Policy eye - highlights of the week ending 19 October

Policy Eye

Welcome to Policy Eye, a weekly service from Policy Watch offering a regular round up of UK education headlines and stories over the previous seven days.

The week summed up

Three headlines stand out this week. In alphabetical order they are: Alternative Provision, Budget build-up and Colleges.

It’s a week that has also seen a splurge of performance data released about this year’s exams, the announcement of a new Commission on ‘the forgotten (GCSE) third,’ another one of those extensive reports from the OECD this time on apprenticeships, and of course the first appearance by a robot at a Committee Inquiry looking into technological change. Fill in your own joke here as many on social media already have.

But it’s with Colleges where we start, given this has been #LoveOurColleges Week, a week dedicated to the extraordinary work colleges do and the funding challenges they face. A lot’s been written about Colleges over the week but arguably three points stand out. First, as the social media comments have indicated, Colleges matter profoundly to a lot of people. Once described as ‘that place at the top of the hill,’ they are literally the constant in many communities and lives. Second, in the same way that Colleges helped develop a skilled workforce for a new economy after each of the last World Wars, so a trio of current circumstances, automation, globalisation and Brexit, is creating a need for Colleges to do the same for a new 21stc economy. And third, quite simply, it can’t deliver on this critical socio-economic agenda with an empty bucket, a 12% drop in spending over the last five years according to the IfS. Over to you government.

Next and talking of spending, this week the Institute for Fiscal Studies launched its traditional report on the economy and on options facing the Chancellor ahead not just of the Budget but of next year’s Spending Review as well. Its conclusion that ‘all in all, the Chancellor has been dealt a tricky hand’ when it comes to ending austerity pretty much says it all. The bits on education appear half way through the 344 page report on pages 149-151; basically, school funding is protected, HE funding is opaque, FE funding slashed.

Third, and working back up the alphabet, alternative provision, the subject of a government response, a Ministerial statement and two reports this week. Alternative provision covers the range of provision, in units, specialist schools and so on, for students excluded from school for one reason or another. There’s growing concern about some of the quality of provision, its funding and whether some schools are using it to ‘dump’ students. The Education Committee has been pursuing this issue and the government has an inquiry on it under way so the various reports this week help colour in what’s becoming an important picture. The two DfE commissioned Papers are especially helpful in this regard.

Finally, please note that Policy Eye will not appear next week but will return for Friday November 2.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘Halfon calls for FE funding boost.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Arts leaders call for more school funding.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Three schools removed from delivering first wave of T levels.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Showdown for the AI ‘wild west’ in education.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘Oxford University interview questions: Would you pass the test?’ (Friday)

People/organisations in the news this week

General Policy

  • Budget build-up. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS,) with support from Citi Research and the Nuffield Foundation, launched its regular comprehensive pre-Budget assessment about the state of the UK economy and the options facing the Chancellor ahead of his Budget, concluding that he faces some difficult choices
  • The changing nature of work. The World Bank added its voice to the growing debate about changing work patterns with a hefty tome painting a fairly positive picture about future trends and introducing the concept of a Human Capital Index, a measure to capture how far economies invest in the all-important health and education to support the workforce of the future
  • Harnessing Educational Research. The Royal Society and British Academy reported on the current state of educational research in UK schools and colleges highlighting a ‘worrying’ concern about a drop in the number of reliable researchers and calling among other things for an Office of Educational Research to be set up to oversee supply and demand
  • Cloudy horizon. The acknowledged EY ITEM Club issued its latest economic and labour market prognosis for 2018/19 suggesting continuing political uncertainty was contributing to low economic growth, mixed employment growth and only modest average earnings growth 
  • A Crying Shame. The Children’s Commissioner published a new report showing just how many children were growing up in households at risk, citing the presence of a ‘toxic trio’ of domestic violence, drug/alcohol dependency and severe mental ill-health, and calling for more funding to be made available for local authority services to be able to offer support
  • Ethical AI. Sir Anthony Seldon and colleagues helped launch a new Institute dedicated to ensuring an ethical approach to the use of data and artificial intelligence in education through the development off a an ethical code, framework, training and roadmap for the future 
  • Top of the class. The FT published its latest list of top global executive MBA programmes which saw the joint Kellogg/HKUST Business School top the list for the third consecutive year


