Issue 114 | February 2021

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On 4 January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that because of rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, colleges in England would be closed to all but the children of critical workers, vulnerable children and students who needed to take vocational and technical exams. Mr Johnson went on to say that if people in the four most vulnerable groups had been vaccinated by 15 February, the government would look at fully reopening colleges by 8 March, by which time those groups would have developed some level of immunity. This target has been met, and on 22 February, as part of his four-step road map out of lockdown for England (see here), Mr Johnson said that all schools and colleges would fully re-open on 8 March, but with the following additional measures in place:

  • All secondary school and college students will take three rapid lateral flow tests at their existing school and college testing facilities when they return. Schools and colleges will have discretion on how and when to test students during that first week, which means that returns during that week can be phased.
  • After the initial programme of three tests, students will be provided with two rapid lateral flow tests to use each week at home. Staff will be provided with two tests to use each week at home.
  • Staff and students in secondary schools and colleges are ‘strongly advised’ to wear face coverings in all areas where social distancing cannot be maintained, including classrooms. The government says that this is a temporary extra measure, and the advice will be reviewed at during the Easter break.

With specific reference to colleges, the DfE has published new operational guidance (see here) for re-opening, which includes requirements for such things as testing, containment of outbreaks, co-operation with track and trace services, work placements, transport to and from college, provision for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), student mental health, free meals and outdoor sports.

With reference to universities, face-to-face tuition for students on courses for critical workers (e.g. medicine and nursing) will continue as at present. Practical courses requiring access to specialist equipment will resume on 8 March. Students on campus will be tested twice weekly at campus testing facilities. Courses will continue to be delivered online for all other students. The government will review, by the end of the Easter holidays, the options for their return taking account of the latest data. Students and HE institutions will be given a week’s notice ahead of any return.

Reaction to the government’s plans include the following:

  • Sir Kier Starmer said that the Labour Party supported the re-opening of schools and colleges in England on 8 March. However, he was ‘deeply frustrated’ that the February half-term had not been used to vaccinate teachers.
  • Nine unions including the ASCL, NAHT, NEU, NASUWT, GMB, Unison, Unite, NGA and the SCFA, have issued a joint statement (see here) which says that bringing all learners back on 8 March is ‘reckless’ because it brings almost a fifth of the population together when infection rates are still high.
  • The University and College Union (UCU) said that reopening college and university campuses from 8 March was ‘irresponsible’ and ‘risks undoing the country’s hard work to get Covid rates down’. UCU says that ‘…there should be no return to on-campus activity this academic year’ and has threatened industrial action if members are forced to return to colleges if they are deemed to be unsafe.
  • The Association of Colleges (AoC) has welcomed the government’s proposals.
  • A petition has been launched on the UK government petitions website calling for schools and colleges to remain closed until at least the end of May, or until all people in the first 9 groups have been vaccinated (see here). As of 24 February, the petition had attracted more than 140,000 signatures
  • Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty vociferously denied reports in the Guardian and Evening Standard that he was unhappy with the government’s proposals.

A degree of comfort to school and college staff might be found in a report published on 25 January by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) covering Covid-19 deaths by occupational sector registered between 9 March and 28 December 2020 in England and Wales (see here), including death rates for teachers in primary schools, secondary schools, colleges and universities. The report says that:

  • Coronavirus death rates for teachers are not statistically significantly different to those in similar professions and with broadly similar economic and educational backgrounds.
  • Coronavirus death rates for teachers are statistically significantly lower than the death rate for those of the same age and sex in the general population. The death rates for male teachers were 18.4 deaths per 100,000 and for female teachers were 9.8 deaths per 100,000. This compares with 31.4 and 16.8 deaths per 100,000 among males and females respectively in the population as a whole.

The report appears not to have influenced the decisions of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on priority groups for vaccinations. Despite this, teacher representatives argue that although death rates may not be dissimilar, teachers still face a higher risk of infection and that without vaccinations, schools and colleges will continue to be disrupted as a result of teachers having to self-isolate. According to the ONS data, 10 ‘FE teaching professionals’ have died from Coronavirus to date.


Research undertaken by the University of Warwick in schools across England and published on 15 February (see here) has found that that staff and pupil absences related to Coronavirus infection are broadly similar to absences related to Coronavirus infection in the wider community. The research also found no evidence that schools were a major driver of cases. However, the study was unable to determine the extent to which staff or pupils had caught the virus in the school setting. Co-researcher Dr Mike Tildesley said, ‘We are not saying there is no risk. It’s an absence of evidence of exceptional risk’.

