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 October 2014

    Things have been pretty busy on all fronts this month as the long list of news items below indicates.

    For schools, the stand-outs include the Workload Challenge, Ofsted’s consultation on future inspection arrangements and some of the exam data now coming out. For FE, AoC’s submission to the Treasury and Glenys Stacey’s FAB speech provide useful starting points while for HE, the three Reports listed continue to mark out the agenda there. 

    Key headlines from the month

    • Early years. IFS question the value of the current entitlement
    • Primary Futures. Programme of visits by business volunteers initiated
    • Pupil motivation. EEF commissioned research shows it ain’t all about the money
    • Disadvantaged kids. The Social Mobility Commission issues 2 reports highlighting concerns
    • Absence rates. Improved and at lowest rate for 8 years
    • Exam results. Provisional figures for 2013/14 show a dip in nos reaching 5 GCSE benchmark
    • Exam appeals. Ofqual stats reveal significant rise this year
    • Maths.  Survey reveals schools planning to increase teaching time at KS3 and 4
    • Vision for literacy. Launched with cross-Party blessing
    • Careers. Further report (from Sutton Trust) highlights concerns
    • Teaching assistants. Independent review set up to develop professional standards
    • Teacher Workloads. Politicians from all sides show support
    • Ofsted. Consultation begins on new inspection arrangements
    • Inspections. Ofsted shatters myths about lesson observations and other alleged requirements
    • Underperforming schools. The PM looks to grant Regional Commissioners new powers
    • Free schools. 35 more approved
    • Trojan schools. Ofsted reports only slow progress
    • 16-19 participation. Public Accounts Committee announces new inquiry
    • Funding. EFA publish initial arrangements for 16-19 yr olds for 2015/16
    • Functional Skills. Minister makes welcoming noises
    • ESOL. The SFA confirms funding arrangements for 2014/15
    • Voc Quals (1.) Ofqual confirms changes to accreditation arrangements
    • VQs (2.) Edge survey confirms strong parental support
    • Apprenticeships. More trailblazers announced
    • FE. AoC confirms extent of college engagement with business
    • FE teaching bursaries. Minister confirms continuation of scheme into 2016
    • FE Commissioner. Writes to the sector with views on how to raise standards
    • Uni applications. UCAS reveals drop in home applications at Oct deadline
    • HE (1.) Quality Assurance. HEFCE announces new review
    • HE (2.) UUK publishes report on impact of schools led teacher-training
    • University hot and cold spots. HEFCE maps them out
    • Unemployment. Significant drop in latest figures, down to 1.97m

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Glenys Stacey’s 2 October Key Conference speech explains how the qualification regulator is managing the current qualification reform programme
    • Vince Cable’s 6 0ctober Conference speech announces plans for a single national minimum wage for 16-17 year olds
    • Nick Clegg’s 8 October Conference speech includes a promise to protect funding up to age 18 as one of 5 pledges intended to position the Party between the other two
    • Matthew Hancock’s 13 October Industrial Strategy speech sets out the role of the Strategy for manufacturing and other sectors
    • Genys Stacey’s 14 October FAB Conference speech sets out the thinking behind changes to accreditation requirements for VQs and other quals
    • Sam Gyimah’s 21 October Policy Exchange speech makes a strong case for further development of school-led nurseries
    • Nick Clegg’s 22 October Public Sector speech pledges to cut back on the paperwork and other bureaucracy making the life and work of public servants like teachers so burdensome

    Quotes of the month

    • “There’s lots of things I lie awake at night worrying about. This is not one of them. We really shouldn’t get exercised about it.” Vince Cable on tuition fee repayments
    • “Teaching isn’t a job for the faint – hearted.” Nick Clegg gets to grips with the reality of teaching
    • “A Labour government would retain the primary curriculum and, in the main, continue with the GCSE changes.” The Shadow Ed Minister on Labour’s approach to qual reform, in the main
    • "You can spot a good school in half an hour.” The Chief Inspector on the inspection reforms
    • “Social mobility in Britain is low and stalling and nowhere is this more apparent than in education.” The Social Mobility Commission on the importance of education
    • We know that something funny happens when teenagers start to be slightly out of sync with the rest of the world.” The Education Endowment Fund investigates the nature of sleeping patterns on young people’s learning outcomes

