Following the announcement of government plans to begin the wider re-opening of schools and colleges in England, we thought we would abandon the Coronavirus briefings and begin to produce the usual monthly Click newsletter, albeit with a heavy Coronavirus content, and complete with the rubbish joke at the end.
SHADOW EDUCATION MINISTERS FOR ENGLAND APPOINTED
In the unlikely event that you may have missed the announcements last month, Sir Keir Starmer the new Labour leader, has made the following shadow ministerial appointments:
- Rebecca Long-Bailey (Shadow Secretary of State for Education)
- Margaret Greenwood (Shadow Schools Minister)
- Emma Hardy (Shadow FE and Universities Minister)
- Toby Perkins (Shadow Minister for Apprenticeships and Life-long Learning)
- Tulip Siddiq (Children and Early Years Minister)
DFE PUBLISHES UPDATED GUIDANCE FOR WIDER COLLEGE REOPENING IN ENGLAND
On 14 May, the Department for Education (DfE) published updated guidance for colleges and other post-16 providers on their wider re-opening to enable them to ‘offer some face-to-face contact for 16 to 19 learners on the first year of two-year programmes and to help them prepare for their examinations next year’. There was no expectation that all students would go back to college, and for those that do, colleges will have the flexibility to decide on the mix of online and face-to-face content. Also, students that do attend will not necessarily attend full-time, with no more than around a quarter of these in at any point. A copy of the latest guidance for colleges can be found at:
Initially, it was expected that colleges would commence their wider opening on 1 June along with primary schools, but on 24 May the Prime Minister unexpectedly announced that colleges in England should not re-open (other than for ongoing provision for vulnerable and other priority students) until 15 June. The government press release on this can be found at:
A spokesperson for the DfE said that the decision to put back the wider re-opening for colleges reflects the fact that students are more likely to have to travel longer distances to college and to use public transport to get there. The new opening date also applies to year 12 students in schools. The DfE says that given the varied nature of colleges it is not possible to provide guidance that will apply to every college because of the variety of courses, the context in which they operate and individual risk assessments, and so the document provides a list of ‘guiding principles’ to help them provide a learning environment that is safe. The DfE says that it accepts there could be financial implications for colleges in following the guidance (e.g. additional costs of transport and modifications to class sizes). In addition to the above, the guidance includes advice that colleges should:
- Establish a Coronavirus Governance and Leadership Group to monitor the impact of measures put in place by the college and to consider issues that require an immediate policy response.
- Conduct risk assessments to understand the number of learners and staff that can safely be included in a learning space and be provided with appropriate protective equipment.
- Consider the support services required (e.g. catering), how they can be safely provided and what other measures are required in addition to those that have already been undertaken (such additional deep cleaning for learning spaces and equipment following use).
- 16-18 year olds due to finish apprenticeship programmes this academic year, but who are unable to do so because their assessments have been deferred can also be included in any college on-site delivery.
The DfE’s latest guidance on implementing protective measures in education settings can be found at:
The DfE has confirmed that it remains the case that schools and colleges will only reopen to more students if the government’s ‘five tests’ are met by 28 May. These are as follows:
- The NHS is able to provide sufficient critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK.
- There is evidence of a sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates from COVID-19.
- SAGE data (see below) shows that the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels.
- Operational challenges, including the provision of an adequate testing capacity and the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), can be met.
- Confidence that any reopening will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS.
General DfE guidance on preparations for reopening schools and colleges can be found at:
An overview of the scientific advice given to schools and colleges by the DfE can be found at:
UNIONS EXPRESS OPPOSITION TO SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES RE-OPENING ON 1 JUNE
Meanwhile, the University and College Union (UCU), the National Education Union (NEU), Unison, Unite and the General, Municipal and Boiler Makers’ Union (GMB) have expressed concerns at the government’s reopening proposals and say that no member of staff or student should return to college unless five safety tests are met. These are as follows:
- The Coronavirus case count must be much lower, with a sustained downward trend. There must also be effective measures in place for testing, contact tracing and isolating those with symptoms.
- There must be a national plan for safe levels of social mixing in all FE settings. All staff and students who can work and study from home must be allowed to continue to do so.
