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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 June 12 2015

    Teaching and learning have been very much at the forefront this week. 

    The week summed up

    The Schools Minister made a keynote speech on the importance of the core academic curriculum, MPs debated vocational qualifications, Ofqual continued with its flow of information on the reformed GCSEs and A’ levels, the Education and Endowment Foundation published its latest batch of project reports on innovative approaches to assessment and the Teacher Development Trust launched a major new report on ‘Developing Great Teaching.’

    For many, this is a welcome shift away from the often distracting obsession with school structures and systems and a focus on what really matters, namely high-quality teaching and learning. As former Schools Minister Jim Knight put it at the launch of the Teacher Development Trust Report this week; “I wish we didn’t have the role of schools minister in this country. We spend way too much time obsessing about schools-their structures, their schools, their accountability, their buildings. Instead we should have a teaching minister.” Maybe. But there’s a further interesting development to note as well and that is the extent to which the teaching profession is now taking a lead role in some of these developments. The College for Teaching, the Foundation for Leadership in Education and the Institution for FE, all of which have also been in the news this week, are all teacher led while the mantra ‘Own your Curriculum’ is beginning to gain momentum. 

    We shall no doubt hear more next week when Professor John Hattie’s latest Papers are released under the Pearson ‘Open Ideas’ series and the Sunday Times hosts its annual two day education-fest at Wellington College.

    For the moment, it’s worth just noting some of the messages that came out of this week’s burst of activity. On the move to strengthen the position of the core academic curriculum, Nick Gibb in his speech to the think tank Policy Exchange last night, made a strong case for this being part of a moral mission, ensuring that disadvantaged pupils were given the same opportunities to secure the same high-value qualifications as everyone else. Further details on the mechanics such as whether all pupils will have to follow the requirements are due shortly. On vocational qualifications, Nick Boles, the Skills Minister, posed three questions which seem to encapsulate where government thinking is at present; none new but all important: should they start at age 14 or 16; should colleges specialise more; have we got the right qualifications? As for ‘Developing Great Teaching,’ where considerable evidence of effective professional development for teachers in other countries was presented, it’s very much a case of sustained support rather than occasional drip feed that we should be aiming for. Bye-bye Baker days perhaps. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Leading girls’ school to scrap homework over stress fears.’ (Monday)
    • ‘QAA reviews could be abolished.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Crack down on fake universities launched in England.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Traditional GCSE subjects for all pupils.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Teach First warns recruitment crisis is worse than 2002.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Schools Minister Nick Gibb who set out government plans to strengthen provision of a core academic curriculum in schools with further consideration of some of the details to come
    • MPs who discussed some of the perennial issues surrounding vocational qualifications including status, funding and take-up in a debate on the eve of national VQ Day
    • BIS whose latest quarterly stats on graduate employment suggested that the unemployment rate for young grads is at its lowest for 8 years despite the fact that a survey from the NUS found students pretty pessimistic about their future job prospects
    • The Migration Advisory Committee who have been asked to advise the government before the end of the year on how to restrict work visas to ‘genuine’ skills shortages and how to boost apprenticeship funds through a new skills levy on Tier 2 visas raising concerns among some employers
    • Labour Education spokesman Tristram Hunt who reflected on Labour’s election defeat and suggested that when it came to education, ‘muddled priorities’ were largely to blame 
    • Universities UK who published their latest (2011/12 based) assessment of how much UK universities contribute to the UK economy
    • The founder of the Wonkhe website who posted a useful blog on how the debate on proposed changes to quality assurance arrangements in higher education is shaping up
    • The University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) who issued a call for good case study examples of HEI involvement in Higher Apprenticeships and Degree Apprenticeships
    • The Edge Foundation, the ‘hosts’ of this year’s VQ Day, who published a survey of the skills most valued by neighbours and found that having a plumber, an electrician or a doctor living next door came high up the list
    • The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) who ahead of next month’s budget published a set of four proposals for helping improve the skills system
    • The NFER who produced a literature report for the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCGQ) on the value of vocational qualifications offered in the UK to learners, business and the economy
    • Training providers many of whom have been concerned to receive letters from the Skills Funding Agency telling them that growth funding, the funding they can apply for when they deliver more than allocated, will be frozen until after the July Budget
    • The UK Commission for Employment and Skills whose latest sector ‘special’ report looked at the digital and creative sector which they calculated was going to need 1.2m new workers by 2020
    • Eduserve who published the results of a report into digital learning resources in FE and identified three current barriers: insufficient funding; ineffective procurement; low levels of staff engagement in new technologies
    • The Institution for FE which was granted its Royal Charter this week
    • 7 bodies, including the AoC, ASCL and Sixth Form Colleges Association, who got together to pen letters to the Chancellor and Education Secretary highlighting 16-19 funding concerns
    • The Local Government Association (LGA) who published the results of a survey into how local councils were supporting 16-19 participation and found that 91% have had to reduce expenditure in this area since 2010 and 54% have outsourced provision 
    • A new national funding formula for schools which according to the TES may see developments later this year and which has already generated strong feelings
    • The TES who produced a useful set of charts from the recent DfE school census data on rising pupil numbers
    • Ofsted who in its latest Annual Report and Accounts suggested that new inspection arrangements would be able to generate annual savings of around £6.5m from 2016/17
    • Ofqual who launched a consultation on new rules and guidance for assessing practical skills in AS and A level sciences
    • The ‘Claim your College’ group behind the College for Teaching who have produced a new awareness pack to be used in promoting awareness of the College
    • Three organisations, the ASCL, NAHT and National Governors’ Association, who are getting together to develop qualifications and training for school leaders under a new Foundation for Leadership in Education
    • The Teacher Development Trust who along with TES Global launched a report on best practice in teacher professional development which recommended a shift away from the traditional one-off events to more sustained, supportive events matching current needs
    • Chris Riddell who will take over from Malorie Blackman as children’s laureate
    • ‘Invictus’ by W.E.Henley and ‘It’s Work’ by Benjamin Zephaniah chosen by teenagers as the top pre-1914 and post-1914 poems respectively in this year’s Poetry by Heart competition. 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “I once had an inspector tell me children were bored in lessons. Evidence? One looked out of the window.”  @tombennett71
    • “GPA degree classifications are coming but will getting a 4.25 ever match up to a 1st?” @timeshighered
    • “Be more like Aldi, boarding schools told.” @schools­_­ontap
    • “Two nominees for Public Accounts Committee chair mention need to scrutinise schools sector. Could be interesting.” @warwickmansell
    • “Social media turned exam angst into a different kind of event this summer with its own instant commentary and millions reading stories.”@seanjcoughlan 

