Policy Watch

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

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 June 19 2015

    Is 14-19 education emerging as the latest battleground in education? 

    The week summed up

    A glance through the week’s education news headlines which even provoked one education blogger to revoke the spirit of 200 years ago by indicating that education was facing its Waterloo, suggests perhaps it is

    The cause of the latest angst is the government’s recent pronouncements on the EBacc, a form of core curriculum that it wants to see formally adopted by schools for new pupils from this September. “There may be a small group of pupils for whom this won’t be appropriate. But our goal is for pupils starting year 7 this September to study the EBacc subjects when they reach their GCSEs,” so said the Education Secretary in a keynote speech at the start of the week.

    The move comes, as part of the government’s long-term plans to ‘enshrine the excellence’ that the government claims to have unlocked in some schools and spread it to all. It is partly therefore about social opportunity, opening out opportunity to all but it raises some fundamental questions.

    Arguably three stand out. First, and perhaps most practically, have we got enough history, geography, language and other teachers to teach the full range of EBacc subjects? As Education Datalab have pointed out, we need a couple of thousand more language teachers for starters and yet as is widely recognised, we’re facing a teacher recruitment crisis which seems likely to get worse before it gets better. Second, is a force-fed diet of the EBacc what 21st century youngsters need? The debate about balance in the curriculum, what we should teach the next generation is not new of course and many people can still point to the scars of previous skirmishes such as the emblematic Tomlinson reforms of over a decade ago, as evidence of this. If the week is anything to go by, a new reform momentum is building on those reforms with the Shadow Education Secretary calling for a cross-party review of 14-19 provision and the director general of the CBI going for equally wide-ranging reform including the scrapping of GCSEs. And third, is government best placed to determine what’s most appropriate for learners? The NUT have called the idea “poor,” the Design and Technology Association let alone other subject groupings have complained about the downplaying of their subjects outside the EBacc while the SSAT survey of school leaders suggested, many may turn a Nelson’s eye to the instruction. In other words this raises once again an issue that was bubbling around before the election about how far curriculum design should be de-politicised, left to professional experts rather than politicians to determine.

