Policy Watch

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

Keep up with what’s happening in education policy

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

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

About Steve

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

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

    The appearance of both Government and Opposition Ministers armed with lists of announcements at the North of England and BETT Conferences, the traditional starting points of another education year, suggests that 2014 is already off to a busy start.

    Topics getting the treatment so far include school performance, teachers, elite colleges, learning technology and HE.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Free Schools. 10 more announced along with 6 new UTCs and 5 new Studio Schools
    • SEN. DfE to fund 1800+ champions to help implement new arrangements
    • GCSE. Ofqual confirm PE and Drama ‘safe’ as new consultations awaited
    • A’ levels. Consultation closes with concerns about de-coupled AS and science practicals
    • School league tables. Number of underperforming state schools drops to 154
    • Learning Technology. New strategic Group announced
    • Progress 8. DfE publish an Update in advance of next month’s report on methodology
    • White working class kids. Ed Committee Inquiry under way
    • School Governors. DfE consult on more professional model
    • Talented Leaders Programme. Government confirm a spring launch
    • 16-18 funding. FE facing average 3.0% hit
    • Traineeships. AELP to run Traineeship Staff Support Programme
    • FE. Government announce new elite college brand
    • Basic Skills. Labour to introduce Basic Skills Tests alongside welfare reforms
    • Adult Literacy. BIS Committee announce new Inquiry
    • Student Loan Book. BIS Committee question some of the figures
    • HE. HEFCE issues a response to OFT Inquiry
    • University rooms. Average room now costs £3,301, up 11% over 3 yrs

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

    • Youth Index 2014. The Prince’s Trust undertakes its annual check on the pulse of young people and finds many, especially those unemployed, feeling they have little to live for
    • Reversing the widget effect. The thinktank Policy Exchange argues that ‘effective’ performance-related pay can help teachers feel more valued and less like widgets in a system
    • Introduction of 16-18 core maths qualifications. The DfE hopes this qualification will encourage the 40% of 16 yr olds with a GCSE grade C or above to carry on studying maths
    • Make NEETs history in 2014. The venture organisation Impetus-PEF calls for better school-work transition as it highlights the potential problems of being NEET
    • Update on progress 8. The DfE amends the position on Eng Lit as one of three changes listed in this latest Update on accountability arrangements for secondary schools
    • The Graduate Market in 2014. Latest figures from High Fliers Research suggests graduate opportunities in top companies for 2014 are likely to increase by 8.7% 
    • The School Governance Regulations. The DfE identifies three core roles for school governors as it seeks to encourage a more business-like approach
    • Funding reduction for full-time 18 year olds. The DfE eventually publish the impact assessment which leaves colleges liable to take a notable hit
    • Education to Employment. McKinsey examines the issue of youth employment across Europe and points to the dangers of parallel universes between employers and young people
    • Growth Dashboard. The government publishes its latest smorgasbord of data on UK growth and industrial policy 
    • School Partnerships and Cooperation. The government dismisses calls for Ofsted inspections of academy chains as it responds to the Education Committee‘s recent Inquiry
    • Schools United. Anthony Seldon calls for further cross-fertilisation between the state and independent sector as part of his latest published work on school reform
    • A passion for learning. The Russell Group explains what makes their experience so unique
    • Performance Tables 2013. The DfE publishes the latest set of school league tables showing more taking EBaccs and a fall in the number of under-performing schools
    • A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Can Find Deep Learning. Pearson launches a series of commissioned global think pieces on the changing face of classroom learning
    • Making Education Work. An independent group of outside experts gathered by Pearson recommend significant changes to the design and development of the qualification system
    • Performance and Capability of the Education Funding Agency. The National Audit Office runs the rule over the EFA and worries about growing demands
    • UKCES Skills Survey. The UK Skills Commission publishes its latest employer skills survey which suggests recovery may be hampered by a lack of skilled workers in key industries

