Schools & Early Years

  • The DfE announced that the number of looked after children has increased steadily over the past eight years. At 31 March 2016 there were 70,440 looked after children, an increase of 1% from 31 March 2015 – a rise that has been attributed to a rise in unaccompanied children seeking asylum in Britain.
  • Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Education, addressed the Conservative Party conference. She announced the creation of six Opportunity Areas in the country, where the Government would  ‘trial a new approach’ to promoting social mobility. Teachers and schools in Opportunity Areas will be partnered ‘with schools and teachers who’ve already raised standards and turned around schools elsewhere in the country’. Greening also defended the Government’s plans to expand grammar schools. However, she said that, unlike currently, the Government would ‘work much harder at getting more disadvantaged pupils through their doors’ and be more flexible about the age that children can go to grammar schools.
  • Prime Minister Theresa May said that the purpose of lifting the ban on grammar schools was not to reintroduce the system all over the UK but rather to ensure that Britain had ‘good school places for every child’. She added that those seeking to set up a grammar school would have to demonstrate that they were ‘genuinely reaching out across society’ when offering places to young people.
  • The DfE revealed that thousands more primary pupils are ‘on track to be excellent readers’. The number of pupils who reached the expected standard in phonics was 81% in year 1 and 91% by the end of year 2, an increase on last year of 4% and 1% respectively. Nick Gibb MP, Schools Standards Minister, attributed the increase to the ‘hard work of teachers’, the ‘continued focus on raising standards’ and an ‘increased emphasis on phonics’.
  • Catherine Hutley, Headteacher at Phillip Morant School and College in Colchester, banned all homework in an attempt to provide teachers with more time to plan lessons. Pupils are now required to organise additional out of school learning through the schools website. A letter was sent to parents informing them that the new approach would give pupils a ‘greater responsibility for their own learning’.

Further education & skills

  • The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) announced that growth requests for advance learner loans have been paused until further notice. Explaining the decision, the SFA said: ‘The advanced learner loans programme continues to grow and establish its market within the FE Sector. This is in line with the planned expansion of the loans programme to support 19 to 23- year-old learners for the first time. We wish to continue to support growth in 2016 to 2017 and beyond, so we are taking the opportunity to review our approach to managing loans facilities.’
  • Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, addressed the Institute of Directors Annual Conference. He highlighted the importance of high quality education and training to deliver the Government’s industrial strategy and to ensure that vocational education played a more prominent role in Britain. Clark also said ‘that employers have a decisive role in making sure that skills training is meeting the needs they have.’
  • Michael Fallon MP, Secretary of State for Defence, announced that the Government would create 50,000 military apprenticeships before the end of this parliament.
  • Robert Halfon MP, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, spoke at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference. Halfon stated that it was important that apprenticeships were put in the same category as degrees, ‘with the same rewards’. He also praised the National Living Wage campaign and stated he wants to see something similar for apprenticeships. He added that apprenticeships need to be made attractive to all ages and that he was open to ideas on how we do this. Regarding the apprenticeship levy, Halfon said there would be ‘no delay’ in introducing the measure.
  • Phil Beach, Ofqual’s Interim Executive Director for Vocational Qualification, addressed the GovNet Skills and Employability Summit. He stressed that vocational qualifications were ‘essential’ for supporting ‘entry to employment, skills development, workforce mobility and economic prosperity.’ He stated Ofqual’s intention was to: ‘Work with stakeholders to ensure that we develop an appropriate and coherent regulatory system for the reformed vocational qualification landscape.
  • Lord Baker criticised plans for a post-16 academic and vocational divide in a new Edge Foundation report. The report calls for radical action to ensure that the curriculum truly prepares young people for employment in a global digital economy. While stating he supports Lord Sainsbury’s ‘ideas for simplifying technical education for young people aged 16 to 19’, Lord Baker expressed ‘concerns about reinforcing an artificial divide at 16 between the academic and technical routes.’
  • Karen Bradley MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, announced the Government will fully fund IT courses for adults so that ‘digital literacy’ is put on a similar level to English and Maths. The programme will be funded from the existing £1.5 billion annual Adult Education Budget. Bradley said: ‘In today’s digital economy, being able to use modern technology and navigate the Internet should be considered as important as English and Maths. But too many people struggle to get by, with more than ten million adults in England lacking the basic digital skills they need.

Higher education

  • The Guardian published letters from Universities UK, MillionPlus, the National Union of Students, and a number of universities, criticising the Higher Education and Research Bill. The letters raised concerns including: that the Bill would increase the number of ‘poor-quality’ providers; that increased competition will simply increase the amount institutions spend on marketing as opposed to teaching; that it would impose a regulatory framework that would undermine the autonomy of universities; and will split responsibility for sector oversight of teaching and research between two new organisations, the Office of Students and UK Research and Innovation.
  • The DfE published the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF): year two specification – England’s new assessment of university teaching, which will rate universities with medal ratings of ‘bronze’, ‘silver’ and ‘gold’. The TEF will also include extra benchmarking which will take ‘into account the different mix of students at each provider’ to ensure that universities aren’t penalized for accepting poorer students.
  • The Education Committee launched an inquiry into the impact of Brexit on Higher Education, which aims to explore the impact of  Brexit on EU students and staff as well as those ‘who want to come to England’s universities to study and work’.  The inquiry will also consider what the implications of Brexit could be for Britons who want to study at EU universities.
  • Nick Seaford, CMA Economic Advisor, wrote a blog about how reforms to the regulation of Higher Education in England can ensure competition in this market works for students. Seaford argued that the Government’s fee cap should be more flexible ‘rather than being based on the duration’ of a course, which would make it easier for universities to offer accelerated degrees. He also said that all universities should have a plan to ensure that students can complete their degree elsewhere in the event of the closure of their course or university.
  • The World University Rankings 2016-2017 by subject have been announced. The University of Oxford appeared in the top five universities for both computer science and engineering & technology subjects. The University of Cambridge ranked in the top five for engineering and technology subjects. Altogether, universities from 24 countries make the computer science ranking, more than any other subject table. 37 of the top 200 universities are in the US or UK, a lower figure than in any of the other lists.

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