    Word or phrase of the month

    • To procaffeinate. To put things off till you’ve had a coffee.
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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in September 2014

    Some interesting reports out this month including those on primary school provision, GCSE grading, FE teaching and learning and HE student numbers but as the seven speeches listed indicate, election momentum is gathering pace.

    Key headlines from the month

    •    Free school meals. Introduced for 5-7 and 16-18 year olds
    •    Free Schools. 35 more announced
    •    New national curriculum. Gets under way for most pupils
    •    SEN. New reforms come into effect
    •    Primary reading. New campaign launched to help more 11 yr olds read
    •    Lesson observations. Ofsted scrap individual grades in favour of general overview
    •    GCSE grading. Ofqual explains the new scale
    •    Research centre. Wellington College launches the first school-based centre
    •    16-19 study programmes. Careers, English/maths singled out as weaknesses by Ofsted
    •    A level foreign languages. Ofqual outline some changes for summer 2015 on
    •    Careers guidance. Education Committee to hold follow-up inquiry as Morgan acknowledges issues
    •    Young people. Lib-Dems pledge discounted bus passes and ring fenced funding to age 19
    •    Voc Education. Government invites bids for a new research centre
    •    National College. Government declares Birmingham/Doncaster the home of the new HS2 college
    •    2014 uni entry. UK and EU applicants up and big increase for those with voc quals
    •    HE tuition fees. Minister rules out any immediate increase

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

    •    The Efficiency Index. GEMS single out teacher salaries and class sizes as key indicators in the latest Education Efficiency Index which has the UK coming in at a high 1th
    •    16-18 year-old participation in education and training. The National Audit Office considers value for money in the latest 16-18 developments and worries about some of the cost benefits
    •    Adult literacy and numeracy. The BIS Committee questions the reliance on GCSEs and calls for a more joined-up approach to improve performance in this area
    •    Great Education Debate. The professional body ASCL emerges with three priority areas: ensuring achievement for all, prof development for teachers and greater system collaboration
    •    Education at a Glance. The OECD offers its annual sweeping survey of education system performance in 40+countries and finds for the UK more graduates don’t equal more skills
    •    Students’ educational and developmental outcomes at age 16. The latest research from the EPPSE programme suggests that effective early years provision helps
    •    Read on, Get on.  Charities, teachers and publishers get together to launch a new campaign to help more young and deprived children to read
    •    Manifesto for a Numerate UK. The National Numeracy charity calls for a new numeracy qualification as part of a 7-point Manifesto
    •    Mobility Manifesto. The Sutton Trust launches a 10-point manifesto intended to improve social mobility through education
    •    Setting the Grade Standards of new GCSEs in England. The consultation over, responses considered, Ofqual sets out how the new numerical scale is to apply for the first GCSEs
    •    Early implementation of 16-19 study programmes. Ofsted runs the rule over the new study programmes and finds limited evidence so far of any ‘transformational’ change
    •    Governors’ Handbook. The DfE updates its latest guidance for school governors but retains the three core functions of strategy, challenge and financial audit
    •    The qualifications of English and maths FE teachers. The Education and Training Foundation surveys the workforce and finds gaps in support and skills levels
    •    A guide to the removal of student number controls. HEPI outlines three big challenges: the impact on numbers: impact on quality; how’s it going to be funded?
    •    Teaching, learning and assessment in FE and skills. Ofsted surveys evidence from 20 outstanding providers as it seeks to demonstrate what works and why
    •    Taking Action. The National Careers Council reviews progress one year on and offers four more recommendations to help speed things up
    •    Perceptions of Qualifications. Ofqual’s latest survey finds continued support for A levels, less for GCSEs and concerns about constant change
    •    Developing new GCSEs and A levels. The DfE and Ofqual consult on content and assessment arrangements for a further tranche of 2016 GCSEs and A and AS levels
    •    Interim report on 2014 university entry. UCAS summarises things one month on from results day and finds recruitment booming for those with voc quals especially
    •    Primary Focus. The think tank Policy Exchange calls for a mass academisation programme to help primary schools meet a growing list of challenges
    •    Low-level disruption in the country’s classrooms. Ofsted concludes that some pupils could be losing up to an hour’s learning a day from disruptive behaviour in some classrooms
    •    Stand up for education. The NUT launches a manifesto for education that includes more time for teaching rather than testing and a restored role for local authorities

