Policy Watch

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

Keep up with what’s happening in education policy

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

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

About Steve

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

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  • Policy Eye – week ending December 18 2015

    The final week of the 2015 Parliamentary year and with it a flurry of developments but a moment first to reflect on what’s been another eventful year in education.

    The week summed up

    The defining moment was the election in May of a new government, keen to power on and in the words of the Prime Minister show ‘it can deliver.’ So for education, we’ve had six new education-related Bills, eleven new Committee Inquiries, a new Productivity Plan, HE Green Paper, apprenticeship target, EBacc threshold and National Teaching Service all in quick succession. The political marching tune has been ‘One Nation’ but as recent reports from Ofsted, UCAS and the Social Mobility Commission have all shown, we’ve some way to go here yet. We may end the year with worries about children’s mental health, teacher numbers, skills funding and HE quality metrics but we should not forget that this year has also seen the best set of recorded KS2 results, more students gaining GCSE English and maths, an increase in apprenticeship numbers and record numbers of people accepted at UK universities. The glass is more half full than often assumed.

    So what about this week’s developments?

    Funding first where the Education Minister announced the revenue settlement for schools and the Skills Minister published the funding plans for FE. For schools, protections for the pupil premium and per pupil guarantees remain but the ESG is showing the first signs of the Chancellor’s required efficiencies. For FE, where this week’s Public Accounts Committee report, like the NAO Report in the summer, found the wolf not far from the door, the overall budget is £2.4bn this year, rising a further £1bn by 2020. It could have been worse of course but there’ll be some tough calls as the two funding streams, one for apprenticeships and the other for adult ed (AEB) take shape.

    Second, uni entry where also this week, UCAS published its regular annual report on this year’s university admissions cycle. It’s a report rich in data, trends and analysis and provides a valuable insight into both educational and social opportunity in Britain. As Chief Executive Mary Curnock Cook put it in her Foreword, “the increasing numbers are eye-catching” with more disadvantaged young people, more females, more students from both inside and outside the EU taking up places. Familiar concerns remain however and with disadvantaged young white males falling behind again, the Sutton Trust is calling for more targeted outreach strategies.

    Third, and on a related theme, the Social Mobility Commission published its third annual ‘State of the Nation’ report this week and concluded that despite efforts made so far: “the divisions in our nation run deep and, arguably, are deepening.” The report makes a number of important recommendations for each stage of education to deliver the ‘One Nation’ dream envisaged.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Lords in revolt over Tory plan to turn all failing schools into Academies.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Recruit more state pupils, Oxbridge colleges warned.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Further education funding crisis warning.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Women take record number of university places.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Progress on social mobility too slow.' (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Deliberate avoidance of input measures suggests consultation’s as open as an oyster with rigor mortis.” @JohhnySRich
    • “My old g/school had feared History teacher, he came in, we all stood, he sat, we sat. Got one A at "0" level History.” @Mowman123
    • “UCAS. The least advantaged young people in England are now 65% more likely to go to university or college than they were in 2006.” @Phil_Baty

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “It is a settlement to enable change, not to maintain the status quo.” The FE Minister on the latest funding settlement for the FE and skills sector
    • “The BIS and DfE appear to see area-based reviews of post-16 education as a fix-all solution to current problems.” The Public Accounts Committee questions some of the assumptions behind the current FE area reviews
    • “The government should make the non-graduate track into employment a priority for reform.” The Social Mobility Commission calls for more attention to be given to young people who do not go to on to university
    • “We have applied an efficiency saving to the ESG general funding rate for 2016-2017 and the rate will reduce from £87 per pupil to £77 per pupil.” The Education Minister includes the efficiency factor in his announcement on schools’ revenue funding
    • “This will be one of the big landmark reforms of this Parliament.” The Prime Minister on the reforms to children’s services
    • “Sponsors might want to write to parents when they’re first matched to the school to provide more information about them as a sponsor, their ethos and what parents can expect next.” The Parliamentary Under Secretary for Schools explains the thinking behind the amendment to the Education Bill requiring sponsors to communicate their intentions to parents
    • “Keep your eye on the ‘professional’ committee member who argues over every comma and wastes time.” One of the list of Dos and Don’ts of chairing Cabinet committee meetings revealed this week.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £3.41bn. How big the overall budget for FE will be by 2019/20 according to the Minister’s latest missive
    • £1,320. The per pupil premium funding rate for primary school pupils for 2016/17; £935 for secondary pupils
    • 532,300. The number of people who accepted into UKHE this year, up 3.1% on 2014
    • £40m. How much should be put into a new access fund for entry to higher education according to the Social Mobility Commission
    • 285. The number of public bodies/quangos that have been scrapped since 2010 according to a new report from the National Audit Office (although 184 new bodies of different types have been formed during the same period)
    • 1.7m. How many employees are likely to come under the scope of the National Minimum Wage, at a cost to employers of around £804m
    • 78%. The number of students in a survey from the NUS who said they experienced mental health issues over the past year
    • £1.3bn. How much it costs schools overall to recruit supply teachers according to latest figures from Labour.

