Policy Watch

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

Keep up with what’s happening in education policy

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

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

About Steve

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

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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in April 2014

    The poet Robert Browning wrote that it was good to be back in England now that April was here. Others may look at how busy things have been in the world of education over the last month from exam reform, to skills training to student loans and wonder how true that is.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Problem-solving. 15 yr olds in England score highly in the latest PISA test results
    • PSHE. Education Committee announce new inquiry
    • GCSEs. Consultation on new grading scale published
    • GCSEs. Latest content requirements, assessment and scheduling all published
    • A levels. Latest developments for AS and A level also published
    • Tech Levels. 77 new ones announced for this Sept
    • Core Maths. Consultation on proposed technical guidance published
    • Exam reform. Education Committee announce new short sharp inquiry
    • UCAS. Launches proposals for new tariff
    • Careers. DfE publish latest statutory guidance
    • iDEA. New digital enterprise award for young people launched by the Duke of York
    • Regional Schools Commissioners. The first six now appointed
    • School teachers. Record numbers now working in schools
    • Head teachers. Work begins on new set of standards
    • Maths teachers. New Golden Hello scheme launched for FE
    • NAHT edge. NAHT’s new affiliate union announced
    • FE. Minister writes detailed end of term report
    • Adult literacy and numeracy. New research centre announced
    • LEPs. Labour promise support as part of new local growth plans
    • Student Loans. New student panel inquiry launched by Universities UK

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Liam Byrne’s 1st April Robbins Rebooted speech sets out the five standard principles guiding Labour’s review of HE funding
    • Matthew Hancock’s 1st April European Jobs and Skills Summit speech extols the current vocational reforms and calls for more research on the links between education and employment
    • Michael Gove’s 1st April British Chambers of Commerce speech sets a new ambition to eradicate illiteracy and innumeracy
    • David Willetts 3rd April Universities UK conference speech stresses the brighter side of UKHE with opportunities for growth, research, wider participation and economic returns all stressed
    • Ed Miliband’s 7th April local growth speech pledges a massive devolvement of responsibility to new city regions in a bid to stimulate local growth
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 7th April early years speech stresses the importance of Schools Direct and Teach First in helping raise the quality of early years provision
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 10 April Reform speech points to how some of the Government’s reforms are contributing to a self-improving system
    • Vince Cable’s 23rd April Cambridge Lecture proposes a strengthened high-level technician route

    Quotes of the month

    • “Our message is clear. There are no barriers to setting up a higher education campus. If this is your town’s dream we want you to pursue it.” The HE Minister supports those who dare to dream
    • “It’s now clear that what is proposed is a system that combines the worst of a free for all and a money pit.” Labour’s Liam Byrne on the HE funding system
    • “Let us now move away from our snobbish caste-ridden hierarchical obsession with university status.” Vince Cable on the Crosland vision for a high-level technical sector
    • “I believe the sector deserves credit for consistently improving performance as measured by Ofsted.” The FE Minister on an improving FE sector
    • Today’s 15 year olds are the Robinson Crusoes of a future that remains largely unknown to us.” The OECD on the journey for modern 15 year olds
    • “We must ensure no child grows up in modern Britain with their futures irredeemably blighted by illiteracy and innumeracy.” Michael Gove on a new mission
    • “We have had discussions with the Secretary of State and the exam boards holding the ring really on what is a manageable next phase of reform.” The Chief Executive of Ofqual on the latest wave of exam reforms

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Adultifying.’ What critics claim is being done to nursery education
    • “An individual’s capacity to engage in cognitive processing to understand and resolve problem situations where a method of solution is not immediately obvious.” PISA definition of problem-solving competence.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in March 2014

    A month which has seen the Budget, school inspections and accountability, apprenticeships, maths teaching and HE funding all emerge as key points of interest in various forms.

