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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.

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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 July 17 2015

    Three familiar routines this week remind us that the summer hols are nearly upon us.

    The week summed up

    The first is that the summer holiday reading lists have started to appear and if you like it heavy, the list by the think tank IPPR (referenced below) has got plenty to keep the brain cells active. The second is the re-emergence of the ‘summer season’ stories designed to fill space in the hazy days of summer. The story about undergrads in one university being banned from throwing their hats in the air at the traditional graduation ceremonies on the grounds of health and safety offers evidence of that. And third, and more significantly, there’s been the customary stampede by government depts and its agencies to get stuff out before things wind down. 

    For schools, where Warwick Mansell’s latest blog, offers us an interesting insight into one of the ongoing stories, namely what MPs had to say when they debated the  Education Bill in committee, school funding, performance tables, qualification developments and early years have all been in the news this week. The funding information is generic at this stage and obviously much hinges on how the Spending Review pans out later this year but it does at least confirm that per-pupil funding for 2016 will be protected, that last year’s additional uplift will remain, as will the Minimum Funding Guarantee. Latest details in the EFA’s Operational Guide. On performance tables, whether prompted by the alternative tables promised by a group of head teachers or not, the DfE has announced that it will publish some provisional secondary school data early, in mid-October. The final tables will come out as usual in January and will contain for the first time Progress 8 data for schools that decided to opt in early but the October issue is an unusual one. The continuing story of qualification developments is referenced in the listings below as is the upbeat early years inspection report but particular mention should also be made of the new committee announced this week to look at how to report assessment of KS1/2 pupils with special needs. The committee, headed by Diane Rochford, will report before Christmas.

    For FE, it’s been another big week of skills reports with the annual CBI/Pearson survey reminding us of many of the issues that concern employers about skills levels and provision and, in another close-to-home report, the Pearson sponsored HEPI report on Level 4/5 provision. As an accompanying Policy Watch suggests, while the re-focusing of the skills agenda on higher-level skill needs and on employer contributions may not be new, it is both timely and important.

    For HE too, it’s also been a week of developments from Jeremy Corbyn‘s apologia on tuition fees to Jo Johnson’s latest keynote on science innovation to OFFA’s report on this year’s round of access agreements. As the Capita, Wonkhe paper notes, the horizon here is looking increasingly volatile. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Employers warn of skills emergency.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Poorest pupils should start school aged two.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Cost of private schooling soars.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Healthy competition for technical courses would boost productivity.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘GCSE league tables out early to help parents choose school.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Parliament’s new Education Centre which will help teach children, teachers and other visitors about the working of Parliament and which was officially opened this week
    • The government who announced further tightening of the rules on non EU students attending publically funded FE colleges raising considerable concern among the sector
    • The Prime Minister who launched a consultation on closing the gender pay cap
    • The BIS Dept whose 2014/15 Annual Report and Accounts now published heaves with facts, figures and data on performance in key areas like FE/HE, business growth and regulation
    • The CBI and Pearson who published the latest annual employers’ survey of education and skills highlighting the continuing, and in some sectors, pressing demand for skills and employability ‘attributes’ 
    • BIS who published the latest available (2012/13) data on widening participation in HE
    • Universities Minister Jo Johnson who called for a series of regional audits to map hotspots in science innovation as part of a new ‘One Nation Science’ Plan
    • Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, who offered apologies for the increase in student tuition fees and pledged to scrap the fees if selected
    • Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who set out her, and her government’s, unwavering support for the arts in a speech to the Creative Industries Federation
    • The DfE who published the EFA’s Operational Guide and per-pupil funding rates for local authority school budgets for 2016/17 which saw per-pupil funding protected over the coming year
    • The DfE who set out details of what will go into school performance tables this year where changes include the first reporting of Progress 8 data for schools that opted in early and reporting of performance of 14-16 yr olds on f/t college courses
    • The DfE who published ‘illustrative regulations’ intended to add further clarification to what would be deemed a ‘coasting’ school
    • The Education Committee who opened its new blogspace by inviting contributors to pitch in ideas on what it should get its teeth into in the coming session
    • Careers guidance, the pupil premium and the abolition of maintenance grants, all among the items covered in the helpful series of House of Commons Library Briefings this week
    • Cornwall which has become the first county under the current devolution deals to gain new powers in areas like transport, health care and skills training
    • Caroline Lucas MP who used the 10-minute rule procedure this week to re-introduce her Bill to make PSHE a statutory part of the school curriculum
    • Guardian columnist Fiona Millar who argued that it was time for Labour to pull together a robust policy of its own on education
    • Julian McCrae, Deputy Director of the Institute for Government, who set out the policy context for further devolution of key services such as skills, health and social care
    • The HE Policy Institute who along with Pearson called for a better system for accrediting and funding technical and professional education in a new report on L4/5 provision
    • Wonkhe and Capita who reported on how well the HE sector was prepared for the lifting of the student numbers cap this autumn and acknowledged that “HE is set to become more volatile and difficult to predict” as a consequence
    • The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) who announced this year’s round of HE access agreements have all now been signed off
    • Universities UK who along with NESTA have been looking at data analytical skills, how they are taught and developed, and who came up with a number of recommendations for schools, FE and HE
    • City University which has announced it is to join up with the University of London
    • Secondary school performance data which will be published in provisional form at least in mid-October allowing parents more time to consider school choices rather than having to wait until the full set of performance tables in January
    • GiveBacc, a new youth volunteering programme intended to run alongside the EBacc in schools, proposed in a report by the think tank Demos and Generation Change, and intended to encourage more young people to become involved in social action projects
    • The Careers and Enterprise Company who have provided further information about how their local brokerage model with schools, LEPs and local employers will operate
    • Ofqual and the DfE who launched consultation on the third wave of GCSE, AS and A levels due for first teaching in 2017
    • Ofqual who reported back on the rules and guidance for new GCSEs in Science
    • The Wellcome Trust who have launched a major review of the effectiveness of ‘mindfulness’ training in schools across the country
    • Executive Headteacher Diane Rochford who will lead the government’s review into how best to assess attainment levels of low ability pupils unable to take tests at KS1/2
    • Leading primary schools who will be given government grants of up to £10,000 to help them share best practice in phonics teaching and literacy programmes
    • Google who is planning to run free summer classes for children to help them develop coding and digital skills
    • Ofsted who reported that early years provision is in its best shape ever with 85% of ‘settings’ either good or outstanding but where the Chief Inspector also expressed concerns that places were not being taken up and disadvantaged peers being left behind as a result
    • Luuk Van Middlelaar’s ‘Passage to Europe,’ one of a number of summer reading eruditions for policy wonks selected by IPPR’s director, Nick Pearce

