Policy Watch

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

Keep up with what’s happening in education policy

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

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

About Steve

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

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  • Policy Eye - week ending February 20 2015

    Nearly two months into this election year and the pattern is becoming clear. 

    The week summed up

    An appearance on the Marr Show on the Sunday to set the week’s key theme, some follow-up speeches at the start of the week fleshing out the details, a few days of full media scrutiny and analysis and by the end of the week little obvious change to polling positions. ‘Let’s call the whole thing off and pick it up again with one week to go’ blogged Matthew Taylor recently, many may agree.

    The theme this week been welfare to work and skills training with added spice coming from the latest set of labour market figures released on Wednesday.  Overall the figures which take us up to the end of last year were striking, the employment rate the highest since records began in 1971 adding to the Prime Minister’s claim that ‘Britain is the jobs factory of Europe.’ Look a little deeper and the pattern is not so positive for young people, youth unemployment including that for students up 3,000 and showing few signs of improvement. Unsurprisingly then it was the plight of young people that concentrated minds this week and formed the focus of many of the policy announcements.

    The Conservatives concentrated on 18-21 yr olds who have been out of work or training for some time and announced a package of measures that would see these young people put on to community work and/or job search straight away rather than after six months. “From day one, they must realise that welfare is not a one-way street.” It’s an important part of the Party’s pitch on welfare reform and would help generate efficiencies that could be fed back into growing apprenticeship numbers.

    Labour’s response, announced as part of a new industrial strategy, has been to bring back its Future Jobs Fund model that was introduced in the latter stages of the Gordon Brown years and which would guarantee a job for any young person unemployed for over a year. Six months work paid for out of a tax on bankers’ bonuses is the claim.

    Next week the focus will shift on to another group of young people, university aspirants, with Labour due to announce its plans on tuition fees. This is already attracting garish headlines but neither side will equally want to forget the plight of those other young people who may have been  in the spotlight this week but are too often overlooked for the rest of the time; NEETs to some, future talent to others.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Britain’s biggest primary expanding to take 1,500 pupils.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Ed Miliband: Labour will create at least 80,000 extra apprenticeships a year.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘UCAS admissions system to include European universities. ‘ (Wednesday)
    • ‘We must aspire to more grammar schools.’ (Thursday)
    • We’re offering a new beginning to teachers. Ed Miliband tells TES that Labour would end war on teachers.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who announced that 18-21 yr old NEETs who had been unemployed for six months would have to undertake compulsory community work and/or job search
    • The Labour Party who launched a new industrial plan with an emphasis on better training, more apprenticeships, an increased minimum wage, support for LEPs and devolved planning
    • The latest unemployment figures which showed another fall in the last quarter of last year for adults but no improvement for young people
    • Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown who is promoting a plan drawn up by the education charity World at School, to make it safer for children to go to school in places such as Pakistan
    • The House of Lords Digital Skills Committee who in a landmark report suggesting that UK Digital Skills was at a tipping point, called for digital literacy to be recognised as the 3rd core subject in schools and for the internet to be regarded as a utility service for all
    • The Guardian who asked five university vice-chancellors if they would support possible Labour plans to cut the tuition fee to £6000 and found little enthusiasm
    • The Education Secretary who is under pressure to support plans for a new grammar school in Kent and where an announcement is expected soon
    • UCAS now preparing to extend its common application system to include some European universities as well
    • HEFCE whose latest report on global demand for English HE showed numbers slightly up for 2013 but with a heavy reliance on recruits from China and Malaysia in particular
    • The University of Warwick’s Commission into Cultural Value which completed its 12 month inquiry by highlighting fears that creative and cultural subjects were being squeezed out
    • John Cridland, Director- General of the CBI, who highlighted the issue of ‘devo-cracks’ if  devolved regional powers did not support plans for growth
    • The Skills Funding Agency who set out what steps government and LEPs are taking to support the implementation of Local Growth Deals
    • The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) who launched a major review on how the sector should take forward its training provision
    • The C/G Alliance who published a report setting out a number of teaching and learning recommendations that could help ‘remake’ apprenticeships
    • The think tank CentreForum who called for vocational GCSEs in English/maths, industry secondments for teachers and a learning loan for adults in another report on skills
    • The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) who followed up their proposal for a National Advancement Service for job seekers by making it one of the key proposals in their 2015 Budget submission to the Chancellor
    • Ofsted who confirmed that they would publish stats on FE and skills inspections twice rather than four times a year but back it up with monthly management info
    • The Headteachers’ Roundtable who published a Policy Paper in support of the College of Teaching
    • Ofqual who launched consultation on regulatory requirements for new GCSEs in computer science
    • The Institute of Education’s Peter Blatchford  who wrote a blog about whether class sizes matter following Ed Miliband’s pledge to restrict class sizes for 5, 6, and 7 yr olds
    • PSHE and sex education, the subject of two reports this week, one by the Education Committee and the other by Lords Darzi and Layard both in effect calling for better support and guidance for children from an early age
    • The Inclusion Trust and the think tank LKMCo who published a report calling for more help and support for children in danger of being excluded from school
    • The Spanish parliament who voted to make chess a compulsory subject in Spanish schools following research showing that it helped improve maths and reading levels.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “All politicians should seek psychiatric help says Alistair Campbell.” @Independent
    • “Tiger Mum admits she spent £200 a month on tutors for her son.” @SchoolsImprove
    • “To call oneself an Outstanding Teacher is to misunderstand what it means to be a teacher, the corrosive power of observation culture.” @tombennett71
    • “Have given the spellchecker up for lint.” @chhcalling

