Policy Eye - week ending January 22 2016

Policy Eye

Some weeks it’s difficult to know where to start, there’s just so much going on. This last week has been a case in point but arguably four headline themes stand out: standards and performance; management of the school system; community cohesion; and technology.

The week summed up

On standards and performance this has been the week of the latest, and in their current form the last, School and College performance tables. A lot of the data was published in interim form last October and so was fairly familiar, but the strong performance of some disadvantaged schools, the lack of inroad by the EBacc, the rise in the number of A level entries for facilitating subjects, and the value added impact of vocational provision, all deserved attention.

Performance in future will be reported through new accountability measures including Attainment 8 and Progress 8. The question remains, however, as to what sort of performance levels we should be expecting from our education system. This week the CentreForum thinktank launched an important report proposing a more ambitious set of targets, 75% of pupils reaching the GCSE Attainment 8 benchmark by 2030 as against the 57% who achieved 5 ‘good’ GCSEs this year for example. Sir Michael Wilshaw who spoke at the launch of the consultative report thought such ambitions were possible but that changes to school leadership, accountability and curriculum provision were needed as well.

Accountability and oversight of the schools system has been much in the news this week as well with the publication of the Education Committee’s Inquiry into the role of Regional Schools Commissioners. An excellent summary of their recommendations can be found on the Schools Week website and it will be interesting to see how the government responds given the finger wagging it received.

The government of course has big plans to increase the numbers of Academies and Free Schools but the Committee’s conclusion that the oversight of the school system was “confused, fragmented and lacking in transparency” has raised many questions.

There have also been some important developments around migration and community cohesion this week with the Prime Minister proposing a new community fund to help teach English to Muslim women, the Education Secretary unveiling a new website to help teachers and parents protect children from extremism and the Migration Advisory Committee recommending an annual skills levy on employers recruiting from abroad. As Nicky Morgan said, you wouldn’t have expected tackling extremism to be on the Education Secretary’s job description 5 years ago but seemingly it’s becoming the responsibility of all now.

Finally technology, where the annual BETT fest of innovation and imagination continues to Saturday and which as a topic has been much discussed by world leaders at Davos this week. The 5 ways in which technology is shaping our world is beautifully captured in this Time briefing.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘One size fits all system lets down less academic pupils warns Ofsted chief.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Educate against hate, urges government.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Academy scrutiny confused, say MPs.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Nicky Morgan tells teachers to use technology to reduce workload.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘Schools ranked by raw GCSE results for last time.’ (Friday)

People/organisations in the news this week

  • The Prime Minister who in another ‘start the week’ announcement, promised a £20m DCLG (Dept for Communities and Local Gov) fund to teach English to ‘isolated’ Muslim women
  • (Sean Sutherland, Lecturer in Language at Westminster University, who in the light of the PM’s announcement, wrote an interesting blog about some of the difficulties inherent in learning English)
  • The Education Secretary who announced a range of measures including a new website to help schools and parents protect children from extremism
  • Nicky Morgan who spoke at this week’s annual BETT show about the role of technology as a supplement rather than as a substitute for quality education, supporting schools in areas like assessment, school management and parental engagement
  • The Labour Party which secured an Opposition Day debate to challenge the government’s plans to scrap maintenance grants in favour of loans
  • The Migration Advisory Committee which published its report on tightening Tier 2 migration recommending among other things that an Immigration Skills Charge be levied, potentially of £1000 per year, per migrant, to encourage employers to train more UK employees and rely less on migrant recruits
  • The OECD which included the changing nature of the family, technology and the growth of city states among the various trends likely to shape education in 2016
  • Universities UK which launched the new Social Mobility Advisory Group announced as part of last year’s HE Green Paper and due to present findings to the Minister this summer
  • The High Fliers market research company which published its latest report on the graduate recruitment market indicating a 7.5% increase in vacancies, the 4th year in a row that graduate vacancies in top companies have increased
  • Paul Greatrix, Registrar at the University of Nottingham, who blogged on Wonkhe about the research grant funding offered by Amazon to the University of Washington and wondered whether this opened up a new frontier in Amazon activity
  • The government which hosted a reception for leading apprenticeship employers and which used the occasion to announce more details about its new Apprenticeship Delivery Board
  • The Skills Funding Agency which is collecting views from employers about the apprenticeship levy in a survey due to close in two weeks’ time
  • The Skills Funding Agency which confirmed that restrictions on providers offering traineeships will be lifted from the beginning of Feb 2016 rather than August as originally planned
  • School and College 2015 performance tables and 2013/14 destination measures which were released in final form this week prior to the switch from 2016 to Attainment 8 and Progress 8 measures
  • The think tank CentreForum, which ahead of an ambitious project to raise education standards in England, launched a consultative report in partnership with Education DataLab proposing a new set of ‘world-class’ standards and forms of progress over the next 15 years
  • Sir Michael Wilshaw who helped launch the CentreForum project with a speech calling for sharper leadership, governance, accountability and curriculum provision as part of the package to raise school standards
  • The Education Committee which bared its teeth with a report into the management of the schools system and the role of Regional Schools Commissioners criticising a lack of transparency, clarity and coherence generally
  • Sir Tim Brighouse whose recent speech looked at the different stages of post war education and concluded that we are now in the ‘the age of confusion’
  • Conor Ryan, who in his latest blog for the Sutton Trust, looked at the potential impact of the changes coming for GCSE grading and accountability and queried whether it would make performance over time easier to understand or not
  • TeachFirst who launched its latest recruitment ‘Change Career, Change Lives’ campaign designed to encourage more young professionals to swap ‘city’ careers for teaching in more disadvantaged areas
  • Stephen Twigg MP who will chair the new 4-year Liverpool Challenge aimed at raising attainment in local schools and modelled on the modelled on a version of the London Challenge
  • Fiona Millar who in an article in The Guardian examined the issue of teacher recruitment and how far or not a crisis was looming
  • The DfE and Ofqual who updated the list of GCSEs, AS and A levels accredited for teaching from Sept 2016
  • UCAS which has published a follow-up survey on how schools and colleges are responding to the A level reforms including the adoption of a de-coupled AS
  • ‘Ambassadorial advisory bodies,’ the new form of governing bodies being created for E-ACT Academies
  • Eastbury Community School in Barking whose supportive environment and charity work have helped earn it the title of ‘the kindest school in the country’
  • ‘War and Peace,’ which emerged in a recent survey by YouGov as the C19 novel most people would like to read (if they had the time and the patience.) Les Miserables and Moby Dick were listed 2nd and 3rd respectively.

