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.

The week summed up

On testing and exams, this week has seen the NUT call for this year’s SATs to be suspended (“impossible for teachers to deliver,”) another union leader talk about an ‘emerging horror show,’ rumours of a potential showdown coming from head teachers and further up the age scale, the editor of Schools Week suggesting that “complicated GCSE changes are a catastrophe in the making.”
Part of the regular build-up to the assessment season or a deeper set of issues emerging? It’s too early to say yet and some of it has come from the recent release of exemplification materials at Key Stages 1 and 2 which point to a swingeing increase in box ticking if applied properly, let alone residual concerns about baseline testing, more rigorous Key Stage tests and government proposals to pilot times table testing for 11-year-olds as well this year.

As for GCSE, it too is facing demons with more demanding specifications, a new grading scale, trials for a National Reference Test trial, consultation about the enquiries system and an overall change programme running over three years.

Concerns about the nature and impact of testing are not new of course but two factors are at play this time: the enormity of change involved and the fact that this year the system is perhaps under greater scrutiny than ever before with new accountability and testing arrangements applying and the 2015 PISA test results being published.

Interestingly, failure to succeed in the education system emerged as the second biggest fear facing young people today in a survey released by the Central YMCA this week, (not being able to get a job was the top worry.) The Prime Minister signalled at the start of the year that the government intended to focus on young people’s well-being as part of its education agenda this year and just this week alone published a consultation on peer support, a blueprint on Counselling in schools and a set of proposals on age verification for online pornography. The government is clearly taking this area seriously but it’s the overlap with testing pressures that’s worrying people at present.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘US search for next Ofsted head.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Complicated GCSEs are a catastrophe in the making.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Warning over plans to extend nursery free hours.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Percentage of poorer students accepted to Oxbridge falls, figures show.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘LSBF students demand refund after being told to leave UK.’ (Friday)   

People/organisations in the news this week

  • The Prime Minister who was on hand to support his local ‘pass the torch’ apprenticeship event in which, as part of next month’s National Apprenticeship Week, a symbolic torch is being taken round parts of the country to signify the transfer of knowledge/skills that is at the core of an apprenticeship
  • The government which appears to be looking far and wide in its search for the next head of Ofsted
  • The DfE which has launched a call for evidence on how peer support can help young people’s mental well-being along with a blueprint on counselling provision in schools
  • The Resolution Foundation which has published its seventh annual major report into living standards suggesting that although family living standards have just about returned to where they were before the financial crisis, over the next five years things will slow down and inequality will sharpen
  • John Morgan who argued in a widely supported comment piece in The Times Higher that the 2012 lifting of number controls rather than the latest Green Paper will be seen in time as the biggest game-changer in English HE
  • Becky Francis who will take over as the new Director of UCL’s Institute of Education from July
  • PWC which published the results of its latest annual global CEO survey with Chief Executives generally upbeat but seeing skills and infrastructure as key priorities for the future
  • Mike Boxall from PA consulting who called for more local alliances or partnerships between universities, colleges and local business partners to help solve skills shortages
  • BT which announced a range of opportunities in areas like cyber security and software development as part of an increase in its intake of apprentices and graduates
  • The Edge Foundation which welcomed a new Chief Executive and launched a new ‘Career Footsteps’ campaign to encourage employers to go into schools and colleges and help inspire young people
  • The Skills Funding Agency which launched further guidance and information on how it will list qualifications eligible for funding as part of the 19- to 23-year-old’s legal entitlement to a first full L2/3
  • The FE sector for whom plans for a summer (7-9 July 2016) Festival of Skills were announced
  • The AoC which criticized the government’s decision to scrap ‘child’ visas which are used by many international students to continue their studies in England
  • Julian Gravatt, Assistant Chief Exec at the AoC, who examined some of the issues facing sixth form colleges as they consider whether to convert to Academy status
  • Central YMCA which surveyed young people (16- to 25-year-olds) about the challenges they feel they face in Britain today and found being unemployed, failing at school/college and body image, emerging as the top three concerns
  • Ofqual which is inviting students to give their views on exam marking reviews and appeals as part of its wider consultation on the matter
  • Schools Week’s Laura McInerney who wrote a comment piece in The Guardian highlighting some of the challenges involved in the current changes to the GCSE system
  • The OECD whose latest briefing paper looked at how member countries organize learning time in primary and secondary education and found, for instance, that typically pupils face 4.3 hours of instruction per day in primary and 5.2 in secondary
  • The National Union of Teachers (NUT) which has called for this year’s SATs to be suspended as concerns grow about the demands expected of both pupils and teachers.

Tweet(s) of the week

  • “US marshalls are arresting people who haven’t paid back student loans.” @Independent
  • “We’ve degraded education in the hunt for A stars via @thetimes. Seldon talks sense again.” @andyhampton
  • “Believe me - being an English literature student is a lot harder than it looks.” @Independent
  • “Just a reminder (for those that have it) that matutolypea is the state of being irritable/best left alone in the morning.” @ susie_dent

Word or phrase of the week 

“Academic superheroes.” What some researchers found was required when they analysed the selection criteria, (problem-solver, creative thinker and so on,) for posts offered by universities in Australia.

Quote(s) of the week

"Being interesting as education secretary is asking for trouble. So now we have Nicky Morgan who is trying the opposite approach.” - Political correspondent John Rentoul on the renaissance of Michael Gove

“My job was to make the best of a bad job and produce a system which was genuinely progressive.” - Former BIS Secretary Vince Cable reflects on making the best of the tuition fees hike

“It is a global language, more global than French or German or Spanish or for that matter even English.” - A Florida Senator proposes that students should be encouraged to learn coding before a foreign language

“The temptation to expand too fast in order to meet economies of scale has seemingly befallen many chains in recent years.” - Natalie Perera, director at the think tank CentreForum, on the rise and rise of Academy chains

“Can anyone explain how the balance between teaching, learning and testing has got so badly out of kilter in English primary and secondary schools?” - One union leader with more than a rhetorical question

“All schools should offer it – everyone has problems small or big.” - Young people make the case for the provision of counselling in schools

“The response has been overwhelming.” - One of the organisers heralds this week’s academic symposium on The Archers (a soap opera on Radio 4!)

Number(s) of the week

  • 5.1%. The (October-December 2015) unemployment rate in the latest new, improved presentation-wise figures from the ONS
  • 0.5%. How much average incomes are likely to have risen between 2007 and 2020 according to the Resolution Foundation
  • 56.8% and 55.7%. the number of state school students at Cambridge and Oxford Universities respectively according to recent HESA (HE Stats Agency) data
  • 100 in 100. The latest apprenticeship recruitment campaign in which MPs in each constituency are encouraging businesses to pledge to recruit 100 apprentices in a 100 days
  • 2.2. How many hours in an average primary school day is given over to the core curriculum (reading, writing, maths and science) according to the latest briefing from the OECD
  • 28. The number of ex-servicemen and women who have gained QTS (qualified teacher status) so far. Over 500 applicants are in the pipeline with the government initially targeting 2,000. 

What to look out for next week

  • Final consideration of Lords amendments to the Education Bill and to the Welfare and Work Bill (Tuesday)
  • Launch of the Work Foundation’s ‘Health at work’ Policy Unit Paper (Tuesday)
  • Nicky Morgan to speak at the AoC Principals and Chairs event (Wednesday)
  • Apprenticeships4England Conference (Thursday-Friday).

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