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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.

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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 Eye - week ending July 17 2015

    Three familiar routines this week remind us that the summer hols are nearly upon us.

    The week summed up

    The first is that the summer holiday reading lists have started to appear and if you like it heavy, the list by the think tank IPPR (referenced below) has got plenty to keep the brain cells active. The second is the re-emergence of the ‘summer season’ stories designed to fill space in the hazy days of summer. The story about undergrads in one university being banned from throwing their hats in the air at the traditional graduation ceremonies on the grounds of health and safety offers evidence of that. And third, and more significantly, there’s been the customary stampede by government depts and its agencies to get stuff out before things wind down. 

    For schools, where Warwick Mansell’s latest blog, offers us an interesting insight into one of the ongoing stories, namely what MPs had to say when they debated the  Education Bill in committee, school funding, performance tables, qualification developments and early years have all been in the news this week. The funding information is generic at this stage and obviously much hinges on how the Spending Review pans out later this year but it does at least confirm that per-pupil funding for 2016 will be protected, that last year’s additional uplift will remain, as will the Minimum Funding Guarantee. Latest details in the EFA’s Operational Guide. On performance tables, whether prompted by the alternative tables promised by a group of head teachers or not, the DfE has announced that it will publish some provisional secondary school data early, in mid-October. The final tables will come out as usual in January and will contain for the first time Progress 8 data for schools that decided to opt in early but the October issue is an unusual one. The continuing story of qualification developments is referenced in the listings below as is the upbeat early years inspection report but particular mention should also be made of the new committee announced this week to look at how to report assessment of KS1/2 pupils with special needs. The committee, headed by Diane Rochford, will report before Christmas.

    For FE, it’s been another big week of skills reports with the annual CBI/Pearson survey reminding us of many of the issues that concern employers about skills levels and provision and, in another close-to-home report, the Pearson sponsored HEPI report on Level 4/5 provision. As an accompanying Policy Watch suggests, while the re-focusing of the skills agenda on higher-level skill needs and on employer contributions may not be new, it is both timely and important.

    For HE too, it’s also been a week of developments from Jeremy Corbyn‘s apologia on tuition fees to Jo Johnson’s latest keynote on science innovation to OFFA’s report on this year’s round of access agreements. As the Capita, Wonkhe paper notes, the horizon here is looking increasingly volatile. 

