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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  • Primary Policy Watch - Here comes the sun... and a flurry of announcements

    With the last few weeks of the academic year seemingly roaring by, there’s been the normal rush to get information out before the end of term.

    Since the middle of June we’ve had new inspection guidelines coming out of Ofsted, confirmation of the approved Baseline providers, new safeguarding advice, a push on pupil premium, and sample materials for the 2016 national curriculum assessments. There’s a lot to take in, so here are the some of the main headlines:

    New Ofsted Common Inspection Framework

    The updated Ofsted Common Inspection Framework (CIF) was launched on the 11th June for inspections from September 2015.

    It contains some clarification on what Ofsted is looking to see in approaches to assessment post-levels. This includes how well teachers use assessment for establishing pupils’ starting points and how testing is being used to modify teaching so that pupils achieve their potential by the end of a year or key stage. Crucially, the document states that Ofsted does not expect to see any particular system of assessment in place, which suggests that rumours of a possible return to the levels system may be highly exaggerated.

    There also seems to have been some recognition of, and attempt to address, the high levels of pressure that news of inspection places on schools and teachers. Schools last judged as ‘good’ will have shorter inspections, while in his recent Future of Education Inspection launch speech Sir Michael Wilshaw made reference to teachers needing to be ‘focussed on what really benefits children and young people, rather than wasting their time endlessly preparing for an Ofsted inspection which could be years away.’ While that statement could perhaps do with being rephrased in such a way that it does not seem to put blame on teachers, there has been support from the unions for the general recognition that teachers should be freed up to do their actual job of teaching, rather than preparing for inspection.

    Finally, reflecting the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Act placing a general duty on specified authorities (including schools) to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”, there’s a greater emphasis on safeguarding to include prevention of radicalisation and extremism.

    Assessment

    Approved Baseline check providers have been announced, whittling down the field of six to three (those that achieved over 10% of market share in pre-orders). These are the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, Durham University (CEM), Early Excellence, and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). Within this field there are two noticeably different approaches – one ICT based, using adaptive technology, and one based on teacher observation. While this gives schools at least some degree of choice, a significant groundswell of resistance remains among the early years community meaning we’re unlikely to have heard the last of this debate.

    If you’ve previously chosen a provider that is no longer on the list of approved providers, you can still use your selected provider. However, the DfE won’t reimburse any costs and you will not be eligible to report on progress, rather having to report on attainment in line with the new floor standard.

    Meanwhile, sample papers, instructions and mark schemes were released at the beginning of July for the 2016 SATs. The mark schemes come with detailed guidance on marking principles and common issues. Questions are related to specific strands of learning or ‘content domains’ which are mapped out in the test framework documents (updated end June).

    We still don’t have full information about what the scale will look like. It will be created based on the first full set of data from the new SATs to ensure it is correct, and maintained in subsequent years by using a process known as ‘test equating’. The DfE is very clear that the old national curriculum levels are not relevant to the new national curriculum. However, they have confirmed that at KS1, the national standard will roughly equate to an old level 2b, and at KS2 to an old level 4b.

    Pupil Premium

    A report from the National Audit Office released on the 30th June concluded that: ‘While the impact of the Pupil Premium will take time to become clear, it has the potential to bring about a significant improvement in outcomes. However, the Department for Education and schools have more to do.’” This point was taken up by Nicky Morgan in a speech at the Sutton Trust and Educational Endowment Foundation summit – reiterating that more must be done to share best practice across schools and ensure that schools give more reflection to how they use the money in an evidence-based way.

    There was little concrete direction in the speech, however, beyond the department’s intention to challenge more ‘failing and coasting schools’ and work more closely with the Educational Endowment Foundation to disseminate thought-leadership around what works so that schools are not only ‘narrowing the gap’ but helping all children catch up and keep up. Indeed, Ms. Morgan went as far as to say that she viewed them as a ‘key partner’, suggesting that they may become a more important reference source for schools in the future.

    The final pieces of the puzzle…

    With the release of all of this new information it feels as though the final pieces of the puzzle in terms of the current reform agenda, are falling into place. The Department’s vision of challenging every child to reach their full potential is really gaining substance as we see it reinforced in successive announcements. The new curriculum, as well as the government’s policies on assessment and accountability are starting to feel more solid and permanent. While much remains to be done to support schools in achieving these lofty ambitions, it does at least feel as though the government is giving some thought to how to make this happen.

