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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.

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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 November 27 2015

    The big news this week of course has been the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and Spending Review announcements.

    The week summed up

    Much of the education world had been biting its nails since high summer when the Chancellor announced that he was looking to save some £20bn from public spending with parts of the education system likely to be in the firing line. In the event, a combination of more favourable tax receipts and debt interest payments added to the £27bn that as the media reported, the Office for Budget Responsibility found down the back of the Treasury sofa, and meant that things were not as bad as feared and education at least got off quite lightly. The Association of Colleges spoke of ‘huge relief,’ others followed suit.

    Inevitably sober reflection is now following and we are yet to see the full breakdown behind the headlines but a few points are worth highlighting. Further details can be seen in an accompanying Policy Watch.

    For schools three messages stand out. First, complete academisation remains the objective; “our goal is to complete this schools revolution and help every secondary school become an academy.” Sixth Form College can now be added to the flanks and primary schools too this week have been offered incentives. Second, the schools budget may have been protected but efficiencies are expected; the government will be coming back and knocking on the door on this. Third, the long-awaited fair funding formula now has a schedule; consultation next year, implementation in 2017.

    For FE, the vulnerable adult skills budget is assured at least in cash terms at £1.5bn and tuition fee loans extended to 19-23 year olds for level 3/4 courses but efficiencies are to come from a more responsive and specialised sector arising out of the area-based reviews; the government is clearly setting its hopes high here. The big challenges for colleges will be to grab a slice of the apprenticeship and higher-level tech provision on the one hand while positioning themselves in the reshaped local structures on the other; both hands will be full.

    For HE, it was more a case of fine tuning and topping and tailing previous announcements many of which had been set out in the Green Paper. So further support for part-time students and postgrads, an increase in the maintenance loan threshold and support for research and science. The teaching grant will be further trimmed, some agency shuffling is already planned and universities will be expected to shoulder more of the widening participation requirements but the Review painted a positive picture of rising student numbers, domestically and internationally.    

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Spending Review: Schools to get fair funding formula.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Ofsted warning over private faith schools.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Teachers work longer classroom hours.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Autumn Statement: Apprenticeships Levy to raise £3m.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Teachers offered days off to lure them into jobs.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Chancellor of the Exchequer who set out government spending targets and priorities for the remainder of this Parliament in his Autumn Statement leaving many of those in education at least, pleasantly surprised
    • The government who included its official response to the apprenticeship levy consultation as part of the batch of Papers issued with the Autumn Statement, confirming that it will go ahead with the introduction of the levy from April 2017 on paybills in excess of £3m a year
    • The OECD who published its latest comprehensive compendium of key education indicators covering areas like funding, teaching and tertiary education across the 34 member countries, prompting debate in the UK about how low teachers’ starting salaries were and how high tuition fees were 
    • Daniel Caro and Jenny Lenkeit, two Research Fellows at Oxford, who looked at the wider picture of education performance in PISA maths tests by factoring in socio-economic context and found that while some traditionally high performing countries such as Hong Kong and Korea continued to score well, others such as Turkey, Thailand and Indonesia moved up the rankings once the wider context was taken into account
    • The think tank IPPR who published its second annual report on European Jobs and Skills highlighting five key challenges around youth and adult unemployment, productivity, education outcomes and vocational education and training
    • Leading business consultancy Deloitte who are reported to be using a computer game as part of its recruitment process for school leavers to help identify those with particular creative and problem-solving skills
    • The university think tank million+ who published a report highlighting ten steps including better promotion, investment and support, needed to help re-invigorate the creative industries
    • The Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL) who published the final reports from its first group of Fellows all highlighting different aspects of FE leadership
    • The Sutton Trust and PRIME (a group dedicated to widening access to the legal profession) who published further data showing that the profession has a long way to go to be considered truly representative
    • The DfE who published a call for evidence on creating a registration system for schools in non-standard settings
    • The DfE who launched a new Academy Chain Development Grant, worth up to £100k per chain, to encourage more primary schools to consider joining up
    • Ofsted who published the results of its latest survey of parents and found 95% aware of what they do and 72% who found their reports reliable or very reliable
    • The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) who launched a new tracker to try and help teachers find a better work-life balance
    • So-called ‘Dr of happiness’ Andy Cope who provides ‘inspirational’ sessions for heads and schools, who highlighted the 10/5 principle this week (smile at anyone who comes within 10 feet, say hello to anyone who comes within 5 feet). 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Commentary by scheduling. On BBC2 the Autumn Statement. On BBC1 Bargain Hunt.” @PCollinsTimes
    • “Leadership is like a tea bag. You only know how good it is when it’s in hot water.” @Julia_Cleverdon
    • “Universities are too far into degree model to be able train students with skills needed to boost productivity.” @timeshighered
    • “Happiness in schools starts with the head teacher.” @schoolgoverning

