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 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 October 23 2015

    Half-term has arrived for many with education pretty much in full throttle.

    The week summed up

    This week, two important education-related Bills (the Education Bill and the Cities and Local Gov Devolution Bill) moved a step closer, the Education Secretary defended her position on new schools including grammars, the DfE launched further consultation on ‘dealing with’ coasting schools, the Education Committee examined the role and remit of Regional Schools Commissioners, the Public Accounts Committee examined FE finances, the BIS Committee looked into the government’s Productivity Plan and Ofsted, the think tank Policy Exchange and LKMco/Pearson all published significant reports. In addition training providers and awarding organisations have been in conference. As they used to say in Private Eye: ’that’s enough: Ed’.

    It means we reach the final quarter of 2015 with the world of education as busy as ever and arguably three issues prominent.

    First, inevitably perhaps as the Chancellor’s spending announcements draw nearer, funding where anxieties continue to build. There’s been something for everyone this week. The Institute for Fiscal Studies issued a new briefing on the outlook for schools funding which boiled down to tough times ahead, colleges were told to expect more births, deaths and marriages by the Dept Permanent Secretary while HE faced the proposition, spelt out in a comprehensive report by the think tank Policy Exchange, that money should be switched from them to FE to help fund the tightly squeezed but much prized higher-level tech training provision. Almost exactly a month to go therefore before the Chancellor declares his hand on where the cuts should fall and education is waiting nervously.

    Second, what about the workers, under pressure, underpaid but according to the LKMco/Pearson research today keen to make a difference; is there a recruitment and retention crisis as many have suggested? The Education Secretary waved school teachers off for half-term with a grateful thanks and a reminder that the latest Workforce Challenge groups are busy getting to grips with issues about paperwork, bureaucracy and so on but a seminar hosted by Policy Exchange this week also heard worrying evidence about a lack of specialists in some subject areas and concerns about replacement needs among heads and senior managers. The Dept has done its modelling but this looks like being an issue that will run for some time.

    And third, skills training and provision, vital for the government’s Productivity Plan and economic growth ambitions but underfunded at the higher level as Policy Exchange pointed out and still some way short of the full package when it comes to apprenticeships for young people as Ofsted pointed out. Again, we haven’t heard the last of either. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Cut HE funding to boost FE says think tank report.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Private schools attack exam appeals smokescreen.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Coasting school definition out for consultation.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Apprenticeship drive has diluted quality, says Ofsted chief.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Fact or Fiction? The reasons teachers chose the job -and quit.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who along with the Home Secretary launched the government’s counter-extremism strategy with an emphasis on helping build ‘cohesive communities’
    • The BIS Committee who spent a morning this week hearing a range of views from different parts of the education and business world on the government’s Productivity Plan
    • The Education Committee who have announced that it will hold a one-off session to examine the issue of teacher recruitment and retention; no date set yet but it is calling for evidence submissions by 20 November 2015
    • The DfE who updated its guidance on intervention strategies for schools causing concern and published an accompanying consultation on the definition of ‘coasting’
    • The DfE who following the publication last week of interim performance results for GCSEs and A levels have now added interim destination results as well 
    • The House of Lords Library who provided a useful summary of the Education and Adoption Bill as it reached its Second Reading stage in the House this week
    • The House of Commons Library who provided an equally useful summary of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill including an update on the 4 latest ‘devo-deals’ agreed as it reached its Second Reading in the Commons
    • Go ON UK, the charity promoting digital skills, who along with the BBC, LGA and LSE have created a heatmap showing where digital exclusion is at its wort in the UK. (Spoiler: London and the S.E fares best, parts of Wales, Scotland, Northumberland, Shropshire and N.Lincs fare worst)
    • Ed Balls who is joining the growing body of expertise at the Policy Institute at King’s College London and becoming a visiting professor there
    • Sir Anthony Seldon who has pursued his interest in ‘learner mental wellbeing’ from his new post as Vice-Chancellor at the University of Buckingham by publishing a 10-point plan intended to help universities deal with such issues better
    • Former Chair of the Education Committee Barry Sheerman who has been confirmed as Chair of the new Sutton Trust Advisory Group which will advise the Trust on its future research strategy
    • Michael Davis, chief executive of UKCES, who will leave his post next March
    • The think tank Policy Exchange whose report proposing a transfer of funds from HE to FE to help build a higher level professional technical route attracted considerable interest
    • Ofsted who published a major report on apprenticeships critical of many aspects including the quality of some of the schemes, the failure to focus on the key sectors and the lack of careers guidance and support needed to encourage young people to take up an apprenticeship
    • Chief Executive of Ofqual Glenys Stacey who gave a comprehensive overview of how the qualification systems and its regulation is changing in a speech at the Federation of Awarding Bodies Annual Conference
    • Nicky Morgan who updated teachers on progress in the Workload Challenge (the latest 3 groups are just about to start a second round of meetings) in a half-term message
    • Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Education Committee, who is one of a number of co-authors of a new report from the consultancy Wild Search looking at new models of school governance and calling for proper remuneration for governors 
    • The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) whose latest Briefing Paper on schools funding in England suggests that despite protections, they (schools) “will feel the pinch”
    • LKMco who in a report commissioned by Pearson surveyed teachers to find out what motivated them to go into teaching in the first place and what some of the issues were that helped and/or hindered them
    • The Institute of Physics who published a report looking at how gender can affect the choice of subjects such as Physics in school and who called for ‘gender champions’ to be appointed to help overcome any bias 
    • The Education Endowment Foundation who is launching a series of new learning packages this week designed to help those working with disadvantaged pupils particularly in areas such as numeracy
    • Laura McInerney whose article in The Guardian this week raised a number of interesting points about how best to attract teachers, especially in so-called tough areas
    • The NUT who led the handing in of a petition to the DfE this week arguing against the introduction of baseline assessment for 4 and 5 year olds at the start of primary. 