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Employers warn of skills emergency.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Poorest pupils should start school aged two.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Cost of private schooling soars.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Healthy competition for technical courses would boost productivity.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘GCSE league tables out early to help parents choose school.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Parliament’s new Education Centre which will help teach children, teachers and other visitors about the working of Parliament and which was officially opened this week
    • The government who announced further tightening of the rules on non EU students attending publically funded FE colleges raising considerable concern among the sector
    • The Prime Minister who launched a consultation on closing the gender pay cap
    • The BIS Dept whose 2014/15 Annual Report and Accounts now published heaves with facts, figures and data on performance in key areas like FE/HE, business growth and regulation
    • The CBI and Pearson who published the latest annual employers’ survey of education and skills highlighting the continuing, and in some sectors, pressing demand for skills and employability ‘attributes’ 
    • BIS who published the latest available (2012/13) data on widening participation in HE
    • Universities Minister Jo Johnson who called for a series of regional audits to map hotspots in science innovation as part of a new ‘One Nation Science’ Plan
    • Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, who offered apologies for the increase in student tuition fees and pledged to scrap the fees if selected
    • Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who set out her, and her government’s, unwavering support for the arts in a speech to the Creative Industries Federation
    • The DfE who published the EFA’s Operational Guide and per-pupil funding rates for local authority school budgets for 2016/17 which saw per-pupil funding protected over the coming year
    • The DfE who set out details of what will go into school performance tables this year where changes include the first reporting of Progress 8 data for schools that opted in early and reporting of performance of 14-16 yr olds on f/t college courses
    • The DfE who published ‘illustrative regulations’ intended to add further clarification to what would be deemed a ‘coasting’ school
    • The Education Committee who opened its new blogspace by inviting contributors to pitch in ideas on what it should get its teeth into in the coming session
    • Careers guidance, the pupil premium and the abolition of maintenance grants, all among the items covered in the helpful series of House of Commons Library Briefings this week
    • Cornwall which has become the first county under the current devolution deals to gain new powers in areas like transport, health care and skills training
    • Caroline Lucas MP who used the 10-minute rule procedure this week to re-introduce her Bill to make PSHE a statutory part of the school curriculum
    • Guardian columnist Fiona Millar who argued that it was time for Labour to pull together a robust policy of its own on education
    • Julian McCrae, Deputy Director of the Institute for Government, who set out the policy context for further devolution of key services such as skills, health and social care
    • The HE Policy Institute who along with Pearson called for a better system for accrediting and funding technical and professional education in a new report on L4/5 provision
    • Wonkhe and Capita who reported on how well the HE sector was prepared for the lifting of the student numbers cap this autumn and acknowledged that “HE is set to become more volatile and difficult to predict” as a consequence
    • The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) who announced this year’s round of HE access agreements have all now been signed off
    • Universities UK who along with NESTA have been looking at data analytical skills, how they are taught and developed, and who came up with a number of recommendations for schools, FE and HE
    • City University which has announced it is to join up with the University of London
    • Secondary school performance data which will be published in provisional form at least in mid-October allowing parents more time to consider school choices rather than having to wait until the full set of performance tables in January
    • GiveBacc, a new youth volunteering programme intended to run alongside the EBacc in schools, proposed in a report by the think tank Demos and Generation Change, and intended to encourage more young people to become involved in social action projects
    • The Careers and Enterprise Company who have provided further information about how their local brokerage model with schools, LEPs and local employers will operate
    • Ofqual and the DfE who launched consultation on the third wave of GCSE, AS and A levels due for first teaching in 2017
    • Ofqual who reported back on the rules and guidance for new GCSEs in Science
    • The Wellcome Trust who have launched a major review of the effectiveness of ‘mindfulness’ training in schools across the country
    • Executive Headteacher Diane Rochford who will lead the government’s review into how best to assess attainment levels of low ability pupils unable to take tests at KS1/2
    • Leading primary schools who will be given government grants of up to £10,000 to help them share best practice in phonics teaching and literacy programmes
    • Google who is planning to run free summer classes for children to help them develop coding and digital skills
    • Ofsted who reported that early years provision is in its best shape ever with 85% of ‘settings’ either good or outstanding but where the Chief Inspector also expressed concerns that places were not being taken up and disadvantaged peers being left behind as a result
    • Luuk Van Middlelaar’s ‘Passage to Europe,’ one of a number of summer reading eruditions for policy wonks selected by IPPR’s director, Nick Pearce

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Ride the nerdwave to widen access to selective universities, conferences told.” @ed_ontap
    • “The degrees are useless theory is fine - if you’re posh, assertive and lucky.” @gracedent
    • “The more we measure in education, the more invisible the learners become.”@ian_hamilton
    • “In the short term, the, losers from the budget are current cohort of 17 yr olds, in the long run, it’s uni finances.” @JulianGravatt
    • “A parent’s view of homework: I waver between tolerance and outright hatred.” @guardian

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • CHO. Chief Happiness Officer, many organisations now have them. 

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “Just as the introduction of private student fees transformed the quality and quantity of higher education, this new training levy could do the same for apprenticeships. There is no reason to wait until 2020: this new policy could take off immediately, and young people could be benefiting in their tens of thousands from this autumn.” Lord Adonis in a blog about the proposed new apprenticeship levy
    • “The new chairman is happy enough to talk about young people’s mental health, coasting and grammar schools, Trojan horse and fairer school funding but it’s productivity that gets his pulse racing.” The Guardian interviews the Chair of the Education Committee
    • “In return for the promise of a turbo-charged career and rapid promotion, education fast-streamers would have to spend some years teaching in a disadvantaged school.” Social mobility tsar Alan Milburn on using new blood to help close the attainment gap
    • “The top university will not be the only route for the very able. Children are finding it difficult to pay for it. Why would you if you did not need to?” Clarissa Farr, head of St Paul’s Girls’ School, on the changing lure of the job market
    • “It’s not seen as being cool.” The headmaster of Malborough College on why school choirs are in decline.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £8,781. The cost of the average annual HE tuition fee this year
    • £750m. How much HE providers will spend this year on widening participation activities as part of the latest access agreements
    • £246m. The cost of last year’s research excellence exercise in HE according to latest figures
    • 3.8m. The number of learners served by the FE sector last year according to the BIS Dept’s latest Annual Report
    • 55%. The number of employers in the latest CBI/Pearson survey, who expressed concerns about being able to fill high-skilled jobs
    • 30%. The number of primary schools continuing to use national curriculum levels to assess children according to research reported in the TES
    • 3.2%. The increase in average earnings (apparently,) a five-year high and listed in the latest (March – May ) employment figures published this week. 