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “I can tell the House as a result of this Spending Review, not only is the schools budget protected in real terms but the total financial support for education, including childcare and our extended further and higher education loans will increase by £10bn.” The Chancellor attempts to assuage concerns about education in his Autumn Statement
    • “Today’s Spending Review will be a huge relief for further education and sixth form colleges following five years of stringent budget cuts.” The Association of Colleges responds to the Spending Review announcements
    • “This is absolutely not the end of austerity.” Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal studies on not getting carried away following the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement
    • “Headless chickens.” How everyone runs around when you set a challenging target such as 3m more apprentices within five years, according to Alison Wolf in evidence given recently to the House of Lords Social Mobility Committee
    • “It’s patently unfair that Knowsley received nearly £750 less per pupil than Wandsworth.” Education Minister on the need for fairer school funding
    • “If you look at this in absolute terms, when you compare teachers’ starting salaries, they are clearly not attractive in England.” The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher on the low base from which teachers’ salaries start in England
    • “There is a point when determination turns into obstinacy.” Former Education Secretary Estelle Morris reflects on the DfE’s first six months in government. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 36.5%. The level of state spending as a share of output by 2020, down from 45% in 2010
    • 2.4%. The growth forecast for 2016, same as for 2015
    • £3bn. How much the apprenticeship levy is intended to raise a year
    • £360m. The level of efficiencies and savings expected to come from the adult skills budget by 2020
    • 20%. The core administrative savings expected from the DfE over the next four years
    • £5. How much many students spend a day travelling to college or training place according to latest survey from the AoC/NUS
    • £30,618. The actual average salary for a secondary teacher in England according to the latest OECD stats, higher than the OECD average of £28,813 but hugely dependent on other benefits and incentives
    • £11,800. The per school value in England of technology equipment left lying around and unused according to research from cloud-based company Instructure
    • 88%. The number of parents who were aware of the Ofsted rating of their local school according to Ofsted’s latest survey of parents. 

    What to look out for next week

    • Education Questions in the House of Commons (Monday)
    • Ofsted’s 2014/15 Annual Report published (Tuesday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending November 20 2015

    It’s been colleges and skills week with the Association of Colleges (AoC) Annual Conference and the Skills Show both taking pride of place this week; a chance perhaps for the neglected middle-child of the education system to have its moment in the sun before the much anticipated funding storm clouds of next week.

    The week summed up

    Given all that FE has been through in recent years, it’s remarkable, as the chief executive of the AoC put it, that FE is as flourishing as it is and there was certainly an air of resilience around the Conference this week. There may be cuts and mergers coming, all the signs point that way, but the spirit of indomitability in the sector is warranted for three reasons. First because, FE has a lead role in delivering the government’s much vaunted productivity plan, the government and the Chancellor depend on it. Second, because FE delivers on social mobility like no other sector, no need for access targets here, FE hit all seven of the key social mobility targets around participation in learning as the department’s latest research itself indicates. And third, and it’s been said many times before, FE is the place where dreams can come true; enter with the aim of becoming a trainee or a technician, a chef or a craftsman, and FE will give the skills to help you on your way. It’s an alchemy that works.

    That said, funding and what the Chancellor might say on Wednesday remains a worry. One of the biggest areas of concern at present is around funding for 16-19 provision, unprotected and looking vulnerable as a result. The Sixth Form Colleges’ Association published a disturbing report in the summer suggesting that over 70% of such colleges were considering having to restrict their offer and some 30% were concerned about their sustainability generally. The topic was the subject of an Opposition led debate this week and a link to the Hansard transcript is listed below but in truth little new light was shed and some further re-positioning looks likely.

    Away from funding, there have been a number of other developments this week.