Schools and colleges conduct 4 million Covid-19 tests with staff and students since January

Government figures published in a report on 12 February reveal that almost 4 million rapid lateral flow coronavirus tests have been conducted in around 25,0000 schools and colleges in England since 4 January 2021 (see here). The report also claims that 97% of schools and colleges will be ready to deliver tests to all staff and students on their return.


On 24 February, the government announced a further £102 million to continue to provide additional support for students aged 16-19 in English, maths and other vocational and academic subjects in 2021/22 The 16-19 Tuition Fund was initially announced by the government on 24 July last year to help schools, colleges and all other 16-19 providers to mitigate the disruption to learning caused by the pandemic (see here). An initial £96 million was ring-fenced to support small group tuition in 2020/2 for 16-19 students in English and maths. While the tuition does not need to be for GCSE English or maths, providers are expected to prioritise support for students who have not achieved a Grade 4 in English and/or maths by age 16. All supported students must be on a 16-19 study programme.

The 16-19 Tuition Fund extension is part of a wider £705 package of catch-support for children and young people in England (see here), bringing the total so far to £1.3 billion and is intended to help with the wider opening of schools and colleges in England from 8 March. The new package includes:

  • £302 million for an additional ‘Recovery Premium’ for state primary and secondary schools, building on the existing Pupil Premium.
  • £200 million for secondary schools to deliver face-to-face summer school tuition.
  • £83 million to expand the National Tutoring Programme.
  • £102 million to extend the 16-19 Tuition Fund for a further year (as mentioned above).
  • £18m funding to support language development in the early years.

Sir Kevan Collins has been appointed as the government’s Education Recovery Commissioner, to oversee the implementation of catch-up programme in England. Sir Kevan has worked in the education sector for over 30 years, first as a teacher, and most recently as Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation. Sir Kevan has already warned the government that more than the £1.3 billion pledged so far will be needed if an effective catch-up programme is to be implemented. He has also said that a variety of catch-up options should be considered to support students, including extended school days and shorter summer holidays, although Kate Green, Labour Shadow Education Secretary for England has warned that this could result in ‘teacher burnout’. For more information on Sir Kevan see here.


A report from the EPI, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and published earlier this month (see here) compares the catch-up plans of the UK, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments. The report says that:

  • The catch-up programme for Scotland is the most generous and has recently been increased from £80 million to £140 million, or on a per pupil basis from £114 to £200.
  • England comes next at £174 per pupil (totalling £1.2 billion for schools and £96 million for colleges).
  • This is followed by £88 per pupil in Wales (£40 million), and £82 per pupil in Northern Ireland (£28 million).
  • Catch-up plans in Wales and Northern Ireland are better targeted, with a greater share of funding aimed at disadvantaged pupils. Around half of Welsh and Northern Irish catch-up funding has been targeted towards poorer pupils, compared to 30% in England and 20% in Scotland.
  • All national plans have failed to provide adequate remote learning support for SEND students.
  • Scotland’s plan spans the longest period, also covering 2021/22. The UK government has since committed extra funding for 2021/22 for England (see above), while Welsh and Northern Irish plans end this summer.
  • All of the current catch-up plans are insufficient to address the enormous scale of learning loss. All UK nations need to put in place multi-year education programmes to help address this.

On 12 February, Ofsted confirmed that its inspection work will be carried out remotely until at least 8 March at the earliest (see here). The remote inspections will themselves focus on how well students are being educated remotely. Ofsted has also confirmed that virtual monitoring visits to new apprenticeship providers due to commence on January 25 will not now go ahead, with no date given for when they will recommence. Ofsted will still carry out on-site inspection if there are concerns about issues such as safeguarding.


On 25 January Ofsted published a report on the delivery of remote education in England during the lockdown (see here for a copy). The report is based on research carried out in schools, but the findings and conclusions are thought to be also applicable to colleges. The main findings say that:

  • Many schools are doing well at mitigating children’s learning loss through remote education, however, there is significant variability in the quality the remote learning on offer between schools.
  • Most head teachers do not regard remote education as a being a barrier to curriculum delivery and that they expected teachers to deliver the same quality of lessons online as they would in person.
  • Many head teachers think that remote education provision should not be a temporary measure and said that there are potential long term benefits in developing remote learning, such as providing teaching during snow days or during extended periods of student illness or absence.
  • Nearly two thirds of parents of children with SEND said their child had been disengaged with remote learning, compared with almost 40% of parents of children without SEND.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data published on 23 February shows that 1.74 million people were unemployed in the UK over the period between October to December 2020, pushing the UK unemployment rate up to 5.1% (see here). The ONS says that 60% of job losses since the same quarter in 2019 (before the pandemic) have been lost by young workers aged 16-24. Nevertheless, the ONS said that there were some early signs of the labour market stabilising, with 83,000 more people on firms’ payrolls at the end of January compared with the previous month. In addition, recent research carried out by CIPD/Adecco (see here) shows that more than half of UK employers say they intend to recruit staff in the next three months and fewer firms say that they intend to make job cuts. However, the ONS warns that the underlying picture is not yet clear due to the high number of people still on furlough.


The AoC reports that, because of the pandemic, most colleges have seen an increase in their 16-18 enrolments this academic year compared with last year, and that there are now at least 20,000 additional students in colleges that are unfunded. This has been confirmed in a recent report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) which says that despite the £400 million extra in 16-18 funding, the large increase in student numbers this year will result in a real-terms fall in funding per student. The Education and Skills Agency (ESFA) normally operates a ‘lagged’ 16-19 funding model, where any in-year growth (or contraction) is reflected in a college’s funding allocation the following year. The ESFA only allocated in-year growth funding to colleges that recruited more than 200 additional 16-18 students in their September enrolment. Even then, they were only given 50% of the funding rate for these students the following March. However, in response to this year’s extraordinary growth in 16-18 numbers, the ESFA has developed a new methodology for allocating in-year growth funding. The ESFA warns that this is just for 2020/21 and that colleges should not assume that these arrangements will continue in 2021/22. The methodology is complex and is guaranteed to both give you a headache and cause your eyes to glaze over. There are two thresholds in the calculation and the ESFA says it will fund over-delivery at different marginal rates for the over-delivery above each threshold. The two thresholds are as follows:

  • Lower threshold:5% of the 2020/21 allocated student number, with a minimum of 25 students and a maximum of 100 students.
  • Upper threshold: 15% of the 2020/21 allocated student number with a minimum of 50 students and a maximum of 200 students.

The actual additional in-year funding these thresholds will generate (if any) is as follows:

  • Over-delivery below the lower threshold will not be funded.
  • Over-delivery between the lower and upper thresholds will be funded at 100% of the average funding per student.
  • Over-delivery above the upper threshold will be funded at 50% of the average funding per student.
  • Any growth funding allocated this year will be offset against any under-delivery last year.
  • Growth payments will be made from March 2021 and will be profiled across the remainder of the year.
  • The above does not apply to independent providers, for whom separate arrangements will be made.

Further guidance on the new ESFA in-year growth funding methodology, with examples of how allocations will be calculated can be found here: .


The AoC held its 2021 Annual Conference on 8 and 9 February. Because of Coronavirus restrictions the event was held online. Details of the conference agenda can be found here. Education Secretary for England, Gavin Williamson gave the keynote speech, a copy of which can be found here.


Over the five years from 2013/14 to 2018/19, the DfE spent nearly £750 million on restructuring colleges and providing them with emergency funding. Over the same period, core funding for colleges was cut by 20% in real terms. There seems to be no recognition on the part of the DfE of any link between the two. Last year a PAC inquiry found that almost half of colleges in England were in formal intervention because

of poor financial health and that a third of all colleges were running a financial deficit. On 27 January, PAC published a report entitled ‘Managing colleges’ financial sustainability’ (see here). The key message in the report is not that colleges are seriously underfunded, but that college autonomy restricts the DfE’s ability to intervene. The PAC says that the DfE should, within 3 months of the date of the report, set out how it will:

  • Improve its intervention arrangements: The report says that the DfE’s current approach to intervention takes too long, costs too much and does not help colleges become more sustainable financially.
  • Make clear what funding it will provide for FE White Paper reforms: The recent DfE White Paper on FE reforms proposes more powers for the government to intervene in colleges, including in respect of the provision they offer. (A copy of the FE White Paper can be found here).
  • Address the anomaly that sixth form colleges pay VAT while post-16 schools do not.
  • Address the implications of rising pension cost pressure on colleges: The report says that colleges have had to make additional payments to cover the pension deficit. The DfE should address concerns about the potential impact of these extra payments on otherwise financially healthy colleges.
  • Provide reassurance on T Level industry placements: The report questions the practicability of implementing the T Level programme in respect of securing sufficient industry placements for students during the pandemic. The DfE should clarify how it will address this.
  • End the lagged funding model: Currently, ESFA funding allocations are based on colleges’ student numbers from previous years. However, demographic factors mean that student numbers will increase substantially in the coming years. The report says that the ESFA should modify its funding model for colleges to take account of real-time information about changes in student numbers.
  • Research whether college support services are meeting student needs: The report says that student mental health and other support services have deteriorated as colleges have cut budgets for this provision in response to DfE funding cuts. The extent of his, says the report, needs to be researched.

