Policy Watch

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

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

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

About Steve

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

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  • Policy Eye - week ending 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
  • Policy Eye - week ending July 17 2015

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

    The week summed up

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

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

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

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

    Top headlines this week

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

    People/organisations in the news this week

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

    Tweet(s) of the week

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

    Acronym(s) of the week

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

    Quote(s) of the week

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

    Number(s) of the week

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

    What to look out for next week

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

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

    The week summed up

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

    For education, three things stand out.

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

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

    Top headlines this week

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

    People/organisations in the news this week

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

    Tweet(s) of the week

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

    Acronym(s) of the week

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

    Quote(s) of the week

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

    Number(s) of the week

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

    What to look out for next week

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

    By next week, the government will have had two months. While still short of the nominal ‘first 100 days,’ it’s perhaps enough time to see how things are shaping up.

    Education, it was thought, might not be a big priority but concerns about cuts, the curriculum and coasting have changed that. As the Education Secretary said in her speech at the Festival of Education recently: “I don’t want anyone to mistake silence for stability, to presume that education is no longer a priority for the government.” Proving the point, this is an update on progress so far in the Party’s 38 education and training pledges listed in its 2015 election manifesto.   

    Manifesto Progress Check

    · On the core curriculum there were two pledges: first that secondary pupils would be required to take GCSEs in core subjects and second that Ofsted would only award highest ratings to schools that taught them. Although there’ll be consultation this autumn on some of the details, how far it’s applicable to all pupils for instance, the government has already confirmed that pupils starting secondary this Sept will be expected to take the EBacc subjects to GCSE. At the moment, accountability is likely to be through league table data.

    · On school performance there were three pledges including National Leaders taking over ‘failing’ primary schools, ‘best’ head teachers and sponsors taking over other underperforming schools and an expansion of academies and free schools. In a letter on 15 June, the government strengthened the powers of Regional School Commissioners to tackle school underperformance while other powers proposed for the Education Secretary, such as issuing warning notices and academy conversion orders, are under discussion in the current Education Bill. A definition of underperforming and/or coasting has been proposed and further consultation will also follow this autumn.

    · On school behavioural issues where there was a pledge ‘to tackle low-level disruption,’ the government has appointed a behaviour ‘expert’ who will lead a team of practitioners coming up with training, resources and advice to help teachers.

    · On apprenticeships, there were two pledges: to scrap NI contributions for apprentices under 25, pencilled in for next year and, notably, ‘to deliver 3m apprenticeships over the next 5 years,’ currently concentrating minds in the skills sector. The government has already confirmed that schools, hospitals and prisons will be set targets to recruit apprentices, the new Youth Allowance will shift those unemployed for 6 months or more on to apprenticeship programmes, formal reporting of progress will be enshrined in the Full Employment and Welfare Bill while the forthcoming Enterprise Bill will give government powers to convert ‘low-quality’ courses into apprenticeship courses.

    · On local growth and devolution of skills planning/funding, where there were four pledges covering local growth deals and devolved powers to Greater Manchester, the London Mayor and other regions wishing to bid, the Cities and Local Government Bill, intended to create a legislative framework for such developments to happen, is already progressing through Parliament. It reaches the report stage in the House of Lords on 13 July.

    · On higher education where there were a number of pledges including on science, online learning, and the implementation of a national postgrad loans system, the core pledge of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) was the subject of a wide-ranging speech by the Minister this week. Not only will a Green Paper on the TEF follow in the autumn but the government is also interested in providing more informed choice and protection for students, knowledge exchange with business and a revised degree scale.

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  • Policy Eye - week ending July 3 2015

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

    The week summed up

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

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

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

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

    Top headlines this week

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

    People/organisations in the news this week

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

    Tweet(s) of the week

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

    Acronym(s) of the week

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

    Quote(s) of the week

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

    Number(s) of the week

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

    What to look out for next week

    • Education Bill Committee stage (Tuesday)
    • Budget Statement (Wednesday)
    • Education Bill Committee stage (Thursday).
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