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!

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  • Policy Eye - week ending April 10 2015

    The week the election campaign moved up a gear with some important policy announcements including a number on education. 

    The week summed up

    On Wednesday, the Conservatives announced that 11 year olds who hadn’t reached a level 4 in their Key Stage 2 English and maths SATs would have to retake them in the first year of secondary or as Nicky Morgan described it, they would be ‘resitted.’ The announcement, which was trailed a month or so ago by the Education Secretary, has perhaps predictably not been universally acclaimed: “Eat, sleep, test, repeat,” tweeted one critic pretty much capturing the mood of many. The government’s argument is that KS2 tends to be a platform if not a predictor for KS4, ‘only 7% of the 100,000 pupils who fail to reach level 4 at age 11 go on to secure the five good GCSEs including English and maths that are so important’ but for those concerned about the perils of a test-driven culture and its impact on children, the proposal adds a further concern. As for parents, the story here is that the Conservatives are considering encouraging schools to run maths classes for parents so that they can help with the homework. Ed Balls is perhaps one parent who wouldn’t need it. He was faced with the now obligatory maths challenge while out on the road this week, in this case: what’s 6 x 7; he got the answer right.

    A day after the Conservatives made their KS2 announcement, Labour went the whole hog and launched its education manifesto. Its theme, very much Labour’s theme tune at present, was that things could be better and as if to emphasise the point, the manifesto listed 24 things a Labour government would do to make things better in areas like school standards, vocational learning, careers guidance and a fully qualified profession. The proposals, many of which build on the Party’s independent Task Force Report which was chaired by Professor Chris Husbands and reported just over a year ago, have been cautiously welcomed by the profession, with the promised funding for a face-to-face careers guidance system particularly popular. The emphasis is very much on preparing young people for a changing world, perhaps a deliberate attempt to distance things from the recent bout of qualification-driven reform and suggest that the Party is keen to tackle what has long been regarded as the Achilles heel of the English education system, namely vocational education and training.

    A week which started with a Guardian editorial suggesting that schools so far ‘have ranked only as a second order issue’ in this election has ended with schools higher up the order. It shows how much things can change in a week.  

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Schools aren’t getting enough attention in the 2015 general election.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Failing pupils will be ordered to take extra tests, says Cameron.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Labour pledges face-to-face careers advice in schools.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Hundreds of schools face new compulsory tests.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Conservatives who announced that as part of their education plans they would require  pupils who didn’t reach level 4 in their SATs in Year 6 to resit them in Year 7
    • The Labour Party who launched their education manifesto with a focus on school standards, vocational learning and carers guidance
    • The Australian government who has agreed to fund research into a potential new quality framework for international higher education agents many of whom operate without external regulation
    • Professor Charles Crook of Nottingham University who tackled the issue of whether university lectures should be automatically recorded and concluded that while it could overegg performance at the expense of student attendance, it should remain an option
    • The CBI whose latest economic-activity survey reported good growth in many sectors in the first quarter of this year and business optimism remaining high
    • The RSA’s Matthew Taylor who wrote a blog about the three dimensions of efficacy and how they help generate creative tension
    • Bath, Loughborough and Sheffield who came first, second and third respectively in the latest Times Higher student satisfaction survey. The universities of Surrey and Newcastle moved into the top ten for the first time
    • Guardian columnist Fiona Millar who looked into some of the manifestos coming from different parts of the education world and found the issue of school inspections emerging as one of the dominant themes
    • 80 former and current school leaders who penned a letter to the Daily Mail calling on Labour to stick with current academy freedoms
    • Independent fact checkers fullfactorg, who looked at the issue of qualified v unqualified teachers and concluded that while there was no clear evidence to prove qualified teachers were any better or worse than unqualified ones, subjects such as combined science, music and biology had more qualified teachers and subjects like citizenship, engineering and media studies had more unqualified teachers (based on the number of teachers with relevant subject degrees)
    • The Read On, Get On campaign which called on politicians to support and invest in a new strategy that would improve the teaching of reading especially for disadvantaged and older primary school children  
    • The National Union of Teachers (NUT) who warned that strike action could be on the cards later this year if the autumn spending review leaves schools facing more cuts
    • Next Friday, the closing date for applications from secondary schools seeking to host the novel Head of Wellbeing scheme, funded by Nuffield Health and due to be piloted from Sept. 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • "The Conservatives are the union for parents-fighting to ensure more discipline, more rigour and zero-tolerance of mediocrity.” @David_Cameron
    • “Miliband: our task is to give our children the best chance to succeed; that’s what the Labour education manifesto is all about.” @ed_ontap
    • “We need our Stephen Hawkings but also Bob the Builder, teachers say.’ @ed_ontap
    • “SATs have reached SATuration point.” @MichaelRosenYes
    • “Since 2000, invented iphone, Mars rover and mapped human genome but couldn’t provide promised primary education.” @seanjcoughlan

