Policy Watch

Education’s always changing, and it can be hard to keep track. Policy Watch is the easy way to make sure you stay up to date with the latest developments.

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  • Policy Eye – week ending December 4 2015

    Ofsted’s latest annual inspection report tops the education news this week and if you want a quick summary of the 100+ page Report, it came in the opening shots of the Chief Inspector’s forthright accompanying speech: “England’s primary schools continue to improve but secondary schools still remain a problem in large parts of our country.”

    The week summed up

    There’s been a depressingly familiar riff to Ofsted Reports in recent years and this year was no different with attainment gaps, English and maths resit performance, apprenticeship standards and weaknesses in leadership and management all cited once again but the headline story was the disparity in performance between secondary schools in the South of the country compared to those in the North, the so-called North-South divide. Sir Michael pointed to the performance of secondary schools below a line drawn roughly from the Bristol Channel to the Wash compared to those above it to make his point.

    This picture of “a nation divided at age 11” comes just a couple of weeks before the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission publishes its latest annual ‘State of the Nation’ Report which is likely to reinforce a similar picture and follows concerns raised by the think tank IPPR last month in its Report on the potential for the Northern Powerhouse. It found what it called a “stark early years gap” which translated into weak performance at age 16; “we will never become a powerhouse economy when our children and young people have such a poor start in life,” it concluded.

    The attainment gap is therefore an issue with significant economic as well as social implications so what to do? The government has lined up a host of mechanisms including tougher literacy and numeracy standards in primary, a new coasting performance threshold for all schools, support for National Leaders of Education and from next year a new National Teaching Service due to start in the North West of England, all aimed at tackling the problem. Sir Michael called for the resurrection of the Challenge school improvement model that has been used successfully in London and the Midlands in the past. Yet there’s been considerable debate about just what role the Challenge model did play in helping raise standards. An LSE Paper a few months ago on ‘Understanding the improved performance of disadvantaged pupils in London’ concluded that it was hard to tell while in a blog this week, Professor Michael Jopling argued that the template would be hard to replicate.

    All in all, therefore there are no easy answers but while so much rests on ensuring our young people get the best start in life and disparity in performance remains so sharp, there’ll be no shortage of political solutions offered.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Half of teachers rarely use technology in class.’ (Monday)
    • ‘North-South divide in England’s schools,’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Government reveals 485 teachers on £65k+ as recruitment advert investigation continues (Wednesday)
    • ‘Rise in foreign students amid accusations universities use them as cash cows.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘State school debt on course to double.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw who published his fourth annual report highlighting continuing concerns about a North-South attainment gap in England’s secondary schools and also concerns about teacher retention, standards on some apprenticeship programmes and weak leadership in some schools and colleges
    • The DfE who launched a consultation on the implementation arrangements for the proposed National Reference (GCSE sampling) Test which is due to come in from Sept 2016
    • The BIS Committee who heard calls to de-couple the Teaching Excellence Framework from fee decisions when it heard from a full bench of vice-chancellors and others on quality assurance and HE this week
    • The House of Commons Education Committee who have opened a can of worms by asking for views on what education is for, allowing for discussion over Christmas with responses due by 25 Jan 2016
    • The Education and Childcare Minister who addressed the Westminster Forum and laid out the bare bones of the government’s emerging careers strategy
    • The Business Secretary who highlighted the ‘Midlands Engine,’ the latest area to develop regional economic and growth plans, in a speech at the University of Birmingham
    • Universities UK who published their latest Patterns and Trends report highlighting among other things the growing diversity of the student body with increases in students from a disadvantaged background and from non-EU countries
    • HEFCE who published a monitoring framework along with guidance and reporting arrangements to help ensure higher ed institutions meet the Prevent requirements
    • Peter Scott, professor of HE studies at UCL Institute of Education, who in his latest piece for the Guardian put forward 3 reasons why HEFCE shouldn’t be scrapped (keeps Ministers at bay, offers a pool of expertise, restructuring is never the answer)
    • The Sutton Trust who issued ‘a cautious welcome’ to the widening access proposals in the recent HE Green Paper but called for more to be done to improve access to so-called top tier universities
    • The Open University whose latest Innovation Report strained the sinews of learning styles and assessment by listing ten new pedagogies for the future from ‘crossover learning’ to ‘stealth assessment’
    • HEPI who along with YouthSight sampled the student mood on the EU and found most believing it better to stay in
    • Martin Doel who is move from the AoC and take up the role of FETL Professor for FE and Skills in the UCL Institute of Education next year
    • The government who published a proposed timescale for the rest of the area-based reviews for the FE sector due to complete in various waves next year
    • The University of Huddersfield who have been handed the largest grant so far for helping to improve technical and vocational education in FE as part of a 2-year project
    • The Manufacturing Advisory service, part of the Business Growth Service, which following the Spending review announcements is being withdrawn
    • City and Guilds who published a report based on YouGov research looking at career choices and aspirations of 14-19 year olds and found many lacking proper guidance about the realities of the labour market
    • The Education and Training Foundation who spelt out the arrangements and partners for the first stage of the review of Functional Skills which is due to complete next summer
    • The National Baccalaureate Trust which launched its new website to help promote thinking and development around the concept of a National rather than an E Bacc
    • The f40 group (the group that represents the poorest funded local authorities in England) who handed in a petition to the House of Commons calling for a fairer distribution of funds ahead of next year’s proposed national consultation
    • The TES whose recent survey of how much state schools were borrowing to finance debt suggested a worrying doubling of previous figures
    • The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) who added their voice to the current teacher recruitment and retention issues highlighting that even though the actual leaving rate has remained relatively stable, growing pupil numbers and classroom demands are creating pressures at secondary level in particular
    • The Education Endowment Foundation who published its Annual Report for 2014/15 under a rather Pink Floyd style cover, with an impressive listing of projects, reports and resources all aimed at helping schools tackle attainment gaps and improve learning outcomes.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “A great (school) leader knows the name of the cleaner’s children.” @tes
    • “We don’t accuse Jaguar for selling cars to foreign buyers. So don’t have a go at unis for their education exports.” @HEPI_news
    • “I’m so concerned where the next generation of school leaders will come from that I’ve commissioned a survey-Wilshaw.” @SchoolsWeek