    What to look out for next week

    • A Happy Christmas.
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  • Policy Tracker – Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in December 2015

    A shorter working month but no shortage of activity with Ofsted’s latest Annual Report, the government’s 2020 Vision for Apprenticeships, UCAS’s summary report on 2015 admissions, the Social Mobility Commission’s third annual report and the latest statements on school and FE funding, all making the news.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Children’s Services. Government announces ‘failing’ services will be taken over
    • Coasting. Criteria to be extended to Academies
    • Careers. New joint Education Committee launches another inquiry
    • Intervention in underperforming schools. Consultation closes
    • Appeals. Ofqual launches consultation
    • ICT. Thousands sign petition to keep it at GCSE and A level
    • Re-sits. Ofqual consults on proposals for re-sitting legacy qualifications
    • School funding (1.) DfE announces revenue funding settlement for 2016/17
    • School Funding (2.). F40 group presents petition on fair funding
    • State school debt. Rises to over £50m overall according to TES survey
    • Sixth Form Colleges. Guidance on applying for Academy status due in the New Year
    • FE Funding (1.) BIS publishes latest funding letter and spending totals
    • FE funding (2.) Public Accounts Committee raises concerns about ‘future deterioration’
    • Traineeships. Government invites all eligible providers to offer programmes
    • Apprenticeships. Government sets out its long-term vision and plans for 2020
    • UCAS. Publishes its summary report on 2015 admissions
    • Voc ed. Uni of Huddersfield scoops large Gatsby grant to help improve voc ed T/L
    • National Living Wage. Government lists 4 steps bosses need to take before April 2016.

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

    • Annual Report. Ofsted’s latest Annual Report highlights some familiar concerns but it’s the attainment gaps between secondary schools in the North and the South that grabs the headlines
    • Great Expectations. City and Guilds looks into the career aspirations of 14-19 yr olds and raises issues about careers guidance, clarity of pathways and poorly matched aspirations
    • ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ The NFER becomes the latest to add its voice to the growing concerns about teacher recruitment and retention as it examines who’s joining and who’s leaving
    • ‘Patterns and Trends in UK HE 2015.’ UUK and HESA’s annual data-drop reports on an increase in disadvantaged and non-EU students as the sector continues to change over time
    • Innovating Pedagogy. The OU pushes the boundaries with its latest collection of essays on ten new teaching and learning strategies
    • Annual Report. The Education Endowment Foundation publishes its 2014/15 Annual Report highlighting in particular its toolkits, programmes and resources helping to close the gap
    • Implementing the FE and Skills Reform Programme. The FE Minister sends out his latest termly update on developments in the learning and skills sector
    • English Apprenticeships: Our 2020 Vision. The government sets out its strategy and time plan for achieving the 3m target by 2020
    • Supply and demand for higher level skills. Universities UK argues that far from a shortage of high skilled graduates in the future, the demand for those with such skills will actually increase
    • Employability: Degrees of Value. An Occasional Paper for HEPI looks at the issue of employability and what more could be done to help graduates in this area
    • Consultation on marking reviews, appeals and related changes. Ofqual proposes a number of changes designed to make the system more transparent yet secure
    • Advanced Learner Loans Prospectus. The Skills Funding Agency publishes the prospectus for eligible qualifications for the 2015/16 funding years
    • Funding Rules. The Skills Funding Agency updates its funding rules and guidance for training and skills providers for up to August 2016
    • Skills Funding Agency funding letter. The government leaves the SFA with some tough calls as it issues its funding priorities and limits for 2016/17 and beyond
    • Improving Schools in Scotland. The OECD assesses the state of play in Scotland and finds much to be positive about in the new curriculum framework but also a need to push on
    • Overseeing financial sustainability in the FE sector. The Public Accounts Committee raises further concerns about support and intervention in the FE sector
    • End of Cycle report. UCAS issues its annual report summarising trends, data and implications coming out of this year’s admissions cycle which saw a 3.1% increase in numbers accepted
    • Social Mobility and Child Poverty in Great Britain. The Commission publishes its third annual ‘State of the Nation Report with some important recommendations for education.

    Speeches of the month

    Quotes of the month

    • “We have a very clear view that to give young people a good start in life, they should have the choice of an apprenticeship or a university place when they leave school.” The PM believes young people should take one of two roads when they leave school
    • “It’s a moral outrage that the education system systematically fails the poorest children in the country at every level from early years on.” The social mobility tsar on education’s challenge
    • “These instructions are valid through to 2020.” The FE and Skills Minister sends his priorities through to the Skills Funding Agency
    • “We will continue with a minimum funding guarantee so no school sees more than 1.5% per pupil reduction in its 2016/17 budget.” The Education Minister explains the schools’ revenue settlement for 2016/17
    • “We have already shown that we are tough on underperforming academies and that RSCs take robust action where needed.” The Education Secretary gets tough and extends the coasting definition to Academies
    • “We feel that a period of consistency and stability for this sector will have greater impact than major structural reform.” The Education Minister on the Government’s plans for careers
    • “We shouldn’t just sit around in my office saying scrap this, scrap that.” Lucy Powell, Shadow Education Secretary, on the view from her office
    • “The current system in which teachers mark exams in their spare time for little pay is simply not able to cope with the sheer number of scripts which have to be marked each summer.” The General Secretary of one of the professional associations reacts to the latest data on appeals. 

