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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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 October 16 2015

    No higher ed Green Paper this week as had been widely anticipated, instead, as the listing below shows, schools and exams have been filling the headlines.

    The week summed up

    The main story has been about the opening of a new grammar school ‘annexe’ in Kent. The government has been very circumspect in how it’s presenting the decision to approve it: ‘this will better meet the needs of parents,’ ‘it’s a genuine expansion of an existing school,’ ‘it doesn’t reflect a change in policy’ and so on but inevitably it’s provoked a lot of debate and the Labour Party has called for an official explanation. For many, the approval sits awkwardly with the Prime Minister’s “no more children with their noses pressed to the window as they watch the world moving ahead without them” social mobility speech just a week ago and a key issue will be how far this is a one-off and what impact this has on the planning of school provision in the future. Time will tell.

    Exams and exam performance has been the other big schools story this week partly because the government has decided to publish ‘provisional’ exam performance data early this year to help parents making choices about secondary schools and partly because Ofqual has been in front of the Education Committee this week answering questions on exams and much more.

    On the performance data which as ASCL’s Brian Lightman said, ‘should come with a hefty health warning’ as it’s still only partial, the broad picture is no great change between 2014 and 2015. Slightly more state school pupils (0.2%) achieved 5 A*-Cs, slightly fewer (0.1%) took EBacc subjects largely because of a drop in entries for languages and at L3, the average point score per vocational entry continued to rise. The formal performance tables by the way will be published in the normal way in January. As for exams generally, Ofqual was tackled on a range of issues including exam reform, GCSE grading, numbers of examiners and marking generally by the new Education Committee this week. Much of it was traditional stuff but a particular issue and one highlighted on the BBC website this week is that of appeals about marks and whether this is being used strategically to raise results in parts of the school system. Ofqual’s evidence suggests that despite the rise in requests, the number of grades actually changing as a result is very small…but it is going to consult all the same.    

    So no HE Green Paper this week but decks clear for next week or soon after. Speculation remains rife as to what might be in the Paper as Mark Leach’s expert piece in the Guardian this week indicated although broad details were evident in the Minister’s speech last month. One thing that may arrive from HE next week however is a big bag of washing. According to train companies the third weekend of October, generally one month into term, is peak time for uni student travel; time to clear more decks. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘New wave of super-sized secondary schools planned.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Exam boards’ reform will lead to Corbynesque solution. (Tuesday)
    • ‘Is the cost of exam re-marking putting off state schools?’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘First new grammar school in 50 years,’ (Thursday)
    • ‘We’re Mystic Meg: head teachers left in dark over new exams.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Nicky Morgan, whose decision to approve a new grammar school ‘annexe’ in Kent has attracted considerable comment
    • BIS whose commissioned report published at the end of last week has a mass of useful data showing how effectively FE contributes to seven of the key social mobility indicators
    • The BIS Committee who held a witness session with the Business Secretary and his Permanent Secretary on the work of the Dept
    • The DfE, who as promised earlier this year, published provisional performance results from this year’s GCSEA level and vocational exams in an effort to get info out early to parents applying for secondary school places
    • The DfE who pointed to figures published this week showing that more 5 year olds than ever were achieving the expected standards in maths and literacy under the early years foundation stage profile
    • The Institute for Fiscal Studies who published a helpful summary of how things are shaping up for Dept spending under the 2015 Spending Review where both education Depts are likely to face cuts
    • The Institute for Government who offered an interesting analysis of the current 38 devolution bids now submitted noting that 80% included devolution of skills planning and commissioning
    • Deputy Director at the CBI, Katja Hall who is moving to a new job next month as Group Head of Public Affairs at HSBC
    • Roger Pope, Principal of Kingsbridge Community College in Devon, who has added to his duties by becoming Chair of the National College of Teaching and Leadership as well
    • Universities UK Vice-President Janet Beer who has joined the board of the ‘Keep Britain In Europe ’ campaign to fly the flag for HE and higher learning opportunities generally
    • London Met University which announced that it will consolidate its provision around its main Holloway Road campus from Sept 2017
    • HEFCE who made its point by publishing the results of an independent survey indicating high levels of client support and satisfaction with its work
    • The sector skill group People 1st who have added their voice to the concerns about the apprenticeship levy
    • Ernst and Young who emerged as the UK’s top company for employing apprentices and school leavers in the latest RateMyApprenticeship listing
    • ESOL, the focus of a rally in London this week protesting against the government’s decision to cut funding for the ESOL mandation programme
    • The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) who have been given the green light to go ahead and lead development of new functional skills standards for introduction from 2018
    • The British Chambers of Commerce whose survey of business and education leaders found overwhelming support for the return of work experience for under 16s
    • Ofqual Chief Regulator Glenys Stacy whose speech to the Westminster Education Forum this week outlined how the development of new GCSEs and A levels and other current issues around exam reviews and appeals
    • Glenys Stacey and Amanda Spielman who both appeared before the Education Committee this week answering questions on exam reform, GCSE grading, marking, appeals and the National Reference Test
    • Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission who have launched a consultation on inspecting how effectively local areas are meeting special educational needs requirements
    • The think tank Demos whose commissioned research for its ‘Mind over Matter’ report identified that students were less happy and more anxious towards the end of their secondary schooling than at the beginning
    • Northern Ireland’s National Children’s Bureau whose report ‘ICT and Me’ found that while there was no statistically significant link between mobile phone use and GCSE performance, there was between excessive use of gaming and GCSE exam performance
    • The Competition and Markets Authority who have written to schools to remind them that parents should be free to shop around when it comes to buying school uniforms rather than be tied into a particular retailer
    • Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ George Orwell’s classic tome which is listed as 4th in the Booksellers Association top 20 academic books that have changed the world. (No 1 was Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’). 

