Policy Watch

Education’s always changing, and it can be hard to keep track. Policy Watch is the easy way to make sure you stay up to date with the latest developments.

Keep up with what’s happening in education policy

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

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

About Steve

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

The latest from Policy Watch

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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in March 2012

    A huge number of Reports and Papers out this month (see below) with the Budget or at least funding generally, dominating many of them.

    Main talking points

    Public sector pensions and pay apart, there was little in the Budget on education though many will have noticed the Chancellor’s continuing commitment to stick with current funding restrictions into 2016/17 which will, as the Institute of Fiscal Studies noted last year, have implications for education provision.

    And on the theme of funding, updates on progress towards new funding systems for both schools and FE were published during the month, bids opened for summer schools and employer owned pilots and the finance package for university students for 2013/14 was announced.

    Key headlines from the last month

    • GCSE. Michael Gove cautions against early entry
    • Homework. Michael Gove scraps current (old) guidelines
    • Performance Tables. The Dept publish the latest listing for the 2014/15 tables
    • Summer schools. Bids for funding opens
    • Careers. The Dept issue statutory guidance for schools
    • Youth Contract. DWP Select Committee prepare to launch an Inquiry
    • HE admissions. UCAS shift focus from PQA reform to Clearing
    • HE Student Finance. David Willetts confirms the package for 2013/14
    • HE margin places. HEFCE confirms allocation of the 20,000 ‘margin’ places up for grabs
    • Russell Group of universities. Gains four new members
    • Employer Ownership Pilot. Guidelines for applications issued
    • Welfare Reform. Bill incorporating Universal Credit eventually passed.

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

    • National Numeracy Survey. The new group dedicated to tackling maths skills finds that 17m adults have ‘poor’ numeracy skills
    • A New Streamlined Funding System for Adult Skills. The SFA publish an update on progress in introducing a new simplified funding system from August 2013
    • Quarterly Economic Forecast. The British Chambers of Commerce suggest unemployment will rise to 2.90m by Q1 2013 in their latest Quarterly Review
    • Review of Alternative Provision. The Government’s Expert Adviser on Behaviour outlines what’s available outside mainstream provision and calls for more school commissioning
    • Labour market statistics: March 2012. The ONS publish the latest set of unemployment figures which show the overall total up 28,000 since the last quarter to 2.67m
    • The growth of academy chains. The NCSL publish a report on some of the implications and challenges of academy chains for school leaders
    • Public attitudes to GCSEs and A levels. Ofqual’s annual survey finds public confidence undimmed in both qualifications
    • Moving English forward. Ofsted report on evidence from inspections of English and suggest some ways of helping raise standards
    • Enterprising Futures. The new(ish) Gazelle Group in FE look at changing practices in the workplace and call for greater prominence to be given to developing entrepreneurial skills
    • Hidden Talents. The LGA examine the complex web of support systems for unemployed young people and call for better pooling of resources
    • Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders for the 21st Century. The OECD present some interesting case study evidence as they consider teaching roles in the future
    • Budget 2012. A 100+ pages of forecasts, predictions, reforms and hopes for the future
    • Economic and Fiscal Outlook. March 2012. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) point to a zig-zag pattern of growth as they sketch out the economic climate for the next 5 years
    • Plan for Growth. The BIS Dept update progress on the 235 measures in the Growth Plan
    • The over-looked middle in 14+ education and training. The Institute of Education point to a new group of young people likely to emerge from the current lack of provision
    • Next Steps in School Funding Reform. The Dept report on steps being taken to introduce a simplified national funding formula from 2013/14
    • Professionalism in FE. The Independent Review Panel tries to clear the air as it produces the first phase of what will be a two phase report
    • After the Riots. The final Report of the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel comes up with over 60 recommendations covering schools, families, the police and consumerism
    • Plan A+: unleashing the potential of Academies. The think tank Reform and the Schools Network examine progress in Academisation and call for a new Plan A phase of development.

    Speeches of the month

    • Vince Cable’s 6 March EEF Manufacturing Conference speech spells out what he considers to be some of the key ingredients of a modern industrial strategy
    • Francis Maude’s 7 March Policy Exchange speech sees giving people a stake through greater ownership, mutualisation and transparency as an essential part of the Party’s modernisation
    • Iain Duncan Smith’s 12 March Social Justice speech announces the creation of a new investment funded Early Intervention Foundation to help prevent social breakdown
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw’s 15 March Raising Standards in literacy speech lists 10 steps to help raise national standards in literacy
    • Ed Miliband’s 16 March Labour Youth Conference speech calls for a bank bonus tax to be used to guarantee 6 months work for 18-24 year olds who have been out of work for a year
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw’s 20 March Policy Exchange speech reflects on Ofsted’s role in after care services that could help school improvement
    • George Osborne’s 21 March Budget speech has little to say on education but plenty on tax, benefits and pensions
    • Michael Gove’s 24 March ASCL speech identifies five pillars for reform: the funding system, teaching, the curriculum and quals, accountability and system change.

