Education & Skills Weekly round-up 01-07 July

Lexington Communications: Education & Skills Round-Up


Rise in school teacher vacancies in England
It has been reported that nearly one in 100 full-time teaching posts in England were either vacant or only temporarily filled in 2014, according to an analysis of Department for Education figures. Teaching vacancies are up a third since 2014 and the proportion of teachers with the relevant post-A-Level qualification has dropped slightly over the same period. However, Schools Minister Nick Gibb has insisted that there is no recruitment crisis, commenting instead that there is a ‘challenge’ and that this is being managed. Teaching supply expert Professor John Howson has responded to the Schools Minister, commenting that Gibb’s stance is ‘rubbish’. He goes on to highlight that comparing the Government’s statistics for teaching vacancies cannot be done adequately as they are now collected at a different time of year and exclude Christmas vacancies. Ros McMullen, Executive Principal of the David Young Community Academy in Leeds, said that Gibb’s comments showed ‘how out of touch ministers are’. The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has commented that encouraging recently retired people to go into teaching could solve the teacher shortage.

Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan announces former Blair adviser as head of new careers company
It has been reported that former Tony Blair adviser, Claudia Harris, has been appointed to lead the new Careers and Enterprise Company. She will be the first Chief Executive of the company which was set up last December to improve links between schools and employers. Harris is a former partner at McKinsey & Company and, from September 2005 to August 2006, worked for the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit in its health team.

Increase in formal testing at schools
Cherry Ridgway, curriculum and assessment specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, has said that pupils are facing an increase in formal assessments during their time in secondary school, with a dramatic increase in the number of schools where children did a formal assessment every year. Ridgway commented that some schools were using the test results to decide on ability sets, especially given the emphasis on exams in the reformed GCSEs. However, Professor William Locke of the UCL Institute of Education has cautioned against relying on test results, saying that the margin of error is ‘quite substantial’ in GCSE papers.

Exam focus damaging pupils’ mental health, says NUT
Constant focus on exams is damaging pupils’ mental health and self-esteem, according to a National Union of Teachers’ report. The paper by Professor Merryn Hutchings of London Metropolitan University said that the wellbeing of students was being compromised due to ‘high-stakes testing’. Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at the mental health charity Young Minds backed the report and commented that many of the young people that they work with ‘feel completely defined by their grades and that this is very detrimental to their wellbeing and self-esteem.’ The report also argues that the increased focus on exams is harming the relationship between pupils and teachers. Deputy General-Secretary of the NUT, Kevin Courtney, said that the culture of a school has now been shaped to meet Government targets and that this is ‘damaging children’s experience of education.’

Further Education

CBI rejects Professor Wolf’s proposal for apprenticeship levy
The CBI has rejected the recommendations made by Professor Baroness Alison Wolf last week for an employer levy to fund apprenticeship growth. Neil Carberry, Director for Employment and Skills at the CBI, said that the suggested levy would not help with the quality of apprenticeships or help to involve smaller employers whose support is needed to reach three million apprenticeship starts. AELP Chief Executive, Stewart Segal also said that they do not believe that levies or taxes are the right way to encourage training, unless a group of employers want to adopt their own system.  Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the AoC, commented that while levy systems can raise a contribution to the cost of training, it is important that they are not bureaucratic or likely to induce tactics similar to tax avoidance. A spokesperson for BIS said that the report will be reviewed and is a valuable contribution to the debate.

Guide to the Skills System launched in the Lords
A new guide to the skills system was launched in the House of Lords on Monday. The guide is aimed at Parliamentarians and the wider policymaking community, and covers the public funding system, calling for improved careers advice and for policymakers to better define how they expect different types of employers to engage with the skills system. The article features comments from the FE sector on the report, including a response from Dr Lynne Sedgemore of the 157 Group who said that over the next five years ‘we must take proper stock of what is working well and push forward with policies which we know can deliver high-quality education and training for all.’

Javid refuses to rule out college closures in wake of cuts during grilling from MPs
Business Secretary Sajid Javid’s has refused to rule out college closures as a result of the cuts to the adult skills budget. During Business Questions in the House of Commons last Tuesday, Javid chose to criticise Labour’s record rather than guarantee the future of FE colleges. Shadow Business Secretary Chukka Umunna said that in order to increase productivity, the appropriate choices need to be made and said it should be seen as alarming that colleges are facing a solvency crisis.