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • EFA. Education for All, the global education movement launched 25 years ago by UNESCO, UNICEF and others to help provide quality basic education for children, young people and adults and where a new set of pledges are due to be agreed at next month’s World Education Forum. 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Funding will be a challenge. So will improving results. This is a system in a state of flux.”  The Guardian editorial considers how the school system is looking at the start of the general election campaign
    • “The cold truth is that there is no magic wand we can wave to take away the double squeeze of public finance and demographic pressure.” Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt on facing reality
    • “Trusting teachers is at the heart of our school reforms.” Education Secretary Nicky Morgan on the Party’s education pitch
    • “The biggest challenge Britain faces is preparing our young people today for the economy of tomorrow.”  Ed Miliband introduces Labour’s education plans
    • “The NUT does not think that most teachers can work to full efficiency to age 68 and beyond.” The NUT calls for an independent review of the retirement age for teachers.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 9% or 40%. Two figures used this week to claim how many teachers leave in their first year. As Sam Freedman (Director of Research at Teach First) explained in his blog, the first figure is the accurate one, the second figure includes those who trained but never started
    • £50m. How much Labour is pledging to put in to support its new careers guidance service for young people
    • 100,000. The number of 11 year olds who, according to official figures fail to reach  a required level 4 in their English and maths Key Stage 2 SATs
    • 58m. The number of children across the world who don’t have access to primary school education according to the latest update on its global education targets from UNESCO.

    What to look out for next week

    • Labour manifesto published (Monday)
    • Demos workshops on defining character education (Monday onwards)
    • Conservative manifesto published (Tuesday)
    • UKIP manifesto published (Wednesday)
    • TV debate with five Opposition Leaders (Thursday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending April 2 2015

    A shorter Policy Eye summary this week partly because it’s a shorter working week but partly also because purdah is upon us meaning that there are now restrictions on Dept activity while the election campaign is on.

    The week summed up

    Most of the education news this week has come from the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) Annual Conference where Labour’s Education spokesman Tristram Hunt warmed the hearts of many delegates by pledging to support a changing role for Ofsted which could see it operating within a more self-regulated system: “I want to see an inspectorate that moves beyond box-ticking and data-dependence.” This may be some time away and not everyone’s convinced but for the moment, it’s issues such as workloads, teacher recruitment, funding, the dangers of social media and curriculum matters that have been concentrating minds. Teachers have many concerns, two delegates at the Conference for instance bucked the trend and spoke out in favour of the reforms to science practicals showing that issues often run quite deep. Easter is Conference season for many teacher unions and the next few days see two of the other big bodies, the NUT and NASUWT, also hold their Annual Conferences where no doubt many of the same issues will be hotly debated. 

    Education has so far not featured prominently in any of the speeches or launches of the current election campaign which by most people’s reckoning has got off to a slow start. There’s been the traditional trading of figures on tax rises, VAT and business rates, leaving us as the FT put it “at risk of drowning in dodgy data.” That said the last three elections have followed a similar pattern and things may take off tonight when we have the seven-way debate of the Party Leaders, orchestrated perhaps but tackling four big election questions in set order. Views are mixed about how far such debates alter rather than reinforce perceptions but studies suggest that at least 25% of voters change their minds during the campaign so there’s a lot to play for.

