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Policy Watch is our regular policy update service, covering national and international developments in the world of education. We try to keep things simple, sharing the latest news and information with you through weekly updates, monthly summaries, papers and events.

You can access the Policy Watch service through Steve's Twitter feed @SteveBesley or by signing up for email updates.

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About Steve

As head of UK education policy at Pearson, Steve’s been running the Policy Watch service for almost 20 years. He’ll keep you informed on all things education, along with the rest of his subscribers – there were more than 10,000 at the last count!

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  • Policy Eye – week ending March 4 2016

    The traditional spring season of conferences gets under way today.

    The week summed up

    First up is ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders) whose Annual Conference will be confronting some familiar issues: funding, teacher recruitment, workload and so on.

    Each of these has work pending. The consultation on a national funding formula is still eagerly awaited and time is getting short. The issue of teacher recruitment, crisis or no crisis, has been bubbling for some time and was raised at Prime Minister’s Questions this week where the Leader of the Opposition’s reference to Agency Britain, as hospitals and schools desperately turn to agencies to fill vacancies, attracted considerable attention. An interesting Paper on the future of the profession, co-authored with the think tank Policy Exchange and due to be presented to the Conference, should offer some more positive food for thought here. As for teacher workload, the subject of three working groups at present, no pun intended, has been high on the concerns of those in both primary and secondary having to adopt to new assessment arrangements. The Schools Minister sought to allay fears among primary teachers this week but Sir Michael Wilshaw who had some strident things to say about schools and the profession to the Education Committee this week and who is due to speak later today, will no doubt have his own thoughts.

    Despite the headlines below, including particularly those about 2016 secondary school places which were allocated this week, it hasn’t all been about schools. This week has also seen the build-up to the Budget continue with both the CBI and EEF offering interesting thoughts to the Chancellor on the apprenticeship levy among other things, the 2016/17 grant letter for HE is about to be announced, the latest review of the state pension has been confirmed and important reports published on two of the current hot topics.

    The first of these is the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) for HE where the BIS Select Committee published the results of its inquiry into HE quality assurance. Basically the quality of UKHE is pretty high and well regarded at the moment and as the Committee concluded, the TEF should therefore use this as a starting point and ensure it adds to it rather than makes things more complicated and opaque. A link to the report is below. Secondly, the government updated its guidance on the FE sector’s area reviews. The guidance at least confirms that some restructuring costs could be available although it chooses its words carefully (‘not a fund in the conventional sense.’) But the reality of the review exercise is laid bare in the Minister’s Foreword: “once the restructuring is complete, no college should be dependent on, or request any additional support from government.” On your own then.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Secondary school places for all undeliverable, councils warn.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Schools sharing staff to cover lessons, heads say.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Schools urgently need good leaders, says Ofsted boss.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Two more studio schools to close due to recruitment challenges.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Flexible working could help solve teacher shortage, think tank argues. (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    General Policy

    • The Business Secretary who in a speech at the Mansion House listed a new focus on adult learning and workplace training among his six priorities for business, promising more details soon
    • The government which published the subject content for the final group of GCSE, AS and A’ levels due to be taught from Sept 2017
    • The Schools Minister who attempted to calm fears in a comment piece in the TES as he responded to concerns about this year’s primary assessments
    • Stephen Timms MP who has recently joined the Education Select Committee and who blogged about his initial thoughts, noting for instance that many familiar challenges still remain to be tackled
    • The Institute of Directors which launched a new report on UK broadband speeds calling for it to be a thousand times faster by 2030
    • The CBI which set out its proposals for the forthcoming Budget in a letter to the Chancellor with five core recommendations including one on promoting skills for growth
    • Former CBI boss John Cridland who has been called on to head up the government’s latest review of the state pension and report back by May 2017
    • Amanda Spielman, current Chair at Ofqual, who will take on the additional role of interim Chief Executive until a successor to Dame Glenys Stacey is in place
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw who appeared before the Education Committee as part of its Inquiry into ‘the purpose of education’ and who in the light of comments on FE, RSCs and school leadership, ended up with most of the headlines
    • Ofsted which has confirmed it will take over the direct management of early years inspections when the current contractors’ contracts run out next March
    • The Sutton Trust and All Party Parliamentary Group which are launching a joint inquiry into how to improve access and opportunity to some of the top professions.

