Policy Watch

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

Keep up with what’s happening in education policy

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

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

About Steve

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

The latest from Policy Watch

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  • Pocket Watch - Dog days for FE?

    It’s been a tough week for FE with difficult questions flying around about its long-term funding and positioning.

    FE is nothing however if not resilient and as the Minister explained in his end-of-term letter to the sector this week, it has a major role to play in helping deliver a range of essential skills, the 3m apprenticeships, parts of the Productivity Plan and probably much of the anticipated L4/5 provision. That’s as maybe but these are clearly difficult times. Here’s a summary of what’s been a potentially defining week for the FE sector.   

    What's been happening around funding?

    As an unprotected area, FE has been pretty much under the funding cosh since 2010 if not before but there’ve been three major developments this week that have heightened concerns.

    First the Funding Agency announced that it was going to have to introduce an immediate 3.9% cut in non-apprenticeship and discretionary learner support allocations and also withdraw funding from mandated ESOL provision. FE’s not alone in having to take a hit, HE has had to do much the same as the Dept strives to meet the extra £450m demanded by the Chancellor from this year’s budget allocation. Colleges have been granted a couple of months grace to assess the implications before submitting their latest financial plans but with 16-19 funding still facing difficulties, it could mean some deft footwork on institutional plans is needed.

    Second, the National Audit Office published its promised report on the financial health of the FE sector and emerged shaking its head. Broadly, the financial pulse of the sector wasn’t as sound as some forecasts and college plans had been hoping for, financial problems had been building up for some time, a number of colleges were struggling and the fear was that as many as 70 could be in dire financial straits by the end of the 2015/16 financial year. Most people familiar with the sector would recognise the scenario identified in the report: “reductions and changing priorities in public funding, falling numbers of 16-18 year olds, and more competition from schools and universities have combined to create a challenging educational and financial climate for many colleges.” The report clearly laid bare some of the issues and it was no wonder that the new Chair of the Public Accounts Committee described it as “deeply alarming.”

    Third, the Chancellor confirmed that he was looking for further cuts as he launched the process for the latest Spending Review, the outcomes of which will be announced on November 25. In essence, the government is looking for a further £20bn of cuts in public spending, some of which will come through the sales of public sector land, the integration and devolution of services and the ubiquitous ‘efficiencies’ but the rest from Dept savings. As with the 2010 Review, Depts have been asked to model best and worst case scenarios of 25% and 40% ‘savings’ respectively. BIS has already offered up HE maintenance loans and proposed an employer’s levy for apprenticeships while the sector has taken a hit on non-apprenticeship adult skill funding and had to accept pay rises restricted to 1% for four years. The hope is that with more time granted for meeting the surplus target and the economy strengthening, the pain will be limited but it’ll be well into November before the bargaining is complete and the results known.  

    So what did the Minister have to say in his latest end-of-term letter?

    Three things stood out from this letter. First was the Minister’s acknowledgement that the current cuts amounted to 13% of what was currently being expected from BIS, a sharp reminder of the bigger picture.

    Second, he underlined the importance of the proposed new area-based reviews, launched in a short BIS Paper at the start of the week and likely to have significant impact on post-16 college provision in the future. The procedure is not new, it was used under the LSC and has already been applied to college provision in East Anglia, and once rolled out from September will apply across all regions but is clearly being used to bring a sense of order and focus to what has been allowed to become a chaotic area of provision. As the National Audit Office noted in its report: “many colleges are competing for fewer students against an increasing diversity of provision…for example, around 300 schools, including academies and free schools have opened new sixth forms in the past five years and many schools are trying to retain 16-18 year olds.” The government is hoping that “these reviews will provide an opportunity for institutions and localities to restructure their provision to ensure it is tailored to the changing context” or in plain speak create: “fewer, often larger, more resilient and efficient providers.” The FE Commissioner’s recent report provides a number of models, federations, partnerships, collaborations and so on, but it’ll be up to local steering groups to determine best fit. The government wants to move fast and have the reviews completed by next March but this may be a tall order; the remit, framework and local structures required for carrying out such important reviews all need to be sorted first and there’s a lot of local players and local agendas at stake.