A report published by the DfE last month analyses the FE teacher workforce in England over the period between 1998/99 and 2019/20 (see here.) The report says that:

  • FE teachers’ pay has contracted in real terms by more than 30%.
  • The gap between the median pay of teachers in schools compared to the median pay of teachers in FE compared has widened to almost £10,000 a year.
  • The pay gap between the median pay for teachers in sixth form colleges (SFCs) compared to the median pay for teachers in FE colleges has widened to almost £6,000 a year. This is because pay in SFCs tends to reflect recommendations made by the School Teachers’ Pay Review Body.
  • FE teachers’ pay in different areas of the country has continued to diverge. London FE teachers have the highest median pay (c £37,000). The South West has the lowest median pay (c £31,000).
  • 53% of teachers working in FE in 2014/15 were no longer working in FE five years later.

Last February, the DfE announced a £24 million package to help recruit and retain more FE teachers. The package was made up as follows:

  • Taking Teaching Further: This is a £10 million programme targeted at enabling people to become FE teachers by providing them with a mix of ‘training while teaching’. The programme consists of study leading to an FE teaching qualification at Level 5, combined with a reduced teaching workload in the first year and an opportunity to work shadow more experienced FE teachers (see here). The first three rounds of ‘Taking Teaching Further’ have been managed by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). The first and second rounds of the programme in 2018/19 and 2019/20 provided training for 150 new teachers. Round 3, covering 2020/21, provided 550 training places. On 21 January the DfE announced round 4 of the programme, with a further 550 places being made available in 2021/22.
  • New FE White Paper: TheFE White Paper, published last month, included a number of proposals including a new £65 million national FE teacher recruitment campaign in 2021/22, targeted at ‘high-potential graduates and experienced industry experts’. To support this, on 29 January, the DfE launched a £3 million tender (see here) for partners to deliver the ‘Taking Teaching Further’ programme to 1,000 places in round 5 in 2022/23 increasing to 4,000 places in round 7 in 2024/25.
  • FE Teaching Bursaries: A further £11 million was targeted at helping recruit more FE teachers in shortage subjects like maths, sciences, engineering, manufacturing, computing and English by offering them a one-off bursary from government’sFE Initial Teacher Education bursary scheme. Bursaries have also been made available for those training to teach FE students with SEND.  In the 2020/21 academic year, more than 600 FE teacher trainees in England received a bursary of between £12,000 and £26,000 (see here).

Although these measures will be welcome, most people working in FE will recognise that the main obstacle to recruiting and retaining a sufficient number of high-quality FE teachers is simply that colleges have been unable to match the pay levels offered in industry or in schools. Until this has been addressed many believe that the government’s FE teacher recruitment strategy will be ineffective.


In February 2020, the ETF was awarded a four-year DfE contract to continue to support providers to deliver the new T-Level courses. As part of its suite of T-Level Professional Development programmes, the ETF has announced a new Leadership Mentoring Programme. The programme is intended for middle managers and aims to help them to develop in their role through a series of ‘facilitated mentoring sessions’. The ETF says that the sessions will increase participants’ leadership and management capability and will offer specific coaching and mentoring techniques to enhance T-Level delivery. The course will be delivered online and the ETF says that it will be accepting up to 25 mentee applications until 5 March 2021 from staff in middle management positions who are, or will be, delivering T-Levels. For more information see here.


The ETF has launched a new programme to support managers and governors/board members involved in apprenticeship delivery. The new programme is part of the ETF’s Apprenticeship Workforce Development programme and has been developed in partnership with Association of Education and Learning Providers and AoC. The programme is intended to enhance the participant’s knowledge of apprenticeships and provide them with the leadership skills needed to support apprenticeship delivery. The programme is made up of a series of three online interactive workshops delivered in March, April and May. See here.


The Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) has been closed to new applicants since April 2020. The one exception to this has been that any levy-paying employer delivering services critical to the Covid-19 response has been allowed to apply to be included on the register via the employer application route. The FE White Paper published last month said that there would be a ‘full refresh’ of the RoATP commencing in April 2021, and earlier this month the ESFA published updated guidance for new providers on how to apply and for existing providers on how to re-apply (see here). The guidance says that:

  • Application criteria for both new and existing providers will be more stringent.
  • The new criteria will apply both to new applicants and to existing apprenticeship training providers that are already on the register. New applicants can apply from 1 March and providers already on the register can apply to have their registration ‘refreshed’ through a phased reapplication process in April.
  • More training providers will be allowed to be registered if they can demonstrate they are providing training for critical workers and have a linked employer’s endorsement.
  • Providers currently on the register that have not delivered any training over the most recent six months will be removed from the register.
  • Providers with a grade four Ofsted rating will be temporarily eligible to re-apply to the RoATP if they have a re-inspection monitoring visit outcome showing that either ‘reasonable’ or ‘significant’ progress has been made. The temporary arrangement will remain in place while inspection activity is suspended due to the pandemic and will cease to apply when Ofsted returns to conducting full inspections.

Quarterly data (see here) published earlier this month by the DfE for the first quarter of 2020/21 covering August to October 2020 (Q1 2020/21) shows that:

  • There was a 28% contraction in total apprenticeship starts from 125,800 starts reported for Q1 (pre-Covid) in 2019/20 down to 91,100 apprenticeship starts in Q1 2020/21. Although this represents a significant contraction, it is an improvement on starts in the previous quarter covering the period between May and July 2020 (Q4 of 2019/20), when there were just 43,600 apprenticeship starts.
  • The largest contraction in starts was for those aged under 19, which fell from 40,700 in Q1 2019/20 down to 23,800 in Q1 2020/21.
  • The largest contraction by level was at Level 2 with starts falling from 41,000 in Q1 2019/20 down to 23,300 in Q1 2020/21.

The DfE data also provides an indication of the impact of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s apprenticeship incentive scheme, which provides employers with an additional £2,000 for each apprentice taken on between 1 August 2020 and 31 March 2021. The data shows that as of 8 January this year almost 19,000 applications had been submitted from employers for the extra funding to hire new apprentices.


The DfE provisional data for Q1 of 2020/21 academic year compared to Q1 2019/20 (see here) shows that:

  • Adult FE and skills participation decreased by 14.3% from 1,132,700 to 970,700.
  • Adult education participation decreased by 11.1% from 525,100 to 467,100.
  • Community learning participation decreased by 48% from 176,300 to 91,600.

The UK government has opted not to re-join the EU’s Erasmus+ and has instead established its own programme named for the wartime code breaker, Alan Turing (see here). The Turing Programme, says the government, will provide an opportunity for around 35,000 students from UK universities, colleges and schools (including those from disadvantaged backgrounds) to study and work abroad each year. The scheme commences this September, and the government has allocated £105 million a year to fund the programme. Applications for funding will commence in March, with allocation decisions being made in July (see here). The DfE has launched a website which outlines funding rates and eligibility criteria for those wishing to participate in programme.  All FE students, including apprentices are eligible to participate, with overseas placements ranging from two weeks to 12 months, although placements can start from just five days for students with SEND (see here). Grants will be provided to help cover administration and direct participant costs as follows:

  • £315 per participant will be provided for the first 100 participants to cover administrative costs. £180 per participant will be provided for numbers in excess of 100.
  • Grants to cover travel costs will range from £20 to £1,360 depending on the distance. FE students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those in care, on universal credit, or in receipt of free meals will receive the actual costs of travel, including costs of visas, passports, and health insurance.
  • Cost of living grants for FE students (including apprentices) depend on the area the placements are in:
  • Group 1 (high cost of living): £109 per day for the first 14 days and £76 per day after the 14th day
  • Group 2 (medium cost of living): £94 per day for the first 14 days and £66 per day after the 14th day
  • Group 3 (lower cost of living): £80 per day for the first 14 days and £56 per day after the 14th day.
  • Students with SEND will be funded up to 100% of all actual costs for support needed whilst on placement, directly related to their additional needs.
  • Funding from the scheme will not be provided to pay for students from other countries wishing to undertake placements in the UK. This must be paid for by the student or their government.

