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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.
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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!
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.
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)
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 majorspeech 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.
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).
The general election over and Ministers in place, attention this week has been switching to what lies ahead for the world of education.
Commentators and others have been rushing forward to offer their thoughts. Head teacher Tom Sherrington put his in an open letter to Nicky Morgan urging her to remove what he termed ‘a constant gun to the head’ (no pun intended;) the TES listed ‘seven things that a Conservative government might mean for schools’ including more of some things such as tests and free schools and less of other things, principally money; the professional bodies have already combined to urge the new government to ‘protect all education funding’ while Professor Chris Husbands, Aaron Porter, FE’s AoC and 157 Group, and Leora Cruddas are among those who have offered insightful blogs on future policy possibilities.
Arguably two schools of thought are emerging. On the one hand are those who believe that the Conservatives will not be able to be very radical in an area like education largely because they have bigger fish to fry, Europe for a start and will be strapped for cash as they battle to eradicate the deficit by the end of the next Parliament. Then there are those who think that unencumbered now by Coalition partners, the Party will be able to push through a much more radical agenda particularly in the area of schools where early legislation is anticipated.
Initial comments from both the Education Secretary and the BIS Secretary offer few clues. Nicky Morgan has suggested that her top priorities ‘would be to tackle school performance and ensure lots of good and excellent teachers across England’ while Sajid Javid has stressed that apprenticeships, jobs and youth training would remain important issues for his dept. All of which suggests business as usual, a case of Carry on Minister perhaps, but the Tory manifesto had 38 pledges for education and it’s in here that we should find the real clues as to what lies ahead.
Here’s a summary of some of the key points under four headings: funding; schools; FE; HE.
Funding remains the big concern for many people in the education system. The manifesto commits the government to “eliminating the deficit in a sensible and balanced way.” This will mean among other things finding a further £13bn from dept savings and £12bn from welfare savings all on top of the £21bn of savings found in the last Parliament. It may broadly be the same rate of savings as the last five years but as the IFS have indicated, it’ll be a lot harder this time round because to use the cliché, ‘the low hanging fruit has already been lopped.’ It’s not known at this stage if there’ll be an early Budget as there was in 2010 but there will be a Spending Review later this year and with both DfE and BIS now headed up by Ministers with Treasury experience, education will be looking for both to secure as good a settlement as possible. As things stand the manifesto funding pledges include:
For schools: to continue the pupil premium, although at current rates, to invest £7bn for school places over the next five years, to protect the per-pupil funding of 5-16 year olds and to make school funding fairer,
For FE: to make it easier for employers to take on apprentices by scrapping National Insurance contributions for under 25 age apprentices and for other new workers through the Employment Allowance
For HE: to introduce a national loan system for postgrads.
But it also promises among other things 500 more free schools, 3m more apprenticeships and a lifting of the cap on university student numbers, all of which will require some investment. Lots of figures were bandied about before the election about what the impact of continuing austerity might mean for different parts of the education system, anything from 6% to 10% cuts for schools and double that or more for some parts of the hard-pressed FE sector.
So what to look out for now? Obviously the Spending Review later this year as that will set the funding picture for the next 2/3 years. Elsewhere schools may want to keep an eye out, finally, for the new national funding formula and potential multi-year spending plans which were endorsed in the last debate on school funding in March and due for completion next year. Things remain bleak for Sixth Form Colleges (SFE) and FE providers. A funding uplift for large programmes is promised for 16-19 provision but as the SFE argued before the election, the sector needs £1000 more per student to be able to deliver a decent programme. FE will no doubt look out for the NAO report on the financial health of the sector due out this summer and further ahead on how the apprenticeship voucher system, which was announced before the election and due to come in by 2017, will operate. As for HE, the manifesto remains clear that it’s sticking with the current fee regime but the issue will be whether a further fee increase is on the cards. There had been pre-election talk of a rise to £10,000, even £12,000 so it will be interesting to see if there’s a strong push from some vice-chancellors for this to happen.
Most of the manifestos had plenty to say about schools and the Conservative manifesto was no different. David Cameron talked during the campaign about restoring ‘rigour, discipline and excellence’ in schools and that’s pretty much the tone throughout with more stick than carrot. Three particular sticks include a much stronger focus on the core essentials through the use of resit KS2 tests, universal adoption of EBacc subjects and support for STEM subjects; second, continued use of school system reform as a way of raising standards, parachuting in new leadership where necessary and creating more free schools; and third, a heavy reliance on accountability measures whether through Ofsted ratings or PISA tables to keep everyone on their toes. Some of the assumptions about what generates success may stretch credibility but the message is clear. As for what’s missing, there’s not much on teacher development and support and there’s nothing in the manifesto on the management of the new school system particularly as it continues to diversify, although announcements on Commissioner powers are expected shortly or on skills training for young people, no mention for instance of a 14-19 Bacc of any sort. The emphasis seems entirely, as the Education Secretary indicated, on school performance and measures needed to raise this.
FE remains a fairly foreign land for much of the manifesto where apprenticeships form the centre piece of the Party’s commitment to skills training. Potentially some of the promised 3m new places will come from the pledge to ‘replace lower-level classroom-based FE courses with high-level quality apprenticeships’ but the rest will require concerted efforts by both government and employers. The dept is due to release further data on earnings and destination measures this summer and this data drive looks set to continue as does the development of a network of specialist National Colleges. Beyond these, the Party has already set out a dual vision for the sector around high-level professional skills and second chance opportunities for those who left school without the skills they needed for which a consultation is due to complete next month. The new BIS Secretary may want to put his own stamp on it but as a ten-year vision it pretty much sets the scene. The big challenge, however, remains how to create a stable funding regime to support the level of skills training needed to drive economic recovery and opportunity.
Finally, briefly HE where as with the other sectors, the overriding message is carry on as before but where the arrival of a new, well-connected minister may make things more interesting. For the moment the three things to look out for include: any groundswell for an increase in fees, a continued clampdown on the visa system and sponsors, and a new teaching quality framework.