Higher Education

Call for US-style grade point system for UK undergraduates
Universities Minister Jo Johnson has said that UK graduates should be marked on a US-style points average system so that employers can more easily select job applicants. Johnson suggests a 13 point grade average that would encourage consistent behaviour and make it ‘less easy to coast’ within the 2:1 band. However, universities may resist this suggestion as they have previously been keen to maintain their autonomy with regards to defining academic standards. Johnson’s suggestion was rejected by Russell Group Chair Sir David Eastwood, who said that UK universities have a high international standard that offers high quality teaching.

Universities push for higher fees
Universities have called for the limit on tuition fees to be lifted so that they can rise with inflation. Universities UK have said that since the rise in 2012, the value of tuition fees has been declining in real terms. Vice President of Universities UK, Janet Beer, added that tuition fees need to be maintained in real terms as it is ‘essential to allow universities to continue to deliver a high quality learning experience for students.’ Megan Dunn, President of the National Union of Students said that ‘Universities UK’s call to upgrade the tuition fee cap is further evidence this funding system is failing’ and that the proportion of graduates unable to pay back student loans is increasing at a rate which means that tripling tuition fees would result in ‘zero financial reward’.

Study finds students with vocational background less likely to gain to degrees
A Higher Education Academy commissioned report found that those with a vocational background may need more support in university and are less likely to achieve a first or 2:1. The research indicates that this difference may be more apparent in research-intensive universities. However the study also finds that those from a vocational background may feel more self-motivated and capable than their counterparts with A-levels. Stephanie Marshall, Chief Executive of the HEA said that this research shows that more needs to be done to support the learning of students with a vocational background while they are in higher education.

Look ahead:

On Tuesday

  • The Oslo Summit on Education for Development – Malala Yousafzai and Nawaz Sharif will attend

On Wednesday

  • The Chancellor will deliver the Budget
  • The House of Lords Select Committees will host Oral Evidence Sessions on social mobility which Head of Apprenticeship Growth from DfE/BIS will attend

On Thursday

  • The OECD will publish Harmonised Unemployment Rates

On Friday

The Stonewall Education for All Conference at which Nicky Morgan will speak

You can also keep up with Christopher Cuddihy on Twitter.


The week in politics

The early part of the week was been dominated by the Government response to accusations that previous governments had failed to deal with allegations of child abuse in the 1980s. David Mellor denied that there was a Home Office cover-up, and Steve Richards agreed, saying that ‘casual complacency’ was a key factor. The Government announced two separate inquiries, a Government inquiry into allegations of a paedophile ring at Westminster to be chaired by Baroness Butler-Sloss and a broader independent inquiry by Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC. Eileen Fairweather said that it was time to name and shame those who were guilty, and Alison Phillips said inquiries would bring the culprits to light, but Simon Jenkins argued that this would do little to prevent abuse or help victims. At the end of the week, the media focus shifted to a Government announcement that they would rush through emergency powers to protect the police’s right to access email and phone data. Labour and the Lib Dems are reported to be planning to use this to investigate the actions of GCHQ and the National Security Agency, and there have been criticisms that the legislation could lead to increased mass surveillance, with Labour MP Tom Watson suggesting that ‘a secret deal between elites’ was behind the announcement.

Local government was also on the agenda. The Government announced a series of growth deals to allow local councils to provide better roads, faster broadband and more housing, whilst Ed Miliband said that Labour would introduce a New Deal for local councils, giving them more powers. Miliband also announced that Labour would introduce technical degrees to rival academic qualifications. But Isabel Hardman warned that Labour spend too much time focusing on internal fights and not enough time promoting policy.

Elsewhere, Harriet Harman accused Gordon Brown of overlooking her for the role of Deputy Prime Minister because of her gender. Former Labour Special Advisor Damian McBride spoke out to disagree with Harman, and described the move as a ‘cynical’ attempt to make attacks on David Cameron for not having enough women in the cabinet look non-partisan and Paul Routledge accused Harman of seeking to win the DPM role if Miliband is elected. Conservative MP Sir John Randall announced that he will step down from his Uxbridge seat at the General Election, leading to suggestions that Boris Johnson could run for his seat. The Business Select Committee has published a report which argues that the Government undersold the Royal Mail by £1bn, and calling on the Government to publish its list of ‘preferred investors’ to see whether they actually are long term investors, as they claimed to be. Nils Pratley said this was ‘a right royal rip off’.


