Policy Eye - week ending February 12 2016

Policy Eye

MPs headed off early this week for the half term break with some big education reports ringing in their ears.

The week summed up

First the recruitment and quality of teachers, an issue that’s been running for some time with arguments about whether there is a recruitment and retention crisis or not, and which was the subject of a new report from the National Audit Office (NAO) this week. NAO reports often offer valuable analysis of a current issue and this was no different with concerns raised about how far the current training model was meeting recruitment and quality needs. Para 23 in the summary pretty much captures the answer: missed recruitment targets, little understanding of local trends, few real quality impact measures.

The Dept will, and has, claimed it’s doing what it can and is launching the National Teaching Force this autumn, but for secondary schools in particular where the demands of the EBacc loom, the concerns are real. (Future NAO reports by the way will cover Apprenticeships and LEPs, both due in the next couple of months.)

Second, another one of those hefty reports from the OECD, this time on what it called ‘low-performers,’ namely 15-year-old kids struggling in particular with the core subjects. Evidence for the report comes from the PISA data factory and highlights just how real an issue this is: “about 13m 15-year-olds in 64 countries that participated in PISA 2012 were low performers in at least one core subject.”

The UK comes out as low-average on this data with maths still a worry but the $64,000 dollar question is what to do about it. The report points to some countries that have managed to improve but there’s no magic bullet it seems apart from making it a priority particularly at the early years and primary stages of learning.

Third, we’re almost exactly a month away from the next Budget and the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has started its customary excellent build-up with an initial overview report. This year’s Budget of course takes place against a difficult economic climate, when hasn’t it perhaps, but the IFS make the point that the Chancellor is largely boxed in in terms of what he can do. It all makes fairly grim reading for public services such as education with low levels of pay and spending predicted.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘Independent schools must embrace vocational courses, says headmaster.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Social media age limits ignored by most youngsters.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Teacher shortages in England, spending watchdog confirms.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Tories change course in search for Ofsted chief.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘Tests for four-year-olds unreliable and disruptive. (Friday)

People/organisations in the news this week

  • The Duchess of Cambridge who lent her support to Children’s Mental Health Week through a video recorded in a primary school in London
  • The HE Minister who issued new guidance to encourage more universities work with key target groups, schools and the Social Mobility Taskforce to help widen access
  • The government which has sharpened up its strategy for ensuring student loans are paid back
  • The Education Secretary who has rejected calls for PSHE to be made a statutory subject but announced that a new action plan and recommendations for improvement will follow shortly
  • The Education and Adoption Bill which has gone back to the Commons for final tweaking as it nears completion
  • The Education and Skills sub-committee who have just announced that they will hold an inquiry into apprenticeships pretty much covering all bases including the targets, the levy, quality and progression
  • The Institute of Fiscal Studies who published its analysis of options facing the Chancellor as he prepares for his March Budget suggesting he faces some tough decisions if he is to meet his target of running a surplus by 2019/20
  • Sir David Bell who will chair the new working group set up by Universities UK to look at the viability and functions of the quango land around the HE sector
  • Reading University who is proposing to accept students who just miss a grade as part of a new, more flexible admissions approach
  • The University and College Union (UCU) who published its latest report on the pay and perks of senior university managers indicating that the average annual salary of a university VC was now seven times higher than that of their staff
  • UCU who have also published an online tool to help lecturers in HE and FE see if they’re being paid a fair rate compared to others in the same and similar institutions
  • The Skills Funding Agency who published the outcomes of its review of publicly funded digital skills qualifications listing 6 recommendations covering clarity of language, standards and priorities
  • The Construction Industry Board (CITB) who have approved a new business plan designed to focus on training and skills and ensure maximum value from the apprenticeship levy
  • Former Schools Minister David Laws who will chair a new scheme, modelled on Teach First, and intended to attract more graduates into helping transform prison education and learning
  • The National Audit Office (NAO) who published a report on training new teachers concluding that the current arrangements are not value for money and that with signs of teacher shortage growing, the government needs to look at ways of improving things
  • Lib-Democrat MP John Pugh who used the 10-minute rule in Parliament to propose a Bill that would give schools the right to challenge the timings and outcomes of Ofsted inspections
  • Ofsted, who as the Chief Inspector promised last year, has started formally recognizing exceptional school leaders in a letter cc’d to the Secretary of State
  • Ofsted who published a follow-up report on alternative or out of school provision and found that while schools were generally taking this seriously a lot more needs doing to guarantee good provision
  • The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Royal Society who are commissioning a joint review, due to report later this year, on how best to raise science performance, particularly among disadvantaged pupils, in primary and secondary schools
  • The OECD who published a report on low-performers particular in maths where one-fifth of 15 yr olds in the UK and ¼ in the OECD overall are below the acceptable L2 baseline
  • The Standards and Testing agency who have sent out more exemplification material for teacher assessments, this time for KS1 and 2 English writing but creating concerns about a lot more box ticking
  • “I Need a Wee!” one of the titles included in The Guardian’s listing for this year’s Lollies (Laugh Out Loud) award as the funniest children’s books where voting closes this summer.

Tweet(s) of the week

  • “Students who have repeated a grade are 7x more likely to be low performers at 15.” @OECDEduSkills
  • “Sorry I can’t hand in my assignment I’ve lost my memory stick.” @ WCGamesArt
  • “I tried my hand at teaching and found it’s both a physical and mental workout.” @ed_ontap
  • “It’s better to be inspection-ready than to prepare for inspection.” @ Ofstednews
  • “Children need to be bored sometimes - boredom is their imagination calling them to turn inside.” @DTWillingham

Word or phrase of the week 

“Headwinds and tailwinds.” What the Chancellor is battling with as he draws up his forthcoming Budget according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

Quote(s) of the week

“I did go there to create a competent regulator and I believe I’ve done that." - Dame Glenys Stacey as she prepares to relinquish the helm at Ofqual

“But I am not a dictator.” - Jeremy Corbyn tells the Times Higher how he’s approaching the issue of scrapping tuition fees

“Total funding going through FE will go up 13% in real terms by 2020.” - The BIS Secretary talks real terms as he responds to Select Committee questioning

“The Dept has missed its (teacher) recruitment targets for the last 4 years and there are signs that teacher shortages are growing.” - The National Audit Office reports on teacher training provision

“The time has come to give them equal prominence alongside A levels and the IB.” - An independent school headmaster emphasizes the importance of vocational qualifications such as BTECs

“You can’t teach grit generically.” - Professor Hattie suggests that’s no way to instil it in young people

“If you’ve got 60 young people coming in and you have to tick 47 boxes about all of them, of course your mind is going to be on that rather than talking to them about their nice shiny shoes and their pet rabbit at home.” - A teacher expresses concerns about the pressures created by the new baseline tests

“People need to realise what they say online can really affect people, just because they’re anonymous or online doesn’t make it ok.” - One young contributor adds her thoughts to this week’s Safer Internet Day

Number(s) of the week

  • 1948/9. The last time spending on public services (outside of health) was this low according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies
  • 2.3%. The CBI’s latest forecast for growth in the UK in 2016 (down from 2.6%)
  • £275,000. The average salary for a university vice-chancellor according to a University and College Union report
  • £76m. How much is owed to government by graduates who meet the required eligibility criteria
  • £751m. How much is expected to be spent on widening participation through university access Agreements by 2019/20 (nearly double that in 2010)
  • £700m. What the government spends a year on recruiting and training new teachers
  • £1.4bn. How much the government claims to be spending on children’s mental health over this Parliament.

What to look out for next week

  • Half-term recess.

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