Issue 118 | June 2021

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On 2 June, the EPI published its response to the UK government’s education recovery plan for England. (See here for a copy). The EPI says that the government’s overall funding for education recovery in England now totals £3.1 billion since the start of the pandemic. This is made up of £1.7 billion announced since March 2020, plus extra funding of £1.4 billion. This equates to a total of around £310 per pupil/student per year, for three years, whereas the EPI calculates that a minimum of around £500 per pupil/student per year over 3 years would be required to reverse the scale of learning loss. The level of funding committed to date for education recovery in England is less than that in many other countries. For example, the total spending of around £930 per pupil planned over a three-year period for England compares to around £1,600 per pupil/student in the United States, and £2,500 in the Netherlands. The EPI’s own estimate for the amount needed for education recovery in England is £13.5 billion.


On 2 June, when it was announced that only £1.4 billion in funding would be made available for the next phase of the education recovery plan for England, Sir Kevan Collins, the Education Recovery Commissioner for England, who was only appointed to the post on 3 February, handed in his resignation. Sir Kevan had previously told the UK government that around £15 billion was required for a successful recovery programme and since the actual amount allocated was only a fraction of this, he felt had no option but to resign. In his resignation letter, Sir Kevan said, ‘I hope that you are able to allocate the additional resources that are likely to be needed for a successful recovery through the spending review. I believe the settlement provided will define the international standing of England’s education system for years to come’. A copy of Sir Kevan’s resignation letter can be found here.

In response to a written parliamentary question on 7 June (see here), School Improvement Minister for England, Nick Gibb said that the education recovery programme aimed to reach around 750,000 disadvantaged pupils during the 2021/22 academic year. Kate Green, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Education in England pointed out that this number is just 43% of pupils on free school meals, and only 8% of all school pupils. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said that the government has ‘maxed out on education recovery support’ but Prime Minister Boris Johnson later insisted that the £1.4 billion is just the first tranche of funds in England and that more funding will be made available in due course (see here).


Last July, the UK government announced that £96 million had been allocated for a 16-19 Tuition fund in England. The aim of the fund is to help provide small group tutoring for disadvantaged 16 to 19 students whose studies have been disrupted by the pandemic. Expenditure from the fund is intended to be focused on students without a Grade 4 pass in English and/or maths. Colleges reported that hiring the necessary extra study support staff and strengthening mental health support meant that the £96 million had been quickly used up and they were having to use funds from other budgets to maintain the provision and in February this year, the government made a further £102 million available. Then, in June it was announced that an additional £222 million would be made available in 2021/22 as part of the wider £1.4 billion education recovery package. Whilst welcoming the cash, FE leaders expressed disappointment at the overall level of funding being provided for FE and in particular the failure to fund additional teaching hours for students and to extend the pupil premium to age 18. Against this, the Department for Education (DfE) has pointed out that:

  • £83 million has been allocated for a ‘Post-16 Capacity Fund’ (see here) to help colleges accommodate the expected demographic increase in 16 to 19-year-olds in the 2021/22 academic year.
  • Students in year 13 will be funded to repeat the year if they have been badly affected by the pandemic.
  • Independent training providers (ITPs) will now also be able to access the 16-19 Tuition Fund.

Further details of the new 16-19 tuition funding can be found in an updated Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) bulletin published on 1 June (see here) which, says the ESFA, should be read alongside its 16-19 Education: Funding Guidance document (see here).  However, the question remains as to how far the additional funding being provided for education recovery, and the funding for the various other schemes coming onstream that are outlined below, is just sticking plaster, particularly if the funding for core 16-18 and 19+ provision in England is so inadequate as to make it almost unviable to deliver.


In July 2020, the UK government carried out a review of HTQs on offer in England (see here). Following on from this, the DfE was tasked with introducing more HTQs in sectors where there were skills shortages and unfulfilled employer demand for staff with higher technical skills. As a result, the DfE has announced that a number of new HTQs will be introduced from September 2022 which will be quality assured by a new government HTQ brand and kite mark. The DfE has worked closely with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) and with awarding organisations (AOs) to develop the new HTQs against employer-led occupational standards. The first of the new HTQs will be in Construction, and Health and Science and will be available for 2021/22. These will be followed in 2022/23 by HTQs in Business and Administration, Education and Childcare, Engineering and Manufacturing and Legal, Finance and Accounting, and in 2023/24 by HTQs in Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care, Catering and Hospitality, Creative and Design, and Hair and Beauty. The new suite of HTQs is planned to be a natural progression route for young people taking new T-Levels. Recent initiatives intended to assist with the development of high quality HTQs include the following:

