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.

Keep up with what’s happening in education policy

Policy Watch is our regular policy update service, covering national and international developments in the world of education. We try to keep things simple, sharing the latest news and information with you through weekly updates, monthly summaries, papers and events.

You can access the Policy Watch service through Steve's Twitter feed @SteveBesley or by signing up for email updates.

About Steve

As head of UK education policy at Pearson, Steve’s been running the Policy Watch service for almost 20 years. He’ll keep you informed on all things education, along with the rest of his subscribers – there were more than 10,000 at the last count!

The latest from Policy Watch

Filter posts by category:

  • Policy Eye - week ending September 4 2015

    Two announcements, a big push on maths and a wave of concerns about impending shortages of teachers and school places; welcome to another education year.

    The week summed up

    The two announcements first. One was the Prime Minister’s ‘we will not waver’ pledge as he announced 18 new Free Schools as part of his government’s commitment to open 500 over the lifetime of this Parliament. Over 250 are already open and a further 50+ will join them this term and although the government considers them among other things as helping meet the demand for school places, they remain controversial. As the Prime Minister indicated in his comment piece last month, the government sees reform of the school system as one of its top priorities and if the tone of this latest announcement is anything to go by, it won’t ‘waver’ from this, criticisms or no.

    The other announcement was more of a reminder from the DfE of the new Core Maths qualifications starting this month. More practical in nature and aimed at 16+ year olds with a grade C in maths, these new qualifications which have been trialled for some time and carry the same UCAS points as an AS, are intended to help encourage more young people to continue with maths in some form beyond GCSE. Only a fifth of young people at present do this and we have one of the poorest track records in this area of any OECD country, something the government is keen to tackle, although as the Association of Colleges and others have pointed out, whether we have enough trained maths teachers to teach the growing numbers is another matter.

    Maths in fact has been very much in the news this week with the new GCSE maths also debuting, the government considering an extension of the Chinese style maths teaching programme, Scotland launching two new maths support groups, Carol Vorderman launching her 30-day maths online challenge, the charity National Numeracy hosting a ‘Week of Inspirational Maths’ and as indicated below, others pitching in with their own resources such as maths walks for schools and training resources for teachers in colleges. Just over 69% of entries gained a C grade or better in maths GCSE this year, up slightly on last year, but if my maths is correct still, it still leaves just over 30% without the standard level.

    Finally shortages of teachers and of school places, an impending storm according to a Guardian headline last weekend (“Teacher shortages and rising pupil numbers put schools on edge of crisis”) and one which has gathered momentum as the new education year has started. It’s perhaps no surprise that the National Audit Office has announced it’ll investigate initial teacher training while the title of the latest London Councils report on school places, ‘Do the Maths,’ not only sticks with the maths theme but pretty much says it all. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Get out of your comfort zone state school leaders are told.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Shortage of teachers set to spark new schools crisis. (Tuesday)
    • ‘Cameron launches wave of free schools.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Sixth formers to be offered courses in real life maths.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘DfE starts overseas recruitment drive to combat teacher shortage.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who promised to deliver two waves of new schools every year (March and Sept) from now to 2020 as he announced the first wave of new Free Schools under the current Parliament
    • The Business Secretary who pledged to introduce tougher sanctions for employers if they don’t pay the National Living Wage when it’s introduced next April
    • Nichola Sturgeon who prioritised education along with a return to standardised assessments at the end of primary and beginning of secondary education as she set out a new Programme for Government in Scotland
    • The think tank IPPR who called for 16-19 provision and science to be protected as it considered some of the options facing the Chancellor in his forthcoming Spending Review
    • Professor Sir David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Nottingham who has succeeded Sir David Eastwood as Chair of the Russell Group
    • Professor Hugh Brady who has succeeded Sir Eric Thomas as Vice-Chancellor and President at Bristol University
    • The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA,) the HE students’ Ombudsman, whose remit from this month has been extended to cover HE courses in FE, Sixth Form Colleges and other recognised settings
    • Universities UK who published its latest (2013-2014) useful smorgasbord of facts and figures about UKHE with the increasing diversity of the sector one of the key messages
    • The HE Policy Institute who published a report comparing the German university system (which has scrapped tuition fees) with that in England
    • Middlesex University who will be rolling out its unique free course book scheme whereby students are able to download one free e-book per module over the duration of their course
    • The British Chambers of Commerce who is launching a new ‘Your Future’ careers programme with help from the Skills Funding Agency to help young people connect with employers
    • The car manufacturer Aston Martin who may be about to make many young people’s dreams come true as it announces plans to recruit ten new apprenticeships
    • Ofsted who opened the doors with the publication of its complaints procedure and updated senior management structure
    • The Education and Training Foundation who are launching their ‘training’ modules with schemes of work and resources to help teachers deliver GCSE English and maths resits
    • Core Maths, a post-16 practical option for those who already have a C in GCSE maths and who may need to keep their maths skills up, which comes in from this Sept. (Sample question: ‘Sam invests £1,000 in a savings account. The compound interest is fixed at 4% each year. How many years will it take for the value of the investment to exceed £2,000?’ Answer at bottom of this section)
    • Former government adviser Robert Hill whose latest blog highlights the rise in the number of multi-academy trusts
    • Natasha Devon, the DfE’s first ever mental health champion for schools who will call for a ‘Five a Day’ of peace and meditation as part of her new programme for schools
    • John Dunford who reflected on his two years as National Pupil Premium Champion now that the role has closed and who highlighted 12 areas of good practice that he’d collected on the way
    • Kim Knappett, a secondary science teacher in London, this year’s President of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL)
    • Teacher workloads and school funding, highlighted as the top two concerns in the NASUWT top ten list of teacher priorities as the new term begins
    • Newcastle University Teaching Fellow Steve Humble who explained how ‘maths walks’ (taking groups out to apply maths) can help overcome some of the stigma about maths
    • The Guardian Teacher Network whose latest ‘How to teach’ article covered ‘How to teach coding and programming’ in primary and secondary school
    • Better YCT, the new app launched by the UCL Institute of Education to help teach Mandarin to primary school pupils
    • Mobile phones, the subject of further debate this week about their use in schools with Sir Michael Wilshaw saying ‘ban them,’ Tom Bennett saying ‘they should be kept in their holsters until really necessary’ but the head of a leading school arguing that ‘they can’t disinvented so we should find ways to control them’
    • Henry VIII who emerged as the worst monarch in history in a poll conducted by the Historical Writers Association followed in order by Edward VIII, Kings John and Charles I
    • “On your way into school on the first day you spot a colleague? Do you hide, rush over, wave or engage in group moan?” One of a number of questions in The Guardian’s ‘Back to school’ teacher quiz
    • (Answer to the Core Maths question: 18 years).

