Policy Watch

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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in February 2015

    It’s been a month which has seen education power up the agenda as this month’s listing shows.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Baseline assessments. DfE lists approved providers
    • Primary assessment. DfE launches new commission to review best practice
    • Class sizes. Labour pledges to restrict to 30 for 5,6,7 yr olds
    • School places. DfE puts in more money to cover next 3 years
    • 11 yr olds. The Education Secretary plans new benchmark standards
    • GCSEs/A levels. DfE and Ofqual publishes regs and guidance for 2016 batch
    • Science practicals. Ofqual confirms new uncoupled arrangements at A level
    • Maths. Cambridge Maths launch new manifesto to raise maths standards
    • PSHE. Education Committee calls for the subject to be beefed up
    • ALCAB. A level content advisory body stood down ‘for the time being’
    • Teacher Workloads. Debates continue about whether real issues tackled
    • Academies. The government plans to extend to schools requiring improvement 
    • School funding. The government sticks to ‘flat-cash,’ Labour and Lib-Dems plan protection
    • Inspections. Ofsted confirms shorter more frequent inspections from Sept 2015
    • Sixth Form Colleges. MPs sign up to removing the VAT burden
    • Work experience. Labour promise it for 14-16 yr olds as UKCES find it’s drying up
    • Apprenticeships. Labour pledges to create 80,000 more a year
    • Voc Quals. Ofqual announces consultation on new post QCF framework
    • FE. Further squeeze on adult skills budget signalled in latest funding letter
    • North East. Gets a new Growth Deal
    • UCAS. Gearing up to include applications to European as well as UK universities
    • HE. HEFCE publishes latest Business Plan
    • HE regulation. UUK proposes new statutory body
    • HE tuition fees. Labour confirms plans to cut fees by a third
    • HE participation. OFFA calls for faster progress on fair access at selective universities
    • Alternative HE providers. Public Accounts Committee expresses concerns about quality and costs
    • UKMoocs. Tops a million learners. 

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Greg Clark’s 4 February HEFCE Annual Conference speech acknowledges how important HE is to the country and what the government is doing to support it
    • Gleny Stacey’s 4 February Association of Colleges Examining officers speech explains what changes Ofqual is making to improve the exam system including the changes to practical work
    • David Cameron’s 10 February British Chambers of Commerce speech spells out how the government has been supporting business and pledges more of the same to help growth
    • Ed Balls’ 10 February British Chambers of Commerce speech calls for a new industrial policy, a competitive tax system and reform rather than exit from the EU
    • Glenys Stacey’s 12 February speech to the Skills Summit sets out Ofqual’s approach to regulating adult voc quals and announces consultation on a new framework
    • Ed Miliband’s 16 February industrial plan speech pledges more apprenticeships as part of a range of measures to raise productivity and prosperity for all
    • Glenys Stacey’s 25 February Next Steps speech sets out progress being made in reforming GCSEs and A levels and warns against throwing it all away
    • Nick Gibb’s 25 February Reform speech sets out government thinking on primary assessment and what the government is hoping for from the current reforms.

    Quotes of the month

    • “No one wants their child to go to a failing school and no one wants them to go to a coasting school either.” The Prime Minister on raising school standards
    • "I’m not saying that every Labour minister under the last administration was universally loved but…” .” Ed Miliband promises a new beginning for teachers
    • “It is worth noting that the average college has made 105 redundancies since 2009/10.” The Chief Ex of the AoC on the pressures in FE as the latest funding letter brings more bad news
    • “I would ask any incoming government to consider carefully before tinkering under the bonnet of GCSEs and A levels in the near future.” The Chief Exc of Ofqual on sticking to plan
    • “We do not believe your proposals will get close to the root cause of the workload problem. “ Teacher unions write to the Education Secretary about the workforce reforms.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • 'Polyanna creep.’ To try and show things in a better light. 
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending February 27 2015

    Labour’s proposed plans to cut tuition fees, described as “tortuous” by the Party’s Business Secretary, “implausible” by some vice-chancellors and “foolish” by Vince Cable, provides the breaking news this week.

    The week summed up

    But that's not the only funding story in town at present. The adult skills sector has been badly hit by a further slice of cuts confirmed in the Dept’s letter to the Skills Funding Agency this week and the sector is pretty miffed that no-one is highlighting their problems so let’s start there.