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • TNE. Transnational education, typically students who start their degrees abroad on courses run or recognised by UK universities and the subject of a research report from HEFCE this week.  

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We don’t export enough; we don’t train enough; we don’t save enough; we don’t invest enough; we don’t manufacture enough; we certainly don’t build enough; and far too much of the economic activity of the nation is concentrated in the centre of London.” The Chancellor’s ‘don’t get me started’ list of current productivity challenges
    • “We have just done one of the biggest data studies undertaken by government, matching people’s education performance and their earnings as recorded by HMRC.” The Skills Minister highlights the importance of qualifications that can improve people’s job prospects and earnings potential as he rounds off the debate on Voc Quals Day
    • “To those who criticise our focus on academic subjects or suggest the EBacc is a Gradgindian anachronism, I have a simple question: would you want your child to be denied the opportunity to study a science, history or geography or a foreign language?” The Schools Minister challenges critics of the government’s focus on core academic subjects
    • “In a decade’s time, if we have still got GCSEs in England, Britain will be completely out of kilter with other European countries and not giving young people what they need.’ Labour’s Shadow Education Minister remains committed to an overhaul of 14-19 education
    • “We are urging you to address the growing and significant funding disparity in the funding for the education of 16-19 yr olds in schools and colleges.” Leading organisations write to the Chancellor urging him to review 16-19 funding provision
    • “I’ve never worked in a profession before or since my time in the classroom in which people talked about ‘getting out’ the way a seasoned prisoner might discuss making a run for it.” A correspondent in The Daily Telegraph muses over how many teachers still hanker after an escape route.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 9. The age at which children apparently stop wanting to be firemen and women or nurses and want to become TV reality stars
    • 94,000. The number of extra pupils in primary schools in England this year, up 2.1%, according to the latest School Census figures
    • 41%. The number of adults who have undertaken some form of learning over the last three years, up 3% (although not for the unemployed) in NIACE’s latest participation survey
    • £39.9bn. How much UK Universities contributed to UK GDP in 2011 in the latest set of figures released by UUK
    • £143.3m. Ofsted’s budget for 2015/16 according to its latest Annual Report and Accounts
    • 8. The number of factors that make for effective teacher CPD as identified by the Teacher Development Trust and TES Global in a report launched this week. 

    What to look out for next week

    • Adult Learners’ Week (all week)
    • MPs Questions to the DfE (Monday)
    • Launch of two new ‘thought piece’ papers by Professor John Hattie under the Pearson ‘Open Ideas’ series on what works/what doesn’t in education (Tuesday)
    • Chairs of Parliamentary Select Committees selected (Wednesday)
    • Sunday Times Festival of Education (Thursday/Friday)
    • UVAC/Edge Seminar on the ‘Future for high level voc ed in England’ (Friday). 
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending June 5 2015

    It’s been one of the busiest weeks in the education year so far with exam halls (and students) at full stretch, a series of reports and updates released, the new Education Bill published and to top it all off, some cuts or ‘in-year departmental savings’ including for education, announced.

    The week summed up

    The new mantra coming out of government at the moment is “the sooner you start, the smoother the ride.” The Chancellor’s used the phrase twice now in as many speeches and ended his speech with it again yesterday. The aim of course is to demonstrate intent and seize leadership of key areas when other parties are resolving their own issues and will set the tone for much of this year. The Prime Minister’s announcement earlier in the week of ten new implementation taskforces to keep things on track in areas like apprenticeships and childcare offer further proof of this.