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “The only question remaining over school autonomy is not whether it’s a good or bad idea but whether the independence it confers is being used well. “ Sir Michael Wilshaw argues that school improvement is less about structures and more about leadership and teaching
    • “If you draw a line roughly from the Wash to the Bristol Channel, 79% of the secondary schools below it will be good or outstanding compared with 68% of those above it.” Sir Michael Wilshaw on the North-South performance divide in England’s schools
    • “External, centrally imposed target setting would not work. It would be a costly, bureaucratic exercise.” The Director of Fair Access to HE rejects proposals for admissions targets for universities to be set externally
    • “It will have a central role in advising on how much funding government should make available to pay for training and assessment under each standard. “ The Skills Minister sets out the initial remit of the new Institute for Apprenticeships
    • “If government were to say there is no role for local government in education that would be a sad day.” The leader of Hampshire County Council responds to the government’s latest declaration that all secondary schools should become academies
    • “The careers ecosystem is complex and, at present, careers provision is not working as well as it should.” The Education and Childcare Minister says it
    • “We need to tackle this like parents not politicians.” Jamie Oliver on tackling sugary drinks and unhealthy foods among young children.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 77%. The number of FE colleges judged good or outstanding in Ofsted’s latest annual report (although there has been a drop to 35% for those inspected this year)
    • 16. The number of local authority areas, largely concentrated in the North, where fewer than 60% of pupils attend good or outstanding schools and equally achieve below expected levels of progress according to Ofsted’s latest annual report
    • 85%. The number of primary schools rated good or outstanding in Ofsted’s latest annual report (evenly balanced between the North and the South of the country)
    • 70%. The number of students in the latest survey who would vote to stay in the EU (although a third admit to having given it little great thought so far)
    • £360,000. How much the Gatsby Foundation has handed to the University of Huddersfield to help improve technical and vocational education and training
    • 485. The number of classroom teachers who earned more than £65,000 last year (the top figure quoted in the government’s latest recruitment campaign). 

    What to look out for next week

    • BIS Committee witness session with the Minister and other on HE Quality Assurance (Tuesday)
    • Ofqual Awarding Organisation’s Conference (Tuesday)
    • Education Committee witness session on teacher supply (Wednesday)
    • House of Lords Social Mobility Committee session with Nicky Morgan and Nick Boles (Wednesday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending November 27 2015

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

    The week summed up

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

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

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

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

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

    Top headlines this week

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

    People/organisations in the news this week

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

    Tweet(s) of the week

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

    Quote(s) of the week

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

    Number(s) of the week

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

    What to look out for next week

    • Education Questions in the House of Commons (Monday)
    • Ofsted’s 2014/15 Annual Report published (Tuesday).
    read more
  • Policy Tracker – Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in November 2015

    Some significant developments this month with the launch of a new Green Paper for HE, consultation on the EBacc for schools and further area reviews for FE, all topped off with the Chancellor’s spending announcements for the remainder of this Parliament. 