- Comprehensive access to regular routine testing for students and staff must be made available. In addition, protocols must be in place to ensure testing across whole college sites and non-college work-based learning sites whenever a confirmed case of Covid-19 occurs.
- Risk assessments and safe ways of working should be agreed with the relevant staff and unions in advance. These should include regular deep cleaning and stringent hygiene measures. Where PPE is identified as being required, adequate supplies must be secured before reopening.
- Staff and students who are highly vulnerable to the virus must be allowed to work from home.
The unions have now sent a joint letter to heads of schools and colleges warning them that they could be personally exposed to legal action under the four separate pieces of health and safety legislation if they follow the government’s ‘deeply flawed guidance’ to reopen 1 June. A copy of the letter can be found at:
SAGE PUBLISHES EVIDENCE ON SCHOOL OPENING AS ANOTHER SAGE SAYS IT IS NOT SAFE TO OPEN SCHOOLS
This section may cause your eyes to glaze over even more than the rest of this newsletter. On 22 May, the independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), released a report that concluded that schools and colleges in England should not re-open on 1 June because there was no clear evidence that it is safe to do so. The chair and person who formed the independent SAGE is Sir David King, a prominent chemist, climate change activist and outspoken critic of the government’s handling of the Coronavirus crisis. He was also the Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Key points in the report include the following:
- The decision to re-open schools should be taken at a local level and after full public consultation. They should not re-open until effective local systems to test, track, and isolate infections are in place.
- The risk of infection will be halved if re-opening is delayed by two weeks, and a delay until September reduces the risk to below that of being involved in a road traffic accident.
- Children from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) households need special consideration when looking at the impact of re-opening schools on the transmission of the virus.
In delivering the report’s main conclusion Sir David said, ‘It is clear from the evidence we have collected that 1 June is simply too early to go back. By going ahead with this dangerous decision, the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike’. A copy of the independent SAGE report can be accessed at:
And the advisory notes accompanying the report can be found at:
But wait – there is another SAGE which is also independent of government. However, this SAGE has been given the responsibility by the government for providing scientific advice to support the decision making of ministers in the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR) when it is needed. The membership of this SAGE varies and depends on the nature of the emergency, but typically includes experts and specialists from academia and industry, and is usually chaired by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (currently Sir Patrick Vallance). This SAGE has been most recently activated to advise on the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a SAGE sub-group has been formed specifically to consider the case for and against school and college re-opening. The evidence this sub-group provided was also published on 22 May alongside the publication of the other independent SAGE report, giving rise to an initial level of confusion amongst some journalists and politicians. The evidence published by the sub-group includes the following:
- Currently, around 1 in 1,000 people in the UK are being infected with Coronavirus every week.As at 8 May, according to Sage of all those who have died with Covid-19:
- 3 were aged under 15
- 448 were aged 15-44
- 4,160 were aged 45-64
- 6,340 were aged 65-74
- 30,135 were aged over 75
- As long as virus is circulating and there is no immunity, there will inevitably be risk.
- The risk of coronavirus to pupils going back to the classroom is ‘very, very small, but not zero’.
- The risk of re-opening schools will be lowest when the number of cases is low, R is below 1 (where R is the average number of people each infected person passes the virus on to), and there are systems in place (track, trace and isolate) to detect outbreaks and deal with them quickly.
- The role of children in transmission of COVID-19 is unclear. Children typically present with milder symptoms of COVID-19 than adults, but there is a significant lack of evidence on both their susceptibility to the virus and the relative infectivity of children.
- Children in households with BAME members may have greater susceptibility to the virus.
- Teachers are not at above average risk compared with other occupations.
- Additional work is required to redesign shared indoor and outdoor spaces to minimise transmission.
- Staff should move between classrooms, students should not.
- Teachers and parents must perceive that the risk of infection is low.
A paper by the SAGE sub-group on re-opening has also been published. The paper covers modelling and behavioural science techniques applied to 7 different scenarios for relaxing school closures. These are:
- Staying shut.
- Increasing attendance of vulnerable children and key worker children to 11%.
- Years 5, 6, 10 and 12 returning this side of the summer holidays.
- The return of all early years settings.
- All primary re-opening.
- All secondary re-opening.