    Speeches of the month

    •    Greg Clark’s 9 Sept UUK Conference speech sprinkles praise liberally to all corners and pledges to protect the sector from further cuts  
    •    Tristram Hunt’s 21 Sept Conference speech briefly outlines the three current education priorities childcare reform; fully trained teachers; a reformed vocational education system
    •    Ed Balls’ 22 Sept Conference speech acknowledges the need to cut the deficit but promises to transform vocational education and support a compulsory jobs guarantee  
    •    Ed Miliband’s 23 Sept Conference speech sticks to a 10 yr programme of six goals: jobs, pay, apprenticeships, health, housing and wealth
    •    George Osborne’s 29 Sept Conference speech pledges to abolish long-term youth unemployment and create more apprenticeships but the fight to reduce the deficit goes on
    •    Nicky Morgan’s 30 Sept Conference speech adopts a highly conciliatory tone as it recognises concerns about teacher workload and reform pressures
    •    David Cameron’s 1 Oct Conference speech calls for 5 more yrs to allow the Government to complete its programme of reform in areas like education

    Quotes of the month

    •    “I’m not a complicated man. I believe in simple things.” The Prime Minister explains his political philosophy
    •    “I don’t want my child to be taught by someone too tired, too stressed and too anxious to do the job well.” The Education Secretary feels the pain of overworked teachers
    •    “If you get into government it will cause you no end of grief.” The ex-Universities Minister advices the Shadow Universities Minister about the perils of the graduate tax
    •    “We’re a regulator that is known, understood and feared-feared isn’t always a bad thing.” Ofsted’s Chief Inspector on the fear factor
    •    “On the one hand in in the UK you can say qualification levels have risen enormously, lots more people are getting degrees but actually not all of that is visible in skills.”  The OECD on the worrying gap in the UK between knowing and doing
    •    “Rigorous, engaging and tough.” The PM’s 3-word description of the new national curriculum

    Word or phrase of the month

    •    Three new education typologies: ‘VIFs,’ Caves’ and ‘Gringos’ or ‘very important freshers,’ ‘colleagues against virtually everything’ and ‘graduates in non-graduate opportunities’.

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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in August 2014

    It’s been exams results month of course and much of the talking has been about the impact of some of the so-called ‘Gove’ reforms on results.

    The programme of reform continues however and Ofqual’s 2014-2017 Corporate Plan, published this month and listed under the Reports below, offers a useful guide to what’s in store. For a Labour perspective, Tristram Hunt’s speech also cited below, contains some interesting detail about their plans. Elsewhere this month, primary schools may be interested in the provisional key stage 2 test results now released, secondary schools in the CBI’s ‘Future Possible’ Report on young people’s skill programmes, FE in the consultation on success measures and HE in Labour’s plans for a revamped higher-level tech route. All are referenced below.

