Policy Eye - Highlights of week ending Friday 16 February 2018

This week’s headlines include a batch of concluding consultations, some intriguing announcements and a quiver of anticipation. It may have been half-term for many, including Parliament, but there’s plenty to report.

Highlights of week ending Friday 16 February 2018

Those consultations first where the last few days have seen the deadline reached on a number of important consultations launched just before Christmas. They include those on PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) education in schools, T Levels, the insolvency regime in FE, and accelerated degrees.

Some of these consultations have attracted considerable attention. MPs debated PSHE, for instance, just last week while the PSHE Association brought together its partners to call for the subject to be given statutory status and to be delivered via a spiral curriculum built around three core themes: health and wellbeing, relationships, and living in the wider world. Interest has also been high in the T Level consultation where the core issues of funding, regulation, work experience, transition and communication have all been widely commented on with the views from Ofqual, the CBI, the Association of Colleges and National Education Union all particularly noteworthy. FE Week has a good summary of some of the comments here.

On to those intriguing announcements where three stand out. First the announcement that the government intends to relax the rules on skills tests for aspiring teachers. Was this, as the Minister put it, a sensible move when there were worries about recruitment and so many applicants were so near to passing their tests or was it, as some of the media had it, a lowering of the bar? Commentators remain intrigued.

The second announcement saw the government confirm that it intends to start trialling the Year 4 multiplication tables checks next month prior to voluntary and then compulsory adoption over the next couple of years. ‘Unnecessary and expensive,’ railed one union leader, ‘really worthwhile,’ the view from the director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence. Will the introduction of these ‘checks’ do for numeracy what the phonics screening checks have done for literacy, is the intriguing question? And third, pressure appears to be building for flexing up the apprenticeship levy system. There were hints of this in last autumn’s Budget and in the recent response to the Taylor Report while this week the government outlined the procedures for employers to be able to transfer 10% of their levy funds to other partners. Perhaps the door is open.

Finally that quiver of anticipation which is coming from a growing belief that the announcement of a major review of FE/HE fees is imminent. The BBC’s Sean Coughlan had a good lead up to it this week while the Centre for Learning and Life Chances and London Economics consultancy both precipitously had Papers out this week on alternative funding models. It could be the start of a very intense debate.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘DfE allows unlimited resits for teacher enry tests.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Government may consider opening apprenticeship levy for other training.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Times table check trialled ahead of rollout.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘New student exchange plan post Brexit.’ (Thursday)
  • 'Lecturers want radical tuition fee review.' (Friday)

People/organisations in the news this week

General policy

  • Day of reckoning? The BBC’s Education correspondent, Sean Coughlan, looked ahead to the impending funding review of further and higher education which could be formally announced as soon as next week 
  • At the Gates Bill and Melinda Gates issued their tenth annual letter outlining some of the philanthropic work which they are championing particularly in education where they expressed concern that there’s still a long way to go but where they remain keen to support schools notably in disadvantaged areas with partnership arrangements, data collection and mentoring 
  • EU nationals The Home Office published its report into the immigration system after Brexit, raising concerns as to how far new arrangements will be ready and in place for Brexit Day in March 2019
  • Agency workers The Resolution Foundation examined the issue of agency workers using data supplied by ComRes, showing variation in use between sectors with construction and retail relying heavily on agency recruits but sectors like education, health and social care less so
  • Homework dates The Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced that from April it would release its regular labour marker data on employment and jobs a day earlier, on a Tuesday rather than a Wednesday, to allow MPs more time to do their homework on the stats before Prime Minister’s Question Time on a Wednesday
  • Bac off Emmanuel Macron, the French President, has confirmed plans to reform the traditional French ​high ​school leaving exam, the baccalaureat​e​,  by moving​, in theory by 2021,​ to a system of major and minor subjects with an emphasis on digital s​kills​ and ​using more​continuous assessment


