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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  • Policy Tracker – Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in November 2015

    Some significant developments this month with the launch of a new Green Paper for HE, consultation on the EBacc for schools and further area reviews for FE, all topped off with the Chancellor’s spending announcements for the remainder of this Parliament. 

    Key headlines from the month

    • Primary. Further research links proper breakfast to improved performance
    • School textbooks. Publishers draft new best practice guidelines
    • Special Considerations. Requests up but number approved remains small
    • Late exam entries. Up at GCSE, down at A level
    • 2017 GCSEs and A levels. Consultation launched on a further batch
    • EBacc. Government consults on six core proposals
    • Unregistered schools. Ofsted calls on government to take action
    • Mental health. Youth Select Committee highlights concerns
    • Regional Schools Commissioners. Education Committee continues its inquiry
    • School governors. Ofsted to look into a more professional model
    • School funding. Government to consult on a new fair formula next year
    • Inspections. Ofsted survey reveals how far parents use inspection ratings
    • Sixth Form Colleges. Encouraged to join the Academy trail
    • NEETs. Further drop in latest quarterly figures
    • Apprenticeship Trailblazers. Latest guidance signals couple of changes to approval process
    • Special Apprenticeship Adviser. Nadhim Zahawi picks up the mantle for government
    • Apprenticeship levy. Government response sets out how it will work 
    • FE Loans. Chancellor extends to 19-23 year olds
    • Learning and Work Institute. New name for the joining in matrimony of NIACE and CESI
    • Devo deals. Liverpool and West Midlands sign up
    • Colleges. Mergers in Shrewsbury and East London under consideration
    • HE. Extensive Green Paper from government sets out latest vision. 

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Nicky Morgan’s 3 November Policy Exchange speech focuses on monitoring the progress of 7 yr olds, the EBacc and a new National Teacher Service as she seeks to push educational excellence
    • John Cridland’s 9 November CBI Conference speech sees the Director-General depart the CBI stage continuing to call for GCSEs to go and for stronger skills pathways in the school curriculum
    • Nicky Morgan’s 9 November CBI Conference speech explains how the government is attempting to transform education and calls on business to join in and work with schools in the future
    • Nick Gibb’s 17 November Publishers’ Association speech continues to extol the virtues of text books as a valuable tool in learning and praises publishers for helping revive their use
    • Nick Boles’ 17 November AoC speech challenges FE to be quicker off the mark and seize a piece of the action especially around apprenticeships
    • Sam Gyimah’s 19 November speech at the National Association of School Business Managers Conference helps launch a new framework of prof standards for school business managers
    • George Osborne’s 25 November Autumn Statement speech mixes clever footwork with headline announcements as it sets out the government’s future spending plans.

    Quotes of the month

    • “And quite frankly, if we’re not into surplus after 10 years of full economic growth when will we ever be?” The Chancellor asks the question
    • “Students should come out of their university years feeling they’ve got value for money for their time there. Unfortunately too many are coming out feeling they haven’t and I want to address that.” The HE Minister on one of the principles behind the latest Green Paper
    • “As your friend I have to ask you why on earth are you letting these guys nick your lunch?” The Skills Minister with a friendly warning to colleges about being quicker off the mark
    • “I want to see at least 90% of students entering the EBacc.” The Secretary of State makes clear her expectations on the EBacc
    • “At root, it’s not autonomy that really matters, it’s what autonomy allows you to do differently that counts.” The Schools Minister on ‘it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it
    • ’“We need multiple learning pathways, vocational and academic, from 14-18, with GCSEs retired and a full range of A’ levels, technical and academic at 18.” The departing CBI DG on 14-19. 

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Waithood.’ The stage between childhood and adulthood (which some teenagers want to skip). 
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  • Policy Tracker – Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in October 2015

    Teacher recruitment, exam performance data, apprenticeships and the funding of high-level skills top the headlines this month where ‘quotes of the month’ pretty much capture the current mood.