    Basically the sector is facing a cut of 11% on the adult skills budget for 2015/16. And, and it’s a big ‘and,’ this comes after a sustained period of cuts to the adult skills training budgets as government has sought to shift the cost burden from the state to employers and individual learners, as increases in pension and insurance contributions come in and as the impact of protecting programmes like apprenticeships and English and maths could leave some providers facing cuts of up to 24%. All this too at a time when the economy is picking up and employers are gagging for trained staff. Yes, the BIS Dept has no doubt had to fend off even sharper demands and yes apprenticeship funding is up, according to the government potentially up to £800m, but the effects of the reduction on adult skills training could potentially be damaging. Individual provider budgets will be confirmed in the next few weeks but perhaps the final word for the moment at least should rest with the Association of Colleges: “adult further education is in year 10 of a 15-year cuts programme and could be entirely privately funded by 2020; at this point one third of the UK workforce will be over the age of 50.”

    Back to HE and tuition fees where at the time of writing Ed Miliband has yet to confirm the details but where the Party seems set to announce a cut in the annual tuition fee to £6000. At present commentators are lining up to highlight both concerns and comments; here’s a list of six which pretty much capture the current state of the argument.

    First, will it help the lower earners; the Institute of Fiscal Studies reckons no because the higher earners will have less to pay off and be able to do it quicker. Second, how will universities make up the shortfall of a lower fee, calculated by some vice-chancellors as up to £10bn over the next five years? Third, what about those already in the system, will they be stuck with the higher fee level? Fourth, what impact will this have on Labour itself; Times correspondent Philip Collins has labelled it more about headlines than helping the poor.  Five, why as Nick Pearce of IPPR argued has there been no proper debate about subsidies, maintenance loans and digital provision such as there’s been in the USA? And sixth is it fair? That, at present remains the $64,000 question.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Labour unveils plans to aid training and recruitment of head teachers. ‘ (Monday)
    • ‘MPs criticise lax oversight of £1.2bn higher education expansion.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Student loans system is not sustainable warns leading economist.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘New commission on primary assessment.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Labour to reveal how it would fund cut in tuition fees.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Labour Party who are about to announce plans to reduce the tuition fee for higher education in England
    • Ed Miliband who spoke to the Creative Industries Federation and pledged that a future Labour government would back creative education and the arts
    • The Education Secretary who announced the first 27 schools and organisations each awarded £15,000 to help promote pupil character and resilience
    • The Schools Minister who set out government thinking on assessment in primary education in a speech to the Reform think tank
    • Minister for Intellectual Property Baroness Neville-Rolfe who called for a better balance between accessibility and protection as part of a speech on the UK’s vision for a digital single market
    • The DfE who published further guidance on the Progress 8 accountability measure in preparation for its implementation in some cases  from this year
    • The All Party Parliamentary Group who highlighted the importance of supporting families and children in the first two years of a child’s life
    • The North East of England which saw a £330m Growth Deal for the region signed off that included a package on skills improvement
    • The BIS Dept who looked at the lessons to be learnt from  last year’s setting up of the first new FE college incorporation for 20 years and concluded that the process may need some revamping
    • The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) who published a new strategic plan for 2015-2020 with a big push on increasing the numbers of disadvantaged students entering more selective universities
    • The Public Accounts Committee who published a report taking the government to task for failing to set up adequate regulation for any expansion of the HE market particularly to alternative providers
    • HEFCE whose latest report on the  participation of young people in England entering higher education between 2006 and 2013 revealed a significant increase in the number holding L3 BTEC qualifications
    • Sir William Wakeham and Sir Nigel Shadbolt who will lead reviews of STEM and computer science HE accreditation respectively following the government’s recent Science and Innovation Strategy
    • Professor Sir Ian Diamond who as Chair of the Universities UK Efficiency Task Group published a new report on efficiency and value for money in the UKHE sector claiming that the sector has made over £1bn in cost savings over the last 3 years
    • UCAS who announced that its ‘Extra’ process is now open and running until the end of June for those applicants who haven’t yet received or confirmed an offer and want to make an extra choice
    • Developers, Freeriders, Organisers, Plodders, Recruiters, Survivors, Trainers, different categories of small and medium businesses identified in a report by the UK Commission looking at how such businesses approach training  
    • FE and training providers  facing further significant budget cuts for adult skills provision as the latest funding grant letter is released
    • Dr Lynne Sedgemore who announced plans to retire later this year after seven years exec director of the 157 Group and over 30 years in FE generally
    • The 2011 Wolf report on vocational learning for young people which four years on from its publication has now seen most of its recommendations acted on
    • Ofqual who published the results of a survey into which factors influence schools and colleges when they make purchasing decisions about particular qualifications and awarding bodies
    • Glenys Stacey, Ofqual Chief Regulator who spoke about how the current qualification reform programme was going and cautioned an incoming government against changing too much
    • Professor Graham Donaldson who called for learning from ages 3 to 16 to be a continuum without phases and key stages as he completed a major review of curriculum  and assessment arrangements in Wales
    • Exceptional school middle leaders, over a hundred of whom will be ‘invited’ to apply for year-long postings to help support underperforming schools in parts of the country
    • The Education Endowment Foundation who launched a new report to help schools make better use of Teaching Assistants
    • Shanghai maths teachers, a second group of whom arrived this week to help support the maths exchange programme launched last year
    • Former head teacher John McIntosh who will chair the new ‘teacher-led’ commission on helping primary schools develop best practice in assessment without levels
    • School absences which according to new research published by the DfE showed that for instance a pupil who didn’t miss any schooling at key stage 2 was 4.5 times more likely to achieve L5 or above than those who had missed 15-20% of the time
    • The professional association ASCL who launched its blueprint for a self-improving school system built around a new architecture and seven key elements.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • "Just snapchat me: the new way to stay in touch with university tutors.2 @ed_ontap
    • “Students seriously under challenged by the books they are given at school, study claims.” @SchoolsImprove

