Issue 117 | May 2021

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On 21 January, the government published its White Paper on Skills for Jobs (see here for a copy). The White Paper included proposals for new legislation in respect of the FE and Skills sector in England. In the Queen’s Speech on 11 May (see here for a copy of the speech and here for government briefing notes), it was announced that a Skills and Post-16 Education Bill would be introduced to enable the proposals in the White Paper to be enacted into law. On 17 May the Department for Education (DfE) published an interesting paper in support of the Bill, entitled ‘Measuring the Net Present Value of Further Education in England 2018/19’, which outlined in some detail the significant contribution made by the FE sector to the UK economy (see here for a copy). On 18 May, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill was laid before parliament, starting its passage towards Royal Assent in the House of Lords (see here for an outline of the Bill’s contents and here for detailed explanatory notes). Measures set out in the Bill include the following:

  • The Secretary of State for Education in England will be given legal powers to:
  • Intervene in the statutory FE sector (as defined in section 91 of theFurther and Higher Education Act 1992) in circumstances where there is a failure to meet local education and training needs and, if necessary, to direct structural change (such as mergers). The Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to intervene via an amendment to the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Not only will the Secretary of State be able to intervene if the education or training provided by an FE institution does not adequately meet local needs, he or she will be given powers to compel governing bodies to transfer properties and liabilities to other institutions. However, should a merger be deemed necessary, the consent of the merger partner must be obtained and before giving a direction for the transfer of property, rights or liabilities, the Education Secretary must consult the Competition and Markets Authority.
  • Require FE colleges and other publicly funded providers to keep their provision under review and consider what actions they might take to align provision more closely with the skills needs of local employers. Colleges are also required to have due regard to Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) when making decisions about the post-16 technical education and training they offer. An LSIP is defined in the Bill as ‘…a plan developed by an employer representative body for a specified geographical area, which draws on the views of employers operating within the area, and any other evidence, to summarise the skills, capabilities or expertise that are, or may in the future be, required in the area’.(At present it is unclear how LSIPs fit with the current work of Skills Advisory Panels, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Combined Authorities, and other local government activity in respect of skills development).
  • Make regulations to set up a list of approved providers who meet the conditions defined in the Bill. These conditions include the provider having a student support plan, having appropriate insurance cover, and for persons having general control and management of the provider to be ‘fit and proper persons’ to do so. The Bill also says that funding authority, for example the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) must not enter into funding arrangements with a provider unless the provider is on the list. In addition, the funding authority must also not enter into funding arrangements with a provider unless the arrangement can be legally terminated (e.g. because a provider has entered into asub-contract in breach of prohibition from doing so).
  • Provide for Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs) to be made available in respect FE colleges being placed in administration. In effect, this will allow colleges to be declared bankrupt.
  • Make regulations for the purpose of securing or improving the quality of courses of initial teacher training for FE in England. Institutions delivering ITT(FE) courses will be required to become accredited through being able to meet set conditions. Institutions can also be prohibited from providing ITT(FE) courses if they fail to meet these conditions.
  • The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) will be given additional powers to charge fees to Awarding Organisations (AOs) and to require AOs to develop new vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs). However, the Bill also places additional obligations on IfATE, which include a requirement to:
  • Maintain arrangements for reviewing VTQs at regular intervals with a view to determining whether a VTQ should continue to be approved, should be revised, or approval should be withdrawn.
  • Work closely with Ofqual to create a single approval gateway for VTQs.
  • Work with the Office for Students (OfS) to clarify the OfS’s methods of assessing quality as part of its regulation of HE providers in England.
  • Work with both Ofqual and the OfS on apprenticeship end point assessments (EPAs) and external quality assurance (EQA).
  • Further powers will be given to the OfS in respect of regulating HE institutions’ quality of provision via an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 in respect of the factors that may be considered by the OfS for the purposes of assessing of the quality of an HE institution’s provision. These include student outcomes, but the Bill goes on to say that the quality of an HE institution’s provision may be measured ‘…by any means that the OfS considers appropriate’.
  • Existing legislation in respect of student loans will be extended will give individuals access to the equivalent of up to four years’ worth of student loans that they can use flexibly across their lifetime to enable them to take Level 4-6 qualifications at FE colleges as well as universities. This measure is part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Lifetime Skills Guaranteefirst announced last September, The DfE says that it will consult on the details of this loan entitlement and has set a rollout date of 2025.

