Policy Watch

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

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

About Steve

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

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  • Policy Eye – week ending September 18 2015

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

    The week summed up

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

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

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

    Top headlines this week

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

    People/organisations in the news this week

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

    Tweet(s) of the week

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

    Quote(s) of the week

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

    Number(s) of the week

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

    What to look out for next week

    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending September 11 2015

    A major keynote speech, an interesting announcement and two important reports make up the bevy of education headlines this week.

    The week summed up

    The keynote speech which had many in the sector buzzing, not all contentedly, was from the HE Minister Jo Johnson at the Universities UK Annual Conference this week. In essence, this was the first real attempt to reflect some of the changes that have been taking place in HE since the 2011 White Paper and to reset the vision accordingly. As the Director of Wonkhe put it in his helpful summary, the speech reflects a shift from students being at the heart of the system, as per the title of the White Paper, to teaching being a core issue. Not that students don’t remain central of course, after all they pay the bills but the new climate means they deserve better choices, better access and yes, better quality teaching. These and other matters such as making it easier for providers to gain degree-awarding powers and for new providers to enter the market, will be the subject of the much touted Green Paper due sometime this autumn. Bets are on as to when this might be; seasons can be very changeable these days.

    The interesting announcement came from Schools Minister Nick Gibb when he confirmed in a letter that the Dept was considering changing the rules on when summer born children should start school. Basically it’s going to offer more flexibility and consult accordingly before amending the Admissions Code. Whether summer born children as the youngest in a Year Group do actually struggle when they start school has been the source of contention for some time so this may be a sensible option although interestingly the Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report a couple of years ago arguing that the age at which they took tests rather than starting school was what really counted.

    The two important reports this week concerned colleges and schools respectively.

    Colleges, both Sixth Form and FE, are facing difficult times at present with a Damascene funding knife constantly hanging over them. To add to their uncertainties the government is proposing a series of area-wide reviews which will cover all colleges, attempt to weed out inefficient provision, and in official speak: “establish an appropriate set of institutions to offer high quality provision.” A trail run of reviews in two parts of the country has led to considerable re-structuring and this week, BIS issued further guidance and gave the green light for further roll-out of the review process.

