Issue 100 | November 2019

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Click is ten years old this month. This is a notable achievement, particularly given the last ten years of austerity with cuts in public spending falling disproportionately on the FE sector. Coincidentally, this is also the 100th edition of the Click newsletter which, over a similar period of time, and despite facing significant challenges, has somehow managed retain its reputation for truly awful jokes and its capacity for boring readers until their eyes begin to glaze over.

This 100th edition sees us facing the prospect of a general election on 12 December. So, after a decade of cuts in spending, electors find themselves observing the unfamiliar spectacle of competing political parties setting out their proposals for increasing public spending in an attempt to attract votes. A summary of their proposals for spending on education is given below, making this edition of the newsletter a bit of an election special. These proposals only apply to England, since in other UK countries education spending is devolved to their respective parliaments and assemblies.

THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY

The Conservatives, being the current party in government, have already proposed a number of measures to increase education spending which have now become an integral part of their general election campaign. Their spending proposals in respect of FE include the following:

  • In August, Sajid Javed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer outlined plans to increase 16-19 funding by £400 million and to provide additional cash to cover increased staff pension costs.
  • In October, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary for England announced that an extra £120 million was being made available for the creation of a further 8 Institutes of Technology (IoTs). This funding is in addition to the £170 million already pledged for the first 12 IoTs.
  • On 13 November, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced plans for a further £1.8 billion capital investment for FE colleges. The capital funding will be allocated over a 5-year period and is part of an FE ‘rebuild programme’ and is intended to ensure that ‘the entire further education college estate is in at least Category B (good) condition’. However, colleges will be required to match fund the programme by providing 21p from their own resources for every £1 invested by the government.
  • Mr Johnson also announced a new £500 million ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’ (SPF) that, he says, will be made available in time to replace ‘overly bureaucratic’ European Social Funding (ESF) as it tapers off if/when the UK leaves the EU in 2020 and to ensure that a similar level of funding continues to be spent on skills. The cash for the fund would come from savings in EU budget contributions and, he said, ‘will be simpler to access and to target at those who need it most’.
  • A new Prison Education Service will be established to oversee education and skills training across all prisons, the aim of which is to double the number of prisoners in employment six weeks after release and to reduce reoffending.

With reference to increased spending on schools, the Conservatives have already announced:

  • £14.5 billion in extra funding, which is actually £7.1 billion if the usual double counting is taken into account. However, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS), this is still enoughto reverse the real-terms cuts made since 2010 and means that secondary schools will receive a minimum of £5,000 per pupil funding per year and each primary school will receive a minimum of £4,000 per pupil per year.
  • Funding for 30 new free schools, creating more than 20,000 new school places.
  • £400 million for a Condition Improvement Fund to help academies, free schools and sixth-form colleges to improve and expand their buildings (subject to being able to demonstrate senior staff pay restraint).
  • An above inflation pay rise for every primary and secondary school teacher with salaries for new teachers increasing by around £6,000 to at least £30,000 by 2022/23.
  • £10 million for national Behaviour Hubs to ‘enable schools which already have an excellent behaviour culture to work closely with other schools to drive improvement’.
  • Ofsted will be retained since, say the Conservatives, their grades are trusted by parents and employers.
  • A continuation of the current £200 million grammar school expansion fund, but no new grammar schools will be built.

On 24 November, the Conservatives launched their general election manifesto. In addition to the measures outlined above, the manifesto includes proposals for:

  • A £3 billion (£600 million a year for 5 years) ‘National Skills Fund’. The manifesto says that this funding is in addition to existing skills and training programmes funding pledges, including apprenticeships
  • ‘Taking a further look’ at how the working of the apprenticeship levy could be improved.
  • ‘Considering carefully’ the Auger Review recommendations on tuition fee levels, and the balance of funding between universities, further education, apprenticeships and adult learning.
  • Providing funding for 50,000 additional nurses along with more training places and the restoration of bursaries of up to £8,000 per year for trainee nurses (although the requirement for trainee nurses to obtain a degree and to pay tuition fees is being retained).
  • Strengthening academic freedom and freedom of speech in universities.
  • Exploring ways to tackle the problem of degree grade inflation and low quality HE courses, and to improve the application and offer system, particularly in view of the growth in unconditional offers.
  • ‘Looking at’ at the interest rates charged on student loan repayments with a view to reducing the burden of debt on students.
  • Introducing a new student visa system to help universities attract talented young people from across the world and to allow those students to stay and to apply for work in the UK after they graduate.
  • Providing £5 billion to roll out broadband across the whole country by 2025.
  • A £1 billion boost to childcare to increase the availability of after school and holiday childcare in England. The funding will be made up of £250 million capital funding in the first year with a further £250 million for revenue funding for 3 years. The funding will go to schools and childcare providers with the aim of enabling 250,000 more primary school children to get onsite childcare over the summer holiday.
  • Expanding ‘alternative provision’ schools for children who have been excluded and for children with complex special educational needs.
  • Introducing an ‘arts premium’ to fund secondary schools to provide enrichment activities for all pupils, including music, drama and sports.

A copy of the 2019 Conservative general election manifesto can be found at:
https://assets-global.website-files.com/5da42e2cae7ebd3f8bde353c/5dda924905da587992a064ba_Conservative%202019%20Manifesto.pdf

And a copy of the costing document that accompanies the manifesto proposals can be found at:
https://assets-global.website-files.com/5da42e2cae7ebd3f8bde353c/5ddaa257967a3b50273283c4_Conservative%202019%20Costings.pdf

THE LABOUR PARTY

On 12 November, the Shadow Education Secretary for England, Angela Raynor, and the Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, both made speeches outlining Labour’s proposals for a National Education Service for England. With specific reference to post-16 education (including both FE and HE) these proposals include the following:

  • Reversing the fragmentation and privatisation of further and adult education, and incorporating them into a single national system of regulation ‘that functions for education as the NHS does for healthcare’.
  • Ensuring fairness by aligning 16-18 student funding in FE with that of Key Stage 4 funding in schools.
  • Placing vocational education on a par with academic education (including at degree level).
  • Reintroducing Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) for students aged 16-18.
  • Scrapping Advanced Learner Loans to enable adults aged 19+ without an A-Level or equivalent Level 3 qualification to attend a college and study for these qualifications at no cost to them.
  • Abolishing HE tuition fees. Every adult will be given a free entitlement to six years of study for qualifications at Levels 4-6 (covering undergraduate degrees and qualifications such as Higher National Certificates and Diplomas (HNC/Ds) and professional qualifications such as those for accounting technicians. Interestingly, this proposal means all existing graduates will be given the option of studying for a second degree at zero cost to them. No mention was made of scrapping fees for Level 7 and above post-graduate programmes.
  • ‘Looking at’ writing off all existing student debt.
  • Restoring funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses.
  • Giving everyone access to the information they need to return to study through a National Careers Advice Service.
  • Providing maintenance grants for low income adult learners to help them complete their courses.
  • Reintroducing bursaries for those training to be nurses and midwives.
  • Restoring and expanding the Union Learning Fund, giving workers the right to paid time off for education and training and introducing additional training entitlements for workers in industries that are significantly affected by industrial transition.
  • Further devolving funding and decision-making powers on education and skills to local authorities.
  • Giving employers a greater role in designing qualifications.
  • Abolishing Ofsted and replacing it with a new regulatory system that reflects more local accountability.
  • Retaining and extending free movement of workers and students (and their families) from EU countries if/when Brexit happens.

No specific mention was made in the manifesto of returning FE and sixth form colleges to local authority control, although governor representation could change to include elected representatives. On 18 November, Jeremy Corbyn said that a future Labour government would also:

  • Create 80,000 new climate apprenticeships each year to ‘help the UK transition towards a green economy’. Employers will be expected to allocate 25% of the funds in their Apprenticeship Levy accounts to training Climate Apprentices.
  • Provide ‘targeted bursaries’ to women, black and minority ethnic (BAME) people, care leavers, ex-armed forces personnel, and people with disabilities to encourage them to take up the new climate apprenticeships.
  • Introduce further apprenticeship reforms, including allowing levy funds to be spent on a wider range of accredited training, extending the time allowed for employers to spend their levy allocation and a doubling of the amount of money (to 50%) that larger levy-paying businesses will allowed to transfer to non-levy paying small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).
  • Deliver a total 320,000 apprenticeships in England during its first term of government, increasing to 886,000 apprenticeships by 2030.
  • Provide free broadband across the whole country.
  • Abolish zero hours contracts.
  • Introduce a 4-day (32-hour) working week for all workers.
  • Introduce a £10 per hour living wage.