  • A National Learning Entitlement Three leading educationalists argued in a Paper for the Centre for Learning and Life Chances for the creation of a national learning entitlement for 18+ year olds, worth £10,000 each and able to provide for at least two years education and training
  • Proposals for an All-Age Graduate Tax In another Paper for the Centre, two other experts called for an-all age graduate tax, applicable to all existing generations of graduates in England which could considerably reduce the cost burden on both individuals and the state
  • More funding modelling London Economics modelled some potential changes to the funding system for HE funding in England including for example the re-introduction of maintenance grants and the lowering of the tuition fee to £6,000, concluding that the former was a more viable option than the latter 
  • Impact analysis The government outlined changes to student finance for the coming year such as an inflationary uplift in maximum loans and living grants and indicated what impact this might have on student groups
  • Financial support The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) reported on the various forms of financial support offered by universities and colleges for students and how best to measure the impact of such support
  • TEF subject panels HEFCE listed the various subject panel members who will carry out the assessments for the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) subject level pilot project this spring
  • The road ahead Wonkhe outlined the next stages in the development of the regulatory regime for higher ed complete with a time chart for the rest of the year
  • If you can keep your head Alistair Jarvis, chief exec of Universities UK, wrote a comment piece in The Guardian outlining the current changes and challenges facing universities but also the need for the sector to continue meeting the wider needs of society
  • Saving Erasmus The Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff Uni proposed that the UK might want to consider its own form of Erasmus type of EU student exchange programme once the current scheme ends in 2020 (Note: GuildHE is conducting a survey on how Erasmus+ is being used by universities)


  • Apprenticeship target The government updated its guidance on how public sector bodies in scope, which includes schools and local authorities, should work to and report on the progress being made in meeting their apprenticeship target
  • Transferring funds The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) confirmed the procedure, first announced in the November Budget, by which levy-paying employers will be able to transfer 10% of apprenticeship funds for training and assessment to other organisations from this April
  • Faster and better funding news The Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) announced that it would improve its procedures for allocating funding bands for apprenticeships with for example, trailblazer groups receiving an initial allocation much earlier in the process
  • Under the EPA bonnet FE News launched the first of what will be a series of articles looking at how end-point assessment for apprenticeships is taking shape with this first one reporting on some of the methods under consideration


  • Times tables The School Standards Minister Nick Gibb announced that a number of primary schools (290) will next month start trialling the short, online multiplication tables check for eight and nine year olds prior to a voluntary rollout later this year and compulsory use in 2019/20
  • Take two or three Nick Gibb announced a range of measures to help with teacher recruitment including allowing aspiring teachers to take the professional skills tests three times before incurring costs and also removing the two-year wait period for re-takes 
  • Make it statutory The PSHE Association marked the end of the government’s consultation on the status of PSHE by calling on behalf of its various member organisations for the subject to be built around three themes (health and wellbeing, relationships and living in the wider world) and to become a statutory part of the curriculum
  • Making the grade The Education Policy Institute published a summary of its round-table discussion held last month on the issue of exam grade accuracy noting that while the issue inevitably remains important for all involved in the exam system, accuracy generally remains high
  • What shall we teach the kids? According to a new survey by You Gov​, most Brits agree that the four most important subjects in order are:English, maths, computer science, and science, with the four least important being Latin, Classics, Drama and Religious Studies although views here differ by age, gender and background​  

Tweets(s) of the week

  • “Is it any wonder education is seen as being a battlefield/ swamp when distinguished representatives of the profession get to appear on television and radio, claiming testing times tables is a form of harm? We got a long way to go to being a profession” - @tombennett71
  • “Our research indicates that although listening to students’ feedback is important, large scale data analyses consistently indicate that student happiness is unrelated to actual learning behaviour and academic performance.” @OpenUniversity’s Bart Rienties - @timeshighered
  • “1 in 4 boys and girls report that they expect to work in a science-related career but opt for very different ones” - @OECDEduSkills
  • “Just had a student block me on Twitter as I gently pointed out that you can’t tweet about getting wasted the previous evening and then ask for an extension the next day because you were at home with flu (especially when they follow me on Twitter)” - @timeshighered
  • “I love the old markers of time. To go with ‘fortnight’ (fourteen nights), English once had the lovely ‘sennight’ (seven nights) for a week, too. ‘Yestreen’ meant ‘last evening’, ‘ere-yesterday’ was the day before yesterday, and ‘overmorrow’ the day after tomorrow.” - @susie_dent

