EDUCATION SECRETARY FOR ENGLAND SAYS HE WILL ‘PUT FE CENTRE STAGE’
Although it now seems a long time ago now, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary of State for England (speaking at the Conservative Party conference earlier this month), promised to ‘super-charge’ FE over the next decade. Mr Williamson went on to say that his aim was to ‘overtake Germany in the opportunities we offer to those studying technical routes by 2029’. Mr Williamson also announced:
- £120 million to fund another 8 Institutes of Technology (IoTs). These are intended to be collaborative ventures between colleges, universities and employers, offering higher-level technical training at Level 4 and 5. The funding is in addition to the £170 million for the first 12 IoTs that were announced earlier this year. Mr Williamson said that his aim is for ‘every big city to have at least one IoT’.
- A proposal to establish an ‘expert skills and productivity board of leading industrialists and labour market economists that will provide the government with strategic advice on skills and qualifications’.
- An intention to open at least one specialist mathematics 16-19 free school in every region in England.
- An extra £14 billion over three years for schools in England. From next academic year, all secondary schools will receive at least £5,000 per pupil. (This compares to £4,188 for 16 and 17 year olds and £3,455 for 18 year olds promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javed). All primary schools will receive at least £3,750 per pupil rising to £4,000 the year after.
At the time of writing, the government does not have a majority in Parliament and a General Election has been called for 12 December. This means that there can be no guarantee that these measures, or the Chancellor’s earlier proposals for a general increase in FE funding, will actually be implemented. You can watch Mr Williamson’s speech in full on YouTube:
Mr Williamson (who has assumed direct responsibility for FE and skills in England) will also be amongst the speakers at this year’s AoC Annual Conference which is scheduled to take place from 19-20 November at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham. Angela Raynor, the Shadow Education Secretary will also be speaking. The last Education Secretary to attend the conference was Justine Greening in 2016.
DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION (DFE) LAUNCHES A NEW CONDITION IMPROVEMENT FUND
The DfE has announced the launch of a new Condition Improvement Fund and has invited academies and sixth form colleges (but not FE colleges) across England to bid for a share of more than £400 million to ‘transform facilities, improve school buildings and create more good school places’. The investment in school and sixth form college buildings follows the extra £14 billion announced for schools mentioned above. The criteria for bidding includes a requirement for the applicant academy or sixth form college (SFC) to be graded as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, to provide evidence of good governance and sound finances and to demonstrate restraint in the level of executive pay. More information can be found at:
ESFA CHIEF EXECUTIVE WARNS COLLEGES ABOUT MALPRACTICE IN SUBCONTRACTING
Subcontracting occurs when a provider with an Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) contract to deliver education and training, then subcontracts all or part of the delivery of this provision to another provider. Earlier this month (October) the ESFA Chief Executive, Eileen Milner, wrote to all education and training main providers to warn them that, if they engage in subcontracting, they have a legal duty to make sure public funds are spent according to the ESFA’s subcontracting rules and that strong action will be taken if they do not do so. In her letter, she says that in accepting ESFA funds, providers agree that they accept the terms and conditions of their funding agreement and confirm that they have a process in place to ensure that subcontracted provision is delivered properly and securely. The ESFA has already taken measures to tighten its subcontracting requirements, including a more robust examination of providers’ data. However, Ms Milner made it clear that the ESFA will hold individuals and organisations to full account in the event of malpractice, and, where appropriate, will take robust steps to recover public money. Ms Milner said that the agency was already investigating cases where subcontracted provision has not been ‘appropriately controlled, overseen or managed by the lead provider’, and while the seriousness of the issues involved ranged from ‘complacency and mismanagement’, through to ‘deliberate and systematic fraud’, they all exhibit features that reflect badly upon the organisations involved. She added that the sector as a whole ‘must do better’ and that later this year, the ESFA will be conducting a review, which will cover:
- The balance of oversight and accountability arrangements and with which bodies they should rest.
- The ESFA’s expectations of a providers’ external auditors and the external audit process.
- Placing limits on the maximum geographical distance between a directly funded institution and the location where subcontracted provision is delivered.
- Action that will be taken to prevent non-compliance, failure and fraud.
- Precluding providers from using of certain subcontractors.
- Reviewing the total funding value of subcontracted provision held by subcontractors against risk.
- Ensuring that the requirements for listing a provider on the Register of Training Organisations (RoTO) and the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) are sufficiently robust.
