Policy Eye - week ending January 29 2016

Policy Eye

A lot of numbers have been flying around this week, largely it has to be said around skills training and funding. In no particular order, these are some of the key ones to note.

The week summed up

  • £1.5bn. Not a new figure but the annual figure for adult skills training pretty much for the next four years and confirmed in the package of documents on 2016/17 funding rates and arrangements by the Skills Funding Agency this week. It’s an important budget as it covers non-apprenticeship activity, so English and maths, community learning and so on and significantly will be transitioned over time to locally planned and commissioned activity under devolution deals. The SFA have produced an accompanying Paper on this budget and it’s worth reading
  • 2.3%. That’s the minimum number of apprentices the government is expecting large public sector employers (250 employees or more) in England to recruit each year in future. Some school chains could come in scope. The government issued consultation on the target this week and intends to amend legislation enabling the Secretary of State to set targets and employers to report on progress
  • 48%. That’s the number of 16- to 34-year-olds in the UK with low levels (below L2) basic skills. Again this is not a new figure but one repeated in the OECD’s latest UK adult skills survey this week, and given the average figure for other OECD countries is 29.8%, highlights the importance of strengthening this provision at school/college level. The OECD suggest HE funding could be diverted to support this
  • 209,400. That’s the number of job vacancies last year caused by a skills deficit of some sort and up from 146,200 in the last survey in 2013. The figures are in the latest Employer Skills Survey from the UKCES, suggest that some sectors like Construction (who also issued a skills shortage warning this week) and Finance are especially suffering and confirm concerns that skill shortages could limit growth
  • 26%. That’s the number of English students who secured a place in UK higher ed last year with a BTEC, up from 24.9% the year before and from 14% in 2008 when the increase became evident. A levels still provide the most popular route with 63% of 18-year-olds applying with the standard 3 A level package but as the accompanying UCAS report indicates, this diversity of learning is presenting new challenges.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘State schools must drop outdated snobbery to apprenticeships, says Nicky Morgan.’ (Monday)
  • ‘English schools struggling to recruit headteachers, research finds.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Become an apprentice. If it’s good enough for Dickens...!' (Wednesday)
  • ‘Students increasingly admitted to university without three A levels.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘Divert more university students into further education, report says.’ (Friday)

People/organisations in the news this week

  • The HE Minister who delivered the annual Campaign for Science and Engineering (CASE) lecture and pledged continued government support for science and research along with a new partnership with the Wellcome Trust and additional money to attract the next generation of scientists and engineers
  • The Education Secretary who is reported to be considering legislation to make sure that schools include technical and apprenticeship routes when providing career advice to young people
  • Schools Minister Nick Gibb who highlighted the importance of school leadership and what the government was doing to support it in a speech to The Key organisation
  • BIS which announced the closure of its Sheffield office by 2018
  • UCAS which published a report looking into different Progression Pathways into UK higher education and found an increasing diversity of routes, particularly BTECs
  • The HE Commission which published a report into the impact of data and analytics on the HE sector and in particular on the student learning experience and came up with a number of recommendations
  • The Sutton Trust which published a commissioned report comparing and contrasting the different perceptions by school teachers and university admissions tutors about what constitutes a good personal statement and calling for clearer criteria and formats as a result
  • The Skills Funding Agency which published the latest set of funding rules, rates and guidance for 2016/17
  • The House of Commons Library which published a Briefing Paper on the post-16 area reviews of education and training
  • The National Union of Students (NUS) which has launched an #FEunplugged campaign to prevent any loss of student places under the area review plans
  • The government which has launched a consultation on setting apprenticeship recruitment targets for larger public sector bodies
  • Nadhim Zahawi MP, the Prime Minister’s adviser on apprenticeships, who teamed up with the Primary Futures programme to help launch a scheme to raise awareness in primary schools about apprenticeships
  • The Times (paywall) which published a useful pullout guide to elite apprenticeships in its Wednesday edition
  • The Construction Industry Training Board whose latest skills report for 2016-2020 forecast a significant growth in apprenticeships and other skilled trades to help cope with some big infrastructure projects being planned
  • The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) which published its latest Employer Skills Survey based on findings from 2015, covering the findings from 91,000 employers and pointing to a significant increase in skills shortage vacancies in some sectors and under-utilisation of some staff skills
  • The OECD whose latest report on adult skills in England once again highlighted low levels of basic skills among young people when compared not only with competitor countries but also with older adults in England and who recommended a big push on 16-19 basic skills training
  • The Economist magazine which reported on youth unemployment in 2016 and the changing face of the labour market plus future skill needs for young entrepreneurs trying to make it
  • The Future Leaders Trust which published a collection of ‘think pieces’ from leading commentators intended to challenge current perceptions of school leadership and encourage more to take up the mantle
  • The DfE which ahead of a proposed consultation, outlined some principles to help make the school admissions process more open and transparent
  • Ofqual which issued an updated listing of new GCSEs, AS levels and A levels due to be taught from September 2016
  • Ofsted whose latest monthly commentary focused on the issue of short inspections and how well or not these were working
  • Michelle Meadows, Executive Director at Ofqual, who blogged about some of the issues involved in choosing an exam board
  • Sir Michael Wilshaw who published a statement setting out Ofsted’s position on the wearing of full veils in schools
  • Malcolm Trobe who has taken over as interim general secretary of the ASCL
  • The UCL Institute of Education which formally launched its latest Centre to support Post-14 Education and Work
  • The thinktank Demos which published the results of a two-year pilot into what it called ‘co-production’ in schools or encouraging students and teachers to work together to tackle disengagement, concluding that giving students a sense of ownership can help in certain cases
  • The House of Commons Library which published an updated Briefing Paper spelling out the latest changes to the Childcare Bill 2015 as it reached its final stage before becoming law.

