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 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.

    read more
  • 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.
    read more
  • 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.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in April 2014

    The poet Robert Browning wrote that it was good to be back in England now that April was here. Others may look at how busy things have been in the world of education over the last month from exam reform, to skills training to student loans and wonder how true that is.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Problem-solving. 15 yr olds in England score highly in the latest PISA test results
    • PSHE. Education Committee announce new inquiry
    • GCSEs. Consultation on new grading scale published
    • GCSEs. Latest content requirements, assessment and scheduling all published
    • A levels. Latest developments for AS and A level also published
    • Tech Levels. 77 new ones announced for this Sept
    • Core Maths. Consultation on proposed technical guidance published
    • Exam reform. Education Committee announce new short sharp inquiry
    • UCAS. Launches proposals for new tariff
    • Careers. DfE publish latest statutory guidance
    • iDEA. New digital enterprise award for young people launched by the Duke of York
    • Regional Schools Commissioners. The first six now appointed
    • School teachers. Record numbers now working in schools
    • Head teachers. Work begins on new set of standards
    • Maths teachers. New Golden Hello scheme launched for FE
    • NAHT edge. NAHT’s new affiliate union announced
    • FE. Minister writes detailed end of term report
    • Adult literacy and numeracy. New research centre announced
    • LEPs. Labour promise support as part of new local growth plans
    • Student Loans. New student panel inquiry launched by Universities UK

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Liam Byrne’s 1st April Robbins Rebooted speech sets out the five standard principles guiding Labour’s review of HE funding
    • Matthew Hancock’s 1st April European Jobs and Skills Summit speech extols the current vocational reforms and calls for more research on the links between education and employment
    • Michael Gove’s 1st April British Chambers of Commerce speech sets a new ambition to eradicate illiteracy and innumeracy
    • David Willetts 3rd April Universities UK conference speech stresses the brighter side of UKHE with opportunities for growth, research, wider participation and economic returns all stressed
    • Ed Miliband’s 7th April local growth speech pledges a massive devolvement of responsibility to new city regions in a bid to stimulate local growth
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 7th April early years speech stresses the importance of Schools Direct and Teach First in helping raise the quality of early years provision
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 10 April Reform speech points to how some of the Government’s reforms are contributing to a self-improving system
    • Vince Cable’s 23rd April Cambridge Lecture proposes a strengthened high-level technician route

    Quotes of the month

    • “Our message is clear. There are no barriers to setting up a higher education campus. If this is your town’s dream we want you to pursue it.” The HE Minister supports those who dare to dream
    • “It’s now clear that what is proposed is a system that combines the worst of a free for all and a money pit.” Labour’s Liam Byrne on the HE funding system
    • “Let us now move away from our snobbish caste-ridden hierarchical obsession with university status.” Vince Cable on the Crosland vision for a high-level technical sector
    • “I believe the sector deserves credit for consistently improving performance as measured by Ofsted.” The FE Minister on an improving FE sector
    • Today’s 15 year olds are the Robinson Crusoes of a future that remains largely unknown to us.” The OECD on the journey for modern 15 year olds
    • “We must ensure no child grows up in modern Britain with their futures irredeemably blighted by illiteracy and innumeracy.” Michael Gove on a new mission
    • “We have had discussions with the Secretary of State and the exam boards holding the ring really on what is a manageable next phase of reform.” The Chief Executive of Ofqual on the latest wave of exam reforms

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Adultifying.’ What critics claim is being done to nursery education
    • “An individual’s capacity to engage in cognitive processing to understand and resolve problem situations where a method of solution is not immediately obvious.” PISA definition of problem-solving competence.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in March 2014

    A month which has seen the Budget, school inspections and accountability, apprenticeships, maths teaching and HE funding all emerge as key points of interest in various forms.

    These and the rather lengthy list of developments from the last four weeks listed below.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Children and Families Act 2014. Now passes
    • Free school lunches. Six-month countdown begins amid concerns about lack of planning
    • Nat curr levels. Most primary schools appear keen to retain them
    • Accountabilities. Primary and 16-19 arrangements confirmed
    • Maths hubs. DfE invite expressions of interest for these new centres of excellence
    • Shanghai maths. Minister launches Teacher Exchange scheme from this Sept
    • Core maths. ACME call for a smaller qualification to encourage take-up
    • Numeracy Challenge. National Numeracy aim to raise numeracy levels of 1m people in 5 yrs
    • School inspections. Ofsted works on a more proportionate model
    • 16-19 funding. EFA issue latest update
    • 18 yr old funding. Minister restricts cut to 2%
    • Jobs Guarantee. Labour extends its jobs scheme to cover a whole Parliamentary term
    • Apprenticeship Grant for Employers. Extended in the Budget for 2 more years
    • Apprenticeships. 44% of businesses pledge to take one on in the next 5 years
    • Apprenticeship Trailblazers. 29 more announced
    • Apprenticeship Funding. Latest technical consultation published
    • FE Learning Technology. FE awaits Ministerial response to latest FELTAG recommendations
    • HE. Teaching budgets for 2014/15 face 6% cut
    • HE. Oxbridge plus 8 others feature in the latest THES world rankings
    • HE-Business links. BIS Committee launches new inquiry

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Matthew Hancock’s 3rd March ‘You’re Hired’ speech highlights the importance of apprenticeships at the start of another National Apprenticeship Week
    • Matthew Hancock’s second speech on 3rd March focuses on the 3 Rs (rigour, responsiveness and a revolution in attitudes) that are driving reforms in the skills system
    • Michael Gove’s 3rd March vocational education speech claims that the current qualification and school reforms will help meet the requirements of the next industrial/technical revolution
    • Liam Byrne’s 3rd March ‘Future of Work’ speech offers 3 alternative reform options: develop the technical route; double apprenticeship numbers; strengthen the high-level voc route
    • Vince Cable’s 6th March Mansion House speech outlines two continuing dangers to economic recovery: lack of business lending especially to SMEs and low skill levels in key industries
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 12th March maths speech throws Government weight behind the efforts of the National Numeracy Challenge and the new All Party Numeracy Group of MPs
    • George Osborne’s 19th March Budget speech favours bingo, beer and pensioners but apart from apprenticeships has little to cheer the education world

    Quotes of the month

    • “Education is the best inoculation against unemployment.” The PM on taking the medicine
    • “It’s all part of a long-term economic plan-a plan that is delivering financial security for the people of this country.” The Chancellor explains his ‘cunning’ economic plan
    • “There are far too many badly needed craftsmen driving taxis or selling insurance.” Vince Cable illustrates the skills conundrum
    • “It’s time to call a halt to this descent into chaos.” Liam Byrne calls time on the current fee loans model
    • “They have a can-do attitude to maths and I want us to match that, and their performance.” Elizabeth Truss calls on the help of the high-performing Shanghai maths teachers
    • “Teachers work with passion. Inspectors deal in detachment. It can make for an uncomfortable cultural fit” Sir Michael Wilshaw on the nature of inspections
    • “Many jobs in education, often portrayed as a high-stress battleground, also provide higher than average job contentment.” The latest happiness index causes surprise in staffrooms

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Robulation.’ What the technical revolution is about to bring us
    • ‘Govean archipelago.’ Labour’s description of the current schools system.
    read more