Policy Watch

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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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About Steve

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

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  • Policy Eye - week ending March 27 2015

    Yesterday MPs shook hands with the Speaker and trooped out of the Chamber as the 2010-2015 Parliament drew to a close.

    The week summed up

    Formal dissolution takes place on Monday and both major Parties head off to the campaign trail pretty much neck and neck.

    For the moment, much of this week has been given to getting as much sorted and out before purdah begins and restrictions on government activity kick in. In education there’s been a barrage of announcements, reports and updates which can be broadly filed under three headings: funding; qualification developments; and future strategy. Here’s a summary of each.

    Under funding, perhaps the most worrying area at present is that of adult skills training, essential for tooling up the country for economic revival but facing sustained cuts. Provider allocations have perhaps not been as bad as originally feared but as has been remarked before, the quest for a sustainable investment system based on employer and individual contributions, remains a key task for an incoming government. Schools too could face difficult times if, as the IfS predicted in a report this week that ‘spending will fall by 7% in real terms’ over the next five years. As for HE where this week 2015/16 allocations were confirmed, uncertainties over the impact of lifting the cap on student numbers and recruitment of overseas student numbers among other things, continue to trouble the sector as HEFCE’s latest health check indicated.

    On qualification developments, Ofqual has been busy this week updating on progress in the current reform programme but two other areas have also hit the headlines. One is the qualification framework for adult learning, the son or daughter of QCF in other words, which is now out for consultation until 17 June. And the other is Functional Skills, given a thumbs up in another report this week but in need of some support and attention. All three areas will need some attention after the election.

    Finally, future strategy and two important but battle weary areas namely 14-19 provision and adult vocational provision, both in the spotlight this week. The former had both the CBI and a think tank calling for further reform and the latter is now the subject of a major new consultation which will complete in the summer and set the direction for the next five years.

    The new government won’t be short of things to do.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Morgan rejects heads’ independent curriculum body.’ (Monday)
    •  ‘Cost of a degree is not worth it, says Oxford bursar.’ (Tuesday)
    •  ‘Colleges say’ swathe of cuts’ threatens adult education.’ (Wednesday)
    •  ‘School budgets facing significant cuts.” (Thursday)
    •  ‘Media studies survive but leisure studies don’t in final cull of A’ levels. (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Business Secretary who launched a hefty consultation about the future vision for adult FE as it strives to deliver its dual mandate of skills training for the workplace and second chance opportunities
    • The BIS Dept who confirmed that HNs would remain under their current (HE) funding regime but that some of the rules around Advanced Learning Loans would be relaxed  
    • The Education Secretary who responded to growing enthusiasm for an independent curriculum body by arguing that ministers should retain responsibility for curriculum decisions because they could be held to account
    • The  DfE who published a discussion paper on Academy chain performance suggesting two measures, one value-added and one improvement-based
    • Workload Challenge. (Spoiler alert: major change should only be brought in at the start of the year)
    • The DfE who updated its statutory guidance on careers provision
    • The HE Power List of top movers and shakers for English HE in 2015 which had George Osborne at No 1, Theresa May at No 2,  the Gen Sec of the Chinese Communist Party at No 6 (because of the importance of Chinese students to HE) and Vince Cable at No 10
    • James Dyson whose Foundation has donated £12m to Imperial College London to help set up a School of Design Engineering
    • Dame Ruth Silver who has been appointed to chair a Scottish Government Commission into access to university
    • Sir Paul Nurse who will lead a review into UK research funding especially around science
    • Stephen Munday who will chair a new group looking sat how to implement the Carter Review recommendations on the quality of initial teacher training 
    • HEFCE who published agreed funding allocations to universities and colleges for 2015/16 and followed this up with its regular financial health check of the sector
    • The BIS Dept who published an evaluation of the FE Commissioner’s ‘quality’ intervention process and found it now recognised and working effectively
    • Ofqual who launched a consultation on a new regulated qualifications framework as it prepared for life after the QCF
    • Functional Skills, back in the news this week as the review into employer and learner needs was published recommending that they should be seen as genuine alternative, rather than stepping stone, qualifications
    • Fact checker the Conversation who examined whether the Coalition really had created over 2m apprenticeships and concluded that while this was factually correct in terms of registered starts, questions remained about exactly what constituted general on the job training and what constituted a genuine apprenticeship
    • The government who issued operating guidelines for the proposed new database of post-16 courses, due to be launched this autumn
    • The Foundation Code, a set of principles designed to strengthen advice and guidance for young people which was developed by eight leading education bodies and launched this week
    • Ofsted who reported on a survey of school leaders’ views on inspection and claimed that many found it useful in helping make improvements
    • Ofqual who issued further regulatory guidelines this week on a number of 2016 subjects and updated the position on many of the remaining GCSEs, AS and A’ levels
    • The CBI who called for ‘a full review of 14-18 education’ to be on the list of things to be done in the first 100 days of an incoming government in May
    • The think tank IPPR who published another report on 14-19 education also calling for a review of 14-19 education focusing on its purpose and end product
    • The think tank Reform who also published a report on schools in this case arguing that improved performance can come from working in supportive strategic groups
    • The Institute of Fiscal Studies who looked at school funding in the light of different Party commitments and suggested that at best cuts of 7% might be expected in the future and at worst 12% depending on pension, pay and NI increases
    • What childcare is on offer, something that primary and secondary schools are to be required to provide alongside performance table data.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Kids think there are 2 job options: what Mum does and what Dad does.” @virginmedia
    • “50 mile school run: the price I’m willing to pay for the best school.” @edon tap
    • “Nick Boles: FE policy has been based on instincts and prejudice.” @FEontap