    Speeches of the month

    • Elizabeth Truss’s 3 January Oxford Conference speech outlines how lessons from abroad are shaping the government’s current education reforms
    • The Chancellor’s 6 January ‘Let’s finish the job’ speech warns against any complacency and instead labels 2014 ‘the year of hard truths’ with further cuts to prove it
    • Tristram Hunt’s 15 January North of England Conference speech spells out the Party’s vision of a fully qualified and registered profession
    • David Laws’s 16 January North of England Conference speech sets out more details on how the government’s Talented Leaders programme will help under-performing schools
    • John Denham’s 16 January RSA speech offers an interesting analysis of UKHE funding and identifies four possible ways forward in an attempt to shape the university fees debate
    • Rachel Reeves’s 20 January IPPR speech calls for a compulsory jobs guarantee and basic skills tests as part of Labour proposals for reforming welfare to work
    • Michael Gove’s 22 January BETT speech reflects on some of the changes happening in technology and explains how the government is changing the curriculum to respond to them
    • Matthew Hancock’s 24 January BETT speech announces the creation of a new Education Technology Group designed to lead future strategy
    • Matthew Hancock’s 28 January Skills Summit speech outlines government activity around voc ed and announces a new generation of elite college institutions

    Quotes of the month

    • “One of the most depressing discoveries of 2013 was that over the last decade Britain’s education fell even further behind other countries in the world.” The Chancellor laments the state of English education in his New Year speech
    • “This is quite a serious black hole. How are you going to address it?” The BIS Committee puts the HE Minister on the spot about how to fund an increase in student numbers
    • “I have had many opportunities to observe that very intelligent people leave their brains behind when it comes to technology. The MOOC phenomenon is just further confirmation of that simple truth.”  The IoE’s Professor of learning with digital technologies clarifies her thoughts on MOOCs
    • “I remain of the view that the quality of careers guidance in schools is improving.” The Education Secretary sticks to his guns on careers education
    • “If you’re not a motivated teacher, passionate about your subject, passionate about being in the classroom, then you shouldn’t really be in this profession.” The Shadow Education Minister gets passionate about his proposed validation scheme for teachers

    Word or phrase of the month

    •  ‘Year of hard truths.’ The Chancellor’s prognosis for 2014.
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  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in December 2013

    December has seen the education system under even greater scrutiny than normal with the PISA tests, Key Stage 2 tests and the Ofsted Annual Report all being published in quick succession.

    The overall impression is of an education system inching rather than racing forward, battling at times against a torrent of demands. Elsewhere there have been significant funding developments this month with the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, grant settlements for 2014/15 for schools and 16-19, and ‘awkward’ Reports on the costs of Free Schools and HE fees, all published.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Key Stage 2 tests. 75% of pupils reach standard level in this year’s tests
    • PISA tests. The UK ends up 21st for science, 23rd for reading, 25th for maths
    • Ofsted. Chief Inspector calls for national testing at ages 7 and 14
    • Perf tables. Quals for 14-16, 16-19 and Tech Bacc recognition all published
    • National Curriculum. 10 week consultation on KS4 Eng/maths under way
    • Free Schools. Costs go up according to latest Report
    • School places. Additional funding put in to provide for more places
    • School Commissioners. DfE begins recruitment process
    • Computing. New £1m support programme announced for primary schools
    • School maths. National network of new hubs announced to support maths teaching
    • 16-18 Core Maths. DfE  work up initial guidance
    • 18 year olds. Facing cut in funding rate from Sept 2014
    • Apprenticeships. Loans to be scrapped
    • Regional skills policy. Labour launches new advisory group
    • HE loans. Over a third won’t be paid back according to Public Accounts Committee
    • HE Research. Expert panels start to sift through reams of REF submissions

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Liz Truss’s 2 December Publishers’ Association speech argues that the ‘beautiful’ textbook has a key role to play in the new curriculum
    • Liz Truss’ 5 December Google Demonstration Day speech outlines the importance of computing skills for young people and announces some more money to support it
    • George Osborne’s 5 December Autumn Statement suggests Britain is on the road to recovery but must keep taking the medicine all the same
    • Liam Byrne’s 9 December IPPR speech evokes the spirit of Harold Wilson’s white-heat of technology as he prioritises the development of science and innovation and skills training

    Quotes of the month

    • “We seek a responsible recovery.” George Osborne’s theme for his Autumn Statement
    • “Achieving his fiscal targets would require government consumption to fall to its lowest level as a share of national income since consistent records began in 1948.” The Institute of Fiscal Studies reflects on the Autumn Statement
    • “They are more vulnerable, lower in confidence and do not deserve a cut in funding for the service we provide them.” One College Principal’s reaction to the cut in the funding rate for 18 yr olds  
    • “You’re not going to see great surprises about the UK in this data.” Andreas Schleicher as he prepares to launch the latest PISA results
    • “I am calling on the government to re-introduce more formal external testing at the end of Key Stage1. Indeed I would strongly urge the government to re-introduce external testing at Key Stage 3 as well.” Sir Michael Wilshaw makes the case for more testing at the launch of Ofsted’s latest Annual Report
    • “The Commissioners will exercise the existing powers of the DfE and they will take the decisions currently undertaken by the Secretary of State.” The DfE advertises for new School Commissioners to oversee Academies and Free Schools
    •  “There was no Ming vase of careers advice that was smashed by the Government.”Michael Gove maintains a stout defence of the dismembering of the careers service