    As for the policies, so far only Plaid Cymru has come out with its Manifesto committing for instance to a new all-through national curriculum, a new independent exams regulator and higher education “in principle” being free for all. Conservative and Labour Party Manifestos are due out the week after next by which time things may be clearer…or not.

    Top headlines this week

    •  ‘Exams put children under ‘vile, cruel pressure,’ head of Wellington says.’ (Monday)
    •  ‘Hunt: schools should inspect each other.’ (Tuesday)
    •  ‘Philip Pullman joins calls to scrap baseline tests for four and five year olds.’ (Wednesday)
    •  ‘Private colleges may face public fee cut.’ (Thursday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Labour Party who launched its Business Manifesto promising among other things to introduce a Tech Bacc for 16-18 year olds, Tech Degrees and high quality apprenticeship standards elsewhere to help strengthen the talent pipeline into work
    • Shadow Education Minister Tristram Hunt who listed a new Education Bill on vocational training and potential changes to Ofsted inspections in a number of prospective Labour education proposals in a keynote speech to the ATL Conference
    • Plaid Cymru who launched its Election 2015 Manifesto promising among other things to create an independent exams regulator
    • Sir David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor at Nottingham University, who will take over as chair of the Russell Group from this September
    • Sir David Bell who in the latest in The Conversation’s State of the Nation series, reflected on the education reforms of the last five years and re-iterated his belief in the need for an independent body to help steer curriculum and assessment developments’
    • The latest edition of the Institute of Education’s London Review of education which focuses the current state of vocational education
    • The Association of Colleges and UK Commission for Employment and Skills who got together to publish a guide on accessing labour market intelligence for college managers
    • The AoC and AELP who called for Parliamentary scrutiny of the Employer Ownership Pilots scheme after it was revealed that recruitment was much lower than expected
    • The Local Government Association who called for further devolution of skills funding and commissioning in the third and final report in its ‘Realising Talent’ series
    • The Sixth Form Colleges’ Association who were disappointed to discover that on the final day of this Parliament the government had rejected its pleas for VAT reform
    • Ofqual who listed eight objectives in its latest corporate plan published this week
    • The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) who have been selected to run the proposed new National Reference Tests that will be used to help anchor standards in GCSE English and maths from 2017
    • The Education Endowment Foundation who announced five new ‘research’ trials covering maths, teacher impact and parental engagement.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “If every teacher influences school policy you get better results than Attila the Hun style leadership.” @TES
    • “I want schools to be kinder, more positive places to work where fear of Ofsted doesn’t impact best practice.” Mary Bousted @ATL Conference
    • “Spoon-fed private pupils less able to cope at university.” @ed_ontap
    • “Spend six hours a week of family time to ‘tame’ a teenager.” @Teachit
    • “The quick dumbness of the instant. Simon Scharma on selfies.” @PD_Smith

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • LMI. Labour market intelligence, what most good education providers need to help ensure provision meets learner and employer needs.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “What I learnt from these visits was that few pupils at primary or secondary school knew their times tables.” The Schools Minister reflects on what he learnt from some school visits in his final speech before Parliament was dissolved
    • “What we need is to chart a course away –carefully, slowly, consensually-from the exam factory model of school improvement.” Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt answers a question on Labour education policy in the Guardian’s ‘Ask a Minister’ series
    • “Education is on the front page of our manifesto and should be an immediate priority in the next Parliament.” The Lib-Dems on education
    • “Perhaps the time has come to slay the sacred cow of progress.” NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby in his latest blog on the problems of pinning everything on pupil progress.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 90%. The level below which student satisfaction shouldn’t fall according to the FE Commissioner who listed 20 warning signs for college governors to look out for
    •  300. The number of schools likely to be asked to participate in the new National Reference Tests announced by Ofqual.

    What to look out for next week

    • Continuation of NUT Conference (Monday/Tuesday)
    • The election campaign picks up from midweek onwards.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in March 2015

    The last days of business for this Parliament have seen 11 think tank reports, 8 government reports, 3 agency reports, a Budget and half a dozen key speeches. Just the election to come. 