The week in politics

Parliament prorogued on Wednesday evening ahead of the Queen’s Speech on the 4th June. MPs have faced criticisms regarding the amount of time they will be spending away from Parliament, but MPs like Kerry McCarthy have emphasised that they will still be working in London, their constituencies, and campaigning for the EU election.

Labour has suffered a polling dip this week, after an ICM poll for the Guardian showed the party on 31%, two points behind the Conservatives, and at a four year low. Research from Lord Ashcroft has also shown the Conservatives to be in the lead. The party came under further pressure as additional polls revealed that Ed Miliband is less popular than Gordon Brown was. The YouGov poll puts both Labour and the Conservatives on 34 points, and the Conservatives may remain concerned, as UKIP continue to poll at 15%.

The latest polling comes as a senior Labour source told the Daily Mail that the party is making preparations for a scenario in 2015 in which they would rule as a minority government, believing a coalition with the Liberal Democrats to be too ‘damaging’. Meanwhile there have been reported tensions within the party as Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls criticised a Labour poster attacking the Coalition’s VAT rise, amid suggestions of  a split between Balls and Shadow International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, who is leading on the election.Ed Balls has also spoken on Europe, using a speech in Manchester to set out Labour’s agenda on EU reform. He stated that Labour would make any new EU legislation subject to an independent audit which would assess its impact on growth. Mary Riddell claimed that Balls is back in the forefront of the Party again.

A row between the Liberal Democrats and the Department for Education dominated the media headlines this week as there were reports that the Treasury told Education Secretary Michael Gove to regain control of his Department’s budget, and the Liberal Democrats claimed that Michael Gove is pursuing his free schools policies to the detriment of other areas, and is presiding over an £800m black hole. Following this, there were reports that the two parties were ordered to end their feud, and Michael Gove and Schools Minister David Laws wrote a joint article in The Times stating that they were not feuding. However, the row continued today as the Daily Mail reported that Nick Clegg had attempted to get Michael Gove’s former SpAd Dominic Cummings arrested for breaching the Official Secrets Act, having to be persuaded otherwise by Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood. Cummings has appeared keen to prolong the row, using his blog on the issue to attack Clegg, whilst Rafael Behr argues that Gove should accept that he’s won the battle and stop fighting.

Elsewhere, the CBI warned that the combination of the European election, Scottish referendum, and next year’s General Election mean that British businesses are facing a number of political risks and Ed Miliband pledged to end ‘clock watch’ care. David Cameron is in Scotland to suggest that more powers could be devolved to Edinburgh if Scotland votes ‘No’ at the referendum, on what the Mail described as a ‘love bomb’ tour. On theeconomy, an Ipsos Mori poll found that 53% of people expect the economy to improve in the next year, compared to 18% who don’t, and the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, sought to calm fears of an early interest rate rise, saying the economy is not yet fully recovered.

Intelex hosts food breakfast event with Huw Irranca Davies

Intelex team member Tom Morrison-Bell reports back from our food roundtable

At a roundtable last week, Shadow Food and Farming Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies MP highlighted rising consumer awareness about their food and a growing desire among consumers to ‘feel good’ about what they are eating. Voluntary approaches can work better with industry than unnecessary regulation. The realities of long, international supply chains, which have been central to delivering low prices for consumers, need to be balanced with adequate transparency mechanisms. This means consumers need to be reassured that their food has been ethically sourced and producers have been given a fair deal. Not only will business reap the rewards of ‘swimming with the consumer tide’, but improving the quality and reputation of British food will also help boost Britain’s exports.

Attendees agreed that food policy underpins a whole range of areas including in education, health, business and agriculture. Dan Corlett, CEO of Farming and Countryside Education (FACE), gave a wealth of examples of how his charity has helped realise this. He described a previously failing school, in a deprived area of Telford, that has turned itself around through comprehensive engagement with food and farming issues. Food was used an integral theme through which pupils were encouraged to engage in subjects from maths to geography. The Year 6’s (10-11) were even able to obtain a GCSE in IT five years ahead of time through the IT skills used to compile their experiences of engaging directly with food and farming issues.

The attendees represented the full range of the food and farming sector from major manufacturers, Nestle, Mars, Mondelez to retailers Tesco and Morrisons and the National Farmers Union and Food and Drink Federation. All are engaged in numerous education outreach activities and there is a genuine commitment to both deliver value for consumers and promote ethical consumption. But there was a recognition that price is likely to always remain the key issue for consumers. Huw Irranca-Davies agreed with this assessment but pointed out that there is value in focusing on other consumer preferences to move beyond price. As was pointed out, many consumers choose iPhones when there are cheaper options available so why can similar shifts not be met in the food sector.

