Plenty happening around Westminster of course this week but it’s also been busy around education. At the start of the week, MPs plied Education Ministers with questions about school funding, special needs, technical education and post-18 funding in their regular questioning session. The day after, the Education Committee tackled Ofqual on exam pressures, exam reforms, iGCSEs and BTECs among other things in its latest accountability hearing. And of course in the middle of the week and in the midst of other intense political activity the Chancellor delivered his Spring Statement with many in education listening intently for optimistic augurs, (pun intended.) More on this in a minute.
In other news this week, we’ve seen two important reports published, one by the Learning and Work Institute on UK skills and the other by Ofsted on knife crime and the role of key agencies including schools. Elsewhere the government released a new report on digital competition while the National Crime Agency launched a new series of animations to help teach young children about some of the risks from being online.
In HE, the MillionPlus group considered a new system for Tier 4 student visas and Sir Anthony Seldon in an emotive blog, called for new, visionary leadership for the sector. In FE, Sir Frank McLoughlin highlighted the importance of College Chairs and Governors who often help hold things steady at times of great change while in schools, the government announced more free school places and the Nuffield Foundation reported on its study of maths anxiety. And on a lighter note, 3-piece suites are out and electric toothbrushes in, at least according to the latest official list of household items to be used to measure consumer price inflation.
But back to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, the most important item of news for education this week. The Spring Statement is of course more a report on the nation’s finances than an occasion for major spending announcements – that comes later in the Autumn Budget. Those finances apart, which the Chancellor readily talked up, there was a fair bit of interest for education and skills with references to Augar, T levels, apprenticeships, and growth deals along with new funding for sanitary products in schools, fighting knife crime and for science and technology.
Attention now shifts to the Spending Review which the Chancellor announced will be launched before the summer recess and report with the Autumn Budget. The hope is that the healthier public finances the Chancellor indicated, potentially around £26bn+ albeit with Brexit caveats, will provide a more optimistic context. As Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation put it: ‘this marks a major shift to focusing on how much more we should spend, rather than how deeply to cut.’ Perhaps some good news at last'.