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • POLAR. Participation of Local Area, used in helping define areas of advantage/disadvantage when it comes to participation in higher education.

     Quote(s) of the week

    • “I come here with an offer: to put policy for arts and culture and creativity at the heart of the next Labour Government’s mission.” Ed Miliband on Labour’s offer to the creative sector
    • “My little granddaughters scratch at magazines as though they were operating an IPad, digital natives to the core.”  The BIS Dept’s Minister for IP on modern digital natives
    • “Validity is the degree to which it is possible to measure what needs to be measured by implementing an assessment procedure.” The Chief Exec of Ofqual on the meaning of validity
    • “Levels have been a distracting, over-generalised label, giving misleading signals about the genuine attainment of pupils.” The Schools Minister on why prescribed assessment levels in primary had to go.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 11%. The size of the cut to the adult skills budget for 2015/16
    • "735m. The amount of money being put in to support fair access into higher education this year
    • 27. The number of recommendations in the 2011 Wolf Report where 20 have now been fully  implemented, 6 are in the process of and one (No 13 on carrying forward credit to a later date) partially so
    • Tenfold. The volume increase between 2006 and 2013 in the number of people entering HE with a combination of A level and BTEC qualifications (from 2,100 to 21,00). 

    What to look out for next week

    • Times HE, HEPI and OU Hustings on HE and the 2015 Election (Monday)
    • Education Committee witness session on starting school (Wednesday). 
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending February 20 2015

    Nearly two months into this election year and the pattern is becoming clear. 

    The week summed up

    An appearance on the Marr Show on the Sunday to set the week’s key theme, some follow-up speeches at the start of the week fleshing out the details, a few days of full media scrutiny and analysis and by the end of the week little obvious change to polling positions. ‘Let’s call the whole thing off and pick it up again with one week to go’ blogged Matthew Taylor recently, many may agree.

    The theme this week been welfare to work and skills training with added spice coming from the latest set of labour market figures released on Wednesday.  Overall the figures which take us up to the end of last year were striking, the employment rate the highest since records began in 1971 adding to the Prime Minister’s claim that ‘Britain is the jobs factory of Europe.’ Look a little deeper and the pattern is not so positive for young people, youth unemployment including that for students up 3,000 and showing few signs of improvement. Unsurprisingly then it was the plight of young people that concentrated minds this week and formed the focus of many of the policy announcements.

    The Conservatives concentrated on 18-21 yr olds who have been out of work or training for some time and announced a package of measures that would see these young people put on to community work and/or job search straight away rather than after six months. “From day one, they must realise that welfare is not a one-way street.” It’s an important part of the Party’s pitch on welfare reform and would help generate efficiencies that could be fed back into growing apprenticeship numbers.

    Labour’s response, announced as part of a new industrial strategy, has been to bring back its Future Jobs Fund model that was introduced in the latter stages of the Gordon Brown years and which would guarantee a job for any young person unemployed for over a year. Six months work paid for out of a tax on bankers’ bonuses is the claim.