    Tweet(s) of the week 

    • “Prof Richard Pring@UniofOxford: the most centralised system of education since Calvin’s days in the 1th century.” @Adrian_Hilton
    • “@JeyyLowe: Anyone arguing in favour of grammars is talking out of their anecdote.” @miss_mcinerney
    • “#ASCLInfo: 69% still planning to enter all students for AS levels.” @brianlightman

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Do bankers deserve their bonuses?” One of a number of possible interview questions facing candidates applying to Oxford University as it seeks to delve into their reasoning powers and thought processes
    • “FE doesn’t stand for featherbedding the economy but further education.“ Emeritus UCL Professor Frank Coffield on the need for teaching staff as much as local employers to be involved in the current area-based reviews of the FE sector
    • “It was careless of government to end compulsory work experience in 2012 but it is not too late to correct the decision.” The D.G. of the British Chambers of Commerce reporting on their latest employers’ survey
    • “If you play darts every day you get good at subtracting from 501. The reason that so many of us believe that we can’t do maths is largely psychological.” Mike Ellicock, CEO of National Numeracy talks about the challenge of maths at this week’s World Maths Day
    • “Let the senior leadership team take over someone’s teaching for a day so that they can observe another teacher’s practice in a focused way.” One of 13 tips from Sir Tim Brighouse, listed on the TES website, to help improve teacher CPD and morale
    • “There is no reason why an academic core curriculum should in any way imperil a cultural education or vice versa.” Schools Minister Nick Gibb at the launch of a new initiative to boost cultural education in schools. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 1.7m. The latest (June – August) unemployment total, down 79,000 on the previous quarter
    • 872,300. The number of people on government funded apprenticeships during the 2014-15 academic year according to the latest statistical release
    • 19,200. The number of people who started a traineeship last year according to the latest statistical release
    • 38.6%. The number of state school pupils entered for the EBacc, down 0.1% but with 23.9% achieving the full measure according to the DfE’s provisional KS4 ‘exam’ results published this week
    • 3,102. How many maths teachers will need to be in training next year, up 20%, according to DfE figures
    • 7%. The increase over the last 10 years in the number of children in ‘kinship care’ (being brought up by relatives) according to research from the University of Bristol
    • 75%. The number of 5 year olds reaching the expected level of maths in the early years foundation stage according to the government’s latest statistics.

    What to look out for next week

    • Public Accounts Committee witness session on the financial health of the FE sector (Monday)
    • Policy Exchange/ASCL ½ day seminar on the ‘Future of the Teaching Workforce.’ (Monday)
    • AELP Autumn Conference (Tuesday)
    • LEP Summit (Tuesday)
    • Education Committee Inquiry session into the role of Regional Schools Commissioners (Wed)
    • Westminster Hall debate on the UK Science Budget and the Spending Review (Wed)
    • FAB (Federation of Awarding Bodies) Conference (Thursday, Friday). 
    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending October 2 2015

    The media crowded in enthusiastically but what have we really learned from this week’s new look Labour Party Conference particularly for the world of education? 

    The week summed up

    According to some, the new leader looked like a teacher and even sounded like one particularly when he began his speech by asking: “Any chance we could start?” It’s a phrase many teachers would recognise.

    There was a big call for ‘a kinder politics, a more caring society’ but when it came to education, there were just five lines. It’s very early days of course but some pointers have begun to emerge both during and after the Conference.

    At present three stand out. First, the pledge to scrap tuition fees, one of the big Corbyn campaign pledges but which has now been put on hold while it’s subjected to the Party’s extensive policy making process. It might emerge, it might not but as the Shadow HE Minister put it rather guardedly: ”there needs to be a deep process of thought.” Second Academies and Free Schools, the main focus of those five lines and where the new Shadow Education Secretary confirmed; “no more Free Schools and academy chains will be made accountable.”  And third, the economy and skills, where as part of an alternative economic plan proposed by the Shadow Chancellor, a new Economic Advisory Committee would be set up and a new, more powerful role as a driver of growth granted to BIS under a future Labour government.

    Now it’s off to Manchester where the Conservatives host the last of this season’s major Party Conferences, (Business, skills and the economy on Monday, education on Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s speech Wednesday.)   

    The mood will be different but there’s no shortage of issues when it comes to an area like education.