    And third a few interesting updates, notably for example the commissioning of further work on functional skills. This will be led by the Education and Training Foundation, will build on earlier reviews by both them and Ofqual, and aim to position functional skills as “credible” alternatives to GCSEs, something that will please many. That said, the government intends to align the new GCSE good pass in English and maths with the 16-19 English and maths funding condition over time. As for other things: the consultation on outcome based success measures has now moved to the autumn and a further update on the workforce strategy, especially the recruitment of English and maths specialists, is expected shortly.   

    What next?

    It looks like a large chunk of colleges’ time in the autumn will be taken up with the local area-based re-structuring process. Structures not standards? Perhaps but equally an opportunity to clarify and re-focus on who should be doing what at a local level and of course standards/quality expectations will never be far away. As the Minister put it, all colleges are expected to participate, not just those with financial or quality issues. The format and structure of these are not very clear at present and the government has promised more detailed guidance shortly but the issue will be how far school-based post-16 providers are involved in the process, only then can a genuine rationalisation occur.

    Second, it’s worth remembering that along with English and maths, funding for apprenticeships and traineeships remains ‘protected’ and what’s called ‘credible’ growth numbers will be supported. The securing of apprenticeship numbers and the raising of achievement levels in English and maths remain important priorities for the government and if you factor in the growing interest in strengthening the higher-level technical route, the case for colleges with training providers, as all-through providers of skills solutions at both local and national level, becomes irresistible.

    Third, we haven’t even mentioned the social mobility agenda yet. It’s the FE sector that provides much of the driving force for this, particularly for young people, as the current House of Lords Committee Inquiry is discovering. Pitch into that the latest earn or learn welfare reforms and FE offers a ready-made system for both social and economic recovery.   

    When you talk FE, you talk solutions.

    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending July 24 2015

    This week provided further clear evidence that the government is determined to stick with its economic plan as further cuts were announced for the FE and HE sectors and the Chancellor outlined his plans for the 2015 Spending Review.

    The week summed up

    ‘Fixing the roof while the sun is shining’ is the mantra but for many this week the mood has been more cloudy than sunny.

    FE first, where the Funding Agency’s announcement of immediate cuts to ESOL and adults skills non-apprenticeship budgets coincided with a withering report from the National Audit Office on the financial health of the sector as a whole. The cuts come as a response to the Chancellor’s recent call for a further £450m from this year’s dept budget and are part of a sequence. Whether the sector is facing its own Groundhog Day moment as some headlines suggested or not, the issue is that the sector has had to endure a sustained period of cuts, that its been left to operate in a market that’s become increasingly unstructured (“Many colleges are competing for fewer students against an increasing diversity of provision”) and that financial forecasting on all sides has failed to recognise the extent of the problem. The government has responded by announcing a major structural review of the post-16 sector that will kick off in earnest this autumn and run through to next spring. The direction of travel has already been indicated in previous policy statements but is writ large in its latest pronouncement: “we will need to move towards fewer, often larger, more resilient and efficient providers.” It’s being left pretty much to local stakeholders to sort out although the government will issue guidelines and will be represented but a key issue will be how far school post-16 providers are involved as well.

    As for HE, which a contributor in the Times Higher this week described as being “in a perpetual financial crisis,” the Funding Agency has equally had to announce further cuts this week to meet the £150m in savings required for the 2015/16 financial year. Its meant that teaching grants as well some specific funds such as those used to support increases in student numbers will be hit. Again some of this is immediate although the full scale may not become apparent until institutional adjustments are confirmed in October.