    What to look out for next week

    • MPs questions to the DfE (Monday)
    • House of Commons in recess until 7 Sept (Wednesday).
    read more
  • Primary Policy Watch - Here comes the sun... and a flurry of announcements

    With the last few weeks of the academic year seemingly roaring by, there’s been the normal rush to get information out before the end of term.

    Since the middle of June we’ve had new inspection guidelines coming out of Ofsted, confirmation of the approved Baseline providers, new safeguarding advice, a push on pupil premium, and sample materials for the 2016 national curriculum assessments. There’s a lot to take in, so here are the some of the main headlines:

    New Ofsted Common Inspection Framework

    The updated Ofsted Common Inspection Framework (CIF) was launched on the 11th June for inspections from September 2015.

    It contains some clarification on what Ofsted is looking to see in approaches to assessment post-levels. This includes how well teachers use assessment for establishing pupils’ starting points and how testing is being used to modify teaching so that pupils achieve their potential by the end of a year or key stage. Crucially, the document states that Ofsted does not expect to see any particular system of assessment in place, which suggests that rumours of a possible return to the levels system may be highly exaggerated.

    There also seems to have been some recognition of, and attempt to address, the high levels of pressure that news of inspection places on schools and teachers. Schools last judged as ‘good’ will have shorter inspections, while in his recent Future of Education Inspection launch speech Sir Michael Wilshaw made reference to teachers needing to be ‘focussed on what really benefits children and young people, rather than wasting their time endlessly preparing for an Ofsted inspection which could be years away.’ While that statement could perhaps do with being rephrased in such a way that it does not seem to put blame on teachers, there has been support from the unions for the general recognition that teachers should be freed up to do their actual job of teaching, rather than preparing for inspection.

    Finally, reflecting the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Act placing a general duty on specified authorities (including schools) to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”, there’s a greater emphasis on safeguarding to include prevention of radicalisation and extremism.

    Assessment

    Approved Baseline check providers have been announced, whittling down the field of six to three (those that achieved over 10% of market share in pre-orders). These are the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, Durham University (CEM), Early Excellence, and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). Within this field there are two noticeably different approaches – one ICT based, using adaptive technology, and one based on teacher observation. While this gives schools at least some degree of choice, a significant groundswell of resistance remains among the early years community meaning we’re unlikely to have heard the last of this debate.

    If you’ve previously chosen a provider that is no longer on the list of approved providers, you can still use your selected provider. However, the DfE won’t reimburse any costs and you will not be eligible to report on progress, rather having to report on attainment in line with the new floor standard.

    Meanwhile, sample papers, instructions and mark schemes were released at the beginning of July for the 2016 SATs. The mark schemes come with detailed guidance on marking principles and common issues. Questions are related to specific strands of learning or ‘content domains’ which are mapped out in the test framework documents (updated end June).

    We still don’t have full information about what the scale will look like. It will be created based on the first full set of data from the new SATs to ensure it is correct, and maintained in subsequent years by using a process known as ‘test equating’. The DfE is very clear that the old national curriculum levels are not relevant to the new national curriculum. However, they have confirmed that at KS1, the national standard will roughly equate to an old level 2b, and at KS2 to an old level 4b.

    Pupil Premium

    A report from the National Audit Office released on the 30th June concluded that: ‘While the impact of the Pupil Premium will take time to become clear, it has the potential to bring about a significant improvement in outcomes. However, the Department for Education and schools have more to do.’” This point was taken up by Nicky Morgan in a speech at the Sutton Trust and Educational Endowment Foundation summit – reiterating that more must be done to share best practice across schools and ensure that schools give more reflection to how they use the money in an evidence-based way.

    There was little concrete direction in the speech, however, beyond the department’s intention to challenge more ‘failing and coasting schools’ and work more closely with the Educational Endowment Foundation to disseminate thought-leadership around what works so that schools are not only ‘narrowing the gap’ but helping all children catch up and keep up. Indeed, Ms. Morgan went as far as to say that she viewed them as a ‘key partner’, suggesting that they may become a more important reference source for schools in the future.