    To highlight just a few from the week’s headlines below; first higher education where despite HEFCE’s welcome report on the career progression of the Class of 2008/9, those in other words who graduated at the height of the financial crisis, deep concerns remain about future funding and the impact of the Spending Review (see Sir Paul Nurse’s quote below.) Second, the area-review process for FE, blasted as a “shambles” by the Shadow Schools Minister and now drawn into the latest consultation on adult learning accountability measures launched this week. Third, the funding of skills training and in particular the apprenticeship levy for which consultation closed this week. To quote from the CBI’s submission; “a new levy won’t be welcomed by business so we want to see a new politically independent Levy Board setting the rate.”  And fourth and never far away, teacher recruitment where despite the announcement this week of new, increased bursaries, UCAS figures on recruitment to teacher training courses remains low in some key subjects.  

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Compulsory academic GCSEs ‘a problem for some,’ says Ofsted chief.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Campaign warns 11% of world illiterate.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Jeremy Corbyn commits to making schools accountable to councils.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Pupils chose YouTube over teachers for careers advice.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Experts fear race to bottom after Ofqual drops extra science GCSE checks.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in a wide-ranging speech to the Labour Party Conference, signalled that the BIS Dept would be a key driver of economic growth in any future Labour government
    • Lucy Powell who used her first Conference speech as Shadow Education Secretary to call for greater local accountability for academies and a halt to the creation of more Free Schools
    • The Institute of Government who used a series of charts to provide an interesting analysis of the Labour frontbench
    • Sheffield City Region which has become the latest region to sign up to the Chancellor’s programme for devolving management of local growth planning and investment
    • The BIS Dept who launched further consultation on the new outcome based success measures it intends to use for post-19 education and training from summer 2017
    • The DfE who have responded to concerns about teacher recruitment by announcing increased bursaries for teachers of core subjects and increased funding for Schools Direct
    • Project Literacy, a global alliance of business and charities, who have submitted a virtual petition to world leaders at the UN calling on them to prioritise the enormous issue of illiteracy around the world
    • The Hays Global Skills Index whose latest report covering 31 countries highlighted continuing concerns about skill shortages in different parts of the world
    • Deloitte, who have announced that from next year they will not look at which school or university a candidate attended so that they can be judged on merit
    • HEFCE who reported on the career progression of UK students who had graduated at around the time of the economic crash in 2008/09 and found that nearly 78% were in professional jobs between 6 and 40 months after leaving uni
    • The Consumer Ombudsman Services who published a useful student guide full of tips on how to deal with landlords, utility companies and service providers for students embarking on life away from home
    • Judith Petts, currently pro vice-chancellor at Southampton University, who has been appointed as vice-chancellor at Plymouth University from Feb 2016
    • The RQF (Regulated Qualifications Framework) which replaced the QCF from this week
    • The consultation on the apprenticeship levy which closed today (Friday Oct 2) with employer groups expressing concerns about cost, quality and business impact
    • Ofsted who confirmed that it would be publishing a survey report on apprenticeships this month and will also undertake a follow-up survey on 16-19 study programmes
    • Ofqual Director Jeremy Benson who outlined some of the issues surrounding innovation and technology in assessment in a speech to the FELTAG Conference this week
    • The LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion whose joint report on the performance of disadvantaged pupils in London added to the growing weight of evidence building up about the success of the capital’s schools
    • The DfE who updated its guidance on implementing the pay arrangements in schools
    • The Prince’s Teaching Institute which according to the TES is moving into primary education and running its first ever event for primary heads this week
    • ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ ‘The Book Thief,’ ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’ the top five books (in order) in W.H. Smith’s social media customer survey of the top paperback books of all time  

    Tweet(s) of the week 

    • “@GordonMarsden on tuition fees: we are going to review our position. We rule nothing in and nothing out.” @AaronPorter
    • "We have to get away from thinking policy problems are solved by setting a big number” @IPPR_NickP #Lab15 #apprenticeships
    • “The apprenticeship levy is probably a game changer but we don’t know what game we are playing says @davidhNIACE.”  @FEWeek
    • “The great majority of Tweets on Twitter is education is education-based not b/c educators are in great numbers but the group is prolific.” @tomwhitby
    • “Online communities are the new staffrooms says #UKFEchat founder @MrsSarahSimons” @tesfenews
    • “Have we redesigned our entire curriculum simply because one man read a book? The DfE’s obsession with E.D.Hirsch.” @SecEd_Education

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We’ll also turn the Dept for Business, Innovation and Skills into a powerful economic development dept in charge of public investment, infrastructure planning and setting new standards in the labour market.” The Shadow Chancellor promises a more expansive role for BIS under a Labour government
    • “I don’t intend to sit on the sidelines. We will make a difference.” The new Shadow Education Secretary appears keen to make her mark
    • “Neanderthals.” Sir Paul Nurse’s view of anyone attempting to cut the science budget (Sir Paul is currently leading a major review of research councils)
    • “There is a feeling that beyond the narrowest of employment-related targets, politicians no longer care about what becomes of FE." The Policy Consortium checks the pulse of FE six months on from its annual survey of the sector
    • “I know nothing about education.” But the new chief executive of the 157 group of Colleges is learning very fast according to an interview in the TES
    • “We’re proud of what we’ve done with free schools meals.” The PM’s spokesman dismisses speculation that free school meals could be cut as part of the Spending Review
    • “When you’re up at 1.00am planning lessons, it’s less lonely if you watch Bargain Hunt.” One of the lessons learnt by new primary school teachers according to the TES.   

