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.

The week summed up

The theme of the speech was ‘Life Chances,’ often a difficult area to talk about but one which the PM tackled enthusiastically as he sought to position the Party on the political middle ground.

The government intends to launch a Life Chances Strategy later this spring focusing in particular on the needs of those children and families often left behind in society. It’s not new terrain for the Party, nor is it Big Society or ‘Hug a Hoodie’ Mark 2, but it is a signal that the government is keen “to move beyond economics” and to use its second term to focus on some of the more progressive aspects of education such as character development, employability and the so-called soft skills.

The PM spent much of the speech spelling out the four principles that should form the basis of such a Strategy, namely: supported parenting/early years; an enlightened education system; mentoring and networks; and mental health treatment and support, but pitched in on the way some significant announcements.

These included: the launch of a new mentoring system, better support for mental health and for teenagers suffering from eating disorders, character modules for schools and a new work experience plan due before the summer term. A link to the speech is below.

The PM wasn’t the only person concerned about social mobility and opportunity this week with both the Social Market Foundation (SMF) and the Sutton Trust knocking on the same door. The Trust looked at how to develop ‘A Winning Personality’ and called on schools to help develop ‘extraversion’ as one of the key ingredients of such a personality while the SMF launched what looks like a promising project in the form of a Commission on Inequality in Education with a speech by Nick Clegg who’ll head up the Commission and the release of some data highlighting current areas of educational inequality. The Commission will take in teacher mobility, the status of voc quals and other issues in what will be a year-long inquiry.

Elsewhere this week, consultation drew to a close on the HE Green Paper, maintenance grants became a reality and the big January deadline for uni applications was reached. For FE, funding was confirmed for 16– to 19–year–olds, consultation began on Functional Skills, the Learning and Work Institute emerged out of the loins of NIACE and CESI and, significantly, the new DG at the CBI wrote a public letter to the government outlining further thoughts on the apprenticeship levy.

For schools, the deadline for primary school places brought familiar concerns while the EFA and DfE published its latest ‘Efficiency Metric Tool,’ a reminder that things everywhere remain tight.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘National crisis looming in teaching, unions warn.’ (Monday)
  • ‘School grades linked to where you live.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Oxford’s leaders present competing visions of the future.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Exam regulator Ofqual discusses overhaul of the grading system.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘Schools not taking full advantage of technology, YouGov poll reveals.’ (Friday).

People/organisations in the news this week

  • The Prime Minister who outlined a number of key measures covering early years, young people, mental health and social opportunity in a speech signalling the build-up to the government’s Life Chances Strategy due to be launched later this spring
  • Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown who outlined new plans to help extend education opportunities to refugee Syrian children and called on more companies to help with the endeavour
  • Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who introduced this year’s Holocaust Education Lecture
  • The DfE which published the latest timeline planning lists of things coming up for schools and colleges in the coming months
  • MPs who have been invited to sign an Early Day Motion supporting the case for children knowing their multiplication tables
  • The Third Delegated Legislation Committee which met this week to confirm the transition from grants to university maintenance loans to the chagrin of many opponents who felt that the issue should have been debated in the Chamber rather than a Committee
  • The HE Statistics Agency which published its latest data set covering 2014/15 and showing a slight (1%) decrease in enrolments, a larger (3%) drop in non-EU students and a (2%) increase in the number of graduates awarded a 1st or 2:1
  • The Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York who joined forces to create a new open access digital platform for the publication of peer-reviewed academic journals and books
  • NIACE and the CfBT, both of whom have now formally changed their names, NIACE to the Learning and Work Institute (following a merger with the Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion) and CfBT to Education Development Trust
  • Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the CBI, who wrote to the BIS Secretary of State expressing continuing concern about the apprenticeship levy and putting forward 4 principles to help ensure the new system works for the benefit of all
  • The Education Funding Agency which published the latest guidance on funding for 16- to 19-year-olds for 2016/17 noting that while the per-student base rate remains the same, formula protection funding will face a staged decrease
  • The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) which this week formally launched its review into English and maths Functional Skills with the intention of reporting back to Ministers by the end of August this year
  • The Education Funding Agency (EFA) which along with the DfE published a collection of tools, training and guidance including an Efficiency Metric Tool to help schools with efficiencies
  • The DfE which announced a new 2-year agreement with Microsoft intended to help schools get a better deal on software and other provided services
  • Ofsted which is calling for views on how far schools work with employers on preparing young people with appropriate enterprise and employability skills for a report due to be published in the summer term
  • The Edge Foundation which published a response to the government’s EBacc consultation arguing that there was little evidence to support its imposition
  • The thinktank the Social Market Foundation (SMF) who launched a year-long Commission on Inequality in Education with a speech by Commission Chair Nick Clegg and a report outlining some of the data on education inequality over recent years
  • The IPPR think tank who following a seminar held last year to consider the impact of an increase in Academy numbers, published a Paper calling for a new legal framework for academies to be established
  • The Sutton Trust whose latest report highlighted the benefits, both emotional and financial, of developing an extrovert personality and urged schools to help develop in young people what they called: ‘A Winning Personality’
  • Lucy Kellaway who in a recent article in the FT dished out awards for some of the worst excesses of corporate language heard in 2015. Here, for example, are the top 5 nominations for describing a meeting: to caucus; to front-face; to diarise visitations; to co-create conversations; a bilateral telephonic meeting.