    For HE, Sir Paul Nurse published the second of the important trilogies reshaping HE at present (the Green Paper and the Spending Review are the other two) with his long-awaited report into the future of research funding, a fairly soft thud here. For FE, two more regions signed up to devo-deals, in each case gaining a greater say over the area-based reviews and future commissioning of adult skills funding. While for schools, Nick Gibb’s speech to the Publishers Association Conference and Sir Michael Wilshaw’s latest piece on school governance are both worth a read. Links to these and to other matters are all provided in the news section below. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Students plan further protests against higher education reforms.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Migrants do not lower school results.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Head teachers appeal for funds ahead of spending review.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Ofqual signals it could get tougher on exam remarks.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Budget pressures forcing schools in England to cut staff, survey suggests.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Skills Minister who gave nothing away about spending cuts when he addressed the AoC Conference this week but equally called on colleges to be ‘more flexible and entrepreneurial’ if they wanted a piece of the cake in future
    • Labour who held an Opposition debate this week on the threats to FE funding in general and 16-19 funding in particular. You can read a record of the debate in Hansard
    • Lib Dem leader Tim Farron who made a lengthy speech on the economy as part of the build-up to the Spending Review calling on the government not to cut funding for FE and HE
    • Eleven government departments (out of 20) who have now had their future spending plans agreed by the Treasury under spending plans to be announced next week
    • Sir Paul Nurse who published his report on research funding proposing among other things the creation of a new Research UK overseeing body headed by a single Accounting Officer
    • The think tank Bright Blue who published further research on the decline of part-time students in HE and who called for a lifetime tuition fee loan account and a graduate levy on large employers to help reverse the trend
    • Universities UK who have published some helpful one-page summaries of key aspects of the recent HE Green Paper
    • The Open University which has announced a £13m investment boost for FutureLearn to  help extend the international reach of its open learning platform
    • The West Midlands and Liverpool who have become the latest two regions to sign up to devolution deals that will include being responsible for chairing the current area reviews of post-16 skills provision and taking over responsibility for adult skills funding from 2018/19
    • Nadhim Zahawi, the government’s new apprenticeship adviser, who blogged about the importance of apprenticeships and how the government was supporting them
    • The National Audit Office who have listed two important reports for publication next spring, one on value for money in LEPs and the other on the government’s management of Apprenticeships
    • UKCES who in their latest ‘One Minute’ Update confirmed that three sectors - manufacturing, construction and non-market services - will provide the lion’s share of apprenticeships needed for the 3m target
    • The Federation of Master Builders who argued that the apprenticeship levy as currently taking shape could have a disastrous effect on the construction industry
    • Apprenticeship Trailblazers who seem to have met most of their required objectives according to the chart on page 13 of this final evaluation report
    • Tower Hamlets and Redbridge Colleges whose merger proposals are out for consultation
    • Three Shropshire Colleges who have announced proposals to band together and create potentially the largest Sixth Form College grouping in the country
    • The Publishers Association and British Education Suppliers Association who as part of their Annual Conference this week published guidelines on producing the best quality textbooks and resources for subjects such as English, maths and science
    • The DfE who published the latest stats on initial teacher training numbers for 2015/16 showing primary training courses running at capacity but those at secondary running at 82% of capacity with notable gaps among EBacc subject recruits
    • The Education Committee who had an away day at a school in Coventry as it continued its inquiry into the role of Regional Schools Commissioners
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw who used his latest monthly briefing to launch a major review by Ofsted of school governance, claiming that a lot of it was poor quality and that a more professional model was needed with potentially the chair and vice-chair remunerated
    • Ofcom’s whose latest report on media access and consumption provided a fascinating insight into how habits have changed over the last decade with children predictably accessing more and spending more time on different media but with worrying concerns equally about some of its impact particularly children believing what they’re seeing
    • The OECD who highlighted some of the important lessons that could be drawn from its earlier decade-long research into the impact of migration on schools and immigrant families and who confirmed that a fuller report will follow shortly
    • ASCL and brownejacobson whose latest survey of school leaders listed ‘managing a stagnant or declining budget’ as the top concern among school leaders over the coming year followed by ‘improving exam results’ and ‘implementing qualification changes’ 
    • The Future Leaders’ Trust who published a research report arguing that disadvantaged pupils struggle to perform as well in more isolated schools
    • The Youth Select Committee who published its report into young people’s mental health calling for much better support, recognition and funding to be given to the issue
    • Cardiff University who carried out one of the largest studies so far on the impact of healthy eating and pupil performance and found that children who eat a decent breakfast are almost twice as likely to get better scores in tests and assessments than those who didn’t
    • Teachers who have been asked to set aside half an hour, typically as part of INSET meetings as teachers return on 6 January or at any subsequent time up to February half-term, to discuss membership of the College of Teaching

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Apprenticeships are the future and I want the FE sector to lead the way.” @NickBolesMP
    • “A week off social media can make you happier.” @thei100
    • “Nick Gibb: All secondary schools should stock literary classics like Pride and Prejudice.” @SchoolsWeek
    • “The residents of Coronation Street are more likely to die a grisly death than complete a degree. But why?” @GdnHigherEd

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “It’s like saying that somebody who is overweight gets down to a normal weight and then you say well, continue your slimming until you are half your normal weight.” Sir Vince Cable sizes up rumoured further cuts
    • “But you do need, most of you, to change your approach.” The FE Minister doles out some advice at the Colleges Annual Conference
    • “We’re not just a department that delivers outcomes for individuals or business, we’re also a department that manages a whole range of important economic levers.” The Permanent Secretary of the BIS Dept interviewed a week before the crucial spending announcements
    • “One thing is certain: China won’t be cutting funding for education and training. Let’s hope our leaders don’t make that mistake.” The chief executive of the Association of Colleges remains hopeful ahead of next week’s Autumn Statement
    • “Telling people the truth with compassion is a really important point.” Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Blair advises college leaders on how to handle change
    • “My goodness, a sixth-form college would be better behaved than this.” Madam Deputy Speaker chides MPS during this week’s Opposition debate on 16-19 funding. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 21% or 6% a year by 2019/20. The level of cuts facing the latest departments to sign up to the Treasury’s spending review terms
    • 49. The number of votes by which the Opposition motion on 16-19 funding was defeated
    • 499,900. The number of apprenticeship starts for 2014/15, up 13.5% on the previous year, now formally confirmed in the latest official figures
    • 10.2%. The latest quarterly figure on 16 -18 year old NEETs, down 0.3%
    • 31%. The number of teachers in a survey who are unsure if their school has introduced performance-related pay or not (Hint: it’s been in place for 2 years)
    • 74%. The number of 12-15 year olds who have a profile on Facebook (although Snapchat is becoming more popular) according to Ofcom’s latest research report. 

    What to look out for next week

    • European Jobs and Skills Summit (Monday)
    • All Party Parliamentary Group on FE meeting on apprenticeships (Monday)
    • Likely publication of OECD’s latest ‘Education at a Glance’ (Tuesday)
    • Autumn Statement and Spending Review announcements (Wednesday)
    • Proposed second day of action protests by students (Thursday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending November 13 2015

    Last Friday’s hefty higher education Green Paper has continued to attract comment for much of this week but the real elephant in the room and looming larger all the time is the Chancellor’s impending Autumn Statement now just over a week away and where things have ratcheted up this week.