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • PSHE. Personal, social, health and economic education
    • SRE. Sex and relationships education.

     Quote(s) of the week

    • “Our plan begins with a revolution in vocational education.” Ed Miliband on Labour’s new industrial plan
    • “There is a lack of clarity on the status of the subject.” The Education Committee on PSHE
    • “The government should act as the ‘conductor of the orchestra’ and play an enabling role, focused on business and education.” The Lords Digital Skills Committee on a pivotal moment for UK digital skills.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 80,000. The number of extra apprenticeships the Labour Party is pledging to create each year
    • 16.2%. The unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds
    • £8 an hour. What both Conservatives and Labour are pushing for as the minimum wage by 2020
    • 1m. The number of people who have signed up to take online university courses or Moocs in the UK since FutureLearn launched the online platform in Sept 2013.

    What to look out for next week

    • Nick Gibb MP on ‘The Future of Assessment’ at the Reform think tank (Wednesday)
    • BIS Committee session on the work of the Dept (Wednesday)
    • Labour Party announcement on HE tuition fees? (Friday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending February 13 2015

    Education funding has become the big battleground in education at the moment.

    The week summed up

    The Lib-Dems were the first out of the blocks last year claiming that they would protect the early years, schools and 16-19 budgets, a deal that was confirmed by Nick Clegg again this week when he set out his Party’s five manifesto priorities. Two weeks ago, the Conservatives laid out their position with the Prime Minister promising that school budgets would not be cut in current cash terms but equally would not necessarily be increased either. Now this week, in his first major education speech of the current campaign, Ed Miliband seems to have gone further claiming that “the next Labour government will protect the overall education budget…in real terms…every year.” The claim has raised excitement in the FE sector though how far it goes beyond 16-19 and just how much extra money that means is still under scrutiny.  Sam Freedman who offered a helpful analysis of Conservative school funding plans last week has done the same for Labour, it’s worth taking a look.

    Much of the rest of the speech involved a tour of Labour’s current education hot spots including the case for qualified teachers, a balanced curriculum and high standards for all but there were some eye-catching announcements. Here’s a list of four: bringing back compulsory work experience from age 14; granting all head teachers the same powers as academy heads currently have; providing parents with the right to call in the local Director of School Standards if they have concerns; and capping class sizes for 5, 6 and 7 year olds at 30. And a final strapline: “In the 21st century, world class education isn’t a luxury for the individual, it’s a necessity.” A clear pitch to a wider audience.

    It’s been a week of big speeches.  David Cameron, Ed Balls, Chuka Umunna and Nick Clegg each took to the floor to address the British Chambers of Commerce in Conference this week, Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan both spoke at the think tank Policy Exchange but perhaps the other speech that deserves a special mention this week, particularly for those in FE, was that by Glenys Stacey, the Chief Executive of Ofqual. The focus was vocational qualifications and how Ofqual as regulator goes about ensuring high standards and quality on the one hand but flexibility and responsiveness (to employer needs) on the other. Ofqual is shortly to launch a consultation on a new framework for adult vocational qualifications and the speech was a timely reminder of the issues. It can be read here.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Billions more for new schools-despite doubts about speed of work.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Exams made easy in race to bottom.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Pupils in some areas are not offered ‘vital’ GCSEs.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Ed Miliband: Labour government would restore Blair era cap on class sizes.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Labour would protect education funding – Miliband’ (Friday).

