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!

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  • Policy Eye - week ending February 13 2015

    Education funding has become the big battleground in education at the moment.

    The week summed up

    The Lib-Dems were the first out of the blocks last year claiming that they would protect the early years, schools and 16-19 budgets, a deal that was confirmed by Nick Clegg again this week when he set out his Party’s five manifesto priorities. Two weeks ago, the Conservatives laid out their position with the Prime Minister promising that school budgets would not be cut in current cash terms but equally would not necessarily be increased either. Now this week, in his first major education speech of the current campaign, Ed Miliband seems to have gone further claiming that “the next Labour government will protect the overall education budget…in real terms…every year.” The claim has raised excitement in the FE sector though how far it goes beyond 16-19 and just how much extra money that means is still under scrutiny.  Sam Freedman who offered a helpful analysis of Conservative school funding plans last week has done the same for Labour, it’s worth taking a look.

    Much of the rest of the speech involved a tour of Labour’s current education hot spots including the case for qualified teachers, a balanced curriculum and high standards for all but there were some eye-catching announcements. Here’s a list of four: bringing back compulsory work experience from age 14; granting all head teachers the same powers as academy heads currently have; providing parents with the right to call in the local Director of School Standards if they have concerns; and capping class sizes for 5, 6 and 7 year olds at 30. And a final strapline: “In the 21st century, world class education isn’t a luxury for the individual, it’s a necessity.” A clear pitch to a wider audience.

    It’s been a week of big speeches.  David Cameron, Ed Balls, Chuka Umunna and Nick Clegg each took to the floor to address the British Chambers of Commerce in Conference this week, Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan both spoke at the think tank Policy Exchange but perhaps the other speech that deserves a special mention this week, particularly for those in FE, was that by Glenys Stacey, the Chief Executive of Ofqual. The focus was vocational qualifications and how Ofqual as regulator goes about ensuring high standards and quality on the one hand but flexibility and responsiveness (to employer needs) on the other. Ofqual is shortly to launch a consultation on a new framework for adult vocational qualifications and the speech was a timely reminder of the issues. It can be read here.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Billions more for new schools-despite doubts about speed of work.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Exams made easy in race to bottom.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Pupils in some areas are not offered ‘vital’ GCSEs.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Ed Miliband: Labour government would restore Blair era cap on class sizes.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Labour would protect education funding – Miliband’ (Friday).

