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!

The latest from Policy Watch

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  • Pocket Watch - School policy lines

    Head teachers have called for greater stability in the school system, Shadow Education Minister Tristram Hunt wants an end to the ‘alpha male’ male approach to education reform while the DfE has issued further guidelines intended to moderate the impact of change under its Workload Challenge protocol but none of this has deterred the rush to get announcements out before Parliament is officially dissolved on Monday.

    If the latest ones are anything to go by, then four issues seem likely to dominate arguments over schools policy as the election campaign gets under way. This is how it’s all looking.

    Four school policy priorities

    1.    Funding. Labour and the Lib-Dems have already made some running here by claiming they would protect budgets up to age 18. At the moment, this is total budgets rather than per pupil costs so could come under strain as numbers rise and costs of pay, pension, NI are factored in. Most commentators have concluded that under any of the Party’s plans, schools will still face cuts and it’s clear from last week’s Budget that the government is looking for further efficiencies. Broadly as the Institute of Fiscal Studies has argued, school funding is now more distributive, more goes to disadvantaged schools although this leaves open the question of what will happen to the pupil premium after the election. There’s also the issue of the national funding formula with the professional body ASCL arguing recently that there are still great disparities between best and worst funded schools. MPs debated schools funding two weeks ago and the Schools Minister confirmed the formula was on course

    2.    School types. The Prime Minister of course recently announced that a future Conservative government would aim to introduce 500 more Free Schools and in its response this week to the Education Committee Inquiry into Academies and Free Schools, the government clearly saw such models as instruments to help schools innovate and improve. Tristram Hunt in his ASCL speech last weekend confirmed that Labour “would end the existing Free Schools programme” but went on to argue in many ways for a more expansive model, one that would enable ‘innovators’ from abroad to come and work with local schools. The bottom line would appear to be adherence to a more accountable set of criteria

    3.    Curriculum reform. The issue that has been surfacing for some time here is whether there should be an independent, perhaps profession-led body to take a lead on advising government on curriculum reform. The Lib-Dems for instance have proposed an Independent Standards Authority. Nicky Morgan’s recent response that such decisions should stay in the hands of democratically-elected reps, i.e. MPs, may have taken some of the sting out of the argument but the bigger questions around innovation, autonomy and the management of change remain

    4.    The profession. All Parties have been keen to demonstrate their support for teachers while at the same time suggesting further reform is necessary. Tristram Hunt went so far as to tell the ASCL Conference that raising workforce quality “was without doubt the most important task of central government in a 21st c education system.” He has proposed a new dedicated “school leadership institute” along with new Leadership Partnerships between schools and businesses, a CPD based career progression path and “a gold standard qualification for heads.” The Conservatives have also backed CPD with a new fund and a new expert group to draft standards. They’ve also backed the College of Teaching.

    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).
    read more
  • Pocket Watch - Three Lessons from National Apprenticeship Week

    So as another busy National Apprenticeship Week draws to a close, what have we learned? Arguably three things.

    First, that there’s growing interest in both pre-level and higher-level apprenticeships; second that the Apprenticeship Trailblazers and Traineeship schemes are going OK but that more needs doing; and third that a number of issues around apprenticeships remain. Here’s a quick run-down on each of these three key areas.

    Young and higher-level apprenticeships

    Re-creating a young or pre-apprenticeship route has been a source of debate for some time and surfaced again this week with the Education Committee, the AoC and the AELP all calling for a dedicated programme. The Education Committee proposed reviving the 14-16 Young Apprenticeship scheme or something similar while the AoC and AELP called for the Traineeship scheme for 16-24 year olds to be built in as a stepping stone programme. At the other end of the scale where Labour has been focusing its interest recently and where the government has been promoting its new Degree Apprenticeships, Professors Sir Keith Burnett and Sir Nigel Thrift, Vice-Chancellors at Sheffield and Warwick Universities respectively published a Paper calling for a new HEFCE funded higher vocational route leading to 40,000 more higher apprenticeships as part of a new ‘gold standard’ higher vocational route. It’s getting to be a busy route.

    Apprenticeship Trailblazer and Traineeship Schemes

    Commissioned evaluations on both of these were published by the BIS Dept this week, early days in both cases but with some useful initial analysis all the same. On the Trailblazers, closer employer working has helped raise the quality and status of the standards though there have been issues over assessment, grading and general working practices that have not been helped by uncertainty over the future funding regime and over initial remits and roles. On the first year of traineeships, numbers are growing and according to the Skills Minister hoping to double to 20,000 this year, most (79%) trainees appear happy with their training and over a half have progressed on to an apprenticeship, work or further training. Some teething problems remain over the referral process, guidance and support and English and maths provision and a fuller survey will be undertaken next year.

    Current Issues

    Nothing particularly new here perhaps but three areas where concerns remain high. First funding, variously highlighted by the Education Committee, the think tank Demos and Edge where the general consensus is that any new regime should allow employers some element of choice and shouldn’t be so complicated as to put employers off. The Skills Minister has recently confirmed that ‘giving employers direct control over funding for apprenticeship training and assessment remains a non-negotiable part of our reforms.’ Second, mentioned by all of the above and more, the need to improve guidance and information especially at a school level and especially about work-based alternatives where, as the Education Committee reported: “there remains a cultural preference for the academic over the vocational.” And third, also a pretty universal issue, quality and how best to ensure it with Labour’s Chuka Umanna in his speech during the week citing his Party’s commitment to 2yr/Level 3 apprenticeships as part of “a new universal gold standard.”

    read more