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

    Much of the month was spent nervously awaiting the Chancellor’s 2015/16 spending announcements.

    In the event, school protections continued but other parts of the system faced a mix of efficiencies.  Elsewhere, it’s been a difficult month for trees with a huge number of Reports published notably on GCSE reform, disadvantaged learners, funding and HE

    Key headlines from the month

    • Schools. Labour offer thoughts on changes to the school system
    • Disadvantaged pupils. Still a big concern in latest Ofsted Reports
    • 14-16 yr olds. DfE issue guidance on enrolment in colleges
    • National Curriculum. History gets a further rewrite
    • GCSEs. DfE and Ofqual launch latest bout of consultations
    • A levels. New review panel announced
    • Exam marking. Ofqual publish first in series of Reports
    • ICT. Government issue order for switch to Computing
    • Teaching. Education Committee announce inquiry into a College of Teaching
    • Careers. National Careers Council sketch out a new vision
    • Destination Data. Latest historic data published on outcomes for 16 and 18 yr olds
    • FE. LSIS publish valedictory Report
    • HE. Series of Reports set out challenging funding context.

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

    Speeches of the month

    • Ed Balls’ 3 June British Economy speech outlines some tough new realities for the Party including a zero-based spending review for the first year of a new Labour Government
    • David Cameron’s 10 June Plan for Britain’s Success Speech lists the economy, welfare reform and education change as the big 3 pillars of an aspirational society
    • Michael Gove’s 11 June Statement sets the machinery in motion for the reform of GCSEs
    • Stephen Twigg’s 17 June RSA speech tackles the issue of school system reform
    • George Osborne’s 26 June Spending Announcement spreads the load across the spending Depts for 2015/16.

    Quotes of the month

    • “The economy is coming out of intensive care and heading for the recovery room.” The Chancellor delivers a better prognosis for the economy
    • “Conduct great meetings in which you have the relevant people around the table all with an equal voice. Get the rational first then test the irrational.”  Lord Browne on good decision making
    • “I wonder how many times over the last half a century some movement in technology has been hailed as the solution for low cost education.” PA Consulting surveys changes in HE
    • “They could provide a model of the very best practice that would be available to colleges.”Labour considers a return of CoVEs (centres of voc excellence)
    • “Teaching has, in some cases, been twisted into an exercise in passing on exam techniques, not a way of inspiring deep thinking.” Michael Gove makes the case for reforming GCSEs
    • “A mark is a human judgement of a candidate’s work and is only ever an approximation of the candidate’s true score.” Ofqual on the challenges of good marking.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Iron discipline.’  What Ed Balls wants from future Labour spending plans
    • ‘Poverty of expectation.’  What Sir Michael Wilshaw feels hovers over the education system
    • ‘Smart austerity.’ Makes belt-tightening feel better.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in May 2013

    A month when the exam season has been hotting up even if the weather hasn’t.

    Away from the exam hall, the use of phonics, the design of GCSEs, the role of the AS and the future direction of the UK exam system have all come under the spotlight recently. Elsewhere, the month has seen consultations close on school accountability, Key Stage 5 qualifications and apprenticeships, the Government launch its proposals for Traineeships, the Opposition release its interim Skills Report and HE mull over the management of student numbers both now and for the future.

    Key headlines from the month

    • SPAG. Spelling, punctuation and grammar feature in this year’s KS2 SATs
    • Reading. Latest National Literacy Trust survey points to digital switch
    • GCSE. Grading and tiering remain key design issues
    • AS. DfE release data to illustrate AS not necessarily best predictor of HE success
    • UK exam system. Beginning to head in different directions
    • School accountability. Latest consultation closes
    • School buildings. DfE announce funding for 46 new building projects
    • Careers. Government defends but MPs challenge in latest debate
    • Traineeships. Implementation guidance published
    • BTECs. Prove valuable for employment purposes according to latest research
    • Labour Skills policy. Interim thinking published
    • FE. Sir Geoff Hall and Lord Lingfield head up the Guild and chartered status bodies
    • Adult Learning. Annual Survey by NIACE finds little change in participation
    • Student visa applications. Down by 10% except in HE
    • HE fees. Minister calls for greater transparency over how the money is spent
    • HE student numbers. HEFCE consult on future arrangements
    • HE undergrad information. Unistats website proves valuable according to HEFCE research
    • HE. HEPI outline variables in contact time
    • Unemployment. Slight rise overall to 2.52m but slight drop for 16-24 year olds.

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

    Speeches of the month

    • The Queen’s May 2013 Speech list 15 new Bills for the next session of Parliament and confirms the direction of current education policy
    • Michael Gove’s 9 May Brighton College speech reflects on what makes for an educated person and how the current curriculum changes can support this
    • George Osborne’s 15 May CBI Annual Dinner speech affirms the importance of education reform to the economy
    • David Willetts’s 15 May HEPI speech considers the quality and value of the student experience in the light of fee reforms and highlights a number of emerging challenges
    • Michael Gove’s 16 May Sir Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture takes a sweeping look at how current Government policy builds on the social conservative ‘Joseph’ legacy.