    Tweet(s) of the week

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “The weather may have been a washout this month but the sun has certainly been shining on the British economy.” The CBI in its latest economic survey
    • “At present 3 children per average classroom has a diagnosable mental health problem with many more struggling with undiagnosed conditions such as anxiety.” The DfE’s new champion for children’s mental health on the importance of the task facing her
    • “In today’s world of comparable outcomes, performance relative to other schools is arguably more important than absolute performance.’ Education Datalab reflects on its trials in measuring progress in English and maths in Year 7
    • “Having given up fags a few years ago, I can confidently say smart phones are addictive and if we care about children at all, we should help create spaces for them where they aren’t allowed to chew on the thin black plastic teat of their iphones every heartbeat.” Behaviour ‘expert’ Tom Bennett on the lure of smart phones
    • “Assessment is a rickety vehicle driven too quickly over the wrong ground.” NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby on concerns about assessment at the start of a new year.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 2m. The number of adults studying and training in colleges according to AoC figures
    • 8.4m. The number of students in schools, both public and private, in England who will be heading back to school this week and next
    • Just under 45%. The number of Free Schools opened in deprived communities according to data from Full Fact
    • 6. The number of new FE colleges approved to offer provision for 14-16  yr olds from this year
    • 25%. The number of parents who, according to research commissioned by Santander, are prepared to move house to ensure a place at a ‘good’ school
    • £23 an hour. The average cost of a private tutor as a survey by the Sutton Trust reveals more and more parents are turning to them
    • 45%. The number of young people targeted daily by bullies according to research from the Diana Award charity.

    What to look out for next week

    • The 3rd annual ResearchEd National Conference with a galaxy of speakers (this Saturday, Sept 5 all day)
    • Parliament returns (Monday)
    • Education Committee witness session with the Education Secretary (Wednesday)
    • New Labour leader announced (Saturday)
    • National Numeracy in conjunction with Stanford University hosts a ‘Week of Inspirational Maths,’ with lesson plans and resources at KS2/3 for participating schools (Monday-Friday)
    • And coming up: Pearson and the London Knowledge Lab are offering three high profile events with leading thinkers examining how smarter digital tools can improve learning. The first event will be hosted in London on 22 Sept with follow-up events on 15 Oct and 17 Nov. Details and booking here
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending August 14 2015

    Results week of course for advanced level students and as one sixth former tweeted at the start of the week: “you can almost smell the apprehension.”

    The week summed up

    For those seeking just the cut down version, Thursday’s headline below taken from the BBC website (‘top grades down but more university places,’) pretty much nails it but there is of course much more to it than that. Commentary, analysis and reflection continues to pour in and will continue to do so until appeals and performance data is complete and UCAS issues its final report at the end of the year, but for the moment perhaps, four themes stand out.

    First the results themselves which have stayed pretty stable this year with a slim (0.1%) rise in the overall pass rate and the number (8.2%) getting the very top grade also remaining stable but where the rise in entries for the so-called core subjects has continued. Maths, computing, geography and even Spanish were all noticeably up. There may be three reasons for this. First, these are the ‘facilitating’ subjects that help secure a place at top universities; second students may have reacted to government messages in the Productivity Plan and elsewhere but third, budgetary pressures may well have put the squeeze on other subjects. Either way it’s allowed the government to add further weight to the EBacc effect which gains new momentum next month as the incoming Year 7s are put on the EBacc diet.

    Second, the anticipated surge in university entry appears under way with 409,000 students already having secured places (up 3% on last year) and Clearing, Adjustment and all sorts of helplines at full throttle. Universities of course have a free rein on numbers this year and it seems also from surveys that fewer young people will defer entry this year perhaps due to changes to maintenance grants and potentially fees but once again its raised the question of whether we need a post-qualification application system to help ease the summer scramble for places.

    Third, it’s not all about uni, interest in alternative routes remains high. The vocational route through BTECs has remained prominent for some time and as colleges, the SFA and the CBI have all been stressing, apprenticeships offer a valued alternative as well. PwC’s figures on applications for its Higher Apprenticeships (up 17%) are a case in point. Also this week, Edge Foundation and HR Magazine have both published pieces highlighting careers where degrees aren’t necessary.

