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 April

    A lot of consultations at the moment. Consultation on the National Curriculum drew nosily to a close earlier this month while those on secondary school accountability, school system efficiency, vocational qualifications at Key Stage 5 and apprenticeships are all due to complete in the next few weeks.

    Elsewhere this month, proposals for a Tech Baccc performance measure were announced, guidelines on operating performance-related pay for teachers released, another strategy Paper for the FE sector published and future funding and flexibility for HE came under the spotlight as HEFCE held its Annual Conference

    Key headlines from the month

    • National Curriculum. Consultation closes with subject critics out in force
    • GCSE English. Ofqual consult on changes for 2014
    • Maths. Government commits more money to support KS3 and A level teaching
    • AS/A level. MPs debate the changes while Wales holds firm
    • Tech Bacc. Government outline details of new performance measure
    • Academies. Pupil numbers top 2m
    • Studio Schools. 16 open, 15 coming, 13 more approved
    • School holidays. The Secretary of State raises blood pressures by challenging their length
    • School efficiency. Dept launch consultation
    • Teachers. DfE issue guidelines to schools on managing performance related pay
    • Teach First. Extends to Early Years
    • Careers Guidance. Government sets out position in latest Committee Response
    • National Careers Service. Celebrates its 1st birthday with a new mobile website
    • National Apprenticeship Service. Moves into bed with the SFA
    • Sixth Form Colleges. 10 get together for form the Maple Group
    • SFA. Government confirms priorities and funding for 2013/14
    • FE Guild. Latest Plan maps out steps to launch in August
    • FE. New strategy puts emphasis on rigour and responsiveness
    • 24+ loans. Application system now live
    • ESOL. Ofqual confirm minimal changes following consultation
    • Alliance of SSCs. Becomes the Federation for Industry Sector Skills and Standards
    • HE Student Numbers. Government sticks with ABB but further consultation pending
    • HE-Business. Witty Review gets under way
    • Moocs. 3rd platform opens at Stanford

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

    Speeches of the month

    • David Willetts’s 18 April HEFCE speech confirms that the Government is looking at further flexibilities around student numbers while continuing to encourage wider access
    • Michael Gove’s 18 April Spectator speech suggests that longer school days and shorter school holidays may help schools raise performance levels
    • Lord Heseltine’s 18 April LEP Conference speech spells out how some of the vision behind his greater localism Report is beginning to be realised
    • Liz Truss’s 19 April Early Years speech summarises Government policy in this emerging area putting renewed emphasis on staff training and development
    • Michael Gove’s 25 April National College speech highlights the growing importance of teachers and offers support for the creation of a Royal College

    Quotes of the month

    •  “The old adage has it that there is only one thing better than having a university in your city and that is having two.” The VC of Exeter University on the importance of withstanding an avalanche of changes for HE
    • “The whole delivery system is in the process of changing and there has to be some way of saying which online courses give you what you need to know to be certified.” Bill Clinton enters the debate on Moocs
    • “We will invest in facilities, champion excellent provision and take tough action to tackle inadequate colleges.” The FE Minister on the latest injection of ‘rigour’ into the FE sector
    • “We are simply laying the trellises, defining the borders and marking out the footpaths.” Liz Truss on how the secret curriculum garden has been re-cultivated
    • “I think this national curriculum may well be the last national curriculum because in future teachers will be doing it for themselves.”  Michael Gove looks to liberate the National Curriculum
    • “Continued good performance as defined by an individual school’s pay policy should give a classroom or unqualified teacher an expectation of progression to the top of their respective pay range.” The Dept issues guidance on the new pay system for teachers

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Learn and forget.’ The Schools Minister’s view of the current A level system
    • ‘Sushi curriculum.’ One critic condemns the new ‘snatch and grab a fact’ National Curriculum
    • ‘Hunger Games.’ What the current spending review is apparently turning into. 
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in March 2013

    A generally education-lite Budget provided the set piece occasion of the month although there were some important related pronouncements on growth, pay, sector strategies and efficiency.