  • On 11 June, the ESFA issued an invitation to colleges, universities, ITPs and Institutes of Technology (IoTs) to bid for a share of a new £18 million Higher Technical Provider Growth Fund (HTPGF). It is expected that the providers that make successful bids will use the funding allocated to invest in more up to date equipment and to develop links with employers. The funding being made available comes from the National Skills Fund, of which £50 million has been set aside for capital investment to support the expansion of HTQs. Applications can be made from now (June) until 9 July. See here for more information and details of how to apply. For colleges to be eligible to apply, they must have an Ofsted rating of ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ at their last inspection and have a financial health rating of at least ‘satisfactory’. This restriction also applies to universities that have been graded as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ for provision offered which is in scope for Ofsted inspections, for example their apprenticeship provision (this restriction currently applies to three universities).
  • Also on 11 June, the DfE announced that up to £10 million will be made available for IoTs to develop and deliver higher technical short and modular courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Aimed at working adults, these courses will be available from Autumn 2021 and will be free to access. They are intended to support people to rapidly reskill or upskill to meet local economic needs. See here for more information.
  • The DfE has also announced that £2 million will be made available to support the development and delivery of high-quality modular training focused on upskilling employees to help address future skills gaps in high value manufacturing. The curiously named ‘High Value Manufacturing Catapult’ (see here for details), has been contracted to lead the project and will work with IoTs to delivery it.

‘Where’, you may ask, ‘do existing HNCs and HNDs fit into this?’ As yet, the answer is unclear.


Taking Teaching Further Programme: This is a DfE funded initiative to attract a target of 4,000 experienced industry professionals with expert technical knowledge and skills to work in the FE sector. The initiative is managed on the DfE’s behalf by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). It was launched in June 2018, with the first three rounds of DfE funding for the programme having been delivered between 2018 and 2021. On 16 March the DfE announced that a further £3 million was being made available for Round 4 of the programme (see here) covering the period April 2021 to July 2023. Under the scheme funding of £18,200 per recruit is being made available to cover:

  • The full cost of undertaking a teaching qualification (a Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training (DET) or an equivalent higher-level qualification) funded up to a maximum of £4,000 per trainee.
  • Costs of additional teacher time to provide support to new teachers (for example through team teaching/work shadowing arrangements) for up to 144 hours.
  • Costs to cover new teachers having a reduced teaching workload of up to 140 hours (following the period of intensive support) until the end of March 2022.
  • Optional costs of a new recruit taking a Level 3 Award in Education and Training (AET) qualification before the Level 5 DET, if an employer/provider deems that to be suitable for their new recruit(s). For this option, a further 132 hours would be added to the 140 hours of reduced teaching.

In some FE colleges, staff have not had a pay increase for ten years, so another way of encouraging more ‘experienced industry professionals with expert technical knowledge and skills’ to work in the FE sector would be for the government to increase the average FE teachers’ salary beyond its current level of just over £33,000 (see here). Not only is this level of pay much lower than an ‘experienced professional with expert technical knowledge and skills’ could earn in industry, but it is also approaching £10,000 a year lower than the average salary for a teacher in a secondary school or academy.

Advanced Practitioner Programme: The ETF has also developed an Advanced Practitioner Programme targeted at FE managers and teachers operating in Advanced Practitioner (AP) type roles. Successful participation in the programme will lead to Advanced Practitioner Status (APS). Programmes are fully funded by the DfE and are made up of modules (such as ‘Developmental Observations’, ‘Leading AP Teams’ and ‘Train the Trainers’). All models are delivered online. The ETF has also announced the first Advanced Practitioner Conference to be held in March 2022. Details of the 2021/22 Advanced Practitioner programme can be found here.

Further Education Professional Development Grant Pilot (FEDGP):  On 18 June, the DfE announced that £9.5 million is being made available for a FE Professional Development Grants Pilot, which will run in 2021/22. The funding forms part of the government’s commitment made in the Skills for Jobs White Paper to increase spending on the FE sector workforce to £65 million in 2021/22. The FEDGP aims to:

  • Support education recovery within the sector.
  • Fulfil the Skills for Jobs White paper commitment to strengthen professional development in FE.
  • Drive improvements in FE professional development in 3 priority areas, these being:
    • workforce capability and confidence in the use of technology in education;
    • subject-specific professional development;
    • support for new and inexperienced teachers.
  • Stimulate improvements in the standard of teaching in the FE sector by increasing opportunities for FE staff to collaborate and share effective practice.
  • Produce resources for FE workforce development that can be shared with other FE providers.