    Wishing you a restful summer holiday.

    Rosalind Letellier
    Pearson Primary

    For further information of interest to Primary schools, you can follow @PrimarySchool on Twitter.

    Steve Besley - policywatch@pearson.com

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  • Policy Eye - week ending July 10 2015

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

    The week summed up

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

    For education, three things stand out.

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

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

    Top headlines this week

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

    People/organisations in the news this week

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

    Tweet(s) of the week

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

    Acronym(s) of the week

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

    Quote(s) of the week

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

    Number(s) of the week

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

    What to look out for next week

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

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

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

    Manifesto Progress Check

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Policy Eye - week ending July 3 2015

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

    The week summed up

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

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

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

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

    Top headlines this week

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

    People/organisations in the news this week

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

    Tweet(s) of the week

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

    Acronym(s) of the week

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

    Quote(s) of the week

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

    Number(s) of the week

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

    What to look out for next week

    • Education Bill Committee stage (Tuesday)
    • Budget Statement (Wednesday)
    • Education Bill Committee stage (Thursday).
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  • Pocket Watch – The 14-19 Conundrum

    14-19 education has always been fraught. It’s the time when youngsters go through the most changes, when we cram in the most exams and when youthful hopes and fears battle it out in equal measure.

    Getting the curriculum and support systems right at such a critical stage in a young person’s development remains one of the big challenges for the education system and many have the scars to prove it. Recent weeks have seen fresh momentum in this area with the government setting out plans for a core curriculum built around the EBacc, the CBI and the Opposition calling for a review if not overhaul of the whole 14-19 package and a group of enterprising teachers opting to seize the initiative and devise their own National Bacc. It’s eleven years since the legendary Tomlinson review attempted to do much the same for 14-19 provision and much has changed on the surface but essentially four challenges remain. 

    Four big challenges

    1. 14 or 16, at what age should students choose different curriculum and potentially future career paths? Many countries start the process at age 14 although in fairness they have systems that allow for transfer between pathways as students progress. This is not a new debate here, the Skills Minister referred to it as ‘an age-old debate that will not be settled in this parliamentary term but one we should have again,’ when he raised it in a recent debate in Parliament. Supporters point to the fact that starting at 14 could overcome some of the drifting that can happen at KS3, that youngsters are more savvy now about career choices and that we already have some institutions that operate this way, UTCs being the obvious example. Opponents, and this seems to include the DfE at present (“a rigorous curriculum until age 16 is the best way to ensure that every child succeeds,”) argue that 14 is too young to make what could be difficult choices and that what’s more important at this stage is securing a basic level of skills that provide the platform for more specialised learning.

    2. A common core. The government’s latest pronouncements about provision of the EBacc package has once again raised questions about a) the need for a common core and b) what should be in it. As Professor Chris Husbands has indicated, curriculum entitlements always tend to raise hackles as to what’s in and what’s out and the EBacc model is no different; what’s different this time is the emphasis on a more ‘academic’ core which could exclude some students and could divert attention from some wider learning. For Professor Sandra McNally: “the requirements of the EBacc seem like a minimum for a developed country”as long as they incorporate those wider employability skills. It comes down in other words to what constitutes a balanced curriculum which is where professional expertise should apply.

    3. Exams at 16. The perpetuation of an exam ‘hurdle’ at age 16 at a time when not only participation to age 18 is becoming the norm but fears about schools becoming exam factories are growing is a no-brainer to many. The poor old GCSE has been under assault for some time now and the CBI’s John Cridland was very clear in his speech last week that it should go. The problem as the FT pointed out recently is that our education system has been put together haphazardly, the bits don’t all join up neatly but do serve particular purposes, in this case a measure of performance in a system that needs a post-16 gateway. On that basis any demise could be regarded as premature.

    4. Parity of esteem (between academic and vocational routes.) A phrase that has bedevilled reform in this area for some time and is as much structural as cultural. Many would like to see the phrase dropped in favour of a focus on desired outcomes, different routes but similar results, leading to rounded and successful youngsters rather than sheep and goats.
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