    Tweet(s) of the week 

    • “When Lemsip just isn’t enough. 16 tell-tale signs that half-term is just around the corner.” @tes
    • “What those pen colours mean. #Red: I work in the independent sector.” @tombennett71
    • “Nicky Morgan01 says: there are no applications for new grammar school expansions sitting on her desk right now.” @SchoolsWeek
    • “It’ll be like Ofsted on speed when the area-review teams visit (colleges)” @tesfenews 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “At the end of the day let’s be frank about this, we need everyone to work on this together.” The Prime Minister appeals for help as he launches the counter-extremism strategy
    • “It’s likely and it’s my personal view that there will be significantly fewer of them.” BIS’s Permanent Secretary tells the Public Accounts Committee what might happen to colleges after the area-based reviews
    • “I realise there has been significant interest in the outcome of this case, including from MPs, but I would like to take this opportunity to confirm that the government has no plans to change our policy on grammar schools.” The Education Secretary on where the government stands on grammar schools
    • “In my opinion there are 3 guilty parties: schools, further education providers and employers.” The Chief Inspector takes a wide aim when it comes to tackling apprenticeships
    • “What it isn’t OK is to come in at 9 until 4-it isn’t that sort of job-but my teachers do 8 to 6.” Government adviser and practising headteacher Sir Andrew Carter describes what’s required to be a teacher in his school
    • “They may not be a pleasant thing to do but they are a necessary thing.” Government behaviour adviser Tom Bennett on the case for school detentions
    • “If you’re arguing with teachers and principals, coaches and umpires all the time, it’s a sign you’re a little too invested.”  The Washington Post on how to avoid being a helicopter (or over-zealous) parent

    Number(s) of the week

    • 8%. How much the IfS reckon school funding per pupil will fall by in real terms over the next 5 years
    • 4. The different teacher ‘types’ identified in a LKMco/Pearson survey into ‘Why Teach?’ (Practitioners; Moderates; Idealists; Rationalists)
    • 71%. The number of students in continuous education, training or employment six months after completing Key Stage 5 according to the government’s latest provisional stats
    • £2577. How much it would cost a family of 4 to fly to Larnaca this half term as against £970 the week after according to the Local Government Association who is calling for more flexibility over family holidays in term-time
    • 83%. The number of 16-24 year olds who rated their life satisfaction as high or very high in the last ONS stats on children and young people’s well-being (although 17% reported high levels of anxiety)
    • 64%. The number of higher education providers who in a recent sample by Which? had failed to provide updated information about next year’s fees on their websites. 

    What to look out for next week

    • Pearson Teaching Awards ceremony broadcast on BBC2 (Sunday)
    • Education Questions in the Commons (Monday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending October 16 2015

    No higher ed Green Paper this week as had been widely anticipated, instead, as the listing below shows, schools and exams have been filling the headlines.

    The week summed up

    The main story has been about the opening of a new grammar school ‘annexe’ in Kent. The government has been very circumspect in how it’s presenting the decision to approve it: ‘this will better meet the needs of parents,’ ‘it’s a genuine expansion of an existing school,’ ‘it doesn’t reflect a change in policy’ and so on but inevitably it’s provoked a lot of debate and the Labour Party has called for an official explanation. For many, the approval sits awkwardly with the Prime Minister’s “no more children with their noses pressed to the window as they watch the world moving ahead without them” social mobility speech just a week ago and a key issue will be how far this is a one-off and what impact this has on the planning of school provision in the future. Time will tell.

    Exams and exam performance has been the other big schools story this week partly because the government has decided to publish ‘provisional’ exam performance data early this year to help parents making choices about secondary schools and partly because Ofqual has been in front of the Education Committee this week answering questions on exams and much more.