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Budget 2015, due to take place on 18 March and where we have until the end of today to offer our two penny worth via the Treasury survey
    • David Cameron, Ed Balls and Nick Clegg each of whom pitched ‘ a new industrial policy’ to the annual conference of the British Chambers of Commerce
    • The government who announced a further £1.3bn to help local authorities plan for extra school places up to 2018
    • Labour who promised to resurrect Sure Start centres for use by charities and other organisations working particularly with disadvantaged families and to prioritise school admissions for children being brought up by family members other than their parents
    • Nick Clegg who set out the Lib-Dem’s five election priorities which included protecting the education budget from cradle to college
    • Tuition Fee (Transparency and Accountability) Bill requiring universities to send a letter to students explaining how they are spending the money which was laid before Parliament
    • Former HE Minister, John Denham MP who once again called for a rethink on the traditional three year, study away from home university degree model
    • Lord Young, the government’s Enterprise Adviser, whose latest report on small businesses, noted that more young people were looking to become their own boss as the internet was making it easier for business ideas to be turned into propositions 
    • Universities UK who published the Gaskell Report proposing a new regulatory body and better protection for students as part of a shake-up of HE regulation
    • Sheffield University who are launching a new scheme of bursaries to help disadvantaged graduates find work after they leave
    • The University of Brighton which has been chosen to lead the expansion of the ‘Troops for Teachers’ scheme
    • Newvic’s (Newham sixth form college) Eddie Playfair who wrote a blog piece dispelling some myths about applying to Russell Group universities after 71% of its class of 2014 went on to such universities last year
    • The BIS Dept whose updated version of the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) included latest amendments to functional skills and alternatives
    • The Skills Funding Agency who published a number of Papers on to the funding rules, rates and formulae for 2015-16
    • Ofqual who published its Second Report to Parliament covering its activities between April 2011 and December 2014
    • Glenys Stacey, chief executive of Ofqual who announced that Ofqual would be consulting on a new qualification framework for adult Voc Quals in a speech to the Skills Summt
    • NIACE who have proposed that £100m of skills and careers funding should be used to create a National Advancement Service to help people with careers advice and job opportunities
    • UKCES whose latest report highlights the Catch-22 effect on young people told to get work experience but then finding employers not offering it
    • Teacher unions who have written to the government to express their disappointment that the recent Workforce Challenge has failed to tackle the ‘root causes’ of the problem
    • The DfE who published guidance on the latest batch of 2016 GCSEs and AS/A levels
    • Ofqual who published the latest set of regulatory arrangements for GCSE History, Geography and Modern foreign languages and AS/A level geography
    • OPSN whose research suggested that some learners in deprived areas were being denied opportunities to take more challenging and in many cases, more marketable GCSEs in case schools’ league positions looked bad
    • Tom Bennett, Director of researchED who questioned some of the theories peddled about teaching styles and called for much more practically-based classroom research instead
    • Get fit, climb mountains, take risks, ban computer games: some of the proposals in the Manifesto for Children launched by TV adventurer Bear Grylls.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “CPD Theory No 17: a whole day course is 20% useful input and interactions, 40% stuff we could read, 40% filler/stuff we already know.” @headguruteacher
    • “If you can’t tweet anything nice, don’t tweet anything at all.” @Telegraph, a head teacher’s advice to a celebrity parent tweeter
    • “Criticism makes us stronger: Apple Executive.” @DTelegraph

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • NIACE. National Institute of Adult Continuing Education
    • UKCES. UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We should always be the eternal warriors for higher standards.” Ed Miliband declares what lies behind Labour’s education policies 
    • “Children can’t learn and teachers can’t teach in schools that are cold and have leaking roofs.” The Deputy PM helps announce the extra building money to schools
    • “We’ve had people claiming that children learn using brain gym, people saying that kids only learn if you appeal to their learning style. There’s not a scrap of research that substantiates this.” Tom Bennet Director researchED on current learning myths
    • “Dense, impenetrable and inaccessible.” An English teacher bemoans the inclusion of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on GCSE English reading lists suggesting it will put young readers off.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 75. The number of MPs who have signed a letter to the Education Secretary calling on her to exempt sixth-from colleges from VAT. (They have to pay but school sixth forms don’t)
    • £6bn. The amount of money the government has pledged for school buildings over the next three years
    • 57%. The number of 11-16 yr olds who have done something risky online according to research released to coincide with this week’s Internet Safety Day.

    What to look out for next week

    • Half term!
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending February 6 2015

    The election bandwagon moved on to education this week but has not strayed far from familiar ground - namely school standards.

    The week summed up

    Youth training and skills are topics for the future while HE remains gripped by contortions over tuition fees. 

    Education was the fourth in the list of six core election themes announced by the Prime Minister at the start of the year and it’s perhaps been a welcome relief to move on to a new topic after both sides had battered themselves to a standstill over the economy and health but whether we’ve learnt anything particularly new remains debatable.

    Arguably three themes stand out. First, how to raise standards, particularly if as the Education Secretary announced ‘we want to be one of the top five performing countries worldwide for English and maths by 2020?’  Labour has already put its weight behind a fully trained and qualified teaching profession, the Conservatives it seems are going for widespread academisation, upping the ante so that not just inadequate schools as judged by Ofsted but also those requiring improvement as well could be converted to academy status. It’s a proposition that raises all sorts of questions about the future funding, accountability and management of the school system. Second, schools are going to face the pinch when it comes to funding. The Prime Minister promised flat cash protection for 5-16 year olds but as others were quick to point out, when you factor in pension, pay, NI and possible inflation increases over the next five years that means a cut. And third, the battle for the Gove legacy continues.  Nicky Morgan may have poo-pooed the idea that he was a back seat driver and one of his favoured standards mechanisms, the HE A’ level Advisory Board may have been stood down but as indicated, the academies movement is alive and well and driven by a familiar script of a ‘war on mediocrity.’  