Debates will be scheduled for the Bill in the Houses of Commons and Lords which could result in amendments, and the Bill is not expected to gain Royal Assent and become law for another six months. A Department for Education (DfE) impact assessment has been published alongside the Bill, a copy of which can be found here. The government is also providing £112 million to help cover the administrative costs associated with the implementation of measures in the Bill. This includes the costs of producing LSIPs, designating institutions as being within the statutory FE sector, the duty for FE institutions to keep their provision and structure under review in relation to local needs and the cost to employers of familiarising themselves with new qualifications and with the new student loan system.


The DfE has allocated an initial £25,000 to Frontier Economics (see here) to carry out research into the viability of an algorithm to help the new Skills and Productivity Board (see here) to identify and analyse national skills. The DfE says the algorithm would be the basis of the ‘skills taxonomy’, which would be used by board members to identify areas of significant skills shortage and link them to occupational roles and qualifications. The DfE defines the skills taxonomy as a ‘…skills map for different jobs and occupations that will help providers design courses and help people understand what other jobs their skills might be suitable for’. The DfE also says that the algorithm could also be used by employer groups in formulating their LSIPs to help identify skills shortages in England’s regions and would help inform a decision by the Education Secretary to intervene where it is believed that FE providers are not delivering courses that meet the aims of LSIPs. Frontier Economics’ work started in April and is scheduled to end in July. The initial findings are expected to form the basis for a larger piece of research next financial year.

  • The National Skills Fund (NSF): Measures set out in the Skills and Post-16 Bill are complemented by the proposals for the National Skills Fund outlined on the Skills for Jobs White Paper published in January. Starting this year, the government is investing £2.5 billion in the National Skills Fund (see here for details) to help adults to train and gain the skills they need to improve their job prospects and to support post-pandemic economic recovery by increasing the supply of skilled labour that employers say they require. The schemes the NSF will be used to help provide include:
  • Free level 3 qualifications for adults: Adults aged 19 and over who want to achieve their first full level 3 qualification can now access hundreds of courses free of charge. However, not all qualifications are eligible for the offer. A list of those that are can be found here. Awarding organisations, Combined Authorities, the Greater London Authority, and employers can suggest additions to the list through the qualifications funding approval process (see here for details).
  • Skills bootcamps: Skills Bootcamps offer free, flexible courses of 12 to 16 weeks duration for adults aged 19 or over and who are either in vulnerable work or are recently unemployed. (Some Skills Bootcamps have additional eligibility criteria). They provide participants with the opportunity to build up sector-specific skills and to be fast-tracked to an interview with a local employer. Skills Bootcamps are developed in partnership with employers, colleges, and local authorities, to help people develop the skills that are in demand in their local area. They currently include a range of digital, construction and technical skills courses, but it is envisaged that more will be added in due course (see here for more details).
  • Extension to the time people can train whilst still receiving Universal Credit: Last month the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced an extension to the length of time people in England can undertake training to develop work-related skills and qualifications, whilst still receiving Universal Credit. The change will run on a trial basis for 6 months, building on the 8 weeks claimants are already able to train full-time. The extensions mean that participants will be able to train full time towards a work-related qualification for up to 12 weeks, or up to 16 weeks on a full-time Skills Bootcamp without losing their benefits. Provided that an adult is referred to the training course by their work coach by 26 October 2021 they will be permitted to complete the course whilst still claiming Universal Credit. The DWP is now calling the this the ‘Train and Progress (TaP) scheme’ (see here for more details).
  • Post-16 Capacity Fund: The government has launched a new £83 million Post-16 Capacity Fund. The fund is intended to address the expected surge in the numbers of 16-19-year-olds who will be attending colleges in the near future, partly as a response to the rapidly increasing population of this age group, and partly in recognition of the contraction in jobs and training places caused by the pandemic. The funding is intended to be used to create more classrooms and high-quality teaching facilities so that colleges can keep up with the anticipated increased demand and be able to offer a place for all 16- to 19-year-olds that want one. (See here for more details).

Groups of colleges have been encouraged to compete with other groups of colleges for a share of cash from a new £5.4 million College Collaborative Fund (CCF). The fund is intended to incentivise colleges to collaborate with each other and to promote the sharing good practice in quality improvement processes. The CCF builds on its predecessor, the Strategic College Improvement Fund (SCIF) and funding will be made available in 2021/22 (although all grant-funded activity must be completed by 31 March 2022). There will only be one application round and only statutory FE providers (as defined in section 91 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992) can apply, meaning that independent training providers (ITPs) and school sixth forms are ineligible. Each bid must have a lead college that has a current Grade 1 or Grade 2 Ofsted rating. The minimum application is for £100,000 and the maximum is £500,000, with colleges expected to provide 25% matched funding (e.g. if the bid is for £200,000, colleges would be expected to contribute £50,000. (See here for more details of the CCF).


