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2017’s education movers and shakers

2017 is already shaping up to be just as eventful as 2016, here’s a list of ten key people in education that are going to be making big decisions, influencing opinion and delivering on some big changes.

It’s clear that since Theresa May took the reins in July her premiership will be defined by one thing, working out the details of what ‘the B word’ will actually mean for the UK. In education her commitment to making ‘Britain a country that works for everyone … not just the privileged few’ seems to translate into one thing – more grammar schools. With £200m already earmarked for their expansion in the last ever Autumn Statement, it’s also clear that the Government seems unlikely to heed any evidence from all those that responded to the consultation, that selective schools might not be the best way to achieve social mobility in a context of -8% real term cuts to school budgets. We can expect a new White Paper and ongoing controversy by the summer.

The SoS Justine Greening will be responsible for driving through the expansion of grammars, but she also has some promising ideas of her own, looking at defining families that are ‘just about managing’, going beyond the increasingly creaky FSM proxy for poverty, and identifying the ‘opportunity areas’ that need focused support. The other big issues on her plate include school budgets, with ongoing concerns about scrutiny of academies and the second stage of the national funding formula consultation – closing 22 March. High needs, early years and special schools are three areas that will need particular attention. With FE and HE back in DfE we can also expect further changes in apprenticeships, area reviews and the next REF. The consultation on the latter (closing 17 March) is likely to result in new approaches to both open access research and impact. Careers is likely to receive ongoing attention too, with mounting criticisms of the current approach and hints at a greater focus on vocational and technical routes. The school workforce will remain another priority for Greening, with an ageing workforce, missed recruitment targets and planned programmes not delivering. It may not have been her policy, but you can also expect the SoS to have to deal with some strong reactions in September when the new 9-1 grades replace A*-G in Maths and English GCSEs, with ‘interim’ 8.5-1 grades for other subjects. For me the white elephant in the room is a long overdue wholesale reassessment of school admissions, though I doubt it will be high on the busy 2017 agenda, beyond some selection-focused quick-fixes.

In opposition Angela Rayner and her predecessor Lucy Powell are likely to continue to be a vocal double-act in opposition to the Government’s plans, especially on grammar schools.

Natalie Perera seems to be gearing up to be the de-facto Liberal Democrat education spokesperson (sorry John Pugh MP), with the power of EPI behind her and many years of experience in the DfE, it’s safe to say she and the team will continue to be vocal scrutinisers of Government plans.

At Ofsted we can expect a new, more conciliatory tone from Amanda Spielman and her new team, who will be looking at the impact of inspections on staff. Hopefully this will help teachers to prioritise and so address workload issues such as marking (an area where EEF and NCTL are working to improve the evidence base about good practice). The wellbeing and mental health of both children and staff are likely to be priorities for Ofsted in 2017, with a Select Committee inquiry underway in this area.

In January Dame Alison Peacock will officially start as CEO of the emerging Chartered College of Teaching. Tasked with making education evidence more relevant and practical to busy staff, she is likely to help look at the issue of marking too. Hopes are high for the College but it will take time to build momentum across the profession. Watch out for Founding Membership on 18 Jan.

At the helm of SchoolsWeek we can also expect Laura MacInerney to be a powerful voice for ‘the fourth estate’. Her team’s data and FOI–driven investigations are likely to keep the Government on its toes, especially around free schools, academies and grammar schools.

At Education Datalab, Dr Becky Allen and team have made a huge impact in their first year, combining academic rigour with a slick press operation. We predict some particularly powerful infographics and stats on 19th January when the annual performance and results datasets are published.

Last but by no means least; Professor Becky Francis is likely to help lead the considerable weight of the UCL IoE to spar in the policy ring more than ever, bringing a pragmatic and values-driven approach.