FE colleges and ITPs (but not schools and academies) are eligible to submit bids for funding. Applicants have been invited to form partnerships and submit joint applications. There is no limit to the number of partners in each application and the DfE says that it welcomes bids from a mix of different eligible provider types, although this is not essential. Each application will require an eligible lead provider and a minimum of one other partner provider. Lead providers must have been graded by Ofsted graded as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ at their last inspection, have an ESFA financial health grade of ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and must be in receipt of a minimum of £2.5m aggregate annual funding. At least one other partner provider must have been graded by Ofsted as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ at its most recent inspection or, for new providers, must have had an ‘insufficient progress’ outcome following their latest new provider monitoring visit. Providers have until Friday 16 July to apply and will be told the outcome of their application in September. See here for more information about the FEGDP, along with details of how to apply and the methodology used for assessing bids.


Although numerous new funding initiatives for FE have been announced in recent months, none have involved provision of funding specifically intended to enhance college cyber-security. Mandatory college closures during lockdowns have led to a massive increase in the use of laptops, mobile and other digital devices to access online learning. Large numbers of college-issued devices rapidly made their way into the homes of students and staff and were often connected to the college network via unsecured home hubs. Unfortunately, home hubs have often served as gateways into a college system for the purposes of cybercrime. The increasing number of digital devices being used remotely has highlighted the growing risk of unsecured technology used by students and staff on the integrity of college IT systems and databases, and the widespread disruption caused if the security of the system is breached by hackers. Cyber threats have grown exponentially across the whole of the education sector as cyber criminals have become more sophisticated in their methods, and attacks on college systems can take the form of external ransomware and distributed denial of service (DDoS), through to disruption deliberately caused by malware installed on college systems by students or disgruntled staff. Not only can these attacks cause serious disruption, in the case of personal data breaches it could result in significant fines being imposed on the college. However, as JISC has pointed out, because of endemic financial constraints, IT departments are often understaffed and are using outdated operating systems with vulnerable servers and end-user devices. IT departments also frequently struggle to afford to keep software licences up to date. College IT staff can do their best to maintain IT security and to keep comprehensive data backups. They can and do prevent numerous cyber-attacks but only one attack needs to get through to cause major disruption. Accessing sufficient funding to maintain robust IT systems and up to date cyber-security without depleting other already overstretched college budgets is a problem that can only be addressed at government level


The new Skills and Post-16 Education Bill (see here for a copy) currently passing through Parliament contains proposals to ‘…set new requirements for annual board self-assessment and regular external governance reviews’, and for a ‘framework of governance skills and competencies’. The ETF and the Association of Colleges (AoC) have already jointly run pilots in 30 colleges to trial external governance reviews, the findings of which are expected to be published imminently. The question of whether chairs should be paid is also under consideration. The DfE is clearly intending to become very much more involved in monitoring the performance of principals and governing bodies and whilst not specifically referred to in the Bill, some think that, as is the case in US Community Colleges, this might lead to fixed-term contracts for principals and CEOs, after which point their performance is rigorously reviewed. Maximum terms for college Chairs and other board members are also known to be under consideration by the DfE. There is even a minority view that, irrespective of performance, there comes a time when a principal or chair should move on, rather than staying in post for too long.

These considerations echo the Civil Service Reform Plan (see here) which places Permanent Secretaries of government departments on five-year fixed term contracts. It also reflects the AoC’s governance code, which says governors should not normally serve more than two terms, or a maximum of eight years.

However, while the main reason for the DfE’s likely increased involvement in the performance of principals and chairs appears to lie in the costly failures of leadership and governance in some colleges, there appears to be no recognition of the problems caused by the endemic underfunding of FE. There have undoubtedly been examples of colleges getting into financial difficulty because of reckless or poor leadership and governance, but this would not explain the current precarious financial position of the entire FE sector. If a college with say 5,000 full time equivalent (FTE) students had been funded at the same FTE rate as full-time pupils are in schools, it has been estimated that the college would have had an extra £5 million a year in its budget, which could be expected to have eased its financial pressures no end. And if the college had received university levels of funding, it would most likely have been awash with cash.


At a meeting of the House of Commons Education Select Committee held on 9 February, it was agreed that an inquiry should be held into the reasons why white British working-class children were systematically under-achieving throughout their time in the education system, from early years through to higher education. The discussion of the issues that led to the call for the inquiry can be seen on Parliament TV here. The report of the inquiry, entitled ‘The forgotten: how white working-class pupils have been let down, and how to change it’, was published on 22 June. The report concludes that white British working-class pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) have persistently underperformed compared with peers in other ethnic groups because ‘…they have been badly let down by decades of neglect and muddled policy thinking’, exacerbated because DfE has ‘…failed to acknowledge extent of problem’. The report provides statistical evidence the extent of the group’s underachievement, which includes the following:

  • Early years:In 2018/19, just 53% of FSM-eligible white British pupils met the expected standard of development at the end of the early years foundation stage, the lowest percentages for any disadvantaged ethnic group.
  • GCSE performance:In 2019 just 17.7% of FSM-eligible white British pupils achieved grade 5 or above in English and maths, compared with 22.5% of all FSM-eligible pupils.
  • Access to higher education:In 2018/19, only 16% FSM-eligible white British students started in higher education by the age of 19. This was the lowest of any ethnic group other than travellers of Irish heritage and Gypsy/Roma, whose attendance at school has traditionally been erratic.