    Key headlines from the month

    • iPads. A third of pre-school kids now have one according to research
    • Reception assessment. NUT leads the handing in of a petition against baseline assessment
    • Foundation stage. 70% of pupils at required levels in latest government figures
    • Primary schools. Come in for praise in Chief Inspector’s monthly commentary
    • Numeracy projects. EEF trials new resources to help with primary mental maths
    • School absences. PM announces new tougher truancy rules
    • School holidays. LGA call for more reasoned approach  
    • School types. Education Secretary approves new grammar school site in Kent
    • School sizes. Local councils plan to increase intake in many secondary schools
    • School funding. Likely to be down by 8% over next 4 years according to IfS
    • Exam appeals. Ofqual due to consult on possible changes
    • Performance data. Government publishes interim figures from this year’s exams
    • Destination data. Latest unofficial data shows 73% participation by 18 yr olds
    • Work experience. BCCs call for restoration of this for under 16s
    • Careers. Careers and Enterprise Co launch new £5m Investment (support) Fund
    • Mindfulness. New report published calling for training in schools
    • Teachers. NUT survey suggests workload proving unbearable for many
    • Maths teachers. 10% more trainees needed next year under latest government modelling
    • Teacher recruitment. Education Committee to hold one-off session
    • Workload Challenge. 3 new groups under way
    • Education and Adoption Bill. Moves to 2nd Reading in the Lords
    • Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. Progresses to 2nd Reading in the Commons
    • Functional Skills. BIS calls on ETF to lead new development programme
    • FE. BIS confirm latest area-review schedule
    • Apprenticeships. Ofsted critical of some provision for younger people
    • Apprenticeship levy. Consultation closes with employers expressing concerns
    • Devolution. Sheffield City latest region to sign up for local  growth deal
    • HE applications. UCAS and others commit to anonymous forms to remove bias
    • 2016 applications. UCAS report latest figures as of 15 Oct deadline
    • University websites. Which? complain that some fail to have up-to-date info on fees.  

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

    Speeches of the month

    Quotes of the month

    • “Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble.” President Obama reacts to concerns from American teachers about too much testing
    • “Early indications from the regions showed that colleges could be forced into shotgun marriages.” Labour’s FE Minister on marrying in haste as a result of area-based reviews
    • “We want to see a new politically independent Levy Board setting the rate based on clear evidence with the funds ring-fenced.” The CBI respond to the apprenticeship levy consultation 
    • “We do not believe that coasting should be about isolated dips in performance but about identifying schools which have consistently not stretched their pupils sufficiently over a number of years.” The DfE incorporates the stretch challenge in its coasting consultation
    • “This does not reflect a change in this government’s position on selective schools.” The Education Secretary on the decision to allow a new grammar school site 
    • “It is not clear to me that paying markers more of its own will deliver improvement although of course we don’t argue against this.” Ofqual Chief Executive confirms it’s not all about the money
    • “This is a goldilocks scenario. It must be neither too fast nor too slow. We need a gap of at least 2 years between design and implementation.” The NAHT’s Gen Sec on school funding reform
    • “Schools shouldn’t be places where business people drop their kids off at the beginning of the day like they drop off their dry cleaning.” The Chief Inspector on employer engagement. 

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Gig work.’ No 9-5 jobs anymore, more gig work instead‘
    • Self-serving generation.’ Kids who turn to google for anything from careers to homework.  
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in September 2015

    The start of another education year and no shortage of activity as per below. 

    Key headlines from the month

    • Summer born children. Government planning to allow deferred school entry
    • Assessment without levels. Government responds to final report
    • Phonics standards. Up 3% to 77% for Yr 1’s this year
    • Literacy. Nicky Morgan launches latest drive to get more books in schools
    • IT. BT steps up support for primary schools with more training and resources
    • Money for Mandarin. Chancellor pledges £10m
    • Free Schools. Government pledges biennial waves every year to 2020
    • Academies/free schools. Labour indicates an interest in greater local control
    • Admissions appeals. Up 8% this year
    • Lie-ins. Some teenagers to be given longer lie ins to assess impact on GCSE results
    • Smartphones in class. New behaviour group to look at
    • ParentInfo. Government launches new online tool to help parents keep up with teenage trends
    • Core maths. New post-16 programmes launched
    • 2017 GCSEs and A levels. DfE and Ofqual consult
    • Qual reforms. Ofqual sends out postcards to explain
    • Enterprise advisers. Careers and Enterprise Company rolls out its new network
    • Teachers CPD. Taskforce calls for views
    • Inspections. New inspection teams for new inspection approach
    • College of Teaching. New trustees announced
    • Education Bill. Heads to the Lords
    • Enterprise Bill. Starts its journey at the Lords
    • Apprenticeships. Statutory definition included in the Enterprise Bill
    • Area-based reviews. Latest list updated
    • FE English/maths teachers. ETF launches latest training modules for teachers
    • English/maths GCSE 16-19 resits. Funding conditions relaxed
    • RQF. Ofqual outlines arrangements for the new post QCF quals framework
    • Local devolution. AoC group to review of impact on skills and FE
    • Undergrad numbers. UCAS report 3% increase for UKHE for 2015/16
    • Degree awarding powers. Minister lifts moratorium
    • Office of the Independent Adjudicator. Extends its remit into other HE settings
    • Support for women at uni. Universities UK commissioned to set up new taskforce
    • Campus extremism. HEFCE launches consultation on compliance with new Prevent duty
    • HE quality assessment. BIS Committee announces new inquiry.  