    Quotes of the month

    • “The low hanging fruit has gone.” Ministers scour Dept cupboards for any further possible savings for the 2015/16 spending round
    • “This all adds up to an average of about £5,000 of public resources behind a student every year.”  David Willetts on how the Government is continuing to support HE students
    • “My Government will also take steps to ensure that it becomes typical for those leaving school to start a traineeship or an apprenticeship or go to university.” The Queen’s Speech outlines Government policy for school leavers
    • “Traditional teaching of these subjects in a school setting does not get the best out of many young people.” Labour’s interim Skills Report makes the case for wider Eng/maths provision in FE
    • “But what makes the setting of higher expectations more difficult is the culture of low expectations and low aspirations which some in the education establishment still defend.”Michael Gove in defiant mood over education standards
    • “We’ll finish this after lunch.” Is the apostrophe here for omission or possession? Sample question in the Key Stage 2 English tests this year.

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘A zeitgeist of collaboration.’  HE’s version of partnership working.
    read more
  • Policy Tracker - Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in April

    A lot of consultations at the moment. Consultation on the National Curriculum drew nosily to a close earlier this month while those on secondary school accountability, school system efficiency, vocational qualifications at Key Stage 5 and apprenticeships are all due to complete in the next few weeks.

    Elsewhere this month, proposals for a Tech Baccc performance measure were announced, guidelines on operating performance-related pay for teachers released, another strategy Paper for the FE sector published and future funding and flexibility for HE came under the spotlight as HEFCE held its Annual Conference

    Key headlines from the month

    • National Curriculum. Consultation closes with subject critics out in force
    • GCSE English. Ofqual consult on changes for 2014
    • Maths. Government commits more money to support KS3 and A level teaching
    • AS/A level. MPs debate the changes while Wales holds firm
    • Tech Bacc. Government outline details of new performance measure
    • Academies. Pupil numbers top 2m
    • Studio Schools. 16 open, 15 coming, 13 more approved
    • School holidays. The Secretary of State raises blood pressures by challenging their length
    • School efficiency. Dept launch consultation
    • Teachers. DfE issue guidelines to schools on managing performance related pay
    • Teach First. Extends to Early Years
    • Careers Guidance. Government sets out position in latest Committee Response
    • National Careers Service. Celebrates its 1st birthday with a new mobile website
    • National Apprenticeship Service. Moves into bed with the SFA
    • Sixth Form Colleges. 10 get together for form the Maple Group
    • SFA. Government confirms priorities and funding for 2013/14
    • FE Guild. Latest Plan maps out steps to launch in August
    • FE. New strategy puts emphasis on rigour and responsiveness
    • 24+ loans. Application system now live
    • ESOL. Ofqual confirm minimal changes following consultation
    • Alliance of SSCs. Becomes the Federation for Industry Sector Skills and Standards
    • HE Student Numbers. Government sticks with ABB but further consultation pending
    • HE-Business. Witty Review gets under way
    • Moocs. 3rd platform opens at Stanford

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

    Speeches of the month

    • David Willetts’s 18 April HEFCE speech confirms that the Government is looking at further flexibilities around student numbers while continuing to encourage wider access
    • Michael Gove’s 18 April Spectator speech suggests that longer school days and shorter school holidays may help schools raise performance levels
    • Lord Heseltine’s 18 April LEP Conference speech spells out how some of the vision behind his greater localism Report is beginning to be realised
    • Liz Truss’s 19 April Early Years speech summarises Government policy in this emerging area putting renewed emphasis on staff training and development
    • Michael Gove’s 25 April National College speech highlights the growing importance of teachers and offers support for the creation of a Royal College

    Quotes of the month

    •  “The old adage has it that there is only one thing better than having a university in your city and that is having two.” The VC of Exeter University on the importance of withstanding an avalanche of changes for HE
    • “The whole delivery system is in the process of changing and there has to be some way of saying which online courses give you what you need to know to be certified.” Bill Clinton enters the debate on Moocs
    • “We will invest in facilities, champion excellent provision and take tough action to tackle inadequate colleges.” The FE Minister on the latest injection of ‘rigour’ into the FE sector
    • “We are simply laying the trellises, defining the borders and marking out the footpaths.” Liz Truss on how the secret curriculum garden has been re-cultivated
    • “I think this national curriculum may well be the last national curriculum because in future teachers will be doing it for themselves.”  Michael Gove looks to liberate the National Curriculum
    • “Continued good performance as defined by an individual school’s pay policy should give a classroom or unqualified teacher an expectation of progression to the top of their respective pay range.” The Dept issues guidance on the new pay system for teachers

    Word or phrase of the month

    • ‘Learn and forget.’ The Schools Minister’s view of the current A level system
    • ‘Sushi curriculum.’ One critic condemns the new ‘snatch and grab a fact’ National Curriculum
    • ‘Hunger Games.’ What the current spending review is apparently turning into. 
    read more