    Key headlines from the month

    •    Key Stage 2 tests. 79% of pupils achieve level 4 or above in 2014 tests
    •    Free meals. Concerns continue about costs and capacity
    •    Primary maths support. To be beamed in from India in trial programme
    •    PISA tests. More Chinese pupils to participate in future tests
    •    Free Schools. London Institute study finds the disadvantaged often miss out
    •    Studio Schools. 4 more announced
    •    UTCs. 7 more announced
    •    League Tables. Head teacher groups plan alternative model
    •    Digital technology. Ofcom confirm 6yr olds more savvy than 45 yr olds
    •    Inspections. Ofsted publish revised guidance for coming year
    •    Teachers. A quarter move into top income tax bracket
    •    GCSEs. A*-Cs up to 68% but concerns about performance in English and science numbers
    •    A levels. A*-Es slight drop to 98%, A*s up to 8.2%, STEM entries up
    •    AS level. Labour confirm it’ll re-couple
    •    Regulation. Ofqual sets out its priorities for over the next 3 years
    •    Work experience. CBI call for co-ordinated system of Local Brokers
    •    16-19 Study Programmes. DfE confirms latest guidance.
    •    Traineeships. Scheme reaches first birthday with 7,400 learners signed up
    •    Apprenticeships. New campaign and standards rolled out
    •    NEETs. Down to 9yr low
    •    Skills Crunch. Prince’s Trust highlights where it’s biting hardest
    •    19+ learning. Government consults on new outcome success measures
    •    FE. Government update the sector in latest briefing letter
    •    HE student funding. UUK’s new Panel calls for evidence
    •    Student Satisfaction. Bath, Keele and St Andrews come out on top
    •    HE. Labour sets out plans for Tech Universities

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

    •    Apprenticeship Funding Reform. BIS updates on its earlier funding consultation confirming introduction of its initial co-investment model in 2014/15 with full new system from 2016
    •    Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy. The government calls for views from respective industries as it seeks to map out a future strategy
    •    Trends in Undergraduate Recruitment. UUK publishes its latest report into UK and EU undergrad recruitment and finds an increase in alternative providers but decrease in p/t numbers
    •    Ending number controls in HE. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) analyses the Australian experience in removing HE number controls and raises concerns about a rushed approach here
    •    Only a Matter of Time? The think tank Policy Exchange examines the issues around extending the school day and finds many schools already do but that a voluntary approach works better
    •    College Governance. BIS’s latest guide, timed to coincide with work from the AoC, highlights the important role college governors play in holding college leaders to account
    •    Success measures in adult education. BIS maps out the possible impact of and seeks views on its 4 proposed outcome based success measures for 19+ learning
    •    Future Possible. The CBI calls for a structured and supported programme of work-related learning and guidance to help young people prepare for the world of work
    •    Trends in HE applications and admissions. The Independent Commission on Fees finds a continuing wide access gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students
    •    Remember the Young Ones. The think tank IPPR calls for a youth apprenticeship levy along with a youth allowance as part of its proposals for school to work transition
    •    On Speaking Terms. The think tank Demos reports on a fragmented and poorly funded ESOL system in England and calls for a student-style loan system to help improve things
    •    2014-2017 Corporate Plan. Ofqual puts the emphasis on validity, voc quals, efficiency and transparency as it sets out a busy work programme for the next three years
    •    Implementing Rigour and Responsiveness. The new Skills Minister maintains a familiar tone as he sends out the latest in the series of briefing Papers to FE Governors and Leaders
    •    Funding for In-service Maths Teacher Training in FE. The SFA explains how the new scheme will work from this September
    •    Careers guidance and inspiration. DfE and BIS set out the latest requirements on sixth form and FE colleges
    •    Robbins Rebooted. The Labour Party starts to build its vision of a new, earn while you learn tech route through Tech University partnerships working with industry and colleges
    •    Elitist Britain. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission examines the background of 4,000 public leaders and finds continuing evidence of elitism operating