    Number(s) of the week

    • 757m. The number of people across the world classified as illiterate and whose needs have been highlighted in a new global campaign launched at the UN
    • 34. The number of UK universities in the top 200 of the Times Higher annual world university rankings published this week
    • 55. The number of current world leaders who have been educated at UK universities and thus added to UKHE’s international standing according to research from the HE Policy Institute
    • £240 a year. How much students living away from home typically lose out because they don’t know their rights or how to complain
    • 57p. The increase in the apprentice hourly rate of the National Minimum Wage implemented this week bringing the hourly total now to £3.30 (£6.50 an hour for adult workers)
    • 62% of qualified teachers are female yet only 36% of heads are female; the teaching glass ceiling reported on in The Guardian this week.  

    What to look out for next week

    • Conservative Party Conference (Sunday–Wednesday)
    • National Customer Service Week (all week).
    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending October 9 2015

    This week the annual Party Conference season drew to a close. 

    The week summed up

    The SNP have their bash next week but it’s back to the more routine business for politicians in England next week. So, five months on from the general election and with a busy autumn beckoning, how’s education looking?

    A more detailed summary can be found in an accompanying Policy Watch but in terms of headlines, six points stand out.

    First, education remains an important priority. It’s not in the top three public concerns highlighted by Ipsos-Mori recently but it’s certainly in the top ten and a central part of the government’s pitch for the centre ground hence why the PM and Chancellor took the lead on education announcements this week.

    Second, the economy hangs over everything but it’s much more now about how to get the wheels turning a bit better, more jobs, better productivity, higher skills and so on; both the Chancellor and his opposite number had plenty to say about all of this.

    Third, it’s not just about surpluses and targets, economic policy needs to come with a soul as well, kinder, compassionate, caring, all words used in the Leaders’ speeches and all beginning to be displayed in education agendas where issues such as mental health and pupil safeguarding have been raised again this week.

    Fourth, for schools, it’s pretty much business as before, ‘excellence for all,’ as Nicky Morgan put it but with mechanisms like funding, coasting and local accountability providing key political dividing lines. Fifth, for FE, missing again from major speeches but with its future being shaped in Treasury plans. And sixth, HE, about to enter a new phase with a Green Paper due out shortly but where debates about fees, funding and visas are never far away.