The Committee found these disparities were particularly striking since, while white people are the ethnic majority in Britain, FSM-eligible white British pupils are also proportionately the largest disadvantaged group. Committee members did not accept the DfE’s argument that the achievement gap can be attributed to poverty alone because pupils from most ethnic minority backgrounds who also experienced poverty had consistently out-performed their white British peers. Instead, the report identifies many other factors that have combined to cause disadvantaged white working-class pupils to perform so badly. These include:

  • Persistent and multi-generational disadvantage.
  • Family experience of education.
  • Depressed regional economies and under-investment in local infrastructure.
  • A lack of social capital (for example the absence of community organisations and youth groups).
  • Disengagement from the curriculum.
  • A failure to address the very low participation in higher education.

The report recommends 5 main actions, from early years through to higher education, to help address this:

  • Funding needs to be made available to level up educational opportunity: A better understanding of disadvantage and better tools to tackle it is needed, starting with reforming the Pupil Premium. Targeted support similar to that received by other disadvantaged ethnic groups in the past should also be made available. In addition, recognition should be given to the fact that in some schools, white working-class pupils are the ethnic minority.
  • Support should be provided to increase parental engagement and tackle multi-generational disadvantage: A strong network of Family Hubs for all disadvantaged families is needed. These should offer integrated services, build trusting relationships with families and work closely with schools to provide support throughout a child’s educational journey.
  • Better information on vocational training and apprenticeship options should be made available and support to boost access to higher education should be provided: Ofsted should help enforce schools’ compliance with the Baker Clause to allow vocational training and apprenticeship providers to raise the awareness of pupils of the alternative provision on offer. Where non-compliance with the Baker clause is found during an Ofsted inspection, schools should be limited to a ‘Requires Improvement’ rating. HE providers should be more aware of the needs of all disadvantaged ethnic groups, and not just those of disadvantaged ethnic minorities.
  • Attract good teachers to challenging areas:Good teaching is one of the most powerful levers for improving outcomes. Introducing teaching degree apprenticeships and investing in local teacher training centres may support getting good teachers to the pupils who need them most.
  • ‘White Privilege’: The Committee agreed with the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities that the term ‘White Privilege’ is potentially divisive, and that disadvantage should be discussed without pitting different ethnic groups against each other. The report says that the pupils the inquiry focuses on do not have ‘White Privilege’ in the education system, and Committee members expressed concern at the impact that hearing the term presented as fact might have on white FSM-eligible children and their parents. Schools should consider whether the promotion of politically controversial terminology, including ‘White Privilege’, is consistent with their duties under the Equality Act 2010. The DfE should issue clear guidance for schools and other organisations receiving publicly funded grants from the DfE on how to deliver teaching on these complex issues in a balanced, impartial and age-appropriate way.

The last bullet point above has proved to be controversial with some opposition politicians, including the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Labour members of the Education Select Committee, who have argued that the section denying that disadvantaged white working-class children did not enjoy ‘white privilege’ should be withdrawn. They say that by retaining it Conservative ministers were fuelling ‘culture wars’ and as such, some responded by voting against the whole report (see here and here for the opposing views on the matter).  A full copy of the Education Select Committee report can be found here.

New Ofqual Chief Executive is nominated

Following an ‘open recruitment and selection process’, the DfE has nominated Dr Jo Saxton (see here) for the role of Chief Executive Officer of Ofqual. Simon Lebus has occupied the Chief Executive post on an interim basis since January and Dr Saxton will replace him when he leaves in September. Dr Saxton is currently an advisor to Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education in England, and also the Academies Minister, Baroness Berridge, on policy issues. However, she is a civil servant, rather than a special advisor (SPAD). Prime Ministerial approval has already been given, but approval must also be sought from the House of Commons Educational Select Committee prior to her formal appointment.

Privy Council confirms 2-year extension to Amanda Spielman’s contract as Ofsted Chief Inspector

As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, both the DfE and Education Select Committee had confirmed a 2-year extension to Amanda Spielman’s contract as Ofsted Chief Inspector for England but were awaiting final approval from the Privy Council. The DfE has announced that the required approval has now been given and Ms Spielman’s 2-year contract extension will commence on 1 January 2022 (see here), at the end of which she will have been the longest serving person in the post. Interestingly, she will also be the only person to have occupied the post who has never been a teacher (see here).