    Speeches of the month

    •    George Osborne’s 5 August Northern Powerhouse speech pledges to put plans to create an economic powerhouse in the North at the heart of his Autumn Statement this year
    •    Iain Duncan Smith’s 11 August Getting Britain Working speech argues that economic and social welfare reforms should go hand in hand as part of the recovery programme
    •    Tristram Hunt’s 18 August Choice in Education speech reflects on some of the lessons from the great Butler Reform Act of 70 years ago and identifies key education reforms for Labour

    Quotes of the month

    •    “The bar has not been set higher this year than last and so students who would have succeeded before these changes should succeed now, all other things being equal.” The Chief Executive of Ofqual calms the nerves in the week before the exam results come out
    •    “Under the leadership of my predecessor, Michael Gove, we’ve turned the exam system on its head so that it works for children not politicians.” Nicky Morgan sets the tone for the government’s response to the 2014 exam results
    •    “More broadly, I am hopeful that we can build on the Tech Bacc and move towards a Nat Bacc framework that binds all learning routes together within a vigorous curriculum framework.” The Shadow Education Secretary on his vision for 14-19 learning
    •    “A decrease of 0.1% in the overall pass rate represents about 800 entries. It is not a significant shift. This is a stable picture of exams year on year.” The General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders puts the A level results into context
    •    “Reform was necessary because so many pupils gained qualifications that neither employers nor universities recognised.” Alison Wolf explains why the exam system needed reform

    Word or phrase of the month

    •    ‘Snowploughers.’ Pushy parents, apparently.

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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in July 2014

    You start the month with one team and end up with another, the election must be getting nearer.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Ed Depts. Changing of the guard in both
    • Ofsted. Issues guidance to inspectors on evaluating new assessment regime
    • School buildings. Facing an £8.5bn backlog of repair according to architects
    • Maths hubs. 32 pace-setters announced
    • English/maths. GCSE Eng/maths seen as future national standard, stepping stone quals listed
    • English and maths GCSE. NIACE commissioned to look at functional aspects
    • Core maths. Government responds on the technical guidance
    • School sixth forms. Will receive separate Ofsted grading from Sept 2014
    • Master teachers. Labour looking at recreating
    • Headteacher Boards. Elected members announced
    • Tech Levels. Latest listing for 2016 tables confirmed
    • Tech/voc ed. The Education Committee prepares for final major review
    • Careers guidance. The Education Committee confirms follow-up inquiry
    • 14-16 yr olds. More colleges bid to take on young recruits
    • 16/19-24 funding. Labour considers shift to local commissioning
    • QCF/GLH. Ofqual confirm consultations coming
    • Apprenticeships. Public see them as degree alternatives in poll for Pearson/Sutton Trust
    • Growth Deals. Government signs off first instalment
    • FE. The IfL throws its lot in with the ETF
    • Tech degrees. Labour lines up new high-level voc route
    • UCAS. Uni applications up by 4% at end of June deadline

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Elizabeth Truss’s 2 July Maths Support speech makes the now familiar passionate pitch for both the importance of maths and the government’s enthusiasm for it
    • Ed Miliband’s 3 July speech to the Policy Network supports the theme of inclusive prosperity and identifies 5 core challenges around skills, trust and reformed markets
    • Liam Byrne’s 7 July City of Westminster College speech sets out Labour principles for a locally commissioned skills system including per-student funding
    • Ed Miliband’s 8 July Pearson/Sutton Trust event speech points Labour HE policy in the direction of employer endorsed tech degrees
    • Matthew Hancock’s 8 July Pearson/Sutton Trust event speech highlights apprenticeship reforms as a key part of the government’s reforms of the skills system
    • Matthew Hancock’s 9 July Change Board speech rehearses familiar lines about how the government is opening up opportunity by bridging the academic/vocational divide
    • Michael Gove’s 10 July Education Foundation speech stresses (perhaps presciently) the importance of keeping the government’s school reforms going not least for social mobility

