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

Filter posts by category:

  • Policy Eye - week ending July 3 2015

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

    The week summed up

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

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

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

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

    Top headlines this week

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

    People/organisations in the news this week

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

    Tweet(s) of the week

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

    Acronym(s) of the week

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

    Quote(s) of the week

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

    Number(s) of the week

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

    What to look out for next week

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

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

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

    Four big challenges

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

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

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

    4. Parity of esteem (between academic and vocational routes.) A phrase that has bedevilled reform in this area for some time and is as much structural as cultural. Many would like to see the phrase dropped in favour of a focus on desired outcomes, different routes but similar results, leading to rounded and successful youngsters rather than sheep and goats.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in June 2015

    Six weeks on from the election and the education agenda appears in full swing. 

    Key headlines from the month

    • Funding cuts. DfE and BIS budgets each facing cuts of £450m from current budgets
    • School funding. Possible developments around new formula due later this year
    • 16-19 funding. Signatories come together to urge the Chancellor to help
    • Childcare Bill. Bill published as taskforce set up to consider costs
    • Education Bill. Completes second reading
    • Primary schools. Pupil numbers in England up 2.1% in latest census
    • Coasting schools. Experts seek to define as the DfE confirms consultation
    • School Leadership. New profession-led Foundation announced
    • School behaviour. New practitioners’ panel set up
    • Ofsted. New inspection arrangements confirmed
    • National Reference Test. Ofqual explains all in letter to schools
    • GCSE grading. Education Secretary confirms L5 as the new ‘good pass’ grade
    • Singaporean maths. Beginning to have impact according to latest research
    • EBacc subjects. Government prepares to mainstream
    • 14-19. Labour leaders call for a full review of provision
    • A level science assessment arrangements. Ofqual consults
    • Voc Quals. Latest annual celebration heralded
    • Apprenticeships. New taskforce set up to oversee progress towards the 3m target
    • Training providers. Growth budgets frozen in build-up to the Budget
    • Institution for FE. Gains its Royal Charter
    • Adult participation. Up slightly though not for disadvantaged groups
    • FE. Skills Minister continues to muse about refining college missions
    • HE fees. Willetts suggests system working but needs 5-yearly MOT
    • Maintenance grants. Fears grow about their long-term future
    • Migration. Government calls for advice about new skills levy on Tier 2 visas. 

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

    • Perceptions of A levels, GCSEs, Other Quals in England. Ofqual’s latest annual survey of views on the quals system finds confidence still strong but concerns about some changes
    • Missing Talent. Commissioned research from the Sutton Trust looks at why children, especially bright boys from disadvantaged backgrounds, struggle to convert KS2 success into GCSE success
    • Education and Adoption Bill. The government sets out its new Bill intended to ‘speed up the turnaround of failing schools’ but leaves many details open for summer consultation
    • Outcomes of access agreement monitoring. OFFA reports on its monitoring of HE access agreements over 2013/14 and finds a drop in financial support but an increase in other support
    • HEPI/HEA 2015 Student Academic Experience Survey. Satisfaction remains high in this latest survey but students want more contact time and to know how the fees are being spent
    • Character nation. The think tank Demos in partnership with the Jubilee Centre call for a stronger focus on character development in schools in a new report
    • Council support for 16-19 participation. The latest survey from the Local Government Association finds councils having to reduce their levels of funding and support as cuts bite
    • A digital student learning experience. Eduserve finds a lack of funding, commitment and clear procurement policies hampering the management and provision of learning resources in FE
    • Developing Great Teaching. The Teacher Development Trust and TED Global get together to report on what makes for effective professional development for teachers
    • The Economic Role of UK Universities. Universities UK publishes its latest assessment of how much UK universities contribute to UK GDP and finds it now totalling nearly £40bn
    • Raising the Productive Potential of the Economy. The lifelong learning organisation NIACE lists some of the skills priorities ahead of the Chancellor’s Budget and Productivity Plan
    • Inspection Handbooks for Schools and for FE. Ofsted lays down the new arrangements and lists of things it will look for in inspections from this Sept
    • How to run a country: Education. The think tank Reform continues its build-up to the Spending Review by looking at how to make the school system more productive
    • Student Funding Panel. UUK’s Funding Panel reports on its year-long review into HE financing and concludes that while maintenance support needs changing, the fee system needs more time
    • Social Mobility Report. The Commission’s latest report highlights the barriers faced by many disadvantaged young people seeking entry into ‘top’ professions
    • Colleges and Employers. The AoC publishes a selection of case studies showing how colleges are working with employers to deliver the training and skills needed
    • College mergers and federations. BIS and the FE Commissioner offer best practice guidance for those thinking of taking the plunge
    • Heading for the precipice. Professor Alison Wolf makes a compelling case for re-balancing higher funding around technician training as the basis for economic recovery.  