    The final pieces of the puzzle…

    With the release of all of this new information it feels as though the final pieces of the puzzle in terms of the current reform agenda, are falling into place. The Department’s vision of challenging every child to reach their full potential is really gaining substance as we see it reinforced in successive announcements. The new curriculum, as well as the government’s policies on assessment and accountability are starting to feel more solid and permanent. While much remains to be done to support schools in achieving these lofty ambitions, it does at least feel as though the government is giving some thought to how to make this happen.

    Wishing you a restful summer holiday.

    Rosalind Letellier
    Pearson Primary

    For further information of interest to Primary schools, you can follow @PrimarySchool on Twitter.

    Steve Besley - policywatch@pearson.com

    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending July 10 2015

    One image sums up this week and it was that of the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith punching his fists in the air, ‘like an ageing disco dancer’ according to one newspaper, as the Chancellor announced the creation of a new national living wage in his Budget speech.

    The week summed up

    The announcement was one of a number of carefully crafted measures that the Chancellor deftly pulled out of his bag, or according to the Opposition their bag, as he sought to seize ownership of the political agenda for the foreseeable future. Not everyone of course will have been punching the air with delight at the Chancellor’s announcements and with the Budget setting out just £17bn of the projected £37bn of cuts needed over the lifetime of this Parliament, there may be more difficult moments to come but this is the picture so far with the Spending Review to come.

    For education, three things stand out.

    First, unlike previous Budgets there was little for schools to chew on. There was a nod to the current plan to deal with ‘coasting’ schools, some money for school cadet forces and reference to the trialling of the new JCP Employment/Careers adviser in the Midlands but that was about it. Capital funding for the new school system, 500 more Free Schools, new UTCs and so on, let alone a new national funding formula will have to await the Spending Review. Second, the 3m apprenticeship target is alive and kicking. The Chancellor confirmed this by announcing a new Youth Obligation from 2017 for 19-21 yr olds on Universal Credit who after six months will be put on training and apprenticeship programmes, and by taking the employer investment bull by the horns and announcing a levy on large UK employers to help fund apprenticeship growth. Details to come in the autumn Spending Review but Alison Wolf will be pleased. And third, HE where along with the expected announcement about converting maintenance loans into grants, the importance of high teaching quality was made clear. Not only will new providers who can demonstrate high standards be encouraged to enter the market but existing ones “offering high quality teaching will be allowed to increase their tuition fees in line with inflation from 2017” following consultation.

    There’s a lot more in the Budget of course and useful analysis of the whole thing can be found on the Institute of Fiscal Studies website here while the think tank IPPR have looked at the possible impact of future Dept cuts here. The full-on Budget itself can be found here.