    Away from the Budget, the month also saw subject specialists out in force about revisions to the National Curriculum, a petition raised against a standalone AS qualification, consultations launched on criteria for 16-19 performance tables and apprenticeship reform, wheels greased for the creation of a Single Local Growth Fund and reflections cast on the HE reforms

    Key headlines from the month

    • Primary schools. KS2 floor standard raised to 65% for 2014
    • National Curriculum. Critics take up their pens to protest about ‘forced’ knowledge
    • School improvement. Ofsted report 74% of schools now good or outstanding
    • School sport. £150m for each of next 2 yrs announced
    • PSHE. DfE confirm no change
    • 16 – 19 performance tables. Consultation under way on future course criteria
    • A levels. Debate hardens over the case for a standalone AS
    • Apprenticeships. Over 800 activities in the annual National Apprenticeship Week
    • Apprenticeship reforms. Consultation under way following review response
    • HE fees. Maintenance grants up but no increase in fees for 2014/15
    • P/t HE. UUK launch a review
    • National Numeracy campaign.1 year old and some important developments ahead
    • Adult Voc Quals. Whitehead Review launched, reporting Sept 2013
    • Single Local Growth Fund.  Set for launch in April 2015
    • Industrial Strategy. 2nd of 11 key sector strategies published

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

    Speeches of the month

    • David Laws’s 5 March speech raises the bar at Key Stage 2 from next year as part of the crusade to close the achievement gap
    • David Laws’s 6 March National Education Trust speech highlights some of the new accountability measures being introduced to raise standards
    • David Cameron’s 7 March Economy speech sets the context for the forthcoming Budget with its emphasis on sticking with Plan A
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 7 March Institute of Education speech highlights the continuing importance of English and maths as part of the A level reforms
    • David Cameron’s 11 March Apprenticeship speech argues that the apprenticeship route should become a new norm for school leavers
    • Glenys Stacey’s 14 March School Leaders’ Summit speech explains how Ofqual is approaching the challenging task of reforming GCSEs
    • Stephen Twigg’s 16 March ASCL speech sets out Opposition thinking on school reform
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 18 March Fellowship Commission speech looks at the proposed freedoms offered by the new National Curriculum
    • George Osborne’s 20 March Budget speech sets out the gory details on the economy

    Quotes of the month

    • “ I know that is tough but it is fair.’  The Chancellor caps pay rises for another year
    • “Higher education in England is a success story; it is adaptable and resilient and will continue to move from strength to strength.” HEFCE expresses confidence in UKHE
    • “It’s been proven that every pound the Government puts into Apprenticeships pays off 20 times over.” The Prime Minister helps launch National Apprenticeship Week
    • “If the journey was an alphabet in which we are seeking to travel from A to Z, I would now judge that we are somewhere around M.” The Schools Minister on the education journey
    • “This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think.” 100 academics condemn the changes to the National Curriculum
    • “If these qualifications are not ready by say Dec 2014 we will put the flag up and look at whether we keep faith with the existing qualifications for another year.” The Chief Executive of Ofqual on the race to get new GCSEs ready

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘National attention deficit syndrome.’ What some experts think too many internet obsessed children suffer from
    • ‘Aspiration.’  The Chancellor said it a lot in his Budget speech.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in February 2013

    A busy month for schools with an orderly retreat sounded around some of the proposed changes to the Key Stage 4 exams system and further consultation launched on both the emerging National Curriculum and a more balanced secondary school accountability framework.

    For FE the month saw Lord Heseltine give evidence on the case for a single funding pot for adult skills, Sir Michael Wilshaw defend Ofsted’s reporting of FE, consultation on a proposed FE Guild draw to a close and a mixed bag of stats on apprenticeship starts, youth unemployment and the Work Programme released. For HE, debate continued about numbers and future funding while HEFCE started the process of cutting the ever slimmer grant cake ready for 2013/14

    Key headlines from the month

    • Children and Families Bill. Now published and with new SEN arrangements included
    • School improvement. Ofsted sets out how it intends to inspect LA provision
    • National Curriculum. Latest proposed Programmes of Study for KS1-3 published
    • GCSE English. Wales declares separate approach to grading
    • Maths. Further research highlights concerns about international performance
    • GCSEs. Back in place but subject to ‘radical’ reform
    • A levels. HE continue to come out against the standalone AS
    • 14-19. Both Labour and Lib-Dems seek further views
    • School accountability. New criteria for secondary schools put out for consultation
    • Ofsted. Regional directors announced, School Data Dashboard launched
    • FE Guild. Rapid fire consultation draws to a close
    • 24+ Learning Loans. Further details on loan facility conditions issued
    • QCF. SFA identifies lists for cull of low number qualifications
    • Skills system. BIS Committee examine Heseltine proposals
    • HE funding. HEFCE start to apportion funds for 2013/14
    • Apprenticeships. New starts up 13.9% on previous year but dips at pre-19
    • Employer Ownership Pilot. Bidding for Round 2 now under way
    • Work Programme. Further criticisms from the Public Accounts Committee

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Michael Gove’s 5 February SMF speech offers a vigorous defence of his qualification reform policy and argues that it provides the real progressive agenda now
    • President Obama’s 12 February State of the Union speech emphasises the importance of educational opportunity and affordability
    • Ed Miliband’s 14 February Bedford speech highlights the importance of skills as part of his One Nation economic reform programme