    The week summed up

    This year’s Statement is particularly pertinent for three reasons. First because it will lay out the government’s public spending plans, an eye-watering £4 trillion for the next three years, and thus effectively set the tone for much of the rest of this Parliament. Second, because as the Social Market Foundation’s Chief Economist Nida Broughton put it in an excellent guide to the whole thing, the Chancellor’s attempting a very difficult balancing act, that of eliminating borrowing and running a surplus by 2019/20 and that could have implications for us all. And third, because, particularly for those of us in education, the omens in the build-up to the Review have been as scary as Macbeth’s witches. The latest incarnation of this followed a commissioned piece of analysis published by the Labour Party this week into post-16 education suggesting it was “on a cliff edge.” The government has been quick to dismiss claims that a number of sixth form and FE colleges could topple over yet it too has described the sector as being in a fragile state, hence the worries.

    The official position on the Spending Review was set out by the Chancellor in a speech at the start of the week in which he set out the three guiding principles behind any decisions being made: would it increase the economic security of working people or not; would it enhance our national security or not; would it extend opportunity or not?  In his own words: “if it does, we will do it; if not we won’t.” He went on to confirm that four depts had now had their spending plans approved, three more were nearly there and another three were still needing to finish their homework. The two education depts are somewhere in the middle, nearly there but not quite. Monday’s Guardian had a useful summary of the latest picture.

    Away from the Spending Review manoeuvres, the CBI has been in Annual Conference this week where the soon to depart Director-General continued his pursuit of a more skills based curriculum in schools, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and SchoolDash published some interesting data on ethnic groups going to university and regional differences in GCSE performance respectively and, as indicated, debate has continued about the virtues or otherwise of the HE Green Paper. Wonkhe’s ‘the closer you look, the less you see,’ Chris Husbands ‘five things we know and five speculations’ and  Roger King’s ‘Explainer,’ all offer excellent and very readable summaries. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘The teaching challenge for Britain’s universities.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Cuts could close 4 in 10 colleges say Labour.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Ofsted raises alarm over squalid illegal schools.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘HE Green Paper could mean more than 1000 universities in England. (Thursday)
    • ‘Developing world beating maths teachers to take a decade.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who set out some of the economic challenges facing business and the country, including the need to raise skill levels when he spoke to the CBI Annual Conference this week
    • The Chancellor who confirmed that 4 Depts had now negotiated their future spending plans with the Treasury and that a further 7 (including the two Education Depts) were still in negotiation with the Treasury as the Autumn Statement loomed just two weeks away
    • Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who used an address to the CBI Annual Conference to run through the government’s education reforms and how business could help
    • The Public Accounts Committee who called on the government to set clearer scrutiny and accountability arrangements as it reported on the early City Deals being used to help drive local growth 
    • The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee who completed its Inquiry into the annual £1.1bn Science budget by highlighting the importance of science and innovation to the economy
    • The Office for National Statistics whose latest quarterly report on the UK labour market up to Sept 2015 reported a further increase in employment levels but a mixed picture on wages
    • PWC whose latest ‘Economic Outlook’ Bulletin reported that while growth had slowed a little in the UK over the year, things remain relatively strong for the foreseeable future with all UK regions forecast to return growth of 1.6%-2.4% over the coming year
    • The Institute for Government whose latest report on the Spending Review suggested six ways including better management and greater use of digitalisation in which the government could ‘manage with less’
    • The Taxpayers Alliance who published the results of a survey into salary levels in state education indicating that over 7½ thousand university staff and just over a thousand school staff were paid more than £100,000 in 2013/14
    • HEFCE who published its latest, slightly more cautious, report on the financial health of the HE sector pointing to some concerns about future projected surplus levels and about the wide variation in the financial performance of some institutions
    • The Institute for Fiscal Studies who reported on recent BIS commissioned research which showed that white British students are now on average the least likely of all ethnic groups to go to university (32.6% compared for instance to 75.7% for those with a Chinese background)
    • Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of Exeter University who argued in a piece in The Guardian this week that leaving the EU would have a damaging effect on UKHE research capacity 
    • The Hull College Group who joined the Grimsby Institute, New College Durham, Newcastle and Warwicks Colleges to become the 5th college to gain foundation degree awarding powers
    • The Labour Party who produced commissioned research suggesting that as much as 40% of the college sector could be under threat if proposed spending review cuts go ahead
    • Chairs of 130 FE Colleges who have written to the Prime Minister urging him to resist making further cuts to FE
    • The Institute of Education’s new Centre for Post-14 Education and Work who hosted a briefing session for the House of Lords on the Centre’s recent report on the importance of the FE sector
    • John Cridland who in a valedictory speech as CBI Director-General at the organisation’s Annual Conference continued his call for a more balanced ‘academic–vocational’ school curriculum for young people
    • The British Chambers of Commerce who published further findings from its Business and Education Survey 2015 highlighting concerns about careers provision and the preparation for work of young people
    • David Laws, formerly Schools Minister under the Coalition and currently Executive Chairman at the think tank CentreForum who announced that the think tank had commissioned Alison Wolf to head up a review into post-18 funding and would issue a ‘State of the Nation’ report on English education generally in February 
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw who outlined some disturbing evidence found by inspectors at some unregistered schools and who called on the Dept to take immediate action including closing down such schools where necessary
    • The Sutton Trust whose latest commissioned research into the impact of student background on academic attainment found that white working class boys from deprived backgrounds are nearly twice as likely to stop studying at age 16 as their peers from more advantaged backgrounds
    • SchoolDash who produced an interesting series of maps illustrating North-South attainment gaps at GCSE
    • The Advisory Committee on Maths Education (ACME) who published a report suggesting ways of improving initial teacher education for maths teachers including for example a recommendation that trainee primary teachers should have studied maths up to age 18
    • The National Association of Writers in Education who ahead of their Conference this weekend is preparing to hand in a petition to Nicky Morgan calling for the Creative Writing A level not be scrapped as part of the 2017 review of subjects. 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “One teacher turned author ruminates on staffroom morale: I can be happy or I can be a teacher.” @Ed_Dorrell
    • “Jo Johnson won’t fix teaching, he’ll just make life harder for academics.” @guardian
    • “Don’t be a troll at conferences. Ask productive questions instead of terrorising your peers.” @JudyFriedberg