  • What do graduates do? The latest Prospects report painted a fairly positive picture with nearly 75% of graduates in employment six months after graduating with nursing, software developers and marketers leading the way
  • Making the right choice. The Office for Students (OfS) reported on some new research suggesting that prospective students often find it hard to make decisions when it comes to choosing a university and/or a particular course and the work it was doing to help personalize the information needed
  • Private financing. Thomson Reuters examined the issue of private financing for UK universities in its International Financing Review, finding a number of universities turning to this tap as the pressure to compete coupled with future uncertainty pushed them to stay ahead of the game
  • There’s no Plan B. The Guardian reported on concerns about what might happen to research funding post-Brexit suggesting that many disciplines might lose out on future funding pots and partnerships particularly if there was no deal 
  • Postgrad survey. The Office for Students (OfS) announced plans for a new survey, this time of postgrads on taught courses at English unis, starting with an initial survey from next spring with a larger scale survey to follow in the autumn
  • How to get the most from your data. The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) outlined in its latest Briefing the importance of accurate data to providers and how they might better manage it 
  • Tackling Hate Crime. The Office for Students (OfS) explained how it was going about tackling the issue via specific projects, reports and funding as part of its contribution to National Hate Crime Awareness Week


  • Dear Chancellor. The Chair of the Education Committee added his voice to those calling for improved funding for colleges with a letter to the Chancellor urging him to take heed and inviting a Treasury Minister to come and give evidence to the Committee
  • College funding petition. Colleges’ Week saw a petition launched, which will remain open for six months, calling for fair levels of funding for colleges and their staff 
  • Talent line. The Association of Colleges (AoC) published research as part of ‘#LoveOurColleges’ Week, showing that many small and medium employers look to colleges in particular to help provide them with the trained and skilled workforces of the future
  • Digital uplift. The government launched a new consultation around more relevant national standards with the prospect of a free entitlement for those adults without basic levels of digital skills
  • 3 more for T level. The Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) launched consultation on the content for three more T levels, two in Construction and one in Digital Support Services, due to be rolled out from 2021
  • 7 Questions about Apprenticeships. The OECD published research from its three-year study into apprenticeship practice across a number of countries digging into seven core questions such as ‘how long should an apprenticeship last?’ (Answer: 3-4 yrs in Austria, 2-4 yrs in the Netherlands,) ‘what is the right wage?’ (Answer: it varies but somewhere between a half and two-thirds of total costs)
  • Learning together. The Education and Training Foundation invited bids for a new project it’s funding that will be managed by the Strategic Development Network and which will test out how best students can work with staff in developing and using technology for learning
  • Changing construction. The CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) published its latest White Paper looking at the changing nature of the industry and in particular about how digital technology was transforming the sector raising demand for more trained workers with digital skills
  • Careers guidance. The DfE updated its guidance for FE and Sixth Form Colleges as part of the drive to meet the ‘Gatsby’ benchmarks of good practice over the next two years
  • New wave. The first of just over a hundred students started on PwC’s new Degree Apprenticeship programme, a new earn-while-you-learn scheme focusing on developing new talent in technology and data science


  • Exam performance. The government published a range of provisional data for this year’s exams including performance in Progress 8, the EBacc and English and maths 
  • KS4 destination measures. The DfE published provisional guidance on destination measures for the 2018 performance tables with for example some changes to the way apprenticeships will be reported
  • GCSE Commission of Inquiry. The Association of School and College leaders (ASCL) announced the creation of a new Commission, chaired by Roy Blatchford, to look initially at how best to recognise achievement for young people below a Grade 5 in English, and to report back next year
  • Action on exclusions. The Education Secretary confirmed that he is considering plans to ensure that schools remain accountable for excluded pupils although action may have to wait a few months until the current Timpson Review into exclusion practices is completed
  • Government response on Alternative Provision. The government issued its formal response to the Education Committee Inquiry into alternative provision, basically outlining the work it’s currently doing in this area and pointing to the need to await the outcomes from the forthcoming Timpson Review 
  • Ofsted responds. Ahead of the government response to the Education Committee’s recent report on excluded children, Ofsted outlined its approach to such matters as pupil off-rolling and alternative provision and their proposed inclusion in the new inspection framework 
  • Alternative provision in practice. The DfE published a commissioned report using qualitative evidence to assess how alternative provision operates in practice, finding mixed practice with some schools developing their own strategies but fears that others were using referrals to save on disruption and costs
  • Local practice in alternative provision. The DfE published a second commissioned report looking in this case at how alternative provision operates at a local level, what provision is available and at what cost, and what else could be done to improve things 
  • Opportunity calls. The DfE published the results of its commissioned Report into the setting up of the first Opportunity Areas created by the previous Education Secretary to help tackle social mobility through education, pointing to support for the collaborative approach to continue 
  • Personal guidance. The Careers and Enterprise Company announced the first wave of recipients to receive funding under a scheme launched in May to support and share best practice in personal careers guidance in schools and colleges with a further bidding round open until the end of November
  • Time to Listen. The Royal Shakespeare Co, Tate and Nottingham Uni published the results of a three-year survey into the impact of the arts on young people, noting the positive impact it can have on many of them and calling for ring-fenced funding and greater support for such subjects at Key Stages 3/4 
  • The Student View. The FT and Google.org announced funding and sponsorship to support the setting up of pop-up newsrooms in schools along with mentoring by leading journalists hosted by the media literacy charity The Student View