    For the moment, attention will turn to the Education Bill which moves on to its second reading this week but the issue of the core curriculum will not be far away. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Schools face pressure under plans to target academic GCSEs.’ (Monday)
    • ‘GCSEs: Pass mark raised in exams shake-up.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Hunt wants cross-party exam consensus on 14-19 curriculum.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Schools will reject requirement to teach EBacc to all.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘CBI head call for GCSEs to be scrapped.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Education Secretary who set out a number of new measures under the banner of raising school standards that included more formal adoption of the EBacc, setting the ‘good’ pass grade at GCSE at level 5 and creating a new group to help teachers deal with disruptive behaviour
    • BIS and the FE Commissioner who as cuts continue to bite and colleges increasingly look at partnerships, mergers and federations as ways of reducing costs, published some guiding principles on how to make such arrangements work
    • The government who announced that the forthcoming Enterprise Bill will include plans to protect the legal status of apprenticeships and that ensure all public bodies recruit apprentices
    • Neil Carmichael, Iain Wright and Frank Field who have been selected to chair the Education, BIS and Work and Pensions Select Committees respectively as new Parliamentary business gets under way
    • CBI director general John Cridland, who in a major speech to the Wellington Festival of Education, called on the government to conduct a major review of 14-19 learning with an emphasis on improving careers guidance, bringing back work experience and finally putting GCSEs out to grass in an effort to ensure the system provided for all rather than some
    • The Social Mobility Commission whose latest research highlighted how difficult it can be for working-class applicants to gain entry to elite professions 
    • The UK Commission for employment and Skills who reported on the demise of the Saturday and other part-time jobs for young people and found that the pressures of studying were making it more difficult to combine work and study especially for 16/17 year olds
    • The think tank Reform who as part of the build-up to this autumn’s Spending Review investigated value for money and productivity returns in the schools sector and concluded that more autonomy, better accountability and a fairer funding system would all help
    • The Office of the Independent Adjudicator, the body that deals with HE student complaints, whose latest annual report identified academic issues as the biggest source of complaints
    • David Willetts, who in a pamphlet for the Policy Institute at Kings College, argued that the HE fee system should be reviewed on a regular five-year basis but equally that the current fee ceiling may need to increase although the repayment threshold should stay
    • The Student Funding Panel, set up by Universities UK two years ago to look at the fee loan system, whose final report this week concluded that no immediate change was needed to the current system but that student living costs remained an issue
    • Ian Pretty who will take over as Chief Executive of the 157 Group when Dr Lynne Sedgemore retires this Sept
    • Tom Bennett, director of ResearchED, who has been asked by the Education Secretary to lead a group of practitioners in helping teachers become better at managing classroom behaviour
    • Belinda Vernon who is taking over as acting Chair of National Numeracy, the charity dedicated to promoting maths/numeracy
    • The Association of Colleges who published a set of case studies showing how colleges are working closely with employers in developing the sort of skilled workforce needed
    • Tutor Voice, a new group, launched to support those who work in the FE sector with among other things a Bill of Rights for professional practice
    • The SSAT who surveyed school leaders about the latest requirement on schools to provide the EBacc and found considerable concerns particularly about its application to all pupils
    • Ofsted who announced new inspection arrangements for this Sept and which include a recognition scheme for outstanding leaders, regional scrutiny committees, more serving practitioners as inspectors, and shorter but more frequent inspections
    • The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher who reported on the emerging success of Vietnam in raising school standards and cited 3 critical factors: committed leadership; a focused curriculum; and investment in teachers
    • The education commentator Warwick Mansell who as the new Education Bill approaches its second reading, examined how the government was likely to deal with the issue of defining a ‘coasting’ school
    • Regional School Commissioners whose responsibilities will be extended from the start of next month to include sponsorship and funding of some sponsored academies
    • The East Asian Maths Mastery programme, which focuses on mastering fewer topics but in greater depth and which appears to be having a positive effect according to research undertaken by the Institute of Education and Cambridge
    • The Design and Technology Association which is preparing to launch a campaign to protect and promote the role of D/T in the school curriculum
    • BAM Construction who will start work this autumn on preparing the Old Admiralty Building in Whitehall in readiness for the arrival of the DfE in 2017
    • “What’s your favourite quote?” Highlighted this week as one of the toughest questions to be asked in an interview.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Wilshaw: Ofsted has reformed, is reforming and will continue to reform.” @tes
    • “I know we’ll never be loved but I do aim for greater respect for the inspectorate.” @HarfordSean
    • “Tech ed works best when it’s neglected by politicians whose esteem it should never try to seek.” @andrew_1910
    • “Escalator from low to high skills is broken - middle skill jobs gone.” John Cridland@CBItweets
    • “My classroom is the most benevolent of dictatorships but it is, and shall always remain, a dictatorship.” @tes 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “I don’t want anyone to mistake stability for silence, to presume that education is no longer a priority for the government.” The Education Secretary tells delegates at this week’s Education Festival not to be lulled into a false sense of ease
    • “I think it is a very gloomy picture.” The view from one sixth-from college principal as the Sixth Form Colleges Association prepares to discuss the funding crisis facing the sector
    • “Have the leaders got a grip on the institution? Do they fully understand its strengths and weaknesses?” One of the seven standard questions inspectors are likely to ask when the new inspection regime comes into effect this September
    • “Here’s the special homework for the holidays that I have left to my guys for the summer.” An Italian teacher’s holiday homework for his class goes viral after it includes instructions ‘to watch the sunrise and walk by the sea, thinking about the things you love most’
    • “If university graduates have their moment in the sun so should people who undertake apprenticeships.” The Skills Minister on plans to protect the legal status of apprenticeships
    • “Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry.” The Social Mobility Commission on the difficulties working-class applicants often face when they try and access top jobs
    • “Some absurdists claim that a noisy classroom that rocks with spontaneity is the perfect crucible for learning. It isn’t.” The government’s new behavioural expert on some of the basic rules of learning
    • “A great teacher takes a class with him. A poor robotic teacher takes them to boredom and mischief.” Piers Morgan on what makes for a good teacher. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 139,200. The number of businesses in England who use local colleges to train their staff according to figures from the AoC
    • 11,000. The number of Oxbridge graduates now teaching in UK secondary schools, a big increase over the last decade according to the Sutton Trust who carried out the research
    • 84.2%. How many applicants were offered a place at their first choice secondary school this year, down 1.0%
    • 7 out of 10. The number of Ofsted inspectors who will also be practitioners from this September
    • 82%. The number of schools and FE providers judged good or outstanding by Ofsted in its latest official data
    • 18%. The number of 16/17 year olds combining work with studying, a drop of well over 50% over the last 20 years according to research from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. 