    Acronym(s) of the week

    •  CGHE. The new Centre for Global Higher Education, to be led by the UCL Institute of Education with the Universities of Sheffield and Lancaster and providing a focus for research into HE and future directions
    •  FRQ. Framework of Regulated Qualifications, successor to the QCF.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “If I’ve taken one thing away from my time so far it’s the fact that everyone has an opinion on education.” Nicky Morgan on life as Education Secretary
    • “The system of Functional Skills is not broken but could be improved.” The core conclusion from the latest review into Functional Skills
    • “Although the commitments made by the three main UK parties are subtly different, they could all imply real spending per pupil falling by 7% or more between 2014/15 and 2019/20.” The Institute of Fiscal Studies on the cold winds of funding reality
    • “To borrow an analogy: Ofsted becomes the hygiene inspector and peer review provides the restaurant critic.” The NAHT’s Russell Hobby on reforming the school inspection system
    • “It’s not clear how much capacity the academy chains have to hammer up results even if the early ones were a success.” The BBC’s Chris Cook on measuring Academy chain performance.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £3.97bn. How much HEFCE is allocating to universities and colleges for 2015/16 for teaching, research and other funded activity
    • 190,000. The number of adult learning places that could go over the next year as a result of cuts according to the Association of Colleges
    • 89.7%. The number of young people entering university from state school last year, a new high
    • 81%. The percentage of school leaders who, in a survey by Ofsted, reported that inspection helped them improve by identifying strengths and weaknesses
    • 33.1%. How much more women can earn if they have two or more A levels in STEM subjects according to commissioned research from the DfE.

    What to look out for next week

    • Parliament is dissolved (Monday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending March 20 2015

    It’s been Budget Week of course and with Parliament now just one week away from dissolution and the launch of the election campaign proper, there’s been a lot of interest in what sort of Budget it would turn out to be. 

    The week summed up

    The Chancellor of course promised ‘no giveaways and no gimmicks’ and in the event there weren’t many surprises either.

    The headlines have been full of the Budget and its implications this week with the Institute of Fiscal Studies and its Post-Budget Briefing emerging by common consent as the real winner. Their analysis of what is fast becoming the core issue at present, namely the extent of proposed cuts in the next Parliament and what impact these might have on public services is worth reading and can be found here. The Chancellor has argued that graphic stories of ‘deep cuts’ are off beam and that “we want to take a more balanced approach and would not put all the cuts in government depts.” That may well be true and may offer some succour to FE whose Dept faces some of the biggest cuts but as the IFS concludes, until we know exactly where the cuts are to come from, it’s difficult to be sure. Elsewhere, Fraser Nelson’s ‘Budget 2015 explained in ten graphs’ offers another interesting and easy to read perspective on the key Budget issues. It’s published in the Spectator and can be found here.

    As for education, summarised in an accompanying Policy Watch one-pager, it hardly featured at all. Schools may have been interested in the Budget’s big book comments on balancing out efficiencies and cost measures, FE may have been interested in the Apprenticeship Voucher and local growth announcements, while HE may have been interested in the postgrad funding and science and innovation statements but ‘may’ is the operative word given detail in each case was pretty sparse. It’s the Spending Review later this year that will bring us the detail.

    So with many of the commentators acknowledging that we’re in for ‘a rollercoaster ride’ with the nation’s finances one way or another, the Education Committee’s valedictory Report, one of  a large number of Reports out this week, offers another rollercoaster ride, this time through education over the last five years. It looks like we’re heading for some bumpy rides.