    Speeches of the month

    • New HE Minister Jo Johnson’s 1 June speech to the Going Global Conference extols the virtues of international students and commits to helping the market grow
    • Nick Gibb’s 11 June Policy Exchange speech argues the case for core academic subjects to be at the heart of the curriculum for most pupils at KS4 but adds that consultation will follow
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw’s 15 June ‘Future of Education Inspections’ speech confirms the new shorter, more frequent inspection model and other changes coming in from this September
    • Nicky Morgan’s 16 June King Solomon Academy speech sets out the new tough expectations on schools in areas like the provision of the EBacc, GCSE grading and pupil behaviour
    • Glenys Stacey’s 17 June Grammar School Heads Association speech updates on the latest developments in the GCSE and A level reform programme
    • Nicky Morgan’s 18 June Festival of Education speech commits to a long-term plan of excellence for all and confirms that education remains high on the agenda
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw’s 18 June Festival of Education speech offers a paean of praise for teachers and challenges some of the unfair media portrayals of them
    • John Cridland’s 19 June Festival of Education speech re-opens debate about the nature of 14-19 learning and the need to incorporate skills, opportunities and guidance for all
    • David Cameron’s 22 June ‘Opportunity for all’ speech argues that the new tough stance on school improvement will help extend educational excellence to all. 

    Quotes of the month

    • “For as everyone knows, when it comes to living within your means, the sooner you start the smoother the ride.” The Chancellor on taking the rough before the smooth
    • “What the rest of the G7 finishes making on a Thursday afternoon takes us until the end of Friday to get done.” The Shadow Skills Minister highlights the issue of productivity
    • “I don’t want anyone to mistake stability for silence, to presume that education is no longer a priority for the government.” The Education Secretary on silence not being golden
    • “I would suggest a full-blooded commitment to building a proper 14-19 baccalaureate curriculum.” Tristram Hunt on where Labour’s education policy needs to go next
    • “The general sense we’re getting from heads is that it’s worse than 2002.” The chief executive of Teach First on an impending teacher recruitment crisis
    • “It won’t be a cliff-edge experience.” The Chief Inspector on the new inspections
    • “I want to see the date for the last ever GCSE circled in the Education Secretary’s diary.” The DG of the CBI wants a sell-by date on GCSEs. 

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Funsultant.’ For when staff need perking up … 
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending June 26 2015

    For a change it hasn’t all been about schools this week.

    The week summed up

    With a major conference and a significant new report a lot’s been happening in the world of skills while HE appears to be bracing itself for a further set of developments around quality assurance as HEFCE’s review and government plans on teaching quality both gain momentum. They’re not the only ones adopting the brace position. The summer Budget is now just over ten days away and given the likelihood of further cuts (the manifesto spelt out at least two years of austerity), a number of bodies have been making their pitch to the Chancellor. The recent papers from Universities UK and the Association of School and College Leaders provide good examples of these.

    But to start with schools where this week the Prime Minister added his voice to the current school reforms: “the whole purpose of our education reforms is to extend educational excellence and opportunity to every school and community and not just a privileged few,” and MPs got to debate some of the details as the Education Bill received its Second Reading; links to both are below. Little new came out of the debate although the Education Secretary did reveal the three criteria on which the definition of a coasting school would be based, namely pupil progress, pupil performance data and institutional performance over a 3-year period. Further details at the Committee stage.