    What to look out for next week

    • AELP National Conference (Monday, Tuesday)
    • Education Bill Second Reading (Monday)
    • Westminster Hall debate on government support for pupils with English as an additional language (Tuesday). 
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending June 12 2015

    Teaching and learning have been very much at the forefront this week. 

    The week summed up

    The Schools Minister made a keynote speech on the importance of the core academic curriculum, MPs debated vocational qualifications, Ofqual continued with its flow of information on the reformed GCSEs and A’ levels, the Education and Endowment Foundation published its latest batch of project reports on innovative approaches to assessment and the Teacher Development Trust launched a major new report on ‘Developing Great Teaching.’

    For many, this is a welcome shift away from the often distracting obsession with school structures and systems and a focus on what really matters, namely high-quality teaching and learning. As former Schools Minister Jim Knight put it at the launch of the Teacher Development Trust Report this week; “I wish we didn’t have the role of schools minister in this country. We spend way too much time obsessing about schools-their structures, their schools, their accountability, their buildings. Instead we should have a teaching minister.” Maybe. But there’s a further interesting development to note as well and that is the extent to which the teaching profession is now taking a lead role in some of these developments. The College for Teaching, the Foundation for Leadership in Education and the Institution for FE, all of which have also been in the news this week, are all teacher led while the mantra ‘Own your Curriculum’ is beginning to gain momentum. 

    We shall no doubt hear more next week when Professor John Hattie’s latest Papers are released under the Pearson ‘Open Ideas’ series and the Sunday Times hosts its annual two day education-fest at Wellington College.

    For the moment, it’s worth just noting some of the messages that came out of this week’s burst of activity. On the move to strengthen the position of the core academic curriculum, Nick Gibb in his speech to the think tank Policy Exchange last night, made a strong case for this being part of a moral mission, ensuring that disadvantaged pupils were given the same opportunities to secure the same high-value qualifications as everyone else. Further details on the mechanics such as whether all pupils will have to follow the requirements are due shortly. On vocational qualifications, Nick Boles, the Skills Minister, posed three questions which seem to encapsulate where government thinking is at present; none new but all important: should they start at age 14 or 16; should colleges specialise more; have we got the right qualifications? As for ‘Developing Great Teaching,’ where considerable evidence of effective professional development for teachers in other countries was presented, it’s very much a case of sustained support rather than occasional drip feed that we should be aiming for. Bye-bye Baker days perhaps. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Leading girls’ school to scrap homework over stress fears.’ (Monday)
    • ‘QAA reviews could be abolished.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Crack down on fake universities launched in England.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Traditional GCSE subjects for all pupils.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Teach First warns recruitment crisis is worse than 2002.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Schools Minister Nick Gibb who set out government plans to strengthen provision of a core academic curriculum in schools with further consideration of some of the details to come
    • MPs who discussed some of the perennial issues surrounding vocational qualifications including status, funding and take-up in a debate on the eve of national VQ Day
    • BIS whose latest quarterly stats on graduate employment suggested that the unemployment rate for young grads is at its lowest for 8 years despite the fact that a survey from the NUS found students pretty pessimistic about their future job prospects
    • The Migration Advisory Committee who have been asked to advise the government before the end of the year on how to restrict work visas to ‘genuine’ skills shortages and how to boost apprenticeship funds through a new skills levy on Tier 2 visas raising concerns among some employers
    • Labour Education spokesman Tristram Hunt who reflected on Labour’s election defeat and suggested that when it came to education, ‘muddled priorities’ were largely to blame 
    • Universities UK who published their latest (2011/12 based) assessment of how much UK universities contribute to the UK economy
    • The founder of the Wonkhe website who posted a useful blog on how the debate on proposed changes to quality assurance arrangements in higher education is shaping up
    • The University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) who issued a call for good case study examples of HEI involvement in Higher Apprenticeships and Degree Apprenticeships
    • The Edge Foundation, the ‘hosts’ of this year’s VQ Day, who published a survey of the skills most valued by neighbours and found that having a plumber, an electrician or a doctor living next door came high up the list
    • The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) who ahead of next month’s budget published a set of four proposals for helping improve the skills system
    • The NFER who produced a literature report for the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCGQ) on the value of vocational qualifications offered in the UK to learners, business and the economy
    • Training providers many of whom have been concerned to receive letters from the Skills Funding Agency telling them that growth funding, the funding they can apply for when they deliver more than allocated, will be frozen until after the July Budget
    • The UK Commission for Employment and Skills whose latest sector ‘special’ report looked at the digital and creative sector which they calculated was going to need 1.2m new workers by 2020
    • Eduserve who published the results of a report into digital learning resources in FE and identified three current barriers: insufficient funding; ineffective procurement; low levels of staff engagement in new technologies
    • The Institution for FE which was granted its Royal Charter this week
    • 7 bodies, including the AoC, ASCL and Sixth Form Colleges Association, who got together to pen letters to the Chancellor and Education Secretary highlighting 16-19 funding concerns
    • The Local Government Association (LGA) who published the results of a survey into how local councils were supporting 16-19 participation and found that 91% have had to reduce expenditure in this area since 2010 and 54% have outsourced provision 
    • A new national funding formula for schools which according to the TES may see developments later this year and which has already generated strong feelings
    • The TES who produced a useful set of charts from the recent DfE school census data on rising pupil numbers
    • Ofsted who in its latest Annual Report and Accounts suggested that new inspection arrangements would be able to generate annual savings of around £6.5m from 2016/17
    • Ofqual who launched a consultation on new rules and guidance for assessing practical skills in AS and A level sciences
    • The ‘Claim your College’ group behind the College for Teaching who have produced a new awareness pack to be used in promoting awareness of the College
    • Three organisations, the ASCL, NAHT and National Governors’ Association, who are getting together to develop qualifications and training for school leaders under a new Foundation for Leadership in Education
    • The Teacher Development Trust who along with TES Global launched a report on best practice in teacher professional development which recommended a shift away from the traditional one-off events to more sustained, supportive events matching current needs
    • Chris Riddell who will take over from Malorie Blackman as children’s laureate
    • ‘Invictus’ by W.E.Henley and ‘It’s Work’ by Benjamin Zephaniah chosen by teenagers as the top pre-1914 and post-1914 poems respectively in this year’s Poetry by Heart competition. 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “I once had an inspector tell me children were bored in lessons. Evidence? One looked out of the window.”  @tombennett71
    • “GPA degree classifications are coming but will getting a 4.25 ever match up to a 1st?” @timeshighered
    • “Be more like Aldi, boarding schools told.” @schools­_­ontap
    • “Two nominees for Public Accounts Committee chair mention need to scrutinise schools sector. Could be interesting.” @warwickmansell
    • “Social media turned exam angst into a different kind of event this summer with its own instant commentary and millions reading stories.”@seanjcoughlan 