    The two big education policy issues at the moment are the cuts and the Bill.

    The cuts were announced in the economic debate yesterday and follow a report from the OECD earlier in the week urging the Chancellor to limit the pain so as to avoid harming growth. The savings, as the Chancellor prefers to call them, affect both DfE and BIS, each of which will contribute £450m to the £3bn of savings listed, arguably from what the DfE called “underspends, efficiencies and small budgetary reductions.” Exactly where axes will fall is not clear yet but non-essential activity, some agency activity and non-protected areas like 16-19, adult learning and HE look most vulnerable and will be biting their nails even further as the July Budget approaches.

    As for the Education Bill which was laid this week and will be subject to further consultation on some of the detail later this summer, debate has continued all week about proposals which grant the Education Secretary new powers over the intervention and conversion (to academy status) of so-called ‘coasting’ schools. The TES and Schools Week both have useful summaries of the Bill and an accompanying Policy Watch briefly outlines some of the issues which broadly come down to the question of whether academisation really is a silver bullet, what impact such centralisation of powers will have on schools in general and heads in particular and whether this more forceful approach is the best way of raising standards.

    Some important reports were also published this week. Stand-outs include Ofqual’s latest ‘Perceptions’ survey which found confidence in core qualifications remaining pretty high but some concerns about the pace and nature of change. Also two annual surveys in HE, one from OFFA on how universities are meeting their access agreements (90% have been met) and one from HEPI/HEA on the student academic experience (87% positive.) All details below.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘The surprising success of Britain’s university spin-outs.’ (Monday
    • ‘Teachers need respect, world leaders insist.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘All failing schools to be Academies under Education Bill.’ (Wednesday
    • ‘Too many disadvantaged university students dropping out despite rise in acceptance rates, says watchdog head.’ (Thursday
    • ‘George Osborne announces fresh cuts to education budgets.” (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Education BillChildcare Bill and the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, three of the education-related Bills which have all now been published
    • The Prime Minister who announced a number of new taskforces to help ensure manifesto policy commitments in key areas such as youth employment and childcare are delivered to schedule
    • The Chancellor who announced £4.5bn of spending cuts from current budgets with £3bn of that coming from dept savings including both DfE and BIS 
    • The Chancellor who headed to the Midlands early in the week to outline ways in which the region could become Britain’s engine for growth
    • The DfE and BIS Depts who completed the lists of ministerial responsibilities
    • The DfE who have promised to conduct a review of childcare funding and provision before the summer to help ensure the new childcare commitment could be implemented a year earlier than planned
    • New Minister for Universities Jo Johnson who used a maiden speech to the 2015 Going Global Conference to back more international students coming to the UK to study
    • Graduate Prospects who have been appointed by the HE Minister to help ensure websites and providers provide genuine information and services to international students
    • HEPI and HEA’s latest survey of students’ academic experience which found 87% of students surveyed fairly or very satisfied but many concerned about how their money was being spent, about contact time and their future prospects
    • The Office for Fair Access whose latest annual report on university access agreements showed that although the actual amount spent on financial support had dropped, the total money spent on widening participation had increased and 90% of targets had been met
    • Former Education Secretary David Blunkett who is to become chair of Global University Systems’ newly acquired University of Law
    • The British Council who commissioned a survey of which degree courses the world’s most successful people take and found that while just over half had taken a social sciences or humanities degree, no one particular subject stood out
    • The CIPD who published a report on how young people are supported and developed in the workplace and found an increasing number of organisations now offering programmes aimed at 16-24 yr olds alongside the more established graduate programmes
    • The Guardian who invited six leading education ‘experts’ to define the term coasting and ended up with a range of interpretations
    • Chief Regulator Glenys Stacey who wrote to secondary schools to explain a bit more about how the national reference test is intended to operate when it comes in from March 2017
    • Ofqual who published its latest annual survey on views about particular qualifications and found that while confidence in traditional qualifications among the public and profession was still high, concerns remained about some aspects of the current reforms such as GCSE grading and de-coupled AS levels
    • Ofqual who published a little digital postcard to help explain the new GCSE grading system
    • Ofqual who invited comments on the prototype for its new look register of regulated qualifications and reported back on GCSE spoken language assessment arrangements
    • The Sutton Trust who published a report into why so many pupils who do well at age 11 fail to translate this into success at GCSE and concluded that dedicated school monitoring and a new fund was needed to support what they called this ‘missing talent’
    • Character education, the subject of a new report from the think tank Demos and Birmingham University’s Jubilee Centre which called for it to be embedded in schools’ curricula and given a specific focus in Ofsted inspections
    • The Arts Council who have helped set up a new scheme for creative writing in schools starting this October
    • Phenomenon, unnecessary and disappearance, three of the words in KS2 spelling tests that adults found most difficult to spell in a recent survey.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Teachers being asked to be Einstein, Mother Teresa and Tony Soprano rolled into one.” @tes
    • “Nicky Morgan: Heads should not fear for their jobs.” @tes
    • “Johnson: no cap on international students and no intention to introduce one. Ambition is to grow.” @JMorganTHE
    • “The most pressing education battles of the next 5 years seem all to concern capacity.” @russellhobby