The Turing scheme is open to students from all UK countries however the Scottish Government has rejected the scheme and says it will fight to keep Scotland’s participation in the Erasmus+ programme. At present, EU rules for membership of Erasmus+ prevents this since in international law Scotland is part of the UK. The European Commission is now considering a modification to the rules after a group of around 150 MEPs wrote in support of Scotland being allowed to continue participate in Erasmus+. The Scottish Government has now been joined by the Welsh Government and they have published a joint statement restating their wish to re-join the Erasmus+ scheme (see here). If the EU allows them to do so, they will be required to make financial contributions to the EU budget to cover their share of the programme costs (this would have been an around £2 billion for the whole of the UK over the next 7 years). At present it is unclear where this funding will come from. Students in Northern Ireland (NI) will be able to participate in both the Turing and the Erasmus+ programmes since the Republic of Ireland (RoI) has offered to temporarily register NI students in RoI educational institutions and has agreed to meet their costs.

Meanwhile in England, education leaders seem to have welcomed the Turing scheme which, they say, will give opportunities to many more students to participate in work or study abroad since, unlike Erasmus+, students will not be tied to an exchange lasting for a full academic year. David Hughes, Chief Executive of the AoC, said, ‘The Turing scheme opens the world’s door to work and study placements for college students’. Universities UK International Director Vivienne Stern said, ‘The Turing scheme is a fantastic development and will provide global opportunities for UK students to study and work abroad’.


As at the end of January, more than 5 million EU nationals had applied for settled status to remain in the UK post Brexit (see here) and the European Parliament has announced that it intends to maintain its London Office to represent their interests. In a memo written last November and leaked earlier this month (see here), Klaus Welle, the EU Parliament’s Secretary-General said that the office will represent the interests of ‘…the millions of EU27 nationals who exercised their right of free movement to come to the UK and now find themselves in a third country’. The memo goes on to say that the EU Parliament Office will also extend its liaison function to include fostering contacts with UK citizens, ‘…especially the younger generation, of whom 71% voted to remain in the EU’. To assist with this, the European Parliament has launched a campaign to ‘…to teach young Britons about the EU’ (see here) and EU funding rules have been adapted to enable UK students to be funded to join EU youth groups and to participate in events and activities organised by the European Parliament (see here). These events and activities include:

  • The European Parliament Ambassador School Programme. This is described as a network of schools and colleges that are ‘…committed to raising awareness of European Parliamentary democracy and European citizenship values’ (see here). Students who ‘show enthusiasm’ are appointed as junior EU ambassadors and schools and colleges taking part are given a plaque to put on display.
  • Sponsored visits to the European Parliament, during which they will be hosted by MEPs.
  • Participation in European Parliament ‘opinion multiplier groups’. These are attended by young people from the EU 27 countries who come together to debate issues in the European Parliament.
  • Participation in ‘Euroscola’. This is described as ‘ immersive experience allowing secondary school students to learn about European integration by experiencing it first-hand’ (see here). For an example of the type of activity students engage in see here.
  • Attendance at the European Parliament’s European Youth Event. This is held in the Chamber of the EU Parliament in Strasbourg every two years. The event is hosted by senior EU officials who give talks to those attending. More information on the European Parliament Youth Event can be found here.

The move has proved to be contentious. Brexit supporters say that this is another attempt by the EU to ‘brainwash’ UK young people (see here). However, EU supporters have welcomed the funding because, they say, a large majority young people are pro EU and maintaining cultural links with young people from the EU27 countries will be of benefit to them, particularly if the UK should apply to re-join the EU at some point in the future. Brexit supporters dispute the claim that young people are predominantly pro EU, saying that less than 70% of eligible 18-24 year-olds had bothered to register to vote in the EU referendum, and that of these, only 36% had actually turned out to vote. But EU supporters say that the 36% turnout figure was based on an early poll and that later polls put the figure at closer to 70%.


The House of Commons Education Select Committee is currently investigating why white British young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are underachieving in education (see here). The Office for Students (OfS) has given evidence to the Committee, the content of which was published on 26 January on the OfS website (see here). The article refers to a new tool the OfS is using to predict which socio-economic groups are likely or not to go to university. The tool analyses factors such as poverty, race, gender, and the geographical area that people live in, and has found that white young people in receipt of free meals and/or from disadvantaged areas make up 92% of those least likely to go to university. These young people were particularly concentrated in areas such as the former industrial towns and cities across the north and midlands, and coastal towns. The OfS says that ‘successive generations’ had missed out on the rise in access to universities. Recent DfE data (see here) also confirms that ‘…male white British free school meal pupils are the least likely of all the main ethnic groups to progress to higher education and that:

  • Across all pupils eligible for free meals, 26% went on to university, but for white British pupils on free meals the figure was 16%, and only 13% for boys.
  • 59% of youngsters from black African families on free meals went to university, as did 32% of black Caribbean youngsters eligible for free meals.
  • Among youngsters from Indian families on free meals, 57% went to university, as did 47% among Pakistani youngsters on free meals.
  • Although making up 70% of the total student body, relative to population size, white British students are under-represented in English universities.

