Policy Eye - highlights of the week ending 13 April 2018

Policy Eye

One new strategy, two important reports and three consultations. The latest week in education summarised here​.

The week summed up

The last week of the Easter break for many, MPs for example are back in on Monday, but a lot going on for education all the same.

It includes a hefty new strategy from the Home Office on tackling knife and gun crime with education given a key role, two more reports on apprenticeships, the launch of a consultation on reporting performance for multi-site colleges, a government announcement on baseline assessment and further developments around out of school and home education. Here’s a few details.

That Home Office Strategy first which comes in the wake of a disturbing rise in street crime and where education has once again been called in to help. Indeed the Home Secretary was very clear that this was not simply a law enforcement issue but a multi-agency one although it seemed one where there was little new funding available beyond supporting existing initiatives such as the Early Intervention Youth Fund.

Most of the education related initiatives are to be found in Chapter 4 of the Strategy grouped under a three-pronged approach of generic interventions such as so-called police-school partnerships, targeted initiatives like the Youth Fund, and dedicated interventions such as the work on missing children. An immediate issue for many schools and colleges will be site security with the government promising to upgrade the 1996 Offensive Weapons Act to restrict the use of knives and substances in colleges as well as schools.

Next, those apprenticeship reports. One was from the Reform think tank, a substantive report and like many looking at how things have been going one year on from the introduction of the levy. The verdict is: not very well, with the report highlighting major concerns about funding being sifted into other forms of training, a lack of clarity on what constitutes an apprenticeship and the skewing effect of the target of 3m apprenticeships. The report lists six pretty considerable changes that are needed.

The other report came from the OECD which has also been looking at the latest reforms of the system in England and offered its prognosis. In summary, it praises the approach (‘the energy which England is currently investing in these reforms is impressive and encouraging’) but adds some big buts. Most of these are listed in Chapter 1 and include concerns about the quality of youth apprenticeships, the importance of employer engagement and ensuring that the levy delivers on training requirements.

Finally, another contentious issue which has been a big talking point this week, the baseline assessment to be used at the start of reception. The government has announced plans for this to be rolled out from 2020 promising that it’ll take just 20 minutes and require no prepping but some groups aren’t convinced.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘Thousands of parents consider removing their children from SATs over mental health concerns.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Schools to drop gathering nationality data.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘OECD: Apprenticeships in England lack quality assurance.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Student suicide rates overtake non-students.’ (Thursday)
  • 'Low skilled jobs badged as apprenticeships, says report.' (Friday)

People/organisations in the news this week

General policy

  • Serious Violence strategy The Home Secretary listed a number of actions aimed particularly at education institutions and those who work with young people as part of the government’s latest strategy for tackling knife and gun crime
  • Under 25 Bus Pass Labour promised that a future Labour government would introduce a free bus for under 25 year olds in England, paid for from road taxes but only in council areas that introduce bus franchising or bring bus services under public ownership
  • Costs v benefits The CBI examined the impact of changed regulatory requirements on 23 different sectors post Brexit, suggesting that depending on the sector, a delicate balance was needed between divergence and alignment, and putting forward three principles for future discussions  


  • Know your rights The Office for Students (OfS) put down its marker for students affected by the current industrial dispute pointing out what rights they have while at the same time reminding institutions of their responsibilities to students which the OfS ultimately has the right to ensure are met
  • Register here Dave Dowland, academic registrar at Solent University, described on wonkhe what the new registration process under the Office for Students (OfS) was like from the perspective of a university going through the process
  • Technicians make it happen The Technician Commitment, an initiative led by universities, research bodies and institutions like the Gatsby Foundation, announced that over 50% of UK universities and global research bodies had now signed up to support technicians and technical skills
  • Universities at the heart of the Industrial Strategy The Russell Group outlined in a new blog how its universities were contributing to each of the five core themes of the Industrial strategy
  • Dual professionals Guild HE reported on the importance of having dual professionals, namely high quality teaching staff but with industry experience, in a new blog on its website
  • OU must The Chair of the Education Committee, Robert Halfon, took to the conservativehome website to offer his support for the Open University which is currently going through financial difficulties, finding it one of the best proponents of his famous ‘ladder of opportunities’


  • The great training robbery The Reform think tank published its assessment of the apprenticeship levy and associate training one year on from its introduction concluding that greater clarification of what constituted an apprenticeship, as well as a simpler system of funding and the scrapping of the 3m target were all needed if the original aspirations of quality provision were to be met
  • OECD on apprenticeships The OECD reported on apprenticeship developments in England praising some of the reforms but suggesting that there was still a long way to go, citing the need for strengthening general education in apprenticeships for young people, reviewing current plans for competition in the assessment market, monitoring the use of levy funding and building quality assurance generally 
  • What do you think of it so far? Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partnership Director at Kaplan Financial, wrote a comment piece for FE News on how the apprenticeship reforms were going, one year on from the introduction of the levy, listing six areas, such as levy flexibility, where further change was needed 
  • Getting granular The government launched a consultation on how best to report separate performance evidence for when a college is part of a group or has distinct provision on different sites
  • Using subcontractors The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) offered further guidance on the use of subcontractors in the delivery of apprenticeships with more promised on subcontracting fees and charges, and on evidence requirements


