Policy Eye – week ending December 11 2015

Christmas may be in sight but there’s been no let-up in activity this week with a keynote speech from the Prime Minister, a new plan of action for apprenticeships, some important consultations, a significant amendment to the Education Bill and the release of the latest official data on KS2 results all following in quick succession.

The week summed up

The Prime Minister’s speech first, important for two reasons. First because it was further evidence of a theme that the Prime Minister has been running with since the election that this is a government that claims it can deliver. He pointed to five areas (more academies, more apprenticeships, more homeowners, more money for the NHS, more family support) where he argued action was being taken. And second because at least two of those five areas, academies and apprenticeships, concern education and training and show how important a priority this is.

Indeed there have been significant developments in both of those education areas this week.

On academies, the government has now tabled amendments to the Education Bill that would see the proposed coasting criteria extended to both academies and free schools leaving regional commissioners with a further issue to contend with. It’s also requiring academy sponsors to let parents know what their plans are for schools they are lining up to take over.

On apprenticeships, the government released its latest call for action in the shape of action plan to take us up to 2020 and the summit of 3m apprenticeships. In all, the Paper lists 47 ‘actions,’ that need to be ticked off over the coming months with the first half of 2016 looking particularly busy. A specific listing can be seen in an accompanying Policy Watch but standouts include further levy and funding guidance, more detail on the steps being taken to reform technical and professional education (the Sainsbury group work) and a careers strategy, all due in the first two quarters of 2016. Next year’s National Apprenticeship Week which runs from the 14-18 March 2016 looks like being particularly busy.

Moving on to those ‘important’ consultations, the government proposals on intervening in underperforming and coasting schools closes next Friday while Ofqual has followed up its latest published data on appeals and malpractice by releasing a series of consultations on related matters but with particular interest in the proposals for future enquiries about results.

Finally, we should not forget the official results of KS2 tests, released this week, and showing a further increase (up from 78% to 80%) in the number of 11 year olds reaching the requisite level 4 standard. It meant a welcome drop in the number of primary schools below the floor standard although the media seemed unsure whether this constituted good or bad news.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘Apple turns stores into classrooms.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Failing academies face rapid action.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Tuition fees will depend upon subject.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Wilshaw: make apprenticeships more appealing or risk them going to foreigners.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘More than 90,000 exam grades changed.’ (Friday)

People/organisations in the news this week

Tweet(s) of the week

  • “In education, four little words are guaranteed to send me into orbit: ‘in the real world.’” @timeshighered
  • “51% of teachers say they don’t have time to deliver employability activities. Proxy for ‘don’t want to,’ ‘don’t know how,’ not relevant?” @davidharbourne
  • “No morale problem. Teaching isn’t a profession in crisis @NickGibbMP tells MPs.” @tes

Quote(s) of the week

  • “A manifesto shouldn’t be a wish-list; it should be a checklist.” The Prime Minister confirms that the government is steadily ticking off its manifesto promises
  • “At the heart of this Bill lies our belief that a single day spent by a child in an underperforming school is a day too many.” The Education Secretary on the rationale behind the latest amendment to the Education Bill
  • “The body will be funded by government using public funds as the rest of the governance system is.” The Skills Minister explains how the new Institute for Apprenticeships will be funded
  • “The apprenticeship levy will shift incentives so that it is far more in employers’ interests to take on apprentices.” The apprenticeship levy assumption in the government’s latest Vision Paper on apprenticeships
  • “If there is a surfeit of plumbers one year, the number being trained is reduced and applicants encouraged into other sectors.” Sir Michael Wilshaw explains how Germany manages labour market supply around its apprenticeship scheme
  • "It is less target driven.” A comment piece in the Guardian looks at how the German education system has raised its game
  • “If we want our students to have a rich and balanced education, teachers must become curriculum developers again.” John Dunford calls for the teaching profession to regain its curriculum mojo
  • “It’s good to just sit there, close your eyes and breathe. It really helps.” The UK’s first Happiness Teacher on what really helps.

Number(s) of the week

  • 2.3%. The percentage of the workforce in large public sector bodies that should be apprentices likely to be set out in a forthcoming government consultation
  • Two-thirds. How much of the apprenticeship funding cake the Skills Minister is urging colleges to grab by 2020 (at present it’s nearer one-third)
  • 50. Roughly how many applications for recognition as an awarding organisation Ofqual receives each year
  • 44 (out of 276.) The number of private schools listed as offering vocational courses at A level
  • 36.5%. The % of disadvantaged pupils who achieved 5 core A*-C GCSEs in 2013/14 against 64% of pupils overall
  • 17%. The increase from last year in enquiries about results according to latest Ofqual data
  • 122. The number of formal improvement notices issued to academies and free schools according to the Education Secretary
  • 676. The number of primary schools below the floor standard, down by nearly 100 from last year.

What to look out for next week

  • UCAS publish End of Cycle Report on the 2015 uni admissions cycle (Thursday)
  • Social Mobility Commission publish its annual Report (Thursday).

Steve Besley
Head of Policy
policywatch@pearson.com

Policy Eye is a nearly weekly additional service from Policy Watch offering a regular round-up of UK education headlines and stories from over the previous 7 days.