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Budget 2015, due to take place on 18 March and where we have until the end of today to offer our two penny worth via the Treasury survey
    • David Cameron, Ed Balls and Nick Clegg each of whom pitched ‘ a new industrial policy’ to the annual conference of the British Chambers of Commerce
    • The government who announced a further £1.3bn to help local authorities plan for extra school places up to 2018
    • Labour who promised to resurrect Sure Start centres for use by charities and other organisations working particularly with disadvantaged families and to prioritise school admissions for children being brought up by family members other than their parents
    • Nick Clegg who set out the Lib-Dem’s five election priorities which included protecting the education budget from cradle to college
    • Tuition Fee (Transparency and Accountability) Bill requiring universities to send a letter to students explaining how they are spending the money which was laid before Parliament
    • Former HE Minister, John Denham MP who once again called for a rethink on the traditional three year, study away from home university degree model
    • Lord Young, the government’s Enterprise Adviser, whose latest report on small businesses, noted that more young people were looking to become their own boss as the internet was making it easier for business ideas to be turned into propositions 
    • Universities UK who published the Gaskell Report proposing a new regulatory body and better protection for students as part of a shake-up of HE regulation
    • Sheffield University who are launching a new scheme of bursaries to help disadvantaged graduates find work after they leave
    • The University of Brighton which has been chosen to lead the expansion of the ‘Troops for Teachers’ scheme
    • Newvic’s (Newham sixth form college) Eddie Playfair who wrote a blog piece dispelling some myths about applying to Russell Group universities after 71% of its class of 2014 went on to such universities last year
    • The BIS Dept whose updated version of the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) included latest amendments to functional skills and alternatives
    • The Skills Funding Agency who published a number of Papers on to the funding rules, rates and formulae for 2015-16
    • Ofqual who published its Second Report to Parliament covering its activities between April 2011 and December 2014
    • Glenys Stacey, chief executive of Ofqual who announced that Ofqual would be consulting on a new qualification framework for adult Voc Quals in a speech to the Skills Summt
    • NIACE who have proposed that £100m of skills and careers funding should be used to create a National Advancement Service to help people with careers advice and job opportunities
    • UKCES whose latest report highlights the Catch-22 effect on young people told to get work experience but then finding employers not offering it
    • Teacher unions who have written to the government to express their disappointment that the recent Workforce Challenge has failed to tackle the ‘root causes’ of the problem
    • The DfE who published guidance on the latest batch of 2016 GCSEs and AS/A levels
    • Ofqual who published the latest set of regulatory arrangements for GCSE History, Geography and Modern foreign languages and AS/A level geography
    • OPSN whose research suggested that some learners in deprived areas were being denied opportunities to take more challenging and in many cases, more marketable GCSEs in case schools’ league positions looked bad
    • Tom Bennett, Director of researchED who questioned some of the theories peddled about teaching styles and called for much more practically-based classroom research instead
    • Get fit, climb mountains, take risks, ban computer games: some of the proposals in the Manifesto for Children launched by TV adventurer Bear Grylls.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “CPD Theory No 17: a whole day course is 20% useful input and interactions, 40% stuff we could read, 40% filler/stuff we already know.” @headguruteacher
    • “If you can’t tweet anything nice, don’t tweet anything at all.” @Telegraph, a head teacher’s advice to a celebrity parent tweeter
    • “Criticism makes us stronger: Apple Executive.” @DTelegraph

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • NIACE. National Institute of Adult Continuing Education
    • UKCES. UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We should always be the eternal warriors for higher standards.” Ed Miliband declares what lies behind Labour’s education policies 
    • “Children can’t learn and teachers can’t teach in schools that are cold and have leaking roofs.” The Deputy PM helps announce the extra building money to schools
    • “We’ve had people claiming that children learn using brain gym, people saying that kids only learn if you appeal to their learning style. There’s not a scrap of research that substantiates this.” Tom Bennet Director researchED on current learning myths
    • “Dense, impenetrable and inaccessible.” An English teacher bemoans the inclusion of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on GCSE English reading lists suggesting it will put young readers off.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 75. The number of MPs who have signed a letter to the Education Secretary calling on her to exempt sixth-from colleges from VAT. (They have to pay but school sixth forms don’t)
    • £6bn. The amount of money the government has pledged for school buildings over the next three years
    • 57%. The number of 11-16 yr olds who have done something risky online according to research released to coincide with this week’s Internet Safety Day.