- A half time rota system based on alternating weeks or fortnights.
- A half time rota system based on alternating half days.
- Full re-opening.
The relative effects of each are on the R is shown in the graph below (source: SAGE)
The government’s current proposal that reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils return to primary schools on June 1, and that year 10 and 12 pupils are given ‘some face to face support’ in secondaries and colleges, was not among those modelled. However, the sub-group said that the choice of scenario was significantly less important than maintaining other ways of controlling Coronavirus, such as social distancing, hand washing and adherence to existing measures elsewhere in the community. The paper can be found at:
More information on the SAGE generally can be found at:
Details of various SAGE meetings at which evidence was discussed can be found at:
The government’s response to the SAGE evidence and modelling can be found at:
NEW STUDY SAYS THAT IN LONDON THOSE AGE 17-29 HAVE THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF CORONAVIRUS INFECTION
The SAGE report tends to focus on safety factors relating to the government’s proposals to re-open schools for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils, but not that much attention seems to have been given to the safety factors relating to the re-opening of colleges. Of relevance here might be a new antibody study conducted by Public Health England (PHE), the results of which was published on 23 May in the Health Service Journal (HSJ). The study revealed that in although Deaths from Covid-19 deaths may be relatively low for this age group, in London, young people aged 17-29 were the most common age group to be infected with Coronavirus. According to the study, between the periods 23-29 March and 6-12 April the proportion of 17-29 year olds in London who were infected with Covid-19 rose from 3% to more than 10%, higher than for any other age group. A copy of the study can be accessed at:
OFQUAL PUBLISHES FINAL DETAILS ON THE METHODOLOGY FOR AWARDING EXAMINATION GRADES THIS SUMMER
On 22 May Ofqual published final details on how examination grades in England should be awarded this summer. The overarching Ofqual announcement on this can be found at:
And links to the key documents included in the announcement are as follows:
Guidance on GCSE’s, AS and A-Levels:
- Guidance for teachers, students, parents and carers: Summer 2020 grades for GCSE, AS and A level, Extended Project Qualification and Advanced Extension Award in maths
- Information for Heads of Centre, Heads of Department and teachers on the submission of Centre assessment grades: Summer 2020 grades for GCSE, AS and A level, Extended Project Qualification and Advanced Extension Award in maths
Guidance on Vocational, Technical and other qualifications:
- Guidance for teachers, students, parents and carers: Summer 2020 results for vocational, technical and other qualifications
- Guidance for Centres – The awarding of vocational and technical qualifications, and other general qualifications, in summer 2020
- Summer 2020 results for vocational, technical and other qualifications
Guidance on achieving objectivity in grading:
- Guidance for Heads of Centre, Heads of Department and teachers on objectivity in grading and ranking
- Letter to students – summer 2020 grading
Additional advice on how to help ensure grading is fair:
- Private candidate policy update
- Update on summer 2020 GCSEs, AS and A level grades for students in year 10 and below and for private candidates
Ofqual has also made two explanatory videos which can be found at:
- Grading in 2020 – information for students
- Update for centres, 22 May 2020: GCSEs, AS, A levels and other qualifications taken for progression
In addition, Ofqual has produced a ‘Summer 2020 qualifications explainer tool’, which can be found at:
And just for good measure, Ofqual has launched a further consultation on whether a full GCSE, AS and A-Level examination series should be held this autumn. The consultation document can be found at:
Consultation on an additional GCSE, AS and A level exam series in autumn 2020
Summarising some of the content from the above guidance documents:
- Teachers can grade qualifications by calculating results, ‘adapting’ assessments or, as a last resort, delaying assessments until colleges reopen.
- Colleges and other providers have 12 days from 1 June to submit their A-Level and GCSE grades and student ranking, and 3 weeks from 1 June to submit their vocational and technical qualification grades. This is to allow time for awarding organisations (AOs) to quality assure the data, check the overall profile of outcomes and raise any queries with centres before results are finalised.
- Grades will be standardised by subject, not by college, This means it is likely that teachers will see different adjustments in different subjects, irrespective of how carefully they have made their judgements.
- Previous centre performance data for up to five years may be taken into account by AOs in making adjustments. This is to enable AOs to analyse whether this year’s grades are more generous or severe than would otherwise have been predicted.