    Key headlines from the month

    • Primary. Further research links proper breakfast to improved performance
    • School textbooks. Publishers draft new best practice guidelines
    • Special Considerations. Requests up but number approved remains small
    • Late exam entries. Up at GCSE, down at A level
    • 2017 GCSEs and A levels. Consultation launched on a further batch
    • EBacc. Government consults on six core proposals
    • Unregistered schools. Ofsted calls on government to take action
    • Mental health. Youth Select Committee highlights concerns
    • Regional Schools Commissioners. Education Committee continues its inquiry
    • School governors. Ofsted to look into a more professional model
    • School funding. Government to consult on a new fair formula next year
    • Inspections. Ofsted survey reveals how far parents use inspection ratings
    • Sixth Form Colleges. Encouraged to join the Academy trail
    • NEETs. Further drop in latest quarterly figures
    • Apprenticeship Trailblazers. Latest guidance signals couple of changes to approval process
    • Special Apprenticeship Adviser. Nadhim Zahawi picks up the mantle for government
    • Apprenticeship levy. Government response sets out how it will work 
    • FE Loans. Chancellor extends to 19-23 year olds
    • Learning and Work Institute. New name for the joining in matrimony of NIACE and CESI
    • Devo deals. Liverpool and West Midlands sign up
    • Colleges. Mergers in Shrewsbury and East London under consideration
    • HE. Extensive Green Paper from government sets out latest vision. 

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Nicky Morgan’s 3 November Policy Exchange speech focuses on monitoring the progress of 7 yr olds, the EBacc and a new National Teacher Service as she seeks to push educational excellence
    • John Cridland’s 9 November CBI Conference speech sees the Director-General depart the CBI stage continuing to call for GCSEs to go and for stronger skills pathways in the school curriculum
    • Nicky Morgan’s 9 November CBI Conference speech explains how the government is attempting to transform education and calls on business to join in and work with schools in the future
    • Nick Gibb’s 17 November Publishers’ Association speech continues to extol the virtues of text books as a valuable tool in learning and praises publishers for helping revive their use
    • Nick Boles’ 17 November AoC speech challenges FE to be quicker off the mark and seize a piece of the action especially around apprenticeships
    • Sam Gyimah’s 19 November speech at the National Association of School Business Managers Conference helps launch a new framework of prof standards for school business managers
    • George Osborne’s 25 November Autumn Statement speech mixes clever footwork with headline announcements as it sets out the government’s future spending plans.

    Quotes of the month

    • “And quite frankly, if we’re not into surplus after 10 years of full economic growth when will we ever be?” The Chancellor asks the question
    • “Students should come out of their university years feeling they’ve got value for money for their time there. Unfortunately too many are coming out feeling they haven’t and I want to address that.” The HE Minister on one of the principles behind the latest Green Paper
    • “As your friend I have to ask you why on earth are you letting these guys nick your lunch?” The Skills Minister with a friendly warning to colleges about being quicker off the mark
    • “I want to see at least 90% of students entering the EBacc.” The Secretary of State makes clear her expectations on the EBacc
    • “At root, it’s not autonomy that really matters, it’s what autonomy allows you to do differently that counts.” The Schools Minister on ‘it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it
    • ’“We need multiple learning pathways, vocational and academic, from 14-18, with GCSEs retired and a full range of A’ levels, technical and academic at 18.” The departing CBI DG on 14-19. 

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Waithood.’ The stage between childhood and adulthood (which some teenagers want to skip). 
    read more
  • Pocket Watch – Spending Review 2015: The Education Bits

    Much of the education world breathed a huge sigh of relief as the Chancellor sat down this week having set out his spending plans and priorities for the remainder of this Parliament in his latest Spending Review.

    Ever since the summer and the latest raid on the dept budgets, the sector had been holding its breath while rumours of deep cuts circulated. In the event, there were cuts to some budgets, the Education Services Grant for schools and potentially the Student Opportunities Fund in HE and further efficiencies, a much–used word, will follow but it could have been worse. Jonathan Simons, the head of education at the think tank Policy Exchange, even called it “a staggeringly good result.”

    As Paul Johnson, the director of the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies underlined, ‘this isn’t the end of austerity’ but for education at least, things feel better than they did a few months ago. It’s early days but here’s how it’s shaping up for schools and colleges.   