    Quotes of the month

    • “The British economy has carried a little more momentum into the new year than previously anticipated.” The Chancellor points to some movement in his Budget speech
    • “It’s simply inexcusable for anyone to say they can’t do maths. It is a peculiarly British disease we aim to eradicate.” The new National Numeracy campaign takes a no-excuses approach to raising maths standards
    • “Lest anyone think we have reached a point where we should slacken the pace of reform, let me reassure them: we have to accelerate.” Michael Gove keeps his foot on the pedal
    • “Young people between 13 and 24 years can receive support from at least 8 national organisations funding 33 different funds and schemes spanning 13 different age groups.”The Local Government Association tries to untangle support systems for young people
    • “Sage on the stage or guide on the side.” Former Labour adviser Peter Hyams looks for both as he recruits teachers for his new school.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Abattoir administration.’ The Times political correspondent gets graphic over cuts
    • ‘Dux.’ The DfE displays its Latin credentials as it adopts a classical term for its new scheme to encourage entry to university.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education for February 2012

    Two of what are likely to be dominant themes for the world of education and skills this year have been very much in evidence this month.

    Main talking points

    First standards, where this month has seen Ofqual announce further tightening for some GCSEs, the Chief Inspector set out the rationale behind changes to inspections and the Skills Minister announce further quality changes for apprenticeships. Second youth employment, a fertile ground at present for planners and policy makers and where the month saw a further announcement on the Youth Contract by the Deputy PM and a couple of significant Reports on youth unemployment, listed below. Elsewhere, HE gained a new Director for the Office for Fair Access but saw proposals to impose penalties on early repayment of fee loans dropped.

    Key headlines from the last month

    • Free Schools. Next round of applications opens
    • GCSE. Further tightening in 4 subjects announced
    • Ofsted. Consultation on raising the bar launched
    • National Citizen Service. Further consultation under way
    • Apprenticeships. 3 big banks prepare to pitch in
    • Apprenticeships 16-24. AGE (Apprenticeship Grant for Employers) launched
    • SME Apprenticeship Review. Chair and reporting date established
    • Business in the Community. Network of Business Connectors extended
    • FE. Independent review of profession takes evidence
    • FE ITE. Budget for initial teacher education announced
    • City Skills Fund. Funding pot confirmed
    • UK Skills Show. Date (Nov 2012) and venue (NEC) now set
    • HEFCE. Funding for teaching and learning announced
    • HE fees. Proposals for early repayment penalty abandoned
    • HE Key Information Set. Latest modelling of format published
    • Regional Growth Fund. Further £1bn added for new round of bids
    • Make it in Great Britain. The ‘Make it’ challenge launched
    • Unemployment. Final 2011 figures confirmed at 2.67m.

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

    Speeches of the month

    • David Miliband’s 6 February speech launching the Youth Commission Report outlines some important recommendations to help youth employment
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw’s 9 February ‘Good to Great’ Conference speech spells out some of the changes being planned for the inspection system
    • David Cameron’s 23 February Business in the Community speech takes on some of the recent anti business mood and argues that business and social justice can go hand in hand
    • Vince Cable’s 23 Feb Manufacturing Summit speech explains what steps the government is taking to support the manufacturing industry
    • Vince Cable’s 27 February Industrial Strategy speech highlights the work the government is doing to stimulate a growth strategy.

    Quotes of the month

    • “A rising tide lifts all boats.” David Willetts explains the thinking behind an open HE market
    • “Hopefully I’ll never have to press the nuclear button.” The new Director of OFFA considers his armoury
    • “If the route to university is a well signposted route, the route into work for (these) 16-18 year olds is more like an unmarked field of landmines.”  The ACEVO Youth Commission highlight the rocky road facing many young people
    • “Every individual soul is precious.”  Michael Gove tells the Select Committee why he’s so committed to education reform
    • “My view is that we have tolerated mediocrity for far too long.” Sir Michael Wilshaw takes a strong line on satisfactory level performance
    • “This will not be just another quango.” Stephen Twigg outlines plans for a new Educational Improvements Agency.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Rhineland capitalism.’ The joint state-employer training model adopted in countries like Germany and Austria and viewed enviously for its success in training young people
    • ‘Job Snobs.’ Government riposte to critics of its work schemes.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education for Jan 2012

    January is generally the month of reckoning after the Christmas period and January 2012 has been no different with a string of statistics being published on the economy, unemployment and school and college performance through annual ‘league’ tables.