  • Baseline assessment The government announced that the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) had been selected to design and develop the new Reception Baseline Assessment, announced last year as part of the changes to primary assessment and due to be rolled out from 2020
  • Nationality data Media outlets reported that the government was about to drop its requirement on schools to collect data about a pupil’s nationality, although the DfE has yet to confirm this formally
  • Out of school education settings The government (finally) responded to its earlier consultation on how best to recognize and monitor out of school education settings concluding that it will adopt a voluntary rather than mandatory approach with some funding for this available under its integrated Communities Strategy 
  • Home education The government issued a call for evidence on how home education is working and whether for example there should be a more formal system of registration to ensure safeguarding and prevent for example parents and/or schools withdrawing children for tactical reasons 
  • Support the arts The government announced a further sum of money to support leading music, drama and dance pupils, with a large chunk of it (£90m) going to support specialist music and dance schemes
  • Annual Parents Survey Ofsted published the results from its latest annual survey of parents completed at the end of last year, showing that most are aware of Ofsted and believe it provides useful information for them although the number who believe it offers a reliable guide to quality of a school has fallen 
  • Prevent and more The House of Commons Library briefing service published a summary of counter-extreme policies for schools in England and the duties on schools that flow out of these

Tweet(s) of the week

  • “The loudest shout ever recorded was a teacher shouting ‘Quiet’ “ - @qikipedia
  • “I find it intriguing that just when many established think tanks are rightly questioning the traditional policy wonk approach to change, just about every university in England seems to be setting up their own public policy institute” - @RSAMatthew
  • “@MaryBoustedNEU: our demand for a fully funded 5% pay rise is restrained and reasonable” - @tes
  • “Your boss is probably to blame for meetings starting late” - @newscientist

Other stories of the week

  • Long and winding road. Many people have been following the travails of Lucy Kellaway, the FT journalist who decided to switch careers and take up teaching in a challenging school. This week she reported on how her second placement had gone. It makes for fascinating reading. Many teachers will recognize this sentence which perhaps captures it best: “Although I quite often go to bed at 8.30 pm feeling half dead, during waking hours I am more alive than I have felt in decades.” She’s not the only ‘older professional’ as her charity calls them to have made the switch, 42 others have joined her making the same journey. More on her view from the front line can be found here
  • How to get a pay rise. Not guaranteed and not for everyone but according to the Resolution Foundation which analyzed the latest figures on wage earnings, if you want to earn more, three factors stand out. First move jobs, ‘loyalty unfortunately doesn’t pay.’ Second, get a job in a sector such as IT, finance, construction, hospitality, manufacturing or farming where wages apparently have kept pace if not risen above inflation. And third, if possible, move to the South of the country where wages (and costs it has to be said) are higher. But perhaps no need to rush: real wages may just be starting to rise all round. The article can be read here

Quote(s) of the week

  • ‘Save the Open University!’ – The Daily Mail calls on government Ministers to step in and lend support
  • “But in all parties, the political demands of the university classes win out” – Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee explains why the skills agenda often misses out
  • “We are heading for apprenticeships. We will be having them sometime early next year. I’m looking forward to that” – the Met Police Commissioner welcomes the development of an apprenticeship route for police officers
  • “I understand these concerns but I think they are sometimes overplayed by certain parts of the sector” – Sir Gerry Berragan, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships confronts critics about the scheme’s assessment arrangements
  • “This quick, simple assessment will help us capture the progress that children make throughout primary school and provides a fair measure for school accountability” – School Standards Minister makes the case for Reception Baseline Assessment
  • “If Damian doesn’t do it, then we think we are big enough to do it” – the National Education Union (NEU) calls on the Education Secretary to take action on workloads…or they will

Number(s) of the week

  • 19. The number of colleges approved for post-review restructuring funds out of a total of 29 who applied, according to latest figures from the DfE
  • 47%. The percentage of parents surveyed who rated the quality of teaching as the most important factor in deciding on an education provider for their children, according to Ofsted’s latest annual parents survey
  • £96m. How much more money the government has made available to support leading arts and music schemes
  • 32%. The number of school support staff who work an extra two days plus a week, often without pay, to cope with workloads, according to a survey by the National Education Union (NEU)
  • 0.4%. The number of A’ level female students who chose to take computer science last year, as compared to 4.5% of males, according to an article in the latest Computing journal 
  • 10. Meetings that are delayed by 10 minutes or more are likely to be less useful, according to researchers at the University of Nebraska Omaha

What to look out for next week

  • Parliament returns after the Easter break (Monday)
  • Capita FE National Conference (Tuesday)
  • Advance Notice for Tuesday April 17. Pearson College hosts a Centre for Industry Engagement seminar on ‘The Purpose of a University,’ with doors open from 18.30. Panelists including Lord Willetts, Carl Lygo (former V.C. BPP,) Wendy Piatt (former D.G Russell Group) and Roxanne Stockwell (Principal, Pearson Colleges.) Registration and details here