    Top headlines this week

    • Exam focus damaging pupils’ mental health, says NUT.’ (Monday)
    • Let retirees tackle growing teacher shortage, education minister says.’ (Tuesday)
    • Over emphasis on exams results risks distorting learning, board warns.’ (Wednesday)
    • Budget2015: maintenance grants for poorer students to be scrapped.’ (Thursday)
    • Osborne unveils new planning rules (under productivity Plan.)’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • The Chancellor who included some important measures on skills training, higher education and social welfare in his latest Budget outlined this week.
    • BIS Secretary Sajid Javid who launched the government’s Productivity Plan which included specific references to the importance of professional and technical training and skills as a way of skilling up the future workforce (Plan just launched and 5 of the 16 chapters cover education and skills).
    • Schools Minister Nick Gibb who used a keynote speech to the Education Reform Summit to spell out the core purposes of education that were driving the government’s current reforms.
    • Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt who continued his campaign for 14-19 reform by calling for a National Bacc with a ‘life in the UK’ test for all school leavers.
    • The newly created House of Lords Committee on Social Mobility which is looking at transition to work opportunities and guidance for young people and which held its first witness session this week.
    • Roger King, Visiting Professor in the School of Management at Bath University, who in an article in The Conversation expressed support for ranking universities by the quality of their teaching.
    • Roger Brown, former head of the QAA’s predecessor the HE Quality Council, who wrote a piece in the Times Higher questioning some of the proposals in the latest review of HE quality assessment.
    • The Professionals in International Education (PIE) Network who published a survey of student views which found that most considered the ranking of a university important to future employment prospects.
    • The Higher Education Academy who published a report arguing that the growing number of students who enter higher education with a vocational qualification such as a BTEC should receive better support and preparation to help achieve the level of degree they deserve.
    • HEFCE who launched a call for evidence on computer science to inform the review currently being undertaken by Sir Nigel Shadbolt.
    • UCAS who published its latest stats for university entry 2015 covering the period up to the end of June and showing a 2% overall increase in entries on 2014.
    • The Skills Commission who offered a 60+ page guide to the workings of the skills system with six key proposals (around funding, quality, employer engagement, political consensus, systems thinking and stability) for reform.
    • Fiona Millar who invited all four Labour leadership candidates to offer their thoughts on education with some nominal results.
    • Curriculum expert Dr Peter Hill who has been appointed as education director at Nord Anglia.
    • The Greater Manchester strategy which in a report one-year on was found to be making good progress in a number of its priorities but where a lot of work is still to be done on tackling unemployment and skills.
    • NIACE who along with a number of leading employers has launched a new website called ‘What Employers Want,’ aimed at providing young people aged 16-25 with advice, guidance and support as they seek to make the transition to work.
    • The NUT who published a commissioned report into the impact of a high-stakes exam and accountability system on schools in England suggesting that it was having a deleterious effect on young people.
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw who wrote to all schools in England to explain about the changes to inspection arrangements due to come in from this Sept.
    • The future of assessment, the subject of a collection of essays by education experts hosted and published as part of a conference by exam board AQA.
    • The think tank Demos who launched their Integration Hub showing the changing social and ethnic pattern of Britain and which indicated that in many areas schools remain highly segregated.
    • The BBC who confirmed plans to give away its new Micro:bit computers to 11 and 12 years this autumn and who will be setting up a not-for-profit company to help with the commercial distribution of them subsequently.
    • Tessa Jowell who lamented the failure to encourage more young people to take up sports which had been promised as part of the Olympic legacy and Lord Moynihan who tabled an amendment to the Charities Bill requiring independent schools to share their grounds.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Baroness Sharp: We have remarkably few people in Parliament who know anything about FE and skills.” @stephenexley
    • “BBC has agreed a budget reduction with Treasury timed for 2018. Colleges still waiting for news on more SFA cuts starting Aug 2015.” @JulianGravatt
    • “Minister seem to have great problems in seeing matters sometimes from the point of view of a school, says Kevin Brennan MP.” @SchoolsWeek
    • “Andreas Schleicher of OECD: student’s mindset is one of the best predictors of learning outcomes anywhere in the world.” @tes
    • “As we approach SATs results, I keep asking myself: ‘should I1 year olds be this worried?’ ’” @tes
    • “This year’s must-have desk accessory: I survived another meeting that should have been an email.” @Independent

    Acronym(s) of the week

    •  WMCA. West Midlands Combined Authority, the latest region to declare for economic powerhouse status.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • "Johnson (like HEFCE) shows a rather touching faith in a modernised, external examining system for universities.” Professor Roger King questions the faith being placed on the external examiner system in HE
    • "The skills system is best conceptualised as an ecosystem made up of varied yet interdependent components adapting their behaviours to an ever changing environment.” The Skills Commission sets out to explain the skills system in Britain
    • "It does not have to be like this. There are much better ways to construct school accountability. Countries such as Finland, Canada and Scotland do it very differently.” NUT Gen Sec Christine Blower introducing her union’s report on Exam Factories
    • "We are all giving a lot of thought to how we try to explain it to people.” The chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference on the current A level reforms
    • "I think he’d be very good but I’m not going to pass judgement on his classroom abilities until he’s been through all the training.” The Education Secretary on the news that a retired partner in a law firm was considering becoming a teacher
    • "It would be a bit like saying that the Indian Minister for railways has got to know what is happening on the 8:57 into Calcutta.” Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn on the problems of trying to run an education system from Whitehall. 

