Issue 123 | December 2021

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On 14 December, the DfE published its updated Covid operational guidance for colleges and other FE providers in England. This latest update followed three earlier DfE updates published just days earlier on 9 December, 2 December and 30 November respectively. The latest guidance includes changes to isolation rules (see the “Isolation’ section below). The flurry of DfE updates followed the government’s activation of ‘Plan B’ for dealing with the surge in the number of Omicron variant cases.

The main elements in the 14 December update include the following:

  • Teaching: The guidance says that:
    • Colleges should continue to deliver in-person teaching for the remainder of the term.
    • It is not necessary for students to be kept in group ‘bubbles’.
  • Exams next term: Students should continue to prepare for their vocational and technical exams and assessments next term, which at present expected go ahead as planned.
  • Ofsted inspections: Prior to the 9 December update, it was assumed that Ofsted onsite inspections would continue. Then, on 10 December, the DfE confirmed that Ofsted will suspend all inspectionsplanned up to the end of the current term, except for those relating to safeguarding issues. Ofsted had already announced that there will be no inspections in the first week of next term.
  • Face coverings: The guidance on face coverings says that:
    • Face coverings should be worn by students, staff and adult visitors in communal areas such as corridors which are outside of classrooms or workshops.
    • Face coverings are not required to be worn in teaching areas; however, colleges have the discretion to require them, particularly ‘…where teaching settings are more reflective of a workplace environment, such as a training kitchen’.
    • Transparent face shields or visors should be worn with a mask, not instead of one. However, transparent face coverings can be worn if a student relies on lip-reading or facial expressions to engage in communication.
    • Students should wear face coverings on college transport.
    • Students who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness, impairment, or disability, or people for whom putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause severe mental distress, are not required to wear face coverings.
    • Perhaps ambiguously, the guidance says that no student should be denied access to college if they refuse to wear a mask.
  • Covid passports: The guidance says that a covid passport should not be a requirement to enter college premises.
  • Working from home: College support staff who can work from home should do so, as long as this does not disrupt face-to-face teaching.
  • Testing: The guidance says that:
    • FE staff and students returning in January should take a lateral flow test the evening before or on the morning of their return.
    • Unlike in schools, colleges returning in January are not required to maintain on-site testing facilities.
    • Adult education providers that remain open over the Christmas period should ensure that staff and students continue to test at home twice a week.
  • Contact tracing: Colleges are not expected to undertake contact tracing. Close contacts of persons testing for Covid will be identified via NHS Test and Trace. Those who have been in close contact ‘…will be contacted directly and told to isolate’. (Although it is unclear how NHS Test and Trace will know which students and staff have been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for Covid without the college playing a role in providing the service with that information).
  • Isolation: The latest 14 December guidance says that:
    • Adults who are fully vaccinated and all children and young people aged between 5-18 years and 6 months identified as a contact of someone testing positive for any Covid variant (including the Omicron variant) should take a lateral flow device (LFD) test every day for 7 days and report the results each day online. They can continue to attend their college as normal unless they have a positive test result. Those who test positive should self-isolate and take a confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. A negative PCR result will override an earlier positive LFD test.
    • Daily testing applies to all contacts including those who are:
      • Fully vaccinated adults – people who have had 2 doses of an approved vaccine
      • Children and young people aged 5-18 years and 6 months, regardless of their vaccination status
      • people who are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons.
    • In the earlier guidance, all close contacts of people testing positive for the Omicron variant were told that they must self-isolate for up to 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status. However, the 14 December guidance now says that only close contacts of those who have tested positive for the Omicron Covid variant who are not doubled-vaccinated are required isolate for 10 days.
    • Separate guidance has been published for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who have been identified as close contacts of people testing positive for Covid.
  • Remote working during isolation: The guidance says that colleges are required to ‘…maintain the capacity to deliver high-quality remote education’. This means that:
    • If students are required to isolate, colleges should provide them with suitable remote education.
    • If staff are required to isolate, they should teach and/or work remotely from home where possible, or if not, colleges should arrange for their work to be carried out by temporary staff employed for this purpose. (See section below on the ‘college workforce fund’).
  • Outbreak planning: Colleges should update their outbreak management plans to include how they will operate if there is an Omicron variant outbreak, either in the college or in the local area. Organisations that provide student work placements should be aware of, and be involved in developing, the college’s outbreak management plans.
  • Contingency arrangements: Colleges should refamiliarise themselves with the DfE Contingency Framework Guidance published on 3 December.
  • Risk Assessments: Colleges should update their health and safety risk assessments in line with the 14 December guidance.
  • International visits: Colleges are advised not to go ahead with any international educational visits they may have planned. This is because of the risk of disruption to students’ education resulting from the need to isolate, test and possibly quarantine on arrival back into the UK. (Interestingly, on 14 December, the government announced the current travel ‘red list’ was to be ended since it was ‘less effective in slowing the incursion’ of the Omicron variant’).
  • Higher Education: On 14 December, the DfE published separate updated operational guidance on the Omicron Covid variant for Universities and other HE providers (including colleges), a copy of which can be found
  • DfE blog: The DfE maintains a blog called ‘The Education Hub’. The DfE says that the blog will be regularly updated to cover any new Covid related developments as, and when, they happen.