    HE

    • The government which published the science and research budget details showing an indicative increase from £4.7bn to £5.1bn in allocations over the next four years
    • The Higher Ed Statistics Agency (HESA) which published the latest stats on HE providers’ balance sheets pointing to an increase in income for many providers but a drop at the p/t and mature end
    • The BIS Select Committee which published the results of its Inquiry into ‘Assessing Quality in HE’ concluding with support for the introduction of the TEF in principle but only after full consideration has been given to the metrics and the timescale involved
    • Jill Johnes, Professor at the University of Huddersfield Business School, who wrote a useful article about the growing use of public bonds by universities to help overcome financial gaps
    • EU students who from this September will have to wait five rather than the current three years to qualify for financial support.

    FE/Skills

    • The government which published further updated guidance on area reviews including notably now the criteria and details on applying for restructuring ‘funds’
    • The Manufacturers’ Organisation EEF, which identified six ‘tests’ for the Apprenticeship Levy (sufficiency, flexibility, simplicity, stability, restricted for apprenticeship training use only, and basic English and maths to remain state funded) in its submission to this year’s Budget
    • Colleges around the Tees Valley area which will have to find a new university validating partner for their HE courses as Teeside University announces a scrapping of current arrangements from 2017, raising wider concerns about long-term HE/FE validation
    • Sir Michael Wilshaw who provoked anger in the sector by telling the Education Committee that ‘FE was in a mess’ and that 16-19 year olds would be better served by staying on at school. AoC response here

    Schools

    • ASCL, which ahead of its Annual Conference this week, published a further survey on teacher shortages suggesting that many schools were having problems recruiting maths, science and English teachers
    • Education Datalab Director Rebecca Allen who wrote an interesting blog highlighting how schools with a large intake of low-ability pupils could suffer under the new Progress 8 arrangements
    • Four big communications companies including BT and 02 which have got together to pilot a scheme to encourage more girls to consider careers in STEM industries
    • The Schools Minister who marked World Book Day by announcing a series of roadshows promoting phonics teaching
    • Columnist Fraser Nelson who responded to last week’s claims that private school pupils were often the equivalent of two years ahead of their state school peers by suggesting that the Blair/Adonis/Gove reforms were transforming the state sector to such an extent that it was now beginning to ‘pull ahead’. 

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Am worried that 1000’s of children enjoying stories for #worldbookday and not doing subjunctives.” @MichaelRosenYes
    • “Wilshaw on inspection: We can tell how good a school is within half an hour of being there, due to atmosphere of the school.”@GregHurstTimes
    • “Teachers can be very wealthy individuals, Ofsted chief says.” @schoolgoverning
    • “Never mind the pious mantra in universities, what about a strategy?” @ed_ontap
    • @nesta_uk @stianwestlake says with technology, adoption is more important than invention.” @Demos

    Word or phrase(s) of the week

    • “AIEd. Artificial Intelligence in education, the subject of a report in The Independent this week and growing in prominence as UCL’s Knowledge Lab, Pearson and others explore its potential

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “We believe it essential that the quality assurance of universities should remain administratively and visibly independent from government or the new regulator.” The BIS Select Committee concludes its Inquiry into Quality Assurance in HE
    • “Not all posh boys in red trousers.” Two Cambridge College medical students set out to change preconceptions about studying medicine at Cambridge
    • “The restructuring facility is not a ‘fund’ in the conventional sense of a typical programme budget.” The government rushes to make clear that restructuring funding for colleges is no giveaway
    • “Some unions have claimed that teachers will have to undertake 6,120 assessments for a class of 30 pupils. This is nonsense.” The Schools Minister moves to allay concerns about primary assessment
    • “Inspectors must uphold the highest professional standards in their work and treat everyone they encounter during inspections fairly and with respect and sensitivity.” Ofsted’s latest guidance on conduct during inspections
    • “Those joining the workforce today are likely to find themselves waiting till their mid-70s to get a payout from the state system.” Pension experts set out the scenario for new workers as the latest state pension review gets under way.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £9bn. How much a year the CBI believes businesses could have to fork out for by 2020 as a result of government business policies such as those on the National Living Wage and the Apprenticeship Levy
    • 900,000 (out of 3m.) How many retail jobs the British Retail Consortium reckon could go over the next decade as a result of the introduction of technology and the living wage
    • £1.6bn. What colleges owe in long-term debts according to AoC figures quoted by the TES
    • 20%. The projected rise in the number of secondary school pupils by 2024
    • £16. How much ‘competitive’ parents paid to dress up a child in the latest Princess to Pinocchio outfit for World Book Day according to media comments.