Tweets(s) of the week

  • “Love this quote from @amanda_spielman. I pray the reality matches the rhetoric. "Those who are bold and ambitious and run their schools with integrity will be rewarded as a result" -@annamartin28
  • “In my experience saying ‘work quietly’ rarely works. You spend all of your time telling students they’ve got too loud and need to be quieter. I generally prefer written work to be done in silence” -@elephantlessons
  • “If you are not a teacher, your lectures on how we can cope with violent and out of control young people with ‘love’ are not appreciated” - @oldandrewuk
  • “It baffles me how teachers ignore their own childhood experiences. Who genuinely remembers group work for example being constructive? Or lessons spent in IT labs? They were licences to piss about when I was at school and broadly remain so. ‘Twas ever thus, ‘twil ever be” -@ClarkesLatin
  • “Letter from eldest’s school today: 20 minutes detention for any child talking in the corridor between lessons; children will now have to walk in silence. Where do I start? Sigh!” - @stuart_guest 
  • “My wife just read an article about lawnmower parents: they metaphorically mow down everything in front of the child which may be even the slightest inconvenience so that their path is smooth and easy. It was focused on uni students and the help they get. Met a few lawnmowers” - @MGilbranch

Other stories of the week

  • It’s all boffins. This week the Times Higher reported on some interesting research into the way in which academics are represented in children’s illustrated books. It’s not quite all nutty professors and mad scientists but it doesn’t seem far off. It’s led to a call for a more modern and relevant representation, one for example that should include female and ethnic scholarly figures. 
  • Turning a tanker round. Also in higher education this week, the HE Policy Institute (HEPI) published a fascinating Paper from the departing Vice-Chancellor of London Met University. In it he recounts how, with others, he helped turn round a university that was considered ‘a failing institution’ to one that four years later, is performing strongly on a range of national measures. The secret? A rocky ride involving four steps: diagnosis; interpretation; intervention; an adaptive culture.

Quote(s) of the week

  • “On the narrowest possible definition, ending austerity as the Prime Minister has promised would require the Chancellor to find £19bn of additional public spending relative to current plans by 2022/23” – the Institute for Fiscal Studies spells it out
  • “It cannot be right that a funding ‘dip’ exists for students between the ages of 16 and 18, only to see it rise again in higher education” – the Chair of the Education Committee lends his voice to the campaign for better funding for colleges
  • “We are shuffling around in a fog” – academic researchers worry about funding and collaboration with the EU after guarantees run out in 2020
  • “If we give policymakers a warped or exaggerated impression of the challenges universities face, we may find institutions end up with less autonomy” – Nick Hillman, director of HEPI, on keeping things in perspective
  • “Robots will have an important role to play but we will always need the soft skills that are unique to humans to sense, make and drive value from technology” – Pepper the robot answers questions at this week’s Education Committee hearing
  • “It cannot be right that we have a system which leaves so many students feeling crushed rather than proud” - ASCL launches a new Commission of Inquiry into GCSE English attainment
  • “The average number of EBacc exams is seven—eight if you go to triple maths, but seven would be standard—and that leaves one slot for music if that is what a child decides to do” – the Education Minister answers questions in the Lords about the demise of music in schools

Number(s) of the week

  • 12%. How much real spending per student in colleges has fallen between 2011/12 and 2017/18, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies 
  • 0.7%. The increase in real terms pay in the UK in the three months to August 2018, according to the latest official figures 
  • 23m. How many new jobs are estimated to be created in Europe this century as part of changes in technology according to the World Bank
  • £22,399. The average salary for graduates in full-time employment in the UK in 2018, according to the latest Prospects report
  • 44.3. The average Attainment 8 score per pupil this year, up slightly by 0.1% on last year, according to provisional statistics released by the DfE
  • 38.4%. How many state school pupils entered the EBacc this year, up 0.3% on the previous year, according to provisional statistics released by the DfE 
  • 4.7%. The overall pupil absence rate for schools in England in autumn 2017/spring 2018, according to latest figures from the DfE
  • 30,000+. How many children, not on child protection plans, may be living in households where the risks of domestic violence or drug abuse are high, according to recent figures from the Children’s Commissioner

What to look out for next week

  • All Party Parliamentary Group on the Teaching Profession (Monday)
  • Launch of OECD PISA report on Equity in Education. (Tuesday)
  • Education Committee witness session on special educational needs (Tuesday)
  • Social Market Foundation event on education, skills and social mobility (Wednesday)