Meanwhile, although the government’s current position is that schools and colleges in England will stay open unless there is an ‘absolute health emergency’, on 13 December, Sajid Javed, the Health Secretary for England said that with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, he ‘could not guarantee’ that there would not be closures. An article was published in the online magazine ‘Unherd’ on 14 December entitled ‘Get ready for exams to be cancelled…again’, which you might find interesting.


On 30 November, the DfE reintroduced the Covid-19 Workforce Fund. The fund was first introduced in December 2020 and is intended to provide those general FE colleges (GFEs) and sixth form colleges (SFCs) that need it with financial support to help them cover the cost of workforce absences incurred as a result of Covid. The funding only covers staff absences over the period from 22 November 2021 until 31 December 2021 inclusive, and while schools have their own fund, independent training providers (ITPs) and adult community learning providers (ACLPs) are not able to apply for financial support from the fund.

Support for GFEs and SFCs is also subject to certain conditions being met. These include the following:

  • Colleges should only apply for funds after they have exhausted all other finance options.
  • Only colleges with 45 cash days or less at any point between November 2021 and March 2022 are eligible to apply for funds, and colleges will not be able to claim the funding until next April.
  • The funding is intended to be used to pay for additional supply teachers or increasing existing part-time teachers’ hours to cover the absences, through Covid, of teachers on permanent or long-term contracts. The fund can also be used to cover the absence of support staff on permanent, or long-term contracts who are ‘…necessary to the avoid full or partial closure of the college (e.g., cleaning, catering, transport, IT and estates). The funds cannot be used to cover the absence of temporary staff.
  • Colleges are expected to be financially prudent when sourcing teaching or teaching support cover and records are required to be kept of all expenditure on covering staff absences.
  • Colleges are required to have been fully open for on-site delivery on the days for which they are claiming staff absence funding.
  • To meet the criteria for funding GFEs and SFCs must be experiencing either:
    • a teacher absence rate at or above 20% on a given day
    • a teacher absence rate of 10% or above that has been experienced for 15 or more consecutive days (not including weekends).

Colleges are only able to claim for absence costs above these thresholds.

DfE strikes discounted price deals for air cleaning units to help restrict the spread of Covid

Deals have been reached by the DfE with six approved suppliers to enable state funded schools and colleges in England to purchase air cleaning units at discounted prices of between £425 and £1,170 (depending on the specification). The DfE says units are intended to be used to help restrict the spread of Covid in areas where securing adequate ventilation is not possible or can’t be achieved by opening windows and doors. The units are not, says the DfE, intended to be a substitute for ventilation that can be achieved. School and college leaders and unions have called on the government to fully fund the air cleaning units other than through school or college budgets, but this has been resisted by the government on the grounds that the cost of doing so could be up to £1 billion. More information on the six approved suppliers, the air cleaning unit specifications and how colleges can purchase them can be found here.