- Colleges are expected to submit grades for private candidates (where they feel they have enough evidence to do so), although these grades will not affect the grades of their own students.
- To comply with the Equality Act 2010, colleges are urged to reflect on, and question, whether they may have displayed any bias or preconceptions about each student’s (or group of students’) performance. This is to help them to avoid making judgements based on pre-existing stereotypes.
- Results day for Level 3 Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VTQs), and A-Levels will be 13 August. Results day for Level 2 VTQs and GCSEs will be 20 August.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) has submitted a claim to the DfE on behalf of AOs asking for £16.3 million in reimbursement for the additional costs incurred by AOs in implementing the new grading arrangements.
PROVIDER QUALIFICATION ACHIEVEMENT RATES FOR 2019/20 WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED
The DfE has announced that 2019/20 qualification achievement rates at individual provider level will not now be published due to the Coronavirus crisis (but they may publish the data at overall national level). The announcement follows an earlier decision that schools and colleges would not be held to account for their examination and other assessment performance this summer. More information can be found at:
ESFA APPOINTS NEW ACTING DIRECTOR OF FURTHER EDUCATION.
Kirsty Evans has been appointed as acting Director of FE, taking over the role from Peter Mucklow, who has assumed the role of ESFA Director of Apprenticeships. Ms Evans was formally the ESFA Associate Director for Adult Funding Operations, In her new role she assumes oversight of the funding and performance management of school sixth forms, FE colleges, sixth form colleges and independent training providers, the Adult Education Budget (AEB), non-levy apprenticeships, European Social Fund (ESF) programmes and provider intervention in respect of ESFA financial, quality or governance concerns.
ESFA LAUNCHES CORONAVIRUS RELIEF SCHEME FOR TRAINING PROVIDERS WITH ESF CONTRACTS
The ESFA has launched a scheme for ESF contract holders to enable them to bid for financial support for income lost in the period to the end of June as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. The scheme will provide payments to contractors in the form of repayable advances ahead of delivery to support their cash flow. To be eligible for the support, providers will need to be able to demonstrate that they:
- Hold an ESF contract with the ESFA that commenced on or after the 1 April 2019.
- Have delivered under their ESF contract during the six-month period ending 31 March 2020 and submitted individualised learner record or supplementary data in respect of this delivery.
- Have planned to deliver education, training, and support under the contract in April, May and June 2020 (when the supplier relief is currently scheduled to end).
- Have a demonstrated need for advance funding to maintain the capacity needed to support learners and/or employers and respond to the economic recovery.
- Unfurlough any furloughed staff to prevent double funding.
More information can be found at:
DFE RELAXES WORK EXPERIENCE REQUIREMENT FOR TRAINEESHIPS
The DFE has announced a relaxation of its requirement for people on traineeship programmes to have completed 100 hours of work experience. This, says the DfE, is because of the difficulties in observing social distancing measures during the current Coronavirus crisis. Instead, providers will be allowed to record the component as being completed if the trainee has completed more than 70 work placement hours and they are satisfied that he/she has gained sufficient work skills. The DfE will also allow providers to extend the traineeship programme duration up to 12 months in cases where the learner has:
- Not completed their basic skills learning aims including employability, mathematics and/or English.
- Completed less than 70 planned work experience hours.
- Been assessed as needing further work placement hours to complete their traineeship.
The flexibility is offered to providers on the basis that the trainee undertakes online learning to complete non-work experience, or study via another distance learning method if online access is unavailable. Providers will also need to demonstrate how they have continued to support trainees to develop their work skills in the absence of a work placement. More information can be found in the ‘Traineeship Flexibilities’ section of the document below:
RESTRICTIONS ON SUBCONTRACTING FAIL TO MATERIALISE IN LATEST ESFA 2020/21 AEB FUNDING RULES
Last year, the ESFA announced its intention to eliminate any subcontracting that was undertaken for purely financial reasons. A consultation was held earlier this year which included the following proposals:
- A cap on the amount of provision a prime contractor can subcontract out equivalent to 25% of a provider’s ESFA income in 2021/22, reducing to 17.5% in 2022/23 and to 10% in 2023/24.