    What to look out for next week

    • Half term!
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending February 6 2015

    The election bandwagon moved on to education this week but has not strayed far from familiar ground - namely school standards.

    The week summed up

    Youth training and skills are topics for the future while HE remains gripped by contortions over tuition fees. 

    Education was the fourth in the list of six core election themes announced by the Prime Minister at the start of the year and it’s perhaps been a welcome relief to move on to a new topic after both sides had battered themselves to a standstill over the economy and health but whether we’ve learnt anything particularly new remains debatable.

    Arguably three themes stand out. First, how to raise standards, particularly if as the Education Secretary announced ‘we want to be one of the top five performing countries worldwide for English and maths by 2020?’  Labour has already put its weight behind a fully trained and qualified teaching profession, the Conservatives it seems are going for widespread academisation, upping the ante so that not just inadequate schools as judged by Ofsted but also those requiring improvement as well could be converted to academy status. It’s a proposition that raises all sorts of questions about the future funding, accountability and management of the school system. Second, schools are going to face the pinch when it comes to funding. The Prime Minister promised flat cash protection for 5-16 year olds but as others were quick to point out, when you factor in pension, pay, NI and possible inflation increases over the next five years that means a cut. And third, the battle for the Gove legacy continues.  Nicky Morgan may have poo-pooed the idea that he was a back seat driver and one of his favoured standards mechanisms, the HE A’ level Advisory Board may have been stood down but as indicated, the academies movement is alive and well and driven by a familiar script of a ‘war on mediocrity.’  

    In another busy week for education, developments in two other parts of the education world deserve a mention. One is apprenticeships, a big priority for all Parties and the subject of an Opposition-led debate this week. As with schools, the argument here is equally about standards and whether as Labour believe apprenticeships should be aligned with the European model and pitched at level 3. The debate didn’t change things but we’re just under a month away from National Apprenticeship Week so expect to see an increase in policy activity in this area in coming weeks. And the other is HE, not just the fees issue which continues to rumble on but the wider future of UKHE which amongst other topics has been under discussion at this week’s annual HEFCE Conference.  One aspect of this is the potential impact or not of technology on learning in HE and whether like music, it will become ‘unbundled’ and individually purchased on different platforms.  An interesting article appeared on this recently; it’s worth a look.