Government also has a key role to play. The government can ensure that it drives competition through its procurement strategy, setting an example through its list of preferred providers, encouraging companies to meet the same high standards across Government departments. All also agreed that a joined-up and collaborative approach would be very beneficial for consumers, producers, manufacturers and retailers alike. As the Shadow Minister said, such an approach to food policy can help individuals and engage with a myriad of issues, not just for today, but for the next generation, who will face a looming food crisis unless action is taken now.

The Pisa problem – are we worrying for nothing?

Intelex team member Jennifer Lipman looks at the latest stats in education.

In December, it was all doom and gloom when the OECD published the latest Pisa rankings comparing the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds around the globe. England came in far below the Asian Tigers, leading to considerable amounts of soul-searching as to what this country had been doing wrong.

According to the OECD report, the UK had failed to make gains on the teaching of maths and literacy since the last time the survey was conducted, placing 26th in the former and 23rd in the latter, and actually fallen in the rankings for science.

‘They are in danger of becoming a lost generation, entering the job market without the skills needed to succeed’ worried Tory MP Chris Skidmore for the country’s youths inThe Spectator.  ‘Unfortunately, thanks to historic complacency, the UK appears to have its feet shackled at the starting line’ warned the IoD’s Head of Education and Skills, Mike Harris.

‘These results should be ‘a wakeup call, and reinforce the urgency of giving young people in this country the skills to compete in a global economy’ responded the BCC.  Whether or not as a direct response, last month the Department for Education launched an exchange to bring maths teachers from the high-performing Shangahi to the UK to share their wisdom.

As it turns out, the anxiety may have been premature.  This week new OECD figures are out comparing and contrasting education around the globe – and it transpires that the UK is nowhere near the bottom of the class.

The latest rankings focus on problem solving – in other words, the ability for pupils to effectively manage real-life, practical matters – and show that the UK is actually ‘significantly above average’. Our teenagers, the report concluded, have ‘access to learning opportunities that prepare them well for handling complex, real-life problems’. And the OECD makes clear that such skills matter; saying that those who lack them ‘face a high risk of economic disadvantage as adults’.

Our teenagers came in in second place for Europe, and 11th place out of the 44 countries evaluated. While countries such as Singapore and South Korea continue to dominate the top of the table, England has surged ahead of other countries with supposedly more desirable educational models, including Germany, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The figures have already promoted a surge of optimism, with the ASCL describing them as ‘yet another reason to be proud of our education system’ and the National Association of Head Teachers saying they are of ‘immense credit to our schools’.

And as noted by the Times Educational Supplement, ‘England’s pupils also did significantly better at the tests… than their counterparts in other countries who had performed at similar levels in Pisa’s maths, science and reading tests’.

The findings are unlikely to dampen the wider debate over what schoolchildren should be learning, and whether the current curriculum is offering them the necessarily broad and robust education they deserve.  Only this morning, the BCC’s Director-General John Longworth cautioned that far too many of our educational establishments ‘have lost the vocational plot’.  He is one of only many voices who would like to see more focus on skills and links between employers and educators – City & Guilds’ Chief Executive Chris Jones made the same point in an article for Management Today earlier this year.

In fact, the tables published in December were not as devastating as some people claimed – we remained above average in science. And by the same token, the OECD point out in the latest report that ‘one in six students in England does not reach the baseline level of proficiency in problem solving’.  Perhaps what these latest results show, more than anything else, is that concentrating on only one aspect of a child’s education is not necessarily helpful.  Speaking last week, education expert Sir Ken Robinson warned that the Pisa tables ‘are focused on a very narrow conception of education’.

“It’s mainly about literacy, numeracy and science, and of course these are very important,’ he said. ‘But the upshot is a lot of other very important areas of education, that matter just as much, are being squeezed out.’  There are plenty of people who would agree with him.

Need to know: the week ahead and the week just gone

The Intelex team look back at highlights from the weekend, and what’s coming up this week:

The interview this weekend: Labour MP, John Mann (Bassetlaw), this weekend told BBC 5 live’s Pienaar’s Politics that Labour must be ‘bolder’ with its policies. Referencing Labour’s narrowing lead, Mann said that the whole party needs ‘to be much clearer in getting out in simple terms that it’s the wrong type of cuts that the government is making, to say what cuts we would make, and what ones we’d reverse, such as on policing and NHS.’ He further added that he feels that the polling is just a temporary blip and that the margin will once again widen but warned that the party needs clear messages with policy that will stand up to scrutiny.  On the release of the polls, Times columnist Tim Montgomerie, tweeted that it is perhaps time that the party did some ‘soul searching’.