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Ride the nerdwave to widen access to selective universities, conferences told.” @ed_ontap
    • “The degrees are useless theory is fine - if you’re posh, assertive and lucky.” @gracedent
    • “The more we measure in education, the more invisible the learners become.”@ian_hamilton
    • “In the short term, the, losers from the budget are current cohort of 17 yr olds, in the long run, it’s uni finances.” @JulianGravatt
    • “A parent’s view of homework: I waver between tolerance and outright hatred.” @guardian

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • CHO. Chief Happiness Officer, many organisations now have them. 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Just as the introduction of private student fees transformed the quality and quantity of higher education, this new training levy could do the same for apprenticeships. There is no reason to wait until 2020: this new policy could take off immediately, and young people could be benefiting in their tens of thousands from this autumn.” Lord Adonis in a blog about the proposed new apprenticeship levy
    • “The new chairman is happy enough to talk about young people’s mental health, coasting and grammar schools, Trojan horse and fairer school funding but it’s productivity that gets his pulse racing.” The Guardian interviews the Chair of the Education Committee
    • “In return for the promise of a turbo-charged career and rapid promotion, education fast-streamers would have to spend some years teaching in a disadvantaged school.” Social mobility tsar Alan Milburn on using new blood to help close the attainment gap
    • “The top university will not be the only route for the very able. Children are finding it difficult to pay for it. Why would you if you did not need to?” Clarissa Farr, head of St Paul’s Girls’ School, on the changing lure of the job market
    • “It’s not seen as being cool.” The headmaster of Malborough College on why school choirs are in decline.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £8,781. The cost of the average annual HE tuition fee this year
    • £750m. How much HE providers will spend this year on widening participation activities as part of the latest access agreements
    • £246m. The cost of last year’s research excellence exercise in HE according to latest figures
    • 3.8m. The number of learners served by the FE sector last year according to the BIS Dept’s latest Annual Report
    • 55%. The number of employers in the latest CBI/Pearson survey, who expressed concerns about being able to fill high-skilled jobs
    • 30%. The number of primary schools continuing to use national curriculum levels to assess children according to research reported in the TES
    • 3.2%. The increase in average earnings (apparently,) a five-year high and listed in the latest (March – May ) employment figures published this week. 

    What to look out for next week

    • MPs questions to the DfE (Monday)
    • House of Commons in recess until 7 Sept (Wednesday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending July 10 2015

    One image sums up this week and it was that of the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith punching his fists in the air, ‘like an ageing disco dancer’ according to one newspaper, as the Chancellor announced the creation of a new national living wage in his Budget speech.

    The week summed up

    The announcement was one of a number of carefully crafted measures that the Chancellor deftly pulled out of his bag, or according to the Opposition their bag, as he sought to seize ownership of the political agenda for the foreseeable future. Not everyone of course will have been punching the air with delight at the Chancellor’s announcements and with the Budget setting out just £17bn of the projected £37bn of cuts needed over the lifetime of this Parliament, there may be more difficult moments to come but this is the picture so far with the Spending Review to come.

    For education, three things stand out.

    First, unlike previous Budgets there was little for schools to chew on. There was a nod to the current plan to deal with ‘coasting’ schools, some money for school cadet forces and reference to the trialling of the new JCP Employment/Careers adviser in the Midlands but that was about it. Capital funding for the new school system, 500 more Free Schools, new UTCs and so on, let alone a new national funding formula will have to await the Spending Review. Second, the 3m apprenticeship target is alive and kicking. The Chancellor confirmed this by announcing a new Youth Obligation from 2017 for 19-21 yr olds on Universal Credit who after six months will be put on training and apprenticeship programmes, and by taking the employer investment bull by the horns and announcing a levy on large UK employers to help fund apprenticeship growth. Details to come in the autumn Spending Review but Alison Wolf will be pleased. And third, HE where along with the expected announcement about converting maintenance loans into grants, the importance of high teaching quality was made clear. Not only will new providers who can demonstrate high standards be encouraged to enter the market but existing ones “offering high quality teaching will be allowed to increase their tuition fees in line with inflation from 2017” following consultation.

    There’s a lot more in the Budget of course and useful analysis of the whole thing can be found on the Institute of Fiscal Studies website here while the think tank IPPR have looked at the possible impact of future Dept cuts here. The full-on Budget itself can be found here.