    In another busy week for education, developments in two other parts of the education world deserve a mention. One is apprenticeships, a big priority for all Parties and the subject of an Opposition-led debate this week. As with schools, the argument here is equally about standards and whether as Labour believe apprenticeships should be aligned with the European model and pitched at level 3. The debate didn’t change things but we’re just under a month away from National Apprenticeship Week so expect to see an increase in policy activity in this area in coming weeks. And the other is HE, not just the fees issue which continues to rumble on but the wider future of UKHE which amongst other topics has been under discussion at this week’s annual HEFCE Conference.  One aspect of this is the potential impact or not of technology on learning in HE and whether like music, it will become ‘unbundled’ and individually purchased on different platforms.  An interesting article appeared on this recently; it’s worth a look.

    Top headlines this week

    •  ‘Lowering tuition fees’ implausible’ say vice-chancellors.’ (Monday)
    •  ‘Cameron challenged on ‘no cuts’ school funding promise.’ (Tuesday)
    •  ‘Ofsted to press ahead with A’ level science reforms despite criticisms.’ (Wednesday)
    •  ‘Students subjected to unfair course changes.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Teacher workload crisis: ministers unveil plans to tackle excessive hours.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who confirmed that education funding for ages 5-16 would continue to be protected after the election but left concerns that this would not necessarily take into account increases in inflation, NI, pension and other costs
    • The Education Secretary who pledged to stop major mid-year policy changes as part of  a new deal with teachers unveiled in response to the recent workforce Challenge
    • The Labour Party who pledged “the biggest devolution of economic power and funding to England’s regions over five years” including funding for skills training
    • The Lib-Dems who claimed to have blocked eight of Michael Gove’s more ‘ideological’ plans in a 13-page dossier entitled ‘The Gove Files’
    • The NHS, living costs and family care: the three issues topping female voter concerns according to a poll by Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour
    • 20 university vice-chancellors who supported a letter to The Times challenging Labour’s reported plans to cut the maximum HE tuition fee from £9000 to £6000
    • The HE Funding Council who launched their latest Business Plan at their annual conference this week highlighting research, T/L, access and regulation/reputation as key pointers
    • The HE Policy Institute who published a book of essays from different institutions of how they are tackling the issue of demonstrating value for money to students and others 
    • The University of Bath which emerged as the most searched for uni last year in the Complete University Guide followed closely by Cambridge, UCL, Durham and Warwick
    • HE Student numbers which according to research by The Times, have varied considerably across universities following the introduction of tuition fees
    • Loyals, Stayers, Returners and Incomers, four types identified in HECSU’s analysis of graduate migration trends. (Loyals for instance remain in their home patch for both study and work while returners move away to study but return afterwards to seek employment)
    • NIACE and the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion who announced they’d be joining forces this week to create a new united voice on economic growth and social inclusion
    • The Excellence Gateway, the website offering ‘unrivalled’ resources for the learning and skill sector, which was re-launched by the Education and Training Foundation
    • The Local Government Association who called for more ‘good’ school places and provision for young unemployed people in its Manifesto wish-list
    • ‘Claim Your College,’ the coalition of groups supporting the creation of a College of Teaching who launched their proposals this week
    • Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT who raised strong questions about the independence of the proposed College of Teaching
    • The think tank Demos whose analysis of the latest league tables indicated that the attainment gap between pupils on free school meals and their peers was widening and that spending under the pupil premium was having little effect
    • Ofsted who confirmed following recent consultation that it would go ahead with more frequent but shorter inspections and with a common inspection framework
    • Ofqual who confirmed that it intended to press ahead with its planned changes to science practicals at A level and launched consultations on Dance, Music, Art/Design and Ancient Languages
    • Better discipline and smaller classes, the top two proposals for raising school standards in a poll of voters by YouGov
    • The Independent Schools Council who published its Manifesto for the election calling for traditional stereotypes of toffs and top hats to be abandoned
    • The government who announced a new UTC will open next year in Hull specialising in engineering and to be named the Ron Dearing UTC after one of its favourite ‘sons’
    • Professor Robin Alexander who published a considerably re-tweeted blog reflecting on the government’s recent enthusiasm for developing pupil character and true grit
    • Hodder Education, NFER and Durham CEM, three of the six providers approved to offer reception baseline assessments from Sept 2015
    • The University of East Anglia (UEA) where a ‘nap nook’ for students has been opened in the Students Union for stressed students in need of a 40 minute nap break
    • Roddy Doyle, Jojo Moyes, Sophie Hannah, Fanny Blake, Adele Geras and James Bowen whose books have all been added to the Quick Read list of books intended to encourage more adults to read.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “I shot from bottom to top set for maths. My inability to cope with mental arithmetic has no bearing on my overall intelligence.” @hannahfearn
    • “It’s no good hanging on to students who aren’t going to get anything out of their schools, says Lord Baker.” @tesfenews
    • “Flashes of steel from Glenys Stacey of Ofqual rejecting criticism of changes to science practicals.” @GregHurstTimes