Ofsted was asked by the DfE to carry out a ‘rapid’ review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges. The review was in response to allegations of abuse on the ‘Everyone’s’ Invited’ website (see here). During April and May, Ofsted inspectors visited 30 schools and two colleges and spoke to more than 900 students in single sex groups about the prevalence of sexual abuse and harassment. Inspectors found that:

  • Sexual harassment, including online sexual abuse, has become ‘normalised’ in schools and colleges.
  • Nine in ten of the girls they spoke to told them that sexist name calling and being sent unwanted explicit pictures or videos happened ‘a lot’ or ‘sometimes.
  • Boys talked about whose ‘nudes’ they had and shared them amongst themselves like a ‘collection game’, typically on platforms like WhatsApp or Snapchat.
  • All the young people they spoke to, especially girls, said they didn’t want to talk about sexual abuse even when encouraged by their school or college to do so. The reasons they gave for this included the risk of being ostracised by peers, or not being believed, or that they will be blamed.
  • School and college staff and leaders consistently underestimated the scale of the problem, either because they didn’t identify sexual harassment and sexualised language as significant problems, or because they didn’t treat them seriously, or they were unaware they were happening.
  • A review of the evidence of 93 Ofsted inspections suggested that inspectors had also failed to identify these issues, or when they been identified, failed to follow up on them.

On 10 June, Ofsted published a detailed report of the review findings, along with extensive recommendations for action, a copy of which can be found here. Ofsted says that although the findings (which make for depressing reading) may not be fully representative of schools or colleges across England, the issues identified were sufficiently widespread to require urgent action. A brief summary of these actions is given below:

  • Both the Common Inspection Framework (CIF) and the Inspection Handbook for Schools and Colleges in England will be amended to cover the scale and nature of sexual abuse and harassment that might be taking place.
  • Future inspections will include an assessment of how schools and colleges identify, record and deal with incidents of such abuse and harassment. To help inspectors arrive at a judgement, they will also speak to students about these issues.
  • On notification of an inspection, school and college leaders will be asked to supply inspectors with records of incidents of sexual violence and sexual harassment (including those that have occurred online), and how they have been dealt with. Inspectors will be required to follow this up with them.
  • Ofsted will produce and deliver further training on inspecting safeguarding in education settings, specifically with reference to dealing with incidents of peer-on-peer sexual abuse.
  • Ofsted will expect school and college leaders to develop a culture within their institutions where all kinds of sexual harassment are recognised and addressed, including with sanctions when appropriate.

For its own part, the DfE says that Online Safety Bill (see here) presented to Parliament on 29 May will legislate for a new system of accountability and oversight of tech companies, which will be legally obliged to demonstrate that they are doing whatever is necessary to protect children from accessing inappropriate content, such as pornography, and from online bullying. The DfE also says that it will expect school and college leaders to train their staff on how to deal with sexual abuse and harassment and to boost teacher confidence in identifying and responding to these issues.

Compliance with the Baker clause could become an Ofsted limiting judgement

The Baker clause was introduced by Lord Kenneth Baker as an amendment to the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 and became law in 2018. It stipulates that schools are legally required to allow colleges and other training providers access to every pupil in years 8-13 to inform them of the alternative vocational qualification routes and career paths that are available to them. It is thought that Lord Baker’s main motive for moving the amendment was to support access to schools for University Technical Colleges (UTCs) which, although neither a university nor a technical college, are 14-19 institutions offering a limited range of vocational options, However, whatever the motive, there is clear evidence that schools are not meeting their statutory obligations in respect of the Baker clause. For example, a research report published by UCAS last month, revealed one-third of pupils in schools had not been told about apprenticeships (see here for a copy). In addition, data published last November by the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) showed that less than half (47%) of more than 2,000 schools in the CEC careers hubs fully met a target for pupils experiencing a ‘meaningful encounter with providers of the full range of learning opportunities’.

At a meeting of the House of Commons Education Select Committee held on 15 June, Robert Halfon, the Committee Chair expressed his concerns about this to Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman and asked her how it was possible that Ofsted could award outstanding grades to schools that failed or refused to comply with the Baker clause. Ms Spielman responded by saying Ofsted’s inspection model was ‘…not a list of the statutory requirements to be ticked off during inspections’ and that Ofsted inspectors were not enforcers. She said that Ofsted did care about whether schools complied with the Baker Clause but added that there were hundreds of other legal requirements for institutions to comply with and how Ofsted prioritises these in inspections was for the government to decide. She went on to say that specifically making the Baker Clause a limiting judgement was a matter for the government to decide. A copy of the transcript of the Education Select Committee meeting referred to above can be found here. The section of the meeting covering questions relating to careers advice and the Baker clause begins at Q796. Alternatively, you can watch the meeting on Parliament TV here. The relevant section starts at 11.20.55.