    Top headlines this week

    • Exam focus damaging pupils’ mental health, says NUT.’ (Monday)
    • Let retirees tackle growing teacher shortage, education minister says.’ (Tuesday)
    • Over emphasis on exams results risks distorting learning, board warns.’ (Wednesday)
    • Budget2015: maintenance grants for poorer students to be scrapped.’ (Thursday)
    • Osborne unveils new planning rules (under productivity Plan.)’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Chancellor who included some important measures on skills training, higher education and social welfare in his latest Budget outlined this week.
    • BIS Secretary Sajid Javid who launched the government’s Productivity Plan which included specific references to the importance of professional and technical training and skills as a way of skilling up the future workforce (Plan just launched and 5 of the 16 chapters cover education and skills).
    • Schools Minister Nick Gibb who used a keynote speech to the Education Reform Summit to spell out the core purposes of education that were driving the government’s current reforms.
    • Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt who continued his campaign for 14-19 reform by calling for a National Bacc with a ‘life in the UK’ test for all school leavers.
    • The newly created House of Lords Committee on Social Mobility which is looking at transition to work opportunities and guidance for young people and which held its first witness session this week.
    • Roger King, Visiting Professor in the School of Management at Bath University, who in an article in The Conversation expressed support for ranking universities by the quality of their teaching.
    • Roger Brown, former head of the QAA’s predecessor the HE Quality Council, who wrote a piece in the Times Higher questioning some of the proposals in the latest review of HE quality assessment.
    • The Professionals in International Education (PIE) Network who published a survey of student views which found that most considered the ranking of a university important to future employment prospects.
    • The Higher Education Academy who published a report arguing that the growing number of students who enter higher education with a vocational qualification such as a BTEC should receive better support and preparation to help achieve the level of degree they deserve.
    • HEFCE who launched a call for evidence on computer science to inform the review currently being undertaken by Sir Nigel Shadbolt.
    • UCAS who published its latest stats for university entry 2015 covering the period up to the end of June and showing a 2% overall increase in entries on 2014.
    • The Skills Commission who offered a 60+ page guide to the workings of the skills system with six key proposals (around funding, quality, employer engagement, political consensus, systems thinking and stability) for reform.
    • Fiona Millar who invited all four Labour leadership candidates to offer their thoughts on education with some nominal results.
    • Curriculum expert Dr Peter Hill who has been appointed as education director at Nord Anglia.
    • The Greater Manchester strategy which in a report one-year on was found to be making good progress in a number of its priorities but where a lot of work is still to be done on tackling unemployment and skills.
    • NIACE who along with a number of leading employers has launched a new website called ‘What Employers Want,’ aimed at providing young people aged 16-25 with advice, guidance and support as they seek to make the transition to work.
    • The NUT who published a commissioned report into the impact of a high-stakes exam and accountability system on schools in England suggesting that it was having a deleterious effect on young people.
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw who wrote to all schools in England to explain about the changes to inspection arrangements due to come in from this Sept.
    • The future of assessment, the subject of a collection of essays by education experts hosted and published as part of a conference by exam board AQA.
    • The think tank Demos who launched their Integration Hub showing the changing social and ethnic pattern of Britain and which indicated that in many areas schools remain highly segregated.
    • The BBC who confirmed plans to give away its new Micro:bit computers to 11 and 12 years this autumn and who will be setting up a not-for-profit company to help with the commercial distribution of them subsequently.
    • Tessa Jowell who lamented the failure to encourage more young people to take up sports which had been promised as part of the Olympic legacy and Lord Moynihan who tabled an amendment to the Charities Bill requiring independent schools to share their grounds.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Baroness Sharp: We have remarkably few people in Parliament who know anything about FE and skills.” @stephenexley
    • “BBC has agreed a budget reduction with Treasury timed for 2018. Colleges still waiting for news on more SFA cuts starting Aug 2015.” @JulianGravatt
    • “Minister seem to have great problems in seeing matters sometimes from the point of view of a school, says Kevin Brennan MP.” @SchoolsWeek
    • “Andreas Schleicher of OECD: student’s mindset is one of the best predictors of learning outcomes anywhere in the world.” @tes
    • “As we approach SATs results, I keep asking myself: ‘should I1 year olds be this worried?’ ’” @tes
    • “This year’s must-have desk accessory: I survived another meeting that should have been an email.” @Independent

    Acronym(s) of the week

    •  WMCA. West Midlands Combined Authority, the latest region to declare for economic powerhouse status.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • "Johnson (like HEFCE) shows a rather touching faith in a modernised, external examining system for universities.” Professor Roger King questions the faith being placed on the external examiner system in HE
    • "The skills system is best conceptualised as an ecosystem made up of varied yet interdependent components adapting their behaviours to an ever changing environment.” The Skills Commission sets out to explain the skills system in Britain
    • "It does not have to be like this. There are much better ways to construct school accountability. Countries such as Finland, Canada and Scotland do it very differently.” NUT Gen Sec Christine Blower introducing her union’s report on Exam Factories
    • "We are all giving a lot of thought to how we try to explain it to people.” The chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference on the current A level reforms
    • "I think he’d be very good but I’m not going to pass judgement on his classroom abilities until he’s been through all the training.” The Education Secretary on the news that a retired partner in a law firm was considering becoming a teacher
    • "It would be a bit like saying that the Indian Minister for railways has got to know what is happening on the 8:57 into Calcutta.” Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn on the problems of trying to run an education system from Whitehall. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 2.4%. The Budget forecast figure for growth this year
    • 1% per year. What the Chancellor allocated in his Budget for public sector pay rises, including those of teachers, for each of the next four years
    • 25. The age at which the new National living Wage for workers will apply
    • 121. The number of university professors who added their names to a letter to The Guardian calling on the Select Committee to examine the increasing government micro-management of the sector which they claim is leading to more compliance and less creativity
    • 59m. The number of primary school-age children around the world missing out on a primary education according to a recent report from UNESCO.