    On the performance data which as ASCL’s Brian Lightman said, ‘should come with a hefty health warning’ as it’s still only partial, the broad picture is no great change between 2014 and 2015. Slightly more state school pupils (0.2%) achieved 5 A*-Cs, slightly fewer (0.1%) took EBacc subjects largely because of a drop in entries for languages and at L3, the average point score per vocational entry continued to rise. The formal performance tables by the way will be published in the normal way in January. As for exams generally, Ofqual was tackled on a range of issues including exam reform, GCSE grading, numbers of examiners and marking generally by the new Education Committee this week. Much of it was traditional stuff but a particular issue and one highlighted on the BBC website this week is that of appeals about marks and whether this is being used strategically to raise results in parts of the school system. Ofqual’s evidence suggests that despite the rise in requests, the number of grades actually changing as a result is very small…but it is going to consult all the same.    

    So no HE Green Paper this week but decks clear for next week or soon after. Speculation remains rife as to what might be in the Paper as Mark Leach’s expert piece in the Guardian this week indicated although broad details were evident in the Minister’s speech last month. One thing that may arrive from HE next week however is a big bag of washing. According to train companies the third weekend of October, generally one month into term, is peak time for uni student travel; time to clear more decks. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘New wave of super-sized secondary schools planned.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Exam boards’ reform will lead to Corbynesque solution. (Tuesday)
    • ‘Is the cost of exam re-marking putting off state schools?’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘First new grammar school in 50 years,’ (Thursday)
    • ‘We’re Mystic Meg: head teachers left in dark over new exams.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Nicky Morgan, whose decision to approve a new grammar school ‘annexe’ in Kent has attracted considerable comment
    • BIS whose commissioned report published at the end of last week has a mass of useful data showing how effectively FE contributes to seven of the key social mobility indicators
    • The BIS Committee who held a witness session with the Business Secretary and his Permanent Secretary on the work of the Dept
    • The DfE, who as promised earlier this year, published provisional performance results from this year’s GCSEA level and vocational exams in an effort to get info out early to parents applying for secondary school places
    • The DfE who pointed to figures published this week showing that more 5 year olds than ever were achieving the expected standards in maths and literacy under the early years foundation stage profile
    • The Institute for Fiscal Studies who published a helpful summary of how things are shaping up for Dept spending under the 2015 Spending Review where both education Depts are likely to face cuts
    • The Institute for Government who offered an interesting analysis of the current 38 devolution bids now submitted noting that 80% included devolution of skills planning and commissioning
    • Deputy Director at the CBI, Katja Hall who is moving to a new job next month as Group Head of Public Affairs at HSBC
    • Roger Pope, Principal of Kingsbridge Community College in Devon, who has added to his duties by becoming Chair of the National College of Teaching and Leadership as well
    • Universities UK Vice-President Janet Beer who has joined the board of the ‘Keep Britain In Europe ’ campaign to fly the flag for HE and higher learning opportunities generally
    • London Met University which announced that it will consolidate its provision around its main Holloway Road campus from Sept 2017
    • HEFCE who made its point by publishing the results of an independent survey indicating high levels of client support and satisfaction with its work
    • The sector skill group People 1st who have added their voice to the concerns about the apprenticeship levy
    • Ernst and Young who emerged as the UK’s top company for employing apprentices and school leavers in the latest RateMyApprenticeship listing
    • ESOL, the focus of a rally in London this week protesting against the government’s decision to cut funding for the ESOL mandation programme
    • The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) who have been given the green light to go ahead and lead development of new functional skills standards for introduction from 2018
    • The British Chambers of Commerce whose survey of business and education leaders found overwhelming support for the return of work experience for under 16s
    • Ofqual Chief Regulator Glenys Stacy whose speech to the Westminster Education Forum this week outlined how the development of new GCSEs and A levels and other current issues around exam reviews and appeals
    • Glenys Stacey and Amanda Spielman who both appeared before the Education Committee this week answering questions on exam reform, GCSE grading, marking, appeals and the National Reference Test
    • Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission who have launched a consultation on inspecting how effectively local areas are meeting special educational needs requirements
    • The think tank Demos whose commissioned research for its ‘Mind over Matter’ report identified that students were less happy and more anxious towards the end of their secondary schooling than at the beginning
    • Northern Ireland’s National Children’s Bureau whose report ‘ICT and Me’ found that while there was no statistically significant link between mobile phone use and GCSE performance, there was between excessive use of gaming and GCSE exam performance
    • The Competition and Markets Authority who have written to schools to remind them that parents should be free to shop around when it comes to buying school uniforms rather than be tied into a particular retailer
    • Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ George Orwell’s classic tome which is listed as 4th in the Booksellers Association top 20 academic books that have changed the world. (No 1 was Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’). 