    Fourth, with 16-19 provision unprotected from cuts and Sixth Form Colleges painting a dire picture of future prospects, it’s perhaps no surprise that the results this year are tinged with warnings that providers will find it difficult to generate the same offer let alone the same level of results in future.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Increase in university students working to fund studies.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Schools Minister: ’vague’ qualifications will be thing of past.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Children ditching books for phones.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘A levels: top grades down but more university places.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Class of 2015 has fallen victim to education cuts, say head teachers.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Schools Minister Nick Gibb who claimed that the current A level students were ‘the best in a generation,’ and that while the government’s latest reforms to exams had helped restore credibility, further reform of the exam board system may be needed
    • Professor Chris Husbands whose latest blog examined the merits and demerits of exam board system reform
    • Ofqual, UCAS and the BBC, each of whom has useful summaries of the A level results and university applications
    • The 2015 WorldSkills event which has been running this week in Sao Paulo and which has seen over 60 nations, including the UK, compete in what has been described as ‘the biggest vocational education and skills excellence event in the world’
    • Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn who pledged, if elected, to re-create a version of the old Ministry of Labour to help train and support the workforce of the future
    • Michelle Mone OBE who has been appointed to head a government review to report next year, on supporting business start-ups in disadvantaged communities
    • Sir Nigel Thrift, Vice-Chancellor at Warwick University, whose blog in the build-up to A level results day stressed that alongside any string of exam results, young people should develop wider skills and aptitudes
    • Toni Pearce, outgoing President of the NUS, who is joining NIACE as its new Head of Employment and Skills with a particular brief on supporting apprenticeships
    • Ed Sheeran, who left school at 16 but who is now being honoured by his local university in Suffolk with an honorary doctorate
    • The QAA who set out an alternative approach to quality assurance in HE that would be brisk-based, focused on students’ academic experience and built around quality profiling and peer to peer annual dialogue, as it issued its response to HEFCE’s current QA review
    • The University of Law who have promised that from this Sept, graduates who don’t secure a job in the legal or commerce sectors within 9 months of graduating, would be entitled to a refund of up to half their tuition fee 
    • Carlos Vargas-Silva, Associate Professor at Oxford University, who wrote a comment piece in The Conversation about foreign students staying in the UK and some of the data used to measure this
    • The latest annual National Student Survey of final year undergraduates in UK universities which reported a continuing satisfaction rating of 86% overall
    • The CIPD (Chartered institute of Personnel and Development) whose latest employer survey suggested that what it called ‘the long dark decade for young job hunters’ was ending as more employers looked to recruit young people
    • The Edge Foundation who published a report arguing that some of the occupational classifications used in surveys were not graduate jobs and that many professional jobs did not actually require a degree
    • The CBI who highlighted a number of issues around the apprenticeship levy as it set out its initial thoughts in a discussion document
    • ‘They’re only for people with bad grades,’ ‘they’re only for young people,’ ‘I won’t get a good qualification;’ three of the Top Ten Apprenticeship Myth-Busters published by Barclays as it sought to remind young people of the availability of the apprenticeship option   
    • The Skills Funding Agency who announced a clampdown on further qualification approvals except in exceptional cases, for the remainder of the 2015/16 financial year
    • The Sixth Form Colleges Association whose latest annual funding impact survey painted a pretty sobering picture of belt tightening in that sector
    • The NAHT, ATL, NUT and Unison who have joined forces to set out their concerns about the current Education and Adoption Bill
    • Ofqual who looked at issues around variability in A level results for institutions and published the results in a series of charts
    • VoiceED who published an infographic on why teachers change exam boards
    • Chinese style teaching, the subject of a documentary on BBC2 recently and likely to be extended for some primary maths classes in the coming year
    • ’10 things secondary teachers need to know about the new primary maths curriculum.’ The latest in a series of useful summary pieces on the TES website highlighting recent curriculum changes
    • Year 7. Apparently the most expensive school year for parents who often have to shell out for new equipment, uniform and other resources which can amount to as much as £6.000+
    • British parents who emerged as some of the most anxious and restrictive in Europe when it came to allowing their offspring to play outside or go out alone after dark, in a study published by the Policy Studies Institute.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Electing a UN secretary-general takes three months and candidates for Bake Off wait four weeks, so why does applying to university take nearly a year? @tes
    • “Schools Minister: vague qualifications will be thing of past.” @SchoolsImprove
    • “Over 60% of the people who checked their @CCEA_info GCE results this morning used a smartphone or tablet” @CCEA
    • “If your A level results aren't great, be cheered by the fact that I got a C and two Us. And I'm currently sitting in a villa in St Tropez.” @Jeremy Clarkson
    • “Parents sign petition and threaten withdrawals after introduction of homework.” @MailOnline
    • “16-19 education in danger of being turned into Cinderella service.” @ascl