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Nick Gibb’s 5 Sept ResearchED speech highlights the traditional virtues of good teaching and learning and how the government is supporting them
    • Jo Johnson’s 9 Sept Universities UK speech sets out the key principles behind his forthcoming Green Paper for the sector and gets Vice-Chancellors talking as a result
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw’s 10 Sept School Improvement speech highlights 3 concerns: regional differences; primary-secondary transition; and the long tail of underachievement
    • David Cameron’s 11 September speech sets out 3 principles (innovation, devolution, efficiency) for making the state smarter and more effective
    • Nicky Morgan’s 24 Sept child literacy speech teams up with David Walliams again to launch the next phase of support and activity.  

    Quotes of the month

    • “Across Whitehall we’re looking in every dept at budgets that aren’t protected.” Nicky Morgan on the dangers of a lack of protection ahead of the Spending Review
    • “We are not rushing to judgement though the silence is ominous.” Vince Cable and Chuka Umunna join forces to reflect on the government’s industrial policy
    • “It’s akin to Byron burger having to ask permission of McDonalds to open up a new restaurant.” The HE Minister on finding validation partners in HE
    • “My biggest frustration with the media coverage is the awful word Oxbridge.” The V.C of Cambridge on the need for distinctiveness
    • “I think fragile is the way to put it.” The Education Secretary on the mood in FE
    • “We don’t ask much from government, usually it’s best if they keep out of the way but a sustainable supply of well trained staff and the resources we need to deploy them-these are the basics and they’re under threat.” The gen secretary of NAHT on the basic tools
    • “The government should gather a panel of experts to design a model curriculum. This content would then be laid out in a logical, sequential format: year by year, term by term.” How to design a curriculum by a former superhead
    • “Any head worth their salt should stand up and ban them.” Sir M Wilshaw on mobiles in school. 

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Cultural appeasers.’ School leaders who acquiesce rather than challenge, according to Ofsted
    • ‘Disengagement contracts.’ What lies behind a lot of poor teaching according to the HE Minister. 
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in August 2015

    Results month of course with Key Stage 2, GCSE, AS/A and vocational results all reporting and coming under heavy media scrutiny for much of the month accordingly.

    Overall the results were regarded as ‘stable’ with only minimal year on year changes although with more 11 year olds achieving expected levels in reading, writing and maths, more 16/17 year olds gaining requisite GCSEs, more entries in core A level subjects, more securing places at university and more interest in apprenticeship routes, there was a lot to welcome. Nor should we forget the UK team who performed heroically in this month’s World Skills event in Rio. Attention is now turning to the new education year where Academies, assessment levels, the EBacc, the Education Bill, the Apprenticeship Levy, 16+ funding and the HE Teaching Excellence Framework, to mention just a few of the items listed below, are already jostling for attention.

    Key headlines from the month

    • KS2 results. 80% of 11 yr olds achieve standard L4 in this year’s reading, writing and math tests
    • Parental prosecutions for children’s school absences. Up 25% in latest stats
    • Back to School gear. Pupils on average now carry around £270 of tech gear in their bags
    • Child literacy. Government launches new book club scheme
    • Mental health. DfE appoints first ever champion for schools
    • EBacc. 87% of teachers against compulsory introduction according to ASCL survey
    • GCSE results. Stable, 69% A*-Cs but impact of government policy on entry and trends evident 
    • A levels. 98.1% overall pass rate, growth of core subjects, some regional variation
    • Chinese style maths lessons. Government keen to expand
    • Wales. Gets its own qualifications regulatory body
    • Grade predictions. Cambridge Assessment highlight the challenges
    • Teachers as exam markers. Debate hots up as need for more intensifies
    • Initial teacher training. National Audit Office to examine and report before Christmas
    • Estelle Morris. Heads up new school improvement partnership in Birmingham
    • Inspections. Ofsted publishes sector leaflets and final details as new framework looms  
    • Education Bill. Unions unite to highlight concerns
    • Academy schools. The PM aims for clean sweep
    • Regional Schools Commissioners. Government said to be revising role
    • Sixth Form Colleges. Struggling with cuts according to latest funding survey
    • Career Colleges. Lord Baker proposes 25 more over next 4 years
    • 16-18 NEETs. Down to 7.5% in latest (April-June) stats
    • FE. New AoC President identifies 3 priorities (College influence, reputation, values)
    • FE funding. SFA replaces 2 advisory groups with new localism group
    • L2 English. All public-facing public sector workers to have it
    • Apprenticeship Levy. Government launches consultation on some operational details
    • Apprenticeships. Barnardo’s calls for some to be reserved for youngsters in care
    • Skills quals. SFA clamps down on further approvals for rest of financial year
    • World Skills. UK emerges with 3 gold, 4 silver, 2 bronze, 20+ medallions
    • Post QCF. Ofqual confirm future info and arrangements
    • National Living Wage. Government issues further explanatory statement
    • Tuition fees. Uni of Law promise refunds where graduates fail to secure jobs after 9 months
    • Uni entry. Entries up 3% on last year in latest end of month stats
    • HE students. Record (77%) numbers of uni students now working to fund their courses
    • Student Satisfaction. Remains at 86% in latest National Student Survey
    • Alternative providers. HEFCE publishes latest info on applications and re-designation.