    Tweet(s) of the week 

    • “Prof Richard Pring@UniofOxford: the most centralised system of education since Calvin’s days in the 1th century.” @Adrian_Hilton
    • “@JeyyLowe: Anyone arguing in favour of grammars is talking out of their anecdote.” @miss_mcinerney
    • “#ASCLInfo: 69% still planning to enter all students for AS levels.” @brianlightman

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Do bankers deserve their bonuses?” One of a number of possible interview questions facing candidates applying to Oxford University as it seeks to delve into their reasoning powers and thought processes
    • “FE doesn’t stand for featherbedding the economy but further education.“ Emeritus UCL Professor Frank Coffield on the need for teaching staff as much as local employers to be involved in the current area-based reviews of the FE sector
    • “It was careless of government to end compulsory work experience in 2012 but it is not too late to correct the decision.” The D.G. of the British Chambers of Commerce reporting on their latest employers’ survey
    • “If you play darts every day you get good at subtracting from 501. The reason that so many of us believe that we can’t do maths is largely psychological.” Mike Ellicock, CEO of National Numeracy talks about the challenge of maths at this week’s World Maths Day
    • “Let the senior leadership team take over someone’s teaching for a day so that they can observe another teacher’s practice in a focused way.” One of 13 tips from Sir Tim Brighouse, listed on the TES website, to help improve teacher CPD and morale
    • “There is no reason why an academic core curriculum should in any way imperil a cultural education or vice versa.” Schools Minister Nick Gibb at the launch of a new initiative to boost cultural education in schools. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 1.7m. The latest (June – August) unemployment total, down 79,000 on the previous quarter
    • 872,300. The number of people on government funded apprenticeships during the 2014-15 academic year according to the latest statistical release
    • 19,200. The number of people who started a traineeship last year according to the latest statistical release
    • 38.6%. The number of state school pupils entered for the EBacc, down 0.1% but with 23.9% achieving the full measure according to the DfE’s provisional KS4 ‘exam’ results published this week
    • 3,102. How many maths teachers will need to be in training next year, up 20%, according to DfE figures
    • 7%. The increase over the last 10 years in the number of children in ‘kinship care’ (being brought up by relatives) according to research from the University of Bristol
    • 75%. The number of 5 year olds reaching the expected level of maths in the early years foundation stage according to the government’s latest statistics.

    What to look out for next week

    • Public Accounts Committee witness session on the financial health of the FE sector (Monday)
    • Policy Exchange/ASCL ½ day seminar on the ‘Future of the Teaching Workforce.’ (Monday)
    • AELP Autumn Conference (Tuesday)
    • LEP Summit (Tuesday)
    • Education Committee Inquiry session into the role of Regional Schools Commissioners (Wed)
    • Westminster Hall debate on the UK Science Budget and the Spending Review (Wed)
    • FAB (Federation of Awarding Bodies) Conference (Thursday, Friday). 
    read more
  • Pocket Watch – Conference Lessons 2015

    It was always going to be a different Conference season this year with all three major Parties having to adjust to the realities of life after the May general election, but what have we learned about the future for education and skills?

    Here are six observations.   

    Education and skills remains an important issue

    It may not feel like one of the top policy issues at the moment but if the last few weeks are anything to go by, education remains an important priority for many. In the build-up to the general election earlier this year, education remained consistently in the top ten of voter priorities, coming in at number seven behind issues such as immigration, the NHS and the economy. According to the latest survey by Ipsos-Mori a couple of weeks ago, that has hardly changed. As if to emphasise the importance of education, it’s been the Prime Minister who has been fronting education announcements of late whether it be the announcement of more academies and apprenticeships last month or tougher rules on school truancy this week. The government clearly sees education as an important part of its pitch for the so-called ‘common ground,’ offering opportunity and aspiration to those hardworking families it so often mentions. As for Labour, it’s early days, there was a brief reference to school accountability in Jeremy Corbyn’s speech and the new Shadow Education Secretary has identified this along with teacher recruitment and funding as obvious targets as she starts to shape Opposition education policy. For public and politicians alike therefore, education remains up there as an important issue. 

    It’s (still) all about the economy

    The economy remains the overriding issue for much of this Parliament and certainly in the case of the government the locus for much education policy. At the moment, most minds are focused on the Spending Review and what that might bring for education but we’ve heard a lot over the last few weeks from both major Parties about their wider economic plans for the future. For the Conservatives, George Osborne seized the headlines with his raid on Opposition territory for a man and a plan in the shape of Lord Adonis and the National Infrastructure Commission. This along with a promised ‘massive transfer of power to local authorities’ and a commitment to legislate for a surplus for the future were the headline ingredients in his ‘building for the future’ speech and will be of interest for much of the FE and HE sectors let alone those who argue for a more skills-based 14-19 curriculum. For Labour, John McDonnell was keen to demonstrate that there were alternatives to austerity, “another world is possible.”  He duly announced a series of reviews including of the Treasury, Bank of England and HMRC, the creation of a new Economic Advisory Committee and a clampdown on tax evasion and avoidance. How far any of this would translate into a new skills agenda remains to be seen but he did interestingly stoke up a reformed BIS Dept as a key player in the future ”in charge of public investment, infrastructure planning and setting new standards in the labour market.” 