    Top headlines this week

    •  ‘Funding gap costs poorest funded schools 40 teachers.’ (Monday)
    •  ‘Margaret Hodge not confident public funds safe in private colleges’ scheme. (Tuesday)
    •  ‘Teacher stress levels in England soaring, data shows.’ (Wednesday)
    •  ‘Almost half of English universities plan to recruit more students after cap is lifted.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Hunt wants overseas innovators for England’s schools.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    •  The Chancellor who encouraged Britain to walk tall as he issued his sixth Budget Statement
    •  The Leader of the Opposition who argued that the Budget would exacerbate Britain’s problems rather than solve them
    • Danny Alexander who presented an ‘alternative’ Lib-Dem Budget the day after the Budget promising a fairer way to cut the debt by squeezing more money out of tax evasion
    • Nick Clegg who told his Party’s Spring Conference that his two proudest achievements in education were protecting the schools budget and introducing the Pupil Premium
    • Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, who recommended that a close eye be kept on funding for alternative providers in HE as the Committee concluded its second witness session on the matter
    • Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt, calling for a new approach to curriculum reform and for education innovators across the world to come and set up schools in England
    • The Competition and Marketing Authority who published guidance for HE providers and students on their rights and responsibilities under consumer law including for example, the importance of providing ‘clear, accurate and timely information'
    • The Education Committee who published a summary report reflecting on its achievements over the lifetime of this Parliament and in particular its work on helping to close the attainment gap between the most and the least disadvantaged young people
    • The ‘Trojan Horse’ affair, the subject of a summary report by the Education Committee which called for much greater co-ordination between agencies overseeing schools
    • University costs, the subject of a global survey by HSBC which reported that Warsaw and Lisbon Universities respectively were the top two ‘cheapest’ European places to study
    • Digital vouchers, being introduced by the government to help simplify the funding regime for “apprenticeships and to give employers greater purchasing powers
    • Getting better at managing their own money and spotting good deals, the main reasons why people want to improve their numeracy skills according to research commissioned by the charity National Numeracy
    • Jan Hodges who is to step down next month as chief executive of Edge, the body that promotes practical and vocational learning
    • The Institute of Fiscal studies who examined how school funding had been distributed over the last two decades and found that much of it had helped fuel a rise in non-teaching staff
    • The College of Teaching for which the Prime Minister promised to provide financial backing
    • Enrichment vouchers, proposed in a report commissioned by the Sutton Trust as a way of helping disadvantaged young people gain the sort of extra-curricular experiences that more advantaged young people often enjoy
    • One-stop services, online tools and extra help in schools, among the recommendations in a government commissioned report on improving mental health services for young people
    • The professional body ASCL, holding its annual conference this weekend and calling for a national fair funding formula
    • The think tank Civitas who published a book of essays looking at the diverse and sometimes arcane system of secondary school admission
    • The Compass ‘Group’ whose final Report into a new system of education called for a more expansive vision of education that enables the potential in individuals to be unleashed
    • Science in schools, the subject of a worrying report by the CBI and Brunel University suggesting that in primary at least, science has become less of a priority with over 30% of schools not providing the recommended two hours of science education a week
    • CfBT and the British Council whose latest report on language trends in schools found that, as with science (above,) time for language teaching was in danger of being squeezed
    • GCE and GCSE Dance, Music and PE for which the latest subject guidance and regulations were published by Ofqual
    • 'Would you support all teachers being qualified?’ One of a number of questions asked of UKIP’s education spokesman in the Guardian’s series inviting questions of each of the Party’s education reps. (The answer:’ if I had the choice whether my kids were taught by an outstanding but unqualified teacher with 20 yrs experience or a borderline NQT, I’d choose the former’)
    • Professional passports, what teachers in Wales will be given to record their professional development
    • Middle leader positions along with Special Needs, the posts that schools often find the most difficult to fill according to research by NAHT Edge
    • King’s Leadership Academy in Warrington, announced this week as the winner of the top award for helping develop pupil character
    • A new online tool, funded by the DfE, which is to be developed to help schools search for and recruit the governors they need
    • Tests for four year olds, criticised by early years experts in a letter to the DfE calling for teacher-based assessments to be used instead
    • Early years provision and funding, the subject of a major new report from the Nuffield Foundation and the subject of a new 5-point programme intended to test out new approaches
    • “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” One of the favourite Shakespearean quotes (from All’s Well That Ends Well) cited by teachers during this week’s Shakespeare Week.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “David Cameron: I don’t spend enough time going to parents’ evenings.” @TelegraphNews
    • “Nicky Morgan: Being academic isn’t enough in the modern world.” @Schools Improve
    • “Stop looking for heroic principals, says leadership expert.’ @TES
    •  “I’m a recruiter and I couldn’t navigate all the 350,000 job websites. How can we expect young people with no careers advice to? “ @Schools Week