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘‘Missing middle.’ School leavers neither going to uni or on to an apprenticeship.
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  • Policy Eye – week ending December 11 2015

    Christmas may be in sight but there’s been no let-up in activity this week with a keynote speech from the Prime Minister, a new plan of action for apprenticeships, some important consultations, a significant amendment to the Education Bill and the release of the latest official data on KS2 results all following in quick succession.

    The week summed up

    The Prime Minister’s speech first, important for two reasons. First because it was further evidence of a theme that the Prime Minister has been running with since the election that this is a government that claims it can deliver. He pointed to five areas (more academies, more apprenticeships, more homeowners, more money for the NHS, more family support) where he argued action was being taken. And second because at least two of those five areas, academies and apprenticeships, concern education and training and show how important a priority this is.

    Indeed there have been significant developments in both of those education areas this week.

    On academies, the government has now tabled amendments to the Education Bill that would see the proposed coasting criteria extended to both academies and free schools leaving regional commissioners with a further issue to contend with. It’s also requiring academy sponsors to let parents know what their plans are for schools they are lining up to take over.

    On apprenticeships, the government released its latest call for action in the shape of action plan to take us up to 2020 and the summit of 3m apprenticeships. In all, the Paper lists 47 ‘actions,’ that need to be ticked off over the coming months with the first half of 2016 looking particularly busy. A specific listing can be seen in an accompanying Policy Watch but standouts include further levy and funding guidance, more detail on the steps being taken to reform technical and professional education (the Sainsbury group work) and a careers strategy, all due in the first two quarters of 2016. Next year’s National Apprenticeship Week which runs from the 14-18 March 2016 looks like being particularly busy.

    Moving on to those ‘important’ consultations, the government proposals on intervening in underperforming and coasting schools closes next Friday while Ofqual has followed up its latest published data on appeals and malpractice by releasing a series of consultations on related matters but with particular interest in the proposals for future enquiries about results.

    Finally, we should not forget the official results of KS2 tests, released this week, and showing a further increase (up from 78% to 80%) in the number of 11 year olds reaching the requisite level 4 standard. It meant a welcome drop in the number of primary schools below the floor standard although the media seemed unsure whether this constituted good or bad news.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Apple turns stores into classrooms.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Failing academies face rapid action.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Tuition fees will depend upon subject.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Wilshaw: make apprenticeships more appealing or risk them going to foreigners.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘More than 90,000 exam grades changed.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “In education, four little words are guaranteed to send me into orbit: ‘in the real world.’” @timeshighered
    • “51% of teachers say they don’t have time to deliver employability activities. Proxy for ‘don’t want to,’ ‘don’t know how,’ not relevant?” @davidharbourne
    • “No morale problem. Teaching isn’t a profession in crisis @NickGibbMP tells MPs.” @tes

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “A manifesto shouldn’t be a wish-list; it should be a checklist.” The Prime Minister confirms that the government is steadily ticking off its manifesto promises
    • “At the heart of this Bill lies our belief that a single day spent by a child in an underperforming school is a day too many.” The Education Secretary on the rationale behind the latest amendment to the Education Bill
    • “The body will be funded by government using public funds as the rest of the governance system is.” The Skills Minister explains how the new Institute for Apprenticeships will be funded
    • “The apprenticeship levy will shift incentives so that it is far more in employers’ interests to take on apprentices.” The apprenticeship levy assumption in the government’s latest Vision Paper on apprenticeships
    • “If there is a surfeit of plumbers one year, the number being trained is reduced and applicants encouraged into other sectors.” Sir Michael Wilshaw explains how Germany manages labour market supply around its apprenticeship scheme
    • "It is less target driven.” A comment piece in the Guardian looks at how the German education system has raised its game
    • “If we want our students to have a rich and balanced education, teachers must become curriculum developers again.” John Dunford calls for the teaching profession to regain its curriculum mojo
    • “It’s good to just sit there, close your eyes and breathe. It really helps.” The UK’s first Happiness Teacher on what really helps.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 2.3%. The percentage of the workforce in large public sector bodies that should be apprentices likely to be set out in a forthcoming government consultation
    • Two-thirds. How much of the apprenticeship funding cake the Skills Minister is urging colleges to grab by 2020 (at present it’s nearer one-third)
    • 50. Roughly how many applications for recognition as an awarding organisation Ofqual receives each year
    • 44 (out of 276.) The number of private schools listed as offering vocational courses at A level
    • 36.5%. The % of disadvantaged pupils who achieved 5 core A*-C GCSEs in 2013/14 against 64% of pupils overall
    • 17%. The increase from last year in enquiries about results according to latest Ofqual data
    • 122. The number of formal improvement notices issued to academies and free schools according to the Education Secretary
    • 676. The number of primary schools below the floor standard, down by nearly 100 from last year.

    What to look out for next week

    • UCAS publish End of Cycle Report on the 2015 uni admissions cycle (Thursday)
    • Social Mobility Commission publish its annual Report (Thursday).
    read more