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We’re not making savings for savings’ sake: we will make savings for a purpose.” The Chancellor prepares for his Autumn Statement
    • “We are on track to reach 95% by the end of 2017.” The government on how it is rolling out superfast broadband
    • “We don’t need to have a massive bureaucracy…what we need is for the heads of universities to be heads of professional learning and teaching, themselves. They need to take responsibility.” Sir Anthony Seldon on the proposed new Teaching Excellence Framework for HE
    • “At its best it’s world class but too many 16 year olds every year leave school let down by the system.” John Cridland’s parting words on the education system
    • “I do believe in the diversity of the system and choice for parents and I don’t see why selection shouldn’t be part of that choice.” Nick Timothy, Director of the New Schools Network on a more diverse school system
    • “The answer to almost every issue in the classroom is to talk to the kids about what’s going on.” Nancie Atwell, Global Teacher of the Year visits London to pass on some tips. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • £4 trillion. How much the government is intending to spend in terms of public spending on areas like health, schools, defence over the lifetime of this Parliament (up from £3.6 trn over the last Parliament)
    • 2.4%. The CBI’s latest quarterly growth forecast for the UK (the forecast for next year is 2.6%, down from 2.8%)
    • 8.5%. The predicted overall increase in full-time undergraduate student numbers over the next 3 years as indicated in HEFCE’s latest overview of the sector’s financial forecasts
    • 3% of GDP. How much the government should spend on science and innovation according to the Commons Science and Technology Committee (nearly double the current spend)
    • 7.2%. The increase in late GCSE entries this year but a 19% drop in late entries at A level according to latest Ofqual stats

    What to look out for next week

    • International Education Week (all week)
    • Association of Colleges Annual Conference (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday)
    • Education Committee witness session on the role of RSCs (Tuesday)
    • Skills Show (Thursday, Friday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending November 6 2015

    ‘We won’t waste a minute.’ That’s what David Cameron said as the Conservatives roared back into action six months ago and it’s certainly been the case this week with what Tom Bennett graphically described as “a hunter’s stew of policy announcements.” 

    Here’s the main bones.

    The week summed up

    For schools, the big story has been Nicky Morgan’s speech at the Policy Exchange think tank at the start of the week. Billed as her most important speech to date, it showed her prepared not just to continue her predecessor’s agenda but stamp her own mark on it as well. The theme was ‘educational excellence everywhere,’ her take on the real 3Es government should prioritise and contained a mix of updated and newly tuned announcements. The most contentious was around primary assessment: KS2 resits will go ahead and the government will look at assessment and reporting arrangements for 7 year olds. This has raised hackles about a return to KS1 testing and comes as concerns continue not just about the testing load but about how best to set baseline data for progress reporting. The other two big announcements were about the adoption of the EBacc for what will now be 90% of pupils in time, it’s currently at 38.6% for state schools, and the creation from next autumn of a new ‘Top Gun’ teaching force, intended to help out in those parts of the country where needs are greatest. Chris Husbands’ blog on the EBacc and Tom Bennett’s on the National Teacher Service both listed below offer interesting perspectives on each.

    Moving on, the government has also announced this week what it rather grandly calls ‘ground-breaking reform to technical and professional education.’ This turns out to be another move to consolidate and strengthen the tech route for young people, in this case 16-19 year olds, with an all-through progression pathway of some 20 employer endorsed programmes that will feed young people on to higher-level apprenticeships and other routes. Details at this stage are sketchy, an expert panel under Lord Sainsbury has been set up and will report back next spring. Many will welcome a high-status route, after all status for vocational learning has been an issue for a long time but whether this will bring the simplicity that government desires remains to be seen, particularly as we already have existing prescribed routes for this stage of learning.