    If, Desert Island Disc wise, one overriding them or issue had to be selected from the debates and speeches of the last few weeks, it would probably have to be social mobility or in education terms opening up opportunity and closing down attainment gaps whether in schools, FE or HE. It was a theme adopted in David Cameron’s speech, “the brick wall of blocked opportunity” and in Jeremy Corbyn’s “we have aspirations for all children, not just a few.” It’s the theme also of two reports out today one on the pupil premium and the other on apprenticeships. It binds politicians and professionals alike and as the Social Mobility Commission put it last year, is the ultimate prize for 2020. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘More than 50% of teachers in England plan to quit in next two years.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Private schools condemn exam marking.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Morgan: schools must offer working-day childcare.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Prime Minister warns over extremist teaching.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘MPs want better help for poorer pupils.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who re-affirmed his support for more Academies and Free Schools and announced a new registration system for religious supplementary schools in the education ‘bits’ of his Conference speech this week
    • The Chancellor of the Exchequer who used his Conference speech to announce a number of measures to help stimulate growth in the economy including new powers and simpler funding rules for local councils and the creation of a new National Infrastructure Commission
    • Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who confirmed in her Conference speech that families would have ‘a right to request’ a full day’s childcare before and after school and during the holidays as well
    • Nicky Morgan who has written to the School Teachers’ Review Body asking for advice by next April on how best to apply the 2016/17 pay award of 1%
    • The government who announced new sanctions, pursuable through the welfare system and the courts, to help tackle school truancy
    • The Public Accounts Committee who following a series of inquiries this year on the pupil premium have produced their own report concluding that while the premium has helped, there is still not a good enough understanding let alone sharing of what works best in helping close the attainment gap between the richest and poorest pupils
    • Jonathan Portes who is leaving his post as director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research
    • The British Council, who as this year’s Nobel prize winners were being announced, examined the educational background of past winners and found that many had studied at some point in the UK
    • Key Cities, a group of 26 smaller cities including York, Derby and Cambridge who have urged the government not to forget about them as the devolution bandwagon gathers pace
    • The Industry Skills Board, a group of employers with an interest in skills issues brought together by City Guilds, who have published a 25-point action plan for ‘Making Apprenticeships Work’ which includes a Levy Board and UCAS style applications for young apprenticeships
    • The Sutton Trust whose latest commissioned report found that the best top apprenticeships resulted in greater lifetime earnings than some non-Russell Group degrees but that not enough apprenticeships were yet at this top end
    • The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) who is inviting responses as to how it’s doing in its Annual Perception Survey
    • The DfE who ahead of the new accountability measures coming in next year, published experimental data on L1/2 attainment in English and maths by 16-18 yr olds for 2013 /14
    • Ofqual who published in one handy booklet its full postcard collection explaining the current changes to qualifications and regulation 
    • Ofqual who published a listing of GCSE, AS and A level qualifications not being reformed explaining in each case why they are being withdrawn
    • Leading independent schools who as part of the HMC have been in conference this week reflecting on many of key education issues of the day from qualification reform to concerns about mental health in schools
    • Dr Sam Carr from Bath University who examined the issue raised in a recent NUT survey about so many teachers wanting to leave the profession and suggested that ‘suffocation’ of motivation and job satisfaction were key factors
    • The book retailer Waterstones who announced that as sales of Kindles are falling, it will restock the shelves with books instead. 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Ofqual chief: exam markers don’t do it for the money.” @tes
    • “If you can bake you can do maths.” @Nat_Numeracy
    • “Once students went to university for education, now it’s ‘an experience.’ @ed_ontap
    • “Let’s make a stand and change the world for our girls, one trouser leg at a time!” @SchoolsImprove (as a parent launches a Facebook group about school uniform rules)
    • “Stop indulging in toffism, says private school head.’” @tes 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Today, a teenager sitting their GCSE is more likely to own a smartphone than have a dad living with them.” The Prime Minister reflects on some of the challenges in social reform
    • “Today I am embarking on the biggest transfer of power to our local government in living memory.” The Chancellor launches his so-called devolution revolution
    • “If politicians and others do not fully understand or appreciate what a jewel they have in British higher education, they risk throwing it all away.” The outgoing vice-chancellor of Oxford university on protecting the crown jewels of UKHE
    • “There has never been a better time to be a teacher.” Schools Minister Nick Gibb makes the case at one of this week’s Conference fringe events
    • “I was ready to make a 300-mile round trip to see one candidate…before they had another chance to be interviewed by another school.” A head teacher on the realities of the current teacher shortage
    • “At the age of 8, I had a dozen pretend registers and a full-sized whiteboard in my bedroom so that I could ‘practice’ teaching with my friends.” A trainee teacher tells her story as part of this week’s World Teacher Day
    • “If you are a school today, what are you preparing your children for when they are moving into a world when they could live up to 120?” The challenges for schools just got greater according to the chief executive of Fast Future
    • “What’s grammar? An old lady who gives you biscuits.” One from the TES top ten list of overhead primary school quotes this week. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 4.7% in primary schools and 1.6% in secondaries. How much the attainment gap has closed by since the pupil premium was introduced in 2011 according to the Public Accounts Committee
    • 66%. The number of parents in a survey by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust who said that their biggest concern was that their child may not be able to find a job when they leave education
    • 61%. The number of teachers in a survey commissioned by the NUT said to be considering quitting over the next couple of years largely due to heavy workloads
    • 17. The number of Local Authorities planning for super-size secondaries to cope with rising pupil numbers according to research from the TES
    • 94%. The number of leading independent schools reporting concerns about the use of social media, up from 45% five years ago, in a survey by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference
    • 31%. The number of under-fives who according to recent research now have their own iPad. 

    What to look out for next week

    • Parliament returns (Monday)
    • Edge Annual Lecture with Nicholas Wyman (Tuesday)
    • BIS Committee witness session on the government’s Productivity Plan (Tuesday)
    • Education Committee witness session with Ofqual (Wednesday)
    • Initial UCAS deadline date for many 2016 medical, dentistry and veterinary courses (Thursday)
    • ResearchEd seminar on edtech (Friday). 
    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending September 25 2015

    Slimmer pickings this week with the political wagons out on the road for the annual Party Conference season.

    The week summed up

    This week it’s been the turn of the Lib-Dems, UKIP and Greens, next week it’ll be Labour and the week after the Conservatives. So far there’s been little to report education-wise. Tim Farron’s first leadership speech for the Lib-Dems this week was well received and credited his sixth form college with his liberal beginnings but was more about reviving spirits than setting policies. There’s plenty of interest for obvious reasons in next week’s Labour Conference but whether we’ll learn much about education policy remains to be seen.

    Away from the heat of the Conference hall, education developments continue and this week literacy, school funding, and digital skills and cyber threats have been early runners.

    Raising standards in literacy has become a bit of a mission for Nicky Morgan who teamed up with David Walliams earlier this summer to launch a campaign intended ‘to help make English pupils the most literate in Europe.’ Initial plans centred on getting more 8-year olds signed up at local libraries and working with the Reading Agency to create 200 new book clubs. This week, the Morgan-Williams team launched a further initiative aimed at publishers and schools, calling on the latter to share good practice and the former to help make the great classic novels more easily (and cheaply) available in schools. They haven’t been the only ones keen to spread the word with the National Literacy Trust preparing to launch its HELLO tool (Helping Early Literacy and Language Outcomes) and as indicated below, even McDonalds offering book excerpts in its Happy Meal packages. The government claims that the recent phonics data shows that its policies are working but 11% of pupils still reach the end of primary unable to read well so there’s some way to go.

    On to school funding, where the Education Committee is pressing the Secretary of State for timings on school funding reform, something that was in the manifesto and which has been on the cards for some time. It’s not the only funding uncertainty with the impending Spending Review raising all sorts of concerns and where free school meals, the pupil premium and 16-19 funding are all under debate at present and awaiting the Review outcomes with varying degrees of concern.