    Top headlines this week

    •  ‘Lowering tuition fees’ implausible’ say vice-chancellors.’ (Monday)
    •  ‘Cameron challenged on ‘no cuts’ school funding promise.’ (Tuesday)
    •  ‘Ofsted to press ahead with A’ level science reforms despite criticisms.’ (Wednesday)
    •  ‘Students subjected to unfair course changes.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Teacher workload crisis: ministers unveil plans to tackle excessive hours.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who confirmed that education funding for ages 5-16 would continue to be protected after the election but left concerns that this would not necessarily take into account increases in inflation, NI, pension and other costs
    • The Education Secretary who pledged to stop major mid-year policy changes as part of  a new deal with teachers unveiled in response to the recent workforce Challenge
    • The Labour Party who pledged “the biggest devolution of economic power and funding to England’s regions over five years” including funding for skills training
    • The Lib-Dems who claimed to have blocked eight of Michael Gove’s more ‘ideological’ plans in a 13-page dossier entitled ‘The Gove Files’
    • The NHS, living costs and family care: the three issues topping female voter concerns according to a poll by Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour
    • 20 university vice-chancellors who supported a letter to The Times challenging Labour’s reported plans to cut the maximum HE tuition fee from £9000 to £6000
    • The HE Funding Council who launched their latest Business Plan at their annual conference this week highlighting research, T/L, access and regulation/reputation as key pointers
    • The HE Policy Institute who published a book of essays from different institutions of how they are tackling the issue of demonstrating value for money to students and others 
    • The University of Bath which emerged as the most searched for uni last year in the Complete University Guide followed closely by Cambridge, UCL, Durham and Warwick
    • HE Student numbers which according to research by The Times, have varied considerably across universities following the introduction of tuition fees
    • Loyals, Stayers, Returners and Incomers, four types identified in HECSU’s analysis of graduate migration trends. (Loyals for instance remain in their home patch for both study and work while returners move away to study but return afterwards to seek employment)
    • NIACE and the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion who announced they’d be joining forces this week to create a new united voice on economic growth and social inclusion
    • The Excellence Gateway, the website offering ‘unrivalled’ resources for the learning and skill sector, which was re-launched by the Education and Training Foundation
    • The Local Government Association who called for more ‘good’ school places and provision for young unemployed people in its Manifesto wish-list
    • ‘Claim Your College,’ the coalition of groups supporting the creation of a College of Teaching who launched their proposals this week
    • Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT who raised strong questions about the independence of the proposed College of Teaching
    • The think tank Demos whose analysis of the latest league tables indicated that the attainment gap between pupils on free school meals and their peers was widening and that spending under the pupil premium was having little effect
    • Ofsted who confirmed following recent consultation that it would go ahead with more frequent but shorter inspections and with a common inspection framework
    • Ofqual who confirmed that it intended to press ahead with its planned changes to science practicals at A level and launched consultations on Dance, Music, Art/Design and Ancient Languages
    • Better discipline and smaller classes, the top two proposals for raising school standards in a poll of voters by YouGov
    • The Independent Schools Council who published its Manifesto for the election calling for traditional stereotypes of toffs and top hats to be abandoned
    • The government who announced a new UTC will open next year in Hull specialising in engineering and to be named the Ron Dearing UTC after one of its favourite ‘sons’
    • Professor Robin Alexander who published a considerably re-tweeted blog reflecting on the government’s recent enthusiasm for developing pupil character and true grit
    • Hodder Education, NFER and Durham CEM, three of the six providers approved to offer reception baseline assessments from Sept 2015
    • The University of East Anglia (UEA) where a ‘nap nook’ for students has been opened in the Students Union for stressed students in need of a 40 minute nap break
    • Roddy Doyle, Jojo Moyes, Sophie Hannah, Fanny Blake, Adele Geras and James Bowen whose books have all been added to the Quick Read list of books intended to encourage more adults to read.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “I shot from bottom to top set for maths. My inability to cope with mental arithmetic has no bearing on my overall intelligence.” @hannahfearn
    • “It’s no good hanging on to students who aren’t going to get anything out of their schools, says Lord Baker.” @tesfenews
    • “Flashes of steel from Glenys Stacey of Ofqual rejecting criticism of changes to science practicals.” @GregHurstTimes

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • HECSU. Higher Ed Careers Service Unit
    • NCTL. National College of Teaching and Leadership.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Were this to happen, at least £10bn of additional public funding would need to be found and ring-fenced over the course of the next parliament to close the gap.” A group of vice-chancellors writes to The Times to explain why it opposes Labour plans to cut HE tuition fees
    • “No one talks about firing surgeons if a single operation does not succeed.” The general secretary of NAHT on government proposals to remove head teachers of primary schools in which children fail to reach required standards in English and maths
    • “In many ways Ofqual shares the ethos of Tomorrow’s World. We want GCSE and A level students to be excited by science.” The chief executive of Ofqual defends the changes to A level science practicals
    • “The manifesto and website contain more recognisable names than a Debrett’s guide.” Renowned head teacher Geoff Barton on the need to keep the College of Teaching in the hands of the profession.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 71%. The % of parents who have helped their children with university costs with 53% who have helped with the fees and 20% with clearing the debt according to a YouGov poll
    • £70. The potential annual membership fee for the proposed new College of Teaching
    • 31%. The number of prospective parliamentary candidates who stand a good chance of winning in 2015 and who have had a private education and according to Sutton Trust research. (The current figure for MPs is 33% and for the population as a whole, 7%)
    • 69%. The number of people apparently tempted to take last Monday off (Feb 2 is generally known as National Sickie Day).

    What to look out for next week

    • Education Committee witness session with Charlie Taylor of the NCTL (Wednesday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending January 30 2015

    Schools and HE have been making the news this week and it’s been a very mixed bag.

    The week summed up

    For schools there have been two issues. One has been about performance and how this should be measured and reported and the other has been about the school system itself and whether changes here, and in particular what’s known as ‘academisation,’ has helped raised standards.

    Issues of performance have arisen because this week has seen the annual publication of the school ‘league’ tables, different this year following the changes to early entry, iGCSEs and to vocational qualification recognition. The net result has seen a number of independent schools at the bottom of the league tables and a doubling of the number of state schools who have fallen below the required floor standard leading in turn to a series of questions about the merits or otherwise of the current system. What started 20 years ago as an exercise in creating the informed consumer has pretty much ended up creating a very confused consumer. As Jon Coles, formerly in charge of such things at the DfE argued in the Independent this week, the problem is that the government is only providing the data it prefers, not that which consumers seek. At present that seems to be coming from alternative sources but it seems likely that the continuing data revolution will lead to further changes in the ways school output is reported.