    What to look out for next week

    • National Careers Week (all week)
    • Education questions in Parliament, where a question on 2016 exam accreditation has already been raised (Monday)
    • BIS Committee witness session on the Digital Economy (Tuesday)
    • Education Committee witness session on financial management at the DfE (Wednesday)
    • Sutton Trust Summit on ‘Improving Social Mobility through Schools.’ Speakers include Nicky Morgan, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Andreas Schleicher (Wednesday).
    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending February 19 2016

    Policy Eye

    In theory a quieter week for education with many on half-term, MPs away and the PM on duty in Europe but there’s been plenty to talk about with two notable themes emerging, one on testing and exams and the other on the welfare of young people. Many people see the two as interrelated – the relentless pressure of testing leading to concerns about the impact on young people.

    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending January 22 2016

    Policy Eye

    Some weeks it’s difficult to know where to start, there’s just so much going on. This last week has been a case in point but arguably four headline themes stand out: standards and performance; management of the school system; community cohesion; and technology.

    read more
  • Policy Eye - week ending January 15 2016

    Policy Eye

    Given that it was described by one commentator at least as “perhaps the best speech of his leadership” and that it included a lot on education, the Prime Minister’s speech at the start of the week seems the obvious starting point for this week’s summary.

    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending December 18 2015

    The final week of the 2015 Parliamentary year and with it a flurry of developments but a moment first to reflect on what’s been another eventful year in education.

    The week summed up

    The defining moment was the election in May of a new government, keen to power on and in the words of the Prime Minister show ‘it can deliver.’ So for education, we’ve had six new education-related Bills, eleven new Committee Inquiries, a new Productivity Plan, HE Green Paper, apprenticeship target, EBacc threshold and National Teaching Service all in quick succession. The political marching tune has been ‘One Nation’ but as recent reports from Ofsted, UCAS and the Social Mobility Commission have all shown, we’ve some way to go here yet. We may end the year with worries about children’s mental health, teacher numbers, skills funding and HE quality metrics but we should not forget that this year has also seen the best set of recorded KS2 results, more students gaining GCSE English and maths, an increase in apprenticeship numbers and record numbers of people accepted at UK universities. The glass is more half full than often assumed.

    So what about this week’s developments?

    Funding first where the Education Minister announced the revenue settlement for schools and the Skills Minister published the funding plans for FE. For schools, protections for the pupil premium and per pupil guarantees remain but the ESG is showing the first signs of the Chancellor’s required efficiencies. For FE, where this week’s Public Accounts Committee report, like the NAO Report in the summer, found the wolf not far from the door, the overall budget is £2.4bn this year, rising a further £1bn by 2020. It could have been worse of course but there’ll be some tough calls as the two funding streams, one for apprenticeships and the other for adult ed (AEB) take shape.

    Second, uni entry where also this week, UCAS published its regular annual report on this year’s university admissions cycle. It’s a report rich in data, trends and analysis and provides a valuable insight into both educational and social opportunity in Britain. As Chief Executive Mary Curnock Cook put it in her Foreword, “the increasing numbers are eye-catching” with more disadvantaged young people, more females, more students from both inside and outside the EU taking up places. Familiar concerns remain however and with disadvantaged young white males falling behind again, the Sutton Trust is calling for more targeted outreach strategies.