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • DDCED. The DfE’s Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division which the Education Committee recommended in a report this week should be given a higher profile 
    • SGOSS. The Governors for Schools Organisation who with the Employers’ Taskforce, are founding members of the Inspiring Governors Alliance.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We produced more than 30 reports and held nearly 200 evidence sessions as we sought to recommend changes to government policy that would help close the gap.” The chair of the Education Committee reflects on their work over the last five years
    • “If the last five years were about doing what was necessary, I want the next five to be about doing what is possible.” Nick Clegg rallies the troops at the Lib-Dems Spring Conference
    • “Employers must be in the driving seat when it comes to apprenticeship funding, so we welcome the announcement of the voucher system but await further details.” The CBI director-general on the proposed new funding system for apprenticeships
    • “A challenge.” Getting 16 yr olds and above interested in studying languages according to the latest languages survey by CfBT and the British Council.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 2.5%. The growth forecast for the UK for 2015, up .1% on the previous prediction
    • 1.86m. The number of people out of work in the UK in the three months up to Jan 2015 (743,000 in the case of young people aged 16-24) leaving the number in work at an all-time high
    • 1 in 10. The number of 5-16 year olds suffering from a mental disorder according to latest government research
    • £4,208. What an average secondary school in the lowest funded part of the country will get per pupil next year compared to £6,297 for a school in the highest funded area according to research by ASCL
    • Just over 3%. How many exam grades in the summer 2014 series were changed following an appeal, according to a report from Ofqual
    • £6.70. What the new hourly National Minimum Wage will be from Oct 2015, up 3%.

    What to look out for next week

    • Government response to the Education Committee Report on Academies and Free Schools (Monday)
    • Skills Minister Nick Boles helps launch the new Centre for Vocational Education Research (Tuesday)
    • Reform seminar with Alison Wolf on the role of second chance education (Tuesday)
    • Final session in this Parliament of Prime Minister’s Question Time (Wednesday)
    • Pearson/Policy Exchange event with Alan Milburn on Education’s role in promoting Social Mobility (Thursday)
    • Potential Sky TV interview session with David Cameron and Ed Miliband (Thursday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending March 13 2015

    This week the policy focus has been on families and apprenticeships. 

    The week summed up

    Each is important politically and politicians from all Parties have been out and about lending support, making announcements and seeking photo opportunities accordingly. So we’ve had the Skills Minister in full overalls helping a young apprentice plumber unblock a sink as part of National Apprenticeship Week and Ed Miliband photo shopped strolling down the road with his family as Labour extends its credentials on family matters. This is after all the photo selfie election.

    It hasn’t all been photo glare however. David Cameron used his family-friendly speech at the start of the week to announce, somewhat controversially given the strong views on the subject, a big boost to the Free Schools programme. He may well have been encouraged to do so by a bullish report on Free Schools from the think tank Policy Exchange a few days before which concluded that Free Schools were having a positive effect and that it should be made easier for more to be rolled out. It may also be a matter of expanding school places but either way, the Prime Minister pledged that his Party would open 500 more over the next Parliament and moreover that the current Education Secretary would be there to ensure this would happen. There was a lot more in the speech but if you want it in bite sizes, it’s this: jobs, money, homes, schools and savings, these are the five things that the Prime Minister believes families want most and he’s determined to deliver them.