    What to look out for next week

    • Launch of Pearson/CBI Education and Skills Survey (Tuesday)
    • Education Bill in Committee (Tues/Thurs)
    • World Youth Skills Day (Wednesday)
    • UCL/IoE STEM Education Centre ½ day interactive event (Wednesday)
    • Nick Clegg gives evidence to the Lords Committee on Social Mobility for young people (Wed)
    • Launch of Pearson/HEPI Paper on L4/5 skills (Thursday). 
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending July 3 2015

    It’s been hard to avoid the coasting word this week.

    The week summed up

    Coasting was the subject of considerable discussion when the Education Secretary offered her definition during this week’s debate on the current Education Bill and although he didn’t use the term directly, the common view was that this was what the Universities Minister had in his sights when he addressed Universities UK also this week.

    Coasting has become for the moment at least, the defining word of the government’s education agenda, the latest weapon in the battle of public service reform. As Tony Blair found with his famous ‘scars on my back’ speech, it can be a battle and there have been plenty of concerns expressed this week about the government’s latest approach. For schools where Laura McInerney offered a useful summary in Schools Week, the issues seem to be threefold: definition, impact and the punitive nature of the whole exercise. The definition of 60% rather than 40% of pupils achieving the current ‘5 good GCSE’ benchmark is certainly challenging and if applied blindly would fail to credit those who pull themselves up to just below that benchmark often from a low base, an obvious concern. In terms of impact, the government suggests ‘hundreds’ of schools could be affected, some experts suggest thousands; we shan’t know until at least 2016. As for being punitive, there’s always a difficult balance to be struck here but an over-reliance on a heavy testing regime does not, as Anthony Seldon suggests below, make for happy schools with happy kids; getting the balance right is not easy.

    While schools have been confronting the issue of coasting, higher education has been facing its own quality issues. On Monday HEFCE issued its latest update on its review of quality assessment arrangements. Fewer systems and processes and more use of data, external examiners and institution’s own assurance arrangements seems to be the order of the day here. Further consultation will now run to mid Sept. Part of the problem is meshing these arrangements into the government’s own commitment to introduce a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) which the Minister endorsed in a major speech later in the week. In a wide-ranging speech, he surprised many by also expressing interest in a more detailed profile of student achievement to run alongside the current hons system and in encouraging universities to be more responsive to business and learner needs, potentially through new accountability measures.

    It has also been an important week for FE although those biting their nails ahead of the Chancellor’s Statement next week, where according to the headline in today’s TESFE, the sector’s very future is at stake, may feel it’s next week that counts. This week’s reports by Alison Wolf on apprenticeships and McDonalds on ‘soft’ skills, confirm however, the importance of the sector.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Vocational qualifications increasingly valued by employers, survey says.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Coasting schools face tough exam targets.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘McDonalds; soft skills must be formalised and recognised.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Degree classifications must change to stop students coasting, says Minister.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Rise in school teacher vacancies in England.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Jo Johnson who in his second major speech since becoming Universities Minister confirmed that the government will publish a green discussion paper this autumn on developing a framework for teaching excellence in HE
    • Nicky Morgan who, as the Education Bill reached its Committee stage, set out how a coasting school will be defined
    • Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith who announced that pupil attainment at age 16 will be used as one of the measures of Child Poverty under new legislation
    • The Education Committee where out of the 10 members appointed this week, eight are female, with seven of these being newly elected in May 2015
    • The DfE and the NFER, each of whom published data rich reports on Academy performance over the last year but with definitive conclusions still some way off
    • The Childcare Minister who announced that requisite levels of GCSE English and maths would become an exit rather than an entry requirement for childcare apprentices although the issue of functional skills remains
    • The DfE who issued new safeguarding advice for schools and childcare providers to help protect children from radicalisation as the new Prevent regulations came into force
    • The DfE who following criticisms that no such register existed, have announced that a national database of school governors will now be established
    • Jon Thompson, Permanent Secretary at the MoD, who has been appointed as Civil Service Social Mobility Champion
    • Carolyn Fairbairn, a former journalist and media executive, who has been appointed to succeed John Cridland as director general of the CBI at the end of the year
    • Professor Stuart Croft, currently provost at Warwick University, who has been appointed to succeed Sir Nigel Thrift as V.C. at Warwick from next February
    • Professor Les Ebdon whose term as director of the Office of Fair Access has been extended
    • Claudia Harris, a management consultant and former Labour adviser, who has been appointed as chief executive at the DfE’s independent Careers and Enterprise Company
    • Professor John Hattie whose Papers on ‘What works and what doesn’t in Education’ have been attracting considerable interest and which can be found, along with accompanying discussion on the Pearson Open Ideas website here
    • HEFCE who with the other UKHE funding agencies, published the results of its initial review of quality assessment in HE and launched a further consultation that will run until mid Sept on some of the emerging principles
    • The Universities UK grouping of university leaders who have called on the government to raise the £9000 tuition fee cap in line with inflation and for the maintenance grant to be increased at the same time
    • Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs,) many of whom called for greater devolution of funding to help tackle skills issues in a report on ‘What next for LEPs?’ by PWC and the Smith Institute
    • Professor Alison Wolf who followed up her earlier report on adult skills funding with a further broadside on apprenticeship funding, calling for a new National Apprenticeship Fund, sourced by a levy on employers to fund the training, leaving government to fund the education component
    • UKCES and Centrefor cities who offered a qualified thumbs-up for local growth deals in a report looking at demand-led local employment and skills systems
    • McDonalds who have been leading a campaign to promote and recognise ‘soft skills’ and who have announced that it will work with a group of partners including the CBI, Pearson and the AoC to take forward the recommendations from its recent survey report
    • The National Audit Office (NAO) who reported on how the pupil premium was working and found that while it had raised the profile of disadvantaged pupils, it had yet to engender any major impact
    • The Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Fund who hosted a landmark stocktake summit on the pupil premium so far and how it should deployed to best effect over the next 5 years
    • Ofsted who have launched a brief consultation on revisions to the way in which it publishes stats on inspection outcomes for maintained schools and academies 
    • Professor Chris Husbands who called for a more coherent strategy around initial teacher training in his latest blog in the IoE’s series of ‘expert’ opinion pieces
    • The DfE who have launched a consultation on changes to the subject content of GCSE Design and Technology
    • The think tank Demos who launched a report calling for non-formal learning to be more widely embedded into school curricula as a way of helping develop pupil character
    • NFER, Durham CEM and Early Excellence, confirmed this week as authorised providers of the baseline assessments for four and five year olds that will be used to measure pupil progress in future
    • Book Trust whose latest research as part of their ‘Read On. Get On’ campaign found that many disadvantaged children without requisite reading skills, especially boys, started school 15 months behind their more advantaged peers
    • Edge and the TES who have identified Emmerdale as the soap opera with the most characters likely to have a vocational qualification (followed in order by Corrie and EastEnders)
    • ‘Storyteller’ by Josie Picoult, ‘The Power of One’ by Bryce Courtenay and ‘Us’ by David Nicholls, three of the books recommended by teachers for any reading time this summer.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “We should offer a red carpet not an obstacle course for international students.” @AaronPorter
    • “We don’t like bandying around the word crisis but there is a crisis in the recruitment of teachers and leaders.” @brianlightman
    • “Schools should be looking out for students rather than conducting surveillance on them.” @russellhobby
    • “Nicky Morgan on the EBacc: it will end quiet discrimination” @SchoolsWeek