Much of the above is now contained in the Labour Party’s 2019 Election Manifesto which was published on 21 November. Labour’s proposals in their manifesto also include:

  • Reversing cuts to Sure Start by creating a new service, Sure Start Plus available in all communities.
  • Extending paid maternity leave to 12 months.
  • Providing an entitlement to 30 hours of free childcare for all 2, 3 and 4 year olds that accommodates the working patterns of parents.
  • Recruiting 150,000 additional early years staff.
  • Reintroducing a national pay scale for teachers (FE is not mentioned).
  • Ensuring all primary school children will be taught in classes of fewer than 30.
  • Providing free school meals for every child in primary school and for all children at secondary school who need them, including breakfast and after school clubs, and helping parents/carers with meeting the cost of school uniforms.
  • Ensuring pupils are taught by a qualified teacher and that every school is open for a full 5 days a week.
  • Providing funding for more non-contact time for teachers to help them prepare and plan lessons.
  • Scrapping Key Stage 1 and 2 SATs and re-focusing assessment on pupil progress.
  • Introducing an Arts Pupil Premium to ensure that every child is given the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument, and to participate in drama and dance.
  • Reviewing the curriculum to ensure that it enriches students and covers subjects such as Black History, the Holocaust and climate change.
  • Introducing a new teacher supply service to stop funds going to private supply teacher agencies.
  • Ending compulsory contract tendering so that outsourcing of other education services and provision to private for-profit firms is, as far as possible, abolished.
  • Abolishing academies and free schools and bringing existing ones will into local authority control.
  • Giving local authorities overall responsibility for the education for all young people, including the management of admissions and the power to open new schools where necessary. Day-to-day decisions, including those involving finance, will be retained by schools, but will be overseen governing bodies which include elected representatives.
  • Imposing VAT on private school fees.
  • Ending ‘off-rolling’ and removing the incentives for schools to let pupils fall out of the system, by making schools directly accountable for the outcomes of pupils who leave their rolls.

No specific mention is made in the manifesto of the recent party conference resolution to bring private schools and their assets into state ownership. A copy of the Labour Party 2019 General Election Manifesto can be found at:
https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Real-Change-Labour-Manifesto-2019.pdf

And a copy of the accompanying ‘Grey Book’ which sets out manifesto costings can be found at:
https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Funding-Real-Change.pdf

On 27 November the Labour Party announced another pledge that will impact on women teachers (and women in general) who were born in the 1950s and who expected to be able to retire at age 60. These women lost out when the eligible age for retirement was unilaterally raised to 65 by 2018, 66 by 2020 and 67 by 2028. It is estimated that some 3.7 million women have been affected by the change and Labour has promised to restore their pension entitlements at an estimated cost of £57 billion. This cost of this additional commitment is not covered in the Grey Book.

THE LIBERAL DEMOCRAT PARTY

The party has proposed that a £10,000 ‘skills wallet’ will be made available to every adult to enable them re-engage in education and training over a 30-year period, with £4,000 being made available when a person reaches the age of 25, followed by further payments of £3,000 at age 40 and £3,000 at age 55. Individuals, their employers and local authorities will be able to make additional payments into wallets, which would (other than for local authorities) be eligible for tax relief. Individuals would be free to choose how and when to spend this money on a range of education and training courses, but to prevent fraud these courses would need to be offered by regulated providers and be monitored by the Office for Students (OfS). This latter requirement has led to concerns that the focus of the scheme will be biased towards HE courses rather than FE courses at Levels 2-4, which are regarded as being particularly important in respect of meeting national productivity and social mobility challenges. In their 2019 General Election Manifesto, the Liberal Democrats also say that they will:

  • Reverse the damage to universities and colleges posed by Brexit by stopping Brexit.
  • Invest an extra £1 billion in FE funding by refunding colleges for the VAT they pay.
  • Expand the apprenticeship levy into a wider ‘skills and training levy’ with 25% of the funds raised by the levy going into a new social mobility fund targeted at areas with the greatest skill needs.
  • Reinstate maintenance grants (EMAs) for the poorest students.
  • Help children from poorer families to remain in education and training beyond the age of 16 by introducing a ‘Young People’s Premium’, based on the same eligibility criteria as the Pupil Premium.
  • Require universities and colleges to make mental health services accessible to their students, and to introduce a Student Mental Health Charter.
  • Establish a review of HE finance in the light of evidence of the impact of the existing system on access, participation and quality (although tuition fees at some level will be retained).
  • Prevent the retrospective raising of interest rates and the sale of student loans to private companies.
  • Raise standards in universities by strengthening the legal powers of the OfS.
  • Ensure that all universities work to widen the participation of disadvantaged and under-represented groups, and require every university to be transparent about their selection criteria.
  • Reverse school spending cuts with an emergency cash injection of £4.6 billion in 2020/21. This would rise to £10.6 billion by 2024/25.
  • Recruit 20,000 more teachers.
  • Increase teacher starting salaries to £30,000 and guarantee a pay rise of at least 3% a year over a five-year period.
  • Introduce an entitlement to high-quality professional development for all teachers, rising in stages to 50 hours per year by 2025. Extra training will be given to teachers who are required to teach subjects at secondary level where they themselves do not have a post A-Level qualification.
  • Spend £7 billion on improving school buildings over the next five years.
  • Replace Ofsted with a new HM Inspectorate of Schools. Inspections would take place every three years and would consider a broader range of factors, including the social and emotional development of pupils and the wellbeing of staff. Independent schools would be subject to the same inspection regime as state schools.
  • Provide free access to careers guidance.
  • Provide 35 hours per week of free childcare from the period after statutory maternity/paternity leave (when a child is 9 months old) until a child begins school.
  • Provide free school meals for every primary school child, and for secondary school children whose families receive universal credit.
  • Triple the early years pupil premium for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Tackle bullying in schools, including bullying on the basis of gender, sexuality and gender identity.
  • Require schools to have inclusive school uniform policies that are gender-neutral.
  • Challenge gender stereotyping and early sexualisation, working with schools to promote positive body image and break down outdated perceptions of gender appropriateness of particular subjects.

The Liberal Democrats say that they will fund this in part from a £50 billion ‘remain bonus’ from staying in the EU. A copy of the Liberal Democrat 2019 General Election Manifesto can be found at:
https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/57307/attachments/original/1574251172/Stop_Brexit_and_Build_a_Brighter_Future.pdf?1574251172

THE BREXIT PARTY

The Brexit Party has not released a manifesto. Instead, they have launched a ‘Contract with the British People’. With reference to education spending the Brexit Party proposes to:

  • Invest more in vocational training and scrap the ‘cumbersome and inefficient’ Apprentice Levy which, they say, currently prevents many small businesses from hiring young apprentices. Instead, the party will develop a simpler system with better tax incentives for all employers to take on apprentices up to degree-level or equivalent.
  • Re-open the nursing and midwifery professions to recruitment without the requirement for a degree.
  • Review the intellectual content of teacher education courses on offer to ensure they provide an intellectually robust preparation for the complex work undertaken by teachers.
  • Ensure that there is more choice of type of school, not less. The party says that the recent investment in academies, free schools and schools set up in partnership with Universities has helped improve learning and results, and that this investment must continue. (Although not specifically saying so, the party is also expected to champion the return of grammar schools).
  • Ensure that young people are provided with a rounded humanistic education in arts, humanities and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, before moving on to work, or more specialised vocational or academic study.
  • Abolish all accrued and future interest on student loans.
  • Critically examine HE funding and loans systems which, the party says, has led to rampant grade inflation, too many poor quality and irrelevant degree courses for students and questionable teaching.
  • Stop and reverse the growth in the number of unconditional offers being made.
  • Examine options for increasing the number of intensive two-year degree programmes.
  • Require universities to protect legal free speech.
  • Review the large number of unelected quangos involved in education and skills and streamline bureaucracy. This, says the party, will free up significant resources to spend on young people.