    Quotes of the month

    • “There is no question of reversing his policies; the point is to preserve them with a little less controversy.” An unnamed colleague on the brief facing the new Education Secretary
    • “I am tremendously privileged and luck and happy to be given this job. Like poor Manuel, I know nothing at the moment but am keen to learn.” The new Skills Minister faces up to his new job
    • “Let us link hands and embrace the future together.” The Chancellor gets friendly on a trade mission to India
    • “My priority for expansion of university places will be tech degrees.” Ed Miliband on Labour’s HE plans
    • “Only 10 out of 120 institutions will charge maximum fees of less than £9000 in 2014/15.” The HE Network reflects on the steady spread of the fee max
    • “By 2023 the number of state-funded secondary pupils aged up to and including 15 is projected to be 17% higher than in 2014.” The DfE on the pupil numbers bulge
    • “Of the 29,000 schools in Britain, 80% of the stock is beyond its shelf life.” The Royal Institute of British Architects eyes future school building work

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Whiteguymageddon.’ Apparently what the Ministerial reshuffle was all about.
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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in June 2014

    16 headlines, 23 Reports, 7 leading speeches, it’s been that sort of month.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Primary. Government and IoE announce new leadership schemes
    • Free schools. 38 more approved, total rises to 331
    • Progress 8. Schools invited to opt in early
    • GCSEs/A levels. Ofqual consults on the final sweep
    • Science. DfE launches consultation on proposed programme of study at KS4
    • Maths. ACME launches a maths education blueprint
    • Functional Skills. Ofqual seeks views
    • Exams 2014. Ofqual writes to schools and colleges
    • School funding. Lib-Dems pledge to ring fence 0-19 funding
    • Teachers. Ofqual invites teacher comments on exam prepping techniques
    • Lesson observations. Ofsted prepares to pilot a new approach
    • Learning Technology. Government pushes the agenda in FE
    • Apprenticeships. New co-investment funding model to be piloted from 2014/15
    • University complaints. Universities uphold a rising number of student complaints
    • Universities. Bath, Surrey, Lancaster charge up the Guardian university league table
    • Student visas. Government Statement responds to latest concerns.

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Matthew Hancock’s 2 June AELP Conference speech presents apprenticeship reform as an essential modernising exercise and announces a pilot funding model for new starters
    • Michael Gove’s 7 June Policy Exchange speech outlines five factors that help define high-performing school systems starting with autonomy and accountability
    • Matthew Hancock’s 11 June AoC International Conference speech finds good progress being made in the International Education Strategy as it reaches its first anniversary
    • Matthew Hancock’s 15 June Spectator speech highlights the role of technology in helping transform vocational learning
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw’s 20 June Sunday Times Ed Festival speech identifies 4 features for successful comp schools: aspirational; competitive; ordered; working with/confronting parents
    • Glenys Stacey’s 20 June Sunday Times Ed Festival speech outlines what to expect not just for this summer but for the longer-term future in the qualification world
    • George Osborne’s 23 June Manchester speech sees a new rail network and flourishing universities as core ingredients of a booming Northern economy.

    Quotes of the month

    • “I would say freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions.” The Prime Minister defines British values
    • “When I go to Tesco I don’t negotiate the prices and I guess you don’t either. But they know sure as anything I can go to Waitrose next door if I want and that drives value for money.” The Skills Minister on the shopping basket approach to apprenticeship funding
    • “When I was 7, maths meant workbooks, pencils and pocket calculators.” The Skills Minister on what learning was like before technology came along
    • “We wouldn’t accept a fifth of hospital operations going wrong of a fifth of flights ending badly. So why should we accept a system in which school standards were still too low?” Michael Gove on setting bars for school standards
    • “We’re not going to indulge in massive curriculum change, undoing what’s taken place.” Tristram Hunt tries to reassure
    • “It won’t be an easy summer but then I haven’t had an easy summer yet.” The Chief Executive of Ofqual on the anxieties of the summer results season.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Playlist.’ An online learning plan for students, apparently
    • ‘Mindfulness.’ The new in-demand skill for leaders.
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