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • TNE. Transnational education, typically students who start their degrees abroad on courses run or recognised by UK universities and the subject of a research report from HEFCE this week.  

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We don’t export enough; we don’t train enough; we don’t save enough; we don’t invest enough; we don’t manufacture enough; we certainly don’t build enough; and far too much of the economic activity of the nation is concentrated in the centre of London.” The Chancellor’s ‘don’t get me started’ list of current productivity challenges
    • “We have just done one of the biggest data studies undertaken by government, matching people’s education performance and their earnings as recorded by HMRC.” The Skills Minister highlights the importance of qualifications that can improve people’s job prospects and earnings potential as he rounds off the debate on Voc Quals Day
    • “To those who criticise our focus on academic subjects or suggest the EBacc is a Gradgindian anachronism, I have a simple question: would you want your child to be denied the opportunity to study a science, history or geography or a foreign language?” The Schools Minister challenges critics of the government’s focus on core academic subjects
    • “In a decade’s time, if we have still got GCSEs in England, Britain will be completely out of kilter with other European countries and not giving young people what they need.’ Labour’s Shadow Education Minister remains committed to an overhaul of 14-19 education
    • “We are urging you to address the growing and significant funding disparity in the funding for the education of 16-19 yr olds in schools and colleges.” Leading organisations write to the Chancellor urging him to review 16-19 funding provision
    • “I’ve never worked in a profession before or since my time in the classroom in which people talked about ‘getting out’ the way a seasoned prisoner might discuss making a run for it.” A correspondent in The Daily Telegraph muses over how many teachers still hanker after an escape route.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 9. The age at which children apparently stop wanting to be firemen and women or nurses and want to become TV reality stars
    • 94,000. The number of extra pupils in primary schools in England this year, up 2.1%, according to the latest School Census figures
    • 41%. The number of adults who have undertaken some form of learning over the last three years, up 3% (although not for the unemployed) in NIACE’s latest participation survey
    • £39.9bn. How much UK Universities contributed to UK GDP in 2011 in the latest set of figures released by UUK
    • £143.3m. Ofsted’s budget for 2015/16 according to its latest Annual Report and Accounts
    • 8. The number of factors that make for effective teacher CPD as identified by the Teacher Development Trust and TES Global in a report launched this week. 

