Policy Eye - week ending January 8 2016

Policy Eye

Back to work for most this week and with it the traditional potpourri of forecasts, predictions and wish-lists for the coming 12 months.

The week summed up

The Prime Minister did his best to lighten the mood with an upbeat New Year message: “the prospects are good. We go into this year with low inflation, rising employment and growth.” The Chancellor in turn rather dampened it a week later with a keynote speech warning that we aren’t out of the economic woods yet: “last year was the worst for global growth since the crash and this year opens with a dangerous cocktail of threats.”

Echoing a phrase used recently by the new Director-General at the CBI, the Chancellor warned of ‘creeping complacency’ when it comes to the economy; it makes Budget Day on March 16 look doubly important.

As for education, a number of people have had their say on what they think lies ahead.

For schools, the head teacher and prominent blogger Geoff Barton summed up the mood for many by calling for 2016 to be ‘the year of great teaching.’ “A key part of our role in the coming year I’d suggest is maintaining the confidence to do what matters most in our schools… and not to let ourselves be distracted by anything that isn’t going to help a teacher teach better or a student learn more effectively.”

For FE, Will Martin on the TES FE website listed 9 challenges facing the sector in the coming year with area reviews, the apprenticeship levy, skills devolution and the position of sixth form colleges prominent among them.

For HE, the Times Higher invited a number of practitioners and pundits to offer their predictions with perhaps inevitably how to measure teaching excellence, Brexit, research and the implications of the Green Paper high on the list here.

All in all therefore it looks like being yet another busy year and an accompanying Policy Watch has attempted to list some of the specifics lying in wait over the next few months. These include for schools a keynote speech by Sir Michael Wilshaw on January 18, the publication of performance tables on January 21 and closure of the consultation on implementing the EBacc on January 29. Schools will no doubt be hoping that the consultation on a new fair funding formula won’t be far behind.

For FE, area reviews and apprenticeships make the running with Wave 2 of the former and a new comms strategy for the latter both due to begin this month.

For HE, consultation on the Green Paper closes next week and further consultation on the metrics for a Teaching Excellence Framework is due to follow at some point later. Feels like a long year already.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘Times tables to be tested by age 11.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Competition launched to find FE’s stars of social media.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Gender gap in UK degree subjects doubles in 8 years, UCAS study finds.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Delay urged for tuition fees revamp.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘Summer exams will not be fitted around Ramadan, confirm boards.’ (Friday)

People/organisations in the news this week

  • The Prime Minister, whose New Year message listed 4 areas of social reform that he wanted to see tackled this year (home ownership; poverty; social mobility; extremism)
  • The government, which is hoping to launch a new ‘Notify’ text alert service to provide members of the public with important update information about areas of public service delivery including education
  • BIS who updated its listing for the final 3 waves of the post-16 area-based reviews due to take place later this year
  • The Education Secretary who confirmed that trials will begin this summer of onscreen times tables testing of 11-year-olds with a view to full roll-out next year
  • Nicola Sturgeon who announced a more extensive testing regime for primary pupils, a new £100m Attainment Fund, a mandatory qualification for head teachers and greater collaboration between schools as part of a National Improvement Framework for Scotland
  • UCAS which published a further batch of data on 2015 higher ed admissions pointing to significant gender imbalances in the take-up of some subjects
  • The Higher Ed Policy Institute (HEPI) which published its response to the HE Green Paper in the form of a collection essays by leading experts highlighting in many cases lessons to be learnt from past reforms
  • The House of Commons Library which published a useful Briefing Paper on apprenticeship statistics by constituencies in England
  • Sir David Carter who has been confirmed as the new National Schools Commissioner
  • The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) which responded to some media confusion about the timetabling of this year’s exams by issuing a clarification statement (see under link and quotes below)
  • Education Committee chairs who have chivvied the government up about the status of PSHE
  • The House of Commons Library which published a helpful overview of the current GCSE/AS/A level reform programme
  • The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher who in an interview with the TES, marked the start of the build-up to the latest PISA test rankings later this year by highlighting the importance of the new problem-solving test
  • Action for Children which expressed concern about how much time children spent in front of TV and computer screens and who published five ‘top tips’ to help parents pull the plug including ‘turning your own device off when spending time with children’
  • St Bede Academy in Bolton which has become the first school in the country to open its own childminding agency.

Tweet(s) of the week

  • “In 2030 most universities will be run by boring white men in grey suits. Maybe I’ll be one of them.” @johncanning
  • “It’s that evening before a new term. Everyone - veterans to new recruits - is likely to be feeling the same butterflies. Always the same.” @RealGeoffBarton
  • “All the single colleges now put your hands up. @matt_hamnett on mergers, college reform.” @stephenexley

Quote(s) of the week

  • “I genuinely believe we are in the middle of one of the great reforming decades in our history - what I would call a turnaround decade, where we can use the platform of our renewed economic strength to go for real social renewal.” - The Prime Minister in bullish mood in his New Year message

  • “Anyone who thinks it’s mission accomplished with the British economy is making a grave mistake.” - The Chancellor of the Exchequer in less bullish mood in his first keynote speech of the year

  • “Has the women’s movement become so normalised that we cannot conceive of needing to take positive action to secure equal education outcomes for boys?” - The Chief Exec of UCAS raises concerns about a lack of male participation in HE

  • “It is important to note that the (exam) timetable for 2016 was drafted over a year ago, is published and won’t be changing.” - The Joint Council sets the record straight on the timetabling of this year’s exams

  • “They will help teachers recognise those at risk of falling behind and allow us to target those areas where children aren’t being given a fair shot to succeed.” - The Education Secretary makes the case for the new times tables tests to be introduced for 11-year-olds

  • “The government is tripping over itself to introduce new tests.” - The NAHT general secretary on the government’s proposed new times tables tests for 11-year-olds

  • “As the Scripture tells us: Where there is no vision, the people perish.” - Geoff Barton reflects on a new year for education

  • “It takes three months to change a habit.” - The government’s mental health czar encourages schools to use the school term to start a mental health revolution.

Number(s) of the week

  • 12 x 12. What 11-year-olds will need to know the answer to as part of the times tables tests being piloted this year
  • £250,000. The amount the College of Teaching is looking to raise by February 25 to help with the setting up of the College (It’s on £19,000+ so far)
  • 112 out of 180. The number of subject areas at the start of the current university year in which women outnumbered men (men outnumbered women in just 65 subject areas)
  • €1,500 a year. How much universities in Finland will charge international students from next year as it becomes the latest country to start charging university tuition fees.

What to look out for next week

  • Education Committee witness session on mental health and well-being of looked after children (Wednesday)
  • APPG on FE and Lifelong Learning (Wednesday)
  • Consultation closes on the HE Green Paper (Friday)
  • Jeremy Corbyn due to speak at the Fabian New Year Conference (Saturday).

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