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • HECSU. Higher Ed Careers Service Unit
    • NCTL. National College of Teaching and Leadership.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Were this to happen, at least £10bn of additional public funding would need to be found and ring-fenced over the course of the next parliament to close the gap.” A group of vice-chancellors writes to The Times to explain why it opposes Labour plans to cut HE tuition fees
    • “No one talks about firing surgeons if a single operation does not succeed.” The general secretary of NAHT on government proposals to remove head teachers of primary schools in which children fail to reach required standards in English and maths
    • “In many ways Ofqual shares the ethos of Tomorrow’s World. We want GCSE and A level students to be excited by science.” The chief executive of Ofqual defends the changes to A level science practicals
    • “The manifesto and website contain more recognisable names than a Debrett’s guide.” Renowned head teacher Geoff Barton on the need to keep the College of Teaching in the hands of the profession.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 71%. The % of parents who have helped their children with university costs with 53% who have helped with the fees and 20% with clearing the debt according to a YouGov poll
    • £70. The potential annual membership fee for the proposed new College of Teaching
    • 31%. The number of prospective parliamentary candidates who stand a good chance of winning in 2015 and who have had a private education and according to Sutton Trust research. (The current figure for MPs is 33% and for the population as a whole, 7%)
    • 69%. The number of people apparently tempted to take last Monday off (Feb 2 is generally known as National Sickie Day).

    What to look out for next week

    • Education Committee witness session with Charlie Taylor of the NCTL (Wednesday).
    read more
  • Pocket Watch - Ofsted ring the changes to inspections

    So full steam ahead it is for changes to the inspection system.

    This follows the announcement this week by Ofsted confirming widespread support for the changes listed in its recent ‘Better inspection for all’ consultation. Nearly 5000 responses were received offering broad support for the three core proposals of shorter but more frequent inspections for ‘good’ providers, the use of a Common Inspection Framework and for a full round of inspections for non-association independent schools over the next three years. Coupled with some other previously announced changes, it means Ofsted can now go ahead and plan to implement from this Sept what it describes as ‘some of the most significant changes in its history.’  The longer-term issue of where Ofsted sits within a self-improving system remains, as the Education Committee discussed in a witness session with the Chief Inspector last week but for the moment, this is how things now look.

    What are the main changes?