    These and the rather lengthy list of developments from the last four weeks listed below.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Children and Families Act 2014. Now passes
    • Free school lunches. Six-month countdown begins amid concerns about lack of planning
    • Nat curr levels. Most primary schools appear keen to retain them
    • Accountabilities. Primary and 16-19 arrangements confirmed
    • Maths hubs. DfE invite expressions of interest for these new centres of excellence
    • Shanghai maths. Minister launches Teacher Exchange scheme from this Sept
    • Core maths. ACME call for a smaller qualification to encourage take-up
    • Numeracy Challenge. National Numeracy aim to raise numeracy levels of 1m people in 5 yrs
    • School inspections. Ofsted works on a more proportionate model
    • 16-19 funding. EFA issue latest update
    • 18 yr old funding. Minister restricts cut to 2%
    • Jobs Guarantee. Labour extends its jobs scheme to cover a whole Parliamentary term
    • Apprenticeship Grant for Employers. Extended in the Budget for 2 more years
    • Apprenticeships. 44% of businesses pledge to take one on in the next 5 years
    • Apprenticeship Trailblazers. 29 more announced
    • Apprenticeship Funding. Latest technical consultation published
    • FE Learning Technology. FE awaits Ministerial response to latest FELTAG recommendations
    • HE. Teaching budgets for 2014/15 face 6% cut
    • HE. Oxbridge plus 8 others feature in the latest THES world rankings
    • HE-Business links. BIS Committee launches new inquiry

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Matthew Hancock’s 3rd March ‘You’re Hired’ speech highlights the importance of apprenticeships at the start of another National Apprenticeship Week
    • Matthew Hancock’s second speech on 3rd March focuses on the 3 Rs (rigour, responsiveness and a revolution in attitudes) that are driving reforms in the skills system
    • Michael Gove’s 3rd March vocational education speech claims that the current qualification and school reforms will help meet the requirements of the next industrial/technical revolution
    • Liam Byrne’s 3rd March ‘Future of Work’ speech offers 3 alternative reform options: develop the technical route; double apprenticeship numbers; strengthen the high-level voc route
    • Vince Cable’s 6th March Mansion House speech outlines two continuing dangers to economic recovery: lack of business lending especially to SMEs and low skill levels in key industries
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 12th March maths speech throws Government weight behind the efforts of the National Numeracy Challenge and the new All Party Numeracy Group of MPs
    • George Osborne’s 19th March Budget speech favours bingo, beer and pensioners but apart from apprenticeships has little to cheer the education world

    Quotes of the month

    • “Education is the best inoculation against unemployment.” The PM on taking the medicine
    • “It’s all part of a long-term economic plan-a plan that is delivering financial security for the people of this country.” The Chancellor explains his ‘cunning’ economic plan
    • “There are far too many badly needed craftsmen driving taxis or selling insurance.” Vince Cable illustrates the skills conundrum
    • “It’s time to call a halt to this descent into chaos.” Liam Byrne calls time on the current fee loans model
    • “They have a can-do attitude to maths and I want us to match that, and their performance.” Elizabeth Truss calls on the help of the high-performing Shanghai maths teachers
    • “Teachers work with passion. Inspectors deal in detachment. It can make for an uncomfortable cultural fit” Sir Michael Wilshaw on the nature of inspections
    • “Many jobs in education, often portrayed as a high-stress battleground, also provide higher than average job contentment.” The latest happiness index causes surprise in staffrooms

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Robulation.’ What the technical revolution is about to bring us
    • ‘Govean archipelago.’ Labour’s description of the current schools system.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in February 2014

    An action-packed month with five themes emerging.