    As for schools, this week Ofsted published the results of its survey of provision at key stage 3. The title of the report was ‘KS3: the wasted years?’ By the end, the question mark was not necessary. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Decisions to scrap levels won’t help pupils, say heads in major survey.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Fears over unfair university admissions as AS levels disappear.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Start school a year late if you are born in summer.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Key Stage 3 pupils too low a priority, chief inspector of schools says.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘England’s schools face recruitment crisis.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Chancellor who confirmed that an Autumn (financial) Statement would be issued alongside the Spending Review announcements on 25 November
    • The BIS Dept who announced that colleges in Greater Manchester and Sheffield would be the next to face area reviews as it launched its latest guidance on the review process
    • HE Minister Jo Johnson who made a keynote speech at the Universities UK Conference setting out the five guiding principles (improved teaching quality, widened participation, simpler entry for new HE providers, easier provider access to degree awarding powers, simpler research framework) underpinning his HE strategy and likely to form the basis of the forthcoming HE Green (discussion) Paper
    • Nicky Morgan who limbered up for the Rugby World Cup by launching a scheme whereby rugby clubs can work with schools to help ‘instil character and discipline’
    • Schools Minister Nick Gibb who spoke about teaching and learning styles and the importance of tried and tested and methods in a speech to the ResearchEd Conference last weekend
    • The DfE who have confirmed that they intend to amend the school Admissions Code to allow summer born children to be admitted to school later
    • Sir Claus Moser, a leading figure in both UK and global education who notably contributed to UK higher education and basic skills, whose death was reported last weekend
    • The OECD who announced that their annual health check on the performance of education systems around the world, ‘Education at a Glance,’ will be published later than usual this year on 24 November to allow for changes in classification
    • CIPD and Edge who following the HE Minister’s speech this week, issued a statement standing by their claims that current stats fail to recognise the extent of graduate over-qualification   
    • Universities UK who have been commissioned to head up a taskforce and develop a code of practice to help universities tackle issues of violence against women on campuses 
    • Nick Hillman, Director of the HE Policy Institute, Baroness Sharp and new Universities UK President Dame Julia Goodfellow who have all made powerful cases this week for part-time students in HE
    • Lecturecapture (self-explanatory) and Laundrapp (tells you where you can get your laundry done,) two of the most useful apps for student life cited in a list provided by the Daily Telegraph as undergrads prepare for the new university year
    • Universities UK who submitted their proposals to the Treasury’s Spending Review calling among other things for better funding for high-cost subjects, R/D and teaching
    • The Association of Colleges who also sent their wish list to the Spending Review with more 19+ loans and better funding for 16-18 yr olds among the 10 proposals
    • NIACE and Inclusion, now working together, who submitted thoughts from the adult and employment world to the Spending Review including using part of the Apprenticeship Levy to help protect the quality and access of apprenticeships
    • NFER who looked at the work of Regional Schools Commissioners showing how their role pans out in different regions
    • The Fabian Society who stressed the importance of partnerships as part of a new national constitution for the schools system in a report entitled ‘Stakeholder Schools
    • Ofsted who published a report on key stage 3 raising concerns that in many schools this stage was not being given sufficient priority and support
    • Ofqual and the DfE who have launched further consultation on the content and assessment of the 2017 batch of reformed GCSEs and A levels
    • GCSE youngsters in Wales who started Wales only qualifications that included a particular emphasis on literacy and numeracy
    • 100 schools where a sample of perhaps lucky teenagers will be able to start school an hour later in an experiment to see if an extra hour’s sleep can help boost GCSE results
    • Teachers and others who have been asked to submit ideas to the Teachers’ Professional Development Group on a new national standard for teacher CPD
    • BT who have announced plans to step up its support for tech literacy in schools with the aim of reaching 400,000 primary school children over the coming year through its Barefoot Computing programme 
    • Facebook who have confirmed a further move into education in the US by pledging to provide free educational software that can help with personalised learning in schools
    • Parent Info, the new online service supported by the DfE, to help parents keep up to speed with their children in anything from understanding teenspeak to more serious issues of health and awareness
    • The NAHT who published a report highlighting some of the challenges involved in extending free childcare places as proposed under the government’s Childcare Bill
    • The TES who in recognition of the Queen’s milestone this week looked up the TES published in 1952 and found that some education issues (teacher recruitment, mental health) hadn’t changed much
    • ITV who is calling on anyone who fancies making a ‘dramatic’ pledge in public to change their lives perhaps through learning or training to get in touch for a new show being hosted by Davina McCall. 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Aristotle taught while doing it, Betrand Russell did it for an hour every evening, Nietzsche was at it all day long.” (Walking, apparently) @timeshighered
    • “Fairly confident that the point at which the DFE knows what a teen acronym means is the point where actual teens have stopped using it.”@gabyhinsliff
    • “Big school can be bewildering but give your Year 7s a human satnav to follow and they’ll never get lost.” @tes
    • “Academics are being forced into writing books nobody can buy.” @GdnHigherEd
    • “Sir Michael Wilshaw: reality shows like Educating Cardiff are deterring would-be teachers.” @ed­_ontap
    • "BT chief ex Gavin Patterson: Young people are surrounded by technology yet few understand how it works.” @tes
    • “I can’t decide what’s worse: assessment software companies or assessment without levels consultants. It’s a tough one.”  @ChrisPadden
    • “Parents told not to boast about kid’s exam results on Facebook in case it upsets others.” @ow.ly//RRRsq 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We don’t need Nobel physicists running car parks. We want the scientists focused on science.” The HE Minister on the need to simplify the research regulatory regime
    • “I think fragile is the way to put it.” Nicky Morgan on the current state of FE
    • “I look upon the next 5 years with great excitement, anticipating the new practices that will emerge due to greater school autonomy.” Nick Gibb gets excited at the ResearchEd Conference last weekend
    • “Too many school leaders treat key stage 3 as the poor relation of key stages 4 and 5.” Ofsted finds key stage 3 a cause for concern
    • “The question is why they lose interest because it is there at key stages 1 and 2.” The director of Code Club UK is concerned about why girls appear to lose interest in computing in their teenage years
    • “Parents of summer born children should have the right to defer the start of their education so that their children do not suffer developmental and education problems.” Stephen Hammond MP hosting a debate in the House of Commons on summer-born children
    • “We should not mourn the end of levels but the mode of their passing has left much to be desired.” NAHT’s general secretary on life without national curriculum assessment levels
    • “Personally, I do not think teachers are always best placed to actually teach lessons on mental health, although some do so magnificently.” The new mental health champion for schools on who’s best placed to offer young people help.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £20,000. What some STEM degree subjects cost to provide and why some universities want to see the tuition fee raised for these subjects
    • 4.4%. The unemployment rate among young graduates in the government’s latest (April – June) stats
    • 2/3. The number of parents, who in a survey by E.ON, described their understanding of STEM subjects as ‘average’ or even ‘poor’  
    • 22. The number of new build schools opening this month under the government’s Priority School Building Programme. (The aim is 500+ schools)
    • 1,237. The number of ‘active’ education blogs churning away in the UK according to the Schools Minister in his speech last weekend
    • 50. How many times a day 30% of us check our smartphones in a survey by Deloitte. 

    What to look out for next week

    • Announcement of Labour leader (Saturday)
    • MPs Questions to the BIS Dept (Tuesday)
    • OECD PISA report on digital skills (Tuesday)
    • Education Committee witness session with Sir Michael Wilshaw (Wednesday)
    • 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 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