    The second issue facing schools this week has been about the reforms to the school system where two critical reports, one from the Education Committee and the other from the Public Accounts Committee, have raised challenging questions about the diversification of the system and oversight of it. Academies in particular have been under intense scrutiny this week but the wider issue is that the creation of different types of school have changed the operation of the school system in many ways, accountability, funding, governance and so on. It means any incoming government this year will have to think carefully about how the system should operate in the future.

    As for HE, two issues have been gathering steam here also this week. One is about alternative providers, part of the government’s original White Paper plans for opening out the HE sector and giving students greater choice but remaining controversial as concerns emerge about accountability, funding and quality. Here the government has moved to stem some of the concerns with a series of measures to strengthen requisite quality assurance arrangements.

    And the other issue is about tuition fees with Labour apparently poised to announce its policy in this area potentially encompassing a reduction in the maximum fee level to £6000. According to BBC expert Robert Peston, this could come at a great cost, potentially £2.5bn a year based on current loan rates. Not unnaturally the FE sector is keeping a watchful eye for any raid on the skills budget to help pay for this. By all accounts there’s no done deal yet but nerves are fraying. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Majority of UK’s most influential had independent school education-survey’ (Monday
    • ‘No proof academies raise standards, say MPs.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Ofqual issues four-point improvement plan for functional skills.’ (Wednesday
    • ‘League Tables branded ‘a nonsense’ by private schools.’ (Thursday
    • ‘Government announces new rules for private colleges.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The HE Minister who announced a series of measures including annual re-designation and minimum requirements on registering students intended to beef up quality assurance arrangements for alternative HE providers
    • The Education Secretary who underlined the importance of a knowledge-based curriculum in a keynote speech outlining her vision for education which also included a call to rethink the position on practical assessments in GCSE science
    • MPs of all Parties, many of whom are lining up to support an early day motion on removing international students from net migration targets 
    • The think tank Policy Exchange who published a report showing how smarter use of technology and data could help local authorities save up to £10bn over the next 5 years
    • Best of Both worlds, the title of a new guide from the CBI and sponsored by Middlesex University, showing how HE and business can work together on skills and innovation
    • The Association of Graduate Employers who became the latest organisation to predict a buoyant labour market (vacancies up 11.9%) for graduates in 2015
    • UCAS who confirmed that applications to higher education were up, particularly from EU applicants, as it reported on the position following the important Jan 15 deadline
    • Local Growth money allocated to LEPs this week to support regional skills, housing and transport initiatives
    • The Education and Training Foundation whose recent report on FE leadership and management found declining levels of satisfaction
    • The Edge Foundation who published new research in the build-up to this year’s VQ Day showing that young people had little idea about which jobs had the best earnings potential
    • Apprenticeship and Traineeship figures, both up in the latest official figures for the first quarter of the 2014/15 year including 54,000 apprenticeships starts for 16-19 yr olds and 5,000 traineeship starts
    • Ofqual who published its long-awaited report into L2 Functional Skills proposing changes in four key areas including the quality of assessment materials and standard setting
    • Ed Sallis, former Chief Exec of Highlands College, who is heading up the review into non-GCSE English and maths which got under way this week
    • KS4/KS5 destination figures for the period up to March 2013 showing 91% of KS4 learners in education, employment or training a year after course completion (up 2%) but 71% (a 3% drop) for KS5 learners
    • 2016 GCSEs and AS/A’ levels where content and assessment arrangements for a further batch of 2016 starts were confirmed by the DfE and Ofqual respectively
    • School and College league tables for 2014 performance which were published this week to mixed reactions as the impact of some of the government’s changed rules became apparent
    • ASCL, NAHT,PiXL and United Learning who published alternative performance tables offering a more ‘rounded’ picture of school/learner performance
    • The Education Committee who published an important report on the government’s programme of Academies and Free Schools but could find no conclusive evidence so far that they had raised standards or closed the gap
    • Academies, in the news in other respects this week with the Public Accounts Committee asking questions of the head of the Durand Trust and the Gizzi Review reporting no irregularities in the Norfolk Academies inspection issue
    • School oversight, debated by MPs this week and the subject of a critical report from the Public Accounts Committee
    • Sir Anthony Seldon who used his Oxford lecture to express concerns about the failure of the major parties to come up with any convincing strategies to tackle social mobility 
    • Heavy workloads, cited by ¾ teachers in a recent survey as the top reason why they’re quitting teaching with ’wanting to make a difference for young people’ as the main reason why they started teaching in the first place
    • Music and arts activities for children, especially the music education hubs where funding will be stretched into a further year under an announcement from the DfE this week 
    • Victoria Beer, Chair of the Teaching Schools Council, who was announced as Chair of the panel who will judge the 2015 DfE Character Awards next month
    • Teachers, shop assistants and hospitality staff who were among the unhappiest workers in a recent survey looking at pay rates 
    • ‘Associate dean of eureka moments,’ a new post being advertised at Bristol University. 