    First, making do, very much what FE and HE now have to do following their latest funding settlements. Second, continuing system reform with both the skills system and the schools system under scrutiny. Third, accountability, with new measures under development everywhere. Fourth, assessment, the subject of further reports. And fifth, the economy: are we there yet? Not according to the Chancellor.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Tests for 4/5 yr olds. Government said to be contemplating
    • Assessment. NAHT Commission calls for retention of levels
    • Assessment Innovation Fund. Bidders wait to hear if they have been successful or not
    • Character. Different views emerge about how to develop this in school
    • Primary school sport. Government extends funding pledge for further five years
    • Maths. The Education Minister acquaints herself with the Shanghai method
    • Progress 8. Final methodology due before end of term
    • IT. Government announce new funds to support the Year of Code
    • Geography. Introduction of new A level put back a year
    • College of Teaching. Moves a step nearer as blueprint published
    • Teaching Assistants. Add value according to Education Endowment Foundation Research
    • Maths. New Recruitment Incentive scheme announced for FE maths teachers
    • School hols. Schools get chance to determine under Deregulation Bill proposals
    • Academies. Calls for inspections of chains grow as one chain is unhitched
    • Youth unemployment. Down 48,000 to 917,000 in latest stats
    • FE funding. Funding eligibility tightened in latest Funding Statement
    • FE. The ETF launches its new Expert (advisory) Panels
    • HE funding. Allocations confirmed at end of March following Grant Letter
    • HE Access. Russell Group launches new ‘visit a uni’ scheme for 13/14 yr olds

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

    • Behaviour and discipline in schools. The DfE puts out its latest guidance for schools and teachers
    • Higher Ed Funding 2014/15. The BIS Dept confirms  a cut in the annual grant to HEFCE for 2014/15 but protects high-cost subjects, Student Opportunity, science and research
    • New College of Teaching Blueprint. The Prince’s Teaching Institute leads the latest blueprint which proposes three core functions but leaves the question of funding open
    • Skills Funding Statement 2013-2016. The latest settlement leaves FE facing a cut in the adult skills budget as apprenticeships, traineeships, English and maths remain top priorities
    • Transforming public services. The thinktank IPPR calls for a more connected and ‘relational’ model in the latest quest to match services to needs
    • Character and Resilience Manifesto.  The All Party Parliamentary Group of MPs and the think tank CentreForum list 18 recommendations to help develop ‘character’
    • Commission on Assessment. The NAHT concludes its six-month review with a list of design principles intended to help schools cope with the new requirements
    • School Teachers’ Review Body. The Body responds to the Government’s latest requests on pay and conditions by removing some restrictions but leaving hols/working hours alone
    • Progress 8 Factsheet. The DfE offers a summary of the latest position on its all-important secondary school accountability measure due to be applied for 2016 exam results
    • Student Loan Repayments. The Public Accounts Committee expresses concerns about the rising costs of unpaid student debt
    • Review of Quality of Marking. Ofqual’s final report in a 12 month review finds a system coping well with some 16m scripts each summer but an appeals system needing overhaul
    • The Student Deal. PA Consulting believes the new HE fees culture requires a different relationship between students and unis built around 4 core principles
    • Introducing Generation Citizen. The think tank Demos offers the latest observations of ‘youth today’ and finds them connected, concerned and community-committed
    • Unfinished Business? HEPI’s first major report under new leadership reviews the HE landscape and finds a number of areas where careful cultivation is needed
    • Not just making tea. The UKCES sets out to dismantle some of the myths surrounding the offer of work experience
    • Progress report on the Regional Growth Fund. The National Audit Office still finds a lot of the money underspent and calls for an increase in the ratio of benefits of cost
    • Up to the Job. The Think Tank Demos points to the economic and employment returns that can accrue from increasing the number of apprenticeships