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘MINTs.’  The new economies of Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey gain a soubriquet
    • ‘MESH.’  Maths in Education Strategic Hubs, apparently
    • ‘De-authorisation.’  What’s happening to the schools system. 
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in November 2013

    November is traditionally FE and skills month with the Skills Show and the annual Colleges’ Conference now established features.

    This year added spice came in the form of the Review into Adult Vocational Qualifications which was published at the start of the month, an announcement about the FE Commissioner and publication of a further Report from Labour’s Skills Taskforce. Elsewhere this month, consultation closed on 16-19 accountability, thoughts emerged about middle tier management of the school system and worries grew about HE funding.

    Key headlines from the month

    • GCSE. DfE and Ofqual publish latest specs and design features
    • Technology. EEF money helps school test out impact of new technology
    • Languages. British Council Report laments current deficiencies
    • Academies. Education Committee announces new inquiry
    • School system. DfE muse creation of new regional tier
    • 16-19 accountability. Consultation closes on recent proposals
    • Careers. AoC, CBI and Skills Commission add to condemnation of current position
    • Youth unemployment. Number of reports published as policy attention grows
    • City deals. Core cities get more money to help with youth unemployment
    • IT. Labour announces new Digital Skills Taskforce to report before election
    • Apprenticeships. The think tank Demos become the latest to lead an inquiry
    • FE Performance. New Commissioner announced
    • FE system. Labour propose new licensed college system with fully qualified staff
    • Adult voc quals. New employer designed principles proposed
    • Graduates. More employed but in non-grad jobs
    • MOOCs. London University’s first online courses show high take up, low completion

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

    • The Move to Improve. The Skills Commission examines intervention and improvement models and comes up with ten recommendations for FE
    • Education and Training Statistics for the UK: 2013. The latest stats cover schools, colleges, quals and expenditure
    • Creating Excellence in College Governance. The AoC identifies some of the barriers and sets out the five key themes of good governance
    • School Partnerships and Cooperation. The Education Committee calls for Ofsted to be able to inspect school chains as part of its inquiry into school partnerships
    • Adult Vocational Qualifications Review. Nigel Whitehead’s review for UKCES comes up with a new set of employer derived principles for the design and development of adult VQs
    • The Outlook for Higher Education Spending. The Institute for Fiscal Studies examines five possible scenarios where resource cuts could range from 7.9% at best to 24.7% at worst
    • The Funding Challenge for Universities. Universities UK draws on the IFS research to build a case for additional capital expenditure and changes to the loans system
    • A Curriculum for Life. The Youth Select Committee publishes its report on the curriculum for young people calling for greater attention to be given to PSHE
    • Family background and access to high status universities. Recent research concludes that children from professional parents are 3x more likely to enter a ‘high status’ uni than those from working class parents
    • States of Uncertainty. The think tank IPPR looks to Europe to see if any lessons can be learned about how to tackle youth unemployment
    • Pupils missing out on education. Ofsted finds that only a third of local authorities are monitoring what’s happening to children not provided for in full time education
    • Languages for the future. The British Council argue that Spanish, Arabic, French and Mandarin Chinese head the most valuable languages and we’re not very good at them
    • First Steps: A new approach for our schools. The CBI awards the government a B/C grade for progress made over the year in its (the CBI’s) five key reform areas
    • Maintaining curiosity. Ofsted reports on its survey into science education in schools and concludes that hands-on wherever possible helps maintain curiosity
    • One System, Many Pathways. The Skills Commission publishes the latest report into 14-19 provision and lists five guiding principles for reform
    • No more NEETs. The think tank IPPR calls for a new youth guarantee coupled with a youth allowance as a way of tackling the NEETs issue
    • Transforming further education. The 2nd report from Labour’s Skills Taskforce calls for qualified staff and licensed providers as part of its new vision for a high-quality system