    And so to the higher education Green Paper, finally launched this morning, and variously described in the media as ‘a major shake-up’ and ‘the biggest reform in decades.’ The focus as the title suggests is on teaching excellence through a new evolutionary metrics framework linked to fees, social mobility through a new advisory group and student choice through a wider range of providers. There’s a lot in the paper and extensive consultation let alone further technical papers and potentially legislation will follow into 2016/17. Both the THES and wonkhe have excellent summaries. You can sign up for wonkhe’s ongoing analysis and briefings

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Ministers consider national tests for seven year olds.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Nicky Morgan to send top teachers to struggling schools.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Tougher primary tests and top teachers in weak schools.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Government to scrap GCSE and A level ICT qualifications.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Government plan to allow ‘better’ universities to raise fees.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Jo Johnson, the HE Minister, who outlined proposals for a new phase of reform for higher education in a comprehensive Green Paper document which will remain open for consultation until mid-January 2016
    • Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who made a major speech on the theme of educational excellence, calling among other things for a review of assessment arrangements for 7 year olds, implementation of the EBacc and the introduction of a National Teaching Service
    • The DfE who followed up Nicky Morgan’s speech by launching a consultation on implementing the EBacc with associated data on take-up and achievement in EBacc subjects to date
    • The House of Commons Library who published a helpful Briefing Paper on the EBacc incorporating the latest announcements from this week
    • Professor Chris Husbands who set the context for the latest announcement on the EBacc by looking at past governments’ attempts to enshrine a core curriculum
    • BIS who have announced the creation of a new panel, due to meet shortly and report back in a few months, to help endorse a new professional and technical track for 16-19 year olds leading to speedier through-put to apprenticeships and other high-tech routes
    • BIS who included a new monthly deadline and an online response survey as it updated its guidance on the approval process for apprenticeship standards
    • The National Institute of Economic and Social Research who provided a useful research report on education and skills provision in the UK, USA, France and Germany as an evidence base for the joint Education Committees’ Inquiry into education, skills and productivity this week; p 23-26 has the conclusions
    • The World Innovation Summit for Education whose latest conference revealed considerable dissatisfaction by member countries about the state of education in their respective countries and in particular in how well/poorly it was preparing young people for the world of work
    • NIACE who following its recent link-up with CESI (the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion) will adopt the name of the Learning and Work Institute from the start of 2016
    • Nadhim Zahawi MP who has been appointed as the Prime Minister’s adviser on apprentices
    • The Association of Colleges (AoC) who published a blog looking at some of the issues around the introduction of an apprenticeship levy
    • The training company JTL who as the latest BBC Apprentice series got into its full swing set out to explain the differences between the show and the reality, listing eight in all
    • The Education Committee who held the third of three witness sessions on the role of Regional Schools Commissioners
    • The NAHT who published a survey report on school finances suggesting many were at breaking point
    • Ofqual and the DfE who launched the latest round of consultation on new GCSEs and A levels covering in this case GCSE short course PE and AS/A level geology and politics, all due for first teaching from 2017 but who faced criticism for not re-developing GCSE and A level IT
    • Ofqual who confirmed the assessment arrangements for the new GCSE Design and Technology
    • Debate about whether independent or state school pupils achieve higher degree levels which continued this week with HEFCE amending data from an earlier report to make the case for the former and Cambridge Assessment publishing research on the impact of the introduction of the A* to make the case for the latter
    • BBC Education Correspondent Sean Coughlan who reported on some of the difficulties schools in many coastal towns face and why this is causing concern
    • The NFER who listed 7 building blocks as part of  major research report on helping raise disadvantaged pupils’ attainment
    • Tom Bennett and Professor Gren Ireson, each of whom wrote blogs highlighting some of the challenges facing the government as it seeks to set up a new National Teaching Service
    • Shanghai maths teachers, the latest batch of whom have now arrived in this country to help out with maths masterclasses in English secondary schools
    • The Maths Hub programme which is looking for a number of secondary school maths departments to join in a new, free programme of training to help teachers develop pupils’ maths reasoning
    • The Institute of Engineering and Technology who as part of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week assembled a team of experts to help parents answer some of the more tricky technical questions that children tend to ask
    • The National Literacy Trust who published its latest survey of teachers. literacy co-ordinators and assistants and reported that nearly a quarter of teachers don’t feel confident in teaching the new national curriculum literacy requirements
    • The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) who are launching a £10m campaign with Northern Rock Foundation to help improve literacy levels particularly for more disadvantaged primary school pupils in the North East
    • Binge-watch, ‘to watch a complete series of TV programmes at one sitting,’ one of the top words/ phrases of the year included here in this listing of words for 2015 by Collins

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Tim Oates: ‘we have over-estimated what the national curriculum can do.’ @SchoolsWeek
    • “Let experts decide can often mean ‘let more people like me have a say.’ @PExEducation
    • “Rather than literacy, I wish we could talk about poems, literature, creativity…Michael Morpurgo.” @SchoolsImprove
    • “Few things give me more pleasure than the all too rare experience of correcting people who say asterix instead of asterisk” @tombennett71 “and the teachers who open their spreadsheets in Edexcel.” @sxpmaths