    Finally, the arcane world of cyber threats and how to deal with them. Not an obvious area for digital technologies perhaps and one only briefly alluded to in the BIS Committee’s Inquiry into digital development announced this week but where the Minister promised additional funding so that universities and colleges could develop training in this area. A new frontier perhaps. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Labour warns children would go hungry if universal free meals scrapped.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Fake apprenticeships-crackdown planned.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Mandarin lessons to get £10m boost says Chancellor.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Give low cost classics to schools, says Nicky Morgan.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Wilshaw set to clash with government over EBacc.’ (Friday)  

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The BIS Committee which has announced it will look into digital skills as part of its inquiry into the digital economy
    • The Education Committee which has announced it will be holding a short inquiry into Holocaust education later this year 
    • Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey who announced a new £500,000 fund, to be administered by the HE Academy, to help universities and colleges develop training in cyber protection
    • Nicky Morgan who along with David Walliams launched the next stage of the literacy campaign with a call for more sharing of good practice and more classic novels to be made available in schools
    • UCAS who have published their traditional interim update on uni entry four weeks on from A level results day confirming a 3% increase in numbers entering UKHE for 2015/16 
    • HEFCE who have launched consultation on a proposed framework for monitoring compliance by HE providers with the new Prevent duty
    • The Sutton Trust who argued against any retrospective changes to student loan terms as its latest report into the impact of changes announced in the Summer Budget concluded that many students would end up repaying more
    • The NUS who are looking at taking legal action over the government’s plans to shift from maintenance grants to loans from next year
    • The Institute of Fiscal Studies whose latest collaborative research found that the graduate premium (the returns on a degree) were often higher than previously considered, especially for female graduates
    • Surrey and Sussex, who jumped into the top ten and top twenty respectively in the Times/Sunday Times 2016 rankings of universities published last weekend
    • A group of academics who have written to university vice-chancellors encouraging them to set up bursaries and scholarships to help students fleeing from violence in other parts of the world
    • Nick Pearce, director at the think tank IPPR who is leaving to become from December the new Director at the Institute of Policy Research at the University of Bath
    • Michael Farthing who will step down as vice-chancellor at Sussex University next summer
    • The Education Funding Agency (EFA) whose latest Bulletin reports that Ministers have relaxed the funding conditions around GCSE maths and English resits to allow for a 5% tolerance
    • The Gazelle Group of Colleges which the TES reports is restructuring both its membership and fees
    • CITB who are using levy funding to help launch a new ‘Go Construct’ campaign to encourage more people to consider a career in construction
    • Two more FE colleges, this time in Wales (Coleg Gwent and Cardiff and Vale) who are considering options for closer collaboration
    • Qualification Wales, the new independent qualifications regulator for Wales, which formally started operating this week
    • Ofsted who have followed up recent information on changes to inspection arrangements by explaining how the inspection workforce is also changing
    • The College of Teaching who have listed five non-teachers along with five teachers and three head teachers among its 13 founding trustees
    • Former Eton headmaster Tony Little who called for a more innovative approach to assessment including greater use of teacher assessment to make the new GCSEs more relevant to today’s demands
    • The Geographical Association who have developed a resource pack to help schools teaching about the current migration crisis and human geography issues in general
    • McDonalds who over the next six weeks will be giving away packaged excerpts from Roald Dahl books with its Happy Meals in a move, backed by the National Literacy Trust, to support children’s reading

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “@Stewartsegal says ‘Plan for at least 10 years of @Apprenticeships levy’ even if gov’t changes.” @AELPUK
    • “Students of the future will not only be assessed on their knowledge but what they can do with that knowledge.” @OECD_Edu
    • “When is an inspector not an inspector? When they’re trying to sell ‘mockstead’ inspections, Ofsted warns.” @tes 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “When I was growing up my school didn’t have a sixth form. So I went to a separate sixth form college and in my first week I joined the Liberal Party.” Lib-Dem Party leader Tim Farron recalls his College days in his first Conference speech as Party leader
    • “The bullet point-ization of information is making us stupid and irresponsible.” The debate about the virtues or otherwise of powerpoint presentations continues
    • “What people are concerned about is whether the A level exam results mean quite the same thing they used to mean.” Cambridge considers whether to bring back entrance exams
    • “Do not bring a full set of pans and crockery to halls with you. No matter what your Mum says, there is no need to have a stir-fry wok and salad serving spoons.” Recent graduates take to the NUS website to pass on their tips to this year’s freshers
    • “The Government should introduce more formal ways to measure the performance of an apprentice and introduce a standardised grading system equivalent to a university degree classification.” The Centre for Policy Studies offers some thoughts ahead of the spending Review on how to improve productivity in this country
    • “I learned to carry a spare pair of trousers.” Teachers take to the Guardian Teacher Network to share with this year’s new cohort what they learned from their first year of teaching
    • “I see it at home in Downing Street every night as my 12-year old daughter does her Mandarin homework.” The Chancellor enthuses about learning Mandarin and promises more money to help schools teach it during his recent visit to China. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 14. The number of different ways, including grades, surveys and output indicators, in which learning gain in higher education could be measured, according to a report commissioned by BIS, HEFCE and HEA 
    • £0.04m. What it might cost business overall to adopt the principles of apprenticeship brand recognition laid out in the current Enterprise Bill
    • 47%. How many people in the UK workforce would like a change of career according to the latest report from the London School of Business and Finance
    • 93%. How many recruiters check out a candidate’s social media profile before making a decision to hire, according to an article in Training Journal
    • 77%. The proportion of Year 1 pupils (6 yr olds) who reached the expected phonics standard this year, up 3% on the previous year in latest DfE stats
    • 8%. The rise over the last year  in the number of appeals by parents over school admissions according to latest DfE figures
    • 61%. The number of girls (as opposed to 46% of boys) who don’t feel confident on their first day at school, college or work according to a You Gov survey carried out for Sky Academy’s Confidence Month