    But social reform matters

    Whether it’s Corbyn’s “kinder politics, more caring society” or Cameron’s ‘building a more compassionate society that leaves no-one behind,’ the Conference season has seen all major Parties attempt to add a heart to the economic head that has been determining government policy for so long. At present it’s hard to get beyond the buzz words: aspiration, opportunity, mobility and so on but there are signs that it’s beginning to drive some specific policies such as housing, social care, youth employment and of course education where the Prime Minister identified a lack of social mobility as “another big social problem we need to fix.” David Cameron’s belief that a more autonomous school system, sharper accountabilities and the introduction of a National Living Wage will help solve the problem puts him at odds with the Labour Party who have genuine concerns about all of those and especially about some of the specific welfare reforms. Social mobility is clearly one of the big social reform issues facing education at present as Ofsted, the Social Mobility Commission and others have been pointing out for some time. But there are others including: pupil welfare, safeguarding, children’s mental health, children in care and how well we prepare young people for adult life, many of which were raised in fringe events over the last few weeks and which will continue to shape the education agenda for the foreseeable future.  

    Schools of excellence

    In the build-up to the Conservative Party Conference this week, the TES highlighted four “major education crises” facing the government namely: teacher supply, pupil numbers, ‘rushed’ exam reforms and budget cuts. These, plus concerns about early years and 16-19 funding were also raised in various forums by Lucy Powell, the Shadow Education Minister who used her major speech to focus on a problem that’s proved thorny for the Party in the past: what to do about Free Schools and Academies. Her answer? “There will be no more Free Schools and Academy chains will be made accountable.” How the proposed new‘local oversight’ will work, whether it will be the Blunkett model of local standards commissioners or something else, remains to be seen but the marker has been firmly laid. As for the Conservatives, the Prime Minister again committed to more of the same in terms of Free Schools and Academies and the Education Secretary to wraparound childcare during both term and holiday time, and more opaquely to “educational excellence everywhere” but how far all this has helped resolve the crises listed.    

    FE still the forgotten middle child

    If there’s one sector entitled to feeling a bit miffed about a lack of political attention over the last few weeks, it’s FE. There was plenty of talk around the Conference fringes about apprenticeships, skills training and local growth planning but when it came to platform speeches from the BIS Secretary of State and his Shadow, not a smidgeon. For FE therefore it’s business as usual, battling to deliver the dual mandate of essential employability skills and higher-level tech skills while coping with shrinking budgets and a time-consuming series of area reviews. Significantly most government policy for the sector these days emanates from the Treasury, last week’s release of a National Infrastructure Plan for Skills being just the latest example. It may be some comfort therefore that so many of the Treasury plans including the all-important Growth and Productivity Plans depend on the FE sector to be able to deliver them. How many, should become clearer when the Treasury announces its spending and growth plans next month. 

    HE on hold

    For HE, Theresa May’s “students, yes; over-stayers, no,” speech was a sharp reminder that the student visa issue remains a hot topic and one that appears to be dividing Ministers as well. Overall, however, the sector remains a bit in limbo as it awaits the outcomes of two important Reports. One of course is the Spending Review where comments continue to pour in warning the government against savage cuts. Valedictory comments from the outgoing V.C. of Oxford and a blog from the Chancellor of Birmingham University this week being just the latest two examples. And the other of course is the Green Paper, given a pretty hefty trail by the HE Minister last month and due out shortly. Until the details on both of these are out and the implications clearer, HE remains in a state of uncertainty. Further uncertainty surrounds the Labour Party’s position on fees where it now appears that the campaign pledge by Jeremy Corbyn to scrap them will be subjected to the Party’s extensive consultation process. Quite what will emerge from what the Shadow Minister called “a deep process of thought” remains to be seen but it’s unlikely to be quick. 

    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending October 2 2015

    The media crowded in enthusiastically but what have we really learned from this week’s new look Labour Party Conference particularly for the world of education? 

    The week summed up

    According to some, the new leader looked like a teacher and even sounded like one particularly when he began his speech by asking: “Any chance we could start?” It’s a phrase many teachers would recognise.

    There was a big call for ‘a kinder politics, a more caring society’ but when it came to education, there were just five lines. It’s very early days of course but some pointers have begun to emerge both during and after the Conference.

    At present three stand out. First, the pledge to scrap tuition fees, one of the big Corbyn campaign pledges but which has now been put on hold while it’s subjected to the Party’s extensive policy making process. It might emerge, it might not but as the Shadow HE Minister put it rather guardedly: ”there needs to be a deep process of thought.” Second Academies and Free Schools, the main focus of those five lines and where the new Shadow Education Secretary confirmed; “no more Free Schools and academy chains will be made accountable.”  And third, the economy and skills, where as part of an alternative economic plan proposed by the Shadow Chancellor, a new Economic Advisory Committee would be set up and a new, more powerful role as a driver of growth granted to BIS under a future Labour government.