On 7 December, Ofsted published its 2020/21 Annual Report covering the period from 1 September 2020 to 31 August 2021. During the year most onsite inspection activity was suspended and in reference to the FE and skills sector the report says that:

  • The sector was severely disrupted by the Covid pandemic. This was particularly so for apprentices and for other learners studying courses with a practical element.
  • There was an increase in number of students experiencing significant mental health problems.
  • There was an increase in the number of safeguarding concerns identified, such as domestic abuse, county lines, knife crime and families experiencing destitution or needing to access foodbanks.
  • Large numbers of apprentices were furloughed. Many of these were unable to finish their course because their employer had ceased trading, or they had lost their jobs, or because of continuing Covid restrictions. This was particularly the case in the retail, customer service, childcare and health and social care sectors. Many apprentices were unable to take their end-point assessment (EPA).
  • Colleges assessed their students at the beginning of the autumn term to establish any gaps in their learning following the earlier lockdown. They then used this information to modify curriculum content to meet individual student needs. However, this often led to disjointed learning as the normal sequencing of the curriculum was disrupted.
  • Large numbers of students found online learning difficult, and colleges often found it challenging to offer them an individualised curriculum. This was often as a consequence of difficulties in providing students with the devices and learning platforms they needed to participate effectively in online learning.
  • Students’ behaviour was severely affected by the pandemic. For example, they found it difficult to talk to inspectors and their ability to work with other learners deteriorated.
  • In the first lockdown, between March and July 2020, the numbers of adults participating in learning fell by 44% and then fell by a further 11% cent between August 2020 and April 2021. This, says Ofsted, was due to a combination of Covid restrictions in learning venues, the reluctance of some adult learners to return to face-to-face teaching and the difficulties in providing some adult learners with the devices and remote learning platforms they needed to participate in effective online learning.
  • Opportunities for prisoners to take part in classroom education, in effect, stopped. Many prisoners were limited to in-cell work packs, with little feedback from teachers. In some prisons, these were not available until up to six months after the first national lockdown started in March 2020.

On 10 December, Ofsted published a separate report with details of inspection activity and outcomes carried out during the year. These details included the following:

  • On 31 August 2021, there were 2,053 FE and skills providers in receipt of public funding. Of these, 1,598 were delivering apprenticeships.
  • During the year, an additional 307 providers entered the FE and skills sector and received public funding. Of these, 273 were independent training providers (ITPs) including employer providers, and 26 were HE institutions. All but 25 of the ITPs deliver apprenticeships. All of the additional HE institutions deliver level 6 and 7 apprenticeships, which Ofsted became responsible for inspecting on 1 April.
  • Over the same period, 126 providers no longer received public funding, either because they had merged with other providers, or had ceased training, or were no longer delivering eligible provision.
  • The number of GFEs continued to decline. On 31 August 2021, there were 163 GFEs, which is 5 less than as of 31 August 2020. Ofsted says that this is mainly due to college mergers.
  • Full inspections were only able to take place during the last 3 months of 2020/21 (June to August). Ofsted carried out 44 full inspections over this period. All involved ITPs (including employer providers) that had not previously been inspected. Following inspection, 4 were judged outstanding, 26 were judged good, 12 were judged requires improvement and 2 were judged inadequate.
  • Although full inspections were suspended during lockdowns, Ofsted continued with new provider monitoring visits (NPMVs). This was deemed a priority because Ofsted knew very little about the quality of their provision. Over the year to 31 August 2021, Ofsted carried out a total of 237 NPMVs. Follow-up visits were made to 32 NPMVs that were judged to be making insufficient progress at the end of an earlier NPMV. These included 8 follow-up visits in respect of safeguarding issues.
  • NPMV findings were used by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to assist them in identifying new providers that required intervention.

On 13 December, the new FE Commissioner for England, Shelagh Legrave CBE, published her first annual report covering the period from 1 August 2020 to 31 July 2021. The report reveals that:

  • As of 31July 2021, 22 colleges were in formal intervention, compared with 28 the previous year.
  • 4 colleges entered intervention during the year (down from 13 the previous year). 3 of these interventions were triggered by financial concerns and 1 was triggered by quality concerns.
  • 10 colleges left intervention over the year, up from 5 the previous year. 6 were as a result of improvements made, 2 were a result of ‘structural change’ and 2 were because they had entered education administration.
  • 5 colleges underwent Commissioner initiated structural reviews, resulting in 3 mergers.
  • 25 colleges underwent diagnostic assessments, compared with 11 the previous year. (A diagnostic assessment can result in a college being placed in formal intervention if the assessment reveals a significant risk).
  • National Leaders of Further Education and National Leaders of Governance (which are teams of serving college leaders and governance experts), supported 40 colleges during the year, down from 50 in the previous year.
  • Intervention is likely to require more resources in the future. This is as a result of the FE Commissioner’s additional responsibilities when new Skills and Post-16 Education Bill become law (e.g., intervention in colleges that are found to not be delivering local employers’ skills needs).