    All of which means that many people will be keeping a wary eye on how this year’s Spending Review which was formally launched by the Chancellor this week and under which future spending details will be announced in late November, shapes up.  The approach being adopted is similar to that in 2010 with depts being asked to model best and worst case scenarios in an effort to find the £20bn of savings that the Chancellor is looking for. School age pupils remain protected, the others will be hoping for the best case scenario, that’s cuts of 25% rather than 40%. Some sunshine.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Pupils’ mental health tops head teachers’ concerns.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Meltdown warning in FE College finances.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Spending Review to include measures to cut schools back office spending.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Baby boom to put pressure on English secondary schools.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘UK study raises concerns over ‘coasting’ academies.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who announced a five-part strategy to tackle extremism which included new duties on local authorities, schools and families and an interim report on community cohesion expected early next year
    • The Chancellor who called on depts to model two scenarios of cuts, one based on 25% and the other based on 40%, as he set out his plans for the 2015 Spending Review
    • The BIS Dept who outlined the new conditions for alternative providers of higher education as it responded to earlier consultation on Alternative Providers of HE
    • The BIS Dept who have launched a 12 week consultation on freezing the student loan repayment threshold
    • The BIS Dept who announced an overhaul of the post-16 college sector though a series of locally driven area-based reviews due to run over the next nine months
    • The FE/Skills Minister who posted his regular end-of-term letter to the sector confirming developments in a number of key areas and highlighting the importance of the sector’s role in meeting a number of the skill needs under the Productivity Plan
    • David Meller and Richard Harrington MP, Joint Chairs of the Apprenticeship Delivery Board, tasked with advising on how best to expand the apprenticeship programme
    • The Science and Technology Committee, BIS Committee and Education Committee who have announced that their first major inquiries in this new Parliament will be into science funding, the Productivity Plan and the role of Regional School Commissioners respectively
    • The government who issued its response to the previous Education Committee report into apprenticeships and traineeships indicating that it had accepted all their recommendations bar three (on careers plans, work exp for 14-16 yr olds and 14-16 Young Apprenticeships)
    • HEFCE who announced reductions to the teaching grant and to funds set aside to support any increases in student numbers as they outlined savings required for 2015/16
    • HEFCE who published a series of commissioned reports looking into ways of ensuring students from different backgrounds achieve success in HE 
    • The Institute of Fiscal Studies who examined the recent Budget announcements on HE student financing and concluded that both lower and middle income families and students would be hit hardest by the respective changes
    • GSK, Rolls Royce and Pfizer, the top three companies collaborating on research projects with UK universities according to the recent review of HE-Business research collaboration (Microsoft was the only technology company in the top ten)
    • Martin McQuillan, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research at Kingston University whose blog for this week’s WonkHE briefing looked at HE developments in the light of current policy changes
    • The National Audit Office whose report on the financial sustainability of the FE sector raised concerns about the number of colleges facing financial difficulties both now and in the future as funding continues to tighten
    • The Skills Funding Agency who announced further cuts to ESOL and non-apprenticeship funding allocations with immediate effect as the BIS Dept sought to meet further savings from current budgets
    • The Skills Funding Agency who reported on how it had delivered against its five strategic objectives in its latest annual report and accounts
    • The local LEP and FE providers in Cornwall who will pool resources and approaches to employment and skills provision from 2017 under the region’s Devolution Deal
    • The Education and Training Foundation who have been asked to lead further developments to help strengthen the position of functional skills
    • City and Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College who announced that they were looking at the case for working much more closely together
    • Ofsted who defended its role as it added its response to the previous Education Committee’s Trojan Horse Inquiry
    • The Sutton Trust who examined the issue of academy chains on the attainment gap and whose commissioned report called for other high-performing providers to be involved in school improvement
    • The DfE who issued guidance to schools and local authorities on the use of cloud software and data protection
    • The Schools Minister who announced that the Dept was taking further steps to secure some community languages at GCSE and A level
    • Schools Week who provided a summary overview of Ofsted inspections over the last term and noted that a higher proportion of secondary schools had received a good or outstanding than over the previous two terms
    • ‘Photograph’ by Ed Sheeran, ‘Shake it off’ by Taylor Swift and ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams, the top three tear jerker/rabble rouser songs being played in final assemblies for Year 6 this summer.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “The only role where we’ve not developed an apprenticeship is mine.” @NickBoles
    • “The gap year is back, but with purpose - not so much “Gap Yah” as fill-in-the-CV-gaps year.” @JISC
    • “What will we call colleges that specialise in remedial English and maths? Post-secondary moderns.” @OldDitch
    • “The only reason to keep national exams at 16 is because we still don’t trust our schools or our teachers.” @TheTimes
    • “It’s not been a summer of contentment in the education world.” @russellhobby