    Quotes of the month

    • “I cannot envisage circumstances where Government support for those things will be reduced in the next spending round.” Vince Cable draws up the ramparts around his Dept as the Treasury sharpens its knife
    • “The regime there now is, there is no age limit on fee loans.” David Willetts encourages the older generation to keep on learning
    • “I have decided not to make the best the enemy of the good.”  Michael Gove tells the House why he has decided not to move ahead with EBCs and exam system change
    • “We need a revolution in vocational education and apprenticeships.” Ed Miliband confirms the importance of vocational education to Labour’s Skills Taskforce Review
    • “Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.” President Obama includes a number of education announcements in his annual State of the Union Address
    • “I will be a bit like King Lear touring the country, meeting with these eight regional directors and finding out what is happening.” Sir Michael Wilshaw tells the Education Committee how Ofsted’s new regional tier will operate

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Rhetorical afflatus.’  What the Secretary of State thinks the current National Curriculum has too much of
    • ‘Bending spending.’ How Michael Heseltine thinks funds should be stretched
    • ‘Festina lente.’ What one MP advised Michael Gove to do. ( ‘make haste slowly’ for non EBacc graduates).
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in January 2013

    Little sign of a thaw here with 24 top education measures listed as still outstanding in the Government’s mid-term review launched at the start of this month.

    Evidence of momentum this month includes for schools, announcements on A level reform and a report on EBCs, for colleges, papers on Traineeships and the value of learning and for HE, latest application and grant figures. 21 major Reports and 20+ key headlines this month attest to the continuing momentum

    Key headlines from the month

    • Free Schools. Restrictions lifted on use of buildings, plans for maths schools emerge
    • Academies. 3,167 now open or in the pipeline including first PRU
    • Maths. Nuffield publish latest report into post-16 variants
    • EBacc. Computer science in but petition for others reaches Number 10
    • A level. Reforms confirmed for 2015
    • Careers. Education Committee report on changes needed
    • ‘League Tables.’ Latest tables confirm evidence of the EBacc and Academy effect
    • Teachers. Teaching Agency and National College prepare to merge
    • Inspections. Ofsted order stretch and challenge report into teaching of most able
    • Teachers’ pay. Government confirms move to new system from Sept 2013
    • Wales. Minister confirms new Qual Body in place from Sept 2015
    • 16-24 Traineeships. Government start initial planning
    • 24+ Loans. Support funding and new materials available
    • HE Grant. Down to £2.8bn for T/L but £5.8bn forecast to come from fee income
    • HE applications. Relief as important Jan cycle figures up 3.5% on last year
    • Postgrads. Pressure builds up for a better deal as numbers drop
    • First class degrees. Up nearly 50% over the last five years
    • Apprenticeships. Graduate frameworks to be developed this year
    • Regional Growth Fund. Latest bidding round opens
    • Education UK. New unit set up to drive export demand
    • Unemployed. Drops to 2.49m, Labour propose new £1bn scheme

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

    Speeches of the month

    • The Education Minister’s 17 North of England speech spells out some of the steps being taken to improve maths performance in schools
    • Charlie Taylor’s 18 January North of England speech sets out some of the challenges facing the newly merged Teaching Agency and National College for School Leadership
    • Stephen Twigg’s 23 January Policy Exchange speech lays out Labour’s approach to transforming vocational education and announces a review of work experience
    • David Willetts’ 24 January ‘8 great technologies’ speech provides a progress report on the key technologies at the heart of the Government’s industrial strategy

    Quotes of the month

    • “On all the big issues that matter to Britain, we are heading in the right direction and I have the evidence to prove it.” The Prime Minister in his upbeat New Year message
    • “A choice between extended misery if the euro survives and catastrophe if it doesn’t.” A leading economist with a lessupbeat New Year message
    • “We want you to consider increasing the flexibility for those institutions that have shown strong recruitment patterns in 2013/14 and taper this away from institutions enjoying less demand.” The Government’s latest Grant Letter looks to the market
    • “I could learn about veterinary somewhere else but it wouldn’t come across as well as hearing it from a vet with his hand up a cow’s backside.” A recipient to the Commission on vocational learning on why such learning is so important
    • “Do they think Silicon Valley wants people who can understand calculus and linear algebra or students who turn up saying ‘don’t worry we can Google everything?’” The Education Minister defends changes to A levels

    Word or phrase of the month

    •  ‘Clunking and gridding.’ Maths techniques the Government doesn’t like.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in December 2012

    The key set piece development this month was the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement where in an effort to help stimulate growth, the government put money into school and college capital building but equally significantly signalled a shift towards local devolution of skills training and provision through Local Enterprise Partnerships. 

