Policy Watch

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

You can access the Policy Watch service through Steve's Twitter feed @SteveBesley or by signing up for email updates.

About Steve

As head of UK education policy at Pearson, Steve’s been running the Policy Watch service for almost 20 years. He’ll keep you informed on all things education, along with the rest of his subscribers – there were more than 10,000 at the last count!

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  • Policy Eye - week ending May 29 2015

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

    The week summed up

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

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

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

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

    Top headlines this week

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

    People/organisations in the news this week

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

    Tweet(s) of the week

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

    Acronym(s) of the week

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

    Quote(s) of the week

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

    Number(s) of the week

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

    What to look out for next week

    • Education debate following the Queen’s Speech (Wednesday).
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in May 2015

    The month may have brought an unanticipated general election result but its been pretty much business as usual ever since, especially for the world of education where familiar faces returned to their Ministerial desks ready to start work on implementing some of the 38 education-related manifesto commitments.

    For schools, where Nicky Morgan was quickly out of the stalls promising to tackle so-called ‘coasting’ and struggling schools, the new Education Bill has enshrined new intervention and academy conversion powers but left open the question of just what a ‘coasting’ school is. Either way, the issue of school performance is set to run through the rest of this year. For FE, who will have more than one eye on the forthcoming Summer Budget, its ability to deliver required training volumes particularly for the young and low-skilled who have been the subject of a couple of fairly bleak OECD reports this month, will remain under scrutiny. As for HE, where there was little new either in the Conservative manifesto or the Queen’s Speech, the challenge of creating a high-level technical route remains as does the visa issue as the recent Immigration Bill indicates.   

    Key headlines from the month

    • Early Years. The Pre-School Alliance sets out a post-election manifesto plan
    • Children. The Children’s Commissioner publishes a 7-point vision for the new government
    • Reading. Latest National Literacy Trust survey finds more children reading for pleasure
    • 49%. The no of MPs who had a comprehensive education according to the Sutton Trust
    • Arts subjects. 2 Organisations join forces to call for greater opportunities in the school curriculum
    • EAL. The Education Endowment Foundation invites bids to undertake more research
    • GCSE maths. Sample assessment materials to be amended following Ofqual research
    • A level subject take-up. Ofsted reveals the gender differences
    • ‘Coasting’ schools. The government targets them as others try and define them
    • Regional School Commissioners. Education Bill proposes new intervention powers
    • Free schools. Next round of applications opens
    • College of Teaching. New survey suggests 80% of teachers would support
    • Teacher recruitment. Concerns grow as recruitment pipeline slows
    • Careers. Government turns to Jobcentre Plus advisers for extra help
    • Apprenticeships. AoC blog looks at ways of meeting the government’s 3m challenge
    • Apprenticeship numbers. Statutory annual reporting on progress to be made
    • FE inspections. Ofsted confirms it’ll scrap graded lesson observations from Sept
    • FE impact. 157 Group report suggests av impact of a college on its community can be £550m
    • FE staff (1). UCU survey highlights increasing levels of workforce stress
    • FE staff (2.) The Education and Training Foundation launches new professional body
    • HE. Universities UK builds up its campaign for the UK to stay in the EU
    • Devo max. Core Cities and LGA publish proposals for further local devolution
    • Local Gov Devolution Bill. Government proposes new legislative framework.

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

    • Improving Schools in Sweden. The OECD assesses what changes are needed to help the country regain its former educational glory
    • Universal Basic Skills. Another hefty OECD report this time highlighting the importance of basic skills for young people where the UK ranks 20th in the OECD ranking of 76 countries
    • The new digital learning age. The RSA examines the role of technology in learning and highlights some ways in which its potential could be unleashed
    • Technology, Distraction and Student Performance. The Centre for Economic Performance examines the impact of mobile phones in schools and concludes they can be a hindrance
    • London Calling. Business firm London First and PWC crunch the numbers and calculate that international students bring a net benefit of £2.8bn a year to UK GDP
    • The accounting and budgeting of student loans. A new pamphlet for the HE Policy Institute delves into the impact of current loan repayment arrangements on future policy making
    • English Devolution. The Local Government Association makes the case for wider devolution of responsibilities ahead of the Cities Devolution Bill
    • GCSE maths. Ofqual publishes the full research report and subsequent required actions following its investigation into assessment standards in GCSE maths
    • Summer Exam Entries. The latest stats from Ofqual on exam entries for summer 2015 show a drop in GCSE and AS entries but an increase for L1/2 Certificates and A levels
    • OECD Skills outlook 2015 on Youth, Skills and Employability. The OECD builds on its 2013 adult skills survey and finds a depressing scene for many young people especially the low-skilled
    • The economic impact of FE colleges. The 157 Group and economic modelling experts EMSI point to the positive economic benefits of colleges on learners, communities and the taxpayer
    • Grade point average (GPA.) The HE Academy reports on its 2-year pilot project to develop a more finessed hons degree classification system based around a GPA scale.  

