Policy Eye - week ending February 5 2016

Policy Eye

UK education moved into the second month of the new year facing 3 familiar but substantive issues in the shape of: educational opportunity; skills training; and school systems.

Not new, perhaps, but part of what’s emerging as the core education agenda for 2016 and each very much in the news this week.

The week summed up

Educational opportunity first or more precisely social mobility, one of four big items David Cameron included on his shopping list for 2016 (home ownership, poverty and extremism being the other three) and which this week formed the core theme of what is fast becoming the Monday morning ‘Assembly’ announcements. In fairly blunt language he confronted the issue of discrimination, calling on universities for example to take in more disadvantaged and ethnic minority students and pledging to create a new ‘transparency duty’ which would see admissions and retention data all published.

As the news headlines below indicate, the announcement has not been without controversy and fingers have been pointed in various directions: is it down to universities, what role should government play, how best to help families and so on, but two other reports this week, one from the Sutton Trust on Oxbridge admissions and one from the Social Mobility Commission on the geography of disadvantage, have helped sharpen the sense of urgency and encouraged the PM to push his and his Party’s social reforming credentials accordingly.

Second, skills training, another long-term issue and one central to the government’s Productivity Plan which received a ‘show us your workings’ report from the BIS Select Committee this week. Skills shortages remain a concern for many sectors as both the construction and engineering industries indicated this week but the big priority remains apprenticeships as the BIS Secretary outlined when he introduced the Second Reading of the Enterprise Bill this week.

The Bill will legislate for the introduction of the Institute for Apprenticeships which along with the strengthening of the brand and the levy is intended to ensure that apprenticeship growth is balanced with quality and funding measures; that at least is the theory.

Finally, school systems, equally a perennial issue and one raised by both the Education Secretary and her opposite number in speeches this week. Arguably we learnt little from the speeches, the Education Secretary continued to express the virtues of the Academy system and in particular the role of multi-academies while the Shadow Education Secretary stuck with the issue of local oversight and accountability. The school system may look quite different by 2020 but the arguments are unlikely to go away.

Top headlines this week

  • ‘Cameron attacks race bias in courts and universities.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Top universities not to blame for lack of diversity, say state head teachers.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Cambridge applicants to face new test.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Labour warns on curriculum diktat.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘We do inflate predicted A’ level grades, teachers admit.’ (Friday)   

People/organisations in the news this week

  • The Prime Minister who announced plans to require universities to publish admissions data by class, gender and ethnic background under a new ‘transparency duty’
  • Business Secretary Sajd Javid who confirmed that a new Institute for Apprenticeships would be included in the Enterprise Bill when he formally introduced the Bill’s Second Reading this week
  • The BIS Committee which published the results of its inquiry into the Government’s current Productivity Plan, welcoming it in principle but expressing concern about the failure to include clear milestones and measurable objectives
  • The BIS Dept which published a commissioned research Paper into the impact of poor basic literacy and numeracy on employers suggesting that in many workplaces the problem was not well understood
  • The DfE which published the latest version of its hefty guide on setting up a Free School along with the latest list of schools approved to open as a Free School
  • Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who spoke about the importance of multi-academy trusts in school improvement when she addressed an Academies Conference in Leicester
  • Schools Minister Nick Gibb who made a couple of trademark keynote speeches this week, one on the importance of storytelling in children’s learning as part of National Storytelling Week and the other on the importance of core learning
  • Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell who revealed a little more of her thinking on school accountability, teacher shortages and curriculum changes when she spoke at the Education Reform Summit
  • The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission which published a new social index map of the country showing that far from a simple North-South divide, disadvantage was evident in some leading cities and coastal areas as well
  • The Sutton Trust which published a research Paper calling for the Oxbridge entry system to be streamlined, standardized and simplified
  • Cambridge University which announced that new admissions tests would be introduced as part of the application process for 2017 entry
  • UCAS who published an update on 2016 higher ed applications indicating a small (-0.3%) decrease in UK applicants but a notable (6%) increase in EU ones, following the key mid-Jan deadline
  • Engineering UK which published its latest quantitative report into the present and future state of the engineering sector arguing that it remains a major net contributor to the UK economy but that concerns about future skill gaps also remain
  • The construction consultancy Cast, which will work with the Construction Leadership Council to help encourage more young people to consider a career in construction
  • The Skills Funding Agency which confirmed an additional £25m for providers for 16-18 apprenticeships but nothing for traineeships
  • The Education Funding Agency which published further guidance materials to help institutions with their 16-19 funding planning
  • The DfE which published the listings of Key Stage 4 and 5 technical and vocational qualifications eligible for performance table reporting in 2018 and thus due for first teaching from Sept 2016
  • The DfE and Ofqual which published the latest details of GCSE and A’ level assessment arrangements for subjects due to start in Sept 2017
  • The Standards and Testing Agency which published the latest exemplification material to help with teacher assessment in maths at KS2 this year
  • The Education Endowment Foundation which published the latest recipients of funding to test out their projects in areas like reading, literacy and science on a wider scale.

Word or phrase of the week 

“I’m too pretty to do maths.” What one phone company decided to put on its new pink phone covers before it was hastily removed following complaints from teachers and others.

Quote(s) of the week

  • “Ask yourselves: are you going that extra mile to really show people that yours can be a place for everyone, regardless of background.” - The Prime Minister challenges universities and other institutions as he announces plans for a more equal Britain

  • “At every level ours is a small nation characterised by a large divide.” - The Social Mobility Commissioner on latest research from the Commission

  • “Vocational education is key to improving productivity and we recommend that the government clearly outlines how it will achieve that this is recognized in terms of policy priority and funding streams.” - The BIS Committee endorses the importance of voc ed in its inquiry into the government’s Productivity Plan

  • “I come from a family of teachers - my mum was a head, my aunties and uncles, grandparents and others were all heads, teachers or still are.” - Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell establishes her credentials.

Number(s) of the week

  • 11%. The % of state school applicants who were offered places at Brasenose College Oxford, the Prime Minister’s old College, in 2012-14
  • 0.2%. The overall increase in higher ed applications at the Jan 15 deadline compared to last year according to the latest UCAS figures
  • 2.4%. The % of employees per workplace undertaking public-funded basic skills training according to BIS commissioned research
  • 14.5m. How many jobs in the UK the engineering sector supported in 2014 according to its latest annual report
  • 22. The number of Free Schools approved in the latest round announced this week.

What to look out for next week

  • Education and BIS sub-committee witness session on careers guidance (Monday)
  • BIS Committee witness session with the Business Secretary on the work of the Dept (Wednesday)
  • PISA report on low-performing students (Wednesday).

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