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “These results provide the clearest proof that the introduction of the EBacc and our drive to persuade more pupils to study core academic subjects has been a success.” The Schools Minister hails the increase in entries for core subjects at A level this year
    • “While pupils sit in halls and write answers in booklets, almost everything that happens from there on has been revolutionised by technology.” The Guardian observes the exam marking process at first hand
    • “My concern is in five or ten years’ time young men will be the new disadvantaged group. I remain astounded that there is not more political and societal focus on this.” UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook on the news that girls continue to apply to university in much greater number than boys
    • “Three-quarters will be paying off their loans in their ’50s.”  Will Hutton in a comment piece on the challenges facing many of today’s university students
    • “We’re working on the assumption that the rate will be around 0.5% of payroll.” The CBI on its working assumtion for the apprenticeship levy
    • “The sector cannot survive on starvation rations.” The Sixth Form Colleges Association sums up the bleak prospects facing many Sixth Form Colleges
    • "I should add that we are not intending for this to be a big consumer brand with related products.” Google boss Larry Page on its rebranding as Alphabet.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £412. How much uni students earn on average a month according to recent research from insurers Endsleigh, as record numbers (77%) are reported to be turning to part-time work to help pay for their uni courses
    • 7%. How few students are planning to defer their university entry and take a gap year this year according to research published by Bucks New University
    • 98.1%. The overall pass rate (A-E) at A level this year, up slightly (0.1%) on last year
    • 29.1%. The rise in entries for A level Computing this year, the biggest increase for any A level subject
    • 30%. The number of A level students who reckon their parents get more stressed than they do about Results Day according to recent research by the Student Room and Bradford University
    • 33%. The number of employers with hard to fill vacancies looking to recruit young people in the coming months according to the CIPD’s latest quarterly survey
    • 26. The number of Sixth Form Colleges who fear they might be out of business by the end of the decade according to the Association’s latest funding survey
    • 16,430. The number of parents prosecuted in 2014 (up 25% on 2013) for failing to ensure their children attended school. 

    What to look out for next week

    • MPs on summer recess
    • GCSE Results Day (Thursday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending July 31 2015

    Fewer announcements this week as the summer recess kicks in but some interesting developments all the same.

    The week summed up

    For schools, the Education Secretary continued her engagement strategy with teachers by focusing on teacher workloads, for FE the government sought to clarify what constitutes an apprenticeship while HE re-iterated its case for international students as part of its staying in Europe campaign. A week then which has seen the first supermarket advertise its ‘Back to School’ autumn range has equally seen a number of what will be big autumn policy issues also given an early airing.

    Schools first where many are busy preparing themselves for the release of exam results which in the case of A’ levels is now just a couple of weeks away. Head teachers have been lining up in the media this week to offer advice to both students and parents on how to cope with the big day: “Book a lovely breakfast for 10.00am. They won’t eat much before. Neither will you.” For teachers, however, the work on preparing for another year goes on and despite last year’s ‘strategy,’ the workload issue remains as pertinent as ever. Speaking at the Teach First Impact Conference this week, the Education Secretary highlighted three further ways to ease the pain: new working groups to address the 3 biggest concerns (marking, planning and use of resources, and data management) new standards for CPD; and support for the College of Teaching. Teacher morale is a long-standing issue in the profession but equally now for the government as concerns rise about teacher recruitment and retention. Whether these latest measures will help, remains to be seen.

    Over at FE, while BIS reviews its cost operations as part of the 2015 Spending Review and the ‘bigger, better’ college model gathers momentum, apprenticeships remain the big game in town. This week the government launched a short consultation to help clarify how to define a ‘genuine’ apprenticeship. This has been an issue in the past and could become one again with the push to achieve the 3m target but the hope is that by making it an offence to apply the term to non-standard training and adding the ultimate sanction of a fine, it will help deter further misappropriation. Final details will appear in the forthcoming Enterprise Bill due this autumn.