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “I will launch an ‘Inspiring the future’ project, bringing together  businesses, voluntary and community activists and union members to encourage them to go into state schools and show how education can transform children’s lives.” Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall on helping raise the value of education
    • “Driving the roll-out of universal broadband and better mobile phone connections, to ensure everyone is part of the digital economy.” The terms of reference for the new Digital infrastructure and inclusion taskforce
    • “One of my regrets in my time as Minister is in not funding students to go abroad.” Former HE Minister reflects on failures to extend the fee loan system to studying abroad
    • “The tanker seems to be turning.” Les Ebdon, director of the Office for Fair Access commenting on the latest stats that point to more students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to top universities
    • “It’s one of those terms that makes much more sense politically than educationally.” Professor Michael Jopling on the term ‘coasting,’ as in ‘coasting school’
    • “And we’re going to expand the fantastic Birmingham Bacc so that even more pupils get the chance to work on projects designed by local businesses.” The Chancellor of the Exchequer praises the local Bacc in helping raise skill levels for young people on a visit to the Midlands.

    Number(s) of the week 

    • £450m. The cuts announced for each of the DfE and BIS in the Chancellor’s latest announcement   
    • 10 and 14. The number of new Implementation Taskforces and Cabinet Committees now confirmed
    • 58%. The proportion of employers, in a survey by Universum, who rated work experience as more valuable in graduate recruitment than a specific grade from a specific university
    • £628m. The amount of money spent by universities on widening participation in 2013-14, up £64 on the previous year according to the latest figures from OFFA
    • 12 hours a week. Average taught contact time for HE students reported in HEPI/HEA’s latest survey
    • 54%. The percentage of parents in Ofqual’s latest survey yet to get to grips with the new GCSE grading scale
    • 300. The number of secondary schools each year who will be asked to take part in the national reference test intended to support awarding in English and maths GCSE
    • 600,000. The number of families expected to benefit from the new free childcare arrangements.

    What to look out for next week

    • National Bookstart Week
    • Universities UK Conference on ‘Enhancing the International Student Experience’ (Tuesday)
    • VQ (Vocational Qualifications) debate in Parliament (Tuesday)
    • VQ Day (Wednesday)
    • Nick Gibb speech at Policy Exchange (Thursday)
    • National Education ICT Conference (Thursday). 
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending May 29 2015

    The legislative programme outlined in the Queen’s Speech this week, with its spread of over 20 Bills, means that the new Parliament will escape the fate that befell the last one of being described as a zombie Parliament.

    The week summed up

    The Prime Minister called it “challenging but doable,” the CBI said it was “jam packed,” the Times said ‘it was the moment where Cameron finally got real.’ 

    The new legislative programme runs to a clear theme and for anyone in doubt, it was repeated six times in David Cameron’s accompanying introduction. That theme is ‘One Nation,’ an epithet long associated with the Conservative Party, briefly snatched by Ed Miliband and now reclaimed by the Conservatives as they seek to claim leadership of the heartland of the electorate, the roofers and retailers and hard-working families that David Cameron referred to when he launched his initial pitch earlier this year. It is to their aspirations, a word incidentally derided by John Prescott this week as being meaningless, that the legislative programme is intended to speak to with its Bills on an EU referendum, Housing, Immigration and Education. The challenge will be balancing the big ticket items such as the EU referendum and a British Bill of Rights with the more fundamental issues of schools, housing and the minimum wage but as the Guardian put it, in education as in the other two big public service areas of health and welfare, “the overall tone is steady as she goes rather than a change of course.”

    Current thinking is that the ‘steady as she goes’ approach for domestic policy will last for at least the next couple of years partly to allow in education at least for the current reform programme to be implemented and bed down and partly because the government has bigger fish to fry most notably in the early commitment to an EU referendum.