    What to look out for next week

    • Adult Learners’ Week (all week)
    • MPs Questions to the DfE (Monday)
    • Launch of two new ‘thought piece’ papers by Professor John Hattie under the Pearson ‘Open Ideas’ series on what works/what doesn’t in education (Tuesday)
    • Chairs of Parliamentary Select Committees selected (Wednesday)
    • Sunday Times Festival of Education (Thursday/Friday)
    • UVAC/Edge Seminar on the ‘Future for high level voc ed in England’ (Friday). 
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending June 5 2015

    It’s been one of the busiest weeks in the education year so far with exam halls (and students) at full stretch, a series of reports and updates released, the new Education Bill published and to top it all off, some cuts or ‘in-year departmental savings’ including for education, announced.

    The week summed up

    The new mantra coming out of government at the moment is “the sooner you start, the smoother the ride.” The Chancellor’s used the phrase twice now in as many speeches and ended his speech with it again yesterday. The aim of course is to demonstrate intent and seize leadership of key areas when other parties are resolving their own issues and will set the tone for much of this year. The Prime Minister’s announcement earlier in the week of ten new implementation taskforces to keep things on track in areas like apprenticeships and childcare offer further proof of this.

    The two big education policy issues at the moment are the cuts and the Bill.

    The cuts were announced in the economic debate yesterday and follow a report from the OECD earlier in the week urging the Chancellor to limit the pain so as to avoid harming growth. The savings, as the Chancellor prefers to call them, affect both DfE and BIS, each of which will contribute £450m to the £3bn of savings listed, arguably from what the DfE called “underspends, efficiencies and small budgetary reductions.” Exactly where axes will fall is not clear yet but non-essential activity, some agency activity and non-protected areas like 16-19, adult learning and HE look most vulnerable and will be biting their nails even further as the July Budget approaches.

    As for the Education Bill which was laid this week and will be subject to further consultation on some of the detail later this summer, debate has continued all week about proposals which grant the Education Secretary new powers over the intervention and conversion (to academy status) of so-called ‘coasting’ schools. The TES and Schools Week both have useful summaries of the Bill and an accompanying Policy Watch briefly outlines some of the issues which broadly come down to the question of whether academisation really is a silver bullet, what impact such centralisation of powers will have on schools in general and heads in particular and whether this more forceful approach is the best way of raising standards.

    Some important reports were also published this week. Stand-outs include Ofqual’s latest ‘Perceptions’ survey which found confidence in core qualifications remaining pretty high but some concerns about the pace and nature of change. Also two annual surveys in HE, one from OFFA on how universities are meeting their access agreements (90% have been met) and one from HEPI/HEA on the student academic experience (87% positive.) All details below.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘The surprising success of Britain’s university spin-outs.’ (Monday
    • ‘Teachers need respect, world leaders insist.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘All failing schools to be Academies under Education Bill.’ (Wednesday
    • ‘Too many disadvantaged university students dropping out despite rise in acceptance rates, says watchdog head.’ (Thursday
    • ‘George Osborne announces fresh cuts to education budgets.” (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Education BillChildcare Bill and the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, three of the education-related Bills which have all now been published
    • The Prime Minister who announced a number of new taskforces to help ensure manifesto policy commitments in key areas such as youth employment and childcare are delivered to schedule
    • The Chancellor who announced £4.5bn of spending cuts from current budgets with £3bn of that coming from dept savings including both DfE and BIS 
    • The Chancellor who headed to the Midlands early in the week to outline ways in which the region could become Britain’s engine for growth
    • The DfE and BIS Depts who completed the lists of ministerial responsibilities
    • The DfE who have promised to conduct a review of childcare funding and provision before the summer to help ensure the new childcare commitment could be implemented a year earlier than planned
    • New Minister for Universities Jo Johnson who used a maiden speech to the 2015 Going Global Conference to back more international students coming to the UK to study
    • Graduate Prospects who have been appointed by the HE Minister to help ensure websites and providers provide genuine information and services to international students
    • HEPI and HEA’s latest survey of students’ academic experience which found 87% of students surveyed fairly or very satisfied but many concerned about how their money was being spent, about contact time and their future prospects
    • The Office for Fair Access whose latest annual report on university access agreements showed that although the actual amount spent on financial support had dropped, the total money spent on widening participation had increased and 90% of targets had been met
    • Former Education Secretary David Blunkett who is to become chair of Global University Systems’ newly acquired University of Law
    • The British Council who commissioned a survey of which degree courses the world’s most successful people take and found that while just over half had taken a social sciences or humanities degree, no one particular subject stood out
    • The CIPD who published a report on how young people are supported and developed in the workplace and found an increasing number of organisations now offering programmes aimed at 16-24 yr olds alongside the more established graduate programmes
    • The Guardian who invited six leading education ‘experts’ to define the term coasting and ended up with a range of interpretations
    • Chief Regulator Glenys Stacey who wrote to secondary schools to explain a bit more about how the national reference test is intended to operate when it comes in from March 2017
    • Ofqual who published its latest annual survey on views about particular qualifications and found that while confidence in traditional qualifications among the public and profession was still high, concerns remained about some aspects of the current reforms such as GCSE grading and de-coupled AS levels
    • Ofqual who published a little digital postcard to help explain the new GCSE grading system
    • Ofqual who invited comments on the prototype for its new look register of regulated qualifications and reported back on GCSE spoken language assessment arrangements
    • The Sutton Trust who published a report into why so many pupils who do well at age 11 fail to translate this into success at GCSE and concluded that dedicated school monitoring and a new fund was needed to support what they called this ‘missing talent’
    • Character education, the subject of a new report from the think tank Demos and Birmingham University’s Jubilee Centre which called for it to be embedded in schools’ curricula and given a specific focus in Ofsted inspections
    • The Arts Council who have helped set up a new scheme for creative writing in schools starting this October
    • Phenomenon, unnecessary and disappearance, three of the words in KS2 spelling tests that adults found most difficult to spell in a recent survey.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Teachers being asked to be Einstein, Mother Teresa and Tony Soprano rolled into one.” @tes
    • “Nicky Morgan: Heads should not fear for their jobs.” @tes
    • “Johnson: no cap on international students and no intention to introduce one. Ambition is to grow.” @JMorganTHE
    • “The most pressing education battles of the next 5 years seem all to concern capacity.” @russellhobby