Mann’s comments accompany a letter, published in The Guardian, from nineteen leading think tanks, including the Fabian Society, Compass, Policy Network and Progress, which implore Labour not to play it safe in the run up to May 2015 adding ‘It must take into the election a vision of a much more equal and sustainable society and the support of a wider movement if these formidable challenges are to be met.’ This looks likely to be the story this week.

The tweet this weekend: Cathy Newman was this weekend joined on Channel 4 News by University and Science Minister, David Willets, to talk about new figures that suggest many students will never repay the debts incurred when paying for university tuition fees. Newman asked Willets whether he would consider backing higher fees in the next Parliament, a comment which Willets sidestepped during the interview. However, Newman then tweeted that when she suggested a fee rise was on the way off mic, the Minister’s response was ‘could be’.

Comment this weekend: Chris Huhne’s comment piece in The Guardian warns that ‘Budgets that are universally regarded as brilliant on the day often turn out to be duds’ and predicts that Osborne’s failure to tackle the issues facing housing supply prior to reforming pensions is likely to stoke rising house prices. Huhne’s analysis is convincing and warns that while Budget reforms can often make sense in themselves, the sequence in which the reforms are delivered is of equal importance to the policies themselves.

Need to know: the week ahead and the week just gone

The Intelex team look back at highlights from the weekend, and what’s coming up this week:

The story this weekend: An interview on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC One saw both the Chancellor, George Osborne, and the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls agree that Scottish Independence would lead to Scotland losing the pound, as a currency union would not be in the interests of the UK or Scotland. Beyond this, their positions diverged, with Balls noting that they disagreed on the Bedroom tax, the Jobs Guarantee Scheme and the restoration of the 50p top rate of tax. On spending, Balls said that a future Labour Government would match the Government’s spending plans for 2015-16 and added that all of Labour’s spending commitments would show how they were being paid for. Osborne said that more difficult decisions on spending cuts would be needed and that a Welfare Cap would be introduced to help control the level of spending on welfare. On HS2, Balls expressed his concern with the rising costs of the project saying that there would be no ‘blank cheque’ and that Labour would continue to be vigilante, but also supported the scheme as investment in new capacity in the North and South is needed. On house building, Osborne announced that a new Garden City would be built in Ebbsfleet and that the Help to Buy Scheme would be extended to 2020 for newly built houses. Whilst their views on several policy areas differed, they both stated, as a priority, their focus on helping hard working families, with Balls focusing on the cost-of-living crisis and Osborne on the Government’s increase in the personal tax allowance. 

This led to the tweet of the weekend: @GeorgeWParker: Heart warming scoop: George Osborne looked after Ed Balls’s son Joe in BBC Marr green room this am while Ed did R5 @JPonpolitics interview

The (other) story this weekend: Also on the Marr show, Osborne (who went to St Paul’s)  indicated some support for Michael Gove’s recent comments in the Financial Times about the number of Etonians in the Coalition’s Cabinet. Osborne said that the comments must be interpreted in the context of social mobility, although he did not openly assert that he agreed with Gove’s sentiments, instead trying to focus on the Government’s improvement to state education.

The interview(s) this weekend: Mary Ann Sieghart presented an illuminating profile of George Osborne’s economic advisor, Rupert Harrison, on Radio 4 on Saturday. Apparently a man without enemies, Sieghart predicts Harrison will run for Parliament in 2020 and strongly tipped him as a future Prime Minister. A slightly less glowing account of Ed Miliband’s business adviser, Tess Lanning, appears in Sam Coates’ revealing article in today’s Times on the relationship between the Labour Party and business. The article outlines why business is wary of the Miliband’s approach and how the Labour Party is sending out more conciliatory noises, ‘in particular about the threat to break up the banks into retail and higher-risk investment operations after the election’. 

Coming up this week: With all the talk of what will be in the Budget, the Guardian’s Patrick Collinson examines ‘five taxes the budget won’t touch’. Collinson provides insight into why council tax; national insurance (NI); buy-to-let; savings tax; and addiction taxes will remain unchanged, including a succinct point how NI contributions effectively mean the basic rate of tax is not 20% but 32%, something Chancellors never mention directly.