Policy Watch

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

Keep up with what’s happening in education policy

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

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

About Steve

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

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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in March 2015

    The last days of business for this Parliament have seen 11 think tank reports, 8 government reports, 3 agency reports, a Budget and half a dozen key speeches. Just the election to come. 

    Key headlines from the month

    • Baseline testing. Early years groups call for it to be dropped
    • Assessment commission. DfE lists the membership
    • Careers. DfE issues latest guidance
    • GCSE science. Ofqual confirms new approach to assessment of practical work
    • GCSE, A levels. Ofqual map out final reform programme
    • Free Schools. A future Conservative government would create 500 more
    • Academy chains. Government considers performance metrics
    • School places. Announced for secondary schools for 2015/16 as bulge starts to hit
    • School funding. MPs debate transition to national funding formula
    • 14-19. CBI call for further review
    • Post-16 courses. Operational guidance for new database issued
    • Functional Skills. Not broken but could be improved according to latest report
    • STEM teachers. New incentives, bursary and fast track procedures announced
    • National College of Teaching. Government commits to some funding
    • Teacher CPD. Expert group to develop new standards
    • School inspections. Ofsted confirms what its looking for
    • FE. Minister offers latest progress report
    • FE funding system. NAO to investigate and report in the summer
    • Degree Apprenticeships. 9 more announced covering key sectors
    • Apprenticeship funding. New digital voucher scheme announced
    • HEFCE funding. 2015/16 allocations published.

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

    • Bridging the Social Divide Report. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission issues a five point call on closing the gap as political Parties limber up for the election
    • The Next LEPs. The think tank Localis reports on its survey of LEPs and calls for skills funding to be part of a devolved system of LEP driven local planning and funding over the next 5 years
    • Careers Education in the Classroom. TeachFirst adds to the growing volume of reports on the inadequate state of schools careers guidance as it launches a programme for its own recruits
    • The most able students. Ofsted follows up an earlier report into how well secondary schools are providing for the most able and concludes progress has been pretty slow
    • Reading: The next steps. The DfE includes book clubs and poetry recitals as ways of improving reading standards in primary schools in a report to mark World Book Day
    • The Commission on Apprentices. The think tank Demos concludes its year-long inquiry into apprenticeships in Construction and elsewhere with a call to strengthen quality and status
    • Education Manifesto. The think tank Policy Exchange makes recommendations in seven areas ranging from early years to lifelong learning in its pre-election manifesto
    • Apprenticeships and traineeships for 16-19 year olds. The Education Committee includes recommendations on quality and careers in its report on work-based learning for young people
    • A Rising Tide. The think tank Policy Exchange examines the evidence around Free Schools and argues that the case for extending the template is now proven
    • Costing the sixth form curriculum. The Sixth Form Colleges Association sets out the real cost of providing a post-16 curriculum and suggests cuts are making this difficult
    • First Year Process Evaluation. BIS commissioned research finds happy trainees and good progression rates from the first year of this programme
    • Evaluation of Apprenticeship Trailblazers. BIS commissioned research reflects on some of the issues surrounding the Trailblazer model of apprenticeship design
    • The Future of Higher Vocational Education. The Vice-Chancellors of Sheffield and Warwick Universities get together to sketch out a new vision to be led by some of the ‘top’ universities
    • Apprenticeship Reforms. The government charts out progress so far
    • Closing the gap: the work of the Education Committee in the 2010-2015 Parliament. The Committee reflects on its work over the last five years and its focus on closing the gap
    • The distribution of school funding and inputs in England: 1993-2013. The Institute of Fiscal Studies finds much of it aimed at deprived schools and at non-teaching numbers
    • Extremism in Schools: the Trojan Horse affair. The Education Committee reports on the lessons are to be learned from the affair and highlights a lack of inter-agency collaboration
    • Language Trends 2014/15. The CfBT and British Council’s latest annual survey of language learning in schools reports a slow trudge in attracting more young people to take up languages
    • Budget 2015. The big fat Budget Book spells out the details
    • Academies and Free Schools. The government confirms it remains keen to extend academisation as it responds to the recent Education Committee Inquiry
    • A dual mandate for adult vocational education. BIS launches a hefty consultation to help set a new vision for adult voc learning around skills training and second chance opportunities
    • Making maths and English work for all. Latest commissioned report finds the case for Functional Skills remaining strong but some changes to content and assessment needed
    • After the QCF. Ofqual launches consultation on a new, more flexible framework
    • Moving on up. The think tank IPPR add their thoughts to the growing 14-19 great debate calling for clearer definition, coherence and purpose to the whole upper-secondary system
    • Financial health of the HE sector 2013/14-2016/17. HEFCE offers its regular clinical analysis of how the HE sector finances are bearing up and despite wide variations finds positives
    • Education in chains. The think tank Reform make the case for reform through collaboration.