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ICYMI: 2016 in brief

It’s been another busy year in education, before everybody switches off for the holiday season and starts thinking about 2017, I thought it was worth a quick recap of the key events that happened in education over the past year…


  1. Overall education spending drops as a proportion of GDP from 5.3% in 2011-12 to 4.4% in 2015-16
  2. Education Select Committee publishes report on Regional School Commissioners


  1. Select Committee launches an inquiry into apprenticeships
  2. £4.3m Troops to Teachers scheme delivers … 28 new teachers
  3. Prof. Becky Francis appointed as next Director of UCL Institute of Education (IoE), taking over from Professor Chris Husbands in July


  1. George Osborne and Nicky Morgan announce all schools would become academies, then quickly rowed back, with the final death knell for the plans coming in October
  2. Select Committee launches an inquiry into ‘Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs)


  1. DfE announces that the three remaining ‘approved’ baseline assessments will no longer be an accountability measure, due to lack of comparability
  2. KS1 SAT spelling and grammar test stopped at short notice


  1. Queen’s speech includes new statutory duty for schools to promote the National Citizen Service
  2. Eight new deputy directors appointed to lead RSC offices


  1. Despite poll predictions, 52% of the UK voted for #BrExit, it’s still not quite clear what this means
  2. Centre Forum is reincarnated as the Education Policy Institute (EPI) – with a deep war chest, a crack team and a sceptical take on Government policy
  3. Education charities Teaching Leaders and The Future Leaders Trust announce they will merge, becoming Ambition School Leadership in November


  1. After an aborted leadership election David Cameron steps down and Theresa May walks into Number 10, replacing Nicky Morgan with Justine Greening as SoS for education
  2. National Governors’ Association (NGA), The Future Leaders Trust (TFLT) and NFER publish research on Executive Headteachers
  3. Amanda Spielman the Chair of Ofqual is confirmed as the next Ofsted Chief Inspector, taking over from Sir Michael Wilshaw in January 2017
  4. Another critical Select Committee inquiry on careers, expect the much anticipated ‘careers strategy’ before summer 2017…


  1. Dame Alison Peacock of the Wroxham School announced as new CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching, starting in January 2017
  2. Early years foundation stage profile reinstated as statutory


  1. Theresa May’s joint Chief of Staff Nick Timothy credited with masterminding the rather controversial (grammar) Schools that work for everyone ‘consultation’
  2. NFER publish a follow-up report on teacher retention
  3. Select Committee launches an inquiry into ‘primary assessment’


  1. On Halloween the Select Committee launches an inquiry into selective education


  1. A familiar feeling as the nation wakes up to another unexpected result, Trump for President.
  2. £200m earmarked for grammar schools in the last ever Autumn Statement
  3. NFER published ‘a tale of eight regions’, a follow up report about RSCs
  4. Two ASCL leadership candidates are announced, Chris Kirk and Geoff Barton, with members ‘going to the polls’ in January, and results out 10 February 2017
  5. Social Mobility Commission (SMC) publishes annual State of the Nation report
  6. Select Committee launches an inquiry into ‘Children and young people’s mental health’
  7. Five Select Committees lobby the SoS for statutory PSHE education, some for a second time
  8. Select Committee writes to the DfE with concerns about the transparency and accountability of academy finances
  9. TIMSS and PISA report within a week of each other. NFER publish 20 years of TIMSS in England, TIMSS 2015 in Northern Ireland (full results and key insights), PISA 2015 in Scotland, PISA 2015 for all four UK nations


  1. NAO publish report showing a £3bn hole in school finances, with 8% real term cuts and 60.6% of secondary academies in the red
  2. ‘Schools national funding formula – stage 2’ consultation launches, deadline 22 March 2017
  3. NFER publish research on the maths performance of disadvantaged students in England
  4. Primary schools achieve strong KS2 SATs results, despite assessment changes
  5. The National Teaching Service is scrapped
  6. The higher education REF consultation opens

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What does the future hold for £9k students and the English HE system?

(a version of this blog first appeared as a London School of Economics British Politics and Policy blog in Nov 2012 and through my day-job in Jan 2013)


The excitement of freshers week should now be firmly behind the first cohort of students in England paying as much as £9k a year in tuition fees as they embark on the painful second term. But will this group, facing higher average debt levels than their American peers, be dealing with a very different kind of hang-over in the future? And what about their lecturers, the courses they are taking, the institutions they are attending or the national system of higher education as a whole? Will they all be in a stronger position after recent reforms, or will our universities go the same way as some of our traditional industries and our football team?