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill has passed through the House of Lords and has received its first and second reading in the House of Commons. The Bill has also passed through its Committee stage. The Committee was co-chaired by Maria Miller for the Conservatives and Clive Efford for Labour. (Names of other Committee members can be found here). The issues scrutinised by the Committee included:

  • Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs).
  • Designation of employer representative bodies on LSIPs.
  • Level 3 funding, careers guidance and apprenticeships.
  • Functions and powers of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (ifATE).
  • Qualification co-operation and information sharing between IfATE and Ofqual.
  • Universal Credit conditionality.

A number of amendments to the Bill were made in the Lords which were against government policy (e.g. the Lords’ proposed four-year delay in removing public funding from most Level 3 BTECs and applied general qualifications). These amendments were voted through because the Conservatives do not have a majority in the House of Lords. However, the Conservatives do have a majority in the House of Commons and did have a majority on the Committee which scrutinised the Bill line by line. As a result, most of the Lords’ amendments were overturned.

The Bill is now in its Report stage (see here) and is expected to receive its third and final reading in the House of Commons early next year. Following this, the Bill will be submitted for Royal Assent and after this is given, the Bill will become law. The latest version of the Bill as it stood on 9 December, is here.


Following a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle on 29 November, Kate Green was replaced by Bridget Phillipson, as Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary for England. Ms Phillipson has been MP for Houghton and Sunderland South since 2010 and this is her second shadow ministerial brief, having been previously promoted to the Shadow Cabinet in April 2020 as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.


On 30 November, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) published its 2021 annual report on education spending in England. In the report, the IfS says that cuts in spending over the last ten years has been ‘…without precedent in post-war history’. The report goes on to say that the 16-18 and 19+ adult education sectors have borne the brunt of these cuts. The report also says that the extra cash for the FE sector announced in the recent Spending Review will only ‘…partially reverse past cuts’. With reference to:

16-18 education spending:

  • GFEs, SFCs and sixth form colleges have seen the largest per-student cuts in funding of any education sector since 2010/11. Funding per student for 16-18-year-olds in GFE’s and SFCs fell by 14% in real terms between 2010/11 and 2019/20, while funding per student in school sixth forms fell even further by 28% (but from a higher base).
  • The government has allocated an extra £700 million for 16-18 provision in GFEs, SFCs and school sixth forms in 2020/21. However, most of this has been eroded by the rapid growth in 16-18 student numbers. Further growth in 16-18 student numbers of at least 10% is expected between 2021 and 2024 and represents a ‘…continuing financial major challenge for colleges and sixth forms’.
  • Total spending per student in 16-18 education is nevertheless set to rise by 6% between 2021/22 and 2024/25. However, college spending per pupil in 2024/25 will still be around 10% below 2010/11 levels, while school sixth-form spending per pupil will be 23% below 2010/11 levels.

Adult education and apprenticeships:

  • In the 2021 Spending Review, the government increased the amount of funding for adult education and apprenticeships over the period to 2024/5. This includes an extra £550 million for adult education (from the £2.5 billion National Skills Fund), £170 million for apprenticeships and £560 million for a new programme called ‘Multiply’ to improve numeracy skills across the UK.
  • As a result of this additional cash, funding for adult education and apprenticeships will have increased by 30% in real terms over the period between 2019 and 2024. However, combined spending on adult education and apprenticeships at this point will still be 15% below 2009 levels.
  • Spending on adult education on its own fell by 49% between 2009 and 2019, and will still be 33% below 2009 levels even with this additional funding.

On 10 December, the DfE announced the names and locations  of the colleges and ITPs awarded contracts to develop heavy goods vehicle (HGV) Skills Bootcamps. The Bootcamps were announced in September and are tasked with providing training for 11,000 people (up from an initial 4,000) to obtain a range of HGV licences to help alleviate the distribution problems caused by a shortage of qualified drivers. Funding of £34 million (up from an initial £10 million) has been provided for the scheme, which will also cover the cost of the trainee’s HGV licence and the mandatory medical examination HGV drivers are required to have. The scheme is open to anyone aged 19 or over who is employed, self-employed, has become unemployed in the past year, or is returning to work after a break. Applicants need to already hold a full UK driving licence.


Ian Bauckham CBE, the current interim Chair of Ofqual has been appointed as the permanent chair, He will begin his three-year term in office on 1 January.