    What to look out for next week

    • Labour Party Conference (Sunday-Wednesday)
    • Virgin Disruptors event with inputs from Sir Richard Branson. Professor Brian Cox, Pearson and others looking at ‘how far education is keeping up with the 21st century’ (Friday). 
    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending September 18 2015

    Corbyn, computers and curriculum make the headlines this week as follows.

    The week summed up

    Corbyn, or more precisely Labour first where with a new Shadow Cabinet now in post there’s been much interest in how Labour policy will shape up. When it comes to education we have new Shadow Secretaries of State at both DfE and BIS and both have been in the news this week.  Lucy Powell, the new Shadow Education Secretary, has been grilled by the Times Ed today where her views on academies and free schools, in effect that they should be brought under local control, has made the headlines. That is a marked difference from her predecessor’s position and has inevitably pleased some and disappointed others. Writing earlier in the week, Policy Exchange’s Jonathan Simons, suggested that her approach would be pragmatic although there may some ‘eye-catching’ announcements; time will tell if this one. Over at BIS, Angela Eagle had an early opportunity to make her mark with questions to BIS Ministers on Tuesday afternoon. Her questions on apprenticeships and skill shortages showed that she recognised some of the issues but in truth it was too early to pick up any new agenda; that will come as the spending review details emerge. As for HE where of course Jeremy Corbyn had promised to scrap tuition fees, nothing yet although an interesting set of views from HE specialists can be found on the Guardian website.

    And so to computers, the subject of a major report this week from the OECD and of a Paper at the BERA Conference both raising questions about the impact of technology in the classroom. The argument, and it was well put by the government’s behaviour adviser Tom Bennett, is that we have become in his words “dazzled” by technology, believing it can transform classroom learning and raise results without any real understanding about how it should best be used. The OECD published a mass of data pointing to the fact that many of the best-performing countries were “very cautious about using technology in the classroom.”  The use of technology and indeed of smart devices generally by young people is the subject of considerable debate at present, no one is suggesting a Canute like position but it’s an interesting example of an education debate where the expectation has preceded the evidence. We haven’t heard the last.