    As for the other major talking point of the week, apprenticeships, the annual National Apprenticeship Week has provided a major opportunity for all political Parties to establish their credentials. The government launched a series of reports on apprenticeships and traineeships while the Prime Minister was on hand to help announce the roll-out of nine new industry designed Degree Apprenticeships. Labour confirmed its commitment to “a new universal gold standard for apprenticeships,” while the Lib-Dems pledged to double the number of employers with apprentices, “meaning up to 4m new apprentices.” Away from the headlines, it’s the debate about the topping and tailing of the apprenticeship system that’s becoming interesting: a clear entry point for young people, either a Young Apprenticeship scheme as the Education Committee suggested or a pre-apprenticeship scheme as the AoC have proposed, and a coherent progression and exit point at the other end through perhaps Higher Apprenticeships, Degree Apprenticeships or Tech Degrees, all with many others have been proposed for this space in recent months. It’s a long time since the work-based route attracted such attention.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Too few young people becoming apprentices say MPs.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Ms U-turn will keep her job insists Prime Minister.’ (Tuesday)
    •  ‘Cameron’s £15,000 for maths and science teachers. (Wednesday)
    • ‘Research universities should lead on higher apprenticeships. (Thursday)
    • ‘Teachers’ pay rise will spell cuts.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who announced a significant increase in the number of Free Schools as part of a major speech on improving the lives and opportunities for families
    • The House of Lords who confirmed that it would set up a committee to look into social mobility and the transition from school to work in the next session of Parliament
    • The government who announced a new programme to encourage more people, including career changers and A level students, to take up training and become maths or physics teachers
    • The BIS Dept who updated its guidance on the delivery framework for Traineeships and published the results of an evaluation of how the first year of the programme had gone  showing that 79% of trainees were happy with their programme and 50% had gone on to an apprenticeship or work
    • The BIS Dept who also reported on how the Apprenticeship Reforms and Trailblazers were working and concluded that while some issues about funding, assessment and grading and standards development remain, considerable progress had been made
    • The FE and Skills Minister whose latest progress report for the sector sent in a thank-you letter to college governors confirmed that the outcome of the evidence review into non GCSE Eng/maths will be published before the end of the month
    • The Education Secretary who announced plans for a new charter mark to be awarded jointly by the DfE and PSHE Association for schools who deliver a so-called ‘curriculum for life’
    • The Education Committee who urged the government to bring back the Young Apprenticeship scheme as one of a number of recommendations in a report on apprenticeships and traineeships for 16-19 year olds
    • The Home Office who issued updated guidance for sponsor institutions applying for the Tier 4 licence needed for recruiting international students
    • Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls who in a speech to the RSA challenged the Conservatives over the extent of their proposed cuts in the future
    • Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umanna who outlined Labour’s ‘gold standard’ model of apprenticeships (Level 3, 2yrs) in a speech to FE Week’s Apprenticeship Conference
    • The Lib-Dems who pledged to create 4m new apprenticeships over the lifetime of the next Parliament as they launched their 5-point economic growth plan
    • The Taxpayers’ Alliance who included scrapping the BIS Dept in its latest 160+ page report  on where savings could be made in the future
    • Living costs, affordable housing and employment and access to work, the top three priorities of young (18-24) voters in a recent poll. Tuition fees came in at number 6
    • The University think tank million+ who called for a university-based professional career framework for teachers as part of a new manifesto for teacher education
    • The Times Higher global rankings which saw 12 UK universities in the top 100 and Durham and Warwick in for the first time
    • Sir Keith Burnett and Sir Nigel Thrift, Vice-Chancellors of Sheffield and Warwick universities respectively who sketched out a vision for research intensive universities to help lead a new ‘gold standard’ higher voc education route leading to 40,000 higher apprenticeships nationally
    • Moocs some of which are being made more openly available (without the need for registration) in an ‘Open Step Pages’ pilot being launched by FutureLearn
    • The think tank IPPR who published a collection of essays looking at how European employment trends were changing in response to technology, globalisation and labour movement
    • The Sixth Form Colleges Association who argued that unless the funding rate improves many of its colleges will be forced to cut weekly teaching times by a further 7-10 hours
    • The think tank Policy Exchange who examined some of the data available on the impact of Free Schools and concluded that the model was sound enough for further expansion
    • The National Association of Head Teachers who published an Election Special with each of the main Parties setting out its views
    • The professional body ASCL who have worked with the DfE to produce a guide to the current A level reforms
    • Ofsted whose latest guidance on school inspections confirmed that schools don’t have to undertake a specified amount of lesson observation
    • Former government education adviser Sir Alan Steer who in a pamphlet by the New Visions for Education Group, listed four actions needed to improve school standards including focusing on early years and requiring all schools to be in a federation
    • Basildon where the town’s academy and local authority primary schools have agreed to work together and where standards are now rising to such an extent that it’s being seen as a role model
    • The DfE who published the names of the members of the new Commission on (primary) assessment and who provoked criticism for not including a classroom-based teacher
    • The BBC who announced it would give away Micro-Bit computers to pupils starting secondary school this autumn as part of its Make it Digital campaign
    • The Education Endowment Fund who along with Durham University launched an Early Years Toolkit with a list of strategies and resources including early literacy and numeracy but also play-based learning.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “There is not a high road or a low road. They both lead as far as you want them to go. One of them is an apprenticeship.” @NickBoles MP. The Skills Minister helps launch apprenticeship week
    • “A nod towards character education is welcome-just don’t go measuring it.” @Schooltruth. Fiona Millar comments on the new found interest in character education
    • 10% of teaching time is lost to inadequate technology.’ @brotheruk

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • The Slow Education Initiative. A movement dedicated to doing things properly rather than quickly.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Because for us an ‘all right’ education is not good enough for our children.” The Prime Minister on the thinking behind accelerating the Free School programme
    • “An obsessive, ideological focus on structural change.” The NASUWT respond to the latest announcement about a proposed increase in the number of Free Schools
    • “We get vocational education.” Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umanna claims Labour gets the importance of voc education.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 256. The number of new Free Schools currently open
    • 553. The number of technical and vocational qualifications now approved for school and college performance tables
    • 9. The number of new industry designed Degree Apprenticeships announced this week
    • 22-25 hours a week. What the Sixth Form Colleges Association reckons is needed to deliver a worthwhile curriculum and which is gradually being eroded by funding cuts
    • 2%. What the ‘top’ teachers may get as a pay rise this year
    • 121m. The number of primary and lower-secondary age pupils still not enrolled in educational programmes according to the latest report by UNESCO
    • 30%. The number of young people who suggest that social media will in some way inform their voting preference according to a recent Ipsos Mori poll.

