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.

The week summed up

On standards and performance this has been the week of the latest, and in their current form the last, School and College performance tables. A lot of the data was published in interim form last October and so was fairly familiar, but the strong performance of some disadvantaged schools, the lack of inroad by the EBacc, the rise in the number of A level entries for facilitating subjects, and the value added impact of vocational provision, all deserved attention.

Performance in future will be reported through new accountability measures including Attainment 8 and Progress 8. The question remains, however, as to what sort of performance levels we should be expecting from our education system. This week the CentreForum thinktank launched an important report proposing a more ambitious set of targets, 75% of pupils reaching the GCSE Attainment 8 benchmark by 2030 as against the 57% who achieved 5 ‘good’ GCSEs this year for example. Sir Michael Wilshaw who spoke at the launch of the consultative report thought such ambitions were possible but that changes to school leadership, accountability and curriculum provision were needed as well.

Accountability and oversight of the schools system has been much in the news this week as well with the publication of the Education Committee’s Inquiry into the role of Regional Schools Commissioners. An excellent summary of their recommendations can be found on the Schools Week website and it will be interesting to see how the government responds given the finger wagging it received.

The government of course has big plans to increase the numbers of Academies and Free Schools but the Committee’s conclusion that the oversight of the school system was “confused, fragmented and lacking in transparency” has raised many questions.

There have also been some important developments around migration and community cohesion this week with the Prime Minister proposing a new community fund to help teach English to Muslim women, the Education Secretary unveiling a new website to help teachers and parents protect children from extremism and the Migration Advisory Committee recommending an annual skills levy on employers recruiting from abroad. As Nicky Morgan said, you wouldn’t have expected tackling extremism to be on the Education Secretary’s job description 5 years ago but seemingly it’s becoming the responsibility of all now.

Finally technology, where the annual BETT fest of innovation and imagination continues to Saturday and which as a topic has been much discussed by world leaders at Davos this week. The 5 ways in which technology is shaping our world is beautifully captured in this Time briefing.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘One size fits all system lets down less academic pupils warns Ofsted chief.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Educate against hate, urges government.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Academy scrutiny confused, say MPs.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Nicky Morgan tells teachers to use technology to reduce workload.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘Schools ranked by raw GCSE results for last time.’ (Friday)

People/organisations in the news this week

  • The Prime Minister who in another ‘start the week’ announcement, promised a £20m DCLG (Dept for Communities and Local Gov) fund to teach English to ‘isolated’ Muslim women
  • (Sean Sutherland, Lecturer in Language at Westminster University, who in the light of the PM’s announcement, wrote an interesting blog about some of the difficulties inherent in learning English)
  • The Education Secretary who announced a range of measures including a new website to help schools and parents protect children from extremism
  • Nicky Morgan who spoke at this week’s annual BETT show about the role of technology as a supplement rather than as a substitute for quality education, supporting schools in areas like assessment, school management and parental engagement
  • The Labour Party which secured an Opposition Day debate to challenge the government’s plans to scrap maintenance grants in favour of loans
  • The Migration Advisory Committee which published its report on tightening Tier 2 migration recommending among other things that an Immigration Skills Charge be levied, potentially of £1000 per year, per migrant, to encourage employers to train more UK employees and rely less on migrant recruits
  • The OECD which included the changing nature of the family, technology and the growth of city states among the various trends likely to shape education in 2016
  • Universities UK which launched the new Social Mobility Advisory Group announced as part of last year’s HE Green Paper and due to present findings to the Minister this summer
  • The High Fliers market research company which published its latest report on the graduate recruitment market indicating a 7.5% increase in vacancies, the 4th year in a row that graduate vacancies in top companies have increased
  • Paul Greatrix, Registrar at the University of Nottingham, who blogged on Wonkhe about the research grant funding offered by Amazon to the University of Washington and wondered whether this opened up a new frontier in Amazon activity
  • The government which hosted a reception for leading apprenticeship employers and which used the occasion to announce more details about its new Apprenticeship Delivery Board
  • The Skills Funding Agency which is collecting views from employers about the apprenticeship levy in a survey due to close in two weeks’ time
  • The Skills Funding Agency which confirmed that restrictions on providers offering traineeships will be lifted from the beginning of Feb 2016 rather than August as originally planned
  • School and College 2015 performance tables and 2013/14 destination measures which were released in final form this week prior to the switch from 2016 to Attainment 8 and Progress 8 measures
  • The think tank CentreForum, which ahead of an ambitious project to raise education standards in England, launched a consultative report in partnership with Education DataLab proposing a new set of ‘world-class’ standards and forms of progress over the next 15 years
  • Sir Michael Wilshaw who helped launch the CentreForum project with a speech calling for sharper leadership, governance, accountability and curriculum provision as part of the package to raise school standards
  • The Education Committee which bared its teeth with a report into the management of the schools system and the role of Regional Schools Commissioners criticising a lack of transparency, clarity and coherence generally
  • Sir Tim Brighouse whose recent speech looked at the different stages of post war education and concluded that we are now in the ‘the age of confusion’
  • Conor Ryan, who in his latest blog for the Sutton Trust, looked at the potential impact of the changes coming for GCSE grading and accountability and queried whether it would make performance over time easier to understand or not
  • TeachFirst who launched its latest recruitment ‘Change Career, Change Lives’ campaign designed to encourage more young professionals to swap ‘city’ careers for teaching in more disadvantaged areas
  • Stephen Twigg MP who will chair the new 4-year Liverpool Challenge aimed at raising attainment in local schools and modelled on the modelled on a version of the London Challenge
  • Fiona Millar who in an article in The Guardian examined the issue of teacher recruitment and how far or not a crisis was looming
  • The DfE and Ofqual who updated the list of GCSEs, AS and A levels accredited for teaching from Sept 2016
  • UCAS which has published a follow-up survey on how schools and colleges are responding to the A level reforms including the adoption of a de-coupled AS
  • ‘Ambassadorial advisory bodies,’ the new form of governing bodies being created for E-ACT Academies
  • Eastbury Community School in Barking whose supportive environment and charity work have helped earn it the title of ‘the kindest school in the country’
  • ‘War and Peace,’ which emerged in a recent survey by YouGov as the C19 novel most people would like to read (if they had the time and the patience.) Les Miserables and Moby Dick were listed 2nd and 3rd respectively.