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • TEF. Teaching Excellence Framework, an important development for HE, in the Conservative Party’s manifesto and which will be the subject of a discussion paper later this year.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “I will continue to push for more (performance) data to be made available, including for alternative providers.” The Universities Minister on holding an expanding HE market to account
    • “The Teaching Excellence Framework would lead to time wasted giving tuna sandwiches to assessors (rather than supporting learning.)” One University Principal appears less enamoured by the proposed new framework
    • “Under current budgets, it simply cannot be done.” Professor Alison Wolf on meeting the 3m apprenticeship target within current funds
    • “The value I have always placed on soft skills has helped me get to where I am today.” Entrepreneur James Caan CBE who is helping McDonalds and others lead a campaign to get soft skills recognised in schools and the workplace
    • “Recruitment is a challenge as the economy improves and competition for new graduates intensifies.” The Schools Minister on the rise in teacher vacancies
    • “Schools should strive to be happy, kind and warm places.” Sir Anthony Seldon as he reflects on his move from schools to HE
    • “Based on current performance we expect the definition to apply to hundreds of schools.” The Education Secretary on the impact of the coasting definition
    • “It signals more uncertainty and turbulence for schools, distracting them from focusing on raising standards.” The Gen Sec of the NASUWT reacts to the new coasting school definition.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £1,143m. Annual cost to HE providers in England of existing quality assurance and quality assessment arrangements according to research conducted by KPMG
    • Over 70%. The number of graduates who now get a First or 2:1 according to figures cited by the Universities Minister this week
    • 1,179. The number of schools that could fall foul of the new coasting definition, in numbers crunched by Education Datalab
    • 4,674. The number of Academies now open according to the latest Annual Report on Academies from the DfE
    • 2m. The number of 5-16 yr olds who qualify for extra pupil premium funding (out of a total of 7m school-age children) according to NAO figures 
    • 76%. The number of private schools judged good or outstanding in recent Ofsted inspections, a drop of 1% on the previous year.

    What to look out for next week

    • Education Bill Committee stage (Tuesday)
    • Budget Statement (Wednesday)
    • Education Bill Committee stage (Thursday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending June 26 2015

    For a change it hasn’t all been about schools this week.

    The week summed up

    With a major conference and a significant new report a lot’s been happening in the world of skills while HE appears to be bracing itself for a further set of developments around quality assurance as HEFCE’s review and government plans on teaching quality both gain momentum. They’re not the only ones adopting the brace position. The summer Budget is now just over ten days away and given the likelihood of further cuts (the manifesto spelt out at least two years of austerity), a number of bodies have been making their pitch to the Chancellor. The recent papers from Universities UK and the Association of School and College Leaders provide good examples of these.

    But to start with schools where this week the Prime Minister added his voice to the current school reforms: “the whole purpose of our education reforms is to extend educational excellence and opportunity to every school and community and not just a privileged few,” and MPs got to debate some of the details as the Education Bill received its Second Reading; links to both are below. Little new came out of the debate although the Education Secretary did reveal the three criteria on which the definition of a coasting school would be based, namely pupil progress, pupil performance data and institutional performance over a 3-year period. Further details at the Committee stage.