    What to look out for next week

    • Education Committee Report on Closing the Gap: the Work of the Committee in the 2010-2015 Parliament (Monday)
    • Education Committee Report on the Trojan Horse Affair (Tuesday)
    • Budget day (Wednesday)
    • Ofqual Report in 2014 exam appeals (Thursday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending March 6 2015

    We’re moving into the last few weeks of this current Parliament. At the end of this month. March 30 to be precise, Parliament will be dissolved and the so-called purdah, when the hatches come down on new business and initiatives, will begin.

    The week summed up

    It’s not quite all over yet of course, there’s still a lot of business to be completed and some tidying up to be done. Next week for instance sees the latest National Apprenticeship Week where given the current policy interest in apprenticeships we’re likely to see Ministers from all Parties out in force across the country lending their support. Key days are likely to be the Monday when any policy directions or signals will be made, Wednesday when the theme is traineeships and young people and Thursday when higher apprenticeships are in the spotlight. The Deputy Prime Minister has already issued a video message heralding the launch of the week of activities which will also include a number of conferences, events and publication launches up and down the country.

    And then the week after that we move on to one of the final set piece occasions of this Parliament in the form of Budget 2015 when the Chancellor will look to ensure that the economic mood is positive as the electioneering begins in earnest.

    For education, funding inevitably remains one of the major causes of concern and many people will be waiting for the Spending Review that will follow the election later this year with varying degrees of trepidation accordingly. It’s hard to convey all the concerns in simple terms but for the moment this is how they are shaping up.

    For schools, the issue is what to ring fence and at what cost, should it be for ages 5-16 or should it be from early years through to age 18? And if the latter is it the overall budget or per-pupil funding that should be protected? The Conservatives have gone for flat cash per-pupil aged 5-16, Labour and the Lib-Dems for protected budget funding from cradle to college. You pays your money, perhaps. For FE, the issue is the gradual erosion of government grants and the shift towards business and individual investment where the question for all Parties, yet to be fully answered though local commissioning is seen as part of it, is how to build a modern skills policy on an evolving business model. And for HE where the reverberations from Labour’s recent HE tuition fees announcement are still being felt, the issue is how to get the balance right between state and student investment while protecting the most disadvantaged and ensuring a strong presence in the global market. Another Commission on HE funding? Some think so.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Give girls careers advice before age of 10 says Shadow Education Secretary.’ (Monday)
    • ‘All schools need trained careers advisers, says charity.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Audit Office to examine financial sustainability of FE sector.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Exam changes risk problems for schools, say heads.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Tories consider plan to pay off teachers’ student debt.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Conservatives who are said to be considering further announcements about HE funding and progression pathways
    • Schools, colleges and universities all facing new responsibilities under the latest Counter Terrorism and Security Act which became law a couple of weeks ago
    • The BIS Dept who published a brief case study report on the impact of reformed governance in colleges
    • The University Alliance who called for a new HE Regulation Bill as part of its response to HEFCE’s quality assurance review
    • Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs,) the subject of a new report by the think tank Localis calling for LEPs to be given greater powers and funding including over all adult skills training
    • The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission who published a report calling on any incoming government to take action in five priority areas including education
    • The YMCA who called on all Parties to prioritise jobless young people in their latest manifesto
    • The Manufacturer’s Organisation EEF who launched a new skills manifesto calling an increase in the numbers of manufacturing apprentice and graduates and better training in schools
    • The Joseph Rowntree Foundation who suggested six other ways that Labour’s higher education ‘money’  might be better used such as supporting careers guidance and/or skills training
    • The Association of Colleges (AoC) who questioned what would happen under Labour’s new HE fees policy to those colleges already charging less than the £9000 maximum
    • The National Audit Office who will announced a review into the financial sustainability of colleges and how this is managed by government and its agencies
    • The think tank Demos who published the final report from its year-long inquiry into Construction and other apprenticeships calling for more to done to incentivise apprenticeships in schools,  for a quality charter mark for programmes and for clarity on funding schemes
    • UCL’s Institute of Education who researched English and maths performance post-16 and found the attainment gap worsening rather than improving
    • NIACE who looked in to how to get 16-24 year olds interested in carrying on with English and maths and found that it helps when it’s fun, interactive and helps get a job
    • Ofqual who announced its sticking with proposed changes to practical assessment in GCSE science despite concern including those from the Secretary of State
    • Teach First who called on all schools to appoint a middle manager to lead on careers guidance as it launched its own new careers programme for its recruits
    • Ofsted who published a report on how some secondary schools are supporting their most able pupils and concluded that a lot more ‘stretch and challenge’ was needed
    • Secondary schools where places for this Sept were allocated this week with the primary ‘bulge’ on places starting to be felt
    • Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister who was on hand to support this year’s World Book Day and announced that the government is going to put funding in to help more primary schools set up book clubs
    • Education Datalab, a new research group specialising in the use of large datasets to help inform and improve education policy making. 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “We should not have all STEM and no flower.” @Director_IOE
    • “That’s it. Last education questions before the election. All done. It wasn’t a classic.” @Schools Week
    • “The election should be a time for parties to set out how they’ll tackle poverty but so far they’ve failed, says Alan Milburn.” @mrsjacksoncooks
    • “Publishers should club together to start a Real Maths Day, one that is not just a huge marketing exercise. Any takers? @timstirrup (in response to this week’s World Book Day)
    • “Perhaps October babies derive from après-ski while June babies follow a wet weekend in Blackpool.” @OldDitch (in response to the this week’s Committee Inquiry into the education attainment of summer babies).