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “I will launch an ‘Inspiring the future’ project, bringing together  businesses, voluntary and community activists and union members to encourage them to go into state schools and show how education can transform children’s lives.” Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall on helping raise the value of education
    • “Driving the roll-out of universal broadband and better mobile phone connections, to ensure everyone is part of the digital economy.” The terms of reference for the new Digital infrastructure and inclusion taskforce
    • “One of my regrets in my time as Minister is in not funding students to go abroad.” Former HE Minister reflects on failures to extend the fee loan system to studying abroad
    • “The tanker seems to be turning.” Les Ebdon, director of the Office for Fair Access commenting on the latest stats that point to more students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to top universities
    • “It’s one of those terms that makes much more sense politically than educationally.” Professor Michael Jopling on the term ‘coasting,’ as in ‘coasting school’
    • “And we’re going to expand the fantastic Birmingham Bacc so that even more pupils get the chance to work on projects designed by local businesses.” The Chancellor of the Exchequer praises the local Bacc in helping raise skill levels for young people on a visit to the Midlands.

    Number(s) of the week 

    • £450m. The cuts announced for each of the DfE and BIS in the Chancellor’s latest announcement   
    • 10 and 14. The number of new Implementation Taskforces and Cabinet Committees now confirmed
    • 58%. The proportion of employers, in a survey by Universum, who rated work experience as more valuable in graduate recruitment than a specific grade from a specific university
    • £628m. The amount of money spent by universities on widening participation in 2013-14, up £64 on the previous year according to the latest figures from OFFA
    • 12 hours a week. Average taught contact time for HE students reported in HEPI/HEA’s latest survey
    • 54%. The percentage of parents in Ofqual’s latest survey yet to get to grips with the new GCSE grading scale
    • 300. The number of secondary schools each year who will be asked to take part in the national reference test intended to support awarding in English and maths GCSE
    • 600,000. The number of families expected to benefit from the new free childcare arrangements.

    What to look out for next week

    • National Bookstart Week
    • Universities UK Conference on ‘Enhancing the International Student Experience’ (Tuesday)
    • VQ (Vocational Qualifications) debate in Parliament (Tuesday)
    • VQ Day (Wednesday)
    • Nick Gibb speech at Policy Exchange (Thursday)
    • National Education ICT Conference (Thursday). 
    read more
  • Pocket Watch – Unravelling the Education Bill

    Mindful of the Prime Minister’s word at his first Cabinet meeting that they shouldn’t “waste a minute,” Depts have moved swiftly to publish a number of the Bills that were listed in last week’s Queen’s Speech.