Tweet(s) of the week

  • “Character is important - a CV may get you the interview but character will get you the job.” #CharacterMatters 2016
  • “Robert Winston: We undervalue our primary teachers.” @ProfRWinston
  • “Student union bans laughter, applause, interrupting, heckling, even hand gestures to create a safe space.” @GregHurstTimes
  • “Solving teacher shortages is my top priority says Nicky Morgan.” @SchoolsImprove

Quote(s) of the week

“There will be no single knockout blow against those who seek to corrupt young people but the action we are taking to protect children, inform parents and support teachers will put us firmly on the front foot.” - The Education Secretary announces new counter extremism measures aimed at protecting children

“Let’s be clear: this decision is far more than an accounting technicality.” - Vice Chancellor of Bedfordshire University and former Labour Minister Bill Rammell condemns the scrapping of HE maintenance grants

“When we told to bone out a dover sole, we’d bone out a dover sole.” - TV chef Ainsley Harriott on how FE taught him the skills he really needed

“RSCs are a product of the Department’s ‘acting first, thinking later’ approach when it comes to big changes in the schools landscape.” - The Education Committee points the finger at the current position on school oversight

“The internet is a wonderful tool for those who already possess considerable knowledge. As a means of initial instruction it is not so useful.” - Nick Gibb on the limits of the internet

“Since the EBacc was introduced, the percentage of state school pupils entered for at least one GCSE in an arts subject has increased from 46% to 50%.” - Nick Gibb again defending the EBacc

“Instead of fostering a climate of scholarship and deep learning, inspectors see too many secondary schools with noisy classrooms, lippy children and sullen classrooms.” - Sir Michael Wilshaw lists some of the problems facing secondary schools

“The minister for education can define in detail what shall be taught, how and when - something never attempted by Napoleon, Hitler and other continental dictators.” - Sir Tim Brighouse charts the accretion of powers by Education Secretaries

“Feel free to have a punt mate, everyone’s an expert in education.” - Tom Bennett debunks the latest fashionable theory about the powers of learning technology (link here)

Number(s) of the week

  • 5.1%. The latest UK unemployment figure for the period up to Nov 2015, the lowest for over a decade but coming at the same time as the ILO (International Labour Organisation) issued its annual employment report warning that unemployment will increase in some emerging countries this year
  • 15%. The number of people in work who are self-employed, the highest for 40 years, according to figures from UKCES
  • £30,000. Median starting salary for graduates in top companies in 2016, according to the latest research from the High Fliers company
  • 153,000. The number of apprenticeship starts in the first quarter of the 2015/16 academic year. (It needs to be about 600,000 per full academic year if the 3m target is to be reached by 2019/20)
  • 80,000. The number of education apps available for download through Apple
  • 36.2%. The number of pupils in all schools in England who were entered for the EBacc in 2015. (The government is proposing a target of 90%)
  • 329. The number of schools who were below the secondary school floor standard (broadly where fewer than 40% of pupils achieved 5 ‘good’ GCSEs A*-C) in 2015
  • From 58% to 35%. What the drop in the number of pupils gaining good GCSEs in English and maths would be if they were measured against the 2017 new, reformed GCSE grading scale, according to CentreForum.

What to look out for next week

  • The Skills Minister who will appear before the Education, Skills and Economy Committee. (Monday)
  • UUK Conference on the HE Green Paper (Tuesday)
  • OECD Report on Adult Skills. (Thursday)
  • Demos Report on ‘Disengagement in Schools.’ (Thursday)
  • CMRE Conference on ‘School Choice, Opportunity and Equity.’ (Thursday)
  • EM Skills Conference on ‘The Changing Face of Functional Skills.’ (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).
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  • 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