Issue 101 | December 2019

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The general election is now over and, as you will be aware, the Conservatives were returned with a Commons majority of 80 seats. This probably makes it worth revisiting the party’s proposals for spending on education in general, and FE in particular. These proposals only apply to England, since spending on education in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is devolved to the parliaments and assemblies of those countries. Some proposals for increased spending on education in England were announced by the Conservatives prior to the general election being held. These include the following:

  • 16-19 funding is to be increased by £400 million in 2020/21 along with the provision of additional cash to cover increased staff pension costs in colleges.
  • An extra £120 million has been allocated 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.
  • FE colleges are to receive £1.8 billion in capital investment. The funding will be allocated over a 5-year 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.
  • £400 million ‘Condition Improvement Fund’ will be set up to help sixth-form colleges, academies and free schools to improve their buildings (subject to being able to demonstrate senior staff pay restraint).
  • A £500 million ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’ (SPF) will be created to replace European Social Fund (ESF) for skills spending when the UK leaves the EU. The cash for the fund, say the Conservatives, will come from savings in UK contributions to the EU budget.
  • Funding will be made available for a new Prison Education Service to oversee education and skills training across all prisons. The aim is to double the number of prisoners obtaining sustainable employment after their release and to reduce reoffending.

In the run up to the election the Conservatives published their manifesto which contained the party’s proposals for education spending. With reference to spending on schools, the Conservatives said that:

  • £14.5 billion of extra funding will be made available for the schools sector in order to, amongst other things, increase and ‘level up’ per pupil funding across the schools sector.
  • 30 new free schools will be established, creating more than 20,000 new school places.
  • Funding will be provided to pay for an above inflation pay rise for every primary and secondary school teacher. Starting salaries for new teachers will be increased by around £6,000 to at least £30,000 by 2022/23. (As you may have come to expect, this will not apply to teachers in the FE sector).
  • £10 million will be made available for National Behaviour Hubs. These are intended to enable schools ‘which already have an excellent behaviour culture to work with other schools to drive improvement’.
  • Ofsted will be retained since, say the Conservatives, their grades are trusted by parents and employers.
  • The current £200 million grammar school expansion fund will be retained, but no new grammar schools will be built.
  • £1 million will be made available to increase the availability of after school and holiday childcare. The funding will be made available over a 4-year period.
  • Funding will be made available for an extension of ‘alternative provision’ schools for children who have been excluded and for children with complex special educational needs.
  • An ‘arts premium’ will be made available to fund secondary schools to provide enrichment activities for all pupils, including music, drama and sports.

With reference to FE and HE, the Conservatives said that:

  • £3 billion will be made available over the next 5 years to create a National Skills Fund. This money will be in addition to existing skills and training programmes, including apprenticeships
  • The government will ‘take a further look’ at how the apprenticeship levy can be improved.
  • The government will ‘consider carefully’ the Auger Review recommendations on HE tuition fee levels, and the balance of funding between universities, FE, apprenticeships and adult learning.
  • More nurse training places will be created and bursaries of up to £8,000 per year for trainee nurses will be restored (although the requirement for trainee nurses to obtain a degree and to take out loans to enable them pay up to £9,250 a year in tuition fees is being retained).
  • The government will ‘look at’ the problem of degree grade inflation and low quality HE courses and how to improve the application and offer system, particularly in view of the growth in unconditional offers.
  • The government will ‘look at’ the interest rates charged on student loan repayments with a view to reducing the burden of debt on students.
  • A new student visa system will be introduced 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.