    The Education and Adoption Bill has attracted particular interest; here’s a quick summary of what’s involved.

    What does the Bill say?

    Apart from a brief section on Local Authority adoption functions, most of this Bill is aimed at what are termed: ‘schools causing concern.’ In simple terms, the Bill creates a new category of school, the so-called ‘coasting’ school and gives the Secretary of State new powers to deal with them by amending, generally in favour of the Education Secretary, the existing powers of intervention and conversion originally set out in the Education and Inspections Act of 2006 and the Academies Act of 2010 respectively. It means a school could be directed to convert, “be required to take all reasonable steps to ensure this” and to do this within a set timescale.

    Why is the government introducing this Bill?

    Three reasons. First because it can; it was in the manifesto, the Party now has a mandate and believes it has a duty as part of the ‘good life’ promised in the election to ensure “all families have the security of knowing your children are getting a great education.” Second, because as the Prime Minister said earlier this year, the government is determined to tackle what it sees as ‘mediocrity’ in the school system and believes that “turbo-charging the academy programme” is the way to deal with it. And third, because it wants to remove what it feels have been ‘roadblocks’ to system reform whether it’s been professional opposition and/or local authority tardiness, hence the concentrating of powers in the hands of the Secretary of State and the use of the word “force” in the accompanying DfE press notice.

    What have been the reactions?

    The press notice cited a number of supporters from leading academy sponsors but there’s also been widespread criticism as well. The main criticisms are as follows. First, the concentration of powers in the hands of the Secretary of State, sections 4-11 of the Bill for instance are riddled with new powers over local authorities, governing bodies and schools in general; the TES provides a helpful summary of these. Second, the continuing failure to define just what a ‘coasting’ school is, section 1 doesn’t help much and for the moment it’s pretty much left to the Education Secretary to determine. Third, as many have pointed out, the case for academies has yet to be proven; to quote Brian Lightman, ‘academisation is not in itself a magic wand’ and conversion, let alone a rushed one may not work for everyone. And fourth, will this new punitive approach work? As the BBC’s Chris Cook argued: “I’m not clear that you will get more from pushing schools harder;” many agree.

    What happens next?

    The Bill receives a Second Reading in two weeks when some of the general principles will be discussed; further consultation will be undertaken this summer. Potentially 200+ schools a year over the next five years could come within scope creating up to 1000 more academies.  

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  • Policy Eye - week ending May 29 2015

    The legislative programme outlined in the Queen’s Speech this week, with its spread of over 20 Bills, means that the new Parliament will escape the fate that befell the last one of being described as a zombie Parliament.

    The week summed up

    The Prime Minister called it “challenging but doable,” the CBI said it was “jam packed,” the Times said ‘it was the moment where Cameron finally got real.’ 

    The new legislative programme runs to a clear theme and for anyone in doubt, it was repeated six times in David Cameron’s accompanying introduction. That theme is ‘One Nation,’ an epithet long associated with the Conservative Party, briefly snatched by Ed Miliband and now reclaimed by the Conservatives as they seek to claim leadership of the heartland of the electorate, the roofers and retailers and hard-working families that David Cameron referred to when he launched his initial pitch earlier this year. It is to their aspirations, a word incidentally derided by John Prescott this week as being meaningless, that the legislative programme is intended to speak to with its Bills on an EU referendum, Housing, Immigration and Education. The challenge will be balancing the big ticket items such as the EU referendum and a British Bill of Rights with the more fundamental issues of schools, housing and the minimum wage but as the Guardian put it, in education as in the other two big public service areas of health and welfare, “the overall tone is steady as she goes rather than a change of course.”

    Current thinking is that the ‘steady as she goes’ approach for domestic policy will last for at least the next couple of years partly to allow in education at least for the current reform programme to be implemented and bed down and partly because the government has bigger fish to fry most notably in the early commitment to an EU referendum.