Tweet(s) of the week

  • “Character is important - a CV may get you the interview but character will get you the job.” #CharacterMatters 2016
  • “Robert Winston: We undervalue our primary teachers.” @ProfRWinston
  • “Student union bans laughter, applause, interrupting, heckling, even hand gestures to create a safe space.” @GregHurstTimes
  • “Solving teacher shortages is my top priority says Nicky Morgan.” @SchoolsImprove

Quote(s) of the week

“There will be no single knockout blow against those who seek to corrupt young people but the action we are taking to protect children, inform parents and support teachers will put us firmly on the front foot.” - The Education Secretary announces new counter extremism measures aimed at protecting children

“Let’s be clear: this decision is far more than an accounting technicality.” - Vice Chancellor of Bedfordshire University and former Labour Minister Bill Rammell condemns the scrapping of HE maintenance grants

“When we told to bone out a dover sole, we’d bone out a dover sole.” - TV chef Ainsley Harriott on how FE taught him the skills he really needed

“RSCs are a product of the Department’s ‘acting first, thinking later’ approach when it comes to big changes in the schools landscape.” - The Education Committee points the finger at the current position on school oversight

“The internet is a wonderful tool for those who already possess considerable knowledge. As a means of initial instruction it is not so useful.” - Nick Gibb on the limits of the internet

“Since the EBacc was introduced, the percentage of state school pupils entered for at least one GCSE in an arts subject has increased from 46% to 50%.” - Nick Gibb again defending the EBacc

“Instead of fostering a climate of scholarship and deep learning, inspectors see too many secondary schools with noisy classrooms, lippy children and sullen classrooms.” - Sir Michael Wilshaw lists some of the problems facing secondary schools

“The minister for education can define in detail what shall be taught, how and when - something never attempted by Napoleon, Hitler and other continental dictators.” - Sir Tim Brighouse charts the accretion of powers by Education Secretaries

“Feel free to have a punt mate, everyone’s an expert in education.” - Tom Bennett debunks the latest fashionable theory about the powers of learning technology (link here)

Number(s) of the week

  • 5.1%. The latest UK unemployment figure for the period up to Nov 2015, the lowest for over a decade but coming at the same time as the ILO (International Labour Organisation) issued its annual employment report warning that unemployment will increase in some emerging countries this year
  • 15%. The number of people in work who are self-employed, the highest for 40 years, according to figures from UKCES
  • £30,000. Median starting salary for graduates in top companies in 2016, according to the latest research from the High Fliers company
  • 153,000. The number of apprenticeship starts in the first quarter of the 2015/16 academic year. (It needs to be about 600,000 per full academic year if the 3m target is to be reached by 2019/20)
  • 80,000. The number of education apps available for download through Apple
  • 36.2%. The number of pupils in all schools in England who were entered for the EBacc in 2015. (The government is proposing a target of 90%)
  • 329. The number of schools who were below the secondary school floor standard (broadly where fewer than 40% of pupils achieved 5 ‘good’ GCSEs A*-C) in 2015
  • From 58% to 35%. What the drop in the number of pupils gaining good GCSEs in English and maths would be if they were measured against the 2017 new, reformed GCSE grading scale, according to CentreForum.

What to look out for next week

  • The Skills Minister who will appear before the Education, Skills and Economy Committee. (Monday)
  • UUK Conference on the HE Green Paper (Tuesday)
  • OECD Report on Adult Skills. (Thursday)
  • Demos Report on ‘Disengagement in Schools.’ (Thursday)
  • CMRE Conference on ‘School Choice, Opportunity and Equity.’ (Thursday)
  • EM Skills Conference on ‘The Changing Face of Functional Skills.’ (Thursday)