    Number(s) of the week

    • 2.4%. The Budget forecast figure for growth this year
    • 1% per year. What the Chancellor allocated in his Budget for public sector pay rises, including those of teachers, for each of the next four years
    • 25. The age at which the new National living Wage for workers will apply
    • 121. The number of university professors who added their names to a letter to The Guardian calling on the Select Committee to examine the increasing government micro-management of the sector which they claim is leading to more compliance and less creativity
    • 59m. The number of primary school-age children around the world missing out on a primary education according to a recent report from UNESCO.

    What to look out for next week

    • Launch of Pearson/CBI Education and Skills Survey (Tuesday)
    • Education Bill in Committee (Tues/Thurs)
    • World Youth Skills Day (Wednesday)
    • UCL/IoE STEM Education Centre ½ day interactive event (Wednesday)
    • Nick Clegg gives evidence to the Lords Committee on Social Mobility for young people (Wed)
    • Launch of Pearson/HEPI Paper on L4/5 skills (Thursday). 
    read more
  • Pocket Watch - Two months and counting

    By next week, the government will have had two months. While still short of the nominal ‘first 100 days,’ it’s perhaps enough time to see how things are shaping up.

    Education, it was thought, might not be a big priority but concerns about cuts, the curriculum and coasting have changed that. As the Education Secretary said in her speech at the Festival of Education recently: “I don’t want anyone to mistake silence for stability, to presume that education is no longer a priority for the government.” Proving the point, this is an update on progress so far in the Party’s 38 education and training pledges listed in its 2015 election manifesto.   

    Manifesto Progress Check

    · On the core curriculum there were two pledges: first that secondary pupils would be required to take GCSEs in core subjects and second that Ofsted would only award highest ratings to schools that taught them. Although there’ll be consultation this autumn on some of the details, how far it’s applicable to all pupils for instance, the government has already confirmed that pupils starting secondary this Sept will be expected to take the EBacc subjects to GCSE. At the moment, accountability is likely to be through league table data.

    · On school performance there were three pledges including National Leaders taking over ‘failing’ primary schools, ‘best’ head teachers and sponsors taking over other underperforming schools and an expansion of academies and free schools. In a letter on 15 June, the government strengthened the powers of Regional School Commissioners to tackle school underperformance while other powers proposed for the Education Secretary, such as issuing warning notices and academy conversion orders, are under discussion in the current Education Bill. A definition of underperforming and/or coasting has been proposed and further consultation will also follow this autumn.

    · On school behavioural issues where there was a pledge ‘to tackle low-level disruption,’ the government has appointed a behaviour ‘expert’ who will lead a team of practitioners coming up with training, resources and advice to help teachers.

    · On apprenticeships, there were two pledges: to scrap NI contributions for apprentices under 25, pencilled in for next year and, notably, ‘to deliver 3m apprenticeships over the next 5 years,’ currently concentrating minds in the skills sector. The government has already confirmed that schools, hospitals and prisons will be set targets to recruit apprentices, the new Youth Allowance will shift those unemployed for 6 months or more on to apprenticeship programmes, formal reporting of progress will be enshrined in the Full Employment and Welfare Bill while the forthcoming Enterprise Bill will give government powers to convert ‘low-quality’ courses into apprenticeship courses.

    · On local growth and devolution of skills planning/funding, where there were four pledges covering local growth deals and devolved powers to Greater Manchester, the London Mayor and other regions wishing to bid, the Cities and Local Government Bill, intended to create a legislative framework for such developments to happen, is already progressing through Parliament. It reaches the report stage in the House of Lords on 13 July.

    · On higher education where there were a number of pledges including on science, online learning, and the implementation of a national postgrad loans system, the core pledge of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) was the subject of a wide-ranging speech by the Minister this week. Not only will a Green Paper on the TEF follow in the autumn but the government is also interested in providing more informed choice and protection for students, knowledge exchange with business and a revised degree scale.

    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending July 3 2015

    It’s been hard to avoid the coasting word this week.

    The week summed up

    Coasting was the subject of considerable discussion when the Education Secretary offered her definition during this week’s debate on the current Education Bill and although he didn’t use the term directly, the common view was that this was what the Universities Minister had in his sights when he addressed Universities UK also this week.