    Speeches of the month

    • The Prime Minister’s 8 May election victory speech sets out the principles for the new majority Tory administration including better schools and more apprenticeships
    • George Osborne’s 14 May Northern Powerhouse speech outlines government plans to encourage local councils and LEPs to take a lead in planning local skills training and other functions
    • Sajid Javid’s 19 May Business enterprise speech confirms a number of measures to support small businesses and enterprise as part of a new Enterprise Bill
    • George Osborne’s 20 May CBI speech highlights deficit reduction, a re-balanced economy and increased productivity as the three pillars of the government’s economic plan
    • The Prime Minister’s 21 May immigration speech includes calls for more training of the indigenous population and continued curbs on cases of visa abuse
    • The Queen’s Speech of 27 May lists 26 prospective Bills for the forthcoming Parliament with at least six of particular interest to the world of education.

    Quotes of the month

    • “We can make Britain a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing.” The PM promises the good life on his return to Downing street
    • “Just good enough is no longer good enough.” The Education Secretary outlines the case against mediocrity in schools”
    • “A coasting definition will set be set out in due course according to a number of factors.” The new Education and Adoption Bill says a definition is coming
    • “My budget is shrinking.” A head writes an open letter to the Ed Secretary as she returns to her desk
    • There are only two things that parents can ever say to teenagers taking their exams. The wrong thing. And the wrong thing.” Pressure builds as another exam season looms
    • “GCSE and A levels are like an egg timer squeezing a wealth of experience and learning through a narrow bottleneck of testing.” The departing head of Eton on the modern exam factory
    • “The results suggest that low-achieving students are more likely to be distracted by the presence of mobile phones while high achievers can focus regardless.” Latest on the mobile phone debate.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘One Nation.’  What the government says it’s aiming to create over the next five years. 
    read more
  • Pocket Watch - Lining up the Bills

    This week saw the first set piece occasion of the new Parliament when the government outlined its legislative programme in the Queen’s Speech.

    In the words of the Prime Minister, it was “a clear programme for working people, social justice and bringing our country together,” stitched together under the banner of ‘One Nation’ and offering as the manifesto put it, ‘security and opportunity for everyone at every stage of life.’ For many people, notably in education, the more challenging half of the government’s life plan comes in July when the Chancellor announces his Summer Budget but for the moment, there’s plenty to concentrate the mind with at least six Bills likely to affect education in some way, the first three in particular. Details below.

    Six education-related Bills

    1.    Education and Adoption Bill. This is the Bill that deals with the government’s manifesto pledge to tackle so-called ‘coasting’ and underperforming schools. It’s a theme that the Party has been pursuing for much of the year most notably in the Prime Minister’s ‘all-out war on mediocrity in schools’ speech in February. The Bill itself incorporates two core elements: stronger intervention powers and speedier conversions to academies but leaves open a number of fundamental issues such as just what a coasting school is in the first place. The Bill hints at a definition but prefers to leave the detail to later. Other questions also remain open such as the benefits or otherwise of academisation, whether there are enough ‘top’ leaders ready to leap in and help run such schools and as Prof Chris Husbands has indicated, whether the deeper issue is as much performance differences within rather than between schools. This will run

    2.    Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill. As the title implies, this Bill aims to link work and benefits much more closely and saddled with some big employment targets is also likely to attract considerable attention. The government wants to make work more attractive by ensuring that the minimum wage remains tax free but it also wants to ensure that enough jobs are available so this Bill will introduce annual reporting on the progress against its core targets of 2m new jobs and 3m new apprenticeships. There are two other proposals in the Bill that may prove contentious. One is the proposal to pull in Jobcentre Plus advisers to supplement careers guidance and the other is the introduction of a more punitive Youth Allowance for 18-21 year olds. In both cases as the OECD has shown this week in its Youth, Skills and Employability Report, the question remains whether enough is being done to help young people into work