Young people are placed in alternative education provision (AP) settings for various reasons. For example, they may have been excluded from school because of their behaviour or may even have been placed in AP provision for their own safety, which some argue risks placing perpetrators and victims in proximity to each other. Young people in AP provision are also seen as being likely to be more at risk of unemployment or dropping out of education at age 16. To help counter this, the DfE has announced that £8 million will be provided in 2021/22 for the AP transition fund, an increase of £1 million on the amount made available in 2020/21 (see here for more information). AP settings will receive up to £750 per

student to provide them with enhanced mentoring, pastoral support, careers guidance and job search skills to help them transition into FE or work. DfE data shows that only 54% of young people in alternative provision go on to a sustained post-16 destination, compared with 94% of those attending mainstream schools. However, the most at risk are those classed as not in education, employment, or training (NEET) of whom only 23% progress to a sustained post-16 destination.


On 23 April, Gillian Keegan, the Apprenticeships and Skills Minister for England sent a letter to Jennifer Coupland, the Chief Executive of the IfATE, setting out what the DfE expects IfATE to achieve over the period from 2021/22 through to 2023/24 (see here for a copy). The letter says that:

In 2021/22, IfATE is expected to have:

  • Developed more apprenticeships tailored to meet the needs of individual apprentices and employment sectors, prioritising the development of apprenticeship standards that will support post-pandemic economic recovery.
  • Increased the take-up of the new flexible apprenticeships.
  • Helped with the development of Skills Bootcamps.
  • Ensured that T-Levels are of a consistent high quality and meet employers’ needs.
  • Taken forward plans to support the defunding of overlapping technical qualifications for 16-19 year olds.
  • Worked with DfE, Ofqual and awarding organisations (AOs) to ensure that alternative assessment arrangements have been put in place to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
  • Worked with AOs to develop Wave 3 and Wave 4 T-Level qualifications.
  • Ensured that Level 4 and 5 Higher Technical Qualifications(HTQs) continue to be developed and rolled out, and that a list of approved HTQs is established.

By 2023/24, IfATE is expected to have:

  • Delivered apprenticeship standards in all occupations that reflect the skills needs of employers.
  • Developed an occupational map that provides a coherent picture of the technical education landscape.
  • Aligned pre-apprenticeship provision with apprenticeship standards.
  • Carried out funding band reviews for all apprenticeship standards.
  • Established a simplified apprenticeship External Quality Assurance (EQA) system in partnership with Ofqual, the OfS and representatives of employers.
  • Identified relevant Level 3 VTQs and, where they meet the requirements, approved them for funding allocations in the 2024/25 academic year.
  • Developed an appeals process for those Level 3 VTQs that have not been approved for funding.
  • Agreed a process for the review of Level 2 and below VTQs.
  • Reviewed AO contracts and ensured that all AOs are meeting their contractual obligations.
  • Supported the adaptation of T-Levels for adults.
  • Developed progression routes from T-Levels to employment and apprenticeships.
  • Where a need for new T-Levels has been identified, the development of these should be under way.
  • Assisted providers to develop and market HTQs that meet employer needs.

Apprentices undergo an assessment at the end of their apprenticeship. This is called an end-point assessment (EPA). The EPA then undergoes a process of external quality assurance (EQA) to ensure that the EPA is accurate and consistent across different apprenticeship standards and between different assessment organisations. IfATE is in the process of transitioning towards new systems for EQA and EPA, which is now in its second phase (see here for more information of this transition).

  • EQA transition: In the past the EQA process has been carried out by numerous organisations, but IfATE has moved towards a new simplified system in which the EQA of EPAs is handled by only two organisations. One of these is Ofqual, which will handle the EQA process for the majority of apprenticeships. The other is the OfS which will handle the EQA process for integrated degree apprenticeships. See here for more information.
  • EPA transition: Apprenticeship EPAs will still be carried out by multiple End-Point Assessment Organisations (EPAOs), but these will now need to be both included on the ESFA’s new Register of Approved EPAOs and be recognised by Ofqual. In addition, EPAOs will only be allowed to assess apprenticeship standards in sectors where they have expertise. In response to concerns that the pandemic was slowing down applications to be included on the register, IfATE has now given EPA organisations until the 14 April 2022 to make formal applications to Ofqual for recognition and will have until 16 September 2022 to complete the recognition process for the register. On 13 May, the ESFA published updated information on the Register of Approved EPAs, a copy of which can be found here.