    Coasting has become for the moment at least, the defining word of the government’s education agenda, the latest weapon in the battle of public service reform. As Tony Blair found with his famous ‘scars on my back’ speech, it can be a battle and there have been plenty of concerns expressed this week about the government’s latest approach. For schools where Laura McInerney offered a useful summary in Schools Week, the issues seem to be threefold: definition, impact and the punitive nature of the whole exercise. The definition of 60% rather than 40% of pupils achieving the current ‘5 good GCSE’ benchmark is certainly challenging and if applied blindly would fail to credit those who pull themselves up to just below that benchmark often from a low base, an obvious concern. In terms of impact, the government suggests ‘hundreds’ of schools could be affected, some experts suggest thousands; we shan’t know until at least 2016. As for being punitive, there’s always a difficult balance to be struck here but an over-reliance on a heavy testing regime does not, as Anthony Seldon suggests below, make for happy schools with happy kids; getting the balance right is not easy.

    While schools have been confronting the issue of coasting, higher education has been facing its own quality issues. On Monday HEFCE issued its latest update on its review of quality assessment arrangements. Fewer systems and processes and more use of data, external examiners and institution’s own assurance arrangements seems to be the order of the day here. Further consultation will now run to mid Sept. Part of the problem is meshing these arrangements into the government’s own commitment to introduce a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) which the Minister endorsed in a major speech later in the week. In a wide-ranging speech, he surprised many by also expressing interest in a more detailed profile of student achievement to run alongside the current hons system and in encouraging universities to be more responsive to business and learner needs, potentially through new accountability measures.

    It has also been an important week for FE although those biting their nails ahead of the Chancellor’s Statement next week, where according to the headline in today’s TESFE, the sector’s very future is at stake, may feel it’s next week that counts. This week’s reports by Alison Wolf on apprenticeships and McDonalds on ‘soft’ skills, confirm however, the importance of the sector.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Vocational qualifications increasingly valued by employers, survey says.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Coasting schools face tough exam targets.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘McDonalds; soft skills must be formalised and recognised.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Degree classifications must change to stop students coasting, says Minister.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Rise in school teacher vacancies in England.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    • Jo Johnson who in his second major speech since becoming Universities Minister confirmed that the government will publish a green discussion paper this autumn on developing a framework for teaching excellence in HE
    • Nicky Morgan who, as the Education Bill reached its Committee stage, set out how a coasting school will be defined
    • Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith who announced that pupil attainment at age 16 will be used as one of the measures of Child Poverty under new legislation
    • The Education Committee where out of the 10 members appointed this week, eight are female, with seven of these being newly elected in May 2015
    • The DfE and the NFER, each of whom published data rich reports on Academy performance over the last year but with definitive conclusions still some way off
    • The Childcare Minister who announced that requisite levels of GCSE English and maths would become an exit rather than an entry requirement for childcare apprentices although the issue of functional skills remains
    • The DfE who issued new safeguarding advice for schools and childcare providers to help protect children from radicalisation as the new Prevent regulations came into force
    • The DfE who following criticisms that no such register existed, have announced that a national database of school governors will now be established
    • Jon Thompson, Permanent Secretary at the MoD, who has been appointed as Civil Service Social Mobility Champion
    • Carolyn Fairbairn, a former journalist and media executive, who has been appointed to succeed John Cridland as director general of the CBI at the end of the year
    • Professor Stuart Croft, currently provost at Warwick University, who has been appointed to succeed Sir Nigel Thrift as V.C. at Warwick from next February
    • Professor Les Ebdon whose term as director of the Office of Fair Access has been extended
    • Claudia Harris, a management consultant and former Labour adviser, who has been appointed as chief executive at the DfE’s independent Careers and Enterprise Company
    • Professor John Hattie whose Papers on ‘What works and what doesn’t in Education’ have been attracting considerable interest and which can be found, along with accompanying discussion on the Pearson Open Ideas website here
    • HEFCE who with the other UKHE funding agencies, published the results of its initial review of quality assessment in HE and launched a further consultation that will run until mid Sept on some of the emerging principles
    • The Universities UK grouping of university leaders who have called on the government to raise the £9000 tuition fee cap in line with inflation and for the maintenance grant to be increased at the same time
    • Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs,) many of whom called for greater devolution of funding to help tackle skills issues in a report on ‘What next for LEPs?’ by PWC and the Smith Institute
    • Professor Alison Wolf who followed up her earlier report on adult skills funding with a further broadside on apprenticeship funding, calling for a new National Apprenticeship Fund, sourced by a levy on employers to fund the training, leaving government to fund the education component
    • UKCES and Centrefor cities who offered a qualified thumbs-up for local growth deals in a report looking at demand-led local employment and skills systems
    • McDonalds who have been leading a campaign to promote and recognise ‘soft skills’ and who have announced that it will work with a group of partners including the CBI, Pearson and the AoC to take forward the recommendations from its recent survey report
    • The National Audit Office (NAO) who reported on how the pupil premium was working and found that while it had raised the profile of disadvantaged pupils, it had yet to engender any major impact
    • The Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Fund who hosted a landmark stocktake summit on the pupil premium so far and how it should deployed to best effect over the next 5 years
    • Ofsted who have launched a brief consultation on revisions to the way in which it publishes stats on inspection outcomes for maintained schools and academies 
    • Professor Chris Husbands who called for a more coherent strategy around initial teacher training in his latest blog in the IoE’s series of ‘expert’ opinion pieces
    • The DfE who have launched a consultation on changes to the subject content of GCSE Design and Technology
    • The think tank Demos who launched a report calling for non-formal learning to be more widely embedded into school curricula as a way of helping develop pupil character
    • NFER, Durham CEM and Early Excellence, confirmed this week as authorised providers of the baseline assessments for four and five year olds that will be used to measure pupil progress in future
    • Book Trust whose latest research as part of their ‘Read On. Get On’ campaign found that many disadvantaged children without requisite reading skills, especially boys, started school 15 months behind their more advantaged peers
    • Edge and the TES who have identified Emmerdale as the soap opera with the most characters likely to have a vocational qualification (followed in order by Corrie and EastEnders)
    • ‘Storyteller’ by Josie Picoult, ‘The Power of One’ by Bryce Courtenay and ‘Us’ by David Nicholls, three of the books recommended by teachers for any reading time this summer.