    Tweet(s) of the week 

    • ‘Private schools happy to be at bottom of league tables; not sulking just don’t care.’ @Telegraph
    • Countries with better maths scores allocate resources more equitably. It’s not how much you spend but how you spend it.’ @OECD

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • SFR. (Statistical First Release,) the Dept’s official statistical publications showing data, such as the destination data this week, collected on schools, children and young people. 

    Quote(s) of the week 

    • “It’s still too early to know how much the academies programme has helped raise standards.” The Chair of the Education Committee summarises the findings in his Committee’s report on Academies and Free Schools
    • “I am concerned that a decision to remove practical assessment from science qualifications is in danger of holding back the next generation of scientists.” The Education secretary steps into the debate about the assessment of science practicals
    • “With this review we are working to establish what kind of improvements might be needed to make sure non-GCSE English and maths qualifications have labour market respect.” The Chair of the review of non-GCSE English and maths which got under way this week. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 330. The number of state secondary schools who have fallen below the floor standard (of 40% of pupils gaining 5 A*- Cs including Eng/maths) in the latest ‘league’ tables and which has doubled since last year as new rules have applied
    • 2%. The increase in applications to higher education against the same stage last year    
    • 32.2. The average number of hours we work a week according to latest data, up slightly
    • 40%. The number of people who went to independent school in Debrett’s latest survey of the top influential people in the UK.  

    What to look out for next week

    • HE Minister Greg Clark speaks at the HEFCE Annual Conference (Wednesday)
    • Opposition-led debate on Apprenticeships (Wednesday). 
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  • Policy Eye - week ending January 23 2015

    It’s been annual BETT Conference week so there’s been a lot of interest in IT and all things digital. 

    The week summed up

    One survey published on the eve of the Conference even suggested that IT was the most important school subject for kids nowadays while Steven Schwartz, one time V.C. at Brunel University took to a blog to argue that new technology could be the saviour of HE ‘transforming it from a craft industry in which academics produce bespoke courses to a modern industry which combines the best course materials with online delivery.’

    New technology continues to ask questions of politicians and educators alike. This week for instance we have seen the full range of views with the global Gates Foundation highlighting the importance of tablets and smartphones in spreading learning opportunities in developing countries and closer to home, the general secretary of the head teachers association calling for some of the money being spent on new-fangled equipment to be given over to training up good teachers “and sticking them in front of old-fashioned blackboards.”  It was left to the Education Secretary in her speech to BETT to highlight three areas where she felt technology could play a major role in the future: in making performance data more sophisticated, in transforming assessment techniques and in reducing teacher workloads. We shall see.