In summary it’s still too early to tell. Education is always a long-term business, and one that rarely fits conveniently with the timescales of politicians, CEO’s or news editors. But what should we be looking out for, what are the KPI’s for those five important aspects of higher education? I’ll attempt a quick run-through of my thoughts on each.

For learners the first issue to watch out for is access; are enough people still applying compared to previous years, especially from disadvantaged or non-standard backgrounds. So far the results have been better than expected, with limited drops overall and for disadvantaged applicants, although the figures for mature learners are more worrying. The next consideration is the success rate of those applicants, are as many offers being made? After that one might consider completion rates and other outcomes. How many learners are finishing their course and going into employment or further study? Graduate unemployment rates are persistently high with under-employment (people working in jobs they are over-qualified for) an additional concern. It’s hard to untangle these reforms from a wider economic malaise but there is data, such as on graduate starting salaries (holding up well so far), wellbeing scores and satisfaction measures that can be tracked, weighted and compared.

Many university lecturers have opposed the changes, already feeling pressured to perform by the time-consuming Research Excellence Framework (REF), a five-yearly measure of ‘research impact’. It could be argued that by tying funding more closely to the student, the new system helps re-balance the role of an academic some of the way back towards teaching. I’ve not seen much evidence so far of staff welcoming that, with many resenting the uncertainty caused by such major changes happening in so short a space of time. To determine the long-term success we should keep an eye on the supply of new applicants, retention and retirement levels, and satisfaction scores.

When it comes to courses there is a real concern for those arts and humanities disciplines without an immediate or direct appearance of economic relevance. The higher fees sharpen the minds of would-be applicants and their families, prompting interest in the information now held on each course within the Key Information Set (KIS) – such as employment rates and average starting salaries. Many institutions have already responded to the reforms by rationalising their courses, dropping those that are less economically viable. Some might consider this a necessary and overdue process of efficiency, while others may see it as the unwelcome result of an instrumentalist trend that prioritises economic values over all others. Perhaps the key success measures to watch are the range of choices available to future applicants, whether any disciplines at put at risk, and if the domestic supply of work-ready graduates or post-graduate students is harmed.

As for institutions themselves, there is widespread worry for the ‘squeezed middle’; middle-ranking universities that lack the reputations of their esteemed peers, but cannot compete at a lower price point with new entrants and nimbler competitors. The jury is out on whether a failing institution would constitute damning evidence of the reforms or merely signify a healthy market. A growing reliance on international students and a few notable examples where that has not been managed so well, could perhaps also signify the impact of these reforms.

When it comes to the performance of the English HE sector as a whole, there is plenty of comparative data out there from institutions such as the OECD, UNESCO and the British Council. By many measures England continues to punch above its weight, to use a well-worn phrase. Our research citation count, global brand and league-table ranking are all admirable. However it is unlikely that we can rest on those laurels for much longer, with emerging economies, especially China and Singapore, investing far more than us in their universities and already seeing the results. Recent OECD data indicates that 24 out of 31 OECD nations have increased their investment in higher education during the recent economic downturn, highlighting why the UK might need to increase its own investment. Other key measures to watch out for include the amount invested as a proportion of GDP (already very low for England), the total cost of HE (and the proportion that is publicly funded) and the proportion of the population that obtains a high-quality degree (Blair’s 50% target may be gone but what should we be aiming for instead?).

And of course, this all misses those things that can’t be measured (or managed Mr McKinsey) and which some believe matter the most. Will we ever really know how many would-be applicants opted for a job that puts money in their pockets, how many lecturers decided to retire early, which new courses were never developed, what else could have been done with all the Vice Chancellor’s time or how England’s brand is really faring in the global HE marketplace? We’ll probably never know the answers to these questions but there is one last success measure we can keep an eye on – the savings to the Treasury (and the principal motivation for these changes). According to the latest research from think tank HEPI the savings may be negligible, if at all apparent. But as this largely depends on how well this years’ freshers repay their debts once they are earning, we’ll have to wait to find that out too.

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