    Main talking points

    The stats on the economy and unemployment cover the last quarter of 2011 but generally confirm the downbeat predictions that came out of the survey of leading economists carried out at the start of the year. As for the league tables, accompanied now by a bulging portfolio of data, it was the lack of progress between the end of primary school and GCSEs particularly for disadvantaged pupils, that provoked some of the sharpest headlines. Elsewhere, the Education Secretary’s ICT speech at BETT, the latest application figures through UCAS, the DfE listing for future 14-16 performance tables and rumours about the HE Bill all provided talking points for the month

    Key headlines from the last month

    • Summer hols. Political interest grows in trimming to allow for extra schooling
    • Primary ‘bulge.’ Expected to grow by 800,000 by 2020
    • Academies. 1529 now open
    • ‘Coasting’ schools. The Prime Minister hosts a seminar
    • ICT. Disapplication consultation launched
    • League Tables. 58.2% of state school pupils achieve the 5 ‘good’ GCSE benchmark
    • Future league tables. DfE publish approved list for 2014 tables
    • Exam system. Select Committee hears evidence
    • Inspections. Satisfactory grade going, no notice inspections coming
    • School to Work. Labour launch a Review
    • Raising the participation age. Consultation launched on some finer details
    • Work experience. 100 firms line up to offer opportunities    Apprenticeships. New online certification system launched
    • Troubled Families. New £200m scheme launched by the DWP
    • University applications. Headline drop of 7.4% at the Jan staging point    Degrees. Number of students gaining 1st and 2.1 honours rises to 64%
    • Unemployment. Final quarterly figures for 2011 up
    • Growth. Down by 0.2% in last quarter
    • National debt. Tops a trillion, £16,400 for each of us

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

    • ‘ The Prince’s Trust Youth Index 2012.’ The Trust’s fourth annual stock take of issues affecting young people finds many of them feeling rudderless and lacking confidence
    • ‘ Technology and Innovation Futures.’ This latest Foresight Scanning Paper looks ahead at UK hi-tech growth opportunities for the 2020s
    • ‘ The Skills Dilemma.’ The Work Foundation examine two sectors and argues that poor skills utilisation rather than weak skills supply is as much the problem
    • ‘ The Graduate Market in 2012.’ The latest High Fliers research looks at the prospects for the Class of 2012 and finds previous work experience a key factor in getting a job
    • ‘ HESA Statistical First Release.’  The latest Release from the Higher Ed Stats Agency offers an interesting picture of undergraduate trends, numbers and outcomes
    • ‘ Shut down or restart.’ The Royal Society publish the results of their 2 year inquiry into the state of ICT and computing in UK schools and call for an expansion of digital literacy
    • ‘ Recognising central government bodies.’ The National Audit Office take a look at how the quango reform programme is progressing and find the estimates of savings to be optimistic
    • ‘ Information is not enough.’ The 157 Group of Colleges call for careers advice to be impartial and make a case for colleges to act as service hubs
    • ‘ The introduction of the Work Programme.’ The National Audit Office review the early stages of the Work Programme and highlight some teething pains
    • Latest performance table data. The latest batch of annual exam performance data suggest some improvements but highlight concerns about disadvantaged pupils
    • Engineering UK 2012. The sector’s latest stock take on the state of engineering in the UK shows its importance to the economy but highlights changes needed to the supply side
    • HE Funding for England 2012/13. The latest Grant Letter increases the overall budget but starts to reflect the impact of the incoming regime with recoupment through fee loans

    Speeches of the month

    Quotes of the month

    • “It must be the year we go for it.” The Prime Minister comes out fighting in his New Year message
    • “There will be no additional Government funding. This time we will be looking to private finance and perhaps sponsorship.” David Willetts spells out the thinking behind a new kind of university
    • “I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programmes so that from now on people have one programme, one website and one place to go for all the information and help they need.” President Obama stresses the importance of skills training in his State of Union Address
    • “Just good enough is frankly not good enough.” The Prime Minister defends the move to re-label long-term satisfactory schools as requiring improvement
    • “In an average week the DfE processes 20 applications from schools to convert to Academy status.” Michael Gove points out how fast Academisation is spreading
    • “Technology in schools will no longer be micromanaged by Whitehall.” Michael Gove’s BETT speech launches a review of ICT provision  in schools

    Word or phrase of the month

    1.6 hours. Average amount of time per day children apparently spend on their mobiles
    ‘Requires improvement.’ The new grading for schools formerly labelled ‘satisfactory’.

    read more
  • Policy breakfast briefing: The Wolf Report

    What does the Wolf Report mean for UK schools and colleges? This event looked at Alison Wolf’s 2011 review of vocational education, its context and its impact in detail. You can watch the video here.

    read more