A copy of the Brexit Party ‘Contract with the British people’ can be found at:
https://www.thebrexitparty.org/contract/

THE GREEN PARTY

With reference to further and higher education, the Green Party says that it will:

  • Revive the FE sector and provide a wider choice of academic and vocational learning.
  • Raise the funding rate for 16-17-year-olds, followed by an annual rise in line with inflation.
  • Introduce a capital expansion fund for sixth form providers.
  • Introduce practical and skills training from age 14.
  • Fully fund every HE student, scrap undergraduate tuition fees and write off existing loan debts.
  • Increase funding for adult education and create a range of new adult education programmes. These programmes will be integrated with ‘Green New Deal’ training projects.

With reference to schools, the Green Party says that it will:

  • Increase funding for schools by at least £4 billion per year.
  • Reduce class sizes to under 20.
  • Replace OFSTED with a collaborative system of assessing and supporting schools locally.
  • Abolish the centrally imposed national curriculum along with rigid testing regimes and league tables.
  • Modify school structures so that children start school at age 6. Children under the age of 6 will remain in early years education, with a focus on play-based learning and access to nature.
  • Bring academies and free schools back into local authority control.
  • Create a fully inclusive education system, where children with special education needs are able to access their local school and are fully supported in that school. Specialist schools will be retained, for when children would benefit from them, and parents would prefer that option.
  • Support schools to teach young people about the urgency, severity and scientific basis of the climate and environmental crises
  • Introduce a new Nature GCSE.
  • Restore arts and music education in all state schools and make sure all children get at least a half-day equivalent of sports.
  • Remove charitable status from private schools and charge full VAT on fees.

A copy of the 2019 Green Party General Election Manifesto can be found at:
https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/Elections/Green%20Party%20Manifesto%202019.pdf

THE ASSOCIATION OF COLLEGES (AOC) LAUNCHES ITS OWN ELECTION MANIFESTO

Although obviously not a political party, the AoC has produced its own general election manifesto which calls on the next government to:

  • Place colleges at the heart of the national infrastructure.
  • Strengthen institutions and develop the professional workforce.
  • Ensure that no young person is left behind.
  • Give Lifelong learning ‘a new lease of life’.
  • Ensure equal access to education and training.

The AoC manifesto also includes a number of specific proposals. These include:

  • Carrying out a review of the complex and overlapping regulatory and funding regime in which colleges operate and commit to streamlining and simplifying arrangements.
  • Conferring a legally protected title on the word ‘college’.
  • Establishingthree-year funding agreements.
  • Developing a 10-year capital plan and a college workforce strategy, including recruitment incentives.
  • Taking action to ensure that every 16-year-old stays in education or takes up a training place by funding a broad curriculum, including A-Levels, T-Levels, applied general courses and apprenticeships.
  • Increasing the per-student 16-18 funding rate to £5,000 and funding 18-year-olds in further education at the same level as younger 16 and 17 year-olds.
  • Introducing post-16 premium funding to help close attainment gaps.
  • Developing a new approach to improving English and mathematics for 16-18-year-olds.
  • Doubling the adult education budget by 2025.
  • Doubling the number of apprentices taking programmes at advanced and higher levels.
  • Ensuring that the programmes currently supported by the ESF continue.
  • Introducing maintenance support for adults to study full time to achieve a Level 2 or 3 qualification.
  • Improve the mental health support services for young people and adults.

Unfortunately, the Education Secretary and the Shadow Education Secretary (and the Ofsted Chief Inspector) were denied any exposure to the AoC manifesto, since they were unable to fulfil their earlier commitment to speak at the association’s annual conference on 19 and 20 November. They cited the restrictions placed on them by the upcoming election as the reason for this. However, the three main party leaders somehow managed to overcome these restrictions and find the time to speak at the CBI Conference, which took place at around the same time. Some cynics have suggested that this gives an indication of where FE lies on the list of political priorities. A copy of the AoC manifesto can be found at:
https://www.aoc.co.uk/manifesto-2019

THE HIGHER EDUCATION POLICY INSTITUTE (HEPI) ISSUES AN ELECTION BRIEFING

HEPI has issued a 2019 election briefing which, it says, identifies the issues for HE that the next government will need to address. These issues include:

  • The issues that matter to student voters, including perceptions of value for money.
  • The future of student funding in England and the knock-on effects of any changes for the rest of the UK.
  • The increase in participation among young full-time students and the decline among older part-time students, along with the expected growth in demand for higher education to 2030 and proposals to rejuvenate adult learning.
  • Trends in research spending, unanswered questions about funding for research post-Brexit.
  • The significant cross-subsidies from international student fees.
  • The reliance of UK HE institutions on cross-border flows of students and staff, and the potential impact on universities of factors, such as the impact on the flow of students from EU countries if/when Brexit happens and any future geo-political changes to the UK/China relationship.