A copy of the 2019 Conservative general election manifesto can be found at:

And a copy of the costing document that accompanies the manifesto can be found at:


The Sutton Trust has conducted an analysis of the educational background of MPs in the new House of Commons and has found that it remains largely unchanged compared with 2017. The analysis says that:

  • 29% of MPs went to private schools, compared to 7% of the population as a whole.
  • 54% of MPs attended to a comprehensive state school (up 2% on 2017)
  • Of 155 newly elected MPs, 62% went to comprehensive state schools, 23% went to private schools and 15% were educated at grammar schools.
  • 41% of Conservative MPs and 70% of Labour MPs went to state comprehensive schools.
  • 16% of all MPs attended a grammar school.
  • 41% of Conservative MPs and 14% of Labour MPs attended private schools.
  • Of the 173 MPs who went to private schools, 11 went to Eton (including the Prime Minister who went to a state primary school and won a scholarship to Eton).
  • 21% of MPs went to Oxford or Cambridge and another 33% attended other Russell Group universities.

More information can be found at:


MPs who were involved in FE and HE who lost their seats during the general election campaign included Gordon Marsden, who was Labour’s Shadow Minister for Further and Higher Education in England, Anne Milton, who was a former Conservative Apprenticeships and Skills Minister for England who lost the Conservative whip and campaigned as an independent candidate, and Sam Gyimah, who was Minister for HE in England, who resigned because of his stance on Brexit and then defected to the Liberal Democrats. Amongst those who retained their seats were Angela Raynor, the Shadow Education Secretary for England, and Robert Halfon, the Chair of the House of Commons Education Committee in the last Parliament. Tom Bewick, the Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) was unsuccessful in his attempt to become an MP for the Brexit Party.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson carried out a ‘mini-cabinet reshuffle’ on 16 December. There were no new appointments that affected education, although this may change if there is a further reshuffle in the future. Surprisingly, Nicky Morgan, a former Education Secretary for England who decided not to contest her seat in the general election has been elevated to the House of Lords and has retained her cabinet brief as Culture Secretary for England.


The Department for Education (DfE) has published apprenticeship data for England covering the last academic year (2018/19). The figures show that:

  • 16-18 apprenticeship starts fell by a further 8% (16-18 starts are now 22% lower than five years ago).
  • Apprenticeship starts for those aged over 25 increased by 16% (and now make up 46% of all starts).
  • Apprenticeship starts at Level 2 continue to fall.
  • The number of higher apprenticeship starts (Level 4 and above) continue to rise.
  • Around half of apprentices in 2018/19 were working for their employer before starting their apprenticeships. 41% had worked for their employer for 12 months or more and 60% of all higher level apprentices were already employees prior to starting their apprenticeships.
  • The 2015 Conservative manifesto pledge to achieve 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020 is likely to be missed by around 800,000.

The latest DfE apprenticeship data can be found at:


DfE data for FE and Skills in the 2018/19 academic year shows that the number of adults participating in learning in England continues to contract. The data shows that:

  • The number of adult learners participating in all government-funded FE fell by 5% (from 2,179,100 in 2017/18 down to 2,068,200 in 2018/19).
  • The number of adults participating in community based learning fell by 3% (from 504,500 in 2017/18 to 490,300 in 2018/19).
  • The number of adult learners participating in government-funded English and mathematics courses fell by 14% (from 664,200 in 2017/18 to 573,500 in 2018/19).
  • The number of adult learners achieving qualifications in English and mathematics fell by 13% (from 418,500 in 2017/18 to 363,800 in 2018/19).

Further information on adult participation in education and training and the performance of the wider FE sector in the 2018/19 academic year can be found at:

Data tables showing all FE participation and achievements in England in 2018/9 are available at:


Research commissioned by ‘National Numeracy’ (a national charity set up ‘to help adults learn the maths they need for everyday life’) and published in a report entitled ‘Building a numerate nation: confidence, belief and skills’, shows that:

  • Around a quarter of adults have numeracy levels which are at half of the level expected of a child at the end of their primary education.
  • Both business leaders and politicians have significantly undervalued the cost of poor numeracy to the UK economy. Businesses estimate that their employees’ poor numeracy costs them around £7 million per week, whereas the report says that the actual cost is estimated to be closer £388 million per week.
  • Over 90% of both business leaders and MPs agreed that there needs to be a renewed focus on adult numeracy from government and employers.
  • Confidence with numbers was the dominant factor linked to an adult’s numeracy score.
  • Having the belief that you can improve your skills was found to be the biggest indicator that your numeracy score would improve.

