reading especially for disadvantaged and older primary school children  
    • The National Union of Teachers (NUT) who warned that strike action could be on the cards later this year if the autumn spending review leaves schools facing more cuts
    • Next Friday, the closing date for applications from secondary schools seeking to host the novel Head of Wellbeing scheme, funded by Nuffield Health and due to be piloted from Sept. 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • "The Conservatives are the union for parents-fighting to ensure more discipline, more rigour and zero-tolerance of mediocrity.” @David_Cameron
    • “Miliband: our task is to give our children the best chance to succeed; that’s what the Labour education manifesto is all about.” @ed_ontap
    • “We need our Stephen Hawkings but also Bob the Builder, teachers say.’ @ed_ontap
    • “SATs have reached SATuration point.” @MichaelRosenYes
    • “Since 2000, invented iphone, Mars rover and mapped human genome but couldn’t provide promised primary education.” @seanjcoughlan

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • EFA. Education for All, the global education movement launched 25 years ago by UNESCO, UNICEF and others to help provide quality basic education for children, young people and adults and where a new set of pledges are due to be agreed at next month’s World Education Forum. 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Funding will be a challenge. So will improving results. This is a system in a state of flux.”  The Guardian editorial considers how the school system is looking at the start of the general election campaign
    • “The cold truth is that there is no magic wand we can wave to take away the double squeeze of public finance and demographic pressure.” Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt on facing reality
    • “Trusting teachers is at the heart of our school reforms.” Education Secretary Nicky Morgan on the Party’s education pitch
    • “The biggest challenge Britain faces is preparing our young people today for the economy of tomorrow.”  Ed Miliband introduces Labour’s education plans
    • “The NUT does not think that most teachers can work to full efficiency to age 68 and beyond.” The NUT calls for an independent review of the retirement age for teachers.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 9% or 40%. Two figures used this week to claim how many teachers leave in their first year. As Sam Freedman (Director of Research at Teach First) explained in his blog, the first figure is the accurate one, the second figure includes those who trained but never started
    • £50m. How much Labour is pledging to put in to support its new careers guidance service for young people
    • 100,000. The number of 11 year olds who, according to official figures fail to reach  a required level 4 in their English and maths Key Stage 2 SATs
    • 58m. The number of children across the world who don’t have access to primary school education according to the latest update on its global education targets from UNESCO.

    What to look out for next week

    • Labour manifesto published (Monday)
    • Demos workshops on defining character education (Monday onwards)
    • Conservative manifesto published (Tuesday)
    • UKIP manifesto published (Wednesday)
    • TV debate with five Opposition Leaders (Thursday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending April 2 2015

    A shorter Policy Eye summary this week partly because it’s a shorter working week but partly also because purdah is upon us meaning that there are now restrictions on Dept activity while the election campaign is on.

    The week summed up

    Most of the education news this week has come from the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) Annual Conference where Labour’s Education spokesman Tristram Hunt warmed the hearts of many delegates by pledging to support a changing role for Ofsted which could see it operating within a more self-regulated system: “I want to see an inspectorate that moves beyond box-ticking and data-dependence.” This may be some time away and not everyone’s convinced but for the moment, it’s issues such as workloads, teacher recruitment, funding, the dangers of social media and curriculum matters that have been concentrating minds. Teachers have many concerns, two delegates at the Conference for instance bucked the trend and spoke out in favour of the reforms to science practicals showing that issues often run quite deep. Easter is Conference season for many teacher unions and the next few days see two of the other big bodies, the NUT and NASUWT, also hold their Annual Conferences where no doubt many of the same issues will be hotly debated. 

    Education has so far not featured prominently in any of the speeches or launches of the current election campaign which by most people’s reckoning has got off to a slow start. There’s been the traditional trading of figures on tax rises, VAT and business rates, leaving us as the FT put it “at risk of drowning in dodgy data.” That said the last three elections have followed a similar pattern and things may take off tonight when we have the seven-way debate of the Party Leaders, orchestrated perhaps but tackling four big election questions in set order. Views are mixed about how far such debates alter rather than reinforce perceptions but studies suggest that at least 25% of voters change their minds during the campaign so there’s a lot to play for.

    As for the policies, so far only Plaid Cymru has come out with its Manifesto committing for instance to a new all-through national curriculum, a new independent exams regulator and higher education “in principle” being free for all. Conservative and Labour Party Manifestos are due out the week after next by which time things may be clearer…or not.

