Policy Eye – week ending December 18 2015

The final week of the 2015 Parliamentary year and with it a flurry of developments but a moment first to reflect on what’s been another eventful year in education.

The week summed up

The defining moment was the election in May of a new government, keen to power on and in the words of the Prime Minister show ‘it can deliver.’ So for education, we’ve had six new education-related Bills, eleven new Committee Inquiries, a new Productivity Plan, HE Green Paper, apprenticeship target, EBacc threshold and National Teaching Service all in quick succession. The political marching tune has been ‘One Nation’ but as recent reports from Ofsted, UCAS and the Social Mobility Commission have all shown, we’ve some way to go here yet. We may end the year with worries about children’s mental health, teacher numbers, skills funding and HE quality metrics but we should not forget that this year has also seen the best set of recorded KS2 results, more students gaining GCSE English and maths, an increase in apprenticeship numbers and record numbers of people accepted at UK universities. The glass is more half full than often assumed.

So what about this week’s developments?

Funding first where the Education Minister announced the revenue settlement for schools and the Skills Minister published the funding plans for FE. For schools, protections for the pupil premium and per pupil guarantees remain but the ESG is showing the first signs of the Chancellor’s required efficiencies. For FE, where this week’s Public Accounts Committee report, like the NAO Report in the summer, found the wolf not far from the door, the overall budget is £2.4bn this year, rising a further £1bn by 2020. It could have been worse of course but there’ll be some tough calls as the two funding streams, one for apprenticeships and the other for adult ed (AEB) take shape.

Second, uni entry where also this week, UCAS published its regular annual report on this year’s university admissions cycle. It’s a report rich in data, trends and analysis and provides a valuable insight into both educational and social opportunity in Britain. As Chief Executive Mary Curnock Cook put it in her Foreword, “the increasing numbers are eye-catching” with more disadvantaged young people, more females, more students from both inside and outside the EU taking up places. Familiar concerns remain however and with disadvantaged young white males falling behind again, the Sutton Trust is calling for more targeted outreach strategies.

Third, and on a related theme, the Social Mobility Commission published its third annual ‘State of the Nation’ report this week and concluded that despite efforts made so far: “the divisions in our nation run deep and, arguably, are deepening.” The report makes a number of important recommendations for each stage of education to deliver the ‘One Nation’ dream envisaged.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘Lords in revolt over Tory plan to turn all failing schools into Academies.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Recruit more state pupils, Oxbridge colleges warned.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Further education funding crisis warning.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Women take record number of university places.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘Progress on social mobility too slow.' (Friday)

People/organisations in the news this week

Tweet(s) of the week

  • “Deliberate avoidance of input measures suggests consultation’s as open as an oyster with rigor mortis.” @JohhnySRich
  • “My old g/school had feared History teacher, he came in, we all stood, he sat, we sat. Got one A at "0" level History.” @Mowman123
  • “UCAS. The least advantaged young people in England are now 65% more likely to go to university or college than they were in 2006.” @Phil_Baty

Quote(s) of the week

  • “It is a settlement to enable change, not to maintain the status quo.” The FE Minister on the latest funding settlement for the FE and skills sector
  • “The BIS and DfE appear to see area-based reviews of post-16 education as a fix-all solution to current problems.” The Public Accounts Committee questions some of the assumptions behind the current FE area reviews
  • “The government should make the non-graduate track into employment a priority for reform.” The Social Mobility Commission calls for more attention to be given to young people who do not go to on to university
  • “We have applied an efficiency saving to the ESG general funding rate for 2016-2017 and the rate will reduce from £87 per pupil to £77 per pupil.” The Education Minister includes the efficiency factor in his announcement on schools’ revenue funding
  • “This will be one of the big landmark reforms of this Parliament.” The Prime Minister on the reforms to children’s services
  • “Sponsors might want to write to parents when they’re first matched to the school to provide more information about them as a sponsor, their ethos and what parents can expect next.” The Parliamentary Under Secretary for Schools explains the thinking behind the amendment to the Education Bill requiring sponsors to communicate their intentions to parents
  • “Keep your eye on the ‘professional’ committee member who argues over every comma and wastes time.” One of the list of Dos and Don’ts of chairing Cabinet committee meetings revealed this week.

Number(s) of the week

  • £3.41bn. How big the overall budget for FE will be by 2019/20 according to the Minister’s latest missive
  • £1,320. The per pupil premium funding rate for primary school pupils for 2016/17; £935 for secondary pupils
  • 532,300. The number of people who accepted into UKHE this year, up 3.1% on 2014
  • £40m. How much should be put into a new access fund for entry to higher education according to the Social Mobility Commission
  • 285. The number of public bodies/quangos that have been scrapped since 2010 according to a new report from the National Audit Office (although 184 new bodies of different types have been formed during the same period)
  • 1.7m. How many employees are likely to come under the scope of the National Minimum Wage, at a cost to employers of around £804m
  • 78%. The number of students in a survey from the NUS who said they experienced mental health issues over the past year
  • £1.3bn. How much it costs schools overall to recruit supply teachers according to latest figures from Labour.

What to look out for next week

  • A Happy Christmas.

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.