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 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in August 2013

    For many people August is exams results month with its accompanying hopes, fears and familiar rituals.

    Some things were however different this year. There was for example less about dumbing down with the editorial headline quoted at the end of this paper setting the tone for many.  Indeed with entries for core subjects up, demand for HE remaining strong and apprenticeship opportunities stressed, the Government may feel quite satisfied about its reforms but on the downside, entry patterns at GCSE, the future de-coupling of the AS and provision for the more disadvantaged remain real concerns. The two Reports that stand out this month are Ofqual’s 2013-2016 Corporate Plan which sets out how much change still awaits the exam system and the Prince’s Trust Report which brings home the reality of an exam intensive system on many young people. The prospects for many young people lie reflected between these two spectrums.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Free Schools. First 24 now inspected, 4 outstanding, 14 good, 6 need improving
    • GCSE 2013. First drop in 25 yrs in overall pass rate but entries for EBacc subjects up
    • GCSE English 2014. Speaking and listening to be separately reported next summer on
    • A level 2013. Overall pass rate up 0.1% to 98.1% but 0.3% drop in A*/A grades
    • Voc Quals at KS4/5. DfE publish latest version of FAQs for performance table reporting
    • NEETs. 1.4% drop at 16-18, 0.5% drop at 19-24 in latest NEET stats
    • FE Commissioner. 4 new advisers appointed, commissioner to follow in Oct/Nov
    • FE. Bursaries announced to encourage Eng/maths grads to teach in FE
    • Industrial Strategy. Offshore wind industry becomes latest sector strategy to be published
    • HE. 85% overall satisfaction rating in latest National Student Survey
    • HE. HEFCE outlines transition of National Scholarship Programme to postgrads from 2015
    • HE. Director and Chair of the new student engagement unit confirmed
    • International Education Strategy. MD of the new Education UK Unit announced
    • Catapult Centres. Energy Systems and Stratified Medicine Diagnostics now added.

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

    • Widening participation in higher education. Latest commissioned research from BIS finds a small increase in entries from those on free school meals
    • Interim arrangements for the approval of QCF quals for 2013/14. The SFA set out new approval criteria as work goes on to develop a new set of business rules
    • Ofqual Corporate Plan 2013-2016. The Exams Regulator lists over 40 actions needed to implement the Government’s qualification reform programme over the next few years
    • Abandoned Ambitions? The Prince’s Trust calls for more vocational support and training for those leaving school with few qualifications
    • Progress Update 2012-13. The Technology Strategy Board reports on progress made in establishing the first seven ‘elite’ sector-based technology and innovation Catapult centres
    • The relationship between graduates and economic growth. Further commissioned research from BIS ups the potential graduate lifetime premium for both females and males
    • Apprenticeship Evaluation. More commissioned research from BIS finds 72% of employers and 83% of apprentices happy with the results
    • GCE A level data. The Joint Council report on this summer A level results which see a slight dip in top grades but further increases in maths and science entries
    • Alternative HE Providers: Student Number Controls. HEFCE consults on draft guidance for 2014/15
    • Measuring what matters.  CentreForum and Pearson call for changes to the progress measure as part of the Government’s proposed changes to school accountability
    • Helping the inbetweeners. Barnardos reports on the lack of suitable careers guidance for young people caught between support systems for the most and least disadvantaged
    • GCSE data. The Joint Council report on this summer’s GCSE results which see a rise in early and multiple entries impacting negatively on overall results.
    • Learning for those not in employment. Learning/training improves the job prospects for over 30%+ of recipients according to this further BIS commissioned research.
    • The merit of teacher pay reform.  The thinktank Reform highlight the merits of the new performance related pay system as well as some of the potential pitfalls in introducing it.

    Speeches of the month

    (Intentionally left blank this month)

    Quotes of the month

    • “Students from more prestigious universities earn more because they are smarter graduates not because they attended a better teaching institution.” BIS commissioned research on whether going to a particular uni makes a difference.
    • “We can see a very stable set of results here.” The Chief Executive of Ofqual on this year’s A level results.
    • “As soon as you go into the world of work, the last thing on the whole you do is sit down on your own without speaking.” The headmaster of Eton on the relevance or otherwise of GCSE exams.
    • “While the overall results were down the changes to the choices being made about when to enter students for GCSEs had a significant impact.” The Chief Executive of Ofqual on the growing issue of multiple and early entries at GCSE.
    • “I now realise that failing your exams doesn’t have to be the end of the world.” A Job Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust on the importance of self belief.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Farewell dumbing down, hello toughening up.’ Media editorial on the 2013 exam results
    • ‘Escape velocity.’  Economists adopt a more positive tone to describe the economy.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in July 2013

    MPs may have headed off for the summer but they’ve left us plenty to think about.

    For schools, this includes updates on the National Curriculum and performance tables both published during July, for FE apprenticeship funding and Tech Level quals stand out while for HE, this month saw the interim Witty Report published and new regulatory arrangements outlined.

    Key headlines from the month

    • Primary accountability. Government launches consultation
    • National Curriculum. Last round of changes for KS 1-3 published
    • PSHE. PSHE experts revise programme of study
    • Pupil premium. Government appoint John Dunford to champion
    • Disadvantaged white pupils. Education Committee launch an Inquiry into performance
    • Assessment. NAHT to set up community of school practitioners
    • Performance Tables. Arrangements for this year published
    • School places. Government announce more funding
    • School Hols. Government moves to de-regulate
    • School dinners. Healthy eating on the menu of latest plans
    • Tech Level Qual. New route for 16-19 yr olds confirmed for Sept 2014
    • 16-24 yr olds. New system Review announced
    • Traineeships. Extended to 24 yr olds and young disabled
    • Apprenticeships. Government launch consultation on funding options
    • LSIS Services. Lights switched off
    • Adult VQs. Funding for number of low-volume VQs cut
    • Local Growth Deals. Government issues guidance for LEPs
    • Sector Skill Plans. 5 more (Construction, Automotive, PBS, Agri-Tech, Education) out
    • HE fees. Average fee level now hits £8,650 pa
    • HE students. Gain a stronger voice as new Unit prepares to open this autumn
    • HE and regulation. Latest arrangements published
    • HEFCE chief. The HE Funding Council confirms its new Chief Exec.

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Vince Cable’s 3 July LGA speech spells out how seriously the Government is taking local growth and skills planning
    • Lord Nash’s 6 July NGA speech announces further support for school governors
    • Elizabeth Truss’s 11 July ISSF speech sets out how fast technology is changing the world and the sorts of skills needed to support this.

    Quotes of the month

    • “The Indian Planning Commission’s 12th Five Year Plan has set a target to create capacity for an extra 10 million students over the next five years on top of the existing 25.9 million in the system in 2011-12.” The THES reports on HE expansion in India
    • “Inevitably some people are already saying that this fund is trifling compared to Lord Heseltine’s proposal for a £50bn single pot.” Vince Cable takes up the cudgels for the new smaller Single Local Growth Fund
    • “We have repeatedly made it clear that we will not introduce for-profit schools. This story is absurd.” The DfE spells it out
    • “There may well be a piece of fluff in some corner of the curriculum that we did not manage to get to but I hope we have managed to hose down the stables effectively.”  The Education Secretary on the cleansing effects of the National Curriculum reforms.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Woolly empathy.’ What’s been taken out of the History curriculum under Nat Curr reforms
    • ‘Secondary ready.’ The new acid test of primary education.
    read more