In the introduction to the briefing, Nick Hillman, the Director of HEPI says, ‘Every election matters for HE institutions but this one matters more than most. The main political parties are offering radically different proposals on student fees, loans and grants for English students, and they will all have significant consequences for HE throughout the UK. However, some cynics say that HEPI’s real concern is that the exponential increases in tuition fee income generated by universities from unrestricted HE recruitment is at risk of coming to an end. A copy of the HEPI 2019 Election Briefing can be found at:
https://www.hepi.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/2019-ELECTION-BRIEFING.pdf

Other news this month

ESFA ANNOUNCES FUNDING INCREASES FOR ‘EXPENSIVE BUT CRUCIAL’ SUBJECTS

On 4 November, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) issued a circular announcing a funding increase to help deliver expensive but crucial subjects for 16-18 year-old students. These subjects include Science, Engineering, Manufacturing Technologies, Transportation Operations and Maintenance, Building and Construction and Hospitality and Catering. The per student unweighted base rate for these courses will increase by 4.7% from £4,000 to £4,188, and the funding for some of these courses will rise by up to a further 10% through changes to Programme Cost Weightings (PCWs). The circular can be found at:
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/16-to-19-funding-programme-cost-weighting-changes?utm_source=d0372585-3d0b-4cca-a636-41e67d2c44a0&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate

The ESFA has also issued guidance on the introduction of a £400 High Value Courses Premium (HVCP) each year for students aged 16-19 on Level 3 study programmes, which include at least 2 A-Levels or an equivalent qualification of 360 guided learning hours (GLH) or more, included on the ESFA’s list of qualifying qualifications. The guidance on HVCPs can be found at:
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/16-to-19-funding-high-value-courses-premium

The aim of both of these measures is to increase the number of students on courses that are of particular relevance to skills shortages and delivering the current government’s Industrial Strategy, a copy of which can be found at:
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/664563/industrial-strategy-white-paper-web-ready-version.pdf

ESFA WILL CEASE FUNDING ANY NEW QUALIFICATIONS AT LEVEL 3 AND BELOW FROM SEPTEMBER 2020

In July, the ESFA confirmed that more than 160 duplicate qualifications at Level 3 and below (including 76 BTECs) would have their funding removed with effect from August 2020. Following on from this, the ESFA has now announced that it is imposing a moratorium on approving funding for any new qualifications at Level 3 or below with effect from September 2020. The decision to impose the moratorium is directly linked to the DfE’s Post-16 Level 3 and below Review of Vocational Qualifications, many of which are alleged to be, or have been, of poor quality and confusing both to employers and to young people. A spokesperson for the ESFA said that the funding moratorium was being imposed so as ‘not to add to the already confusing and complicated system of over 12,000 qualifications already available at these levels’. The only exemptions to the moratorium include qualifications that are ‘currently in the process of being reformed, those that have been designed to respond to a particular economic need and those which have already been approved for 2020/21’. Further information is available at:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/qualifications-getting-approval-for-funding/moratorium-on-approving-qualifications-for-funding-post-16-technical-guidance

OFSTED LAUNCHES RESEARCH INTO SUBCONTRACTING

After increasing levels of concern about the potential for abuse and fraud, Ofsted has announced that it will be carrying out research into subcontracting. The aim of the research, says Ofsted, is to ‘learn more about the impact that a contract between a main provider and subcontractor can have on the learning experience’ and ‘to inform how Ofsted inspects those main providers that use subcontracted provision’. The research will involve pre-arranged visits to a sample of subcontractors that have contracts with providers who have recently been inspected and will be looking at such things as whether the charging of excessive management fees by the main provider (amounting to around £650 million of public funding last year) is having a detrimental impact on learners’ education. Ofsted’s announcement comes close after the ESFA’s announcement that it was introducing new requirements for subcontracting. These requirements include:

  • The main provider supplying the ESFA with an individually itemised list of specific costs incurred by the main provider in respect of managing their subcontractors.
  • A description of how each of these costs contribute to the delivery of high-quality training.
  • A justification and explanation in respect of why each specific cost is reasonable and proportionate to delivery of the subcontracted provision.