    Now it’s off to Manchester where the Conservatives host the last of this season’s major Party Conferences, (Business, skills and the economy on Monday, education on Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s speech Wednesday.)   

    The mood will be different but there’s no shortage of issues when it comes to an area like education.

    To highlight just a few from the week’s headlines below; first higher education where despite HEFCE’s welcome report on the career progression of the Class of 2008/9, those in other words who graduated at the height of the financial crisis, deep concerns remain about future funding and the impact of the Spending Review (see Sir Paul Nurse’s quote below.) Second, the area-review process for FE, blasted as a “shambles” by the Shadow Schools Minister and now drawn into the latest consultation on adult learning accountability measures launched this week. Third, the funding of skills training and in particular the apprenticeship levy for which consultation closed this week. To quote from the CBI’s submission; “a new levy won’t be welcomed by business so we want to see a new politically independent Levy Board setting the rate.”  And fourth and never far away, teacher recruitment where despite the announcement this week of new, increased bursaries, UCAS figures on recruitment to teacher training courses remains low in some key subjects.  

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Compulsory academic GCSEs ‘a problem for some,’ says Ofsted chief.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Campaign warns 11% of world illiterate.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Jeremy Corbyn commits to making schools accountable to councils.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Pupils chose YouTube over teachers for careers advice.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Experts fear race to bottom after Ofqual drops extra science GCSE checks.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in a wide-ranging speech to the Labour Party Conference, signalled that the BIS Dept would be a key driver of economic growth in any future Labour government
    • Lucy Powell who used her first Conference speech as Shadow Education Secretary to call for greater local accountability for academies and a halt to the creation of more Free Schools
    • The Institute of Government who used a series of charts to provide an interesting analysis of the Labour frontbench
    • Sheffield City Region which has become the latest region to sign up to the Chancellor’s programme for devolving management of local growth planning and investment
    • The BIS Dept who launched further consultation on the new outcome based success measures it intends to use for post-19 education and training from summer 2017
    • The DfE who have responded to concerns about teacher recruitment by announcing increased bursaries for teachers of core subjects and increased funding for Schools Direct
    • Project Literacy, a global alliance of business and charities, who have submitted a virtual petition to world leaders at the UN calling on them to prioritise the enormous issue of illiteracy around the world
    • The Hays Global Skills Index whose latest report covering 31 countries highlighted continuing concerns about skill shortages in different parts of the world
    • Deloitte, who have announced that from next year they will not look at which school or university a candidate attended so that they can be judged on merit
    • HEFCE who reported on the career progression of UK students who had graduated at around the time of the economic crash in 2008/09 and found that nearly 78% were in professional jobs between 6 and 40 months after leaving uni
    • The Consumer Ombudsman Services who published a useful student guide full of tips on how to deal with landlords, utility companies and service providers for students embarking on life away from home
    • Judith Petts, currently pro vice-chancellor at Southampton University, who has been appointed as vice-chancellor at Plymouth University from Feb 2016
    • The RQF (Regulated Qualifications Framework) which replaced the QCF from this week
    • The consultation on the apprenticeship levy which closed today (Friday Oct 2) with employer groups expressing concerns about cost, quality and business impact
    • Ofsted who confirmed that it would be publishing a survey report on apprenticeships this month and will also undertake a follow-up survey on 16-19 study programmes
    • Ofqual Director Jeremy Benson who outlined some of the issues surrounding innovation and technology in assessment in a speech to the FELTAG Conference this week
    • The LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion whose joint report on the performance of disadvantaged pupils in London added to the growing weight of evidence building up about the success of the capital’s schools
    • The DfE who updated its guidance on implementing the pay arrangements in schools
    • The Prince’s Teaching Institute which according to the TES is moving into primary education and running its first ever event for primary heads this week
    • ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ ‘The Book Thief,’ ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’ the top five books (in order) in W.H. Smith’s social media customer survey of the top paperback books of all time  

    Tweet(s) of the week 

    • “@GordonMarsden on tuition fees: we are going to review our position. We rule nothing in and nothing out.” @AaronPorter
    • "We have to get away from thinking policy problems are solved by setting a big number” @IPPR_NickP #Lab15 #apprenticeships
    • “The apprenticeship levy is probably a game changer but we don’t know what game we are playing says @davidhNIACE.”  @FEWeek
    • “The great majority of Tweets on Twitter is education is education-based not b/c educators are in great numbers but the group is prolific.” @tomwhitby
    • “Online communities are the new staffrooms says #UKFEchat founder @MrsSarahSimons” @tesfenews
    • “Have we redesigned our entire curriculum simply because one man read a book? The DfE’s obsession with E.D.Hirsch.” @SecEd_Education