At the meeting of the House of Commons Education Select Committee held on 10 May, Gillian Keegan, the Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships in England, told Committee members that she was worried that the continuing rise in the numbers taking degree apprenticeships, although a good thing, could be reducing the number of apprenticeship opportunities available at lower levels and for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. (See here to watch a video of the Committee meeting on Parliament TV). DfE data for 2019/20 would seem to support this (See here for a copy). During that year alone, apprenticeship starts at Level 4 and above trebled and now accounts for 26% of all apprenticeship starts. At the same time, the proportion of Level 2 apprenticeship starts has virtually halved from 60% in 2014/15 to 31% in 2019/20.


Despite the maximum funding band for management apprenticeships being cut from £9,000 to £7,000 in March 2019, there were still 10,052 starts in 2019/20, making it the fifth most popular apprenticeship that year. However, the retention rate for apprentices on the management standard in 2019/20 was only 57% and it was estimated that the DfE spent around £10 million on the apprentices that did not complete their course. There have been other concerns expressed about management apprenticeships other than high dropout rates. Ofsted Chief Inspector for England, Amanda Spielman has expressed concerns that graduate training schemes are being rebadged as apprenticeships, and the National Audit Office (NAO) has expressed concerns that firms are replacing professional development programmes they had previously paid for themselves with publicly funded apprenticeships. However, Jennifer Coupland, the Chief Executive of IfATE has not only defended the rebadging of graduate training programmes as apprenticeships, but has also said that for firms paying the apprenticeship levy, this was a perfectly legitimate thing to do. More information on Level 5 Management Apprenticeships can be found here.


Because of the ongoing pandemic, the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) still remains closed to new providers unless they offer training for critical workers, with no timeline set for re-opening it. Despite this, on 10 May, the ESFA published updated guidance for existing apprenticeship providers wishing to reapply to be entered on the ‘refreshed’ RoATP (see here for a copy). The updated guidance includes a new requirement for providers to be able to show that they have previous experience of delivering training within the employment sectors in which they are applying to deliver apprenticeship provision. In addition, if a provider on the refreshed RoATP subsequently begins to offer apprenticeship training in a new employment sector, the ESFA must be notified of this within one month of commencing the provision. Failure to do so will place the provider in the high-risk category in respect of intervention.

The ESFA says that it will ‘randomly’ select active providers on the existing RoATP to invite them to apply to be registered on the refreshed RoATP in phases over the period from May 2021 to March 2022. Providers will be selected to apply will be sent an email notification inviting them to do so six weeks before each one-month application window opens. This will be the third refresh of the RoATP since its inception in March 2017, the last being in January 2019. The move will align the updated RoATP to the ‘refreshed’ Register of End Point Assessment Organisations (REPAO), which are only allowed to conduct EPAs for apprenticeship standards in sectors they have expertise in.


On 24 May the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) published a report entitled ‘Seize the moment: an economic strategy to transform the UK economy’. A section of the report deals with education and training and calls on the government to ‘…free up money trapped in the apprenticeship levy so that business can invest in everyone’s lifelong learning’ and to replace the levy with a ‘Learning for Life’ guarantee. The report goes on to say that scrapping the levy altogether ‘…would enable employers to spend more on training’. A copy of the report can be found here.


New provider monitoring visits were resumed in the middle of March and Ofsted has now carried out more than a hundred such visits. Inspectors found that around a third of the new providers visited were judged to have made ‘insufficient progress’ in at least one of the areas covered. In addition, in the  2019/20 Annual Report (see here for a copy) Ofsted identified apprenticeships as being the weakest area of FE provision with around 10% of all apprenticeship providers inspected in that year having been judged as ‘inadequate’. Speaking at the recent virtual Annual Apprenticeships Conference, Amanda Spielman, the Ofsted Chief Inspector for England also referred to the relatively poor quality of apprenticeship training provision in the current year (2020/21) which, she said, could not entirely be blamed on the pandemic. Despite this, Ofsted’s concerns appear to be at odds with the claim made by the DfE that, because of the reforms implemented since 2017, the quality of apprenticeship training has actually improved. However, Gillian Keegan, the Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships in England appears to be unconvinced by this and has insisted that apprenticeship achievement rates are not yet high enough. She has also ordered an investigation into the reasons for the current high apprenticeship drop-out rate (see here for more details).


Providers rated as outstanding have been exempt from Ofsted inspections for 10 years and Ofsted’s inspection data for 2019/20 (see here) shows that 22 colleges had not received a full inspection for ten years or more. 15 of the 22 colleges had a monitoring visit within this period, but 6 have had no visit at all, with one having had no full inspection for more than 15 years. Ofsted’s resources have been stretched in recent years, largely because of the large number of new apprenticeship providers entering the market, but in the most recent FE and Skills Inspection Handbook, updated on 19 April (see here for a copy) Ofsted now says that it aims to inspect all providers currently judged as outstanding by 2026.