    On to skills where the government this week released the latest batch of stats on training and take-up, largely positive, training providers and others were in conference at the AELP Annual Conference and Professor Alison Wolf published her latest seminal report, this time on the importance to both the country and to individuals of a vibrant adult skills training service. Skills providers face many challenges but funding chief executive Peter Lauener put the latest one in perspective when he told the AELP conference that meeting the government’s 3m apprenticeship target, would mean ‘more than one apprentice starting every minute of every day over the next five years.’ Unfortunately the Minister was unable to use his speech to discuss funding figures but Alison Wolf’s report (linked below) did, confronting one of the big challenges in the training system currently, namely the Cinderella funding treatment of 19+ skills training compared for example to that of higher education. “I think we should be very alarmed,” she said, echoing the comments of employers who like the construction sector recently have concerns about a lack of skilled workers.

    Finally, HE where funding issues apart, the sector is awaiting a keynote speech from the Universities Minister and further developments about the future of quality assessment. HEFCE’s review of this area still has some way to run but the government it seems remains keen on ensuring that strengthened procedures are in place as the market expands. More to follow. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Four in ten students say university not good value-survey.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Let’s end this disgraceful charade over academies: Estelle Morris.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Skilled workers may vanish if further education budget cuts continue.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Numeracy crisis threatens to hold back UK in global data race.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘National tests could return for infant pupils.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who outlined the government’s new ‘zero tolerance’ approach to schools in a speech setting out the government’s long-term plans to extend opportunity to all
    • MPs who debated coasting schools, the pros and cons of Academies and adoption procedures in a lengthy debate on the Second Reading of the Education Bill
    • Shadow Education Minister Tristram Hunt who called for local ‘city regions’ to be given oversight of school standards as part of the latest debate on the Education Bill
    • MPs who in another debate this time on support for English as an Additional Language (EAL) called for the resurrection of targeted funds to support those Authorities where EAL numbers are greatest
    • The Higher Education (Information) Private Member’s Bill which will require institutions to provide greater information for students on how its tuition fees are being spent, which received its first reading this week
    • The Skills Minister who addressed this week’s annual AELP conference and as ever raised a number of key questions about skills provision and college structures
    • BIS who published latest stats showing higher apprenticeship and trainee starts both up and NEET numbers down
    • Michelle Obama, who following her successful UK visit last week, has announced the creation of a US/UK partnership ‘to improve girls’ access to education around the world’
    • Professor Debra Humphries, currently vice-provost at Imperial College who has been appointed as the new V.C. of the University of Brighton from the end of this year
    • Universities UK who in the build-up to next month’s Budget set out a case for why the government should invest in higher education and research arguing among other things that English universities have delivered over £1bn in efficiencies and account for 2.7% of all UK employment
    • The UK Graduate Careers Survey of students graduating this summer which reported a big increase in the number expecting to go straight into work from university, generally after some work experience, and with consulting, marketing and the media as the most popular options
    • The National College for Teaching and Leadership who announced a lifting of the cap on recruitment numbers by universities and schools for postgrad initial teacher training courses starting in 2016/17
    • The OECD who published a report on how the digital economy was growing showing that internet use across OECD nations had soared from 60% of adults ten years ago to nearly 95% now, especially among young people
    • Two academics from the University of Birmingham who ahead of the Chancellor’s likely announcement of further cuts in his forthcoming Budget Statement reflected on whether student maintenance grants might be for the chop
    • The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) who ahead of a promised Treasury report on Productivity published its own recommendations including better usage of employee’s skills and better skilled managers
    • Professor Alison Wolf who published a powerful indictment about the lack of funding and support for adult skills training and the damage this could cause both the economy and society generally
    • UCAS who reported on how applicants use those two key words ‘career’ and ‘passion’ in their personal statements
    • The Education Funding Agency who issued the latest guidance on the funding arrangements for core aims in 16-19 study programmes
    • The DfE who published a summary version of what constitutes the EBacc
    • The British Academy who issued the latest report to warn about the pressing problems of low levels of numeracy and data skills in the UK, and who called for a more concerted push on improving teacher recruitment and quality
    • Careers guidance, the subject of two reports this week, one from London Ambitions and backed by the London Mayor and the other from All About School Leavers reporting that over 80% of teachers wish they knew more about options other than HE
    • Former Education Secretary Estelle Morris who wrote a strong piece in The Guardian criticising the government’s obsession with Academies
    • Progress 8, where the closing date for schools wishing to opt in early closes on 30 June
    • Teachers who in the latest Eurydice report on the profession across Europe listed: help with teaching students with special needs, with developing ICT skills and with applying new technologies across the workplace as three of their top development needs
    • Teaching, apparently one of the most attractive professions for those looking for partners.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “What I’d like to see is universities telling students exactly where their money is going.” @nickhillman
    • “Skills has never been so high up the agenda. Where we lead, government follows.” @aelp2015
    • “Is productivity the new buzzword in FE?” @ FENews
    • “We have to consider whether a general FE college is a model we want for the future when resources are constrained @nickboles.” @tesfenews
    • “Sir Ian Diamond: teachers nervous about numbers deliver number-nervous students.” @roclandb
    • “Maybe Ofsted should move to 3 categories: waving, coasting, drowning.” @joehallg 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “This (helping the unemployed back to work) is an essential ingredient of my 2020 vision with 20% more jobs, 20% more university places and a 20% increase in apprenticeship take-up for black and ethnic minorities by the end of the decade.” The PM on his 2020 vision
    • “Work experience has changed from something that was seen as nice to have on a CV to something that’s become a necessity.” High Fliers research on how to compete in the graduate job market
    • “The examiner’s report provides our tutors with an all too rare chance to prove that they are indeed in possession of a sense of humour albeit as part of a package deal with encyclopaedic knowledge and ruthless expectations.” An Oxford university student responds to some scathing comments from this year’s examiners about levels of English and general knowledge
    • “This is no way to run whelk stalls, never mind a national economy.” Alison Wolf questions the lack of money spent on adult skills training
    • “It’s ironic that the students who need the most expertise get the adults with the least expertise.” Professor John Hattie on his latest ‘What Works in Education’ polemics
    • “When I see my kids playing educational games on iPads or looking up how-to videos on You Tube I feel a stab of jealousy. But then I think of the tests and targets and homework that I didn’t have and I feel a bit sorry for them.” A parent reflects on primary education in an article for The Daily Telegraph. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • £23,700. What new graduates from top universities are looking for as a starting salary according to the latest survey by High Fliers Research
    • 52%. The number of final year undergraduate students (the first to be paying fees up to £9,000) reporting that their university education had been value for money according to a Radio 5 Live survey
    • £26. What you get in return for every £ invested in a L2 apprenticeship according to latest BIS commissioned figures
    • 2000. How many more head teachers may be needed each year to fill vacancies let alone turn schools round according to recent figures from Education Datalab
    • 23%. The number of children who reckon playing a computer game with a friend is a form of exercise according to a survey from the Youth Sports Trust
    • £210. How much girls, on average, spend on their prom outfits. The average spend for boys meanwhile is half that.  