    Third, and on a related theme, the Social Mobility Commission published its third annual ‘State of the Nation’ report this week and concluded that despite efforts made so far: “the divisions in our nation run deep and, arguably, are deepening.” The report makes a number of important recommendations for each stage of education to deliver the ‘One Nation’ dream envisaged.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Lords in revolt over Tory plan to turn all failing schools into Academies.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Recruit more state pupils, Oxbridge colleges warned.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Further education funding crisis warning.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Women take record number of university places.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘Progress on social mobility too slow.' (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “Deliberate avoidance of input measures suggests consultation’s as open as an oyster with rigor mortis.” @JohhnySRich
    • “My old g/school had feared History teacher, he came in, we all stood, he sat, we sat. Got one A at "0" level History.” @Mowman123
    • “UCAS. The least advantaged young people in England are now 65% more likely to go to university or college than they were in 2006.” @Phil_Baty

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “It is a settlement to enable change, not to maintain the status quo.” The FE Minister on the latest funding settlement for the FE and skills sector
    • “The BIS and DfE appear to see area-based reviews of post-16 education as a fix-all solution to current problems.” The Public Accounts Committee questions some of the assumptions behind the current FE area reviews
    • “The government should make the non-graduate track into employment a priority for reform.” The Social Mobility Commission calls for more attention to be given to young people who do not go to on to university
    • “We have applied an efficiency saving to the ESG general funding rate for 2016-2017 and the rate will reduce from £87 per pupil to £77 per pupil.” The Education Minister includes the efficiency factor in his announcement on schools’ revenue funding
    • “This will be one of the big landmark reforms of this Parliament.” The Prime Minister on the reforms to children’s services
    • “Sponsors might want to write to parents when they’re first matched to the school to provide more information about them as a sponsor, their ethos and what parents can expect next.” The Parliamentary Under Secretary for Schools explains the thinking behind the amendment to the Education Bill requiring sponsors to communicate their intentions to parents
    • “Keep your eye on the ‘professional’ committee member who argues over every comma and wastes time.” One of the list of Dos and Don’ts of chairing Cabinet committee meetings revealed this week.

    Number(s) of the week

    • £3.41bn. How big the overall budget for FE will be by 2019/20 according to the Minister’s latest missive
    • £1,320. The per pupil premium funding rate for primary school pupils for 2016/17; £935 for secondary pupils
    • 532,300. The number of people who accepted into UKHE this year, up 3.1% on 2014
    • £40m. How much should be put into a new access fund for entry to higher education according to the Social Mobility Commission
    • 285. The number of public bodies/quangos that have been scrapped since 2010 according to a new report from the National Audit Office (although 184 new bodies of different types have been formed during the same period)
    • 1.7m. How many employees are likely to come under the scope of the National Minimum Wage, at a cost to employers of around £804m
    • 78%. The number of students in a survey from the NUS who said they experienced mental health issues over the past year
    • £1.3bn. How much it costs schools overall to recruit supply teachers according to latest figures from Labour.

    What to look out for next week

    • A Happy Christmas.
    read more
  • Policy Eye – week ending December 11 2015

    Christmas may be in sight but there’s been no let-up in activity this week with a keynote speech from the Prime Minister, a new plan of action for apprenticeships, some important consultations, a significant amendment to the Education Bill and the release of the latest official data on KS2 results all following in quick succession.

    The week summed up

    The Prime Minister’s speech first, important for two reasons. First because it was further evidence of a theme that the Prime Minister has been running with since the election that this is a government that claims it can deliver. He pointed to five areas (more academies, more apprenticeships, more homeowners, more money for the NHS, more family support) where he argued action was being taken. And second because at least two of those five areas, academies and apprenticeships, concern education and training and show how important a priority this is.

    Indeed there have been significant developments in both of those education areas this week.

    On academies, the government has now tabled amendments to the Education Bill that would see the proposed coasting criteria extended to both academies and free schools leaving regional commissioners with a further issue to contend with. It’s also requiring academy sponsors to let parents know what their plans are for schools they are lining up to take over.