    1.    Ofsted will introduce shorter but more frequent (every three years) inspections from this September for schools, academies and FE providers judged ‘good’ at their last inspection. The key issue here is ‘proportionate,’ so not subjecting proven providers to full inspections every five years, six for FE, but using an approach that is more, well proportionate to the level of risk. Concerns had also been voiced that a gap of five or six years between visits was too long, things could change in the interim which might only be picked up when problems had set in, so more regular monitoring should help here too. Short inspections would also allow for what the report calls ‘greater professional dialogue’ between inspectors and institutional leaders, in other words more meaningful conversations on strengths and weaknesses, given that these occasions would not be mini full inspections. This new system will also apply to other providers rated good, such as special schools and pupil referral units but not yet to early years’ providers. And although it remains subject to parliamentary approval, the aim is to pilot some short inspection visits between now and the summer and to introduce the new approach fully from Sept 2015

    2.    Inspections will be carried out using a uniform Common Inspection Framework. The key issue here is consistency of judgements, let alone better coherence and comparability which along with the new contracting and training arrangements for individual inspectors, should be greatly improved by the use of a common approach. There was some worry that a ’one size fits all’ model covering everything from early years to academies to skills provision might not be appropriate but Ofsted intends to overcome this by producing separate handbooks. The new Framework will also see some new emphasis placed on areas like the quality of assessment which has been added to the quality of teaching and learning, pupil welfare, learner outcomes, the effectiveness of leadership and management and the appropriateness of the curriculum generally. In addition grades may be given for some specific areas of post-16 activity such as study programmes and traineeships

    3.    And already announced. From this Sept, Ofsted will no longer sub-contract inspections but bring the whole process in-house. Second, the separate graded judgements for early years and school sixth form provision introduced last Sept will remain and third, the position on no-notice inspections is unchanged: it will only be used when safeguarding issues are raised. 

    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in January 2015

    Election year has got off to a flyer with plenty happening around education but little sense of any grand new vision. Reports on Academies, apprentice funding, FS and HEQA have all set the tone.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Key dates. DfE publishes main 2015 diary dates for schools and colleges 
    • Early Years Pupil Premium. Over £1m given to first local authorities
    • KS2 tests. Arrangements for 2015 published
    • Child illiteracy. Nick Clegg pledges to eradicate by 2025
    • Character Awards. Schools and organisations invited to apply
    • Well-being. First head of well-being in a UK secondary school to be trialled
    • GCSE D/T. Introduction put back a year to 2017
    • Computing. Government pledges new support for teachers
    • AS levels. UCAS survey reveals latest picture on proposed take-up
    • GCSEs/AS/A’ levels. Content and assessment info for 2016 starts published
    • Initial Teaching Training. Outcomes of latest review published
    • Head teachers. New national excellence standards published
    • Education Endowment Fund. Provides new tool to help close attainment gaps
    • School places. 78% of local authorities said to be under pressure for primary places
    • Free Schools. 256 now open and a further 111 preparing to in latest DfE listing
    • Grammar schools. MPs debate future funding
    • Sixth Form Colleges. Celebrities join the call to remove VAT costs
    • Destination data. Latest (2013) figures for KS4/KS5 learners show mixed picture
    • League Tables. Latest tables reflect impact of new tougher rules
    • Teach Too. Phase 2 (of teaching partnership projects with industry) launched
    • Functional Skills. ETF launch their review as Ofqual report on theirs
    • Soft skills. New employer-led campaign launched
    • Apprenticeship funding. Government calls for more time to review options
    • Growth Deals. Government allocates further £1bn
    • HEFCE. Offers best practice models for universities to demonstrate how they spend funds
    • P/T students. Down 7% on the previous year in latest stats
    • Graduates. Booming job market for some in latest high fliers report
    • Widening HE participation. New national outreach networks launched
    • Uni applications. Up 2% overall on last year in UCAS latest figures
    • Private HE providers. Form a new independent grouping.