- Where the aggregate value of a subcontractor’s delivery exceeds more than £3 million of ESFA funded provision, the subcontractor would be subject to a direct Ofsted inspection.
- The location where subcontracted provision is delivered should be no more than one hour away by car from the prime contractor’s location.
- Restrictions should be placed on the circumstances whereby the whole of a learner’s programme is allowed to be subcontracted.
- Providers should be required to justify the rationale and state the educational intent for entering into subcontracting arrangements, and governors and boards should have agreed this.
It was widely expected that, following the consultation, the ESFA would radically alter its rules on subcontracting and would start to implement these rule changes from the start of the 2020/21 academic year. However, in the recently published ESFA Adult Education Budget (AEB) funding rules for 2020/21, no mention is made of any of these restrictions on subcontracting, although the ESFA has said that there may be further updates to the funding rules when the extent of the impact of the Coronavirus crisis becomes clearer. A copy of the current ESFA AEB funding rules for 2020/21 can be accessed at:
DFE PUBLISHES LIST OF LEVEL 3 QUALIFICATIONS ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE A ‘HIGH VALUE COURSE PREMIUM’
Last November, the DfE announced that a ‘High Value Courses Premium’ (HVCP) would be added to funding for Level 3 programmes for 16-19 year olds that lead to qualifications in subjects deemed to be crucial to the UK economy, and that lead to higher productivity and wage returns. The proposal involved the payment of a 4.7% premium for courses leading to qualifications in subjects such as engineering, manufacturing technologies, computer science and construction, which would have the effect of increasing the per student unweighted base rate for these courses from £4,000 to £4,188. On 4 May, the DfE published a list of 576 Level 3 qualifications eligible for the HVCP, which can be found at:
NEW REPORT ON FE VIABILITY PUBLISHED
The Edge Foundation has produced a report entitled ‘Our Plan for FE’ which says that between 2003 and 2018 there was a 35% reduction in the total number of FE students in England (from 4.7 million to 3.1 million). The report goes on to say that class sizes have increased and learning hours per student have decreased and that FE providers have been forced to take on more than they have the capacity to handle. The report says that ingrained funding challenges have left colleges unable to recruit the staff they need because they are unable to match the pay offered elsewhere, including in the schools sector where average teachers’ annual pay is now £37,400 compared to £31,600 for an FE lecturer. The report adds that rather than addressing the funding and pay issue, the government’s policy response to difficulties in recruiting FE staff has been to dilute and in some cases revoke regulations relating to lecturers’ required professional qualifications. For example, since 2012/13, there have been no prescribed levels of educational or professional status required to teach in FE. A copy of the report can be found at:
NEW REPORT SAYS THAT YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT COULD RISE BY 600,000 BECAUSE OF THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS
The findings of new research carried out by the Resolution Foundation and published in a report entitled ‘Young workers in the Coronavirus crisis’, says that youth unemployment could rise by 600,000 this year because of the Coronavirus crisis, and that long-term damage will be done to their pay and job prospects. The report also says that 61% of apprentices had lost out on work experience, 17% had their off-the-job learning suspended, around 36% had been furloughed and 8% had been made redundant. The report calls for major new support to help 18- 24-year-olds through the ensuing economic crisis. A copy of the report can be found at:
AELP SURVEY REVEALS A MASSIVE CONTRACTION IN APPRENTICESHIP STARTS
A survey by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has revealed that:
- 60% of employers have stopped all new apprenticeship starts since the pandemic began and 75% of them have stopped at least 80% of the starts normally expected at this time of year.
- A third of apprentices have less than a 1 in 5 chance of completing their programmes in the normal expected timescale while two-thirds have less than a 60% chance of completing.
- 31% of training providers anticipate between a quarter to a half of their apprenticeship business disappearing as a result of the pandemic, while nearly 4 out of 5 (78%) expect to see some decrease.
- Less than 4% of training providers have managed to obtain a Treasury backed Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (CBIL) with another 21% still waiting to hear if their application has been successful. 28% of providers found that they were not eligible for these loans.