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “We should offer a red carpet not an obstacle course for international students.” @AaronPorter
    • “We don’t like bandying around the word crisis but there is a crisis in the recruitment of teachers and leaders.” @brianlightman
    • “Schools should be looking out for students rather than conducting surveillance on them.” @russellhobby
    • “Nicky Morgan on the EBacc: it will end quiet discrimination” @SchoolsWeek

    Acronym(s) of the week

    • TEF. Teaching Excellence Framework, an important development for HE, in the Conservative Party’s manifesto and which will be the subject of a discussion paper later this year.

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “I will continue to push for more (performance) data to be made available, including for alternative providers.” The Universities Minister on holding an expanding HE market to account
    • “The Teaching Excellence Framework would lead to time wasted giving tuna sandwiches to assessors (rather than supporting learning.)” One University Principal appears less enamoured by the proposed new framework
    • “Under current budgets, it simply cannot be done.” Professor Alison Wolf on meeting the 3m apprenticeship target within current funds
    • “The value I have always placed on soft skills has helped me get to where I am today.” Entrepreneur James Caan CBE who is helping McDonalds and others lead a campaign to get soft skills recognised in schools and the workplace
    • “Recruitment is a challenge as the economy improves and competition for new graduates intensifies.” The Schools Minister on the rise in teacher vacancies
    • “Schools should strive to be happy, kind and warm places.” Sir Anthony Seldon as he reflects on his move from schools to HE
    • “Based on current performance we expect the definition to apply to hundreds of schools.” The Education Secretary on the impact of the coasting definition
    • “It signals more uncertainty and turbulence for schools, distracting them from focusing on raising standards.” The Gen Sec of the NASUWT reacts to the new coasting school definition.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £1,143m. Annual cost to HE providers in England of existing quality assurance and quality assessment arrangements according to research conducted by KPMG
    • Over 70%. The number of graduates who now get a First or 2:1 according to figures cited by the Universities Minister this week
    • 1,179. The number of schools that could fall foul of the new coasting definition, in numbers crunched by Education Datalab
    • 4,674. The number of Academies now open according to the latest Annual Report on Academies from the DfE
    • 2m. The number of 5-16 yr olds who qualify for extra pupil premium funding (out of a total of 7m school-age children) according to NAO figures 
    • 76%. The number of private schools judged good or outstanding in recent Ofsted inspections, a drop of 1% on the previous year.

    What to look out for next week

    • Education Bill Committee stage (Tuesday)
    • Budget Statement (Wednesday)
    • Education Bill Committee stage (Thursday).
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