More information about ‘National Numeracy’ can be found at:

And a copy of the report can be found at:


Ofsted has published a report on inspection outcomes in the FE and Skills sector in England for the 2018/19 academic year. Included in the main findings of the report are the following:

  • The proportion of general FE (GFE) colleges judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ continued to increase.
  • The proportion of providers receiving an inspection or monitoring visit increased from 65% to 79%.
  • 465 providers were inspected or had a new provider monitoring visit for the first time.
  • 22% of providers that had received a new apprenticeship provider monitoring visit were judged to have made ‘inadequate progress’ in at least one area.

A copy of the report along with further findings, information and analysis can be found at:


Ofsted has published details of the areas that Ofsted inspectors focus their attention on when inspecting 16-19 provision. These areas include:

  • Value-added attainment by qualification type
  • Value-added attainment for all learners and for disadvantaged learners
  • Value-added attainment by prior attainment
  • Value-added attainment by subject
  • Progress scores in English or mathematics for all learners
  • Progress scores in English or mathematics by prior attainment
  • Completion and attainment at Level 2 and Level 3
  • Completion and attainment at Level 2 and Level 3 by prior attainment
  • Learners retained for a second year.

More information on this can be found at:


The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has produced a follow-up on its previous study entitled ‘T-Levels: How are providers preparing for delivery?’. The report update, which is based on discussions with providers and sector representatives held in October, says that despite national and local marketing support, there is still ‘significant work’ to do to raise the awareness and understanding of T-Levels with students, their parents and employers. The report also says that other challenges that have emerged alongside raising awareness, include uncertainty around progression routes, drawing particular attention to the fact that the majority of universities in the elite Russell Group have yet to decide whether they will accept students who have the qualification and onto what courses. The follow-up report recommends that policy makers should provide more information on T-Levels to pupils at a much younger age, and in particular before they make their GCSE choices. A copy of the NFER follow-up report (published in November) is at:

And a copy of the original report (published in June) can be found at:


The government has already provided £170 million for the establishment of Institutes of Technology (IoTs). These are flagship projects intended to provide business and industry with high quality courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at Level 4 and 5. These courses are intended to be delivered through partnerships between FE, HE and employers. However, despite government claims that 12 IoTs have opened, only 4 are actually up and running and these are only partially operational. They are also based in existing college and university buildings rather than in new build bespoke facilities. A further 5 IoTs say that they expect to become operational sometime next year and 3 more say that they expect to open in 2021. Apparently unfazed by these delays, the government has announced that it intends to allocate a further £120 million to increase the number of IoTs from 12 to 20. This, the government says, is in order to ensure that all English cities will have access to at least one IoT.


Leaving the Trades Description Act aside for a moment, most education practitioners now understand that University Technical Colleges (UTCs) are neither universities nor technical colleges and that they are in fact 14-19 schools offering a limited number of vocational options alongside a normal school curriculum. A number of UTCs have closed in recent years because of insufficient demand from pupils for places, and/or poor Ofsted grades, with one ex-government minister suggesting that the whole UTC project should be abandoned. Despite this, some 5 years after the last application to set up a UTC was made, applications to set up 3 new UTCs have been lodged with the DfE. Unlike earlier applications, these new applications include a proposal that pupil recruitment starts at age 11 rather than 14. The Baker Dearing Trust, which owns the licence to the UTC brand, has welcomed the proposals and has signalled that it is amenable to existing UTCs also amending the age at which they recruit pupils from 14 to 11. Some cynics have suggested that this is a last ditch attempt to boost UTC pupil numbers. More information on UTCs is at:


FE teachers and trainers who are members of the Society for Education and Training (SET), the membership body for professionals working across the FE sector, have until 17 January to register to join the next cohort undertaking the training needed to acquire Qualified Teacher Learning Skills (QTLS) status. SET is part the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) and is the only organisation that can confer QTLS status which, says SET is underpinned by its own ‘Professional Standards for Teachers and Trainers’. 22,000 FE practitioners already hold QTLS status and SET is expecting to see a further increase in the

numbers taking the qualification in January. QTLS is intended for:

  • Teachers, trainers and professionals working in the Further Education, Training and Skills sectors.
  • Qualified teaching staff working with pupils/students aged 14+ in a school or sixth form college.