The DfE and Ofsted have jointly produced a new Education Staff Wellbeing Charter. The Charter has been drawn up by representatives of teaching unions, schools, colleges, and the mental health charity Mind. In the Charter, the DfE makes 9 commitments to help improve education staff well-being and mental health. Ofsted makes 3 commitments, one of which is to review whether the Ofsted inspections are having inadvertent impacts on staff wellbeing (for example, by creating unnecessary workload) and if so, to take steps to alleviate any issues the review reveals. In addition, from this autumn schools and colleges will be invited to sign up to a voluntary charter of 11 commitments to protect, promote and enhance their own staff wellbeing. Ofsted says inspectors will take school and college staff wellbeing into account in arriving at their judgements (which some say may increase, rather than decrease, school and college staff stress during inspections). The DfE says it will review the progress made against the commitments in the joint DfE/Ofsted Charter in 2023. Schools and colleges will also be surveyed to gauge how much impact their own charter has had (which some say could result in more stress). A copy of the joint DfE/Ofsted Education Staff Wellbeing Charter can be found here.


Ms Spielman began her five-year term as Ofsted Chief Inspector for England in January 2017 and was due to finish at the end of this year. However, it now seems probable that her contract will be extended for a further two years. The extension has apparently already been agreed by the DfE and the House of Commons Education Select Committee, but still has to be officially signed off by the Privy Council, since theoretically it is the Queen that makes the appointment. Assuming this happens, at the end of the two-year extension, Ms Spielman will have become the longest serving Ofsted Chief Inspector as well as the the only one who has never actually been a teacher.


Last summer, unstandardised teacher-assessed grades (TAGs) saw average GCSE grades in England rise by 9% and average A-Level grades rise by 12% compared with 2019. This is an increase that has been described as being ‘statistically improbable’. TAGs will again replace exams in England this summer as a result of school and college closures during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, prompting warnings that GCSE and A-level results this summer could see further grade inflation at a level similar to that seen last year, despite the onerous measures being introduced to try to address this.

Ian Bauckham, the chairman of Ofqual, has gone further and said that grade inflation is ‘inevitable’ this year even with additional levels of scrutiny, and went on to warn that another year of inflated results will make it much harder to return to pre-pandemic exam results in the following year. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former Ofsted Chief Inspector has added his own concerns. Speaking to the Guardian on 9 May (see here), Sir Michael said, ‘We know teachers err on the side of generosity. They will always give youngsters the benefit of the doubt and there will be grade inflation. It’s a question of how much. I think we will see roughly what we saw last year which was 10-12% grade inflation, somewhere in that region’.

There are also fears that schools with a strong track record for results, such as independent schools and grammar schools, will benefit disproportionately, and will be able to submit more generous grades without excessive scrutiny from AOs, while other schools and colleges that exercise caution will either lose out or, if grades look better than previous years, are more likely to be selected for in-depth grade checks.


Last month, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) published guidance for schools and colleges on the use of TAGs (see here for a copy). The guidance says that AOs will conduct both random and targeted checks on the evidence used to determine TAGs and will then decide whether to accept the grades submitted or undertake a further review. If wider sampling gives rise to an emerging concern the AO may ask the school or college to reconsider the evidence and adjust its grades accordingly. However, where there is a disagreement between an AO and a school or college on the grades to be awarded, it has been confirmed that AOs have the right to withhold or delay the publication of results beyond results day if it is not possible to agree a way forward. School and college leaders have expressed concern because as yet there has been no guidance provided by the JCQ on how such a situation, were it to arise, would be resolved, although AOs are said to be ‘modelling for different scenarios’. Schools and colleges have also been warned that it is likely that appeals will take longer to process because there will be numerous pieces of evidence to review, whereas in a normal year it would simply be a matter of re-marking an exam script.


Ofqual has conducted research into teachers’ experiences of the GCSE and A-Level assessment process last year when the decision was taken to scrap the controversial standardisation algorithm and use TAGs instead. The survey was conducted online and covered a range of teaching roles, centre types and subjects. 1,234 responses were received, of which only 866 were fully complete. The research findings were published by Ofqual earlier this month (see here for a copy) and revealed that:

  • 29% of teachers felt under pressure to ensure their grades reflected the centre’s grade distributions from previous years.
  • 31% teachers said that they felt under pressure to ensure that their judgements were not too generous when assigning grades and that the threat of senior staff intervention was ‘strongly felt’.
  • A small number (20) felt under pressure from parents to increase student grades, but 65% said they felt effective steps had been taken to protect staff against undue external influence. (This year, Ofqual has asked heads and principalsto keep records of parental pressure exerted in respect of exam grades).
  • The majority of teachers thought that mock exams provided the most important grade evidence.
  • Most teachers gave their students the grades they would get ‘on a good day’.
  • Most teachers had a high level of confidence in the grades they had given.