Tweet(s) of the week

  • “Venting at students about how unis funded is like confronting fellow passengers because the train is late.” @MaryCurnockCook
  • “Lessons which are totally unplanned are often the ones pupils enjoy most.” @tes
  • “The single best part of being an adult is the sure and certain knowledge I will never, ever have a double period of PE.” @jamesrbuk
  • “I didn’t win the lottery but I did insert a USB stick the right way round.” @SomeCopywriter

Quote(s) of the week

“Over the coming weeks, I will set out in more detail our second term education reform agenda.” - Spoiler alert from the Prime Minister

“Whenever I have school parties in and we do the Q and A session afterwards, the first thing they say is: ’why are there so few women here?’” - MPs debate feminism in the school curriculum and the case for its inclusion in A level politics

“Its introduction is not an approach the CBI supported.” - The CBI underlines its position on the apprenticeship levy

“We have defined school efficiency as the relationship between how much progress pupils make at the school (the output) and how much income the school receives (the input.”) - The DfE/EFA publishes the latest guidelines on school efficiency

“We may live on a small island but which corner of it our children call home makes a huge difference to their life chances.” - Nick Clegg heads up a new Commission on Inequality in Education

“Teachers need a pay rise.” - Six unions come together to write to the School Teachers’ Review Body

“To turn mirrors into windows.” - One of the more inspiring responses to the Education Committee’s call for evidence about what education is for.

Number(s) of the week

  • 40%. The proportion of Free School Meal (FSM) pupils who achieve 5 good GCSEs compared to 70% non FSM pupils who do, according to research published by the Social Market Foundation
  • £70m. How much the government claims it will be spending on careers support over this Parliament
  • 52%. The number of head teachers surveyed who think their school is not making full use of technology according to a survey by YouGov reported by the TES
  • 10. The age at which children appear to worry most according to research in the British Journal of Health Psychology and reported in Schools Week.

What to look out for next week

  • The thinktank CentreForum who will start the build-up to the release of its report next month on the state of English education by hosting a keynote speech by Sir Michael Wilshaw (Monday)
  • The thinktank Civitas who will host the launch of new audit report on working-age welfare reform by Frank Field and Andrew Forsey (Monday)
  • Annual BETT Conference (Wed–Sat)
  • World Economic Forum in Davos (Wed–Sat)
  • Publication of 2015 Performance Tables (Thursday)

Steve Besley
Head of Policy

Policy Eye is a nearly weekly additional service from Policy Watch offering a regular round-up of UK education headlines and stories from over the previous 7 days.

  • 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.


    • 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.


    • 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


    • 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