Keynote speeches by the PM and Chancellor on the Industrial Strategy, sharp debate about the student intake at Oxford University, a report on Ofsted inspections, an update on exam entries and new research on grammar schools, let alone a couple of big exam days of English and maths. A heavy week for many.
The Industrial Strategy first which many employers are keen to see take off as the needs of the post-Brexit economy become more real. The British Chambers of Commerce penned an open letter to the government this week urging it to take action and there’s certainly been some of that over the week.
In a leading speech on Monday, the Prime Minister set each of the four Grand Challenges in the Strategy an ambitious ‘mission’ for the future. AI and data were for instance ‘to transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases by 2030’ while the Ageing Society Challenge was to make sure that by 2035, people were able to enjoy an extra five years of healthy, independent living. Along with investment in science and research, and the promise of continued international collaboration post-Brexit, the speech convinced David Willetts at least to wax lyrical. Two days later the Chancellor pitched in with a speech to the CBI highlighting apprenticeships (‘we’re listening about the levy’) and T levels (‘we’re investing over £500m pa,’) and outlining plans to improve infrastructure, particularly full-fibre networks and productivity. The Strategy continues to offer an essential route map for the economy for the future.
Off to Oxford University next which this week published its first statistical report on its student intake. It took the opportunity also to announce that more disadvantaged students would benefit from the extra funding for its UNIQ spring and summer schools but most of the attention was focused on whether it was actually doing enough to attract under-represented groups. The report contains a fair amount of data on admissions by course, region and background which has been helpfully analysed by Wonkhe but by its own admission, the University acknowledges it is moving ‘perhaps too slowly to meet public expectations.’ A well timed report by HEPI on what makes Oxbridge different offers a useful context to the whole debate.
Finally some headlines from the latest reports and research this week, three in particular.
First, Ofsted inspections which according to a National Audit Office report have been facing difficulties resulting from cuts to staff and resources. Second, this summer’s exam entries which according to provisional figures from Ofqual point to further drops in the take-up at AS level and in some English A’ level subjects though not STEM subjects, and an increase in entries for some EBacc subjects, notably separate sciences. And third, ‘Gaining entry into a grammar school may actually not be as important as many assume.’ So concluded London Institute researchers in an interesting new study published this week.