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Whilst adults argue about consultations and fight ideological battles, young people are losing on average 13 months of their education in a school that has already been deemed inadequate, before things start to get better. That can’t be right.”  Education Secretary Nicky Morgan on the need to transform under performing schools
    • “Ms Morgan is very keen on tests.” One of the professional association responds to Nicky Morgan’s announcement about reviewing testing arrangements for 7 year olds
    • “Coastal schools, rural one-horse hamlets, island eyries and urban crucibles alike can struggle to attract the talent they need.” Tom Bennett on the challenges facing the National Teaching Service 
    • “As mass higher education has developed in the UK, it has been tempting for many employers to recruit more and more graduates from full-time HE courses (educated largely at state and individual expense) and then to complain about their lack of employability skills.” The NIESR report on skills training in the UK
    • “There is no one broadly accepted definition of teaching excellence.” The HE Green Paper starts the discussion on defining teaching excellence 
    • “In higher education, as in schools, hospitals, the law and almost everywhere else, it is no longer possible simply to rely on professionalism-that is so last century.” Professor Peter Scott on why a Teaching Excellence Framework for HE won’t work
    • “Paperwork is not now an aid to supporting teaching and learning but a Frankenstein’s monster taking over the whole of education.” Teachers and others express concern about the paperwork monster in an open letter to the Secretary of State
    • “I don’t see the point of exams at 16-they get in the way.” The outgoing director-general of the CBI remains clear that reform of school exams is needed. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • £1bn. How much is probably needed through the apprenticeship levy to help fund the proposed 3m target, according to the AoC
    • 45%. The number of school leaders responding to NAHT’s survey who reckoned their school budget would be unsustainable within a couple of years
    • 67.4%. The percentage of pupils who were not entered for the languages element of the EBacc in 2014/15 (against 22.1% for Humanities and 9.9% for Sciences)
    • 3%. The percentage of scripts subject to some form of special consideration this summer according to figures published by Ofqual this week
    • 76.1%. The number of teachers responding to the latest National Literacy Trust survey who confirmed that their school still had a library. 

    What to look out for next week

    • Pearson Policy Hot Breakfast event on HE (Monday)
    • CBI Annual Conference (Monday)
    • MPs questions to the BIS Dept (Tuesday)
    • HEFCE Annual Meeting (Thursday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending October 30 2015

    A mixed bag this week so let’s start with some good news. 

    The week summed up

    18 year olds are continuing to apply to university in large numbers according to UCAS’s latest stats, a bit more money is being put into careers and enterprise guidance, and perhaps most significantly of all, the nation’s primary sector has come in for a shower of praise from perhaps an unexpected quarter: the Chief Inspector.

    The latter story is particularly interesting. There’s been much interest recently in the ‘London effect,’ the improvement in performance of London schools where improvements at the primary stage has been one of the factors cited so is a Heineken effect now happening and it’s spreading to other parts? Sir Michael Wilshaw thinks so: “I think we have real grounds for optimism here.” The optimism is grounded in inspection evidence: “there were 2,293 more good and outstanding primary schools in the last academic year than in 2011-12.” So what’s fuelling this? As the quote listed below indicates, it’s pretty much a return to core essentials: grammar, synthetic phonics and so on. The only downside appears to be that not enough is carried forward into key stage 3.

    It hasn’t all been good news this week. IPPR’s ‘State of the North’ report, for instance, highlighted the continuing attainment gap for many young people and the impact of deprivation on early years; the Equality and Human Rights Commission reported a similar tale highlighting the effect the recession was still having on specific groups of young people and the House of Lords Social Mobility Committee heard powerful witness testimony about how difficult it can be for some young people transitioning into work, particularly the low-skilled. For many, the Chief Inspector’s comment in his Annual Report last year, that when it comes to education, we have a divided nation, still rings true and remains one of the litmus tests for the Chancellor’s forthcoming spending announcements.

    More immediately we have the build-up to the higher education Green Paper, due shortly, and where this week, two new interesting Papers added to the debate. The first was from the HE Policy Institute looking at the decline of part-time learning and what to do about it. Described by Nick Hillman, the HEPI director as “arguably the single biggest problem facing higher education at the moment,” much of the answer, given current restrictions and shortages around funding, seems to lie in the Paper’s title: ‘It’s the Finance, Stupid!’ The second was a Paper from the university think tank million+ which ahead of the Green Paper, questioned the proposed linkage between a teaching excellence framework and any increase in fees: “the link with fees risks a reductionist, metrics-based approach that would be based on questionable data.” The build-up to the Green Paper incidentally is well charted on the wonkhe site here.