    On to skills where the government this week released the latest batch of stats on training and take-up, largely positive, training providers and others were in conference at the AELP Annual Conference and Professor Alison Wolf published her latest seminal report, this time on the importance to both the country and to individuals of a vibrant adult skills training service. Skills providers face many challenges but funding chief executive Peter Lauener put the latest one in perspective when he told the AELP conference that meeting the government’s 3m apprenticeship target, would mean ‘more than one apprentice starting every minute of every day over the next five years.’ Unfortunately the Minister was unable to use his speech to discuss funding figures but Alison Wolf’s report (linked below) did, confronting one of the big challenges in the training system currently, namely the Cinderella funding treatment of 19+ skills training compared for example to that of higher education. “I think we should be very alarmed,” she said, echoing the comments of employers who like the construction sector recently have concerns about a lack of skilled workers.

    Finally, HE where funding issues apart, the sector is awaiting a keynote speech from the Universities Minister and further developments about the future of quality assessment. HEFCE’s review of this area still has some way to run but the government it seems remains keen on ensuring that strengthened procedures are in place as the market expands. More to follow. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Four in ten students say university not good value-survey.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Let’s end this disgraceful charade over academies: Estelle Morris.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Skilled workers may vanish if further education budget cuts continue.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Numeracy crisis threatens to hold back UK in global data race.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘National tests could return for infant pupils.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Prime Minister who outlined the government’s new ‘zero tolerance’ approach to schools in a speech setting out the government’s long-term plans to extend opportunity to all
    • MPs who debated coasting schools, the pros and cons of Academies and adoption procedures in a lengthy debate on the Second Reading of the Education Bill
    • Shadow Education Minister Tristram Hunt who called for local ‘city regions’ to be given oversight of school standards as part of the latest debate on the Education Bill
    • MPs who in another debate this time on support for English as an Additional Language (EAL) called for the resurrection of targeted funds to support those Authorities where EAL numbers are greatest
    • The Higher Education (Information) Private Member’s Bill which will require institutions to provide greater information for students on how its tuition fees are being spent, which received its first reading this week
    • The Skills Minister who addressed this week’s annual AELP conference and as ever raised a number of key questions about skills provision and college structures
    • BIS who published latest stats showing higher apprenticeship and trainee starts both up and NEET numbers down
    • Michelle Obama, who following her successful UK visit last week, has announced the creation of a US/UK partnership ‘to improve girls’ access to education around the world’
    • Professor Debra Humphries, currently vice-provost at Imperial College who has been appointed as the new V.C. of the University of Brighton from the end of this year
    • Universities UK who in the build-up to next month’s Budget set out a case for why the government should invest in higher education and research arguing among other things that English universities have delivered over £1bn in efficiencies and account for 2.7% of all UK employment
    • The UK Graduate Careers Survey of students graduating this summer which reported a big increase in the number expecting to go straight into work from university, generally after some work experience, and with consulting, marketing and the media as the most popular options
    • The National College for Teaching and Leadership who announced a lifting of the cap on recruitment numbers by universities and schools for postgrad initial teacher training courses starting in 2016/17
    • The OECD who published a report on how the digital economy was growing showing that internet use across OECD nations had soared from 60% of adults ten years ago to nearly 95% now, especially among young people
    • Two academics from the University of Birmingham who ahead of the Chancellor’s likely announcement of further cuts in his forthcoming Budget Statement reflected on whether student maintenance grants might be for the chop