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • DLHE. The Destination of Leavers from HE, an annual national survey produced by the HE Statistics Agency, which will be refreshed and reviewed to meet changing demands.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “The decline in the financial health of the sector has been quicker than indicated by colleges’ plans and current forecasts suggest that the number of colleges under strain is set to rise rapidly.” The National Audit Office takes the financial pulse of the FE sector
    • “We will need to move towards fewer, often larger, more resilient and efficient providers.” BIS suggests what it’s looking for from its new area-based reviews of college provision
    • “I believe that Functional Skills should continue to be the main alternative English and maths qualifications to GCSEs.’ The FE Minister commissions further work on FS
    • “We would of course survive and I’m sure thrive if we carried on independently but we can be better together.” Sir Frank McLoughlin, Chief Exec of City and Islington College as his College eyes up closer collaboration with nearby Westminster Kingsway College
    • “Usually reform needs a cheque or a plan and at the moment we have neither. Hence the drive for productivity.@alanmilburn.” @IPPR
    • “Bland, robotic and misleading.” A teacher’s view on school reports.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £20bn. The level of savings the Chancellor is looking to find through the latest Spending Review
    • £53,000. How much debt poorer students could end up with when they graduate following the replacement of maintenance grants by loans according to the IFS
    • 3.9%. The latest cut to non-apprenticeship adult skills budgets in FE
    • 70. The number of colleges who could be in financial difficulties by the end of the 2015/16 financial year according to the National Audit Office
    • 20%. The expected rise in secondary school pupil numbers over the next decade according to the DfE’s latest pupil projections
    • £600 a day. The amount of money some schools have been paying consultants for Mocksteds (pre Ofsted inspection run-throughs,) a practice Ofsted remains keen to outlaw.

    What to look out for next week

    • MPs on summer recess.
    read more
  • Pocket Watch - New skills agenda

    We’ve had over 200 pages of official economic and skills planning documents over the last couple of weeks in the shape of the Summer Budget and the government’s Productivity Plan.

    If you pitch in some of the accompanying reports like the OBR’s (Office for Budget Responsibility) latest economic outlook let alone our two Pearson sponsored reports this week, one with the CBI on employers’ views on education and skills and the other with the HE Policy Institute on higher-level technical skills, it’s more like 500 pages. We’re not unknown in this country for the quantity of our skills reports and the government has come in promising to prioritise this area and so is likely to add to this total but where does this all leave the education and skills agenda?   

    The current picture

    Four points stand out here.

    1.    We’ve been here before of course in terms of skills policy reports and announcements but there is a sense that things may be different this time because different conditions are in place. An improving economy, a pragmatic government keen to make its mark, a man with a plan in the shape of the Chancellor, a legislative framework for local growth planning, a healthy employer appetite for a stronger talent pipeline…it’s not all positives of course, real concerns persist about adult skills funding for a start, let alone about local infrastructures, employer engagement and it’s no surprise that the Productivity Plan is called ‘Fixing the foundations’ but the opportunity is there.

    2.    A shift towards higher-level technical and professional skills. Again not new and subject to various incursions over the years from Lord Mandelson’s skills activism to Vince Cable’s bridging the FE/HE divide and where various initiatives have been tried to fill what Ministers have often referred to as the ‘membrane between FE and HE’ but where the case for action has now become almost imperative. As the CBI/Pearson employers’ survey reported just this week: “the balance of firms expecting to need more employees with higher skills stands at +65% in 2015 and has been close to or above +60% each year since 2010.” In another Pearson sponsored report this week, the HE Policy Institute has set out three principles needed to sort out this critical transition phase including: dedicated institutions, recognised work-related qualifications and simplifying barriers to employer engagement. Both pre and post-election, policy is moving in this direction.