    What to look out for next week

    • MPs Questions to the BIS Dept (Tuesday)
    • The government’s Productivity Plan and HE QA developments (both expected during the week). 
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending June 19 2015

    Is 14-19 education emerging as the latest battleground in education? 

    The week summed up

    A glance through the week’s education news headlines which even provoked one education blogger to revoke the spirit of 200 years ago by indicating that education was facing its Waterloo, suggests perhaps it is

    The cause of the latest angst is the government’s recent pronouncements on the EBacc, a form of core curriculum that it wants to see formally adopted by schools for new pupils from this September. “There may be a small group of pupils for whom this won’t be appropriate. But our goal is for pupils starting year 7 this September to study the EBacc subjects when they reach their GCSEs,” so said the Education Secretary in a keynote speech at the start of the week.

    The move comes, as part of the government’s long-term plans to ‘enshrine the excellence’ that the government claims to have unlocked in some schools and spread it to all. It is partly therefore about social opportunity, opening out opportunity to all but it raises some fundamental questions.

    Arguably three stand out. First, and perhaps most practically, have we got enough history, geography, language and other teachers to teach the full range of EBacc subjects? As Education Datalab have pointed out, we need a couple of thousand more language teachers for starters and yet as is widely recognised, we’re facing a teacher recruitment crisis which seems likely to get worse before it gets better. Second, is a force-fed diet of the EBacc what 21st century youngsters need? The debate about balance in the curriculum, what we should teach the next generation is not new of course and many people can still point to the scars of previous skirmishes such as the emblematic Tomlinson reforms of over a decade ago, as evidence of this. If the week is anything to go by, a new reform momentum is building on those reforms with the Shadow Education Secretary calling for a cross-party review of 14-19 provision and the director general of the CBI going for equally wide-ranging reform including the scrapping of GCSEs. And third, is government best placed to determine what’s most appropriate for learners? The NUT have called the idea “poor,” the Design and Technology Association let alone other subject groupings have complained about the downplaying of their subjects outside the EBacc while the SSAT survey of school leaders suggested, many may turn a Nelson’s eye to the instruction. In other words this raises once again an issue that was bubbling around before the election about how far curriculum design should be de-politicised, left to professional experts rather than politicians to determine.