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

    • Update from UUK’s Student Funding Panel. Universities UK outlines initial issues emerging from its Panel looking into UK student funding and due to report before the election
    • Engineering UK 2015. The sector’s latest annual report calls for a big increase in engineering apprentices and graduates needed to fill an annual current shortfall of 55,000 skilled workers
    • Government Response on Apprenticeship Funding. The government finds little support for either of its two proposed models and calls for more time to rethink options
    • The Value of Soft Skills to the UK Economy. McDonalds publishes a commissioned report showing that so-called soft skills are crucial to individuals and worth £88bn to the UK economy
    • The future of quality assessment in HE. The Steering Group reviewing options issues a call for thoughts as it considers initial principles
    • Youth Index 2015. The Prince’s Trust releases its annual testing of the pulse of young people and finds many, especially the low-skilled, at a very low ebb and anxious about their future
    • Unpacking Qualification Reform. UCAS finds 66% of schools and colleges surveyed will offer standalone AS quals but calls for continued dialogue with admissions officers
    • National standards of excellence for head teachers. The DfE prepares to go ahead with five of the six recommendations accompanying the revised prof standards for head teachers
    • Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training. Sir Andrew Carter publishes the results of his review into ITT and calls for a new independent body to set a future framework
    • Making Reforms Happen. The OECD reviews education reforms in different countries over recent years and laments the lack of proper evaluation of what works
    • Progress matters in Primary too. The think tank CentreForum makes the case for pupil progress as the main measure of primary school accountability in a report supported by Pearson
    • 16-18 year old participation. The Public Accounts Committee continues to express concerns that government initiatives aren’t properly evaluated and that too many young people disappear
    • Growth Dashboard. The government publishes its latest inventory of government and sector performance against its key industrial and economic targets
    • Our Reflections. The Education Technology Action Group (ELTAG) offer their thoughts on future development of learning and assessment technology
    • Reformed GCSE and A level subject content consultation. The DfE and Ofqual publish the latest batch of content and assessment information on these 2016 starts
    • Improving Functional Skills Qualifications. Ofqual puts forwards four reform proposals to help improve standards and assessment and pledges to return in the autumn to review progress
    • Academies and Free Schools. The Education Committee finds no conclusive evidence that they have yet raised standards or closed gaps and calls for greater transparency on future strategy
    • School oversight and intervention. The Public Accounts Committee calls for greater clarity in where responsibilities lie in overseeing the school system.

    Speeches of the month

    • Sir David Bell’s 9 January ASE speech calls for reforms to A levels, changes to the provision of teacher training and for a new body to oversee curriculum development
    • Nicky Morgan’s 19 January Education World Forum speech continues to advocate the case for teachers as ‘gifted, dedicated professionals who regularly go the extra mile’
    • Nicky Morgan’s 21 January BETT speech pledges additional match funding and support to help train the next generation of computing teachers
    • Nick Gibb’s 22 January OECD Education Policy Outlook speech outlines how selected international evidence has helped drive forward the government’s education reforms
    • Tristram Hunt’s 22 January BETT speech highlights how the digital revolution provides education with an opportunity to transform academic and vocational learning
    • Nicky Morgan’s 27 January Politeia speech stresses the importance of a knowledge-based curriculum as part of her vision for education. 

    Quotes of the month

    • “I was interested in education before but it has been a steep learning curve, there’s lots of education lingo and acronyms.” The Education Secretary on getting to grips with the job
    • “I am desperate for a conversation that leaves behind the incendiary rhetoric of the Blob and the class war.” The Shadow Education Secretary on debating education in the election
    • “Current evidence does not allow us to draw conclusions on whether academies in themselves are a positive force for change.” The Education Committee is left uncertain about academies
    • “Young people who have five or more A*-C GCSEs rate their happiness higher than those who don’t.” The Prince’s Trust assesses the mood of young people in its latest Youth Index
    • “To date, I think we’d be better spending the money on recruiting and training great teachers and sticking them in front of old-fashioned blackboards.” NAHT’s Russell Hobby on edtech
    • “If the culture is right, it’s a calm and orderly place, the head is marching round corridors making sure children are behaving themselves and doing well.” Sir Michel Wilshaw on good schools. 