As mentioned earlier, in the event A-Level grades awarded were 12% higher and GCSE grades were 9% higher in 2020 compared to 2019.


Ofqual has also published the findings of research conducted to understand how teacher bias could impact on the grades they gave their students (see here for a copy). The research found that there was a ‘slight bias’ in favour of girls, but evidence of bias in relation to ethnicity was ‘mixed’. However, bias against poorer children from working class backgrounds and those with special educational needs was a ‘common finding’. These findings seem to conflict with a technical report published by Ofqual last autumn which claimed that there was ‘no significant evidence that substituting TAGs for GCSE and A-level exams in 2020 systematically disadvantaged poorer students or those with protected characteristics’ (see here for a copy).


On 4 May Ofqual announced that AOs will be required to offer exams in all GCSE and A-level subjects this autumn (see here). However, although AOs are free to offer AS exams in as many subjects as they wish, they will only be required to offer autumn AS exams in biology, chemistry, further maths, maths, and physics, since these were the only subjects that were taken by more than 100 students in last autumn’s exams. These exams will be open to any student who received a TAG this year, or those whom an exam board reasonably believes would have entered for the exams in summer 2021 had they not been cancelled. Exams held this autumn will be in their normal format, with no adaptations made. Grades will be determined by a student’s performance in an exam for all subjects, except for art and design qualifications. AS and A level exams will be held in October, while GCSE exams will take place in November and December. Ofqual’s decisions in respect of GCSE, AS and A-Level exams this autumn was based on responses to an earlier consultation, a copy of which can be found here.

Ofqual has also published its decisions on vocational and technical and qualifications. AOs that normally provide assessment opportunities between September and January will be required to make those assessments available to students who were eligible to receive a result through TAG if a student wishes to improve on this grade. Where AOs do not normally provide assessment opportunities between September and January, Ofqual will require them to do so where they consider there is sufficient demand. Again, Ofqual’s decisions were based on responses to an earlier consultation (see here).


On 11 May, the National College for Onshore Oil and Gas (NCOOG) closed. This was around seven years after the college was originally announced, but it was never actually opened. One of the reasons given for the closure was the current moratorium on fracking which, said a spokesperson for the college ‘…contributed to the industry decision that it no longer had a UK skills shortage and as such there was no requirement to proceed’. The spokesperson went on to add that ‘…it was unlikely the industry would be seeking to train apprentices at the rate which was originally anticipated in the short term’. The closure was announced in the same week as the National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure (NCATI), was closed and relaunched as a subsidiary of Birmingham University. These closures follow that of the National College for Creative Industries (NCCI) in February 2020, with its courses being absorbed by South Essex College and Access Creative College (a private training provider). The two remaining national colleges are Ada National College for Digital Skills, based in London and Manchester, and the National College for Nuclear, which is split between Lakes College in Cumbria and Bridgwater and Taunton College.

In 2016, the government committed an initial £80 million for the first five National Colleges tasked with ‘delivering the workforce of the future’ (see here). So far, they have proved to be a little disappointing.


David Russell, the Chief Executive of the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) has described the pay gap between teachers in FE and schools in England as ‘indefensible’. In July 2020, the average pay gap between teachers in schools and FE lecturers further increased to almost £9,000 per year, when the Education Secretary for England, Gavin Williamson, announced a 3.1% pay increase for school teachers. The rise meant that in England, the average salary for a school teacher rose to £41,822, while the average salary of an FE teacher stood at £32,500. Currently, pay for college staff is set following negotiations between the Association of Colleges (AoC), representing member colleges, and the FE unions, the University and College Union (UCU), NEU, Unison, GMB and Unite. However, any agreement between the two sides is not binding, and it is down to individual colleges to decide whether to implement any pay increase recommended. Perhaps surprisingly, the AoC says that it would not want to see a return to national FE pay scales and Mr Russell said he did not think the government would re-introduce a national pay scale for FE staff. Both the AoC and Mr Russell say that instead, the solution lies in the form of a substantial increase in FE funding and an increase in the prestige of teaching in the FE sector. FE teachers are advised not to hold their breath waiting for this.