Other stories of the week

  • The wonder of Yondr. According to the Washington Post, an entrepreneur has come up with a way of keeping mobile phones safely out of sight and use. It involves putting them in a small, grey pouch known as a Yondr where in effect they can be locked and not immediately accessible but visible in the sense that the pouch is never far away. Apparently the procedure is working quite well in schools. Read the story.
  • Pun day. National Pun Day occurred earlier this week and both national and social media were inevitably overrun with various Pun jokes. This one in The Times appeared to have been one of the most popular: ‘This bloke came into my shop yesterday and started throwing cheese at me. I thought, ‘How dairy’.’ A bit cheesy perhaps, but caerphilly chosen
  • Generation Gifted. For anyone who has been following the new BBC 2 series profiling six talented but disadvantaged young people, a review of the first episode can be found on the TES website.

Quote(s) of the week

  • “It has been fantastic to get out and meet so many inspiring teachers, young people, children and education leaders who are all working so hard to improve outcomes for children and young people in their area” – the (newish) Education Secretary undertakes a fact finding tour over half-term
  • “If universities were like Monty Python characters, they would be like the knight who has his arms and legs chopped off – and says it’s only a flesh wound” – BBC Education correspondent Sean Coughlan reflects on the impending funding review for further and higher education
  • “The subject mix at many Russell Group universities means, for example, that there is a strong demand for 4-year degrees” – the Russell Group of universities responds to the government consultation on 2-year or accelerated degrees
  • “Cheating in exams is the equivalent of taking drugs in athletics and the punishment for teachers should be commensurate” – Professor Alan Smithers comments on some recent data showing a rise in the numbers of teachers caught trying to help improve exam results
  • “It’s a very minor but welcome change. I don’t think we’re going to be awash with new recruits” – ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton considers the government’s announcement on flexing up the skills tests for new teacher recruits
  • “While the introduction of this test is underpinned by good intentions, we need to be careful not to knock the joy out of children’s early mathematical experiences or distract schools from building children’s real understanding of numbers” – Mike Ellicock reacts to the government’s announcement on the introduction of times table checks
  • “Even little kids have it but no deep learning AI programme does” – the FT reports on the difficulties of building common sense and other issues into artificial intelligence programmes

Number(s) of the week

  • 3%. The UK CPI inflation rate for the first month of 2018, the same as for December 2017, according to the latest stats
  • £1.9 trillion. The level of UK household debt according to a new report by the Resolution Foundation
  • 51,930. The number of undergrads on designated courses at Alternative Providers last year according to the latest figures
  • 95%. How many university leaders are either members of or sit in on committees that determine their pay, according to a survey conducted by the University and College Union (UCU)
  • £560,000. How much was reclaimed in student loans in December either because they shouldn’t have started paying or hadn’t reached the repayment threshold, a huge increase, according to figures from moneysaving expert.com 
  • £3.5m. How much universities dished out in library fines in the last academic year, with Oxford top of the list as against Bath which has scrapped library fines, according to i news
  • £1.8bn. The amount of school cash reserves held by English councils at the end of last year, down £0.5bn, according to figures reported by the TES
  • 5. How many minutes the new online multiplication tables check for Year 4 pupils is expected to last, according to the government
  • 2032. The year in which life expectancy for men and women will equalize (at 87.5 years) according to recent statistical analysis

What to look out for next week

  • Prime Minister’s ‘Brexit’ speech (Saturday)
  • Chartered College of Teaching Annual Conference (Saturday)
  • National Reference Test programme begins (Monday)
  • Parliament returns from half-term recess (Tuesday)
  • Education Committee witness session on ‘Value for Money in HE’ (Wednesday)
  • Universities UK ‘Degree Apprenticeships’ Conference (Wednesday)
  • Headteachers’ Roundtable Summit (Friday)