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • NMITE. The New Model in Technology and Engineering, the UK’s first new purpose built university for 30 years opening in Hereford in two years time
    • CEIAG. Careers education, information, advice and guidance.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We have consulted widely and have identified a new approach to the assessment of practical science that will liberate teachers to offer a wider variety of classroom experimentation and promote effective student progression to further study or employment.” Ofqual announces changes for GCSE science practicals
    • “In this environment, planning becomes a guessing game.” A Guardian blogger reflects on Labour’s tuition fees announcement.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 8. The minimum number of practical activities pupils must complete for the new GCSE single science
    • 4 out of 5. The number of 16-18 year olds who care about politics according to a survey by YouGov and Speakers for Schools.  

    What to look out for next week

    • National Apprenticeship Week (all week with a focus on policy on Monday, traineeships on Wed and higher apprenticeships on Thursday)
    • Education Committee publish their report into 16-19 apprenticeships and traineeships (Monday)
    • The think tank Policy Exchange publish a report into Free Schools (Monday)
    • Westminster debate on school funding (Tuesday)
    • Inaugural lecture by for the FE Trust for Leadership by Dr James Krantz  (Tuesday)
    • TES Global pre-election debate with each of the 3 Education Secretaries (Wednesday)
    • Demos launch of the final report from its Apprenticeship commission (Thursday).
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  • Policy Eye - week ending February 27 2015

    Labour’s proposed plans to cut tuition fees, described as “tortuous” by the Party’s Business Secretary, “implausible” by some vice-chancellors and “foolish” by Vince Cable, provides the breaking news this week.

    The week summed up

    But that's not the only funding story in town at present. The adult skills sector has been badly hit by a further slice of cuts confirmed in the Dept’s letter to the Skills Funding Agency this week and the sector is pretty miffed that no-one is highlighting their problems so let’s start there.

    Basically the sector is facing a cut of 11% on the adult skills budget for 2015/16. And, and it’s a big ‘and,’ this comes after a sustained period of cuts to the adult skills training budgets as government has sought to shift the cost burden from the state to employers and individual learners, as increases in pension and insurance contributions come in and as the impact of protecting programmes like apprenticeships and English and maths could leave some providers facing cuts of up to 24%. All this too at a time when the economy is picking up and employers are gagging for trained staff. Yes, the BIS Dept has no doubt had to fend off even sharper demands and yes apprenticeship funding is up, according to the government potentially up to £800m, but the effects of the reduction on adult skills training could potentially be damaging. Individual provider budgets will be confirmed in the next few weeks but perhaps the final word for the moment at least should rest with the Association of Colleges: “adult further education is in year 10 of a 15-year cuts programme and could be entirely privately funded by 2020; at this point one third of the UK workforce will be over the age of 50.”

    Back to HE and tuition fees where at the time of writing Ed Miliband has yet to confirm the details but where the Party seems set to announce a cut in the annual tuition fee to £6000. At present commentators are lining up to highlight both concerns and comments; here’s a list of six which pretty much capture the current state of the argument.