    Next week the focus will shift on to another group of young people, university aspirants, with Labour due to announce its plans on tuition fees. This is already attracting garish headlines but neither side will equally want to forget the plight of those other young people who may have been  in the spotlight this week but are too often overlooked for the rest of the time; NEETs to some, future talent to others.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Britain’s biggest primary expanding to take 1,500 pupils.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Ed Miliband: Labour will create at least 80,000 extra apprenticeships a year.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘UCAS admissions system to include European universities. ‘ (Wednesday)
    • ‘We must aspire to more grammar schools.’ (Thursday)
    • We’re offering a new beginning to teachers. Ed Miliband tells TES that Labour would end war on teachers.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who announced that 18-21 yr old NEETs who had been unemployed for six months would have to undertake compulsory community work and/or job search
    • The Labour Party who launched a new industrial plan with an emphasis on better training, more apprenticeships, an increased minimum wage, support for LEPs and devolved planning
    • The latest unemployment figures which showed another fall in the last quarter of last year for adults but no improvement for young people
    • Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown who is promoting a plan drawn up by the education charity World at School, to make it safer for children to go to school in places such as Pakistan
    • The House of Lords Digital Skills Committee who in a landmark report suggesting that UK Digital Skills was at a tipping point, called for digital literacy to be recognised as the 3rd core subject in schools and for the internet to be regarded as a utility service for all
    • The Guardian who asked five university vice-chancellors if they would support possible Labour plans to cut the tuition fee to £6000 and found little enthusiasm
    • The Education Secretary who is under pressure to support plans for a new grammar school in Kent and where an announcement is expected soon
    • UCAS now preparing to extend its common application system to include some European universities as well
    • HEFCE whose latest report on global demand for English HE showed numbers slightly up for 2013 but with a heavy reliance on recruits from China and Malaysia in particular
    • The University of Warwick’s Commission into Cultural Value which completed its 12 month inquiry by highlighting fears that creative and cultural subjects were being squeezed out
    • John Cridland, Director- General of the CBI, who highlighted the issue of ‘devo-cracks’ if  devolved regional powers did not support plans for growth
    • The Skills Funding Agency who set out what steps government and LEPs are taking to support the implementation of Local Growth Deals
    • The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) who launched a major review on how the sector should take forward its training provision
    • The C/G Alliance who published a report setting out a number of teaching and learning recommendations that could help ‘remake’ apprenticeships
    • The think tank CentreForum who called for vocational GCSEs in English/maths, industry secondments for teachers and a learning loan for adults in another report on skills
    • The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) who followed up their proposal for a National Advancement Service for job seekers by making it one of the key proposals in their 2015 Budget submission to the Chancellor
    • Ofsted who confirmed that they would publish stats on FE and skills inspections twice rather than four times a year but back it up with monthly management info
    • The Headteachers’ Roundtable who published a Policy Paper in support of the College of Teaching
    • Ofqual who launched consultation on regulatory requirements for new GCSEs in computer science
    • The Institute of Education’s Peter Blatchford  who wrote a blog about whether class sizes matter following Ed Miliband’s pledge to restrict class sizes for 5, 6, and 7 yr olds
    • PSHE and sex education, the subject of two reports this week, one by the Education Committee and the other by Lords Darzi and Layard both in effect calling for better support and guidance for children from an early age
    • The Inclusion Trust and the think tank LKMCo who published a report calling for more help and support for children in danger of being excluded from school
    • The Spanish parliament who voted to make chess a compulsory subject in Spanish schools following research showing that it helped improve maths and reading levels.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “All politicians should seek psychiatric help says Alistair Campbell.” @Independent
    • “Tiger Mum admits she spent £200 a month on tutors for her son.” @SchoolsImprove
    • “To call oneself an Outstanding Teacher is to misunderstand what it means to be a teacher, the corrosive power of observation culture.” @tombennett71
    • “Have given the spellchecker up for lint.” @chhcalling

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • PSHE. Personal, social, health and economic education
    • SRE. Sex and relationships education.

     Quote(s) of the week

    • “Our plan begins with a revolution in vocational education.” Ed Miliband on Labour’s new industrial plan
    • “There is a lack of clarity on the status of the subject.” The Education Committee on PSHE
    • “The government should act as the ‘conductor of the orchestra’ and play an enabling role, focused on business and education.” The Lords Digital Skills Committee on a pivotal moment for UK digital skills.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 80,000. The number of extra apprenticeships the Labour Party is pledging to create each year
    • 16.2%. The unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds
    • £8 an hour. What both Conservatives and Labour are pushing for as the minimum wage by 2020
    • 1m. The number of people who have signed up to take online university courses or Moocs in the UK since FutureLearn launched the online platform in Sept 2013.

    What to look out for next week

    • Nick Gibb MP on ‘The Future of Assessment’ at the Reform think tank (Wednesday)
    • BIS Committee session on the work of the Dept (Wednesday)
    • Labour Party announcement on HE tuition fees? (Friday).
    read more
  • Pocket Watch - Helping young people into work

    It’s been back to the future this week as both major Parties traded blows on welfare reform and youth employment.