    3.    Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. This Bill, now published, builds on work the Party has already done to try and stimulate local economic recovery through devolved powers and responsibilities in areas like transport, housing and skills training. The drive here is re-balancing the economy through mechanisms such as the Northern Powerhouse. This Bill is key to the Treasury so will be closely watched and may yet see further ceding of skills planning to local partnerships

    4.    Childcare Bill. This Bill enshrines the manifesto pledge to provide 30 hours a week of free childcare to eligible families which in turn will mean more trained childcare workers are needed

    5.    Immigration Bill. This Bill further strengthens the government’s immigration measures by in particular reducing the demand for skilled migrant labour. Among the proposals is a new visa levy on businesses that use foreign labour without advertising in the domestic market first

    6.    Enterprise Bill. This Bill is intended to reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses and thereby encourage job creation but it also aims to encourage more entrepreneurship.

    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending May 22 2015

    By next Tuesday the process of swearing in MPs for the new Parliament should be completed. 

    The week summed up

    The day after, the formal process of government will begin when the Queen is ushered in to read out the list of Bills that the government intends to introduce over the next session. It really will be back to business with a vengeance.

    For anyone who thought that education might get off lightly this time, it may be time to think again. Not only will a number of the Bills being lined up, most notably those on City Devolution, Enterprise, Immigration and Welfare affect the education and skills system in some way, but one in particular, the proposed Education Bill, is already provoking considerable discussion.

    The Bill is intended to deliver on the manifesto pledge of raising performance and diversifying the school system and builds on the Prime Minister’s “all-out war on mediocrity” speech earlier this year. The aim, as indicated by Nicky Morgan on the Marr Show last weekend is “to speed up the process for tackling failing schools; extend our academies programme to tackle ‘coasting’ schools; and deliver on our commitment to open new free schools.”

    As the BBC’s Education Correspondent Sean Coughlan pointed out, the assault on so-called coasting schools is not new. The same language was being used by Chris Woodhead’s Ofsted back in 1999 when just the same sort of issues about how to define a ‘coasting’ school and how many there were, were being aired. As Professor Michael Jopling explained in a blog this week, “There’s no agreed definition of a coasting school” although both he and Jonathan Simons at the think tank Policy Exchange had a pretty good stab at it. As to how many there are, this depends on how they’re defined but anything between 2,500 -3,000 has been suggested.