    A period of calm may be no bad thing, it’s what many in the profession have called in the past and Nicky Morgan recognised as such in her TES webchat yesterday. But of course as this week’s reports from the OECD and Boston Consulting show, the challenge of preparing and supporting young people for a fast moving and changing world remains. The evidence is telling. According to the OECD, the gap in literacy skills between our young people in work and those not is one of the biggest in any Western country. And as for using that education to support health, wellbeing and growth, according to the ranking used by the Boston Consulting Group Report, Britain comes well down the charts. Whether more academies, more apprenticeships and so on will do the trick remains to be seen but we should have some sense over the next couple of years.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Guardian Uni tables: Coventry slip past Russell Group peers to enter top 20.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Britain’s graduates are bottom in maths.’  (Wednesday)
    • ‘UK behind Poland in key education indicators, report.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Points plan for degree grades.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The government who lined up 26 prospective Bills under its new legislative programme announced by the Queen
    • Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown who in a speech to the UN called for urgent action to help the increasing numbers of refugee and displaced children in what he dubbed ‘a year of fear’ for them
    • Former Education Secretary Estelle Morris who outlined three areas where Labour could start to offer some alternative thinking on education
    • Professor Louise Richardson, currently vice-chancellor at St Andrews University who from next year will take over as Oxford University’s first female vice-chancellor
    • Neil McIntosh, former CEO of CfBT, who has been appointed as the first President of CMRE, the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education
    • The Guardian who published its 2016 University Guide showing how universities had performed in any one of 53 taught subject areas
    • The HE Academy who reported on its recent two year pilot of a new hons degree classification system using a national grade point average system
    • The Enterprise Research Centre who published the first innovation map of the UK showing that Oxfordshire has the most innovative economy in Britain and that many areas in the North actually outperform those in the South East
    • The OECD who published an updated report on the skills outlook and employability prospects for young people and painted a pretty depressing picture for those with low skill levels
    • The 157 Group of colleges who got together with economic modelling specialists (EMSI) to demonstrate the economic importance of colleges to learners, communities and taxpayers
    • The Skills Funding agency who published the latest data on success rates and learner satisfaction in FE under the FE Choices data platform
    • Ofqual who published the latest data on exam entries for summer 2015
    • Professor Chris Husbands who highlighted some of the practical issues in the government’s plans to raise school performance
    • The commentator Gifted Phoenix who published a useful blog trying to make sense of the government’s manifesto commitment that only secondary schools offering the full EBacc range of subjects could be awarded a top inspection grade
    • ‘Hashtag’ which emerged as children’s word of the year in a competition run by the BBC and summarised by Oxford University Press who noted that words like ‘email,’ ‘television,’ ‘mobile’ and ‘Facebook’ were also being superseded by new technology-based words.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Coasting schools still not defined but they’ve been around since at least 1999. Is that a coasting description?” @seanjcoughlan
    • “@Nicky Morgan. There’s a certain confidence that is the hallmark of outstanding schools.” @tes
    • “Time to stop tinkering with school structures, invest in teachers instead.” @TeachForAll
    • “Erasers are instruments of the devil and should be banned from the classroom because they shame mistakes.” @Telegraph
    • “Want proof of what’s possible in education? You’ll find it in Korea.” @SchliecherEDU
    • “I am changing the staff room so that it is a place to drink coffee, chat and relax. No school timetables and rubbish.” @Oldprimaryhead1

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • GPA. Grade point average, a degree classification system providing a more rounded picture of HE student performance that is used abroad and which has been piloted here over the last couple of years
    • SET. The Society for Education and Training, a new membership organisation for practitioners working in the FE sector launched this week.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Our school reforms in the last Parliament were bold…in this Parliament they will bolder still.” The Prime Minister in his introduction to the Queen’s Speech
    • “Recent evidence suggests that standards of literacy and numeracy in our schools are falling. That is unacceptable.” Nicole Sturgeon announces a campaign to raise standards in Scottish education
    • “We’re challenging the system. We’re bringing in new forms of pedagogy and listening to students.” John Latham, vice-chancellor at Coventry University which has risen to 15th in the latest Guardian University rankings
    • “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.” The OECD’s Secretary General invokes Aristotle’s famous definition of vocationalism as he launches the OECD’s latest Skills Report.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 35m. The number of 16-29 yr olds currently neither in education nor training across OECD countries according to the OECD’s latest Skills Report
    • 8.6m. The number of children worldwide thought to be in slavery according to UN figures
    • 12%. The drop over the last year in the number of people applying to teacher training courses according to latest UCAS figures
    • 67%. The number of intermediate apprentices who were already employed by their company when they were granted an apprenticeship according to research commissioned by the Local Government Association
    • 11.2%. The average return on investment in terms of higher future earnings for FE learners according to research commissioned by the 157 Group
    • 5. The number of state funded secondary schools who entered the whole of their KS4 cohort for all EBacc subjects last year according to a blog by Gifted Phoenix.   

    What to look out for next week

    • Education debate following the Queen’s Speech (Wednesday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending May 22 2015

    By next Tuesday the process of swearing in MPs for the new Parliament should be completed. 

    The week summed up

    The day after, the formal process of government will begin when the Queen is ushered in to read out the list of Bills that the government intends to introduce over the next session. It really will be back to business with a vengeance.

    For anyone who thought that education might get off lightly this time, it may be time to think again. Not only will a number of the Bills being lined up, most notably those on City Devolution, Enterprise, Immigration and Welfare affect the education and skills system in some way, but one in particular, the proposed Education Bill, is already provoking considerable discussion.

    The Bill is intended to deliver on the manifesto pledge of raising performance and diversifying the school system and builds on the Prime Minister’s “all-out war on mediocrity” speech earlier this year. The aim, as indicated by Nicky Morgan on the Marr Show last weekend is “to speed up the process for tackling failing schools; extend our academies programme to tackle ‘coasting’ schools; and deliver on our commitment to open new free schools.”