    Speeches of the month

    • David Cameron’s 4 November CBI speech puts education reform as the second in his list of five things that will help the recovery of the economy
    • David Laws’ 7 November Teaching Leaders speech hails the growing role of high-quality teaching leadership
    • Matthew Hancock’s 14 November Skills Show speech points to English and maths, qualification reform and market responsiveness as key reforms for the skills sector
    • Elizabeth Truss’ 15 November ASCL/Microsoft speech spells out the changes happening to the curriculum for computing/ICT
    • Matthew Hancock’s 19 November AoC speech sets out the same TASQ (Traineeships, Apprenticeships, Standards and Quality) priorities for the sector as before
    • Tristram Hunt’s 21 November AoC speech sketches out Labour’s vision for FE built around new Institutes of Technical Education with fully qualified staff
    • Michael Gove’s 22 November Mayor of London’s education conference speech borrows the Obama line of school reform being the civil rights struggle of our time

    Quotes of the month

    • “Our education system should help children out of the circumstances in which they were born, not lock them into the circumstances in which they were born.” John Major highlights the importance of education in improving social mobility in Britain today
    • “I want them to treat academic and vocational education on exactly the same footing.”Nick Clegg on what he wants for his children
    • “It’ll come down to hundreds of recognisable qualifications across the entire landscape as opposed to thousands.” Nigel Whitehead identifies the impact of his review of adult VQs
    • “This is a staggeringly complex sector.” Tristram Hunt on getting to grips with FE
    • “ We must not be sniffy about them.” The President of the Girls Schools Association on apprenticeships
    • “I hope we’ll have the full, hearty backing of industry in being very radical about education.”David Cameron calls for employer support for his government’s education reforms
    • “In particular we seem to be stuck in a cycle of endless exam reform which does little to address the underlying issues we identified.” The CBI on the government’s education reforms

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Clickbait.’  Addicted to click-on technology
    • ‘Gangbusting.’  How an economist described the UK economy at present.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in October 2013

    It’s been a bad month for trees, not just because of the storms but also because of the huge number of reports published this month covering A levels, apprenticeships, core maths, secondary school accountability, HE regulation and university economic activity.

    Elsewhere, Free Schools, social mobility and adult skills have also been in the eye of various storms. With reports on GCSE, adult VQs and inspections to come, things aren’t likely to calm down for a while.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Phonics test. DfE to withhold pass mark in future until tests completed
    • Reporting pupil progress. NAHT set up Commission to establish how best to do it
    • Accountability. DfE outline secondary school model for 2016
    • A levels. DfE and Ofqual launch further round of consultations
    • Maths. New qualification to be developed for beyond GCSE
    • Teaching bursaries. More money added particularly for core subjects
    • UTCs. New wing of Career Colleges announced
    • Apprenticeships. Trailblazers lined up to test out new implementation plan
    • Apprenticeships. Disturbing figures emerge about paying below the odds
    • Traineeships. More money added for 19+ recruits
    • Work experience. DfE provide further guidance for use in 16-19 Study Programmes
    • Youth unemployment. Slightly (0.1%) up again in June-August figures
    • Education and Training Foundation. Gains funding and new boss
    • Adult skills. First major survey by OECD reveals some worrying gaps
    • Adult literacy/numeracy. MPs debate in wake of OECD report
    • HE. The OFT calls for info on how choice is exercised
    • Part-time HE. Latest report seeks to reverse downward trend

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Michael Gove’s 1 October Conference speech exalts his Dept’s ‘visionary’ reforms for tackling the culture of low expectations
    • David Cameron’s 2 October Conference speech sets new ambitions on eradicating illiteracy and dumbing down, raising apprenticeship opportunities and learning or earning until age 25
    • Matthew Hancock’s 15 October Edge speech sketches out a new vision for colleges as social enterprises led by an elite tier
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 17 October School Leaders Summit speech expands on the Government’s current reforms and implies there’s plenty more where they came from
    • Alan Milburn’s 17 October Social Mobility Report launch suggests that things remain pretty difficult for a lot of children whose families are trapped on low wages and high living costs
    • Nick Clegg’s 24 October ‘education’ speech raises the temperature with a call for qualified teachers for all schools and a Champions League of Head Teachers for some