    On apprenticeships, the government released its latest call for action in the shape of action plan to take us up to 2020 and the summit of 3m apprenticeships. In all, the Paper lists 47 ‘actions,’ that need to be ticked off over the coming months with the first half of 2016 looking particularly busy. A specific listing can be seen in an accompanying Policy Watch but standouts include further levy and funding guidance, more detail on the steps being taken to reform technical and professional education (the Sainsbury group work) and a careers strategy, all due in the first two quarters of 2016. Next year’s National Apprenticeship Week which runs from the 14-18 March 2016 looks like being particularly busy.

    Moving on to those ‘important’ consultations, the government proposals on intervening in underperforming and coasting schools closes next Friday while Ofqual has followed up its latest published data on appeals and malpractice by releasing a series of consultations on related matters but with particular interest in the proposals for future enquiries about results.

    Finally, we should not forget the official results of KS2 tests, released this week, and showing a further increase (up from 78% to 80%) in the number of 11 year olds reaching the requisite level 4 standard. It meant a welcome drop in the number of primary schools below the floor standard although the media seemed unsure whether this constituted good or bad news.

    Top headlines this week

    • ‘Apple turns stores into classrooms.’ (Monday)
    • ‘Failing academies face rapid action.’ (Tuesday)
    • ‘Tuition fees will depend upon subject.’ (Wednesday)
    • ‘Wilshaw: make apprenticeships more appealing or risk them going to foreigners.’ (Thursday)
    • ‘More than 90,000 exam grades changed.’ (Friday)

    People/organisations in the news this week

    Tweet(s) of the week

    • “In education, four little words are guaranteed to send me into orbit: ‘in the real world.’” @timeshighered
    • “51% of teachers say they don’t have time to deliver employability activities. Proxy for ‘don’t want to,’ ‘don’t know how,’ not relevant?” @davidharbourne
    • “No morale problem. Teaching isn’t a profession in crisis @NickGibbMP tells MPs.” @tes

    Quote(s) of the week

    • “A manifesto shouldn’t be a wish-list; it should be a checklist.” The Prime Minister confirms that the government is steadily ticking off its manifesto promises
    • “At the heart of this Bill lies our belief that a single day spent by a child in an underperforming school is a day too many.” The Education Secretary on the rationale behind the latest amendment to the Education Bill
    • “The body will be funded by government using public funds as the rest of the governance system is.” The Skills Minister explains how the new Institute for Apprenticeships will be funded
    • “The apprenticeship levy will shift incentives so that it is far more in employers’ interests to take on apprentices.” The apprenticeship levy assumption in the government’s latest Vision Paper on apprenticeships
    • “If there is a surfeit of plumbers one year, the number being trained is reduced and applicants encouraged into other sectors.” Sir Michael Wilshaw explains how Germany manages labour market supply around its apprenticeship scheme
    • "It is less target driven.” A comment piece in the Guardian looks at how the German education system has raised its game
    • “If we want our students to have a rich and balanced education, teachers must become curriculum developers again.” John Dunford calls for the teaching profession to regain its curriculum mojo
    • “It’s good to just sit there, close your eyes and breathe. It really helps.” The UK’s first Happiness Teacher on what really helps.

    Number(s) of the week

    • 2.3%. The percentage of the workforce in large public sector bodies that should be apprentices likely to be set out in a forthcoming government consultation
    • Two-thirds. How much of the apprenticeship funding cake the Skills Minister is urging colleges to grab by 2020 (at present it’s nearer one-third)
    • 50. Roughly how many applications for recognition as an awarding organisation Ofqual receives each year
    • 44 (out of 276.) The number of private schools listed as offering vocational courses at A level
    • 36.5%. The % of disadvantaged pupils who achieved 5 core A*-C GCSEs in 2013/14 against 64% of pupils overall
    • 17%. The increase from last year in enquiries about results according to latest Ofqual data
    • 122. The number of formal improvement notices issued to academies and free schools according to the Education Secretary
    • 676. The number of primary schools below the floor standard, down by nearly 100 from last year.

    What to look out for next week

    • UCAS publish End of Cycle Report on the 2015 uni admissions cycle (Thursday)
    • Social Mobility Commission publish its annual Report (Thursday).
    read more

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