    For the moment, attention will turn to the Education Bill which moves on to its second reading this week but the issue of the core curriculum will not be far away. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Schools face pressure under plans to target academic GCSEs.’ (Monday)
    • ‘GCSEs: Pass mark raised in exams shake-up.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Hunt wants cross-party exam consensus on 14-19 curriculum.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Schools will reject requirement to teach EBacc to all.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘CBI head call for GCSEs to be scrapped.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Education Secretary who set out a number of new measures under the banner of raising school standards that included more formal adoption of the EBacc, setting the ‘good’ pass grade at GCSE at level 5 and creating a new group to help teachers deal with disruptive behaviour
    • BIS and the FE Commissioner who as cuts continue to bite and colleges increasingly look at partnerships, mergers and federations as ways of reducing costs, published some guiding principles on how to make such arrangements work
    • The government who announced that the forthcoming Enterprise Bill will include plans to protect the legal status of apprenticeships and that ensure all public bodies recruit apprentices
    • Neil Carmichael, Iain Wright and Frank Field who have been selected to chair the Education, BIS and Work and Pensions Select Committees respectively as new Parliamentary business gets under way
    • CBI director general John Cridland, who in a major speech to the Wellington Festival of Education, called on the government to conduct a major review of 14-19 learning with an emphasis on improving careers guidance, bringing back work experience and finally putting GCSEs out to grass in an effort to ensure the system provided for all rather than some
    • The Social Mobility Commission whose latest research highlighted how difficult it can be for working-class applicants to gain entry to elite professions 
    • The UK Commission for employment and Skills who reported on the demise of the Saturday and other part-time jobs for young people and found that the pressures of studying were making it more difficult to combine work and study especially for 16/17 year olds
    • The think tank Reform who as part of the build-up to this autumn’s Spending Review investigated value for money and productivity returns in the schools sector and concluded that more autonomy, better accountability and a fairer funding system would all help
    • The Office of the Independent Adjudicator, the body that deals with HE student complaints, whose latest annual report identified academic issues as the biggest source of complaints
    • David Willetts, who in a pamphlet for the Policy Institute at Kings College, argued that the HE fee system should be reviewed on a regular five-year basis but equally that the current fee ceiling may need to increase although the repayment threshold should stay
    • The Student Funding Panel, set up by Universities UK two years ago to look at the fee loan system, whose final report this week concluded that no immediate change was needed to the current system but that student living costs remained an issue
    • Ian Pretty who will take over as Chief Executive of the 157 Group when Dr Lynne Sedgemore retires this Sept
    • Tom Bennett, director of ResearchED, who has been asked by the Education Secretary to lead a group of practitioners in helping teachers become better at managing classroom behaviour
    • Belinda Vernon who is taking over as acting Chair of National Numeracy, the charity dedicated to promoting maths/numeracy
    • The Association of Colleges who published a set of case studies showing how colleges are working closely with employers in developing the sort of skilled workforce needed
    • Tutor Voice, a new group, launched to support those who work in the FE sector with among other things a Bill of Rights for professional practice
    • The SSAT who surveyed school leaders about the latest requirement on schools to provide the EBacc and found considerable concerns particularly about its application to all pupils
    • Ofsted who announced new inspection arrangements for this Sept and which include a recognition scheme for outstanding leaders, regional scrutiny committees, more serving practitioners as inspectors, and shorter but more frequent inspections
    • The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher who reported on the emerging success of Vietnam in raising school standards and cited 3 critical factors: committed leadership; a focused curriculum; and investment in teachers
    • The education commentator Warwick Mansell who as the new Education Bill approaches its second reading, examined how the government was likely to deal with the issue of defining a ‘coasting’ school
    • Regional School Commissioners whose responsibilities will be extended from the start of next month to include sponsorship and funding of some sponsored academies
    • The East Asian Maths Mastery programme, which focuses on mastering fewer topics but in greater depth and which appears to be having a positive effect according to research undertaken by the Institute of Education and Cambridge
    • The Design and Technology Association which is preparing to launch a campaign to protect and promote the role of D/T in the school curriculum
    • BAM Construction who will start work this autumn on preparing the Old Admiralty Building in Whitehall in readiness for the arrival of the DfE in 2017
    • “What’s your favourite quote?” Highlighted this week as one of the toughest questions to be asked in an interview.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Wilshaw: Ofsted has reformed, is reforming and will continue to reform.” @tes
    • “I know we’ll never be loved but I do aim for greater respect for the inspectorate.” @HarfordSean
    • “Tech ed works best when it’s neglected by politicians whose esteem it should never try to seek.” @andrew_1910
    • “Escalator from low to high skills is broken - middle skill jobs gone.” John Cridland@CBItweets
    • “My classroom is the most benevolent of dictatorships but it is, and shall always remain, a dictatorship.” @tes 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “I don’t want anyone to mistake stability for silence, to presume that education is no longer a priority for the government.” The Education Secretary tells delegates at this week’s Education Festival not to be lulled into a false sense of ease
    • “I think it is a very gloomy picture.” The view from one sixth-from college principal as the Sixth Form Colleges Association prepares to discuss the funding crisis facing the sector
    • “Have the leaders got a grip on the institution? Do they fully understand its strengths and weaknesses?” One of the seven standard questions inspectors are likely to ask when the new inspection regime comes into effect this September
    • “Here’s the special homework for the holidays that I have left to my guys for the summer.” An Italian teacher’s holiday homework for his class goes viral after it includes instructions ‘to watch the sunrise and walk by the sea, thinking about the things you love most’
    • “If university graduates have their moment in the sun so should people who undertake apprenticeships.” The Skills Minister on plans to protect the legal status of apprenticeships
    • “Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry.” The Social Mobility Commission on the difficulties working-class applicants often face when they try and access top jobs
    • “Some absurdists claim that a noisy classroom that rocks with spontaneity is the perfect crucible for learning. It isn’t.” The government’s new behavioural expert on some of the basic rules of learning
    • “A great teacher takes a class with him. A poor robotic teacher takes them to boredom and mischief.” Piers Morgan on what makes for a good teacher. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 139,200. The number of businesses in England who use local colleges to train their staff according to figures from the AoC
    • 11,000. The number of Oxbridge graduates now teaching in UK secondary schools, a big increase over the last decade according to the Sutton Trust who carried out the research
    • 84.2%. How many applicants were offered a place at their first choice secondary school this year, down 1.0%
    • 7 out of 10. The number of Ofsted inspectors who will also be practitioners from this September
    • 82%. The number of schools and FE providers judged good or outstanding by Ofsted in its latest official data
    • 18%. The number of 16/17 year olds combining work with studying, a drop of well over 50% over the last 20 years according to research from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. 

    What to look out for next week

    • AELP National Conference (Monday, Tuesday)
    • Education Bill Second Reading (Monday)
    • Westminster Hall debate on government support for pupils with English as an additional language (Tuesday). 
    read more