    Speeches of the month

    • The Prime Minister’s 9 March Free School speech continues the ‘all-out war’ on mediocrity in schools by proposing a massive increase in Free School numbers
    • Chuka Umunna’s 10 March apprenticeships speech highlights the 4 features of Labour’s voc policy (more apprenticeships, HE ladder, responsive provision, college branding)
    • Nick Clegg’s 15 March Spring Conference speech lays claim to the Party’s role in protecting schools budgets and brining in greater fairness through the Pupil premium
    • George Osborne’s 18 March Budget speech sets out to make Britain walk tall but continues the theme of austerity for at least the next three years
    • Tristram Hunt’s 20 March ASCL speech suggests new technology, new school forms and new ways of learning can help move things on from an exam factory model of schooling
    • Glenys Stacey’s 20 March ASCL speech highlights some of the competing tensions that lie behind qualification reform as she explains how progress is going in the current reforms
    • Nicky Morgan’s 21 March ASCL speech continues to praise teachers but prefers to keep curriculum decisions in the hands of ministers.

    Quotes of the month

    • “What these schools have achieved is frankly remarkable.” The Prime Minister on Free Schools
    • “People still think apprenticeships are for brickies and mechanics only.” The Skills Minister on dispelling myths about apprenticeships
    • “The plan is working. Britain is walking tall again.” The Chancellor on his Budget
    • “We get vocational education.” The Shadow Business Secretary on what Labour gets
    • “Thank you, let’s hope we don’t have to see you back again.” The chair of the Public Accounts Committee concludes its inquiry into funding by alternative HE providers
    • “I call it the cult of the big reformer.” The Shadow Ed Sec on toning down alpha male reforms.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Empowerment lounge.’ Apparently all good schools should have one. 
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending March 27 2015

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

    The week summed up

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Top headlines this week

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

    People/organisations in the news this week

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

    Tweet(s) of the week

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

    Acronym(s) of the week

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

    Quote(s) of the week

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

    Number(s) of the week

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

    What to look out for next week

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

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

    The week summed up

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

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

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

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

    Top headlines this week

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

    People/organisations in the news this week

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

    Tweet(s) of the week

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

    Acronym(s) of the week

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

    Quote(s) of the week

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

    Number(s) of the week

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

    What to look out for next week

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

    Whether it was to help Britain ‘walk tall’ and ‘keep the sun shining’ as the Chancellor claimed or it was something that ‘people won’t believe and don’t trust’ as Ed Miliband claimed, this week’s Budget was more about “sticking with the plan” than pulling rabbits out of hats.

    When it came to education, there were some honourable mentions of Apprenticeship Vouchers, Local Growth arrangements and postgrad support and in the big Budget book itself, reference to school efficiencies but that was about it, leaving many in the education sector distinctly underwhelmed. ‘A missed opportunity to boost skills,’ as the adult education body put it, while the teacher union NASUWT bemoaned the ‘lack of recognition of the crisis in education.’

    Of course this final Budget before the general election was always going to be defined by the forthcoming campaign and the Chancellor who notably used the word ‘choose’ seven times in his opening comments was helped by a bunch of encouraging figures on employment, growth and inflation but for the world of education, the key issue remains the impact of further cuts. The Chancellor carved out more room for manoeuvre by lowering his initial target of a surplus of £23bn the end of the next Parliament to one of £7bn by 2019, but it still leaves, as even the independent experts of the OBR highlighted, ‘a rollercoaster’ ride for public services with sharp cuts likely for the next three years, some of which will have to come from Dept spending. For the moment, these were the main education bits in this year’s Budget.

    Budget 2015: Education headlines

    • Public Spending. Total Managed Expenditure (TME,) that’s the money set aside for Dept budgets and some annually managed areas like welfare will continue to fall at the same rate up to 2018/19 as the last five years. There’s considerable debate about whether, given the failure to meet earlier targets, this means sharper cuts as the OBR and IFS claim or more of the same as the Chancellor claims. Specific Dept Expenditure Limits for 2015/16 have already been set, those for 2016 and beyond will be set in this year’s Spending Review
    • School efficiencies. The government is concerned about the differential in costs and efficiencies between schools which can range from £200 per pupil to over £1,400 per pupil. It will therefore pilot this year a cost comparison tool and introduce new management information and benchmarking tools allowing parents to compare school spending
    • Mental health. Amid growing concerns about the importance of this issue among young people, the government will invest £1bn over the next 5 years into developing new access standards and further funds into the access to psychological therapies programme
    • Apprenticeship funding. Confirmation that the government will test out its proposed Voucher model this year with a view to roll out from 2017. Further detail awaited
    • Local Growth and devolution. Continued support for stimulating growth throughout the country through the Northern Powerhouse project, Greater Manchester Agreement and extended Enterprise Zones and Hubs. Of particular interest is the incorporation of skills planning in the devolved powers to London and Sheffield
    • Science and innovation. Continued support for Innovate UK, Catapult Centres, Smart City technology and further funds to support ‘cutting edge’ research and innovation
    • Postgrads. A package of measures, following concerns by Universities UK and others about a decline in postgrad numbers, that include income-contingent loans up to £25,000 to support PhDs and research masters and a review into funding for postgrad research.
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending March 13 2015

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

    The week summed up

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

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

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

    Top headlines this week

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

    People/organisations in the news this week

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

    Tweet(s) of the week

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

    Acronym(s) of the week

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

    Quote(s) of the week

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

    Number(s) of the week

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

    What to look out for next week

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