    Finally for this week, the curriculum, where the government has finally set out its thoughts on the issue of assessment without levels, essentially recognising that more training and support is needed. And Ofqual has resorted to traditional lines of communication with the publication of its series of mini postcards explaining in simple terms many of the changes being implemented at present. These range from the ‘new’ adult qualification framework, not QCF from October 1st but RQF (the R stands for regulated) to the new GCSE grading criteria. They’re in the post. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Smart phones could face ban from classes.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Computers do not improve pupils’ results says OECD.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Tories now the heir to Blair on schools.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘State students outperform private in degree grades.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Head teachers call for end to pupil premium amid plans for funding overhaul.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who made a major speech last weekend outlining 3 principles (reform, devolution and efficiency) for state reform ahead of the forthcoming Spending Review
    • The UK which was ranked in the top five countries (along with Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands and the USA) for effective innovation in the latest Global Innovation Index of 141 nations
    • Luciana Berger, who was appointed Labour’s Shadow Minister for mental health, the first time such a role has been created
    • Lucy Powell the new Shadow Education Secretary who in an interview in the TES has indicated a marked changing in party policy by suggesting academies and free schools could be brought under local accountability
    • The Chair of the Education Committee whose letter to the Education Secretary following their recent Q/A session seeks further information on a couple of funding matters
    • The think tank Policy Exchange who have published a collection of essays by leading educationalists to mark its Annual Lecture given this year by E.D.Hirsch
    • The Education and Adoption Bill which completed its passage through the House of Commons and now passes to the House of Lords with a 2ndReading on 20 Oct
    • The BIS Committee which has announced that it will launch an inquiry into quality assessment in HE with particular reference to the role of the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework
    • Cambridge, Oxford, UCL, Imperial and Kings, all in the top 20 in the latest World Ranking of Universities 
    • Quality assessment arrangements in HE where consultation on future approaches closes today
    • The new Prevent guidance, aimed at tackling those at risk of radicalisation in universities and colleges which comes into force next week
    • HEFCE who found that in many cases state school graduates tended to achieve higher degree grades than their independent school counterparts in a report looking at the impact of different course and student characteristics on degree outcomes in 2014
    • The New College of Humanities which reached its first graduation ceremony in unusual style by commissioning original works of art displaying the particular skills of each of its first 36 graduates
    • Durham University, who according to the price comparison website Money Supermarket, offers the cheapest pint of beer (@£2.10) of any university
    • The CBI who have called for protected funding for education and skills and support for vocational skills in its submission to the Treasury Spending Review
    • Apprenticeships, where the statutory definition which was consulted on over the summer, was included in Part 4 of the Enterprise Bill laid before Parliament this week
    • BIS who published 2006/8 -2012 data on progression into HE by groups of apprenticeships and FE students
    • HEFCE, UVAC and the SFA who have joined forces to produce a guide for universities and colleges thinking of offering Degree Apprenticeships
    • Jaguar Land Rover who have recruited a record number of graduates and apprentices (600) in its intake this year
    • The AoC and Oxford University’s Centre for Skills who will work together to examine the impact of the government’s local devolution of skills with a report due next summer
    • The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) who published English Pipeline, a series of training and resource materials to help those teaching English in FE provision
    • The charity National Numeracy who launched its new Family Maths Toolkit stuffed with tips and activities to help families learn and enjoy maths together
    • The OECD whose report on the use of computers in schools raised a number of questions about their validity as a learning tool
    • Dr Tom Macintyre who presented further evidence this week in a Paper to the British Educational Research Association (BERA) questioning the impact of technology in the classroom
    • The Careers and Enterprise Company who are rolling out a new network of business volunteers or Enterprise Advisers to help bring schools, colleges and the world of work more closely together
    • Regional Schools Commissioners, for whom the Education Committee has been gathering views ahead of its planned inquiry
    • ASCL, NGA and education lawyers Browne Jackson who have got together to produce a guide for school leaders and governors who are considering working together in collaborative arrangements
    • Ofqual who sent out a series of 8 ‘plain speak’ postcards to explain the various changes to GCSE, AS and A levels in England as well as to the adult skills qualification system
    • The DfE who have agreed to set up a national bank of assessment questions but not yet an expert group to help schools operate assessment systems now that the framework of national curriculum assessment levels has been removed
    • Tom Bennett, whose review into behavioural issues in schools has been extended to take in the use of smartphones and other such devices in school
    • SchoolDash, a new website being developed by a data entrepreneur to help make sense of the mass of data coming out on school performance these days“
    • Ridiculous,” one of the professional body responses to a proposal from the New Schools Network to introduce a ‘parental trigger’ that could be used to remove head teachers
    • Writing letters, something that can help children with their writing skills according to a survey by the National Literacy Trust to mark Letter Writing Week. 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Apparently @NickyMorgan01 vs @LucyMPowell is the 3rd time two women have faced each other over education.” @RichardVaughan (Spoiler: Williams v Thatcher and Morris V May were the other two)
    • “Fair to say that @TristramHunt and I don’t see eye to eye, mainly because he’s several inches taller than me @NIckyMorgan01.” @SchoolsWeek
    • “Schools are not gifts which can be dished out to ministers’ friends and party donors says @KevinBrennanMP” @SchoolsWeek
    • “Edge calls for ‘Polytechnic Colleges’ instead of National Colleges and Institutes of Technology @ukEdgehttp://data.parliament.uk/written evidence.”@davidharbourne
    • “More evidence is needed to convince firms to sign up apprentices.” @tesfenews
    • “Cunningham’s Law: The best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question, it’s to post the wrong answer.” @tech_faq

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We will say to any local authority failing its children: transform the way you provide services or those services will be taken over by non-profit trusts or partnerships.” The PM in his keynote speech on state reform
    • “We now have a very strong education system in this country and I hope the Labour Party will join me in rooting out the remaining problems and education failures where they are in this country.” The Education Secretary ‘welcomes’ the new Labour leader
    • “Being shadow minister for anything is not for the faint-hearted.” Professor Chris Husband blogs on the challenges facing the new Shadow Education Secretary
    • “We are always concerned about increases in fees.” The Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University reacts unfavourably to any suggested increase in fees
    • “This is the worst financial scenario we’ve ever faced.’ Dr Lynne Sedgemore, who recently retired as executive director of the 157 Group, reflects on her 35 years in FE
    • “It’s like a bookcase in a library with qualifications indexed by their level and size.” Ofqual’s Director of Voc Quals describes the new RQF (Regulated Qualifications Framework)
    • “A ritual torture that takes place throughout the school year.” The Guardian’s Secret Teacher on school Inset days
    • “The impact on student performance is mixed at best.” The OECD reports on its survey into the use of computers in schools.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 300. The number of MPs who voted for the Education Bill in its 3rd Reading this week against 200 ‘Noes’
    • 20,000. The number of public respondents who submitted ideas to the Spending Review
    • 38. The number of area proposals submitted to the government for local devolution deals, a lot more than anticipated according to the Prime Minister
    • 30. How many universities the UK had in the QS world top ranking 200 universities, only the US had more
    • 12–15 yr olds. Nearly a quarter of whom wake in the night to use social media in a survey published by Cardiff University.  

    What to look out for next week

    read more