On 2 February, the government announced that a further £50 million would be made available to support HE students in England during the pandemic. The funding is in addition to the £20 million announced in December, bringing the total to £70 million for this financial year. The funding will enable HE institutions (including HE students in FE) to help students facing hardship during the pandemic, for example those struggling with accommodation costs or loss of part-time employment. The funding will be distributed to HE institutions by the OfS. They will then distribute the funding to students most in need of help. The government has also encouraged universities to use their own funds to offer students partial fee refunds and rent rebates for those students contracted to pay for university accommodation, but who have been required to stay at home.


In 2015, the government appointed Prospects Hedd, now a part of JISC, (see here) to work with UK and international law enforcement agencies to identify and close down bogus institutions and perpetrators of degree fraud. However, it seems that the number of these organisations still operating remains a serious concern. In 2020, Prospects Hedd investigated a further 310 potential cases of bogus ‘universities’ offering fake UK degrees, worryingly including medical degrees, and closed down 85 websites. Some of these bogus institutions were not actually based in the UK. Organisations recruiting graduates can verify the legitimacy of the degree qualifications they hold via a free online tool (see here). Prospects Hedd is also involved in the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education led ‘Academic Integrity Charter for UK Higher Education’ (see here). It has also provided evidence in support of former universities minister Chris Skidmore’s Ten Minute Rule Bill to Parliament to make HE essay mills illegal.


A report published by the OfS (see here) shows that despite calls for universities to take action on excessive grade inflation, the proportion of first class honours degrees awarded to students in English universities rose by 90% over the eight year period to 2019. The data shows that 29.5% of students who graduated in summer 2019 were awarded first class honours degrees and that more than 80% of students gained either a first or upper-second (2:1) honours degree. The OfS perhaps somewhat euphemistically said that the improvement in grades could not be ‘…wholly attributed to changes in student characteristics’.


On 6 February, the DfE and the Department for International Trade (DIT) published an update to their joint ‘International Education Strategy: global potential, global growth’ first published in March 2019 (see here). The update acknowledges that the pandemic has posed significant challenges and makes proposals to help education exports recover and grow sustainably. The update also reaffirms DfE and DIT commitment to help the UK build global export market share across the education sector and to meet the two ambitions set out in the original 2019 report. These are that by 2030 the UK will aim to increase education exports to £35 billion per year and the number of international higher education students studying in the UK to 600,000 per year. The strategy for achieving this growth includes the following actions:

  • Developing a new teaching qualification giving the holder International Qualified Teacher Status.
  • Providing a clearer picture of education export activity by improving the accuracy and coverage of annually published education export data.
  • Setting out priority countries for the International Education Champion, Sir Steve Smith, to target.
  • Promoting the breadth and diversity of the UK education offer more fully to international audiences.
  • Continuing to provide a welcoming environment for international students.
  • Establishing a framework for coordination between government departments.
  • Helping UK education providers take advantage of schemes such as UK Export Finance’s General Export Facility to help finance the costs of exporting education services.

One education export success has been the increase in the numbers of international students recruited from China. In 2018/19 there were around 120,000 Chinese students in HE institutions in the UK (see here). This is around five times more than the next highest group of non-EU international students, which are from India. Chinese students account for almost £2 billion in revenue for the UK HE sector, with many British universities now being dependent on Chinese students for more than 20% of their revenue from tuition fees. However, this success has also resulted in concerns. In 2019, GCHQ had identified around 500 undergraduate and post-graduate Chinese students as having direct links with the Chinese military and intelligence services (see here). Concerns have also been expressed at the growth in the number of ‘Confucius Institutes’, which have now been set up in 27 UK universities. Critics claim that they are used by the Chinese government to monitor Chinese students and supress the free speech on campus of those who are pro-democracy (see here).