    • The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) who ahead of a promised Treasury report on Productivity published its own recommendations including better usage of employee’s skills and better skilled managers
    • Professor Alison Wolf who published a powerful indictment about the lack of funding and support for adult skills training and the damage this could cause both the economy and society generally
    • UCAS who reported on how applicants use those two key words ‘career’ and ‘passion’ in their personal statements
    • The Education Funding Agency who issued the latest guidance on the funding arrangements for core aims in 16-19 study programmes
    • The DfE who published a summary version of what constitutes the EBacc
    • The British Academy who issued the latest report to warn about the pressing problems of low levels of numeracy and data skills in the UK, and who called for a more concerted push on improving teacher recruitment and quality
    • Careers guidance, the subject of two reports this week, one from London Ambitions and backed by the London Mayor and the other from All About School Leavers reporting that over 80% of teachers wish they knew more about options other than HE
    • Former Education Secretary Estelle Morris who wrote a strong piece in The Guardian criticising the government’s obsession with Academies
    • Progress 8, where the closing date for schools wishing to opt in early closes on 30 June
    • Teachers who in the latest Eurydice report on the profession across Europe listed: help with teaching students with special needs, with developing ICT skills and with applying new technologies across the workplace as three of their top development needs
    • Teaching, apparently one of the most attractive professions for those looking for partners.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “What I’d like to see is universities telling students exactly where their money is going.” @nickhillman
    • “Skills has never been so high up the agenda. Where we lead, government follows.” @aelp2015
    • “Is productivity the new buzzword in FE?” @ FENews
    • “We have to consider whether a general FE college is a model we want for the future when resources are constrained @nickboles.” @tesfenews
    • “Sir Ian Diamond: teachers nervous about numbers deliver number-nervous students.” @roclandb
    • “Maybe Ofsted should move to 3 categories: waving, coasting, drowning.” @joehallg 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “This (helping the unemployed back to work) is an essential ingredient of my 2020 vision with 20% more jobs, 20% more university places and a 20% increase in apprenticeship take-up for black and ethnic minorities by the end of the decade.” The PM on his 2020 vision
    • “Work experience has changed from something that was seen as nice to have on a CV to something that’s become a necessity.” High Fliers research on how to compete in the graduate job market
    • “The examiner’s report provides our tutors with an all too rare chance to prove that they are indeed in possession of a sense of humour albeit as part of a package deal with encyclopaedic knowledge and ruthless expectations.” An Oxford university student responds to some scathing comments from this year’s examiners about levels of English and general knowledge
    • “This is no way to run whelk stalls, never mind a national economy.” Alison Wolf questions the lack of money spent on adult skills training
    • “It’s ironic that the students who need the most expertise get the adults with the least expertise.” Professor John Hattie on his latest ‘What Works in Education’ polemics
    • “When I see my kids playing educational games on iPads or looking up how-to videos on You Tube I feel a stab of jealousy. But then I think of the tests and targets and homework that I didn’t have and I feel a bit sorry for them.” A parent reflects on primary education in an article for The Daily Telegraph. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • £23,700. What new graduates from top universities are looking for as a starting salary according to the latest survey by High Fliers Research
    • 52%. The number of final year undergraduate students (the first to be paying fees up to £9,000) reporting that their university education had been value for money according to a Radio 5 Live survey
    • £26. What you get in return for every £ invested in a L2 apprenticeship according to latest BIS commissioned figures
    • 2000. How many more head teachers may be needed each year to fill vacancies let alone turn schools round according to recent figures from Education Datalab
    • 23%. The number of children who reckon playing a computer game with a friend is a form of exercise according to a survey from the Youth Sports Trust
    • £210. How much girls, on average, spend on their prom outfits. The average spend for boys meanwhile is half that.  