    3.    The apprenticeship levy. A surprising announcement to some although it’s been on the table for some time and has an historical base to it. Operating details about the levy remain limited at this time although we have the bones of a likely digital transfer scheme. There are strong views, both for and against, about the effectiveness or otherwise of a levy. Both employers and training providers for example have their own reservations largely about whether cost compunction changes the nature of the employer – employee relationship. We’ll have to wait until the autumn for further details but in the interim, an excellent summary of the whole levy issue can be found on the Association of Colleges website.

    4.    As indicated above, although we’ve had a buzz of activity and a number of announcements recently, we’re still very much at broad brush stage. There are two reasons for this. One is that so much hinges on the forthcoming Spending Review later this year as this will set out dept spending details for the core part of this government and is thus the critical piece of the jigsaw. And the other is that the government has promised consultations on a number of the features and these will not be complete until later in the year. It’s building up to being a busy second half of the year.

    What’s been said for schools, FE and HE

    This is a summary of the key pointers from both the recent Budget and Productivity Plan for schools, FE and HE respectively.

    Schools

    • Overview. No great change. The main disappointments are that there’s little on school funding where 16-19 is under particular pressure and not much on skills provision in the curriculum for young people.
    • Specifics  
      • Trialling of the new Jobcentre Plus Employment Adviser role working with schools and sixth-form colleges on building understanding of local labour market opportunities (Budget)
      • Pay, 1% per year for next four years (Budget)
      • Support for qual reform, the EBacc core and STEM subjects (Productivity Plan)
      • Support for school system reform and tackling ‘coasting’ (Productivity Plan). 

    FE

    • Overview. Notable pointers about apprenticeships, higher-level skills, local growth and some potential system change as a result.
    • Specifics
      • Support for current approach to apprenticeships including the push on Degree Apprenticeships and the targets for public sector bodies (Productivity Plan)
      • Support for the levy system and a promise of further engagement with business on it (Productivity Plan)
      • The introduction of a Youth Obligation for 18-21 yr olds (Budget)
      • A pledge to develop a system of employer sponsored Institutes of Technology “to deliver high standard provision at L3/4/5” (Productivity Plan)
      • More rationalisation of qualifications and a shift towards locally determined provision (Productivity Plan)
      • A big push on a re-designated skills system, built around local planning and commissioning with more regions encouraged (Budget and Productivity Plan)
      • Continuing work on developing destination data, earnings returns and other accountability measures (Productivity Plan)
      • Introduction of a National Living Wage (Budget and Productivity Plan).    

    HE

    • Overview. Some significant changes proposed for fees and grants, commitment to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and further opening of the door to alternative providers.
    • Specifics.
      • Changes to maintenance grants from 2016/17 (Budget and Productivity Plan)
      • Consultation on freezing the fee repayment threshold and review of the discount rate applied to loans (Budget and Productivity Plan)
      • Consultation on criteria to be used for allowing an increase in tuition fees in line with inflation (Budget and Productivity Plan)
      • Commitment to consult and introduce a TEF (Budget and Productivity Plan)
      • Further opening up of the market to new and alternative providers including a new pool of places and faster route to DAP (Budget and Productivity Plan)
      • Development of science and innovation audits  (Productivity Plan).
    read more
  • 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).
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  • Primary Policy Watch - Here comes the sun... and a flurry of announcements

    With the last few weeks of the academic year seemingly roaring by, there’s been the normal rush to get information out before the end of term.

    Since the middle of June we’ve had new inspection guidelines coming out of Ofsted, confirmation of the approved Baseline providers, new safeguarding advice, a push on pupil premium, and sample materials for the 2016 national curriculum assessments. There’s a lot to take in, so here are the some of the main headlines:

    New Ofsted Common Inspection Framework

    The updated Ofsted Common Inspection Framework (CIF) was launched on the 11th June for inspections from September 2015.