    Finally HE where visas and restrictions on international students remain one of a number of concerns and where there’s also been activity this week. The Home Affairs Committee has announced it will hold an inquiry into the Tier 2 visa cap, introduced 4 years ago but now feared to be preventing skilled workers from taking up important skilled jobs. And second, Universities UK has launched its campaign against a Brexit, arguing that leaving Europe could inflict lasting damage to UKHE research, student numbers and jobs. Another issue building up for the autumn. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘What do universities look for in a BTEC student?’ (Monday)
    • ‘Councils to be scored on school dropout rates.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Leaked levels report claims reveals testing concerns.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Nicky Morgan vows to end needless bureaucracy for teachers.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Colleges must offer ESOL courses despite funding wipeout.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who has been leading a big trade delegation including members of the Northern Powerhouse to South East Asia this week
    • The government who promised to provide a progress report on its Digital Agenda this autumn as it issued its official response to the Lords Committee Report on Digital Skills
    • The Home Affairs Select Committee who have announced it will hold an inquiry into the Tier 2 Skilled Workers system later this year
    • The BIS Dept who launched a brief consultation to help formalise the usage of the apprenticeships brand
    • Nick Boles, the Skills Minister, who announced that the government intends to push ahead with the publication of local council score cards each summer, showing how well councils were dealing with 16-19 NEETs
    • Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who announced three more working groups to try and ease teachers’ workloads in a speech to the Teach First Impact Conference
    • Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn who called for the creation of a National Education Service which like the NHS could provide all-through education ‘free at the point of delivery’
    • John Pugh MP, appointed Spokesperson for Education in the new Lib-Dem set-up
    • The Institute of Directors whose latest survey of business leaders found varying degrees of support for devolving powers to the regions with just over 50% supporting the devolution of responsibilities over skills
    • The Social Mobility Commission whose latest commissioned report argued that many disadvantaged young people faced not only a glass ceiling but also a glass floor, as more advantaged families sought to ensure their offspring didn’t fall too far behind
    • The Independent Commission on Fees which published its final report calling among other things for the OBR to head a ‘value for money’ study into the whole fee and loan system
    • Universities UK who launched its ‘Universities for Europe’ campaign designed to ensure the HE sector provides a strong ‘staying in voice’ come the referendum
    • The University Alliance who hosted a half-day seminar on the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) and its implications
    • HEFCE who published its latest (2014/15) facts and figures publication covering main trends and developments in HE in England over the last year
    • Anthony McClaran, who will leave his post as Chief Executive of QAA and take up a similar post in Australia in October
    • Professor Chris Husbands, Director of the UCL Institute of Education, who has been appointed as Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University from Jan 2016   
    • Sheffield University who has announced that it will open up for clearing two weeks earlier than usual so that it’s ready for any influx of numbers following the lifting of the numbers cap on students this year
    • The Guardian which offered a helpful guide to the government’s new rules for international students in both HE and FE
    • New College Nottingham and Central College Nottingham, the latest two FE colleges to merge, in this case from next August
    • AELP whose Briefing Paper on the Apprenticeship Levy urged the government not to rush implementation and instead develop the proposition over a 3-4 year period
    • Academy chains, the subject of a blog by the Institute of Government arguing that five questions about governance and accountability need answering
    • NFER who have started advertising for English and maths markers for the new National Reference Tests
    • Rise To,’ one of the new innovative career sites which aims to help match young people to companies and opportunities and which secured launch funding this week
    • Journalist David Nield who described some of the latest wearable technology devices for use in the classroom both now and the future in an article in The Guardian
    • ‘1984,’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ and ‘Animal Farm,’ the top 3 books recommended by teachers for KS3/4 students in a TES survey. Full listing of the top 100 here.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “The more networked a country the more successful and prosperous it can be.” @RCorbettMEP
    • “Academics lack understanding for business-university links. They obsess about shiny things, ignore business needs.” @timeshighered
    • “Easy degrees are fuelling drunken laddish behaviour” @telegraph
    • “Schools cannot magic away bureaucracy' - unions respond to @NickyMorgan01's suggestion to stop working at 5pm” @tes
    • “The average person changes career 7/8 times. I want teaching to be one of those career changes.” @educationgovuk
    • “Discussion: the essential relationship isn’t between exam boards and schools. It’s between exam boards and markers.” @tes
    • “We do homework, but I don’t insist teachers mark it because we don’t really know who’s done it. @natedtrust.” @RealGeoffBarton

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “As autonomous organisations it is up to colleges manage their own budgets.” The FE Minister responds to a Parliamentary question on FE finances
    • “There’s not a single one of the 39 LEPs that hasn’t put skills and productivity at the heart of its strategic thinking.” Ann Limb, chair of the S.E. Midlands LEP, on the importance of local skills planning
    • “Ban e mails after 5.00pm to help teachers cope with workload.” The Secretary of State’s latest thoughts on how to reduce teachers’ workloads
    • “No one should criticise parents for doing the best for their children. That’s what we all want. But Britain is a long way from being a meritocratic society when the less able can do better in life that the more able.” Alan Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, introduces the Commission’s latest research
    • “A rule of thumb is: would I be happy for anything I post on Twitter or Facebook to be on the front page of the Daily Mail?” Head teacher and tweeter Geoff Barton on the ‘rules’ of social media for teachers 
    • “To help teens develop a sense of independence and financial responsibility, one especially valuable holiday activity is enabling your son or daughter to manage the family budget for a week- making them responsible for the food shop and planning and cooking dinner for the family.” A brave head teacher suggests one way to help develop life skills in young people
    • “We always recommend that our students have a Plan A and a Plan B.” Head teachers offer their top tips for A level results day
    • “Special measures school improves after banning slang words including ‘coz’ and ‘innit.’ “ How one all-girls school raised performance.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 0.7%. Economic growth for the UK in the last quarter (April – June,) up from 0.4% in the previous quarter, leading to optimistic forecasts for the remainder of the year
    • 75. The number of employers on the government’s latest name and shame list for failing to pay the National Minimum Wage
    • 125,000. The number of EU students in British universities (and whose numbers could reduce if we exit the EU according to Universities UK)
    • 46%. The percentage of parents in the UK who questioned the value of higher education in a survey conducted by HSBC
    • 45,010.  The number of fixed-term pupil exclusions from primary school last year, ‘considerably’ up on the previous year
    • 60%. Average percentage of teachers reporting moderate-high training needs to be able to teach ICT skills according to the latest OECD TALIS survey (Spoiler alert: the UK’s figure’s half that)
    • 7 years. How far ahead of their peers pupils can be by using the internet according to latest research from Professor Sugata Mitra.

    What to look out for next week

    • MPs on summer recess.
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending July 24 2015

    This week provided further clear evidence that the government is determined to stick with its economic plan as further cuts were announced for the FE and HE sectors and the Chancellor outlined his plans for the 2015 Spending Review.

    The week summed up

    ‘Fixing the roof while the sun is shining’ is the mantra but for many this week the mood has been more cloudy than sunny.

    FE first, where the Funding Agency’s announcement of immediate cuts to ESOL and adults skills non-apprenticeship budgets coincided with a withering report from the National Audit Office on the financial health of the sector as a whole. The cuts come as a response to the Chancellor’s recent call for a further £450m from this year’s dept budget and are part of a sequence. Whether the sector is facing its own Groundhog Day moment as some headlines suggested or not, the issue is that the sector has had to endure a sustained period of cuts, that its been left to operate in a market that’s become increasingly unstructured (“Many colleges are competing for fewer students against an increasing diversity of provision”) and that financial forecasting on all sides has failed to recognise the extent of the problem. The government has responded by announcing a major structural review of the post-16 sector that will kick off in earnest this autumn and run through to next spring. The direction of travel has already been indicated in previous policy statements but is writ large in its latest pronouncement: “we will need to move towards fewer, often larger, more resilient and efficient providers.” It’s being left pretty much to local stakeholders to sort out although the government will issue guidelines and will be represented but a key issue will be how far school post-16 providers are involved as well.