    Word or phrase of the month

    ‘To greenhouse.’ To nurture an idea. 

    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending January 30 2015

    Schools and HE have been making the news this week and it’s been a very mixed bag.

    The week summed up

    For schools there have been two issues. One has been about performance and how this should be measured and reported and the other has been about the school system itself and whether changes here, and in particular what’s known as ‘academisation,’ has helped raised standards.

    Issues of performance have arisen because this week has seen the annual publication of the school ‘league’ tables, different this year following the changes to early entry, iGCSEs and to vocational qualification recognition. The net result has seen a number of independent schools at the bottom of the league tables and a doubling of the number of state schools who have fallen below the required floor standard leading in turn to a series of questions about the merits or otherwise of the current system. What started 20 years ago as an exercise in creating the informed consumer has pretty much ended up creating a very confused consumer. As Jon Coles, formerly in charge of such things at the DfE argued in the Independent this week, the problem is that the government is only providing the data it prefers, not that which consumers seek. At present that seems to be coming from alternative sources but it seems likely that the continuing data revolution will lead to further changes in the ways school output is reported.

    The second issue facing schools this week has been about the reforms to the school system where two critical reports, one from the Education Committee and the other from the Public Accounts Committee, have raised challenging questions about the diversification of the system and oversight of it. Academies in particular have been under intense scrutiny this week but the wider issue is that the creation of different types of school have changed the operation of the school system in many ways, accountability, funding, governance and so on. It means any incoming government this year will have to think carefully about how the system should operate in the future.

    As for HE, two issues have been gathering steam here also this week. One is about alternative providers, part of the government’s original White Paper plans for opening out the HE sector and giving students greater choice but remaining controversial as concerns emerge about accountability, funding and quality. Here the government has moved to stem some of the concerns with a series of measures to strengthen requisite quality assurance arrangements.