    As the BBC’s Education Correspondent Sean Coughlan pointed out, the assault on so-called coasting schools is not new. The same language was being used by Chris Woodhead’s Ofsted back in 1999 when just the same sort of issues about how to define a ‘coasting’ school and how many there were, were being aired. As Professor Michael Jopling explained in a blog this week, “There’s no agreed definition of a coasting school” although both he and Jonathan Simons at the think tank Policy Exchange had a pretty good stab at it. As to how many there are, this depends on how they’re defined but anything between 2,500 -3,000 has been suggested.

    While government depts have been busy preparing the legislative programme for the new administration, the Chancellor has been equally busy drawing up plans for the new government’s first Budget due six weeks later. This week, George Osborne headed down to the CBI’s Annual Dinner to set out some of his initial thinking, much of it of interest to the world of education. Three headlines stand out. First the government intends to tackle the tough stuff first: “when it comes to saving money, we all know the more you can do early, the smoother the ride.” The new Chief Secretary has already written to depts to get them to go through the books and identify more ‘savings.’ Second, the government is keen to get to grips with what’s holding back productivity and will produce a Productivity Plan by July focusing on issues such as skills training, science and innovation. And third, the mantra for the new administration appears to be ‘step up a gear:’ it applies to the economy as much to schools. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Nicky Morgan: coasting schools face intervention.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Foreign students boost economy by £2.3bn’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘More pupils reading for pleasure.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Graduates may face tougher loan terms.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Free school expansion plans launched.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who in a speech on immigration confirmed that more effort will be made to train the indigenous workforce and encourage overseas HE students although any associated system abuse will also be tackled
    • The Education Secretary who outlined plans to tackle school underperformance and create more school places as part of a proposed new Education Bill
    • The new Business Secretary who in his first major speech outlined a range of measures, due to be included in a forthcoming Enterprise Bill, to help small businesses and entrepreneurs
    • Carol Monaghan MP who will speak for the SNP on education and public service matters
    • The Institute of Government who examined the vital statistics of the new administration and reported that the average age of cabinet ministers is 50 (Matt Hancock is the youngest at 36,) 2/3 entered Parliament in the last 10 years, a third are women and two are from a BME background
    • The Local Government Association who ahead of the proposed Cities Devolution Bill called for a wider English Devolution Bill with a new funding settlement to help deliver skills training, affordable homes and safer communities
    • The World Education Forum who have adopted a new Declaration on the Future of Education which governments are expected to sign up to by the end of the year
    • HE Policy Institute Director Nick Hillman who identified four ways that governments could try and tackle some of the HE funding issues, including a limited fee rise and tougher loan repayments
    • Andrew McGettigan, who in a new pamphlet for the HE Policy Institute, examined some of the issues surrounding the accounting and budgeting rules of the student loan system and their impact on future policy
    • AoC Assistant Chief Executive Julian Gravatt who wrote a useful blog on how the government might meet the challenge of providing for 3m more apprenticeships over the next five years
    • Ex government adviser Robert Hill who used a lecture this week to list 10 challenges likely to face school leaders over the next five years with funding, pupil numbers and teacher recruitment prominent among them
    • NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby who argued in a blog that the government’s obsession with autonomy and accountability were yesterday’s war and that capacity, as in more school places and more teachers, were today’s battleground
    • The fledgling College of Teaching which invited applications to become one of 13 founding trustees charged with helping establish the new College
    • The House of Commons Library who published a Briefing Paper on the GCSE, AS and A level reforms
    • Ofqual who reported on their review of GCSE maths sample assessment materials and called for some changes to be made before they were sent schools from the end of June
    • The Education Endowment Foundation who invited applications to a £2m fund that will support five projects looking into the effective teaching of EAL (English as an additional language)
    • SSAT Operational Director Bill Watkin who blogged about some of the issues surrounding KS2 resits
    • The National Literacy Trust, who in its annual survey of reading habits of children and young people, found encouraging evidence that more 8-18 yr olds were reading for pleasure
    • Researchers who investigated the impact of mobile phones in schools in a report commissioned by the Centre for Economic Performance and who found schools that banned them tended to have more teaching time and better results
    • The Pre-school Learning alliance who set out an Early Years Agenda for the new government built around 3 areas: funding, ‘schoolification,’ and Ofsted
    • The Children’s Commissioner for England who urged the new government to adopt  a 7-point plan to make the welfare of children a top priority over the next five years
    • ‘Twerking,’ ‘ridic’ and ‘dench,’ just some of the 6,500 new words that can now be used in Scrabble as it seeks to reflect the rapidly changing nature of language.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Those who underperform at school often become the best teachers.” @tes
    • “Feedback like trust is like a sandwich without the bread filler.” @CParkinson535
    • “Social media more stressful than exams, claims head teacher.” @SchoolsImprove
    • “44% of middle school students prefer taking the trash out to doing maths.” @PathastoMath