    What to look out for next week

    • MPs Questions to the BIS Dept (Tuesday)
    • The government’s Productivity Plan and HE QA developments (both expected during the week). 
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending June 19 2015

    Is 14-19 education emerging as the latest battleground in education? 

    The week summed up

    A glance through the week’s education news headlines which even provoked one education blogger to revoke the spirit of 200 years ago by indicating that education was facing its Waterloo, suggests perhaps it is

    The cause of the latest angst is the government’s recent pronouncements on the EBacc, a form of core curriculum that it wants to see formally adopted by schools for new pupils from this September. “There may be a small group of pupils for whom this won’t be appropriate. But our goal is for pupils starting year 7 this September to study the EBacc subjects when they reach their GCSEs,” so said the Education Secretary in a keynote speech at the start of the week.

    The move comes, as part of the government’s long-term plans to ‘enshrine the excellence’ that the government claims to have unlocked in some schools and spread it to all. It is partly therefore about social opportunity, opening out opportunity to all but it raises some fundamental questions.

    Arguably three stand out. First, and perhaps most practically, have we got enough history, geography, language and other teachers to teach the full range of EBacc subjects? As Education Datalab have pointed out, we need a couple of thousand more language teachers for starters and yet as is widely recognised, we’re facing a teacher recruitment crisis which seems likely to get worse before it gets better. Second, is a force-fed diet of the EBacc what 21st century youngsters need? The debate about balance in the curriculum, what we should teach the next generation is not new of course and many people can still point to the scars of previous skirmishes such as the emblematic Tomlinson reforms of over a decade ago, as evidence of this. If the week is anything to go by, a new reform momentum is building on those reforms with the Shadow Education Secretary calling for a cross-party review of 14-19 provision and the director general of the CBI going for equally wide-ranging reform including the scrapping of GCSEs. And third, is government best placed to determine what’s most appropriate for learners? The NUT have called the idea “poor,” the Design and Technology Association let alone other subject groupings have complained about the downplaying of their subjects outside the EBacc while the SSAT survey of school leaders suggested, many may turn a Nelson’s eye to the instruction. In other words this raises once again an issue that was bubbling around before the election about how far curriculum design should be de-politicised, left to professional experts rather than politicians to determine.

    For the moment, attention will turn to the Education Bill which moves on to its second reading this week but the issue of the core curriculum will not be far away. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Schools face pressure under plans to target academic GCSEs.’ (Monday)
    • ‘GCSEs: Pass mark raised in exams shake-up.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Hunt wants cross-party exam consensus on 14-19 curriculum.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Schools will reject requirement to teach EBacc to all.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘CBI head call for GCSEs to be scrapped.’ (Friday