    Speeches of the month

    • Michael Gove’s 3 February London Academy speech calls for state schools to replicate some of the best ‘proven’ practices of independent schools as part of continuing reforms
    • Ed Miliband’s 10 February Hugo Young Lecture proposes granting parents new call-in powers over schools as part of a new people-driven culture for public services
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 13 February Resolution Foundation speech highlights the changes being made to the quality of childcare and support for working parents
    • Tristram Hunt’s 13 February ‘Schooling for the Future’ speech calls for no surrender on standards and the teaching of ‘character’ as part of a more balanced curriculum
    • George Osborne’s 20 February Hong Kong speech reminds us that there are still more reasons to be careful than cheerful when it comes to the economy
    • Chris Leslie’s 25 February SMF speech sets out five principles intended to guide Labour’s Zero-Based Review of public expenditure
    • Nick Clegg’s 27 Feb ‘better choices, better prospects’ speech promises new careers guidance for schools, new local course directories for young people and JCP help for 16/17 yr olds

    Quotes of the month

    • “I want to deliver a budget which ensures that around the world, wherever you are, you can’t help but see ’Made in Britain.’ That’s the budget I’m going to deliver.”  The Chancellor makes his plans clear about his forthcoming Budget
    • “But we don’t have confidence in those figures. We think that the value of student loans never to be repaid could be even higher.” The Public Accounts Committee goes for the jugular
    • “Further recurrent savings will be required in 15/16.” HEFCE’s annual Grant letter suggests little light
    • “Qualifications will be removed from public funding where there is little or no demand or where the qualifications cannot be shown to be responding to a clear business need.” The latest Skills Funding statement spells out the new funding rules
    • “I appreciate that since I became Education Secretary I have been asking a great deal, a very great deal of those who work in our schools.” The Education Secretary comes to praise
    • “Our requests are reasonable and could yet halt the stark decline in teacher morale which is so damaging to teacher recruitment and retention.” The NUT sees things differently as it prepares to strike

    Word or phrase of the month

    •  ‘Generation C.’  The new connected young citizens according to the thinktank Demos
    • ‘People powered public services.’ Ed Miliband’s alliterative reform model for public services
    • ‘Too clever.’  Why some kids are told not to take voc courses according to Edge research. 
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in January 2014

    The appearance of both Government and Opposition Ministers armed with lists of announcements at the North of England and BETT Conferences, the traditional starting points of another education year, suggests that 2014 is already off to a busy start.

    Topics getting the treatment so far include school performance, teachers, elite colleges, learning technology and HE.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Free Schools. 10 more announced along with 6 new UTCs and 5 new Studio Schools
    • SEN. DfE to fund 1800+ champions to help implement new arrangements
    • GCSE. Ofqual confirm PE and Drama ‘safe’ as new consultations awaited
    • A’ levels. Consultation closes with concerns about de-coupled AS and science practicals
    • School league tables. Number of underperforming state schools drops to 154
    • Learning Technology. New strategic Group announced
    • Progress 8. DfE publish an Update in advance of next month’s report on methodology
    • White working class kids. Ed Committee Inquiry under way
    • School Governors. DfE consult on more professional model
    • Talented Leaders Programme. Government confirm a spring launch
    • 16-18 funding. FE facing average 3.0% hit
    • Traineeships. AELP to run Traineeship Staff Support Programme
    • FE. Government announce new elite college brand
    • Basic Skills. Labour to introduce Basic Skills Tests alongside welfare reforms
    • Adult Literacy. BIS Committee announce new Inquiry
    • Student Loan Book. BIS Committee question some of the figures
    • HE. HEFCE issues a response to OFT Inquiry
    • University rooms. Average room now costs £3,301, up 11% over 3 yrs