Tweet(s) of the week

  • “A Downing Street spokesman said neither David Cameron nor his wife Samatha had ever done the school run in their pyjamas.” @GregHurstTimes
  • “Tablets aren’t the cure. There’s no app for good teaching.” @josepicardoSHS
  • “80% of feedback students gets is from other students and 80% of that is wrong.” @ChrisSullivanNZ
  • “Apprenticeships embody one simple but powerful idea - opportunity.” @NickBoles MP
  • “Headteachers on the frontline: You get to July and think – it’s worth it.” @alicewoolley1
  • “In last week’s performance tables Rugby School scored 0% for GCSEs. So did Eton College. Weird, huh?” @GoodSchoolsUK

Word or phrase of the week 

  • “Esteem excellence.” The new alternative to parity of esteem in learning

Quote(s) of the week

“We want to level the playing field – making sure they are aware of all the options open to them.” - The Education Secretary considers legislation to ensure that young people are made aware of all options, vocational as well as academic as they consider future career choices

“It (the Green Paper) fails to demonstrate an understanding of the purpose of our universities and the reasons for the sector’s international standing.” - The Times Higher reports on the response from Cambridge University to the government’s proposed higher education reforms

“If the English education system were to be designed from scratch on a blank sheet of paper, it would be unlikely to include an awkward programmatic and institutional point at 16.” - The OECD on not starting from here in redesigning the English education system

“It doesn’t mean real terms protection per pupil and it doesn’t mean protection for all elements of school funding.” - A DfE official on some of the realities of school funding (as reported by the TES)

“Why is it that droves of Chinese head teachers visit every year to look at our approaches to creativity in education?” - The Headteachers’ Roundtable Group highlights the dangers of squeezing out technical and creative education as it responds to the government’s EBacc plans

“I think it’s a sin to go into a classroom and tell another teacher how to teach. Because all you do is tell them how to teach like you.” - Professor John Hattie adds to the pantheon at this week’s Visible Learning World Conference

“We are trying to raise standards and get better outcomes for the children and we noticed a lot of the parents are turning up to school as well as meetings and assemblies wearing pyjamas.” - A headteacher issues a plea to parents about suitable dress codes

Number(s) of the week

  • 9m. The estimated number of working age adults in England with low levels of basic skills according to the OECD
  • 8m. How many international students there could be globally by 2025 according to an article in The Economist
  • 2m. The number of employees whose skills are not being fully utilised in the workplace according to the latest survey by UKCES
  • 97,000. The number of apprenticeship starts the public sector will be expected to deliver each year to help meet the 3m target by 2020
  • 26%. The number of English students who secured a place at UK universities in 2015 with a BTEC according to UCAS stats
  • 27. The number of colleges now in the 157 Group, with Cardiff and Vale College being the latest to join
  • 4,000. How many jobs could be created in the construction industry for each of the next five years according to the CITB
  • 1,000. How many more head teachers are likely to be needed over the next five years according to a report from the Future Leaders Trust.

What to look out for next week

  • Questions to BIS Ministers (Tuesday)
  • Education Committee witness session on ‘looked after’ children (Wednesday)
  • Final LEACAN Conference (Thursday)
  • Lords debate on the EBacc (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