    Key headlines from the month

    • Baseline testing. Early years groups call for it to be dropped
    • Assessment commission. DfE lists the membership
    • Careers. DfE issues latest guidance
    • GCSE science. Ofqual confirms new approach to assessment of practical work
    • GCSE, A levels. Ofqual map out final reform programme
    • Free Schools. A future Conservative government would create 500 more
    • Academy chains. Government considers performance metrics
    • School places. Announced for secondary schools for 2015/16 as bulge starts to hit
    • School funding. MPs debate transition to national funding formula
    • 14-19. CBI call for further review
    • Post-16 courses. Operational guidance for new database issued
    • Functional Skills. Not broken but could be improved according to latest report
    • STEM teachers. New incentives, bursary and fast track procedures announced
    • National College of Teaching. Government commits to some funding
    • Teacher CPD. Expert group to develop new standards
    • School inspections. Ofsted confirms what its looking for
    • FE. Minister offers latest progress report
    • FE funding system. NAO to investigate and report in the summer
    • Degree Apprenticeships. 9 more announced covering key sectors
    • Apprenticeship funding. New digital voucher scheme announced
    • HEFCE funding. 2015/16 allocations published.

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

    • Bridging the Social Divide Report. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission issues a five point call on closing the gap as political Parties limber up for the election
    • The Next LEPs. The think tank Localis reports on its survey of LEPs and calls for skills funding to be part of a devolved system of LEP driven local planning and funding over the next 5 years
    • Careers Education in the Classroom. TeachFirst adds to the growing volume of reports on the inadequate state of schools careers guidance as it launches a programme for its own recruits
    • The most able students. Ofsted follows up an earlier report into how well secondary schools are providing for the most able and concludes progress has been pretty slow
    • Reading: The next steps. The DfE includes book clubs and poetry recitals as ways of improving reading standards in primary schools in a report to mark World Book Day
    • The Commission on Apprentices. The think tank Demos concludes its year-long inquiry into apprenticeships in Construction and elsewhere with a call to strengthen quality and status
    • Education Manifesto. The think tank Policy Exchange makes recommendations in seven areas ranging from early years to lifelong learning in its pre-election manifesto
    • Apprenticeships and traineeships for 16-19 year olds. The Education Committee includes recommendations on quality and careers in its report on work-based learning for young people
    • A Rising Tide. The think tank Policy Exchange examines the evidence around Free Schools and argues that the case for extending the template is now proven
    • Costing the sixth form curriculum. The Sixth Form Colleges Association sets out the real cost of providing a post-16 curriculum and suggests cuts are making this difficult
    • First Year Process Evaluation. BIS commissioned research finds happy trainees and good progression rates from the first year of this programme
    • Evaluation of Apprenticeship Trailblazers. BIS commissioned research reflects on some of the issues surrounding the Trailblazer model of apprenticeship design
    • The Future of Higher Vocational Education. The Vice-Chancellors of Sheffield and Warwick Universities get together to sketch out a new vision to be led by some of the ‘top’ universities
    • Apprenticeship Reforms. The government charts out progress so far
    • Closing the gap: the work of the Education Committee in the 2010-2015 Parliament. The Committee reflects on its work over the last five years and its focus on closing the gap
    • The distribution of school funding and inputs in England: 1993-2013. The Institute of Fiscal Studies finds much of it aimed at deprived schools and at non-teaching numbers
    • Extremism in Schools: the Trojan Horse affair. The Education Committee reports on the lessons are to be learned from the affair and highlights a lack of inter-agency collaboration
    • Language Trends 2014/15. The CfBT and British Council’s latest annual survey of language learning in schools reports a slow trudge in attracting more young people to take up languages
    • Budget 2015. The big fat Budget Book spells out the details
    • Academies and Free Schools. The government confirms it remains keen to extend academisation as it responds to the recent Education Committee Inquiry
    • A dual mandate for adult vocational education. BIS launches a hefty consultation to help set a new vision for adult voc learning around skills training and second chance opportunities
    • Making maths and English work for all. Latest commissioned report finds the case for Functional Skills remaining strong but some changes to content and assessment needed
    • After the QCF. Ofqual launches consultation on a new, more flexible framework
    • Moving on up. The think tank IPPR add their thoughts to the growing 14-19 great debate calling for clearer definition, coherence and purpose to the whole upper-secondary system
    • Financial health of the HE sector 2013/14-2016/17. HEFCE offers its regular clinical analysis of how the HE sector finances are bearing up and despite wide variations finds positives
    • Education in chains. The think tank Reform make the case for reform through collaboration.