To reinforce the gravity of this, Eileen Milner, the Chief Executive of the ESFA, sent a letter to college principals and chairs and CEOs of independent training providers (ITPs) warning them that strong action would be taken against any organisation that abuses its subcontracting arrangements. The letter also says that the DfE intends to conduct a further review of subcontracting covering such issues as placing limits on the geographical distance between the location of a main provider and the location where the subcontracted provision is being delivered, specifying the expectations of an organisation’s external auditors in respect of auditing subcontracting arrangements and capping the total value of subcontracted provision as a proportion of the main provider’s total ESFA contract. Further information can be found at:
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/research-into-further-education-subcontracting-launched?utm_source=c1f398f4-caa5-4855-a191-672bc337b681&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate

And a copy of Ms Milner’s letter can be found at:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/letter-to-all-esfa-post-16-funded-providers-on-subcontracting-delivery/eileen-milners-letter-to-subcontractors

CAMPUS-LEVEL OFSTED GRADES FOR COLLEGE GROUPS COULD BE INTRODUCED – SUBJECT TO FUNDING

Very large colleges often have campuses which are at a considerable geographical distance from each other. (One college group has centres that are 300 miles apart). This makes it difficult for Ofsted to produce a single inspection report for the whole group. To address this problem, it was proposed that campus-level grading should be introduced, but at the time this was ruled out by Ofsted because of the lack of robust performance data at individual campus level and the potential legal implications arising from a campus within a college group not a being separate legal entity. Ofsted has become increasingly concerned that the problem of group inspections is becoming greater as more colleges merge following area review recommendations. However, although the availability of data is no longer be a barrier to campus-based grading, the availability of the extra resources needed to carry out such gradings is. By way of precedent, he DfE did provide additional funds for Ofsted to carry out inspections following the recent surge in the numbers of new apprenticeship training providers. Ofsted says that if the DfE were to provide the additional funding needed, campus-based inspections could commence as early as next September. 

OFQUAL TO INVESTIGATE RISE IN NUMBERS GIVEN EXTRA TIME TO COMPLETE GCSE AND A‑LEVEL EXAMINATIONS

A recent article in the Sunday Times claims that this summer around one in five pupils and students (19.4%) were given an average of around 25% extra time to complete their GCSE and A level examinations. The article goes on to say that the increase is part of an upwards trend (in 2018 the figure was 9.2%). The breakdown of the numbers of pupils and students given extra time this summer by type of institution was: 26% in private schools, 17% in non-selective state schools, 30% in special schools and 23% in FE and sixth form colleges. Following allegations that much of the rise in extra time being given is as a result of middle class parents paying private specialists to diagnose their children as having such things as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and mental health issues to give their children the extra time in the hope of helping them to achieve better grades, Ofqual has announced it intends to carry out an investigation. The Sunday Times article can be found at:
https://apple.news/AjSkSoevYRQGpZiCyao1JKA

STUDY SHOWS THAT STUDENTS GIVEN UNCONDITIONAL UNIVERSITY OFFERS ARE MORE LIKELY TO DROP OUT

The number of HE institutions making unconditional offers to students has been rising rapidly in recent years. In 2018, a record 67,915 unconditional offers were made to 18-year-olds across the whole UK, up 65,930 from the previous five years when just 2,985 unconditional offers were made. The increase has led to concerns that universities are making unconditional offers in order to maximise their recruitment and, in so doing, maximise their tuition fee income. Concerns have also been expressed that young people who have been made unconditional offers might not work as hard to get good grades at A-Level or equivalent, as they may otherwise have done, and that this affects their subsequent performance at university. These concerns seem to be borne out by research conducted by the OfS that analyses 2015/16 and 2016/17 academic years data for 18-year-olds in England at English universities, which shows that of those students who do not continue from their first year into a second year the dropout rate is 10% proportionally higher for students who accept an unconditional offer. The OfS has now warned that the increase in the number of unconditional offers being made by universities is unacceptable and if it continues, those universities engaging in such practices will be subjected to regulatory action. Commenting on this, Education Secretary for England, Gavin Williamson said, ‘I have already expressed my deep concerns about the continuing rise of unconditional offers. But what is equally alarming is that dropout rates for students with unconditional offers are estimated to be 10% higher than if they had a conditional offer. Students are being let down by the universities that are using these offers just to get students through the door’. A copy of the OfS research report can be found at:
https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/data-analysis-of-unconditional-offers-update/