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We’ll also turn the Dept for Business, Innovation and Skills into a powerful economic development dept in charge of public investment, infrastructure planning and setting new standards in the labour market.” The Shadow Chancellor promises a more expansive role for BIS under a Labour government
    • “I don’t intend to sit on the sidelines. We will make a difference.” The new Shadow Education Secretary appears keen to make her mark
    • “Neanderthals.” Sir Paul Nurse’s view of anyone attempting to cut the science budget (Sir Paul is currently leading a major review of research councils)
    • “There is a feeling that beyond the narrowest of employment-related targets, politicians no longer care about what becomes of FE." The Policy Consortium checks the pulse of FE six months on from its annual survey of the sector
    • “I know nothing about education.” But the new chief executive of the 157 group of Colleges is learning very fast according to an interview in the TES
    • “We’re proud of what we’ve done with free schools meals.” The PM’s spokesman dismisses speculation that free school meals could be cut as part of the Spending Review
    • “When you’re up at 1.00am planning lessons, it’s less lonely if you watch Bargain Hunt.” One of the lessons learnt by new primary school teachers according to the TES.   

    Number(s) of the week

    • 757m. The number of people across the world classified as illiterate and whose needs have been highlighted in a new global campaign launched at the UN
    • 34. The number of UK universities in the top 200 of the Times Higher annual world university rankings published this week
    • 55. The number of current world leaders who have been educated at UK universities and thus added to UKHE’s international standing according to research from the HE Policy Institute
    • £240 a year. How much students living away from home typically lose out because they don’t know their rights or how to complain
    • 57p. The increase in the apprentice hourly rate of the National Minimum Wage implemented this week bringing the hourly total now to £3.30 (£6.50 an hour for adult workers)
    • 62% of qualified teachers are female yet only 36% of heads are female; the teaching glass ceiling reported on in The Guardian this week.  

    What to look out for next week

    • Conservative Party Conference (Sunday–Wednesday)
    • National Customer Service Week (all week).
    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending October 9 2015

    This week the annual Party Conference season drew to a close. 

    The week summed up

    The SNP have their bash next week but it’s back to the more routine business for politicians in England next week. So, five months on from the general election and with a busy autumn beckoning, how’s education looking?

    A more detailed summary can be found in an accompanying Policy Watch but in terms of headlines, six points stand out.

    First, education remains an important priority. It’s not in the top three public concerns highlighted by Ipsos-Mori recently but it’s certainly in the top ten and a central part of the government’s pitch for the centre ground hence why the PM and Chancellor took the lead on education announcements this week.

    Second, the economy hangs over everything but it’s much more now about how to get the wheels turning a bit better, more jobs, better productivity, higher skills and so on; both the Chancellor and his opposite number had plenty to say about all of this.

    Third, it’s not just about surpluses and targets, economic policy needs to come with a soul as well, kinder, compassionate, caring, all words used in the Leaders’ speeches and all beginning to be displayed in education agendas where issues such as mental health and pupil safeguarding have been raised again this week.

    Fourth, for schools, it’s pretty much business as before, ‘excellence for all,’ as Nicky Morgan put it but with mechanisms like funding, coasting and local accountability providing key political dividing lines. Fifth, for FE, missing again from major speeches but with its future being shaped in Treasury plans. And sixth, HE, about to enter a new phase with a Green Paper due out shortly but where debates about fees, funding and visas are never far away.