    It contains some clarification on what Ofsted is looking to see in approaches to assessment post-levels. This includes how well teachers use assessment for establishing pupils’ starting points and how testing is being used to modify teaching so that pupils achieve their potential by the end of a year or key stage. Crucially, the document states that Ofsted does not expect to see any particular system of assessment in place, which suggests that rumours of a possible return to the levels system may be highly exaggerated.

    There also seems to have been some recognition of, and attempt to address, the high levels of pressure that news of inspection places on schools and teachers. Schools last judged as ‘good’ will have shorter inspections, while in his recent Future of Education Inspection launch speech Sir Michael Wilshaw made reference to teachers needing to be ‘focussed on what really benefits children and young people, rather than wasting their time endlessly preparing for an Ofsted inspection which could be years away.’ While that statement could perhaps do with being rephrased in such a way that it does not seem to put blame on teachers, there has been support from the unions for the general recognition that teachers should be freed up to do their actual job of teaching, rather than preparing for inspection.

    Finally, reflecting the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Act placing a general duty on specified authorities (including schools) to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”, there’s a greater emphasis on safeguarding to include prevention of radicalisation and extremism.

    Assessment

    Approved Baseline check providers have been announced, whittling down the field of six to three (those that achieved over 10% of market share in pre-orders). These are the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, Durham University (CEM), Early Excellence, and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). Within this field there are two noticeably different approaches – one ICT based, using adaptive technology, and one based on teacher observation. While this gives schools at least some degree of choice, a significant groundswell of resistance remains among the early years community meaning we’re unlikely to have heard the last of this debate.

    If you’ve previously chosen a provider that is no longer on the list of approved providers, you can still use your selected provider. However, the DfE won’t reimburse any costs and you will not be eligible to report on progress, rather having to report on attainment in line with the new floor standard.

    Meanwhile, sample papers, instructions and mark schemes were released at the beginning of July for the 2016 SATs. The mark schemes come with detailed guidance on marking principles and common issues. Questions are related to specific strands of learning or ‘content domains’ which are mapped out in the test framework documents (updated end June).

    We still don’t have full information about what the scale will look like. It will be created based on the first full set of data from the new SATs to ensure it is correct, and maintained in subsequent years by using a process known as ‘test equating’. The DfE is very clear that the old national curriculum levels are not relevant to the new national curriculum. However, they have confirmed that at KS1, the national standard will roughly equate to an old level 2b, and at KS2 to an old level 4b.

    Pupil Premium

    A report from the National Audit Office released on the 30th June concluded that: ‘While the impact of the Pupil Premium will take time to become clear, it has the potential to bring about a significant improvement in outcomes. However, the Department for Education and schools have more to do.’” This point was taken up by Nicky Morgan in a speech at the Sutton Trust and Educational Endowment Foundation summit – reiterating that more must be done to share best practice across schools and ensure that schools give more reflection to how they use the money in an evidence-based way.

    There was little concrete direction in the speech, however, beyond the department’s intention to challenge more ‘failing and coasting schools’ and work more closely with the Educational Endowment Foundation to disseminate thought-leadership around what works so that schools are not only ‘narrowing the gap’ but helping all children catch up and keep up. Indeed, Ms. Morgan went as far as to say that she viewed them as a ‘key partner’, suggesting that they may become a more important reference source for schools in the future.

    The final pieces of the puzzle…

    With the release of all of this new information it feels as though the final pieces of the puzzle in terms of the current reform agenda, are falling into place. The Department’s vision of challenging every child to reach their full potential is really gaining substance as we see it reinforced in successive announcements. The new curriculum, as well as the government’s policies on assessment and accountability are starting to feel more solid and permanent. While much remains to be done to support schools in achieving these lofty ambitions, it does at least feel as though the government is giving some thought to how to make this happen.

    Wishing you a restful summer holiday.

    Rosalind Letellier
    Pearson Primary

    For further information of interest to Primary schools, you can follow @PrimarySchool on Twitter.

    Steve Besley - policywatch@pearson.com

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