    A period of calm may be no bad thing, it’s what many in the profession have called in the past and Nicky Morgan recognised as such in her TES webchat yesterday. But of course as this week’s reports from the OECD and Boston Consulting show, the challenge of preparing and supporting young people for a fast moving and changing world remains. The evidence is telling. According to the OECD, the gap in literacy skills between our young people in work and those not is one of the biggest in any Western country. And as for using that education to support health, wellbeing and growth, according to the ranking used by the Boston Consulting Group Report, Britain comes well down the charts. Whether more academies, more apprenticeships and so on will do the trick remains to be seen but we should have some sense over the next couple of years.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Guardian Uni tables: Coventry slip past Russell Group peers to enter top 20.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Britain’s graduates are bottom in maths.’  (Wednesday)
    • ‘UK behind Poland in key education indicators, report.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Points plan for degree grades.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The government who lined up 26 prospective Bills under its new legislative programme announced by the Queen
    • Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown who in a speech to the UN called for urgent action to help the increasing numbers of refugee and displaced children in what he dubbed ‘a year of fear’ for them
    • Former Education Secretary Estelle Morris who outlined three areas where Labour could start to offer some alternative thinking on education
    • Professor Louise Richardson, currently vice-chancellor at St Andrews University who from next year will take over as Oxford University’s first female vice-chancellor
    • Neil McIntosh, former CEO of CfBT, who has been appointed as the first President of CMRE, the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education
    • The Guardian who published its 2016 University Guide showing how universities had performed in any one of 53 taught subject areas
    • The HE Academy who reported on its recent two year pilot of a new hons degree classification system using a national grade point average system
    • The Enterprise Research Centre who published the first innovation map of the UK showing that Oxfordshire has the most innovative economy in Britain and that many areas in the North actually outperform those in the South East
    • The OECD who published an updated report on the skills outlook and employability prospects for young people and painted a pretty depressing picture for those with low skill levels
    • The 157 Group of colleges who got together with economic modelling specialists (EMSI) to demonstrate the economic importance of colleges to learners, communities and taxpayers
    • The Skills Funding agency who published the latest data on success rates and learner satisfaction in FE under the FE Choices data platform
    • Ofqual who published the latest data on exam entries for summer 2015
    • Professor Chris Husbands who highlighted some of the practical issues in the government’s plans to raise school performance
    • The commentator Gifted Phoenix who published a useful blog trying to make sense of the government’s manifesto commitment that only secondary schools offering the full EBacc range of subjects could be awarded a top inspection grade
    • ‘Hashtag’ which emerged as children’s word of the year in a competition run by the BBC and summarised by Oxford University Press who noted that words like ‘email,’ ‘television,’ ‘mobile’ and ‘Facebook’ were also being superseded by new technology-based words.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Coasting schools still not defined but they’ve been around since at least 1999. Is that a coasting description?” @seanjcoughlan
    • “@Nicky Morgan. There’s a certain confidence that is the hallmark of outstanding schools.” @tes
    • “Time to stop tinkering with school structures, invest in teachers instead.” @TeachForAll
    • “Erasers are instruments of the devil and should be banned from the classroom because they shame mistakes.” @Telegraph
    • “Want proof of what’s possible in education? You’ll find it in Korea.” @SchliecherEDU
    • “I am changing the staff room so that it is a place to drink coffee, chat and relax. No school timetables and rubbish.” @Oldprimaryhead1

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • GPA. Grade point average, a degree classification system providing a more rounded picture of HE student performance that is used abroad and which has been piloted here over the last couple of years
    • SET. The Society for Education and Training, a new membership organisation for practitioners working in the FE sector launched this week.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Our school reforms in the last Parliament were bold…in this Parliament they will bolder still.” The Prime Minister in his introduction to the Queen’s Speech
    • “Recent evidence suggests that standards of literacy and numeracy in our schools are falling. That is unacceptable.” Nicole Sturgeon announces a campaign to raise standards in Scottish education
    • “We’re challenging the system. We’re bringing in new forms of pedagogy and listening to students.” John Latham, vice-chancellor at Coventry University which has risen to 15th in the latest Guardian University rankings
    • “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.” The OECD’s Secretary General invokes Aristotle’s famous definition of vocationalism as he launches the OECD’s latest Skills Report.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 35m. The number of 16-29 yr olds currently neither in education nor training across OECD countries according to the OECD’s latest Skills Report
    • 8.6m. The number of children worldwide thought to be in slavery according to UN figures
    • 12%. The drop over the last year in the number of people applying to teacher training courses according to latest UCAS figures
    • 67%. The number of intermediate apprentices who were already employed by their company when they were granted an apprenticeship according to research commissioned by the Local Government Association
    • 11.2%. The average return on investment in terms of higher future earnings for FE learners according to research commissioned by the 157 Group
    • 5. The number of state funded secondary schools who entered the whole of their KS4 cohort for all EBacc subjects last year according to a blog by Gifted Phoenix.   

    What to look out for next week

    • Education debate following the Queen’s Speech (Wednesday).
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