Meanwhile, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill includes proposals to strengthen the Baker clause. These include the introduction of a new minimum requirement for allowing colleges and other providers access to pupils on school premises, and making funding for careers provision in schools conditional on Baker clause compliance. Also, the Education Select Committee has now recommended that a school found to be failing to carry out its legal obligations under the Baker clause following an Ofsted inspection should be limited to a Grade 3. For his part, Lord Baker is in the process of attempting to move an amendment to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill that, if accepted, will give parents and providers the right to sue schools if they fail in their statutory obligation to allow providers on to their premises to talk to pupils about the alternative vocational and other options available to them.

Some QARs will be produced for 2020/21, but not for courses with teacher assessed grades

Provider level qualification achievement rates (QARs) are arrived at by calculating the number of qualifications that students obtain on a particular course as percentage of total enrolments on that course. QARs are normally produced at individual provider level by the ESFA and measure the level of a provider’s performance in delivering apprenticeships, adult education and 16-18 programmes. The data collected by the ESFA is normally shared with the provider and with Ofsted to help the inspectorate decide which providers to visit. However, because the Coronavirus outbreak, QAR data was not produced for the 2019/20 academic year, providers were not sent their QAR data, nor was the data shared with Ofsted.

In an update published on 9 June, the ESFA announced that for 2020/21 QAR data will be produced, but only for those qualifications that are subject to ‘normal assessment’. QAR data for qualification outcomes determined by teacher-assessment will not be produced. (See here for a copy of the update). In the update, the ESFA says that:

  • Qualifications confirmed as subject to normal assessment will be included in institution level QARs and will be shared with providers and with Ofsted for inspection purposes.
  • Qualifications confirmed as teacher-assessed and those which may be subject to a teacher-assessed grade because they cannot safely access a ‘normal assessment’ will not be included in institution level QARs and data will not be shared with Ofsted or providers.

With reference to vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs), the ESFA update says:

  • Those VTQs that are most like GCSEs and A-levels, such as most BTECs, will receive teacher-assessed grades and QARs will not be produced for these courses.
  • VTQs that are used for direct entry into employment and demonstrate occupational or professional competence will see their assessments go ahead as planned and QARs will be produced.
  • Assessments for VTQs that are unlike GCSEs and A-levels but are still used for progression, such as functional skills and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), should still go ahead, in which case QARs will be produced. But if this is not possible, they can receive teacher-assessed grades, in which case QARs will not be produced.

Further DfE guidance on arrangements for reporting performance data in 2020/21 can be found here.

Ofqual publishes its ‘Perceptions of Vocational and Technical Qualifications in England’ survey

On 17 June, Ofqual published its latest annual ‘Perceptions of Vocational and Technical Qualifications in England’ survey (see here for a copy). The survey, which was commissioned by Ofqual but carried out by YouGov, was conducted over the period 22 January until 10 March. The section of the report dealing with T-Levels suggests that the government still has some way to go in raising public awareness of the new qualifications, with less than 5% of 1,391 employers surveyed having a ‘very good understanding’ of T-Levels while more than 60% of employers said they either had ‘no understanding at all’ or ‘not a very good understanding’ of T-Levels. And of the 521 learners surveyed, although 25% had said that they had a ‘very good’ or ‘quite good’ understanding of T-levels, 35% said that they had ‘no understanding of T-Levels at all’.

DfE announces new measure to encourage employers to offer T-Level work placements

Students taking T-Levels are required to undertake an industry placement of 45 days (or 315 hours) as an integral part of their course. In 2020/21 employers offering T-Level industry placements were paid £750 per placement offered, for up to a maximum of 10 placements, to help pay for administration and supervision costs. Following concerns that employers were cancelling their offers of placements because of the pandemic and that there could be insufficient placements on offer for T-Level students in 2021/22, on 27 May, the DfE announced that the payment employers receive for offering T-level industry placements will be temporarily increased to £1,000 per placement, up to a maximum of 20 placements. (See here for more details). These increased payments will be made available from now (June 2021) until July 2022.

In addition to cash incentives, on 10 June the DfE published a new employer guide to help businesses understand what is expected of them when they offer a T-Level industry placement (see here for a copy). The guide is targeted at employers who, although they may be familiar with apprenticeship work placements and shorter work experience for young people, are unfamiliar with the more complex requirements of providing T-Level industry placements. Existing funding for the employer support package runs throughout 2021/22 and on 10 June the DfE published an invitation to tender (see here for a copy) to extend the package beyond this. The tender for the extension includes an additional requirement to target specific T-Level routes that are particularly problematic in respect of securing a sufficient number of industry placements. As mentioned above, providing a sufficient number of industry placements will be made more difficult if more than 60% of employers say they either have ‘no understanding at all’ or ‘not a very good understanding’ of T-Levels.