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

    • Private Pay Progression. The Sutton Trust and upReach crunch the figures and conclude that privately educated graduates secure bigger and quicker pay rises than state school peers
    • Labour Market Outlook. CIPD’s latest employer survey suggests a brighter picture for young job hunters and apprentices in particular
    • Funding Impact Survey Report. The Sixth Form Colleges Association paints a bleak picture as its latest survey finds cuts biting ever deeper
    • Quality Assessment Review. QAA responds to the current review of HE QA arrangements with some additional proposals of its own to enhance the quality of students’ academic experience
    • The graduate labour market: an uncomfortable truth. The Edge Foundation argues that some labour market data is not all it seems and some jobs don’t require degrees
    • Can the 3m target for apprenticeships be achieved? The Institute of the Motor Industry surveys employers and concludes careers advice and employability skills need to improve
    • Over qualification and sills mismatch in the graduate labour market. CIPD report on the graduate labour market and suggest oversupply is leading to a mismatch between skills and jobs
    • The Good Childhood Report 2015. The latest annual Report from the Children’s Society reveals it’s not all good with many worrying about bullying, school life and low esteem
    • Business plan 2015-2016. The Skills Funding Agency’s latest Business Plan sticks with five core objectives but recognises a more challenging environment
    • Progress 8 measure in 2016 and 2017. The DfE issues further guidance on the Progress 8 accountability measure with particular reference to schools who have chosen to opt in early
    • Apprenticeships Levy. The government’s opening consultation on how the levy system should operate from 2017 leaves many of the practical details still to be resolved
    • Crossing the Line.  The think tank Policy Exchange continues the levy theme by proposing that schools should pay a ‘resit’ levy to help cover the costs of GCSE Eng/maths resits in FE
    • The Common Inspection Framework. Ofsted publishes the final version of its new common inspection framework and issues handbooks and leaflets for each respective sector
    • The Chancellor’s Choices. The think tank IPPR suggest a more ‘progressive’ set of choices for the Chancellor including protecting 16-19 funding as it submits its ideas for the Spending Review. 

    Speeches of the month

    • The Prime Minister’s ‘first 100 days’ progress statement lists the economy as the central task but also puts school reform and standards high up the government’s future agenda
    • Nick Gibb’s 25 August Researchers in Schools speech extols the benefits of ‘evidence-based’ research and the potential benefits it can bring modern teaching and learning. 

    Quotes of the month

    • “I profoundly believe this is the right direction for our country because I want teachers not bureaucrats deciding how best to educate our children.” The PM on rolling out Academies
    • “If you think there is a better way to do things we want to know.” The Chancellor invites views on where cuts could be made as the Spending Review gets under way
    • “Much of what is spent goes on health and safety or senior management rather than improving skills on the shop floor.” The BIS Secretary on employer investment in apprenticeships
    • “I will propose a reformed funding model for post-18 education, looking at a graduate tax to replace tuition fees and support for apprenticeships.” Labour leader contender Andy Burnham
    • “Clearing is no longer the education equivalent of the bargain basement.” Uni of Bedford V.C. Bill Rammell calls for changes to the University Clearing system
    • “There will be more people starting university this autumn than were getting 5 good GCSEs a couple of decades ago.” The BBC’s Education Correspondent on the scramble for uni places
    • “The sector cannot survive on starvation rations.” Sixth Form Colleges tighten the belt
    • “It’s more important than ever that you don’t use your children’s results to boost your parental ego.” One parent’s advice about Results Day.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • 'Alphabet.’ New Google language
    • ‘Learning Gain.’ Something governments are keen to measure.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in July 2015

    A month in which the traditional rush to get things out before the summer break was clearly evident.  