More information on the survey is available at:
NEW REPORT CALLS FOR POST-16 FUNDING REFORMS TO BE IMPLEMENTED THIS SEPTEMBER
A report published recently by the NCFE and the Campaign for Learning (which was ‘acquired’ by NCFE last month) says that because of the Coronavirus crisis, the UK economy will be 15% smaller by September, and unemployment could reach 2.75 million. The report goes on to say that the government has rightly prioritised managing the immediate consequences of the crisis, but as things begin to return to a new normal the whole of the FE sector will have a hugely important role to play in helping people to move forward successfully. To help the sector fulfil this role, the report calls on the government to implement funding reforms in the following areas:
FOR 16-18 YEAR OLDS, THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD:
- Create a single, flexible 16-18 education and apprenticeship budget to maximise opportunities for full-time FE and traineeships to offset the loss of jobs and apprenticeships for this age group.
- Reintroduce Education Maintenance Allowances for full-time 16-18 FE students living in disadvantaged households in England (they were never abolished in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).
FOR ADULTS AGED 19+, THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD:
- Enable as many as possible to enter full-time HE (if they achieve the appropriate academic and vocational Level 3 qualifications), and resist any national cap on student numbers.
- Provide fully funded one-year training and retraining courses.
- Fully fund Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships for non-levy payers.
- Introduce wage subsidies of £1,000 for employers recruiting young people age 19-24 onto Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships.
- Extend the entitlement for free first full Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications from up to age 19 to adults of any age .
- Bring forward the £600 million National Skills Fund to promote up-skilling and re-skilling at all levels.
A copy of the report is available at:
ESFA ANNOUNCES THAT FROM 31 JULY THERE WILL BE NO NEW STARTS ON APPRENTICESHIP FRAMEWORKS
In its 20 May update, the ESFA announced that the remaining apprenticeship frameworks will be withdrawn on 31 July and that from 1 August, all new apprenticeship starts are required to be on the new, employer-designed standards. Existing apprentices on frameworks will still be able to complete on the framework, providing they started on or before 31 July 2020. A copy of the update is available at:
ETF LAUNCHES MODULAR CPD RESOURCES FOR SENIOR LEADERS IN THE FE AND ITP SECTORS
On 18 May, the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) launched a new series of online continuous professional development (CPD) modules to support principals and chief executives in the FE and independent training provider (ITP) sectors. The CPD modules have been co-designed with sector leaders and are fully funded by the DfE. They are intended to help provide practical and technical advice on key issues by drawing on the expertise of ‘respected leaders’ both from within the wider FE sector and from other fields such as finance. The modules are broken down into a series of short topics and include videos of sector leaders contributing their insights and discussing real-life examples. The first module to be launched is ‘Financial sustainability’ and the second module, which will be launched later this summer is, ‘Using Data to Drive a Performance Improvement Culture’. Other modules, including ‘Risk Management and Strategy Development’, will be made available in early 2021 and are intended to build on the ETF’s Principals and CEOs’ Programmes delivered in partnership with the Saïd Business School, Oxford University. Details of how to register to gain access to the modules is available at:
And details of other ETF CPD programmes for FE leaders and governors, and ITP CEOs can be found at:
HE STUDENT NUMBER CAPS TO BE RE-IMPOSED BUT A FINANCIAL SUPPORT PACKAGE WILL BE MADE AVAILABLE
Caps on the provision of university places in England were abolished in 2015 and this, along with a trebling of tuition fees financed through unlimited amounts of student loan funding provided by the government, has led to a massive and rapid expansion in HE student numbers. This unbridled growth has been accompanied by increasing levels of concern about what some observers have likened to ‘wild west’ recruitment practices. These concerns have now been added to by worries that the current Coronavirus crisis will lead to a collapse in domestic student numbers and associated tuition fee income (£9,250 per head per year), leaving many universities facing an existential threat to their financial viability. On top of this is the real prospect of a contraction in the number of international student applications (at a loss of around £17,000 per head per year). This is of particular significance because the percentage of international students that make up the domestic HE markets has grown significantly in recent years and many universities are being left financially vulnerable because they rely heavily on higher fees these students pay. (For example, Chinese students now make up almost 1 in 5 of Liverpool University’s total student population).