    We are fortunate to have the authors of both Papers and wonkhe along with other commentators speaking at our Pearson Hot Breakfast Policy Seminar on higher education in a week’s time. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘UCAS applications to be anonymous, says David Cameron.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Sleepwalking into UK’s worst teacher recruitment crisis.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Teacher shortage costing millions in supply staff.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘QAA publishes overview of Higher Education Reviews this year.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Prospects for young people have worsened, says report.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who announced that from 2017, individual candidate names will be removed from UCAS application forms to avoid any potential for bias
    • The Chancellor who formally launched the National Infrastructure Commission with an initial focus on three areas: northern connectivity, London transport, and energy but where the skills pipeline will be crucial
    • The Business Minister who opened a new innovation centre for high-tech small firms in Loughborough
    • Cheshire and Warrington who become the next area to launch a Growth Hub to support and advise local business on matters such as the provision of skills and training
    • Cabinet Minister Matt Hancock who used a speech to the Institute for Government to spell out how the digital revolution was helping transform public services such as education
    • Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Schools, who made the case for high-rise schools as a way of tackling concerns about a lack of school places 
    • The All-Party Parliamentary Group which has been looking at Mindfulness and has included the creation of a new £1m Fund to help develop provision in schools among its recommendations
    • The House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility which has been hearing a range of sometimes worrying evidence about the transition into employment for young people
    • The Equality and Human Rights Commission whose latest survey on how far Britain is becoming a fairer society revealed that young people in general and certain groups in particular (the disabled, White boys, Black workers) had suffered under the recession
    • The OECD who launched its new Centre for Opportunity and Equality to complement its policy activity and help focus attention on issues of social inequality
    • The think tank IPPR who highlighted the closing of the attainment gap in early years, primary and secondary education as one of four big tests facing the architects of the Northern Powerhouse
    • Instructure Research who investigated how well HE students around the world were being prepared for the world of work and found UK students ‘overly optimistic’ about their prospects
    • UCAS who published the first of its regular updates on how the 2016 applications are going and reported that at this mid-October stage, applications by UK 18 yr olds were up 1% on last year although total UK applications were slightly (1%) down
    • The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) who published a collection of essays by leading commentators looking at why there had been such a drop in part-time HE student numbers, what impact this was having and what to do about it (mainly change the inflexible funding rules)
    • The university think tank million+ who published a policy briefing challenging current government proposals to link fee levels with a teaching excellence framework
    • The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) who published the findings from its latest round of peer reviews covering 24 HEIs and 62 colleges in which 30% of the former received commendations and 70% of the latter were deemed satisfactory
    • The BIS Dept who published latest guidance for FE providers wishing to apply for Foundation Degree Awarding Powers (FDAP)
    • AELP Chief Executive Stewart Segal who reflected on some of the issues around apprenticeships that had been raised at his Association’s recent Conference
    • Previous Labour Education Ministers Estelle Morris and Jim Knight each of whom offered their thoughts on teacher recruitment in respective articles this week
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw who issued the first of what are intended to be regular commentaries on different aspects of the education system, in this case focusing on the success of England’s primary schools and the difficulties of transitioning this into secondary
    • Schools Week whose article on why schools in certain parts of the country had managed to improve their GCSE results as reported in the government’s recent interim data, attracted considerable interest
    • The Careers and Enterprise Company who announced the launch of a £5m Investment Fund to help beef up careers and enterprise provision in so-called ‘cold spots’ across England
    • Education correspondent Liz Lightfoot who examined the growing trend for super-size secondary schools noting that research on the optimum size of schools has so far proved inconclusive
    • Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife who confirmed that the new school they intend to open will be different in concept in that it will integrate health and social care services for local families and children
    • The government who launched its latest ‘Your Future: Their Future,’ advertising recruitment campaign for teachers and faced criticisms over claims of potential salary levels   
    • The National Union of Teachers (NUT) who organised a lobby of teacher supply agencies as concerns rose about teacher supply and recruitment costs. 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “If we ever want to be a profession, we need to take responsibility for our own professional practice. Time to stop waiting for superman.” @tombennett71
    • “Let children have five days a year of term time holidays, Netmums editor says.” @SchoolsImprove
    • “Tell you what I want, what I really, really want…Geri Halliwell talks Free School.” @tonyparkin
    • “An austerity plan for @George_Osborne: stop the regime of endless testing, it will save millions.” @tes
    • “Titan schools will be like cheap high-rise housing, independent head warns.” @SchoolsImprove

    Quote(s) of the week

    • "The fact remains that much teaching at university is poor and if Ofsted were to come in and assess it I think there would be very large numbers of departments that get fours and threes.” Sir Anthony Seldon on the need for a teaching qualification for academics
    • “The regulatory regime is byzantine and over-complex, expensive and time-consuming. It’s virtually impossible for a new higher ed institution to come into existence.” Professor Grayling on some changes needed for the HE sector
    • “I would disagree that there is anything necessarily to be afraid of from mergers.” The FE Minister tries to reassure the FE sector about the outcomes of the current area reviews
    • “The idea of schools being on one or two floors is not essential.” The DfE’s Lord Nash tells the TES that schools will need to be bigger to cope with the demand for places
    • “Today’s primary school literacy lessons abound with talk of conjunctions and prepositions, of passive and active tenses, antonyms and ellipses.” The Chief Inspector relishes what’s going on in the nation’s primary school classrooms
    • “I think this is a brutal piece of stupidity that you can make people good at language by telling them the names of things.” Children’s author Philip Pullman on proposals to develop a new course for primary school teachers to help them bone up on their grammar knowledge. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 0.5%. The growth figures for the UK economy in the last quarter, up in the service sector but with continuing worries about a further decline among growth making sectors such as Construction and Manufacturing
    • 3. The number of ‘acid tests’ that should be applied to any testing regime according to President Obama (they should only be worth taking, should only enhance teaching and learning, and should only be one source of information on a child’s ability)
    • £9.70. The returns to the economy and society generally for every £1 invested under the HE Innovation Fund
    • £733m. How much schools in England spent on supply teacher agencies last year according to the National Union of Teachers
    • £250,000. How much the proposed new College of Teaching is looking to source from teachers to help kick start the new College
    • £65,000. The figure that the government’s latest advertising campaign claims ‘leading practitioners’ (teachers) can earn, which many dispute.   

    What to look out for next week

    • NYA Youth Work week (all week)
    • Politics in Education Summit (Monday)
    • Nicky Morgan keynote speech on ‘Educational Excellence’ at Policy Exchange (Tuesday)
    • Education Bill at Committee Stage of House of Lords (Tuesday)
    • Education Committee witness session on the role of Regional Schools Commissioners (Wed)
    • Student rally in London against fees and cuts (Wednesday).
    read more