    As for HE, which a contributor in the Times Higher this week described as being “in a perpetual financial crisis,” the Funding Agency has equally had to announce further cuts this week to meet the £150m in savings required for the 2015/16 financial year. Its meant that teaching grants as well some specific funds such as those used to support increases in student numbers will be hit. Again some of this is immediate although the full scale may not become apparent until institutional adjustments are confirmed in October.

    All of which means that many people will be keeping a wary eye on how this year’s Spending Review which was formally launched by the Chancellor this week and under which future spending details will be announced in late November, shapes up.  The approach being adopted is similar to that in 2010 with depts being asked to model best and worst case scenarios in an effort to find the £20bn of savings that the Chancellor is looking for. School age pupils remain protected, the others will be hoping for the best case scenario, that’s cuts of 25% rather than 40%. Some sunshine.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Pupils’ mental health tops head teachers’ concerns.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Meltdown warning in FE College finances.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Spending Review to include measures to cut schools back office spending.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Baby boom to put pressure on English secondary schools.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘UK study raises concerns over ‘coasting’ academies.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who announced a five-part strategy to tackle extremism which included new duties on local authorities, schools and families and an interim report on community cohesion expected early next year
    • The Chancellor who called on depts to model two scenarios of cuts, one based on 25% and the other based on 40%, as he set out his plans for the 2015 Spending Review
    • The BIS Dept who outlined the new conditions for alternative providers of higher education as it responded to earlier consultation on Alternative Providers of HE
    • The BIS Dept who have launched a 12 week consultation on freezing the student loan repayment threshold
    • The BIS Dept who announced an overhaul of the post-16 college sector though a series of locally driven area-based reviews due to run over the next nine months
    • The FE/Skills Minister who posted his regular end-of-term letter to the sector confirming developments in a number of key areas and highlighting the importance of the sector’s role in meeting a number of the skill needs under the Productivity Plan
    • David Meller and Richard Harrington MP, Joint Chairs of the Apprenticeship Delivery Board, tasked with advising on how best to expand the apprenticeship programme
    • The Science and Technology Committee, BIS Committee and Education Committee who have announced that their first major inquiries in this new Parliament will be into science funding, the Productivity Plan and the role of Regional School Commissioners respectively
    • The government who issued its response to the previous Education Committee report into apprenticeships and traineeships indicating that it had accepted all their recommendations bar three (on careers plans, work exp for 14-16 yr olds and 14-16 Young Apprenticeships)
    • HEFCE who announced reductions to the teaching grant and to funds set aside to support any increases in student numbers as they outlined savings required for 2015/16
    • HEFCE who published a series of commissioned reports looking into ways of ensuring students from different backgrounds achieve success in HE 
    • The Institute of Fiscal Studies who examined the recent Budget announcements on HE student financing and concluded that both lower and middle income families and students would be hit hardest by the respective changes
    • GSK, Rolls Royce and Pfizer, the top three companies collaborating on research projects with UK universities according to the recent review of HE-Business research collaboration (Microsoft was the only technology company in the top ten)
    • Martin McQuillan, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research at Kingston University whose blog for this week’s WonkHE briefing looked at HE developments in the light of current policy changes
    • The National Audit Office whose report on the financial sustainability of the FE sector raised concerns about the number of colleges facing financial difficulties both now and in the future as funding continues to tighten
    • The Skills Funding Agency who announced further cuts to ESOL and non-apprenticeship funding allocations with immediate effect as the BIS Dept sought to meet further savings from current budgets
    • The Skills Funding Agency who reported on how it had delivered against its five strategic objectives in its latest annual report and accounts
    • The local LEP and FE providers in Cornwall who will pool resources and approaches to employment and skills provision from 2017 under the region’s Devolution Deal
    • The Education and Training Foundation who have been asked to lead further developments to help strengthen the position of functional skills
    • City and Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College who announced that they were looking at the case for working much more closely together
    • Ofsted who defended its role as it added its response to the previous Education Committee’s Trojan Horse Inquiry
    • The Sutton Trust who examined the issue of academy chains on the attainment gap and whose commissioned report called for other high-performing providers to be involved in school improvement
    • The DfE who issued guidance to schools and local authorities on the use of cloud software and data protection
    • The Schools Minister who announced that the Dept was taking further steps to secure some community languages at GCSE and A level
    • Schools Week who provided a summary overview of Ofsted inspections over the last term and noted that a higher proportion of secondary schools had received a good or outstanding than over the previous two terms
    • ‘Photograph’ by Ed Sheeran, ‘Shake it off’ by Taylor Swift and ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams, the top three tear jerker/rabble rouser songs being played in final assemblies for Year 6 this summer.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “The only role where we’ve not developed an apprenticeship is mine.” @NickBoles
    • “The gap year is back, but with purpose - not so much “Gap Yah” as fill-in-the-CV-gaps year.” @JISC
    • “What will we call colleges that specialise in remedial English and maths? Post-secondary moderns.” @OldDitch
    • “The only reason to keep national exams at 16 is because we still don’t trust our schools or our teachers.” @TheTimes
    • “It’s not been a summer of contentment in the education world.” @russellhobby