ESFA publishes updated operational guidance on the oversight of ITPs

On 26 May, the ESFA published updated guidance for Independent Training Providers (ITPs). The update provides information for providers on how the ESFA will take action to address the potential risk of failure. Some aspects of the guidance will also apply to colleges. The updated guidance includes sections on:

  • The refreshed Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP)
  • The impact of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill
  • Impending subcontracting reforms
  • The funding of high-risk organisations and risk-based contract management
  • What financial assurance investigations and data accuracy and reliability checks will be carried out
  • Contract enforcement action, sanctions and termination
  • Arrangements for new providers entering the market
  • Arrangements for providers exiting the market and requirements for learner protection if/when they do.

A copy of the updated ESFA guidance can be found here.


Since April 2017, firms across the whole of the UK with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million have been required to pay 0.5% of their pay bill into the apprenticeship levy. The funds raised through the levy stay in a virtual account which employers can then draw down to fund apprenticeship training (see here for more details). However, any money not spent by the employer within two years is deemed to have expired and is returned to the Treasury. In response to a question in Parliament from Labour’s Shadow Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, Toby Perkins, it was revealed that the amount of expired apprenticeship levy funding returned to the Treasury each month has varied between £11 million in May 2019 and £157 million in April this year (the most recent month for which data is available). In total, it has been estimated that employers have lost around £2 billion in expired apprenticeship funding over the period in between (see here). The increase in unspent apprenticeship levy funding has been attributed by the government to the drop in apprenticeship numbers as a result of the pandemic. Asked to comment on this, a DfE spokesperson said, ‘The levy gives employers two years to put a programme in place or work with their supply chain or local community to transfer funding. Any unspent funds do not go to waste but are used to fund new apprenticeships with employers that do not pay the levy, as well as existing apprentices that started in previous years’. The DfE spokesperson also explained that levy payers had the option to transfer up to 25% of their unused levy funds to other employers.


The large amounts of unspent levy funding have resulted in calls for reform of the levy system. These include the following:

  • Labour has proposed that some of the unused levy funding should be used for an apprenticeship wage subsidy to help struggling businesses to retain their apprentices, and to encourage new businesses to take on apprentices aged 16-24 to help combat rising levels of youth unemployment.
  • Robert Halfon, the Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee, has said that the increased funding allocated for apprentice growth incentives will disproportionately benefit larger employers and that the extra cash being made available, combined with a proportion of funding generated through the levy would have be put to better use if it was used to pay the wages of apprentices employed by small and medium sized employers (SMEs) in full, at least for the first year. Mr Halfon also called on the government to ‘…strategically weigh the levy in favour of young people, especially those disadvantaged backgrounds, to address the rising unemployment figures in this age group’.
  • In their report ‘Learning for life: Funding a world-class adult education system’ (see here for a copy), the Confederation British Industry (CBI) calls the levy ‘a failed experiment’ which should be scrapped altogether and replaced by a ‘flexible skills and training levy’ which would allow firms to spend levy funding raised on a wider range of training for their employees and not just apprenticeships. This wider training might include such things as short modular courses, pre-apprenticeship programmes, product training, professional courses, and soft skills training.

However, speaking at the recent Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) conference Gillian Keegan, the Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships in England, defended the current levy system and restated her view that apprenticeship levy funding should only be used for apprenticeships. She said that her stance on this was borne out of the ‘madness’ of organisations recruiting people from abroad, rather of developing home grown talent and building solid skills pipelines in this country. As an example of this, Ms Keegan said that rather than poaching nurses from abroad, often from countries that can ill afford to lose them, there were currently around 7,500 starts on nursing apprenticeships at all different levels, with more starts in the ‘pipeline’.


On 9 June, the AoC published a report called ‘Let Them Learn: Further education colleges’ support for the unemployed’ (see here for a copy). The report calls on the government to abolish the current universal credit claimant rules which, says the AoC, have created an ‘education versus work divide’. The report highlights the disconnect between FE provision and welfare systems that prevents people in receipt of unemployment benefits from participating in mainstream FE learning or training courses beyond 8 weeks. This is because they are expected to prioritise job searches and take available jobs if able to do so. This, in turn, says the AoC constrains progress in achieving the government’s Plan for Jobs recovery strategy and puts access to the Lifetime Skills Guarantee out of reach for far too many people. To address this, the AoC calls for a joining of skills and employment programmes and points out that FE colleges are already supporting unemployed people in partnership with their local Jobcentre Plus (JCP) despite the absence of any formal coordination between the education and welfare system. To address the disconnect, the AoC has proposed the creation of a new system that ‘…embeds, incentivises, and invests in the role of colleges in supporting unemployed people on a national scale’ and has called on the government to:

  • Reform universal credit rules so that no one is prevented from being able to access training.
  • Extend the Lifetime Skills Guarantee to everyone, not just those without an existing Level 3 qualification.
  • Use the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill to put in legislation for the role of FE colleges in supporting unemployed people, and for Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) to include partnerships between colleges and JobCentre Plus.
  • Set out a national strategy for the role of education and skills in supporting employment, through a cross-departmental taskforce which includes representation from the DFE, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and LocalGovernment (MHCLG).