    Top headlines this week

    •  ‘Exams put children under ‘vile, cruel pressure,’ head of Wellington says.’ (Monday)
    •  ‘Hunt: schools should inspect each other.’ (Tuesday)
    •  ‘Philip Pullman joins calls to scrap baseline tests for four and five year olds.’ (Wednesday)
    •  ‘Private colleges may face public fee cut.’ (Thursday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Labour Party who launched its Business Manifesto promising among other things to introduce a Tech Bacc for 16-18 year olds, Tech Degrees and high quality apprenticeship standards elsewhere to help strengthen the talent pipeline into work
    • Shadow Education Minister Tristram Hunt who listed a new Education Bill on vocational training and potential changes to Ofsted inspections in a number of prospective Labour education proposals in a keynote speech to the ATL Conference
    • Plaid Cymru who launched its Election 2015 Manifesto promising among other things to create an independent exams regulator
    • Sir David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor at Nottingham University, who will take over as chair of the Russell Group from this September
    • Sir David Bell who in the latest in The Conversation’s State of the Nation series, reflected on the education reforms of the last five years and re-iterated his belief in the need for an independent body to help steer curriculum and assessment developments’
    • The latest edition of the Institute of Education’s London Review of education which focuses the current state of vocational education
    • The Association of Colleges and UK Commission for Employment and Skills who got together to publish a guide on accessing labour market intelligence for college managers
    • The AoC and AELP who called for Parliamentary scrutiny of the Employer Ownership Pilots scheme after it was revealed that recruitment was much lower than expected
    • The Local Government Association who called for further devolution of skills funding and commissioning in the third and final report in its ‘Realising Talent’ series
    • The Sixth Form Colleges’ Association who were disappointed to discover that on the final day of this Parliament the government had rejected its pleas for VAT reform
    • Ofqual who listed eight objectives in its latest corporate plan published this week
    • The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) who have been selected to run the proposed new National Reference Tests that will be used to help anchor standards in GCSE English and maths from 2017
    • The Education Endowment Foundation who announced five new ‘research’ trials covering maths, teacher impact and parental engagement.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “If every teacher influences school policy you get better results than Attila the Hun style leadership.” @TES
    • “I want schools to be kinder, more positive places to work where fear of Ofsted doesn’t impact best practice.” Mary Bousted @ATL Conference
    • “Spoon-fed private pupils less able to cope at university.” @ed_ontap
    • “Spend six hours a week of family time to ‘tame’ a teenager.” @Teachit
    • “The quick dumbness of the instant. Simon Scharma on selfies.” @PD_Smith

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • LMI. Labour market intelligence, what most good education providers need to help ensure provision meets learner and employer needs.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “What I learnt from these visits was that few pupils at primary or secondary school knew their times tables.” The Schools Minister reflects on what he learnt from some school visits in his final speech before Parliament was dissolved
    • “What we need is to chart a course away –carefully, slowly, consensually-from the exam factory model of school improvement.” Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt answers a question on Labour education policy in the Guardian’s ‘Ask a Minister’ series
    • “Education is on the front page of our manifesto and should be an immediate priority in the next Parliament.” The Lib-Dems on education
    • “Perhaps the time has come to slay the sacred cow of progress.” NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby in his latest blog on the problems of pinning everything on pupil progress.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 90%. The level below which student satisfaction shouldn’t fall according to the FE Commissioner who listed 20 warning signs for college governors to look out for
    •  300. The number of schools likely to be asked to participate in the new National Reference Tests announced by Ofqual.

    What to look out for next week

    • Continuation of NUT Conference (Monday/Tuesday)
    • The election campaign picks up from midweek onwards.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in March 2015

    The last days of business for this Parliament have seen 11 think tank reports, 8 government reports, 3 agency reports, a Budget and half a dozen key speeches. Just the election to come. 

    Key headlines from the month

    • Baseline testing. Early years groups call for it to be dropped
    • Assessment commission. DfE lists the membership
    • Careers. DfE issues latest guidance
    • GCSE science. Ofqual confirms new approach to assessment of practical work
    • GCSE, A levels. Ofqual map out final reform programme
    • Free Schools. A future Conservative government would create 500 more
    • Academy chains. Government considers performance metrics
    • School places. Announced for secondary schools for 2015/16 as bulge starts to hit
    • School funding. MPs debate transition to national funding formula
    • 14-19. CBI call for further review
    • Post-16 courses. Operational guidance for new database issued
    • Functional Skills. Not broken but could be improved according to latest report
    • STEM teachers. New incentives, bursary and fast track procedures announced
    • National College of Teaching. Government commits to some funding
    • Teacher CPD. Expert group to develop new standards
    • School inspections. Ofsted confirms what its looking for
    • FE. Minister offers latest progress report
    • FE funding system. NAO to investigate and report in the summer
    • Degree Apprenticeships. 9 more announced covering key sectors
    • Apprenticeship funding. New digital voucher scheme announced
    • HEFCE funding. 2015/16 allocations published.