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “So in the Budget we’ll spend less on welfare and instead invest to create 3m more apprenticeships so that young people can learn a trade, get better jobs and earn more.” The Chancellor indicates some of the things expected to be in his second Budget of the year now set for July 8
    • “It’s not OK to be just above the level of failing.” The Education Secretary explains the issue of ‘coasting’ schools on the Andrew Marr show
    • “Avoid acronyms; make talks interactive; use simple slides; incorporate an experiment or other strongly visual material; and always include a Q/A afterwards.” Guidelines issued for next week’s Pint of Science Festival in which science topics are taken to pub audiences across the UK
    • “These skills can be developed far more effectively through schemes such as apprenticeships and practical education.” Richard Branson responds to Prince Harry’s call for young people to develop skills through a form of National Service
    • “I am deeply concerned for our young children, whose experience of education is now so exam-heavy and whose preparation for life and the workplace is so light.” Ahead of another exam season, Sir Anthony Seldon voices concerns about the effect on young children.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £2.3bn. How much international students contribute to London’s economy according to research from business firm London First and PwC
    • 42%. The percentage of FE college principals who are female according to research from the AoC, a higher female leadership ratio than in either schools or HE
    • 87%. The percentage of staff in FE who find their job stressful, up 14% since the last survey three years ago according to a report by the University and College Union (UCU)
    • 12.3%. The latest stat for 16-24 yr old NEETs, down slightly at 0.7% on the previous quarter
    • 7%. The percentage of schools that have a new assessment system in place for Sept 2015 according to a survey from BESA
    • One hour a week. The amount of extra time of teaching it’s claimed schools could gain if they banned mobile phones.

    What to look out for next week

    • Queen’s Speech (Wednesday).
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  • Policy Eye - week ending May 15 2015

    Gradually things are returning to normal; the posters are down, the recriminations more reflective and attention is turning to what the future holds under a new majority Conservative government.

    The week summed up

    Next week, the Speaker will be selected and new MPs sworn in and the week after, the Queen will announce what will be in the new government’s first legislative programme where Bills on School Commissioners, City Devolution, the tax lock, welfare reform, free childcare and counter terrorism are already being touted. As the Prime Minister was keen to stress both on the steps of Downing Street and in his first cabinet meeting; ’we’re the Party of working people…we’re here to give everyone in the country the chance to make the most of their life,’ so let’s get on with it. It’s an approach dubbed ‘blue collar Conservatism.’

    Elsewhere there’s been considerable speculation as to what might be in store for the world of education where, as the blogger and education researcher Tom Bennett remarked this week, both Nicky Morgan and Sajid Javid will have their work cut out just reading all the blogs telling them what to do. Further details can be seen in an accompanying Pocket Watch but clearly funding remains the big worry for many in the education system with all sectors voicing concerns. The manifesto spells out a two-stage plan to get rid of the deficit that will take us up to 2019/20 when, to quote from page 9 of the document: “after a surplus has been achieved, spending will grow in line with GDP.” Living in an age of austerity thus remains the continuing normal for at least the next 4/5 years.

    Funding may concentrate the minds but there is another strong theme running through Conservative education plans and that is about improving levels of performance. This week’s report from the OECD on basic skill levels among young people and the ONS update on UK productivity have both laid bare the size of the challenge on learning and skills. The new government is clearly looking for each sector to up its game with a range of mechanisms such as more powerful Regional Commissioners for schools, more forensic outcome measures for FE and a new teaching quality framework for HE, all being lined up. The analogy between education leaders and football managers, both focused on results, has already been made.

    Finally, and further evidence of things returning to familiar routines, the testing and exam season is upon us and the media has been full of well-meaning advice for families and young people as the pressures mount. Examples of this are quoted below but as the BBC’s Education page put it: “there are only two things that a parent can ever say to a teenager taking exams: the wrong thing and the wrong thing.”

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Children as young as 10 smoke before exams, survey suggests.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Morgan pledges to tackle ‘poor’ schools.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘No big changes in DfE’s ministerial line-up as Nick Gibb is retained.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Sector stands by for battle over cuts, fees and Europe.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Legislation on taking over ‘coasting’ schools planned within weeks.’ (Friday).