    While government depts have been busy preparing the legislative programme for the new administration, the Chancellor has been equally busy drawing up plans for the new government’s first Budget due six weeks later. This week, George Osborne headed down to the CBI’s Annual Dinner to set out some of his initial thinking, much of it of interest to the world of education. Three headlines stand out. First the government intends to tackle the tough stuff first: “when it comes to saving money, we all know the more you can do early, the smoother the ride.” The new Chief Secretary has already written to depts to get them to go through the books and identify more ‘savings.’ Second, the government is keen to get to grips with what’s holding back productivity and will produce a Productivity Plan by July focusing on issues such as skills training, science and innovation. And third, the mantra for the new administration appears to be ‘step up a gear:’ it applies to the economy as much to schools. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Nicky Morgan: coasting schools face intervention.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Foreign students boost economy by £2.3bn’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘More pupils reading for pleasure.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Graduates may face tougher loan terms.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Free school expansion plans launched.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who in a speech on immigration confirmed that more effort will be made to train the indigenous workforce and encourage overseas HE students although any associated system abuse will also be tackled
    • The Education Secretary who outlined plans to tackle school underperformance and create more school places as part of a proposed new Education Bill
    • The new Business Secretary who in his first major speech outlined a range of measures, due to be included in a forthcoming Enterprise Bill, to help small businesses and entrepreneurs
    • Carol Monaghan MP who will speak for the SNP on education and public service matters
    • The Institute of Government who examined the vital statistics of the new administration and reported that the average age of cabinet ministers is 50 (Matt Hancock is the youngest at 36,) 2/3 entered Parliament in the last 10 years, a third are women and two are from a BME background
    • The Local Government Association who ahead of the proposed Cities Devolution Bill called for a wider English Devolution Bill with a new funding settlement to help deliver skills training, affordable homes and safer communities
    • The World Education Forum who have adopted a new Declaration on the Future of Education which governments are expected to sign up to by the end of the year
    • HE Policy Institute Director Nick Hillman who identified four ways that governments could try and tackle some of the HE funding issues, including a limited fee rise and tougher loan repayments
    • Andrew McGettigan, who in a new pamphlet for the HE Policy Institute, examined some of the issues surrounding the accounting and budgeting rules of the student loan system and their impact on future policy
    • AoC Assistant Chief Executive Julian Gravatt who wrote a useful blog on how the government might meet the challenge of providing for 3m more apprenticeships over the next five years
    • Ex government adviser Robert Hill who used a lecture this week to list 10 challenges likely to face school leaders over the next five years with funding, pupil numbers and teacher recruitment prominent among them
    • NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby who argued in a blog that the government’s obsession with autonomy and accountability were yesterday’s war and that capacity, as in more school places and more teachers, were today’s battleground
    • The fledgling College of Teaching which invited applications to become one of 13 founding trustees charged with helping establish the new College
    • The House of Commons Library who published a Briefing Paper on the GCSE, AS and A level reforms
    • Ofqual who reported on their review of GCSE maths sample assessment materials and called for some changes to be made before they were sent schools from the end of June
    • The Education Endowment Foundation who invited applications to a £2m fund that will support five projects looking into the effective teaching of EAL (English as an additional language)
    • SSAT Operational Director Bill Watkin who blogged about some of the issues surrounding KS2 resits
    • The National Literacy Trust, who in its annual survey of reading habits of children and young people, found encouraging evidence that more 8-18 yr olds were reading for pleasure
    • Researchers who investigated the impact of mobile phones in schools in a report commissioned by the Centre for Economic Performance and who found schools that banned them tended to have more teaching time and better results
    • The Pre-school Learning alliance who set out an Early Years Agenda for the new government built around 3 areas: funding, ‘schoolification,’ and Ofsted
    • The Children’s Commissioner for England who urged the new government to adopt  a 7-point plan to make the welfare of children a top priority over the next five years
    • ‘Twerking,’ ‘ridic’ and ‘dench,’ just some of the 6,500 new words that can now be used in Scrabble as it seeks to reflect the rapidly changing nature of language.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Those who underperform at school often become the best teachers.” @tes
    • “Feedback like trust is like a sandwich without the bread filler.” @CParkinson535
    • “Social media more stressful than exams, claims head teacher.” @SchoolsImprove
    • “44% of middle school students prefer taking the trash out to doing maths.” @PathastoMath

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “So in the Budget we’ll spend less on welfare and instead invest to create 3m more apprenticeships so that young people can learn a trade, get better jobs and earn more.” The Chancellor indicates some of the things expected to be in his second Budget of the year now set for July 8
    • “It’s not OK to be just above the level of failing.” The Education Secretary explains the issue of ‘coasting’ schools on the Andrew Marr show
    • “Avoid acronyms; make talks interactive; use simple slides; incorporate an experiment or other strongly visual material; and always include a Q/A afterwards.” Guidelines issued for next week’s Pint of Science Festival in which science topics are taken to pub audiences across the UK
    • “These skills can be developed far more effectively through schemes such as apprenticeships and practical education.” Richard Branson responds to Prince Harry’s call for young people to develop skills through a form of National Service
    • “I am deeply concerned for our young children, whose experience of education is now so exam-heavy and whose preparation for life and the workplace is so light.” Ahead of another exam season, Sir Anthony Seldon voices concerns about the effect on young children.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £2.3bn. How much international students contribute to London’s economy according to research from business firm London First and PwC
    • 42%. The percentage of FE college principals who are female according to research from the AoC, a higher female leadership ratio than in either schools or HE
    • 87%. The percentage of staff in FE who find their job stressful, up 14% since the last survey three years ago according to a report by the University and College Union (UCU)
    • 12.3%. The latest stat for 16-24 yr old NEETs, down slightly at 0.7% on the previous quarter
    • 7%. The percentage of schools that have a new assessment system in place for Sept 2015 according to a survey from BESA
    • One hour a week. The amount of extra time of teaching it’s claimed schools could gain if they banned mobile phones.