For the purposes of the rest of this section ‘EU nationals’ include nationals from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – which countries are not members of the EU, but are part of the European Economic Area, plus Switzerland (and who also have citizen’s rights under the Withdrawal Agreement) – but does not include nationals of the Irish Republic, who will retain an automatic right to live, work, vote in local and national elections, access education at all levels, access health care, social security, housing and other benefits in the UK on exactly the same basis as UK nationals under the long standing Common Travel Area agreement (see here for more details of the CTA agreement) .

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. Since then, EU nationals and their families currently living in the UK who wish to remain in the UK have been able to obtain the right to do so by applying to the government’s EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). See here for details of the scheme. As of 30 April, 5.42 million EU nationals had applied for settled status in the UK with 5.12 million applications so far being processed and accepted, with the scheme remaining open until 30 June this year for further applications. No official government data has ever been kept of the number of EU nationals living in the UK, but the numbers currently granted settled status thus far is approaching twice the number the government had estimated were living in the UK. (See here for further statistical data on the numbers applying to the EU settlement scheme). The Home Secretary, Priti Patel has since announced the introduction of a new ‘digital border’ scheme to help keep a more accurate track of the numbers entering and leaving the country (see here for more information).

The AoC estimates that there are currently around 40,000 students in England’s colleges that are EU nationals. Around 15% of EUSS applications thus far have been from applicants under 19 years of age, but there are concerns that many younger EU nationals (who are most likely to be college students or potential college students) haven’t yet applied. Colleges across the country, but particularly those in areas with large numbers of EU nationals, are being advised to publicise the need for them to apply for settled status before the 30 June deadline, since failure to do so will mean they will no longer be eligible for free education. The AoC has estimated that there are around 7,000 staff in England’s colleges who are EU nationals and colleges have also been advised to urge staff who are EU nationals who have not yet applied for settled status to do so without further delay. The AoC has produced guidance on this which can be found here.

Colleges will also need to be aware of the new ‘points-based’ immigration system. EU nationals arriving after 1 January 2021 without EUSS will be subject to the new immigration rules. Those wishing to study courses of longer than 6 months’ duration (e.g. A levels, HNDs) will need to obtain a student visa. Colleges wishing to enrol them will require a Student Sponsor Licence (formerly Tier 4 licence). They will normally be required to be graded as good or outstanding by Ofsted as one of the requirements of obtaining a Student Sponsor License. More details on how colleges can obtain apply for and obtain a Student Sponsor License can be found here. EU nationals without EUSS wishing to enrol on a course in a UK university or college must also be able to speak English and be able to demonstrate that they can support themselves financially while in the UK. They will no longer be eligible for home fee status. 16-19-year-olds will be considered fee-paying and not eligible for public funding support and those aged 19+ will be unable to access HE or FE student loan support.

Colleges wishing to employ newly-arrived EU nationals from 1 January 2021 will need a licence to sponsor skilled workers (a ‘Tier 2’ sponsor licence). Government guidance about skilled worker sponsorship is available here. Teaching, administrative and management roles in colleges are not currently listed on the government’s shortage occupation list, however those EU nationals wishing to apply for jobs in colleges must be able to speak English at the required level, hold a job offer at Regulated Qualification Framework (RQF) level 3 or above. (See here for what this means) and be paid a salary of at least £25,600. Colleges may also need to pay the immigration skills charge (see here for details of this).


A new report published earlier this month by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and funded by the Nuffield Foundation (see here for a copy), has found that after 20 years of devolution, the four UK nations have adopted increasingly different approaches to education policy. The report says that this could cause problems for young people moving between UK nations for work or study, particularly if universities and employers find it hard to understand increasingly divergent qualification and grading systems. Key findings in the report include the following:

Education spending:

  • School spending per pupil in 2019/20 was highest in Scotland (£7,300), followed by England and Wales (£6,100) and lowest in Northern Ireland (£5,800).
  • Cuts to school spending per pupil over the last ten years have been largest in Northern Ireland (11%), followed by England (9%) and Wales (5%). In contrast, spending per pupil in Scotland has seen a net increase of 5% since 2009/10, although most of this has been used to fund higher levels of teacher pay (e.g. teachers’ pay rose by a 10% in 2018/19), whereas Northern Ireland’s larger spending cuts are partially due to lower teacher salaries.
  • Headteachers have control of more of their school’s budget in England (90%) than in Wales (84%) and much more than in Scotland (66%) and Northern Ireland (60%). In Scotland and Northern Ireland national and local governments have much more control over individual school spending.