The DfE is currently in the process of implementing controversial reforms to Level 3 vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs), part of which will see the removal of public funding from those qualifications that overlap with T-Levels. These include most BTECs and other applied general qualifications. However, the new Chief Executive of Ofqual, Jo Saxton says that she believes that young people should not be restricted to a binary choice of T-Levels or A-levels at age 16, and that T-Level content should be reduced so that it is the equivalent to two A-levels, rather than the current three. This, she says, will allow the time needed for students to study for another qualification, such as a BTEC or A-level, alongside them. Ofqual’s ability to influence T-Levels is limited since, although Ofqual regulates T-Levels, the responsibility for overall T-Level policy lies with the DfE, while the responsibility for T-Level course content and design (and that of all other VTQs) lies with the employer-led Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE).

Ms Saxton’s view of T-Levels is shared by the Chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, who has gone further, and this month launched an inquiry entitled ‘The future of Post-16 Qualifications’. The brief of the inquiry is to examine the effectiveness of post-16 qualifications such as A-Levels, T-Levels, BTECs and apprenticeships, and to explore whether ‘…a new baccalaureate system would allow young people to study a greater blend of academic and vocational subjects’ and should be introduced in their place. The deadline for written submissions to the Select Committee is 20 January.


In July of this year the DfE published updated guidance on T-Levels which allowed providers the discretion to give students up to two years to complete any component that could not be finished because of Covid, including the mandatory minimum 315-hour industry placement. The DfE has now confirmed that first-wave T-Level students whose entire course has been disrupted by Covid can be given special treatment if they have been unable to take their T-Level industry placements. This could theoretically mean that a student could be awarded their T-Level qualification without spending any time at all in an industry placement. A DfE spokesperson said that this would be rare, but ‘…no student should lose out’ because of a situation which is outside of their control’. The spokesperson added that this was a short-term measure, and that all second wave T-Level students should be able to undertake most, if not all of their industry placement.


On 25 November, the DfE published its final updated full-year data on apprenticeships and traineeships in England for the period from August 2020 to July 2021. The DfE has warned that extra care should be taken when comparing the 2020/21 data to previous years because they cover the period affected by Covid restrictions, which impacted on learning and levels of provider reporting. The updated data reveals that:

  • Overall apprenticeship starts were slightly down over the year (321,400 starts in 2020/21 compared to 322,500 starts in 2019/20).
  • Colleges accounted for 18.5% of apprenticeship starts in 2020/21. ITPs accounted for 64.4%. Other public funded providers such as local authorities and HE institutions accounted for 16.3%, while schools, sixth form colleges and special colleges accounted for 0.8%.
  • The proportion of starts for young people under the age of 19 dropped from 23.6% of total starts in 2019/20 to 20.3% in 2020/21.
  • The proportion of starts for over 25s grew from 46.8% in 2019/20 to 50.3% in 2020/21.
  • The proportion of starts on Level 2 apprenticeships contracted from 30.8% in 2019/20 to 26.2% in 2020/21.
  • The proportion of starts Level 4 and above increased from 25.6% in 2019/20 to 30.7% in 2020/21.

As reported in last month’s newsletter, the DfE intends to roll-out new Digital Functional Skills Qualifications (DFSQs) in 2023. However, the new DFSQs are entirely screen-based, and this has resulted in concerns that the new format could prevent some learners with special learning difficulties and disabilities (SLDD) from taking them and disadvantage others. In addition, it has been claimed not all exam centres have sufficiently reliable access to the internet or enough up-to-date equipment to deliver the on-screen DFSQs, In response, the DfE has now U-turned from its previous position and has said that learners will not now be prohibited from taking a paper-based DFSQ. The DfE has also launched a new consultation on DFSQ on this, which can be found here.


On 10 December, following the government’s Plan B Covid announcements, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) published its own updated guidance covering the use of more than 60 temporary discretions for specific apprenticeships, some of which have been given a six-month extension following requests from employers in their various sectors.