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • DLHE. The Destination of Leavers from HE, an annual national survey produced by the HE Statistics Agency, which will be refreshed and reviewed to meet changing demands.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “The decline in the financial health of the sector has been quicker than indicated by colleges’ plans and current forecasts suggest that the number of colleges under strain is set to rise rapidly.” The National Audit Office takes the financial pulse of the FE sector
    • “We will need to move towards fewer, often larger, more resilient and efficient providers.” BIS suggests what it’s looking for from its new area-based reviews of college provision
    • “I believe that Functional Skills should continue to be the main alternative English and maths qualifications to GCSEs.’ The FE Minister commissions further work on FS
    • “We would of course survive and I’m sure thrive if we carried on independently but we can be better together.” Sir Frank McLoughlin, Chief Exec of City and Islington College as his College eyes up closer collaboration with nearby Westminster Kingsway College
    • “Usually reform needs a cheque or a plan and at the moment we have neither. Hence the drive for productivity.@alanmilburn.” @IPPR
    • “Bland, robotic and misleading.” A teacher’s view on school reports.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £20bn. The level of savings the Chancellor is looking to find through the latest Spending Review
    • £53,000. How much debt poorer students could end up with when they graduate following the replacement of maintenance grants by loans according to the IFS
    • 3.9%. The latest cut to non-apprenticeship adult skills budgets in FE
    • 70. The number of colleges who could be in financial difficulties by the end of the 2015/16 financial year according to the National Audit Office
    • 20%. The expected rise in secondary school pupil numbers over the next decade according to the DfE’s latest pupil projections
    • £600 a day. The amount of money some schools have been paying consultants for Mocksteds (pre Ofsted inspection run-throughs,) a practice Ofsted remains keen to outlaw.

    What to look out for next week

    • MPs on summer recess.
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending July 17 2015

    Three familiar routines this week remind us that the summer hols are nearly upon us.

    The week summed up

    The first is that the summer holiday reading lists have started to appear and if you like it heavy, the list by the think tank IPPR (referenced below) has got plenty to keep the brain cells active. The second is the re-emergence of the ‘summer season’ stories designed to fill space in the hazy days of summer. The story about undergrads in one university being banned from throwing their hats in the air at the traditional graduation ceremonies on the grounds of health and safety offers evidence of that. And third, and more significantly, there’s been the customary stampede by government depts and its agencies to get stuff out before things wind down. 

    For schools, where Warwick Mansell’s latest blog, offers us an interesting insight into one of the ongoing stories, namely what MPs had to say when they debated the  Education Bill in committee, school funding, performance tables, qualification developments and early years have all been in the news this week. The funding information is generic at this stage and obviously much hinges on how the Spending Review pans out later this year but it does at least confirm that per-pupil funding for 2016 will be protected, that last year’s additional uplift will remain, as will the Minimum Funding Guarantee. Latest details in the EFA’s Operational Guide. On performance tables, whether prompted by the alternative tables promised by a group of head teachers or not, the DfE has announced that it will publish some provisional secondary school data early, in mid-October. The final tables will come out as usual in January and will contain for the first time Progress 8 data for schools that decided to opt in early but the October issue is an unusual one. The continuing story of qualification developments is referenced in the listings below as is the upbeat early years inspection report but particular mention should also be made of the new committee announced this week to look at how to report assessment of KS1/2 pupils with special needs. The committee, headed by Diane Rochford, will report before Christmas.

    For FE, it’s been another big week of skills reports with the annual CBI/Pearson survey reminding us of many of the issues that concern employers about skills levels and provision and, in another close-to-home report, the Pearson sponsored HEPI report on Level 4/5 provision. As an accompanying Policy Watch suggests, while the re-focusing of the skills agenda on higher-level skill needs and on employer contributions may not be new, it is both timely and important.