    If, Desert Island Disc wise, one overriding them or issue had to be selected from the debates and speeches of the last few weeks, it would probably have to be social mobility or in education terms opening up opportunity and closing down attainment gaps whether in schools, FE or HE. It was a theme adopted in David Cameron’s speech, “the brick wall of blocked opportunity” and in Jeremy Corbyn’s “we have aspirations for all children, not just a few.” It’s the theme also of two reports out today one on the pupil premium and the other on apprenticeships. It binds politicians and professionals alike and as the Social Mobility Commission put it last year, is the ultimate prize for 2020. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘More than 50% of teachers in England plan to quit in next two years.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Private schools condemn exam marking.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Morgan: schools must offer working-day childcare.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Prime Minister warns over extremist teaching.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘MPs want better help for poorer pupils.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who re-affirmed his support for more Academies and Free Schools and announced a new registration system for religious supplementary schools in the education ‘bits’ of his Conference speech this week
    • The Chancellor of the Exchequer who used his Conference speech to announce a number of measures to help stimulate growth in the economy including new powers and simpler funding rules for local councils and the creation of a new National Infrastructure Commission
    • Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who confirmed in her Conference speech that families would have ‘a right to request’ a full day’s childcare before and after school and during the holidays as well
    • Nicky Morgan who has written to the School Teachers’ Review Body asking for advice by next April on how best to apply the 2016/17 pay award of 1%
    • The government who announced new sanctions, pursuable through the welfare system and the courts, to help tackle school truancy
    • The Public Accounts Committee who following a series of inquiries this year on the pupil premium have produced their own report concluding that while the premium has helped, there is still not a good enough understanding let alone sharing of what works best in helping close the attainment gap between the richest and poorest pupils
    • Jonathan Portes who is leaving his post as director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research
    • The British Council, who as this year’s Nobel prize winners were being announced, examined the educational background of past winners and found that many had studied at some point in the UK
    • Key Cities, a group of 26 smaller cities including York, Derby and Cambridge who have urged the government not to forget about them as the devolution bandwagon gathers pace
    • The Industry Skills Board, a group of employers with an interest in skills issues brought together by City Guilds, who have published a 25-point action plan for ‘Making Apprenticeships Work’ which includes a Levy Board and UCAS style applications for young apprenticeships
    • The Sutton Trust whose latest commissioned report found that the best top apprenticeships resulted in greater lifetime earnings than some non-Russell Group degrees but that not enough apprenticeships were yet at this top end
    • The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) who is inviting responses as to how it’s doing in its Annual Perception Survey
    • The DfE who ahead of the new accountability measures coming in next year, published experimental data on L1/2 attainment in English and maths by 16-18 yr olds for 2013 /14
    • Ofqual who published in one handy booklet its full postcard collection explaining the current changes to qualifications and regulation 
    • Ofqual who published a listing of GCSE, AS and A level qualifications not being reformed explaining in each case why they are being withdrawn
    • Leading independent schools who as part of the HMC have been in conference this week reflecting on many of key education issues of the day from qualification reform to concerns about mental health in schools
    • Dr Sam Carr from Bath University who examined the issue raised in a recent NUT survey about so many teachers wanting to leave the profession and suggested that ‘suffocation’ of motivation and job satisfaction were key factors
    • The book retailer Waterstones who announced that as sales of Kindles are falling, it will restock the shelves with books instead. 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Ofqual chief: exam markers don’t do it for the money.” @tes
    • “If you can bake you can do maths.” @Nat_Numeracy
    • “Once students went to university for education, now it’s ‘an experience.’ @ed_ontap
    • “Let’s make a stand and change the world for our girls, one trouser leg at a time!” @SchoolsImprove (as a parent launches a Facebook group about school uniform rules)
    • “Stop indulging in toffism, says private school head.’” @tes 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Today, a teenager sitting their GCSE is more likely to own a smartphone than have a dad living with them.” The Prime Minister reflects on some of the challenges in social reform
    • “Today I am embarking on the biggest transfer of power to our local government in living memory.” The Chancellor launches his so-called devolution revolution
    • “If politicians and others do not fully understand or appreciate what a jewel they have in British higher education, they risk throwing it all away.” The outgoing vice-chancellor of Oxford university on protecting the crown jewels of UKHE
    • “There has never been a better time to be a teacher.” Schools Minister Nick Gibb makes the case at one of this week’s Conference fringe events
    • “I was ready to make a 300-mile round trip to see one candidate…before they had another chance to be interviewed by another school.” A head teacher on the realities of the current teacher shortage
    • “At the age of 8, I had a dozen pretend registers and a full-sized whiteboard in my bedroom so that I could ‘practice’ teaching with my friends.” A trainee teacher tells her story as part of this week’s World Teacher Day
    • “If you are a school today, what are you preparing your children for when they are moving into a world when they could live up to 120?” The challenges for schools just got greater according to the chief executive of Fast Future
    • “What’s grammar? An old lady who gives you biscuits.” One from the TES top ten list of overhead primary school quotes this week. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 4.7% in primary schools and 1.6% in secondaries. How much the attainment gap has closed by since the pupil premium was introduced in 2011 according to the Public Accounts Committee
    • 66%. The number of parents in a survey by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust who said that their biggest concern was that their child may not be able to find a job when they leave education
    • 61%. The number of teachers in a survey commissioned by the NUT said to be considering quitting over the next couple of years largely due to heavy workloads
    • 17. The number of Local Authorities planning for super-size secondaries to cope with rising pupil numbers according to research from the TES
    • 94%. The number of leading independent schools reporting concerns about the use of social media, up from 45% five years ago, in a survey by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference
    • 31%. The number of under-fives who according to recent research now have their own iPad. 

    What to look out for next week

    • Parliament returns (Monday)
    • Edge Annual Lecture with Nicholas Wyman (Tuesday)
    • BIS Committee witness session on the government’s Productivity Plan (Tuesday)
    • Education Committee witness session with Ofqual (Wednesday)
    • Initial UCAS deadline date for many 2016 medical, dentistry and veterinary courses (Thursday)
    • ResearchEd seminar on edtech (Friday). 
    read more