On 26 November, the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee published a report called ‘Skills for Every Young Person’. The report calls for the withdrawal of public funding for Level 6 and 7 (degree) apprenticeships, and for employers to be required to spend two-thirds of their levy funds on apprenticeships for young people at the lower levels. The report says that there are large numbers of young people who are not being helped to acquire the skills they need to get jobs when they leave school, and goes on to say that there is a danger that ‘…an excessive focus on more costly degree apprenticeships will cause the apprenticeship budget to be overspent to the detriment of those aged under 25 on level 2 and 3 apprenticeship programmes’. The report reinforces the warning given in the 2019 National Audit Office (NAO) report on apprenticeships which said that ‘…as it stands, there is a clear risk that the apprenticeship programme is not financially sustainable’. The new report also says that in order to help mitigate this risk, there should be a maximum salary for any apprentice funded through the levy (thereby helping to prevent highly paid managers being redesignated by their employers as apprentices), and a lowering of the threshold at which employers start paying the levy (currently those with a £3 million or more annual payroll) so that more small-to-medium enterprises contribute.

However, the Chief Executive of the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC), Mandy Crawford-Lee said that the report’s recommendations ‘…run counter to the government’s policy to level-up access to higher education’, and that if the recommendations were to be implemented, they would ‘…drive a coach and horses through the social mobility agenda’. She went on to say that ‘…employers shouldn’t be forced to pay for the failure of the schools system’ and added ‘…if employers believe that spending on a level 6 and 7 senior leader apprenticeship programmes will have a greater impact on their firm’s productivity than spending on 16-to-18-year-old apprentices, not only should they be allowed do so, but the apprenticeship system should support their decision’.


Meanwhile, just two days earlier on 24 November, Michele Donelan, the Minister for Further and Higher Education in England went in completely the opposite direction and in a speech to an audience of university vice chancellors, said that universities should be set ‘ambitious, measurable targets’ to significantly increase the number of degree apprenticeships they offer.

Data published in a House of Commons Parliamentary briefing in February shows that the number of degree apprenticeships has already increased significantly from around 1,000 in 2015 to over 13,500 in 2018/19, but the House of Commons Education Select Committee Chair, Robert Halfon has gone even further and, at a recent Select Committee meeting, told Ms Donelan that there should be a target of 50% of all undergraduates taking degree apprenticeships. Ms Donelan responded to this by saying that the DfE was exploring the possibility of encouraging universities to develop and offer more degree apprentices by providing them with cash incentives to do so.

Jennifer Coupland, Chief Executive of IfATE, welcomed the proposal to increase the numbers of degree apprenticeships, saying that employers were ‘…crying out for higher level technical skills’ and that degree apprenticeships would help meet that need. University vice chancellors also welcomed the proposal to increase the number degree apprenticeships, and particularly welcomed the prospect of being given cash incentives to do so. However, they were not so keen on what they called the ‘needless complexity and bureaucracy’ or the new inspection regime that universities face when delivering degree apprenticeships.


On 30 November Universities UK (UUK), the umbrella group for university vice-chancellors, published a report entitled ‘Lessons from the pandemic: making the most of technologies in teaching’. The report says that universities should plan for a permanent move away from traditional exams after the pandemic in favour of more online lectures, tutorials and assessments, and that in future students should study ‘…wholly online modules alongside face-to-face elements’. However, representatives of undergraduates who are already receiving a mix of online and in-person teaching currently (and are paying £9,250-a-year for it) have said that the proposals, are ‘… betraying students who are at the receiving end’. But UUK says that hybrid learning will give students a choice whereby they can attend lectures in person, or view them via a live stream. And if lectures are pre-recorded, students can choose when and where they view them. This, says UUK, will help part-time students. Also, online careers fairs and virtual open days will cut the expense faced by prospective students in visiting campuses and make them more accessible, and spaces freed up by online learning could be redesigned to create more open study and meeting areas.


Currently, all universities have targets for the proportion of disadvantaged students they must admit. These are tied into their access and participation plans, which have to be approved by the Office for Students (OfS) every four years, in return for being given permission to charge maximum tuition fees of £9,250 a year. However, it would seem that some universities do not always take these targets seriously.

To address this, Michele Donelan, the Minister for Further and Higher Education in England, has written to university vice chancellors saying that they should rework their plans to include more robust targets for improving access and participation. Ms Donelan also warned universities that if they miss these new targets, they may not be allowed to charge full fees. In her letter, Ms Donelan says that she also requires universities to take more robust action to reduce the dropout rate of poorer students. Currently, about one in 10 students from the poorest backgrounds drop out in their first year. Measures to counter this could include universities providing students from disadvantaged backgrounds with extra term-time tutoring and summer schools. To help bring these changes about, John Blake, a former Strategic Director for the Ark academy chain, has been appointed as the OfS Director of Fair Access and Participation. Agreeing more robust participation targets with universities by September 2023 will be his first task.