    Key headlines from the month

    • Reception. Baseline assessment providers confirmed
    • Phonics. Government offers grants to help share good practice
    • Assessment. Review announced to consider how to assess pupils with low attainment
    • Assessment without levels. Commission report now set for Sept
    • Mindfulness. Wellcome Trust launch major new trial in secondary schools
    • 2017 GCSEs, AS, A levels. DfE and Ofqual consult on content and assessment
    • PSHE. Caroline Lucas MP re-introduces Bill on it
    • Prevent. New duty on schools to help ‘prevent’ young people being drawn into terrorism
    • Coasting schools. DfE draft definition
    • Inspections. New arrangements outlined in a letter to schools
    • Performance tables. Government confirms changes to 2015 arrangements
    • School funding. Rates for 2016/17 set
    • Child Poverty. Attainment at age of 16 to be included in new measures
    • School to work. NIACE set up new website
    • Social Mobility. Lords Committee takes evidence of impact on young people
    • Teachers’ Pay. Limited to 1% increase a year for each of next 4 years
    • RSCs. Education Committee to conduct an autumn inquiry
    • NEETs. Local council score cards to be published each summer
    • Apprenticeships. New Delivery Board set up, trailblazer guidance updated
    • Apprenticeships. Government consults on correct usage of term
    • Functional Skills. Government commissions more work
    • 25 + yr olds. Entitled to new National Living Wage of £7.20 an hour from April 2016
    • FE funding. SFA confirms nature of cuts for 2015/16
    • FE. Government announces area-based reviews
    • Cornwall. Becomes first county to sign initial devo deal
    • HE. Universities UK launches ‘stay in EU’ campaign
    • Maintenance grants. Replaced by loans for new entrants from 2016/17
    • HE funding. HEFCE confirms cuts for 2014/15, 2015/16
    • HE fees. Commission calls for OBR-led review.

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Jo Johnson’s 1 July UUK speech sets out the three core manifesto objectives (teaching excellence/value for money/extending opportunity) that the Minister intends to pursue
    • Nicky Morgan’s 1 July Sutton Trust speech calls for schools to apply a more targeted approach to the use of pupil premium funds
    • George Osborne’s 8 July Budget speech includes significant changes to welfare, living wage, apprenticeship funding and HE as part of a new, 5 year settlement with the country
    • Tristram Hunt’s 9 July Education Reform speech summons the spirit of Jim Callaghan’s Great debate as he calls for ‘bottom-up’ thinking on a Nat Bacc and other matters
    • Nick Gibb’s 9 July Education Reform speech grapples with the purpose of education and comes up with a love of knowledge, preparation for life and developing the skills for the future
    • Jo Johnson’s 16 July science speech outlines the ingredients of what’s termed a ‘One Nation Science’ strategy built around regional mapping, STEM support and greater diversity
    • Nicky Morgan’s 16 July creative arts speech declares her and her government’s unwavering support for the creative arts in schools
    • Nicky Morgan’s 29 July Teach First speech offers teachers more working groups to help consider reductions in workloads, better CPD and support for the College of Teaching.

    Quotes of the month

    • “While many firms do a brilliant job training their workforces, there are too many large companies who leave the training to others and take a free ride on the system.” The Chancellor on the case for an apprenticeship levy
    • “We expect cuts to unprotected depts between 2015/16 and 2019/20 of around £19bn to be announced in the Spending Review.” The Institute of Fiscal Studies on what lies ahead
    • “If assessing learning is hard, assessing teaching quality is harder.” Alison Wolf on the TEF
    • “I used to send very nasty letter to parents who didn’t turn up to parents’ evening and say you’re not going to get your son’s or daughter’s report until you come and see me.” Sir Michael Wilshaw on how to deal with ‘feckless’ parents
    • “At the time we were laughed at by almost everybody. Now most schools are taking up the teaching of character, well-being and resilience.” Sir Anthony Seldon on school happiness
    • “A teacher cannot function on Twitter like someone who works in a supermarket or an accountancy firm.” Head teacher Geoff Barton highlights the dangers of social media.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Casual leadership.’ In Ofsted’s sights apparently.
    read more