    For HE too, it’s also been a week of developments from Jeremy Corbyn‘s apologia on tuition fees to Jo Johnson’s latest keynote on science innovation to OFFA’s report on this year’s round of access agreements. As the Capita, Wonkhe paper notes, the horizon here is looking increasingly volatile. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Employers warn of skills emergency.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Poorest pupils should start school aged two.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Cost of private schooling soars.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Healthy competition for technical courses would boost productivity.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘GCSE league tables out early to help parents choose school.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Parliament’s new Education Centre which will help teach children, teachers and other visitors about the working of Parliament and which was officially opened this week
    • The government who announced further tightening of the rules on non EU students attending publically funded FE colleges raising considerable concern among the sector
    • The Prime Minister who launched a consultation on closing the gender pay cap
    • The BIS Dept whose 2014/15 Annual Report and Accounts now published heaves with facts, figures and data on performance in key areas like FE/HE, business growth and regulation
    • The CBI and Pearson who published the latest annual employers’ survey of education and skills highlighting the continuing, and in some sectors, pressing demand for skills and employability ‘attributes’ 
    • BIS who published the latest available (2012/13) data on widening participation in HE
    • Universities Minister Jo Johnson who called for a series of regional audits to map hotspots in science innovation as part of a new ‘One Nation Science’ Plan
    • Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, who offered apologies for the increase in student tuition fees and pledged to scrap the fees if selected
    • Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who set out her, and her government’s, unwavering support for the arts in a speech to the Creative Industries Federation
    • The DfE who published the EFA’s Operational Guide and per-pupil funding rates for local authority school budgets for 2016/17 which saw per-pupil funding protected over the coming year
    • The DfE who set out details of what will go into school performance tables this year where changes include the first reporting of Progress 8 data for schools that opted in early and reporting of performance of 14-16 yr olds on f/t college courses
    • The DfE who published ‘illustrative regulations’ intended to add further clarification to what would be deemed a ‘coasting’ school
    • The Education Committee who opened its new blogspace by inviting contributors to pitch in ideas on what it should get its teeth into in the coming session
    • Careers guidance, the pupil premium and the abolition of maintenance grants, all among the items covered in the helpful series of House of Commons Library Briefings this week
    • Cornwall which has become the first county under the current devolution deals to gain new powers in areas like transport, health care and skills training
    • Caroline Lucas MP who used the 10-minute rule procedure this week to re-introduce her Bill to make PSHE a statutory part of the school curriculum
    • Guardian columnist Fiona Millar who argued that it was time for Labour to pull together a robust policy of its own on education
    • Julian McCrae, Deputy Director of the Institute for Government, who set out the policy context for further devolution of key services such as skills, health and social care
    • The HE Policy Institute who along with Pearson called for a better system for accrediting and funding technical and professional education in a new report on L4/5 provision
    • Wonkhe and Capita who reported on how well the HE sector was prepared for the lifting of the student numbers cap this autumn and acknowledged that “HE is set to become more volatile and difficult to predict” as a consequence
    • The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) who announced this year’s round of HE access agreements have all now been signed off
    • Universities UK who along with NESTA have been looking at data analytical skills, how they are taught and developed, and who came up with a number of recommendations for schools, FE and HE
    • City University which has announced it is to join up with the University of London
    • Secondary school performance data which will be published in provisional form at least in mid-October allowing parents more time to consider school choices rather than having to wait until the full set of performance tables in January
    • GiveBacc, a new youth volunteering programme intended to run alongside the EBacc in schools, proposed in a report by the think tank Demos and Generation Change, and intended to encourage more young people to become involved in social action projects
    • The Careers and Enterprise Company who have provided further information about how their local brokerage model with schools, LEPs and local employers will operate
    • Ofqual and the DfE who launched consultation on the third wave of GCSE, AS and A levels due for first teaching in 2017
    • Ofqual who reported back on the rules and guidance for new GCSEs in Science
    • The Wellcome Trust who have launched a major review of the effectiveness of ‘mindfulness’ training in schools across the country
    • Executive Headteacher Diane Rochford who will lead the government’s review into how best to assess attainment levels of low ability pupils unable to take tests at KS1/2
    • Leading primary schools who will be given government grants of up to £10,000 to help them share best practice in phonics teaching and literacy programmes
    • Google who is planning to run free summer classes for children to help them develop coding and digital skills
    • Ofsted who reported that early years provision is in its best shape ever with 85% of ‘settings’ either good or outstanding but where the Chief Inspector also expressed concerns that places were not being taken up and disadvantaged peers being left behind as a result
    • Luuk Van Middlelaar’s ‘Passage to Europe,’ one of a number of summer reading eruditions for policy wonks selected by IPPR’s director, Nick Pearce

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Ride the nerdwave to widen access to selective universities, conferences told.” @ed_ontap
    • “The degrees are useless theory is fine - if you’re posh, assertive and lucky.” @gracedent
    • “The more we measure in education, the more invisible the learners become.”@ian_hamilton
    • “In the short term, the, losers from the budget are current cohort of 17 yr olds, in the long run, it’s uni finances.” @JulianGravatt
    • “A parent’s view of homework: I waver between tolerance and outright hatred.” @guardian

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • CHO. Chief Happiness Officer, many organisations now have them. 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Just as the introduction of private student fees transformed the quality and quantity of higher education, this new training levy could do the same for apprenticeships. There is no reason to wait until 2020: this new policy could take off immediately, and young people could be benefiting in their tens of thousands from this autumn.” Lord Adonis in a blog about the proposed new apprenticeship levy
    • “The new chairman is happy enough to talk about young people’s mental health, coasting and grammar schools, Trojan horse and fairer school funding but it’s productivity that gets his pulse racing.” The Guardian interviews the Chair of the Education Committee
    • “In return for the promise of a turbo-charged career and rapid promotion, education fast-streamers would have to spend some years teaching in a disadvantaged school.” Social mobility tsar Alan Milburn on using new blood to help close the attainment gap
    • “The top university will not be the only route for the very able. Children are finding it difficult to pay for it. Why would you if you did not need to?” Clarissa Farr, head of St Paul’s Girls’ School, on the changing lure of the job market
    • “It’s not seen as being cool.” The headmaster of Malborough College on why school choirs are in decline.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £8,781. The cost of the average annual HE tuition fee this year
    • £750m. How much HE providers will spend this year on widening participation activities as part of the latest access agreements
    • £246m. The cost of last year’s research excellence exercise in HE according to latest figures
    • 3.8m. The number of learners served by the FE sector last year according to the BIS Dept’s latest Annual Report
    • 55%. The number of employers in the latest CBI/Pearson survey, who expressed concerns about being able to fill high-skilled jobs
    • 30%. The number of primary schools continuing to use national curriculum levels to assess children according to research reported in the TES
    • 3.2%. The increase in average earnings (apparently,) a five-year high and listed in the latest (March – May ) employment figures published this week. 

    What to look out for next week

    • MPs questions to the DfE (Monday)
    • House of Commons in recess until 7 Sept (Wednesday).
    read more