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

    • Youth Index 2014. The Prince’s Trust undertakes its annual check on the pulse of young people and finds many, especially those unemployed, feeling they have little to live for
    • Reversing the widget effect. The thinktank Policy Exchange argues that ‘effective’ performance-related pay can help teachers feel more valued and less like widgets in a system
    • Introduction of 16-18 core maths qualifications. The DfE hopes this qualification will encourage the 40% of 16 yr olds with a GCSE grade C or above to carry on studying maths
    • Make NEETs history in 2014. The venture organisation Impetus-PEF calls for better school-work transition as it highlights the potential problems of being NEET
    • Update on progress 8. The DfE amends the position on Eng Lit as one of three changes listed in this latest Update on accountability arrangements for secondary schools
    • The Graduate Market in 2014. Latest figures from High Fliers Research suggests graduate opportunities in top companies for 2014 are likely to increase by 8.7% 
    • The School Governance Regulations. The DfE identifies three core roles for school governors as it seeks to encourage a more business-like approach
    • Funding reduction for full-time 18 year olds. The DfE eventually publish the impact assessment which leaves colleges liable to take a notable hit
    • Education to Employment. McKinsey examines the issue of youth employment across Europe and points to the dangers of parallel universes between employers and young people
    • Growth Dashboard. The government publishes its latest smorgasbord of data on UK growth and industrial policy 
    • School Partnerships and Cooperation. The government dismisses calls for Ofsted inspections of academy chains as it responds to the Education Committee‘s recent Inquiry
    • Schools United. Anthony Seldon calls for further cross-fertilisation between the state and independent sector as part of his latest published work on school reform
    • A passion for learning. The Russell Group explains what makes their experience so unique
    • Performance Tables 2013. The DfE publishes the latest set of school league tables showing more taking EBaccs and a fall in the number of under-performing schools
    • A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Can Find Deep Learning. Pearson launches a series of commissioned global think pieces on the changing face of classroom learning
    • Making Education Work. An independent group of outside experts gathered by Pearson recommend significant changes to the design and development of the qualification system
    • Performance and Capability of the Education Funding Agency. The National Audit Office runs the rule over the EFA and worries about growing demands
    • UKCES Skills Survey. The UK Skills Commission publishes its latest employer skills survey which suggests recovery may be hampered by a lack of skilled workers in key industries

    Speeches of the month

    • Elizabeth Truss’s 3 January Oxford Conference speech outlines how lessons from abroad are shaping the government’s current education reforms
    • The Chancellor’s 6 January ‘Let’s finish the job’ speech warns against any complacency and instead labels 2014 ‘the year of hard truths’ with further cuts to prove it
    • Tristram Hunt’s 15 January North of England Conference speech spells out the Party’s vision of a fully qualified and registered profession
    • David Laws’s 16 January North of England Conference speech sets out more details on how the government’s Talented Leaders programme will help under-performing schools
    • John Denham’s 16 January RSA speech offers an interesting analysis of UKHE funding and identifies four possible ways forward in an attempt to shape the university fees debate
    • Rachel Reeves’s 20 January IPPR speech calls for a compulsory jobs guarantee and basic skills tests as part of Labour proposals for reforming welfare to work
    • Michael Gove’s 22 January BETT speech reflects on some of the changes happening in technology and explains how the government is changing the curriculum to respond to them
    • Matthew Hancock’s 24 January BETT speech announces the creation of a new Education Technology Group designed to lead future strategy
    • Matthew Hancock’s 28 January Skills Summit speech outlines government activity around voc ed and announces a new generation of elite college institutions

    Quotes of the month

    • “One of the most depressing discoveries of 2013 was that over the last decade Britain’s education fell even further behind other countries in the world.” The Chancellor laments the state of English education in his New Year speech
    • “This is quite a serious black hole. How are you going to address it?” The BIS Committee puts the HE Minister on the spot about how to fund an increase in student numbers
    • “I have had many opportunities to observe that very intelligent people leave their brains behind when it comes to technology. The MOOC phenomenon is just further confirmation of that simple truth.”  The IoE’s Professor of learning with digital technologies clarifies her thoughts on MOOCs
    • “I remain of the view that the quality of careers guidance in schools is improving.” The Education Secretary sticks to his guns on careers education
    • “If you’re not a motivated teacher, passionate about your subject, passionate about being in the classroom, then you shouldn’t really be in this profession.” The Shadow Education Minister gets passionate about his proposed validation scheme for teachers

    Word or phrase of the month

    •  ‘Year of hard truths.’ The Chancellor’s prognosis for 2014.
    read more