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • George Osborne who confirmed in his first major keynote speech of the new government, that the forthcoming Queen’s Speech will include a City Devolution Bill to help stimulate local economies and skills planning
    • Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who back in the hot seat, indicated that her priorities would include tackling poor school performance and rebuilding bridges with the teaching profession
    • Sajid Javid, the new BIS Secretary who indicated that apprenticeships, jobs and youth training would remain priorities as some of the media questioned the long-term future of BIS
    • Jim O’Neill who has been appointed as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury to help drive the city devo max and local infrastructure agendas along
    • The European Commission who have published plans for an EU wide ‘digital single market’ intended in time to be able to compete with the big US internet giants
    • ‘Confident creators,’ ‘the held back’ and ‘the safety firsters,’ the three digital tribes identified in the RSA’s report on the ‘The New Digital Learning Age’ for which a number of strategic solutions, including a new approach for learning technology in schools, is proposed
    • FutureLearn who claim that their ‘Understanding IELTS: Techniques for English Language Tests’ Mooc course has attracted record numbers of students
    • Universities UK who have announced plans to step up their campaign to ensure the UK stays in the EU not least because it brings benefits to UKHE 
    • Aaron Porter, former president of the NUS, who blogged about whether a rise in tuition fees might be on the cards during the lifetime of the forthcoming Parliament
    • Professor Kathryn Mitchell, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of West London who will take over as vice-chancellor at the University of Derby from September
    • The Core Cities group covering England’s 8 largest cities outside London, who have launched a Devolution Declaration calling for a range of responsibilities including those over local skills and jobs to be devolved to approved City-Regions
    • Sir Geoff Hall, former Principal of New College Nottingham, who is to become the new general secretary of the Principals’ Professional Council
    • The OECD who published their biggest report so far on how well countries are doing in raising basic skill levels among young people and which saw the UK ranked 20th out of the 76 core countries surveyed. (Hong Kong-China, Estonia and Korea came 1st, 2nd, 3rd)
    • The OECD who published a challenging Report on the Swedish school system highlighting three necessary reform areas (teaching and learning, quality with equity, accountability)
    • Chris Cook, Policy editor on Newsnight who blogged about the budget squeeze facing schools after the election
    • Head teacher Tom Sherrington who wrote an open letter to Nicky Morgan both welcoming her back and urging her to help with funding, curriculum reform and teacher recruitment
    • The professional body, ASCL, who will run a series of seminars over coming months to help schools deal with their new responsibilities in preventing young people from being drawn into radicalisation
    • The unions who have joined arms to urge the new government to protect education spending
    • Ofsted who published new data highlighting significant gender imbalances in the take-up of A level subjects like English and Physics
    • Ofqual who reported back on its recent consultation about which GCSE and A level subjects will or will not be developed for 2017
    • The accountancy firm PwC who announced they will end their reliance on A level grade scores when selecting graduate recruits 
    • Amanda Spielman, chair of Ofqual, whose call not to get too hung up on exam grades was welcomed in some quarters 
    • The Creative Industries and Institute of Civil Engineers who published a report calling for the creative arts to be given as much attention as STEM subjects in the school curriculum
    • Professor Robin Alexander, Director of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust who highlighted some of the policy challenges in primary education facing a new government 
    • “You’ll kick yourself if you’ve only missed by one mark.” One of a number of worst things a parent can say to a child preparing for an exam according to a listing by BBC Education.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “It’s like freshers’ week in the Commons with registration desks for new MPs.” @SkyAnushka
    • “Pretty much same team of DfE ministers minus David Laws means continuity +no learning curve.” @GregHurstTimes
    • “Best piece of exam advice: Look up for inspiration; down in desperation but never sideways for information!” @GuardianTeach
    • “Don’t get hung up on grades says exams watchdog boss.” @tes
    • “Gove was the Kevin Pieterson of politics, smashing lots of sixes but not making many friends and leaving the job half done, says Seldon.”  @pwatsonmontrose

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • EFA. Not just the Education Funding Agency but also ‘Education for All,’ the driving force behind the World Education Forum’s global education objectives which will be reviewed and updated at next week’s global gathering.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We’ve got far more to do. That’s why I want another five years of standards, discipline and rigour in our schools.” David Cameron on what lies ahead for schools under a Conservative government
    • “It’s about listening, it’s about hearing what they’ve got to say, tackling things like workload, Ofsted inspections and building on all the lessons I’ve learned in the last 10 months.” Nicky Morgan on how she views her future priorities
    • “Coasting schools can give the appearance of achieving good results when they should in fact be doing a lot better.” Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Schools builds up the case for school improvement
    • “To some extent, you and your predecessor put enough changes in place to keep us busy for five years so don’t go crazy looking for things to do.” Headteacher Tom Sherrington pens his advice to Nicky Morgan
    • “The world is full of examples of improvements in education and there is no time to lose.” OECD education director Andreas Schleicher as he introduces the organisation’s latest report on the importance of basic skills.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 32%. The number of MPs in the new House of Commons who have had a private education according to research from the Sutton Trust
    • 24. The number of MPs who have had some experience of working in education either as teachers or in other roles
    • £750m. The amount of money raised through fundraising and alumni over the last three years by Oxford University as its looks to hit its initial target of £2bn
    • £2trillion. How much the OECD reckon could be added to the UK’s economy by the end of the century if by 2030, all school leavers reach minimum levels of basic skills
    • 735,000. The latest youth unemployment figure, down 5,000 on the last quarter
    •  4. The number of reasons to be cheerful about a Tory government according to one head teacher
    • 8 seconds. What our attention span has now dropped to, one second less than the proverbial goldfish, according Microsoft research.

    What to look out for next week

    • House of Commons re-assembles (Monday)
    • World Education Forum meets to set the new global education development agenda (Tuesday – Friday).
    read more