Holding QTLS status also meets the requirements for a teacher/trainer to undertake the process for achieving ‘Advanced Teacher Status (ATS)’. Details on how to register for a QTLS programme can be found at:

More information on SET’s professional standards can be found at:

Further information on ATS can be found at:

And more information about the ETF can be found at:


Recently published DfE data reveals that, based on its own targets, the government has failed to recruit enough trainee teachers for the 7th year running with only 85% of the required number secondary teachers having started training in September. (The target for recruiting primary trainee teachers was also missed). The data also shows that only half the number of trainee physics teachers needed and only two thirds of trainee teachers needed in maths, modern foreign languages and chemistry were recruited. At the same time, DfE data shows that pupil numbers in state-funded secondary schools in England have risen by almost 150,000 since 2014. Secondary pupil numbers are expected to rise by a further 350,000 over the next five years. The DfE acknowledges that its targets may underestimate the actual number teachers needed in the coming years, particularly since one third of new recruits leave the profession within five years of entering. The DfE data can be found at:


The University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has published its end of cycle report for 2019. Amongst other things, the report shows that in 2019 around half (49%) of applicants were accepted on to degree courses by universities with examination grades that were below the requirements advertised by the university. Presumably in an attempt to explain this high figure, a spokesperson for UCAS said that 60% of those accepted on to courses with grades below the advertised requirements came from disadvantaged backgrounds. The UCAS data also shows that in 2019:

  • A record 541,240 students were accepted on to undergraduate courses.
  • A record 74% of applicants obtained a place at their first-choice university.
  • A record 98% of applicants received an offer of a place through the main UCAS scheme.
  • 73,320 applicants found places through clearing, up nearly 10% compared with 2018.
  • There was an almost 20% increase in accepted students declared a mental health condition.
  • 58% of UK 18 year olds applied with only A levels.
  • 43% of accepted applicants had a negative difference of three of more A level points between their predicted and achieved grades, an increase from 38% in 2018.

In addition to the above, the UCAS report also says that 38% of 18 year old applicants from England, Northern Ireland, and Wales received an offer with an unconditional component. In 2019, 64,825 students (25% of this group of applicants) received at least one of these offers, which are initially made by the

university as conditional, then updated to unconditional if the offer is accepted as the student’s first choice (known as a ‘conditional unconditional offer). This is an increase from 53,355 students in 2018, which represented just over a fifth (21%) of the group. However, as in previous years, the report says that

applicants with an unconditional offer are more likely to miss their predicted grades. In addition, 43% of applicants holding a conditional offer missed their predicted A level attainment by three or more points, compared to 57% of applicants holding an unconditional offer. Detailed analysis can be found at:


The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data for 2017 shows that 92,950 students were enrolled on a nursing degree course, with a further 14,645 students studying midwifery and other professional health related courses. Prior to September 2017, those studying on these courses had their tuition fees payed by the NHS and also received bursaries while they were training. However, from September 2017 these trainees were required to pay their own tuition fees by taking out student loans. In that year fees were £9,000 per year but they subsequently increased to £9,250. Also in September 2017, bursaries were abolished and trainees were required to apply for maintenance loans. It is estimated that the trainee nurses, midwives and health professionals who commenced their courses in 2017 will have paid out (and incurred debts of) almost £1 billion in tuition fees loans by the time they graduate in 2020. To this sum will be added the debts they have incurred from any maintenance loans they may have taken out. Many will have incurred almost £60,000 of debt for the privilege of working in the NHS. The 2017/18 HESA data is at:


In an interesting article published in the online journal ‘Unherd’, writer and political blogger Mary Harrington examines a 2017 report produced by Universities UK which says that the (mostly borrowed) money that students spend on tuition fees and subsistence, means that the HE sector now generates around £95 billion each year for the UK economy. This sum, says Ms Harrington, is more than that generated by the entire legal, advertising and marketing, and aircraft manufacturing sectors combined. However, she goes on to argue that the main beneficiaries of this have not been the students taking HE courses. Instead, it has been the accelerated regeneration of the post-industrial regions in which many universities are located. She gives as an example of this the University of Liverpool which, she says, in 2015/16, contributed £652 million to the Liverpool City Region economy and supported around 11,000 jobs within it. And the University of Liverpool is only one of 5 institutions offering HE courses in the Liverpool City Region. Ms Harrington goes on to argue that whole industries (cafes, restaurants, entertainment, retailing, housing rentals, etc) in the areas universities are located in are benefitting, but that ‘a conflict of interest lurks beneath this picture’. The growth in the expenditure of universities and their students in an area is funded through the massive amount of personal debt students are having to incur to pay for their tuition and subsistence. This means that it is students, rather than the government, that is paying for much of the regional regeneration being witnessed, a situation made worse by the fact that, for many students, the degrees they have obtained have not been particularly effective in helping them get a good job. Ms Harrington’s article can be found at:[0]=18743&tl_period_type=3


PISA (Programme For International Student Assessment) tests in reading, mathematics and science are currently taken by 15-year-olds in 79 countries and regions. Participation in the tests is voluntary but an increasing number of countries are taking part, wanting to see how their pupils compare by international standards. The rankings are based on samples of pupils in each country, with about 600,000 pupils having taken the PISA tests in the latest round (2018). The UK’s figures are based on a sample of about 14,000 pupils taking tests in almost 460 schools, and the results show that the UK has improved its position in the international league tables compare with results in the previous test. The 2018 results show that:

  • In reading, the UK is ranked 14th, up from 22nd
  • In science, the UK is also ranked 14th, up from 15th
  • In mathematics, the UK is 18th up from 27th

An analysis of the UK’s 2018 PISA performance by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), says that the UK’s mathematics results represent a particular improvement, but it also says there has been no significant change for science, with scores remaining broadly similar in all PISA tests taken since 2006. This year’s science score has actually shown a slight fall, but because other countries’ results have slipped by more, the UK has climbed upwards in the rankings. Asian school systems such as those in China and Singapore are still achieving the best results, with Estonia and Finland amongst the highest achieving European countries. China is top for all subjects, but its score is calculated using results from just four of its provinces, Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang, albeit with a combined population of about 180 million. However, even the most deprived 10% of pupils in these provinces achieved better results in the tests than the average for the UK. Within the UK’s four devolved education systems, England was the highest achiever in all three subjects. Wales remained the lowest performing for all subjects. Scotland performed better than Northern Ireland at reading and Northern Ireland outperformed Scotland in mathematics and science. In reading tests, Wales scored below the average, while England, Scotland and Northern Ireland were all above average. As well as gathering academic test results, PISA also gathers data on teenagers’ sense of wellbeing. Here, the UK achieved some of the lowest scores of any country for young people’s ‘life satisfaction’. In England, 66% of young people said they were sometimes or always worried compared with a PISA average of 50%. A copy of the PISA report is available at:

And the NFER commentary on the UK’s PISA 2018 test results can be found at:


Research recently published by the Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER) at the London School of Economics (LSE) has revealed that failure to achieve any good passes at GCSE can mean that ‘doors to post-16 courses are often shut’, and that this in turn can ultimately lead to being ‘trapped as an adult at or below the minimum wage, or struggling to get work at all’. While more young people are doing well, there are also many whose achievement at school means they struggle to progress onto any post-16 qualification and this is evidenced by the current 792,000 16-24-year olds in the UK (11.5%) who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). An analysis of 2018’s GCSE results in England by the examinations regulator Ofqual for the BBC shows that in total, 561,180 16-year-olds sat GCSEs, but 70,730 (12.6%) of these failed to get a single good pass at grade 4 or above, while a further 23,210 (4.1%) got at least one grade 4 or above pass, but not in mathematics or English. More information is available at:

And a copy of the CVER report can be found at:


The Sutton Trust has published in a report entitled ‘Making the Grade’, in which it is argued that the new GCSE grading system in England is ‘further disadvantaging the disadvantaged’. The report uses Key Stage 4 data for pupils at state-funded schools, and focuses on the years 2016, 2017 and 2018, which covers the pre and post GCSE reform period. Research findings in the report reveal that under the new GCSE grading system introduced in 2017, grades achieved by disadvantaged pupils fell compared to their peers, by just

over a quarter of a grade across nine subjects. In the report, ‘disadvantaged pupils’ are defined as those ‘eligible for free school meals (FSM) at any point in the six years up to and including the year in which they reached the end of Key Stage 4’. Researchers say that it is at the Grade 5 boundary where most of the negative effect of the reform on disadvantaged pupils occurs and that disadvantaged pupils were 1.63 times less likely to achieve grade 5 or higher following the reform, whereas they were 1.42 times less likely to achieve Grade C or higher beforehand. The researchers go on to say that this divergence matters if Grade 5, rather than Grade 4, becomes the expected standard for progression to post-16 courses, or to meet minimum university matriculation requirements. Researchers also say that whereas 2% of disadvantaged pupils got the top Grade A* under the old A*-G system, just 1% got a Grade 9 under the new numerical system, while for non-disadvantaged pupils, this stood at 8% and 5% respectively. The report concludes that, ‘Our central finding is that the reform has increased the GCSE test score gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils. The change is small, at an average of 0.02 standard deviations per subject, but it is statistically significant’. A copy of the report can be found at:


It was just before Christmas. The children in the college creche were performing a nativity play and the principal had been invited to attend. He enjoyed the children’s performance but was surprised to see that the little ones playing the three wise men were all wearing firefighters’ helmets. Unable to recall anything in the nativity story about firefighters, the principal asked one of the creche staff why this was. ‘Well’, replied the member of staff, ‘I think it’s because it says in the Bible that the three wise men had travelled from a fire’.

After the nativity play was over, the creche children were invited to attend a party that the creche staff had organised for them. The principal had been invited to dress up as Santa Claus and to hand out the children’s presents. Togged out in an ill-fitting red suit and hat, and wearing an unconvincing false white beard, the principal tried to engage the children in conversation as he handed out the presents.

He asked the first child, who was a little girl, if she could name Santa’s reindeers. ‘Yes’, replied the little girl, ‘Rudolph and Olive’. ‘Rudolph and Olive?’ asked the principal quizzically. ‘Yes’, said the child, ‘like in the song’. ‘I don’t think I know that song’, said the principal, ‘could you sing it for me?’, so the little girl sang, ‘Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose. And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows. Olive the other reindeer…’

The second child was a little boy and the principal asked him if he had any brothers and sisters, to which the child answered, ‘Yes, I have three older brothers. The principal then asked him what he would like for Christmas and was a bit fazed when little boy replied, ‘I would like to be an only child’.

The third child was also a little boy and the principal asked him if he knew any Christmas songs. ‘Yes’, said the little boy, ‘my Dad taught me a song about a snowman’. The principal asked him if it was the one that went, ‘We’re walking in the air, we’re floating in the moonlit sky. The people far below are sleeping as we fly’. ‘No’, said the little boy, ‘It’s the one that goes, ‘I made myself a snowman, as perfect as can be. I thought I’d keep it as a pet and let it sleep with me. I made it some pyjamas and a pillow for its head, but the snowman now has vanished after peeing in the bed’ 


We will not be sending Christmas cards this year because we decided to spend the money on vodka instead. So, as an alternative, here is a photograph of the office Christmas tree…

Click Christmas Tree

Alan Birks – December 2019

As usual, the views and opinions expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily those held by Click.
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