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Education Secretary who set out a number of new measures under the banner of raising school standards that included more formal adoption of the EBacc, setting the ‘good’ pass grade at GCSE at level 5 and creating a new group to help teachers deal with disruptive behaviour
    • BIS and the FE Commissioner who as cuts continue to bite and colleges increasingly look at partnerships, mergers and federations as ways of reducing costs, published some guiding principles on how to make such arrangements work
    • The government who announced that the forthcoming Enterprise Bill will include plans to protect the legal status of apprenticeships and that ensure all public bodies recruit apprentices
    • Neil Carmichael, Iain Wright and Frank Field who have been selected to chair the Education, BIS and Work and Pensions Select Committees respectively as new Parliamentary business gets under way
    • CBI director general John Cridland, who in a major speech to the Wellington Festival of Education, called on the government to conduct a major review of 14-19 learning with an emphasis on improving careers guidance, bringing back work experience and finally putting GCSEs out to grass in an effort to ensure the system provided for all rather than some
    • The Social Mobility Commission whose latest research highlighted how difficult it can be for working-class applicants to gain entry to elite professions 
    • The UK Commission for employment and Skills who reported on the demise of the Saturday and other part-time jobs for young people and found that the pressures of studying were making it more difficult to combine work and study especially for 16/17 year olds
    • The think tank Reform who as part of the build-up to this autumn’s Spending Review investigated value for money and productivity returns in the schools sector and concluded that more autonomy, better accountability and a fairer funding system would all help
    • The Office of the Independent Adjudicator, the body that deals with HE student complaints, whose latest annual report identified academic issues as the biggest source of complaints
    • David Willetts, who in a pamphlet for the Policy Institute at Kings College, argued that the HE fee system should be reviewed on a regular five-year basis but equally that the current fee ceiling may need to increase although the repayment threshold should stay
    • The Student Funding Panel, set up by Universities UK two years ago to look at the fee loan system, whose final report this week concluded that no immediate change was needed to the current system but that student living costs remained an issue
    • Ian Pretty who will take over as Chief Executive of the 157 Group when Dr Lynne Sedgemore retires this Sept
    • Tom Bennett, director of ResearchED, who has been asked by the Education Secretary to lead a group of practitioners in helping teachers become better at managing classroom behaviour
    • Belinda Vernon who is taking over as acting Chair of National Numeracy, the charity dedicated to promoting maths/numeracy
    • The Association of Colleges who published a set of case studies showing how colleges are working closely with employers in developing the sort of skilled workforce needed
    • Tutor Voice, a new group, launched to support those who work in the FE sector with among other things a Bill of Rights for professional practice
    • The SSAT who surveyed school leaders about the latest requirement on schools to provide the EBacc and found considerable concerns particularly about its application to all pupils
    • Ofsted who announced new inspection arrangements for this Sept and which include a recognition scheme for outstanding leaders, regional scrutiny committees, more serving practitioners as inspectors, and shorter but more frequent inspections
    • The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher who reported on the emerging success of Vietnam in raising school standards and cited 3 critical factors: committed leadership; a focused curriculum; and investment in teachers
    • The education commentator Warwick Mansell who as the new Education Bill approaches its second reading, examined how the government was likely to deal with the issue of defining a ‘coasting’ school
    • Regional School Commissioners whose responsibilities will be extended from the start of next month to include sponsorship and funding of some sponsored academies
    • The East Asian Maths Mastery programme, which focuses on mastering fewer topics but in greater depth and which appears to be having a positive effect according to research undertaken by the Institute of Education and Cambridge
    • The Design and Technology Association which is preparing to launch a campaign to protect and promote the role of D/T in the school curriculum
    • BAM Construction who will start work this autumn on preparing the Old Admiralty Building in Whitehall in readiness for the arrival of the DfE in 2017
    • “What’s your favourite quote?” Highlighted this week as one of the toughest questions to be asked in an interview.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Wilshaw: Ofsted has reformed, is reforming and will continue to reform.” @tes
    • “I know we’ll never be loved but I do aim for greater respect for the inspectorate.” @HarfordSean
    • “Tech ed works best when it’s neglected by politicians whose esteem it should never try to seek.” @andrew_1910
    • “Escalator from low to high skills is broken - middle skill jobs gone.” John Cridland@CBItweets
    • “My classroom is the most benevolent of dictatorships but it is, and shall always remain, a dictatorship.” @tes 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “I don’t want anyone to mistake stability for silence, to presume that education is no longer a priority for the government.” The Education Secretary tells delegates at this week’s Education Festival not to be lulled into a false sense of ease
    • “I think it is a very gloomy picture.” The view from one sixth-from college principal as the Sixth Form Colleges Association prepares to discuss the funding crisis facing the sector
    • “Have the leaders got a grip on the institution? Do they fully understand its strengths and weaknesses?” One of the seven standard questions inspectors are likely to ask when the new inspection regime comes into effect this September
    • “Here’s the special homework for the holidays that I have left to my guys for the summer.” An Italian teacher’s holiday homework for his class goes viral after it includes instructions ‘to watch the sunrise and walk by the sea, thinking about the things you love most’
    • “If university graduates have their moment in the sun so should people who undertake apprenticeships.” The Skills Minister on plans to protect the legal status of apprenticeships
    • “Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry.” The Social Mobility Commission on the difficulties working-class applicants often face when they try and access top jobs
    • “Some absurdists claim that a noisy classroom that rocks with spontaneity is the perfect crucible for learning. It isn’t.” The government’s new behavioural expert on some of the basic rules of learning
    • “A great teacher takes a class with him. A poor robotic teacher takes them to boredom and mischief.” Piers Morgan on what makes for a good teacher. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 139,200. The number of businesses in England who use local colleges to train their staff according to figures from the AoC
    • 11,000. The number of Oxbridge graduates now teaching in UK secondary schools, a big increase over the last decade according to the Sutton Trust who carried out the research
    • 84.2%. How many applicants were offered a place at their first choice secondary school this year, down 1.0%
    • 7 out of 10. The number of Ofsted inspectors who will also be practitioners from this September
    • 82%. The number of schools and FE providers judged good or outstanding by Ofsted in its latest official data
    • 18%. The number of 16/17 year olds combining work with studying, a drop of well over 50% over the last 20 years according to research from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. 

    What to look out for next week

    • AELP National Conference (Monday, Tuesday)
    • Education Bill Second Reading (Monday)
    • Westminster Hall debate on government support for pupils with English as an additional language (Tuesday). 
    read more