Two years of significant A-Level grade inflation has resulted in many more students being awarded the top A-Level grades. This, in turn, has resulted in many more students being offered places at ‘high tariff’ Russell Group universities, which have stricter academic entrance criteria. Recent DfE data shows that the number of applications to these high tariff universities from students who achieved three A or A* grades at A-level in 2021, was almost twice that of 2020 levels and four times that of 2019 levels.

And Data published earlier this month by the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) for the end of the 2021 admissions cycle, shows that as a result of this, the number of places offered by Russell Group universities has increased by almost a third. The UCAS data reveals that in 2020/21, 103,010 18-year-olds secured places at Russell Group universities. This is an 11% increase on the 92,650 accepted in 2020, and a 28% increase on the 80,380 accepted before the pandemic in 2019. Commenting on the figures, UCAS said that the data gave ‘…the most detailed insight yet into the impact of awarding grades based on teachers’ assessments after Covid forced exam cancellations’.


It seems that attending a university does not always help poor students get a better paid job. A study on universities and social mobility carried out by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the Sutton Trust Education published on 24 November, provides a comparison of how many graduates who received free school meals when they were at school went on to make it into the top 20% of earners at age 30.

The study found that attending universities in general, and selective universities in particular, did not generally help students from disadvantaged backgrounds to obtain the highest paying jobs. However, the study did find that those who studied at newer universities with lower entry requirements were twice as likely to get top paying jobs than those who attended the more selective Russell Group of universities. But before reading too much into this, just 2% of poor students who attended newer universities made in into the top 20% of earners at age 30, while only 1% of those who attended more selective universities did so. 


An FE college had to make cuts to balance its budget and one of the vice principals was given the task of identifying the areas to be axed. Much to the horror of the course leader, one of the areas she had identified for the chop was A-Level History. Explaining the rationale behind her decision, she said A-Level History had a comparatively low level of enrolment and this was probably because many students shared her personal view, that History was boring and a waste of time because nothing of any real use could be learned from studying it. The course leader said that he strongly disagreed and asked the vice principal if he could give one example of a valuable lesson learned from history. The vice principal agreed, so the course leader proceeded to tell the story of Ozymandias, King of Assyria, which went something like this:

King Ozymandias was running low on cash after waging a fruitless ten-year war against the Hittites. To refill his war chest, the King decided that he would take his last valuable possession, the fabled Star of the Euphrates, which was the largest and most precious diamond in the world, to Croesus, the leader of the Assyrian pawnbrokers’ guild, and ask for a loan against it.

Croesus fixed his jewellery magnifying glass to his eye and carefully examined the diamond, When he had finished, Croesus turned to King Ozymandias said, ‘I’ll give you 100,000 dinars for it’. The King was both speechless and incandescent with rage. When he had calmed down, he said to Croesus, ‘You must know that the fabulous Star of the Euphrates has a value of at least five million dinars. You will give me a better price for it’. Croesus looked the king in the eye and said, ‘I’ll give you 100,000 dinars and not a dinar more’. Eyes squinting, King Ozymandias looked menacingly at Croesus and said, ‘Think very carefully about what you say next because I could make your life very difficult. This is the fabled Star of the Euphrates; I am your King, and you will make me a better offer for it’. Croesus was completely unfazed by the King’s threat, looked him the eyes (which, incidentally, were still squinting) and said ‘I will not. And to absolutely be clear, I’ll say it once again,100,000 dinars is my final offer. Take it or leave it’.

When the course leader had finished his story, he turned to the vice principal and said, ‘There! You see the important lesson that can be learnt from this?’.

‘Actually, I don’t’, said the bemused vice principal, ‘Perhaps you could enlighten me?’

‘But it’s obvious’, said the course leader, shaking his head in exasperation, ‘When you wish to pawn a star, makes no difference who you are’.

And really finally…

Click Christmas Tree

This is a picture of the Click office Christmas tree. We bought the tree from IKEA and despite the detailed instructions provided, it is taking us longer than we thought to assemble it. So, in the meantime, from all at Click, we would like to wish you and yours a merry Christmas, and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Alan Birks – December 2021

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