    First, will it help the lower earners; the Institute of Fiscal Studies reckons no because the higher earners will have less to pay off and be able to do it quicker. Second, how will universities make up the shortfall of a lower fee, calculated by some vice-chancellors as up to £10bn over the next five years? Third, what about those already in the system, will they be stuck with the higher fee level? Fourth, what impact will this have on Labour itself; Times correspondent Philip Collins has labelled it more about headlines than helping the poor.  Five, why as Nick Pearce of IPPR argued has there been no proper debate about subsidies, maintenance loans and digital provision such as there’s been in the USA? And sixth is it fair? That, at present remains the $64,000 question.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Labour unveils plans to aid training and recruitment of head teachers. ‘ (Monday)
    • ‘MPs criticise lax oversight of £1.2bn higher education expansion.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Student loans system is not sustainable warns leading economist.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘New commission on primary assessment.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Labour to reveal how it would fund cut in tuition fees.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Labour Party who are about to announce plans to reduce the tuition fee for higher education in England
    • Ed Miliband who spoke to the Creative Industries Federation and pledged that a future Labour government would back creative education and the arts
    • The Education Secretary who announced the first 27 schools and organisations each awarded £15,000 to help promote pupil character and resilience
    • The Schools Minister who set out government thinking on assessment in primary education in a speech to the Reform think tank
    • Minister for Intellectual Property Baroness Neville-Rolfe who called for a better balance between accessibility and protection as part of a speech on the UK’s vision for a digital single market
    • The DfE who published further guidance on the Progress 8 accountability measure in preparation for its implementation in some cases  from this year
    • The All Party Parliamentary Group who highlighted the importance of supporting families and children in the first two years of a child’s life
    • The North East of England which saw a £330m Growth Deal for the region signed off that included a package on skills improvement
    • The BIS Dept who looked at the lessons to be learnt from  last year’s setting up of the first new FE college incorporation for 20 years and concluded that the process may need some revamping
    • The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) who published a new strategic plan for 2015-2020 with a big push on increasing the numbers of disadvantaged students entering more selective universities
    • The Public Accounts Committee who published a report taking the government to task for failing to set up adequate regulation for any expansion of the HE market particularly to alternative providers
    • HEFCE whose latest report on the  participation of young people in England entering higher education between 2006 and 2013 revealed a significant increase in the number holding L3 BTEC qualifications
    • Sir William Wakeham and Sir Nigel Shadbolt who will lead reviews of STEM and computer science HE accreditation respectively following the government’s recent Science and Innovation Strategy
    • Professor Sir Ian Diamond who as Chair of the Universities UK Efficiency Task Group published a new report on efficiency and value for money in the UKHE sector claiming that the sector has made over £1bn in cost savings over the last 3 years
    • UCAS who announced that its ‘Extra’ process is now open and running until the end of June for those applicants who haven’t yet received or confirmed an offer and want to make an extra choice
    • Developers, Freeriders, Organisers, Plodders, Recruiters, Survivors, Trainers, different categories of small and medium businesses identified in a report by the UK Commission looking at how such businesses approach training  
    • FE and training providers  facing further significant budget cuts for adult skills provision as the latest funding grant letter is released
    • Dr Lynne Sedgemore who announced plans to retire later this year after seven years exec director of the 157 Group and over 30 years in FE generally
    • The 2011 Wolf report on vocational learning for young people which four years on from its publication has now seen most of its recommendations acted on
    • Ofqual who published the results of a survey into which factors influence schools and colleges when they make purchasing decisions about particular qualifications and awarding bodies
    • Glenys Stacey, Ofqual Chief Regulator who spoke about how the current qualification reform programme was going and cautioned an incoming government against changing too much
    • Professor Graham Donaldson who called for learning from ages 3 to 16 to be a continuum without phases and key stages as he completed a major review of curriculum  and assessment arrangements in Wales
    • Exceptional school middle leaders, over a hundred of whom will be ‘invited’ to apply for year-long postings to help support underperforming schools in parts of the country
    • The Education Endowment Foundation who launched a new report to help schools make better use of Teaching Assistants
    • Shanghai maths teachers, a second group of whom arrived this week to help support the maths exchange programme launched last year
    • Former head teacher John McIntosh who will chair the new ‘teacher-led’ commission on helping primary schools develop best practice in assessment without levels
    • School absences which according to new research published by the DfE showed that for instance a pupil who didn’t miss any schooling at key stage 2 was 4.5 times more likely to achieve L5 or above than those who had missed 15-20% of the time
    • The professional association ASCL who launched its blueprint for a self-improving school system built around a new architecture and seven key elements.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • "Just snapchat me: the new way to stay in touch with university tutors.2 @ed_ontap
    • “Students seriously under challenged by the books they are given at school, study claims.” @SchoolsImprove

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • POLAR. Participation of Local Area, used in helping define areas of advantage/disadvantage when it comes to participation in higher education.

     Quote(s) of the week

    • “I come here with an offer: to put policy for arts and culture and creativity at the heart of the next Labour Government’s mission.” Ed Miliband on Labour’s offer to the creative sector
    • “My little granddaughters scratch at magazines as though they were operating an IPad, digital natives to the core.”  The BIS Dept’s Minister for IP on modern digital natives
    • “Validity is the degree to which it is possible to measure what needs to be measured by implementing an assessment procedure.” The Chief Exec of Ofqual on the meaning of validity
    • “Levels have been a distracting, over-generalised label, giving misleading signals about the genuine attainment of pupils.” The Schools Minister on why prescribed assessment levels in primary had to go.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 11%. The size of the cut to the adult skills budget for 2015/16
    • "735m. The amount of money being put in to support fair access into higher education this year
    • 27. The number of recommendations in the 2011 Wolf Report where 20 have now been fully  implemented, 6 are in the process of and one (No 13 on carrying forward credit to a later date) partially so
    • Tenfold. The volume increase between 2006 and 2013 in the number of people entering HE with a combination of A level and BTEC qualifications (from 2,100 to 21,00). 

    What to look out for next week

    • Times HE, HEPI and OU Hustings on HE and the 2015 Election (Monday)
    • Education Committee witness session on starting school (Wednesday). 
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