    Speeches of the month

    • The Prime Minister’s 9 March Free School speech continues the ‘all-out war’ on mediocrity in schools by proposing a massive increase in Free School numbers
    • Chuka Umunna’s 10 March apprenticeships speech highlights the 4 features of Labour’s voc policy (more apprenticeships, HE ladder, responsive provision, college branding)
    • Nick Clegg’s 15 March Spring Conference speech lays claim to the Party’s role in protecting schools budgets and brining in greater fairness through the Pupil premium
    • George Osborne’s 18 March Budget speech sets out to make Britain walk tall but continues the theme of austerity for at least the next three years
    • Tristram Hunt’s 20 March ASCL speech suggests new technology, new school forms and new ways of learning can help move things on from an exam factory model of schooling
    • Glenys Stacey’s 20 March ASCL speech highlights some of the competing tensions that lie behind qualification reform as she explains how progress is going in the current reforms
    • Nicky Morgan’s 21 March ASCL speech continues to praise teachers but prefers to keep curriculum decisions in the hands of ministers.

    Quotes of the month

    • “What these schools have achieved is frankly remarkable.” The Prime Minister on Free Schools
    • “People still think apprenticeships are for brickies and mechanics only.” The Skills Minister on dispelling myths about apprenticeships
    • “The plan is working. Britain is walking tall again.” The Chancellor on his Budget
    • “We get vocational education.” The Shadow Business Secretary on what Labour gets
    • “Thank you, let’s hope we don’t have to see you back again.” The chair of the Public Accounts Committee concludes its inquiry into funding by alternative HE providers
    • “I call it the cult of the big reformer.” The Shadow Ed Sec on toning down alpha male reforms.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Empowerment lounge.’ Apparently all good schools should have one. 
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending March 27 2015

    Yesterday MPs shook hands with the Speaker and trooped out of the Chamber as the 2010-2015 Parliament drew to a close.

    The week summed up

    Formal dissolution takes place on Monday and both major Parties head off to the campaign trail pretty much neck and neck.

    For the moment, much of this week has been given to getting as much sorted and out before purdah begins and restrictions on government activity kick in. In education there’s been a barrage of announcements, reports and updates which can be broadly filed under three headings: funding; qualification developments; and future strategy. Here’s a summary of each.

    Under funding, perhaps the most worrying area at present is that of adult skills training, essential for tooling up the country for economic revival but facing sustained cuts. Provider allocations have perhaps not been as bad as originally feared but as has been remarked before, the quest for a sustainable investment system based on employer and individual contributions, remains a key task for an incoming government. Schools too could face difficult times if, as the IfS predicted in a report this week that ‘spending will fall by 7% in real terms’ over the next five years. As for HE where this week 2015/16 allocations were confirmed, uncertainties over the impact of lifting the cap on student numbers and recruitment of overseas student numbers among other things, continue to trouble the sector as HEFCE’s latest health check indicated.

    On qualification developments, Ofqual has been busy this week updating on progress in the current reform programme but two other areas have also hit the headlines. One is the qualification framework for adult learning, the son or daughter of QCF in other words, which is now out for consultation until 17 June. And the other is Functional Skills, given a thumbs up in another report this week but in need of some support and attention. All three areas will need some attention after the election.

    Finally, future strategy and two important but battle weary areas namely 14-19 provision and adult vocational provision, both in the spotlight this week. The former had both the CBI and a think tank calling for further reform and the latter is now the subject of a major new consultation which will complete in the summer and set the direction for the next five years.