    And the other issue is about tuition fees with Labour apparently poised to announce its policy in this area potentially encompassing a reduction in the maximum fee level to £6000. According to BBC expert Robert Peston, this could come at a great cost, potentially £2.5bn a year based on current loan rates. Not unnaturally the FE sector is keeping a watchful eye for any raid on the skills budget to help pay for this. By all accounts there’s no done deal yet but nerves are fraying. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Majority of UK’s most influential had independent school education-survey’ (Monday
    • ‘No proof academies raise standards, say MPs.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Ofqual issues four-point improvement plan for functional skills.’ (Wednesday
    • ‘League Tables branded ‘a nonsense’ by private schools.’ (Thursday
    • ‘Government announces new rules for private colleges.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The HE Minister who announced a series of measures including annual re-designation and minimum requirements on registering students intended to beef up quality assurance arrangements for alternative HE providers
    • The Education Secretary who underlined the importance of a knowledge-based curriculum in a keynote speech outlining her vision for education which also included a call to rethink the position on practical assessments in GCSE science
    • MPs of all Parties, many of whom are lining up to support an early day motion on removing international students from net migration targets 
    • The think tank Policy Exchange who published a report showing how smarter use of technology and data could help local authorities save up to £10bn over the next 5 years
    • Best of Both worlds, the title of a new guide from the CBI and sponsored by Middlesex University, showing how HE and business can work together on skills and innovation
    • The Association of Graduate Employers who became the latest organisation to predict a buoyant labour market (vacancies up 11.9%) for graduates in 2015
    • UCAS who confirmed that applications to higher education were up, particularly from EU applicants, as it reported on the position following the important Jan 15 deadline
    • Local Growth money allocated to LEPs this week to support regional skills, housing and transport initiatives
    • The Education and Training Foundation whose recent report on FE leadership and management found declining levels of satisfaction
    • The Edge Foundation who published new research in the build-up to this year’s VQ Day showing that young people had little idea about which jobs had the best earnings potential
    • Apprenticeship and Traineeship figures, both up in the latest official figures for the first quarter of the 2014/15 year including 54,000 apprenticeships starts for 16-19 yr olds and 5,000 traineeship starts
    • Ofqual who published its long-awaited report into L2 Functional Skills proposing changes in four key areas including the quality of assessment materials and standard setting
    • Ed Sallis, former Chief Exec of Highlands College, who is heading up the review into non-GCSE English and maths which got under way this week
    • KS4/KS5 destination figures for the period up to March 2013 showing 91% of KS4 learners in education, employment or training a year after course completion (up 2%) but 71% (a 3% drop) for KS5 learners
    • 2016 GCSEs and AS/A’ levels where content and assessment arrangements for a further batch of 2016 starts were confirmed by the DfE and Ofqual respectively
    • School and College league tables for 2014 performance which were published this week to mixed reactions as the impact of some of the government’s changed rules became apparent
    • ASCL, NAHT,PiXL and United Learning who published alternative performance tables offering a more ‘rounded’ picture of school/learner performance
    • The Education Committee who published an important report on the government’s programme of Academies and Free Schools but could find no conclusive evidence so far that they had raised standards or closed the gap
    • Academies, in the news in other respects this week with the Public Accounts Committee asking questions of the head of the Durand Trust and the Gizzi Review reporting no irregularities in the Norfolk Academies inspection issue
    • School oversight, debated by MPs this week and the subject of a critical report from the Public Accounts Committee
    • Sir Anthony Seldon who used his Oxford lecture to express concerns about the failure of the major parties to come up with any convincing strategies to tackle social mobility 
    • Heavy workloads, cited by ¾ teachers in a recent survey as the top reason why they’re quitting teaching with ’wanting to make a difference for young people’ as the main reason why they started teaching in the first place
    • Music and arts activities for children, especially the music education hubs where funding will be stretched into a further year under an announcement from the DfE this week 
    • Victoria Beer, Chair of the Teaching Schools Council, who was announced as Chair of the panel who will judge the 2015 DfE Character Awards next month
    • Teachers, shop assistants and hospitality staff who were among the unhappiest workers in a recent survey looking at pay rates 
    • ‘Associate dean of eureka moments,’ a new post being advertised at Bristol University. 

    Tweet(s) of the week 

    • ‘Private schools happy to be at bottom of league tables; not sulking just don’t care.’ @Telegraph
    • Countries with better maths scores allocate resources more equitably. It’s not how much you spend but how you spend it.’ @OECD

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • SFR. (Statistical First Release,) the Dept’s official statistical publications showing data, such as the destination data this week, collected on schools, children and young people. 

    Quote(s) of the week 

    • “It’s still too early to know how much the academies programme has helped raise standards.” The Chair of the Education Committee summarises the findings in his Committee’s report on Academies and Free Schools
    • “I am concerned that a decision to remove practical assessment from science qualifications is in danger of holding back the next generation of scientists.” The Education secretary steps into the debate about the assessment of science practicals
    • “With this review we are working to establish what kind of improvements might be needed to make sure non-GCSE English and maths qualifications have labour market respect.” The Chair of the review of non-GCSE English and maths which got under way this week. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 330. The number of state secondary schools who have fallen below the floor standard (of 40% of pupils gaining 5 A*- Cs including Eng/maths) in the latest ‘league’ tables and which has doubled since last year as new rules have applied
    • 2%. The increase in applications to higher education against the same stage last year    
    • 32.2. The average number of hours we work a week according to latest data, up slightly
    • 40%. The number of people who went to independent school in Debrett’s latest survey of the top influential people in the UK.  

    What to look out for next week

    • HE Minister Greg Clark speaks at the HEFCE Annual Conference (Wednesday)
    • Opposition-led debate on Apprenticeships (Wednesday). 
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