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

    • Bridging the Social Divide Report. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission issues a five point call on closing the gap as political Parties limber up for the election
    • The Next LEPs. The think tank Localis reports on its survey of LEPs and calls for skills funding to be part of a devolved system of LEP driven local planning and funding over the next 5 years
    • Careers Education in the Classroom. TeachFirst adds to the growing volume of reports on the inadequate state of schools careers guidance as it launches a programme for its own recruits
    • The most able students. Ofsted follows up an earlier report into how well secondary schools are providing for the most able and concludes progress has been pretty slow
    • Reading: The next steps. The DfE includes book clubs and poetry recitals as ways of improving reading standards in primary schools in a report to mark World Book Day
    • The Commission on Apprentices. The think tank Demos concludes its year-long inquiry into apprenticeships in Construction and elsewhere with a call to strengthen quality and status
    • Education Manifesto. The think tank Policy Exchange makes recommendations in seven areas ranging from early years to lifelong learning in its pre-election manifesto
    • Apprenticeships and traineeships for 16-19 year olds. The Education Committee includes recommendations on quality and careers in its report on work-based learning for young people
    • A Rising Tide. The think tank Policy Exchange examines the evidence around Free Schools and argues that the case for extending the template is now proven
    • Costing the sixth form curriculum. The Sixth Form Colleges Association sets out the real cost of providing a post-16 curriculum and suggests cuts are making this difficult
    • First Year Process Evaluation. BIS commissioned research finds happy trainees and good progression rates from the first year of this programme
    • Evaluation of Apprenticeship Trailblazers. BIS commissioned research reflects on some of the issues surrounding the Trailblazer model of apprenticeship design
    • The Future of Higher Vocational Education. The Vice-Chancellors of Sheffield and Warwick Universities get together to sketch out a new vision to be led by some of the ‘top’ universities
    • Apprenticeship Reforms. The government charts out progress so far
    • Closing the gap: the work of the Education Committee in the 2010-2015 Parliament. The Committee reflects on its work over the last five years and its focus on closing the gap
    • The distribution of school funding and inputs in England: 1993-2013. The Institute of Fiscal Studies finds much of it aimed at deprived schools and at non-teaching numbers
    • Extremism in Schools: the Trojan Horse affair. The Education Committee reports on the lessons are to be learned from the affair and highlights a lack of inter-agency collaboration
    • Language Trends 2014/15. The CfBT and British Council’s latest annual survey of language learning in schools reports a slow trudge in attracting more young people to take up languages
    • Budget 2015. The big fat Budget Book spells out the details
    • Academies and Free Schools. The government confirms it remains keen to extend academisation as it responds to the recent Education Committee Inquiry
    • A dual mandate for adult vocational education. BIS launches a hefty consultation to help set a new vision for adult voc learning around skills training and second chance opportunities
    • Making maths and English work for all. Latest commissioned report finds the case for Functional Skills remaining strong but some changes to content and assessment needed
    • After the QCF. Ofqual launches consultation on a new, more flexible framework
    • Moving on up. The think tank IPPR add their thoughts to the growing 14-19 great debate calling for clearer definition, coherence and purpose to the whole upper-secondary system
    • Financial health of the HE sector 2013/14-2016/17. HEFCE offers its regular clinical analysis of how the HE sector finances are bearing up and despite wide variations finds positives
    • Education in chains. The think tank Reform make the case for reform through collaboration.

    Speeches of the month

    • The Prime Minister’s 9 March Free School speech continues the ‘all-out war’ on mediocrity in schools by proposing a massive increase in Free School numbers
    • Chuka Umunna’s 10 March apprenticeships speech highlights the 4 features of Labour’s voc policy (more apprenticeships, HE ladder, responsive provision, college branding)
    • Nick Clegg’s 15 March Spring Conference speech lays claim to the Party’s role in protecting schools budgets and brining in greater fairness through the Pupil premium
    • George Osborne’s 18 March Budget speech sets out to make Britain walk tall but continues the theme of austerity for at least the next three years
    • Tristram Hunt’s 20 March ASCL speech suggests new technology, new school forms and new ways of learning can help move things on from an exam factory model of schooling
    • Glenys Stacey’s 20 March ASCL speech highlights some of the competing tensions that lie behind qualification reform as she explains how progress is going in the current reforms
    • Nicky Morgan’s 21 March ASCL speech continues to praise teachers but prefers to keep curriculum decisions in the hands of ministers.

    Quotes of the month

    • “What these schools have achieved is frankly remarkable.” The Prime Minister on Free Schools
    • “People still think apprenticeships are for brickies and mechanics only.” The Skills Minister on dispelling myths about apprenticeships
    • “The plan is working. Britain is walking tall again.” The Chancellor on his Budget
    • “We get vocational education.” The Shadow Business Secretary on what Labour gets
    • “Thank you, let’s hope we don’t have to see you back again.” The chair of the Public Accounts Committee concludes its inquiry into funding by alternative HE providers
    • “I call it the cult of the big reformer.” The Shadow Ed Sec on toning down alpha male reforms.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Empowerment lounge.’ Apparently all good schools should have one. 
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