Spending on disadvantaged pupils:

  • Spending on disadvantaged pupils is highest in England, where the Pupil Premium covers more pupils than the equivalent schemes in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
  • Funding for deprived pupils through individual nations’ funding formulas is also highest in England.
  • Schools in poorer areas with large numbers of disadvantaged pupils are more likely to report problems attracting teachers. Recruitment problems reported in Scotland (45%) and England (44%) and are higher than those reported in Wales (34%) and Northern Ireland (31%).
  • Schools with more disadvantaged pupils in Wales are far more likely to report shortages with materials such as books and IT (45%) than those in England (27%), Northern Ireland (34%) and Scotland (10%).


  • Schools in Wales are also far more likely to report having poor quality school buildings and infrastructure (60%), compared to those in Northern Ireland (47%), England (32%) and Scotland (24%).

Class sizes:

  • Scotland has the lowest pupil-teacher ratios in the UK, with 16 pupils per teacher in primary schools in 2019/20, compared to 21 and above for the rest of the UK. In secondary schools, there are only 12 pupils for every one teacher in Scotland, compared to 16 pupils or higher per secondary teacher for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
  • Pupil-teacher ratios have been falling for more than 20 years in Scotland, have mostly remained stable in England and have been steadily increasing in Northern Ireland and Wales.

Freedom to shape the curriculum: 

  • Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all have flexibility in their curriculums have greater autonomy to shape the content, while in England there is a strong focus on traditional subjects, with more specific guidance from the government about what should be included in the curriculum.

Approaches to assessment and exams:

  • After initially abolishing SATs and league tables, Scotland and Wales have both since brought back national testing in some form, but this is used more to judge individual pupils’ progress. Schools in England are more likely to use pupil test results to judge teachers’ effectiveness.
  • Schools in England and Wales are more likely to use test scores to group pupils by ability.
  • England, Wales, and Northern Ireland all use GCSEs and A-Levels, but in recent years they have diverged significantly, for example, England now uses a 9-1 GCSE grading system, while Wales and Northern Ireland use A*-G grades. England focuses on final exams and assessments, while a modular system has been retained by Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has ‘Highers’ which are roughly equivalent to GCSEs and ‘Advanced Highers’, which are roughly equivalent to A-Levels.

A Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill was included in the new legislation announced in the Queen’s Speech on 11 May. If enacted, this will mean that universities and student unions in England could face fines imposed by the OfS if they fail to protect free speech on campus. In addition, visiting speakers, staff or students will be able to claim compensation if it can be shown that they have suffered a financial loss resulting from a breach of a university’s free speech obligations. The new legislation also includes a proposal for a ‘free speech champion’ to be appointed, whose role would be to examine potential infringements of legal free speech entitlement, for example, the no-platforming of speakers or the dismissal of academics. The latter, in particular, is intended to protect university staff from losing their jobs if they put forward controversial or unpopular views, or simply views held that are not shared by the majority of other staff or students. A copy of the Bill and accompanying briefing notes can be found here.


On 18 May, the OfS published a report that included a new outcomes measure in respect of students’ likelihood of finding graduate level employment or starting higher study within 15 months of graduating. The data in the report reveals significant differences depending on the universities students attended and the subjects they studied. For example, fewer than half of the students at 25 English HE providers found graduate level employment or were accepted for higher study within 15 months of graduation. The data also revealed significant differences depending on the subjects studied. Graduates in sociology, social policy, anthropology, psychology, media, and sport were amongst those that had the lowest progression rates into graduate level employment or higher-level study within 15 months of graduating. Commenting on the report’s findings, Nicola Dandridge, the OfS Chief Executive, said that while the data revealed ‘…profound differences in outcomes for students, depending on where they study and the subject they choose’, the OfS would not be using the indicator for regulatory purposes. A copy of the OfS report can be found here.


A group of hairdressing students were returning to college with their tutor from a regional skills competition. They were being transported in one of the college’s mini-buses driven by a college technician. Suddenly, what looked like a rabbit jumped out into the road right in front of the mini-bus. The technician swerved to avoid hitting it, but to no avail. The technician, a sensitive man as well as an animal lover, pulled over and got out of the mini-bus out to see what had happened. Much to his dismay, the poor creature was dead. He was very upset by this, as were the students. But the lecturer accompanying the students told them not to fret and calmly got out of the mini-bus. She took a spray can out of her bag, then bent down and sprayed the contents onto the corpse. Much to the astonishment of the technician and the students, the rabbit-like creature jumped up, waved its paw at them, and ran away. A few seconds later it stopped, turned around and waved again, then hopped down the road for another few seconds, turned and waved again, repeating this until it finally hopped out of sight. The technician was amazed and asked the tutor what was in the spray can. The tutor turned the can around so that the technician could read the label, which said, ‘Acme Hair Spray- Restores life to dead hair and adds a permanent wave’.

Alan Birks – May 2021

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