    On the election front this week, Nick Clegg announced a pledge to eliminate child illiteracy by 2025, Tristram Hunt vowed to make reform of vocational education his ‘personal mission,’ the Labour Party continued to muse over university tuition fees, the government proposed new powers for Scotland and the Greens continued their upward surge. It was left to the OECD to put things in perspective with a report challenging governments to spend less time coming up with new education initiatives and more on checking out what works and why or more often, why not.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘No child illiteracy by 2025, Nick Clegg pledges.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Most education reforms not given chance to work.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Pupil progress key for primary accountability.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Tech companies link up with schools to boost computer lessons.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Changing the channel on the skills gap.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • President Obama who made cheaper, and in some cases free, higher education a core part of his 2015 State of the Union address
    • The government who is committing £3.6m match funding to support five new projects that will see major companies and top universities work together to help train computer teachers
    • The Education Secretary who used her speech to the world Education Forum to ram home her new year message of support for teachers and how they transform lives
    • Nick Clegg who not only pledged to commit to ending child illiteracy by 2025 but also claimed to lead the only political Party dedicated to protecting education funding
    • Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt who argued in a speech to the BETT Conference that ‘tired old snobberies’ were holding back the development of technical education in Britain
    • The BIS Dept who published the latest Growth Dashboard on progress being made against current skills, productivity and other economic targets
    • The DfE who updated the statutory guidance for local authorities on managing schools causing concern
    • The OECD whose latest report on different education systems found that only one in ten of the 450 different reforms attempted across various countries had been properly evaluated
    • The Public Accounts Committee which continued to take the government to task over its failure to stress test initiatives for 16-19 year olds in its latest report on the matter
    • UK unemployment which fell overall to 1.9m in the latest figures covering the three months up to Nov 2014 but which saw a worrying but small increase of that for 16-24 yr olds
    • Aldershot, Brighton, Edinburgh, Cambridge and Reading, the top five areas with the most qualified residents according to the latest report from the Centre for Cities think tank
    • Nick Hillman, director of the HE Policy Institute, who responded to media stories that the Labour Party was considering charging a lower tuition fee for STEM and other in-demand degrees by posting six challenging questions that the proposal raises
    • X-Factor’s Dermot O’Leary, an ex-sixth form college student himself, who leant his voice to a campaign to have the contentious VAT charge removed from Sixth Form Colleges
    • Inspectors who are meeting together in the first ever international conference hosted by Ofsted and international inspectorates to consider quality issues in FE vocational learning
    • Head teachers for whom an updated set of professional standards was published built around four domains: qualities and knowledge; pupils and staff; systems and processes; system self-improvement
    • Sir Andrew Carter whose report into Initial Teacher Training (ITT) recommended the creation of an independent body to help determine a future ITT framework
    • Academy schools who were accused of stockpiling funds in bank accounts
    • Ofqual who outlined the three strands of its GCSE maths research programme due to report by the end of this April and focusing on the comparison of item demand and question difficulty
    • IT which was rated the most important school subject today by over two-thirds of people questioned in a recent survey (maths came 2nd, English 3rd and languages 4th)  
    • Alternative schooling, the subject of the latest BBC fly on the wall documentaries which started on BBC 3 this week
    • Primary school accountability, the subject of a well-publicised report by the think tank CentreForum backed by Pearson which argues for pupil progress to be the key measure
    • KS2 tests where the DfE published the statutory guidance for the operation of this year’s tests
    • ‘Motivated,’ the most over-used word currently appearing on the LinkedIn site as people brush up their CV’s for a new job at the start of a new year. (The next three were ‘creative,’ ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘passionate’).

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • 'The new frontline of parenting is the argument over children’s computer time.’ @seanjcoughlan
    • ‘HE is the strongest, sturdiest ladder to increased social mobility.’ @universitiesuk
    • ‘Schools should stop wasting money buying ipads for kids and spend the money on teachers.’ @ed_ontap

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • ONS. The Office for National Statistics who among other things publish the Blue Book which records and reports on UK economic activity and is used in reports such as the government’s Growth Dashboard cited above
    • ETAG. Education Technology Action Group who published their first major report this week with 19 recommendations intended to enhance learning and assessment development.   

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “My job is to help where I can and get out of the way when I should.” The Education Secretary describes how she sees her job
    • “Let’s call homework what it really is. It’s a parent test. I hope the biggest dog in the world comes out and eats it.” Times Columnist Caitlin Moran has little time for homework
    • “There is a simple, if radical, solution to apprenticeship funding. Employers could be told that any eligible apprentice can receive up to a maximum off-the-job training free at a college or approved training provider. After that it’s up to them.” Lynne Sedgemore, Executive Director of the 157 Group, proposes a solution to the apprenticeship funding conundrum.  

    Number(s) of the week

    • 8.8 seconds. The average time an employer spends scanning an applicant’s CV
    • 58m. The number of primary-age children around the world still not in education according to the latest report from UNESCO
    • £335,000. How much the average Sixth Form College pays in VAT a year
    • 84%. The number of UK bosses worried about skill levels according to the latest PWC CEO survey (up a staggering 20% on last year). 

    What to look out for next week

    • Public Accounts Committee witness session on DfE and EFA accounts (Monday)
    • All Party Parliamentary Group session on Sixth Form Colleges (Monday)
    • Publication of KSS4/5 destination data (Tuesday)
    • Centre for Market Reform Of Education lecture by Julian Le Grand on school choice (Tues)
    • Education Committee witness session with Ofsted Chief Inspector (Wednesday).  
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