Recent research conducted by the University and Colleges’ Admissions Service (UCAS) suggests that these OfS and ministerial warnings seem to have gone unheeded and that the number of unconditional offers being made continues to rise to record levels. This year almost two in five (38%) 18 year old applicants from across the whole UK received an unconditional offer for a place at university. A copy of the UCAS research report is at:
https://www.ucas.com/file/250931/download?token=R8Nn7uoI

FE HAS THE LARGEST YEAR ON YEAR INCREASE IN PROPORTION OF APPLICANTS ACCEPTED ONTO HE COURSES

Other UCAS data shows that over the past 10 years, FE colleges have seen the largest year on year increase in the proportion of applicants to accepted to HE courses of any other form of post-16 education. In 2018 UCAS received 43,000 applications from students at FE colleges applying for places. Of these, 83.8% were accepted. While this is a lower HE acceptance rate than for academies (87.8%), sixth-form colleges (87.6%), independent schools (87.1%) and other state schools (85.5%), it is higher than that of grammar schools (82.5%) which some might say is interesting, given the selective nature of grammar schools and their focus on the preparation of pupils for university. More detail and analysis of acceptance rates is contained in the 2018 UCAS Undergraduate End of Cycle Report, which can be found at:
https://www.ucas.com/corporate/data-and-analysis/ucas-undergraduate-releases/ucas-undergraduate-analysis-reports/ucas-undergraduate-end-cycle-reports

NEW CHIEF EXECUTIVE FOR THE INSTITUTE FOR APPRENTICESHIPS AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION (IFATE)

Sir Gerry Berragan will be replaced as the Chief Executive of IfATE at the end of this month (November) by Jennifer Coupland. Ms Coupland is currently the Director of Technical and Professional Education at the DfE. She has worked in a senior capacity at the DfE for the last 20 years, where her various duties have included responsibility for the development of traineeships, raising the participation age, careers, NEET policy, apprenticeship reform and the development of T-Levels.

AND FINALLY…

An Ofsted team were discussing the meetings they had held with students during a college inspection and were providing feedback on some of the comments the students had made. These were some of them:

“I asked a student on a two-year apprenticeship programme what year he was in. He said, ‘2019, I think’”.

“An ESOL student said that his teacher had asked him if he could think of a word that began with the letter ‘D’ that described something really hard to do. He said ‘Spelling’. Another student said the teacher had asked him to spell ‘Orange’ but he was unsure if she meant the colour or the fruit”.

“A sports studies student told me he regularly put on a yellow hi-vis jacket and went to his local Tesco to push a line of trolleys around for an hour or so. He said it was a great cardio-vascular workout and only cost him a £1”. Another sports studies student said that she was taking part in a ‘Race for Life’ and was worried she might come second”.

“A beauty therapy student said that although she was over 40 she had never used essential oils. She said it made her wonder how essential they really were. She also said that she recently got into trouble with her tutor for taking a dehumidifier into the college sauna to find out which one would win”.

“I asked an IT student to tell me about his website design project. He said that he was working on a price comparison-comparison website, so that people could compare price comparison websites. His friend said that he had used a comparison website to switch energy providers and it recommended that he switch from Red Bull to Lucozade”.

“A carpentry student told me he had returned to college after a week’s suspension for assaulting another student with a piece of sandpaper. He said it wasn’t an assault, he just wanted to rough him up a bit”.

“An adult apprentice said that he was retraining as a plasterer because he had been dismissed from his previous job as a zoo-keeper. When I asked him why he had lost his job, he said ‘Well, there were signs everywhere saying, ‘Do not feed the animals’ – so I didn’t”.

 “A student said his doctor had asked him to provide a stool sample, so he had enrolled on an adult education course in furniture making. He said the doctor seemed very concerned when he said that it would probably take him a couple of months to produce a stool”.

Alan Birks – November 2019

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