Responding to the report, a government spokesperson said, ‘Universal credit is designed to help people into work and every claimant receives tailored support from their work coach, including help to build new skills’ and that ‘…recent changes have enabled claimants to take part in full-time training for longer’.


Leading universities have been accused of stifling free speech by using computer software for students to report ‘microaggressions’ anonymously. More than 60 universities are now using the ‘Report +’ system to enable ‘inappropriate behaviour’ on the part of students and staff to be reported and acted upon. Some examples of reportable ‘microaggressions’ have proved to be controversial and include such things as ‘raising an eyebrow’, ‘turning your back’, or telling someone to ‘cheer up and not look so depressed’. In one example, a university lecturer was placed under investigation after he was reported for speaking out against political correctness, although he was later acquitted. Critics have claimed that ‘Report+’ is a ‘…threat to traditions of free speech and fearless discussion of ideas’, with its founders, Culture Shift being accused of making considerable profits through ‘woke capitalism’. One critic said, ‘The people who run these services are normally white middle-class people who are earning thousands of pounds telling other white people that they are racist and need advice and training on how to think and behave.’ A spokesperson for Report+ countered this, saying ‘Our mission is to break down barriers to reporting bullying and harassment within institutions and to ensure all survivors feel supported, not to infringe anybody’s right to freedom of speech’. An example of how the Report+ system operates can be found in the ‘Report and Support’ section of Manchester University’s website here.


The OfS has published its Annual Report and Accounts for 2020/21 covering its third year of operation and the progress made in delivering its strategic objectives. The report particularly highlights the difficulties faced over the past year because of the pandemic and says that the focus of the OfS throughout 2020/21 has been on responding to the impact of the pandemic on students and HE providers. The report draws attention to the difficulties first year students have experienced, including a sudden end to their Year 13 studies at school or college and uncertainty around their exam results and admission to the HE institutions they applied to. It goes on to say that this year’s cohort of prospective students have also had their learning disrupted and have faced uncertainties around their examinations. In addition, the report says that students already on HE courses have had very limited opportunities for face-to-face teaching, have spent much of the time in their accommodation, and have faced personal and financial pressures. The report goes on to say that the OfS has spent much of its time in 2020/21:

  • Adjusting its regulatory approach to help HE providers manage the additional demands of the pandemic, while maintaining its risk-based monitoring activity and helping to ensure that the quality of teaching and learning, financial sustainability and the provision of support for the most vulnerable students, has been maintained.
  • Making it clear to HE providers that, following the rapid shift to online teaching and learning, the need for clear, timely communications with students about how their courses would be delivered and assessed.
  • Improving equality of opportunity for black, Asian and minority ethnic students and helping HE providers get their access and participation plans back on track so that they could continue to make progress against the targets and commitments agreed with the OfS for the period to 2025.
  • Funding innovative projects involving partnerships between HE providers and the NHS and sponsoring the development of a new online mental health resource called ‘Student Space’ (see here for more information on this).

See here for a copy of the OfS report


On 23 June the OfS launched a review of the use of ‘inclusive’ assessment policies and practices in a number of universities that disregard poor spelling, punctuation and grammar when students’ work is assessed. The universities concerned say they have adopted an inclusive assessment policy for a number of reasons, for example to ensure that students with English as a second language are not discouraged if high standards of written English are required. Ministerial reaction to one university’s decision in April to adopt an inclusive assessment policy can be found on the BBC website here. The OfS says that the review of inclusive assessment strategies is intended to identify those approaches that maintain rigour in assessment and those that do not, and is part of a range of activities intended to help drive up the quality of higher education courses and ensure that standards are maintained. The findings of the review will be published in due course, identifying where the OfS is likely to have future regulatory concerns as well as areas of good practice. For more information see the OfS website which can be accessed here.


Message seen on a Birmingham FE college staff room notice board:

‘Anybody interested in a free ride in a helicopter flight for 4 people? I’m still looking for 2 more people to join us. The helicopter will leave from Birmingham Airport at 7.30 am on Saturday morning and will fly to Bournemouth, where we will have breakfast. We will the go on board a yacht for a leisurely cruise along the Dorset coast followed by a late lunch. We will then cruise out to sea to look at dolphins, after which we will return to Bournemouth to go out for dinner. We will then fly back home to Birmingham arriving at approximately 11.30 pm. If interested please email or text me as soon as possible. Preferably someone with a helicopter and yacht, otherwise we can’t go’

Alan Birks – June 2021

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