The government is worried that universities will attempt to fill any financial holes left by this contraction by engaging in even more extreme practices to recruit domestic students, including poaching them away from other universities and colleges. To help prevent this, the DfE has announced the reintroduction of caps on the numbers university places for domestic students in England. The DfE says that the aim of this is to ‘lock down’ the number of home students universities recruit and thereby helping to stop others from recruiting students their expense. Despite opposition from the Russell Group of universities, the government’s proposal to cap recruitment has been backed by the main representative body for universities, Universities UK, although their decision to do so has been ‘sweetened’ by the government’s offer of a package of financial support designed to help alleviate threats to the financial viability of universities at risk. The imposition of caps involve English HE providers recruiting domestic full-time undergraduate students for 2020/21 up to a level based on the forecasts they submitted earlier, plus an additional 5%. The government will ensure these numbers are not exceeded through controls on the student loan finance system. The government will also have further discretion to allocate an additional 10,000 places, with 5,000 ring-fenced for nursing, midwifery or allied health courses to support the country’s vital public services. Other financial support measures in the package include the following:
- £100 million will be brought forward to this academic year to help protect university research activities.
- £2.6 billion of tuition fee payments will be brought forward to help universities avoid cash flow problems.
- HEIs can also apply for funds from the government’s Business Loan Support Scheme, worth at least £700 million, depending on eligibility and take up.
- HEIs will also have access to the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to safeguard staff jobs, on condition that any grant from the scheme should not duplicate other sources of public funding, such as UK home student tuition fees.
It will be interesting to see if student number caps, having once been re-imposed, will lifted again any time soon. Further details of the package of financial support can be found at:
HEI’S THAT DESTABILISE THE HE SECTOR DURING THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS MAY BE FINED UP TO £500,000
The Office for Students (OfS) is consulting on the introduction a new (for one year in the first instance) regulation which would allow it to impose a fine of up to £500,000 on any HEI in England that, in responding to financial pressures caused by the Coronavirus crisis, was found to have acted in a way that undermines students’ interests or that threatens the stability of England’s HE sector. Examples of such actions would include:
- Changing student recruitment practices in order to increase student intake beyond normal levels, for example by convertingexisting conditional offers to unconditional offers, lowering academic or language entry requirements for applicants, offering financial or other incentives for students to accept offers, or engaging in aggressive marketing designed to attract students away from other universities.
- Making misleading statements about other universities in an attempt to discourage students from accepting offers made by them, for example by claiming that other universities are failing to support or provide adequate tuition to their students during the pandemic.
- Acts or omissions that fail to demonstrate a high standard of leadership and governance and which could undermine public trust and confidence in higher education.
- Failing to comply with public commitments, for example by publicly agreeing to abide by voluntary requirements (such as an agreed code of practice) and then failing to do so.
- By-passing the University and Colleges Admissions System (UCAS) in recruiting undergraduates.
The proposed new regulation would apply retrospectively to any misconduct taking place on or after 11 March 2020. Responses to the consultation were required to be submitted by 26 May, a copy of which is at:
A copy of the response submitted by the Mixed Economy Group (MEG), which is significant since it represents more than 40 of the largest FE colleges with a significant HE offer, can be found at:
(Thanks go to Carl Flint from MEG for providing the above information).
At the request of the local authority, the local FE college had agreed to take on pupils aged 14-16 from the authority’s Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) and to integrate them into its other 14-16 provision. Shortly after the transfer, the college was undergoing an Ofsted inspection, and following rumours of unruly behaviour being displayed by ex-PRU youngsters, a member of the inspection team was dispatched to observe the provision and find out what was going on. The college’s 14-16 provision was based in an annexe around half a mile from the main college site and, since it was a nice day, the inspector decided to walk there. On arriving at the annexe the inspector immediately noticed two things. The first was that the annexe itself was enclosed by a high wooden fence. The second, and more disturbing thing, was that from behind the fence, a crowd of pupils were shouting what seemed like ‘Nine, Nine, Nine’, over and over again. Bewildered by this, the inspector became concerned that a pupil might be being abused or assaulted by the other pupils. So, noticing a knot hole in the fence, the inspector bent down and peered through it to find out what was happening. As he did so, a stick was pushed through the hole from the other side which poked him in the eye. The pupils then began shouting ‘Ten! Ten! Ten!’.
Alan Birks – May 2020
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