    What to look out for next week

    • Queen’s Speech (Wednesday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending May 15 2015

    Gradually things are returning to normal; the posters are down, the recriminations more reflective and attention is turning to what the future holds under a new majority Conservative government.

    The week summed up

    Next week, the Speaker will be selected and new MPs sworn in and the week after, the Queen will announce what will be in the new government’s first legislative programme where Bills on School Commissioners, City Devolution, the tax lock, welfare reform, free childcare and counter terrorism are already being touted. As the Prime Minister was keen to stress both on the steps of Downing Street and in his first cabinet meeting; ’we’re the Party of working people…we’re here to give everyone in the country the chance to make the most of their life,’ so let’s get on with it. It’s an approach dubbed ‘blue collar Conservatism.’

    Elsewhere there’s been considerable speculation as to what might be in store for the world of education where, as the blogger and education researcher Tom Bennett remarked this week, both Nicky Morgan and Sajid Javid will have their work cut out just reading all the blogs telling them what to do. Further details can be seen in an accompanying Pocket Watch but clearly funding remains the big worry for many in the education system with all sectors voicing concerns. The manifesto spells out a two-stage plan to get rid of the deficit that will take us up to 2019/20 when, to quote from page 9 of the document: “after a surplus has been achieved, spending will grow in line with GDP.” Living in an age of austerity thus remains the continuing normal for at least the next 4/5 years.

    Funding may concentrate the minds but there is another strong theme running through Conservative education plans and that is about improving levels of performance. This week’s report from the OECD on basic skill levels among young people and the ONS update on UK productivity have both laid bare the size of the challenge on learning and skills. The new government is clearly looking for each sector to up its game with a range of mechanisms such as more powerful Regional Commissioners for schools, more forensic outcome measures for FE and a new teaching quality framework for HE, all being lined up. The analogy between education leaders and football managers, both focused on results, has already been made.

    Finally, and further evidence of things returning to familiar routines, the testing and exam season is upon us and the media has been full of well-meaning advice for families and young people as the pressures mount. Examples of this are quoted below but as the BBC’s Education page put it: “there are only two things that a parent can ever say to a teenager taking exams: the wrong thing and the wrong thing.”

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Children as young as 10 smoke before exams, survey suggests.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Morgan pledges to tackle ‘poor’ schools.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘No big changes in DfE’s ministerial line-up as Nick Gibb is retained.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Sector stands by for battle over cuts, fees and Europe.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Legislation on taking over ‘coasting’ schools planned within weeks.’ (Friday).