    Here, the manifesto pledge to protect the school age budget in real terms remains as does the commitment to provide free school meals for infants and the pupil premium, both the subject of debate in recent weeks. The dept will have to make 20% of admin savings over this Parliament and its capital budget remains tight but its resource or day-to-day budget increases from £53.6bn currently to £57.1bn by 2020 and additional money is put in for childcare. Four points stand out:

    • The academisation of the schools sector remains a core objective. The Prime Minister has referred to this in a number of key speeches, the manifesto targets 500 more free schools by 2020 and the Spending Review continues the theme with at least some of the £23bn promised under capital investment to go into making this happen. The aspiration appears to be to rid schools of local authority control even though the school system is hardly in the kind of local grip that the government envisages. Para 1.167 in the accompany Report however sets the tone: “the Review and the Statement represent the next step towards the government’s goal of ending local authorities’ role in running schools and all schools becoming an academy.” The academy shift therefore seems likely to continue.
    • Both the dept and schools will have to get used to efficiencies. The dept itself is having to offer up a large chunk of the Education Services Grant, £600m out of the current £800+m to be precise, something that will hit academies as this is the money they use to compensate for services they would have had under the local authority. As for schools, the Chancellor launched the Spending Review in July calling for greater joint working and efficiencies for schools and is targeting over £1bn a year in procurement savings by the end of this Parliament. It will set out further details on this early next year.
    • Teacher recruitment is not forgotten and the Review pledges over £1.3bn over the lifetime of this Parliament to attract new teachers particularly in STEM and EBacc subjects where according to the latest teacher training figures, the pressures are greatest.
    • The long-awaited ‘fair’ national funding formula for schools has moved a step closer. The Prime Minister was lobbied on this again just the other week and the Chancellor confirmed that consultation on this will take place early in 2016 with a view to implementing the new model from 2017. It will include high needs and early years and should help smooth out some of the iniquities in the current system but not everybody will be winners. 


    Unprotected and under severe strain, funding for 16-19 year olds had been a source of real worry for some time with the Sixth Form Colleges Association suggesting a dance of death for some colleges. The Review offered some comfort in two ways:

    • The current national base rate will at least be protected in cash terms. This may offer some re-assurance although colleges remain subject to other cost pressures and para 2.60 of the Review suggests the government sees the ‘declining demographic’ at 16-19 as a cost saver.
    • As part of the current area-wide reviews, Sixth Form Colleges will be given the option to join up with Multi-Academy Trusts thereby saving non-business VAT costs. This may be attractive to some but adds another dimension to the post-16 area reviews. 


    Apprenticeships remain in the Review’s words “the cornerstone of the skills system” and the government remains equally committed to meeting its 3m target by the end of this Parliament. It’s already taken a number of measures to ensure this, securing the legal status of apprenticeships through the Enterprise Bill and setting up an Implementation Taskforce and Delivery Board to help keep up the momentum. This Review adds two more:

    • Adoption of the levy procedure from 2017. This remains contentious for many employers, both the CBI and IoD have argued that it will impose a further cost on business and in the weeks before the Review there appears to have been fierce Whitehall discussion about what the levy threshold should be. The government has gone for 0.5% on paybills of £3m or more with an offset of £15,000 allowing it to claim that that less than 2% of UK employers will have to pay. The government is also saying it will continue to discuss but this will run.
    • Another new employer-led body is being set up not only to advise on the levy arrangements but also to set standards and oversee quality. It’ll be independent and is intended to help head off concerns about the future quality of training. 


    As another unprotected area in an unprotected dept, FE had been fearing the worst but with the additional monies expected to come through apprenticeship training, the salvaging of the 16-19 base rate and the cash re-assurance around the adult skills budget, has perhaps got off better than expected. The overall BIS budget sees a steady decline over the lifetime of this Parliament and the effects of those ubiquitous efficiencies on some of the agencies and activities that come under BIS have yet to be felt but the anticipated extension of tuition fee loans to 19+ year olds should help. Three quick points to pick up here:

    • The Productivity Plan is alive and well and FE continues to have a key role in this. The Chancellor listed a range of technologies he was keen to support, the new Infrastructure Commission meets again shortly and high skill training will be on the agenda.
    • A lot seems to be hinging on the area-based reviews. The Review is suggesting that these will help create a more efficient but potentially more flourishing system, see para 1.177.
    • Government spending on apprenticeships will almost have doubled by 2020 and as the Minister indicated at the recent AoC Conference, colleges need to get in on the action. 
    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending November 20 2015

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

    The week summed up

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

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

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

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

    Top headlines this week

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

    People/organisations in the news this week

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

    Tweet(s) of the week

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

    Quote(s) of the week

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

    Number(s) of the week

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

    What to look out for next week

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