    Main talking points

    Elsewhere, the latest batch of international test results for 10 and 14 yr olds saw England and in particular Northern Ireland performing well in reading and maths though less well in science; the Bacc movement continued with new two variants emerging; colleges gained the right to set up new 14-16 centres from next September; and universities saw a drop in entrants this year confirmed in UCAS’s end of year report.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Key Stage 2 tests. Test results confirm performance up and underperforming schools down
    • Schools. The Chancellor puts in £980m to help create new free schools and academies
    • School teachers. Prospects of a performance linked pay structure move a step closer
    • Baccs. 2 more emerge: a (Ken) Baker Bacc and a Government based post-16 Tech Bacc
    • 14-16 yr olds. Colleges prepare to take on 14+ yr olds from Sept 2013
    • Post-16 maths. New 2-yr problem solving based course proposed
    • Ofsted. Education Committee announces witness session to consider latest Annual Report
    • Wales. Prepares to set up a new qualifications and regulatory body
    • Chartered status. Consultation launched for new college status
    • FE. Additional £270m provided for college estate
    • Adult skills funding. SFA confirm teaching and learning budget of £3.2m for 2013/14
    • Employer Ownership Pilots. Topped up by £90m to £340m
    • LEPs. Granted key role and funding to lead development of local skills plans
    • HE. New partnership emerges to develop MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).

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

    • Engineering UK 2013. The engineering sector’s latest landscape Report points to considerable demand and job opportunities in the future
    • Responses to the consultation on extending access to independent careers guidance. The Dept confirms an extension of the current model to year 8 and to 16-18 yr olds
    • Specialisation in public and private FE. The Skills Commission’s inquiry into FE concludes with a call for more branded specialist colleges: Dyson; Google; even Virgin perhaps
    • Autumn Statement 2012. All the gory details and proposals for the economy laid out in this latest Treasury’s latest Report
    • Economic and Fiscal Outlook. The number crunching provided for the Chancellor’s Statement in this latest outlook Report from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)
    • Update on the Growth Plan. An update on how the 5 year rolling Growth Plan is taking shape, 3 of the 12 education and skills measures now complete, others on course
    • Skills Funding Statement 2012-2015. BIS and the SFA set out the funding available for adult skills for 2013/14
    • FE College Capital Investment Strategy. BIS and the SFA include three new elements in the enhanced capital improvement programme for colleges for 2013/14
    • History for all? The All Party Parliamentary Group call for ‘a connected narrative’ of history teaching through to age 16
    • Post-16 maths. The Advisory Committee on Maths Education (ACME) make the case for an alternative post GCSE maths qualification with an emphasis on problem solving
    • PIRLS 2011: Reading achievement in England. The DfE publish analysis of the latest international benchmark test results in reading for 10 yr olds
    • TIMMS 2011: Maths and science achievement in England. The DfE publish analysis of the latest international benchmark tests in maths and science for 10 and 14 yr olds
    • End of Cycle Report 2012. UCAS bring to a close a momentous year for university applications with a Report suggesting a 54,000 drop in numbers starting university in 2012.

    Speeches of the month

    • David Laws’ 4 December LGA speech extols the role of Local Authorities as agents of crucial services and performance in the new, autonomous education system
    • The Chancellor’s 5 December Autumn Statement puts the emphasis on growth and capital investment as he continues to administer the economic medicine
    • Liz Truss’s 11 December Reform speech sets out the context for the latest batch of international test results.

    Quotes of the month

    • “It’s a hard road but we’re getting there.” The Chancellor on the long and winding road to economic recovery
    • “The headline numbers in this report signal the challenging environment for recruitment in 2012 for some parts of the UKHE.” UCAS on the difficult recruiting context in which UKHE is operating
    • “I am keen to ensure the best possible provision for young people that meets their need.”The FE Minister opens the door for FE recruitment of 14+year olds
    • “If you did not exist, you would need to be invented.” The Minister of State for Schools sees a continuing role for Local Authorities
    • “For some the arrival of Christmas is signalled by a party or a tree. For me the arrival of 3 freshly minted (international benchmarking) tomes marked the beginning of the festive season.” The Dept’s Under Secretary gets her festive pleasures where she can
    • “My very, very strong view is that we should stick to the timetable we have set but of course if a red light flashes, we will take account of it.”  The Secretary of State tells the education Committee he’s going to stick with his reforms to GCSEs unless he sees flashing lights
    • “These recommendations are a significant step towards the destruction of the current national system governing teachers’ pay and conditions.” The profession rounds on proposals to link teachers’ pay with performance.

    Word or phrase of the month

    •  ‘Prozac leadership.’ An observed form of leadership not found in the textbooks but observable apparently in some corridor.
    read more