    Labour went back to the skills activism policy developed by Lord Mandelson in the dying days of the Gordon Brown administration as it confronted the issue of skills training and industry development while the Conservatives breathed further fire into the Get Britain Working proposals developed around the same time to tackle the issue of welfare to work and what the Prime Minister called ‘the stampede to the job centre.’

    Things have clearly moved on since 2009/10. This week’s labour market figures covering the final quarter of last year offered further evidence of improvement with the overall employment at its joint highest rate. For young people though, where the unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds remained stuck on 16.2%, things look less rosy particularly if, as the Prince’s Trust, Impetus and other have pointed out, you have few qualifications to wave around. Labour is due to offer young people a voice through its new Youth Manifesto shortly but for the moment here’s the politician’s view on young people and what should be done to help those either on welfare (the Conservative pitch) or preparing to enter the labour market (the Labour pitch.)

    The Conservative pitch

    The aim here is to eradicate long-term unemployment by getting 18-21 yr olds who have been out of work or training for six months on to community work and job search. The target group is the 50,000 young people “most at risk of starting a life on benefits” where a tough love approach is being adopted: “we are taking further steps to help young people make something of their lives.” Building on his Conference speech last autumn, the Prime Minister announced:

    • Jobseeker’s Allowance for 18-21 yr olds to be scrapped in favour of a Youth Allowance

    • NEETs to put on to job search/community work from day one (rather than after 6 months)

    • Annual benefits cap to be lowered from £26,000 to £23,000

    • A minimum wage aspiration of £8 an hour by 2020

    • Deployment of welfare savings to fund 3m new apprenticeships.

    The Labour pitch

    Labour has already confirmed that it would bring back its Future Jobs Fund model in the form of a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee for every young person who has been out of work for 12 months. This would be paid for out of a tax on bankers’ bonuses and would be compulsory in the sense that you’d have to participate or lose benefits. It’s also going for an £8 minimum wage although before 2020 but its big offer for young people is for those still in education and was set out in its new industrial plan published this week. It includes:

    • By 2020, a guaranteed place on a L3 apprenticeship for school leavers ‘who get the grades’ plus reforms to the provision, quality and management of apprenticeship programmes

    • A balanced curriculum, Eng/maths and for 16-18 yr olds ‘a gold standard’ Tech Bacc

    • Ring fenced funding for 16-19 yr olds and provision through new Institutes of Tech Ed

    • A progressive tech route through tech degrees.

    read more
  • Pocket Watch - The UK's Digital Moment?

    We’re at a tipping point when it comes to the development of digital skills and digital development generally, says a new report.

    This is according to the House of Lords Digital Skills Committee in a strongly worded report out this week. ‘Make or break’ is in fact the title of a report described as “a wake-up call” generally about digital skills. “Digital is everywhere” the report stresses and “we have a choice as a country about whether we seize this opportunity or whether we fall behind.” “Whoever forms the next government in May” should take control of the issue, create a national agenda and rather like Lord Baker in the early flushes of computing in the 1980s, sanction a Cabinet Minister to lead it. Much of the report is aimed at education; this is what it has to say.

    For schools

    The report welcomed the new computing curriculum which started in schools in September but recognised that provision varies across the UK, that some teachers need more help in delivering it and that employers also look for the creative and innovative skills in young people that enable them to develop and exploit changing technology. It therefore recommended:

    •  Digital literacy being embedded in the school curriculum as the third core skill
    •  A new training and investment programme to help upskill teachers
    • Strong links developed with employers with an employer on each governing board.

    For FE

    The view here was that FE has a key role to play in developing such skills but that provision and responsiveness were also variable. The report considers the nature, funding and agility of the skills system and highlights the importance of strengthening digital skill development in the apprenticeship system. The main recommendation here was for a major industry-led review of the FE offer, to be completed in the first six months of the new Parliament and to consider:

    • The inclusion of a digital element in all FE courses
    •  Stronger industry relationships and industry-designed and endorsed certificates
    • More apprenticeships, particularly those that include a digital skills element
    • Skills funding targeted at short, flexible courses and apprenticeships
    • Stronger careers guidance especially for 16-19 year olds.

    For HE

    Less was said about the role of HE but there was support for high levels of research, closer links with employers and for greater promotion of computer science courses.

    And the rest

    In a strong set of messages, the Committee also called for the internet to be viewed as an essential utility service, for more work to be done on digital inclusion (apparently 6m citizens have yet to use the internet) and for more to be done to prepare for the effects of digitalisation on working (‘35% of UK jobs risk being automated over the next 20 years’) and daily life. 

    read more