    The new government won’t be short of things to do.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Morgan rejects heads’ independent curriculum body.’ (Monday)
    •  ‘Cost of a degree is not worth it, says Oxford bursar.’ (Tuesday)
    •  ‘Colleges say’ swathe of cuts’ threatens adult education.’ (Wednesday)
    •  ‘School budgets facing significant cuts.” (Thursday)
    •  ‘Media studies survive but leisure studies don’t in final cull of A’ levels. (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Business Secretary who launched a hefty consultation about the future vision for adult FE as it strives to deliver its dual mandate of skills training for the workplace and second chance opportunities
    • The BIS Dept who confirmed that HNs would remain under their current (HE) funding regime but that some of the rules around Advanced Learning Loans would be relaxed  
    • The Education Secretary who responded to growing enthusiasm for an independent curriculum body by arguing that ministers should retain responsibility for curriculum decisions because they could be held to account
    • The  DfE who published a discussion paper on Academy chain performance suggesting two measures, one value-added and one improvement-based
    • Workload Challenge. (Spoiler alert: major change should only be brought in at the start of the year)
    • The DfE who updated its statutory guidance on careers provision
    • The HE Power List of top movers and shakers for English HE in 2015 which had George Osborne at No 1, Theresa May at No 2,  the Gen Sec of the Chinese Communist Party at No 6 (because of the importance of Chinese students to HE) and Vince Cable at No 10
    • James Dyson whose Foundation has donated £12m to Imperial College London to help set up a School of Design Engineering
    • Dame Ruth Silver who has been appointed to chair a Scottish Government Commission into access to university
    • Sir Paul Nurse who will lead a review into UK research funding especially around science
    • Stephen Munday who will chair a new group looking sat how to implement the Carter Review recommendations on the quality of initial teacher training 
    • HEFCE who published agreed funding allocations to universities and colleges for 2015/16 and followed this up with its regular financial health check of the sector
    • The BIS Dept who published an evaluation of the FE Commissioner’s ‘quality’ intervention process and found it now recognised and working effectively
    • Ofqual who launched a consultation on a new regulated qualifications framework as it prepared for life after the QCF
    • Functional Skills, back in the news this week as the review into employer and learner needs was published recommending that they should be seen as genuine alternative, rather than stepping stone, qualifications
    • Fact checker the Conversation who examined whether the Coalition really had created over 2m apprenticeships and concluded that while this was factually correct in terms of registered starts, questions remained about exactly what constituted general on the job training and what constituted a genuine apprenticeship
    • The government who issued operating guidelines for the proposed new database of post-16 courses, due to be launched this autumn
    • The Foundation Code, a set of principles designed to strengthen advice and guidance for young people which was developed by eight leading education bodies and launched this week
    • Ofsted who reported on a survey of school leaders’ views on inspection and claimed that many found it useful in helping make improvements
    • Ofqual who issued further regulatory guidelines this week on a number of 2016 subjects and updated the position on many of the remaining GCSEs, AS and A’ levels
    • The CBI who called for ‘a full review of 14-18 education’ to be on the list of things to be done in the first 100 days of an incoming government in May
    • The think tank IPPR who published another report on 14-19 education also calling for a review of 14-19 education focusing on its purpose and end product
    • The think tank Reform who also published a report on schools in this case arguing that improved performance can come from working in supportive strategic groups
    • The Institute of Fiscal Studies who looked at school funding in the light of different Party commitments and suggested that at best cuts of 7% might be expected in the future and at worst 12% depending on pension, pay and NI increases
    • What childcare is on offer, something that primary and secondary schools are to be required to provide alongside performance table data.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Kids think there are 2 job options: what Mum does and what Dad does.” @virginmedia
    • “50 mile school run: the price I’m willing to pay for the best school.” @edon tap
    • “Nick Boles: FE policy has been based on instincts and prejudice.” @FEontap