Free speech on university campuses is already protected in law via section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986. This places a duty on those concerned in the governance of all HE providers (including FE colleges with HE programmes) ‘… to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for their members, students and employees, and for visiting speakers’. Nevertheless, earlier this month the DfE published a White Paper on free speech and academic freedom in HE institutions in England which, says the DfE, is designed to close loopholes in the current legislation (see here). The White Paper also proposes that a ‘free speech champion’ should be appointed and given a seat on the OfS board. The post holder would investigate and deal with incidents of unacceptable silencing and censoring, such as no-platforming speakers or dismissal of academics. In addition, the White Paper proposes that:

  • HE institutions should be legally obliged to actively promote lawful free speech. This should be a condition of being registered with the OfS in England and of accessing public funds.
  • Student unions should be legally obliged to observe lawful free speech for members and visiting speakers.
  • The OfS should be allowed to fine institutions if they breach the rules on free speech.
  • Individuals should be allowed to obtain compensation through the courts if they suffer a loss (such as being expelled, dismissed or demoted) as a result of the rules on free speech being broken by the institution.

The responses to the White Paper have been mixed. The National Union of Students says there is ‘…no evidence of a freedom of speech crisis on campus’. This view is supported by a 2018 report by the House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights (see here) which said there was no evidence of ‘wholesale censorship of debate’ on campus. But in a recent interview with Iain Dale of LBC (see here), Professor Matthew Goodwin of Kent University said, ‘I’ve had friends who’ve been sacked, demoted, hauled before disciplinary hearings, not only because of their views around political issues like Brexit but also because of their views around issues like gender and their interpretations of British history’.

There is also the question of what constitutes ‘lawful’ free speech on campus. If someone is alleged to have expressed a comment or view that another person finds offensive, it could be regarded as a ‘hate incident’. A ‘hate incident’ should not be confused with a ‘hate crime’, such as assault (see here for definitions), although both are potentially very serious matters, particularly if you happen to be on the receiving end of either. However, what constitutes a hate incident is entirely at the behest of the alleged victim, who will not necessarily be questioned on their motives for reporting it. A hate incident can also be reported by a person even if the comment deemed offensive wasn’t addressed directly at them (e.g. a friend, a fellow student, a co-worker or even a passer-by could report a hate incident). Once reported, a hate incident is recorded as such by the police against the name of person alleged to have perpetrated it. If that person were then to apply for a job and the employer carries out an enhanced DBS check, the police would notify them that she or he had been involved in a hate incident. In the five years between 2014 and 2019, more than 120,000 hate incidents were recorded by the police. These included one perpetrated by Sarah Phillimore, a barrister who, for a joke, tweeted that her cat was a Methodist (see here) and then asked her friend to report it as a ‘hate incident’. When asked by the police why he thought the tweet was offensive, the barrister’s friend said it was because he was a Methodist and the comment implied that Methodists were, like cats, a nuisance who defecated in other peoples’ gardens. The event was duly logged by the police as a ‘hate incident’.


The rules concerning which criminal records should be disclosed on Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificates changed in November last year, but apparently this is not widely known. If a DBS certificate was created before 28 November 2020 then the previous rules will apply. If a certificate was created after this date (or is created for new staff recruited in the future) the new rules will apply. Colleges should not ask new staff recruited after that date to provide an old DBS certificate because it may disclose information the college no longer needs to know. This could result in a General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) breach and a potential claim for damages. The Ministry of Justice has produced a guide to the new DBS rules, which may be of interest to college HR specialists and which can be found here.


As part of a project set by their college, a group of aeronautical engineering apprentices were asked to construct a device that would help to test the resistance of the aircraft cockpit windscreens to being hit by birds in flight. Airbus in Bristol had provided the college with the front section of one of their A380 aircraft, complete with the pilots’ cabin and windscreen for the apprentices to test their device on. The apprentices were told to appoint a team leader and that they had three weeks to complete the project, after which the apprentices would demonstrate their device to a panel of assessors. At the end of the three weeks the panel of assessors assembled for the students to make their presentation. The team leader explained that they had built a gun that would launch chicken carcasses at the windshield to simulate collisions with airborne fowl. They then proceeded with the demonstration. The gun was fired, and the chicken carcass shot out of the barrel. It crashed straight through the windscreen, then passed through the control console snapping the co-pilots back seat in two before eventually coming to rest embedded in the back wall of the cabin. The group leader turned to the assessment panel and asked, ‘We think that sort of went well. What does the panel think?’ The lead assessor replied, ‘We think you should have defrosted the chicken first’.

Alan Birks – February 2021

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