    Quotes of the month

    • “A land of opportunity means educating our children and I mean all our children.” The Prime Minister on what his land of opportunity means for children
    • “Transient poverty, growing insecurity and stalling mobility are far more widespread than politicians, employers and educators have so far recognised.” The Social Mobility report on the realities for many
    • “Your employer will support your training and pay you at least the hourly national Minimum Wage.” The Skills Minister tells new apprentices what to expect
    • “We are midway through our reforms.”  The Parliamentary Under Secretary digs in for the long haul
    • “If you want to set up a Free School when we are in Government we will be on your side.”The new Shadow Education Secretary tries to set the record straight
    • “So, yes I support free schools and academies but not with exemptions from minimum standards.” The Deputy PM ads another tune

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Thicket of complexity.’ How Sir Andrew Witty described the HE funding regime
    • ‘Englicious.’  Resource site to help teenagers grapple with English grammar.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in September 2013

    Its been Party Conference season this month and the main political Parties have been carefully positioning themselves as the build up to 2015 continues.

    Education topics attracting attention have included: meals, where Lib-Dems have proposed extending free school meals to younger and older recipients and Labour have called for breakfast clubs in primary schools; exams where Michael Gove has stepped in to curb early GCSE entry; and apprenticeships where the Lib-Dems have proposed them as part of a unified 14-19 system and Labour have called for big employers to train more home grown recruits. Elsewhere a number of important reports have heralded the start of the new ‘school year’ including for schools the (nearly complete) National Curriculum, for colleges new accountability proposals for 16-19 and for HE, the launch of FutureLearn and an interim report from UCAS on the 2013 recruitment picture.

    Key headlines from the month

    • SATs. Maths and writing slightly up, reading slightly down in this year’s figures
    • Free school lunches. Reception, Yrs 1 and 2 and eligible post 16s can line up from 2014
    • National Curriculum. Final version out, build up begins
    • Schools. 93 Free Schools, 13 Studio Schools, 12 UTCs all prepare to begin life
    • GCSE. Early entries curbed
    • Tutors. Nearly 25% of 11-16 yr olds have them according to Sutton Trust survey
    • School improvement. Ofsted report 9% increase in rate of improvement
    • English/maths. 16-18 yr olds without C grade GCSE prepare to plough on
    • Careers guidance. CIPD, Pearson and Ofsted highlight further concerns
    • 16-19. Consultation on new accountability measures launched
    • Apprenticeships. Labour’s Skills Taskforce call for L3 gold standard model
    • Education and Training Foundation. Advertises for key roles
    • Employer Ownership Pilots. Further successful bidders announced
    • SFA. Consult on new business rules for funding adult qualifications
    • Uni fees. Lib-Dems hold off further rethink until after 2015
    • Uni choice. Head north for ‘fun’ according to latest Which? survey
    • MOOCs. The FutureLearn online platform launches with 21 unis on board

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Michael Gove’s 5 Sep Policy Exchange speech reminds any doubters that teaching remains a valued and noble profession which he says he reveres.
    • Matthew Hancock’s 5 Sept Ofsted speech focuses on the three main accountability weapons at present: high-quality information; minimum standards; tougher inspections.
    • Vince Cable’s 11 Sept Industrial Strategy one-year on speech charts progress made and sees strengthening the skills supply chain as essential for UK competitiveness.
    • The President’s 12 Sept UUK Conference address outlines four issues facing the HE sector: student funding; research and capital funding; regulation; international positioning.
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 18 Sept CBI speech explains how the Government is transforming the school curriculum and asks for employers’ support in 3 areas: maths; languages; science.
    • Stephen Twigg’s 22 Sept Conference speech lists work exp tasters in primary, higher standards in FE and reversing the current changes to the AS level as key priorities.

    Quotes of the month

    • “More tough choices will be required after the next election to find many billions of further savings and anyone who thinks those decisions can be ducked is not fit for Government.”George Osborne throws down a challenge
    • “Offering free taster courses online is a no-brainer.” One Vice-Chancellor on the MOOCs revolution
    • “Whenever I can, I give thanks for their work not just privately but on any public platform
    • I’m given.” Michael Gove comes to praise teachers, everywhere
    • “If this change goes ahead, we will reverse it.” Stephen Twigg on de-coupling the AS level
    • “There is time and space in the school day and each week, term and year to range beyond the National Curriculum specifications.”  The DfE on the space created by the new slimmed down National Curriculum

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘BOYD: Bring your own device.’ Important reminder for all meeting enthusiasts now
    • ‘Digital Storefront.’  What all leading providers should have. 
    read more