    Acronym(s) of the week

    •  CGHE. The new Centre for Global Higher Education, to be led by the UCL Institute of Education with the Universities of Sheffield and Lancaster and providing a focus for research into HE and future directions
    •  FRQ. Framework of Regulated Qualifications, successor to the QCF.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “If I’ve taken one thing away from my time so far it’s the fact that everyone has an opinion on education.” Nicky Morgan on life as Education Secretary
    • “The system of Functional Skills is not broken but could be improved.” The core conclusion from the latest review into Functional Skills
    • “Although the commitments made by the three main UK parties are subtly different, they could all imply real spending per pupil falling by 7% or more between 2014/15 and 2019/20.” The Institute of Fiscal Studies on the cold winds of funding reality
    • “To borrow an analogy: Ofsted becomes the hygiene inspector and peer review provides the restaurant critic.” The NAHT’s Russell Hobby on reforming the school inspection system
    • “It’s not clear how much capacity the academy chains have to hammer up results even if the early ones were a success.” The BBC’s Chris Cook on measuring Academy chain performance.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £3.97bn. How much HEFCE is allocating to universities and colleges for 2015/16 for teaching, research and other funded activity
    • 190,000. The number of adult learning places that could go over the next year as a result of cuts according to the Association of Colleges
    • 89.7%. The number of young people entering university from state school last year, a new high
    • 81%. The percentage of school leaders who, in a survey by Ofsted, reported that inspection helped them improve by identifying strengths and weaknesses
    • 33.1%. How much more women can earn if they have two or more A levels in STEM subjects according to commissioned research from the DfE.

    What to look out for next week

    • Parliament is dissolved (Monday).
    read more
  • Pocket Watch - Which way for adult voc ed?

    What’s the future for adult education and training?

    Sir Andrew Foster’s unloved middle child, the subject of a major report ten years ago calling for a new vibrant skills system, finds itself a decade on, facing a major funding crisis leading to questions about its very future.

    ‘Adult education could disappear by 2020, colleges warn,’ just one of the striking headlines this week. Yet at the same time the government has launched a major new review of adult vocational learning built around a vision that sees this country as a leading international player in this area, Ofqual has launched a consultation on a new more flexible qualification framework following the QCF and two of the prime products in adult vocational learning, namely Functional Skills and HNs, have been given the thumbs up to continue as they are albeit with developments. Is this therefore one of those cathartic moments that the adult vocational sector often has to go through as it prepares itself for a changing set of conditions or is it something more? The developments this week offer what could be seen as some hopeful pointers. 

    Four latest pointers

    1.    Vision. Essentially a drawing breath exercise after a period of change and economic upheaval, the consultation exercise launched by BIS this week aims to bring clarity and purpose around what it calls the ‘dual mandate’ of adult voc learning, namely providing for the skill needs of employers and individuals and secondly, providing second chance opportunities where needed. Arguably this remit hasn’t changed but the operating conditions have, where three factors have gained prominence. First, the requirement to ensure all young people reach minimum standards in English and maths by age 18, second the growing importance of high-level technical skills and of a recognised learning route for these and third, a shift away from central to local planning and funding. Each of these feature in some shape or form in policy priorities for all of the major Parties in the coming election and point to where the vision is heading  

    2.    Qualifications or more precisely qualification frameworks. Securing a balance between a secure quality assured system and one which offers flexibility for employers and learners has been a source of debate for some time and the current trend, evident in recent reviews from UKCES and the Commission on Adult Vocational Learning let alone Ofqual itself, has been to try and simplify by focusing on general principles, defined outcomes and employer engagement. Ofqual’s  consultation on a new regulated framework post the QCF, builds on this trend: “what will matter in future will be whether qualifications can be shown to be good, not whether they are designed to tick boxes.” The key drive here is market responsiveness, not new in itself but given new urgency by the demand for skilled talent and concerns about social mobility. The new framework aims to help both facets   

    3.    Functional Skills. The quest for credible alternatives to GCSE English and maths has been a long one but according to the latest report published this week, Functional Skills which have been around now for over five years and are widely used, could fit the bill. There are issues about how they are viewed, (as stepping stones or as alternatives,) about how employers view them (87% of those familiar with them value them but only 47% admit actually to being familiar with them) and about some content and assessment but the hope is that a new government will cement their support

    4.    HNs. Finally a quick word about Higher Nationals, where the government confirmed this week that they would remain under HE funding rules thereby continuing to provide an important vocational route as higher level vocational progression becomes more important.

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