Policy Tracker – Keeping track of what happened in the world of education in March 2017

It's been another busy month for education; 23 major reports, 6 quotes, 5 speeches.

A busy month for funding with the Chancellor pledging funds in his Spring Budget for schools and skill development, the FE and HE Funding Agencies publishing 2017/18 grant details and the contentious consultation on schools’ funding grinding to a close in the teeth of a coruscating report from the PAC.

Key headlines from the month

  • KS1 SATs. Government consults on scrapping in favour of an entry profile
  • PSHE. Government plans to put on statutory footing with SRE from 2019
  • SEND. Government puts an extra £215m into the pot
  • School funding. The Spring Budget pledges more money for Free Schools and school fabric
  • Pupil behaviour. New independent report published 
  • Exam appeals. Ofqual reports drop in the number for last summer’s exams
  • GCSE grading. Education Secretary announces two tier pass grade
  • EBacc. Rumours grow that government may cut back on proposed target take-up
  • AS. UCAS reports further drop in take up
  • Applied General quals. Government looks to retain
  • Short inspections. Ofsted confirms strong levels of reliability 
  • Unions. NUT and ATL agree on a merger
  • TNA. The Education and Training Foundation announces new training needs analysis project
  • Apprenticeship Training Provider Register. Initial register published but some notable exclusions
  • Apprenticeships. Latest National Apprenticeship Week sees over 500+ events
  • English/maths resits. Government confirms no resit needed for grade 4 and above
  • Functional Skills. Government accepts as GCSE alternative for Early Years professionals
  • FE funding. DfE issues 2017/18 grant letter and priorities
  • Funding bodies. SFA and EFA merge to become ESFA 
  • Spring Budget 2017. The Chancellor announces money for T- levels, loans and lifelong learning 
  • Digital skills. New Strategy aims to generate 4m free digital skills training opportunities
  • HE funding. HEFCE announces initial decisions for 2017/18 year
  • HE finances. HEFCE reports on a sound overall balance sheet but with notable variations.

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

  • Digital strategy. The government launches its latest strategy to keep the UK at the forefront of digital tech developments with a big push on skill development through a new Digital Skills Partnership
  • Challenge the Impossible. Teach First reports that pupils in deprived areas tend to be stuck with lower performing schools and calls for a greater effort to break through what it calls ‘a class ceiling’
  • Universities, devolution and the industrial strategy. The university think tank million+ argues that universities should be a core component in the government’s Industrial and Devolution Strategies
  • Industrial Strategy: First Review. The BEIS Committee offers its thoughts on the government’s Industrial Strategy calling for a greater focus on ‘horizontal’ policies and specific missions
  • Spring Budget 2017. The Treasury publishes all the gory details 
  • Possibility Thinking. The FE Trust for Leadership (FETL) publishes a further collection of essays on the changing nature of FE under the premise ‘what if?’ 
  • Realising Opportunities. Universities UK and HEFCE report on a massive increase in degree apprenticeships with nearly 5,000 people due to start them this autumn, a 600+% increase in 2 yrs 
  • National Citizen Service. The Public Accounts Committee reports on its inquiry into the NCS arguing that while it has potential, clearer details about costs, outcomes and future planning are needed
  • All Change. The Institution for Government looks at policy re-invention and churn in three areas including FE, industrial strategy and regionalism and finds a staggering picture of constant upheaval
  • Schools’ guide to apprenticeship reforms. The DfE explains all to schools and points to how schools can take advantage of the latest reforms to funding and provision
  • Life after school. The education charity Impetus-PEF examines the issue of English and maths resits for 16+ year olds, recommending a learner premium, revised functional skills and more training
  • Reforming Technical and Professional Education. NCFE and the Campaign for Learning publish a commissioned report looking at what’s needed to make the latest reforms to the system work
  • Implications of the National Funding Formula for Schools. The Education Policy Institute assesses the impact and argues that while the reforms may be right, many schools face losing out
  • House prices near best-performing schools. The DfE provides further evidence for its claim that selective schooling already operates through house prices in best-performing catchment areas
  • Work experience in schools and colleges. The DfE publishes the results of its extensive research into work experience finding a variety of approaches but important benefits
  • Impact of the funding formula on schools. The Institute for Fiscal Studies calls on the government to extend protections built into the new funding formula to prevent further crisis in the school system
  • Review of the State Pension Age. John Cridland’s independent review of the state pension age recommends bringing forward the rise in the state pensionable age from 67 to 68 from 2039
  • Creating a better behaviour culture. The government’s behaviour ‘expert’ outlines eight features particularly around culture and values, adopted by the most successful schools
  • Brexit needs FE. The Collab Group examines the impact of Brexit on FE and skills and argues that the sector will have a crucial role in helping deliver the skills needs of the future
  • Financial Sustainability of Schools. The Public Accounts Committee takes the government to task over its understanding and management of school funding
  • Employment opportunities for young people. The Work and Pensions Committee calls on the government to revise aspects of the shortly to be implemented Youth Obligation
  • Primary assessment in England. The DfE proposes to scrap statutory tests at KS1, develop a new baseline measure and reduce the assessment burden generally in a new consultation
  • Apprenticeship Reform Programme. The DfE sets out success measures around the four core features of its apprenticeship reform programme.

Speeches of the month

  • Karen Bradley’s 1 March UK Digital Strategy speech outlines the seven key strands that make up the government’s new digital strategy
  • The Chancellor’s 8 March Budget speech confirms additional funding for schools and skills
  • Justine Greening’s 10 March ASCL Conference speech announces an autumn summit on flexi working for the profession as she tackles the issue of recruitment and retention of teachers
  • Amanda Spielman’s 10 March ASCL Conference speech sets out her vision for working positively with schools and announces a major thematic review of the curriculum
  • Amanda Spielman’s 17 March AoC speech proposes a new, more productive relationship with colleges to help create a more high-performing sector.

Quotes of the month

  • “We end that doubt for good with the introduction of T-levels” – the Chancellor claims to solve at a stroke the long-running issue of parity of esteem between qualifications
  • “I will continue to publish not just the standard pass (grade 4 and above) but also the strong pass (grade 5 and above) in school performance tables” – the Ed Secretary sticks with a grade 5 for accountability
  • “In the FE sector, since the 1980s there have been 28 major pieces of legislation, 48 secretaries of state and no organization has survived longer than a decade” – the Institute for Government on why FE can be an exhausting place to work 
  • “People should be able to access a mid-life MOT and this should be facilitated through the National Careers Service” – the independent pension review recommends checking in for the long haul 
  • “There is more to good education than league tables. Vitally important though a school’s examination results are, we must not allow curricula to be driven just by SATs” – the (new) Chief Inspector reflects on a balanced diet
  • “Greet your child with a smile not a mobile” – one primary school head urges parents waiting at the school gates to look up from the phone.

Word or phrase of the month

Standard pass, strong pass. What the new GCSE grades 4 and 5 stand for respectively.


Steve Besley
Head of Policy

Policy Watches are intended to help colleagues keep up to date with national developments. Information is correct at the time of writing and is offered in good faith. No liability is accepted for decisions made on the basis of information given.