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • George Osborne who confirmed in his first major keynote speech of the new government, that the forthcoming Queen’s Speech will include a City Devolution Bill to help stimulate local economies and skills planning
    • Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who back in the hot seat, indicated that her priorities would include tackling poor school performance and rebuilding bridges with the teaching profession
    • Sajid Javid, the new BIS Secretary who indicated that apprenticeships, jobs and youth training would remain priorities as some of the media questioned the long-term future of BIS
    • Jim O’Neill who has been appointed as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury to help drive the city devo max and local infrastructure agendas along
    • The European Commission who have published plans for an EU wide ‘digital single market’ intended in time to be able to compete with the big US internet giants
    • ‘Confident creators,’ ‘the held back’ and ‘the safety firsters,’ the three digital tribes identified in the RSA’s report on the ‘The New Digital Learning Age’ for which a number of strategic solutions, including a new approach for learning technology in schools, is proposed
    • FutureLearn who claim that their ‘Understanding IELTS: Techniques for English Language Tests’ Mooc course has attracted record numbers of students
    • Universities UK who have announced plans to step up their campaign to ensure the UK stays in the EU not least because it brings benefits to UKHE 
    • Aaron Porter, former president of the NUS, who blogged about whether a rise in tuition fees might be on the cards during the lifetime of the forthcoming Parliament
    • Professor Kathryn Mitchell, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of West London who will take over as vice-chancellor at the University of Derby from September
    • The Core Cities group covering England’s 8 largest cities outside London, who have launched a Devolution Declaration calling for a range of responsibilities including those over local skills and jobs to be devolved to approved City-Regions
    • Sir Geoff Hall, former Principal of New College Nottingham, who is to become the new general secretary of the Principals’ Professional Council
    • The OECD who published their biggest report so far on how well countries are doing in raising basic skill levels among young people and which saw the UK ranked 20th out of the 76 core countries surveyed. (Hong Kong-China, Estonia and Korea came 1st, 2nd, 3rd)
    • The OECD who published a challenging Report on the Swedish school system highlighting three necessary reform areas (teaching and learning, quality with equity, accountability)
    • Chris Cook, Policy editor on Newsnight who blogged about the budget squeeze facing schools after the election
    • Head teacher Tom Sherrington who wrote an open letter to Nicky Morgan both welcoming her back and urging her to help with funding, curriculum reform and teacher recruitment
    • The professional body, ASCL, who will run a series of seminars over coming months to help schools deal with their new responsibilities in preventing young people from being drawn into radicalisation
    • The unions who have joined arms to urge the new government to protect education spending
    • Ofsted who published new data highlighting significant gender imbalances in the take-up of A level subjects like English and Physics
    • Ofqual who reported back on its recent consultation about which GCSE and A level subjects will or will not be developed for 2017
    • The accountancy firm PwC who announced they will end their reliance on A level grade scores when selecting graduate recruits 
    • Amanda Spielman, chair of Ofqual, whose call not to get too hung up on exam grades was welcomed in some quarters 
    • The Creative Industries and Institute of Civil Engineers who published a report calling for the creative arts to be given as much attention as STEM subjects in the school curriculum
    • Professor Robin Alexander, Director of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust who highlighted some of the policy challenges in primary education facing a new government 
    • “You’ll kick yourself if you’ve only missed by one mark.” One of a number of worst things a parent can say to a child preparing for an exam according to a listing by BBC Education.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “It’s like freshers’ week in the Commons with registration desks for new MPs.” @SkyAnushka
    • “Pretty much same team of DfE ministers minus David Laws means continuity +no learning curve.” @GregHurstTimes
    • “Best piece of exam advice: Look up for inspiration; down in desperation but never sideways for information!” @GuardianTeach
    • “Don’t get hung up on grades says exams watchdog boss.” @tes
    • “Gove was the Kevin Pieterson of politics, smashing lots of sixes but not making many friends and leaving the job half done, says Seldon.”  @pwatsonmontrose

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • EFA. Not just the Education Funding Agency but also ‘Education for All,’ the driving force behind the World Education Forum’s global education objectives which will be reviewed and updated at next week’s global gathering.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We’ve got far more to do. That’s why I want another five years of standards, discipline and rigour in our schools.” David Cameron on what lies ahead for schools under a Conservative government
    • “It’s about listening, it’s about hearing what they’ve got to say, tackling things like workload, Ofsted inspections and building on all the lessons I’ve learned in the last 10 months.” Nicky Morgan on how she views her future priorities
    • “Coasting schools can give the appearance of achieving good results when they should in fact be doing a lot better.” Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Schools builds up the case for school improvement
    • “To some extent, you and your predecessor put enough changes in place to keep us busy for five years so don’t go crazy looking for things to do.” Headteacher Tom Sherrington pens his advice to Nicky Morgan
    • “The world is full of examples of improvements in education and there is no time to lose.” OECD education director Andreas Schleicher as he introduces the organisation’s latest report on the importance of basic skills.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 32%. The number of MPs in the new House of Commons who have had a private education according to research from the Sutton Trust
    • 24. The number of MPs who have had some experience of working in education either as teachers or in other roles
    • £750m. The amount of money raised through fundraising and alumni over the last three years by Oxford University as its looks to hit its initial target of £2bn
    • £2trillion. How much the OECD reckon could be added to the UK’s economy by the end of the century if by 2030, all school leavers reach minimum levels of basic skills
    • 735,000. The latest youth unemployment figure, down 5,000 on the last quarter
    •  4. The number of reasons to be cheerful about a Tory government according to one head teacher
    • 8 seconds. What our attention span has now dropped to, one second less than the proverbial goldfish, according Microsoft research.

    What to look out for next week

    • House of Commons re-assembles (Monday)
    • World Education Forum meets to set the new global education development agenda (Tuesday – Friday).
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