Ms Milner said that the review will be concluded this academic year and any changes that arise from it will be implemented at the start of the 2020/21 academic year. A copy of Ms Milner’s letter can be found at:
FE COMMISSIONER AND NEW MINISTER FOR THE ‘FE PROVIDER MARKET’ ALSO WRITE TO COLLEGES
A few days after college principals and chairs of governors received Ms Milner’s letter, they received another one sent jointly by Lord Agnew (who describes himself as the ‘minister with responsibility for the FE provider market, including quality and improvement’) and the FE Commissioner for England, Richard Atkins. In their letter they say that they are now ‘working closely with the ESFA to ensure that all colleges are in a sustainable financial position’. They go on to urge principals and chairs of governors to take action as soon as they are aware of emerging financial problems and to notify the ESFA early enough for them to help the college identify solutions and reduce the risk of disruption to students and staff.
MORE NATIONAL LEADERS AND GOVERNANCE IN FURTHER EDUCATION TO BE RECRUITED
The FE Commissioner is recruiting more chairs, governors and clerks to corporations to join the National Leaders of Governance in FE schemes. Those selected have to be a serving chair, governor or clerk of a college rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ for ‘overall effectiveness’ and ‘leadership and management’ in the college’s most recent Ofsted inspection report. They will work with the FE Commissioner to diagnose required improvements in governance at a college, to assist boards with designing governance improvement plans, and to help develop the capacity and expertise of governors. They will be paid £300 a day for their services. More information on the National Leaders of Governance scheme can be found at:
The FE Commissioner is also recruiting more principals to join the National Leaders of FE Scheme. Those selected must be a serving principal of an FE college or sixth-form college in England rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in their last Ofsted inspection. They will support colleges graded as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ which need to improve significantly in one or more areas, but they will not be paid for their services. More information on the National Leaders of FE scheme can be found at:
DFE PUBLISHES ‘FURTHER EDUCATION: OUTCOME-BASED SUCCESS MEASURES, 2016/17’
Each year, the DfE produces outcome-based success statistics which provide data on how FE learners move through further education and into the labour market. Earlier this month, the DfE published its latest available outcomes-based success measures, which were for 2016/17. The data includes the year-on-year increase in earnings for FE learners over the five years covered in the study, and the percentage of FE learners and apprentices who achieved sustained positive destinations into either employment or learning (or both) in 2017/18. It seems that taking an FE course does generate positive benefits for the majority of those that take them, since the latest DfE data shows a 5-year continuous increase in earnings for FE learners along with a 76% positive destination outcome. The data can be found at
AOC, AELP AND UVAC CALL FOR 16-18 APPRENTICESHIPS TO BE FUNDED THROUGH TAXATION
Current trends suggest that the apprenticeship budget could be overspent by £1 billion next year, despite apprenticeship starts having fallen by a fifth since the introduction of the levy. This is mainly because the level of apprenticeship levy funding collected from levy-paying employers is becoming increasingly inadequate to meet all employer needs, and in particular the needs of non-levy paying smaller firms, where it is thought that apprenticeship numbers could drop by 75,000 as larger levy-paying employers use more of their levy funds than was forecast. Solutions suggested for addressing this problem include increasing the levy rate and/or bringing more firms within scope of paying the levy, but these proposals have been strongly opposed by employer representatives. However, another solution has been proposed jointly by the Association of Colleges (AoC), the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) and the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC), which cover between them the college, private provider and university sectors. These three organisations have called on the DfE to fund 16-18-year-old apprenticeships through general taxation, rather than through the apprenticeship levy. This, they say, is because employers should not be expected to pay for programmes for young people in this ‘guarantee group’. However, as levy-paying employers develop more standards at higher (and more expensive) levels, they diverge in their views on how any levy funding released by this measure should be used. The AoC and the AELP both argue that it should be made available to fund more apprenticeships at lower levels. The AELP has gone further and called for all apprenticeships at Level 6 and 7 to be funded through the HE loans system rather than through the levy. UVAC, on the other hand, argues that any levy funding released should be used to fund more higher level apprenticeships since this, they say, is what employers want.
DFE PUBLISHES LATEST APPRENTICESHIP DATA
DfE data published earlier this month shows that apprenticeship starts in July increased by 2% on the previous year (25,700 starts in July 2019 compared with 25,200 in July 2018). Starts were also 5% higher for the full year to that date (389,200 starts in the year to July 2019 compared to 369,700 in the year to July 2018). However, the number of starts are still considerably down compared with earlier years prior to the introduction of the apprenticeship levy (491,300 in 2016/17 and 503,700 in 2015/16). A copy of the latest DfE apprenticeship recruitment data can be accessed at:
REVIEW OF APPRENTICESHIP STANDARDS FUNDING BANDS
In May 2018, the then Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, Anne Milton, asked the Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education (IfATE) to carry out a review of the funding bands for 31 existing apprenticeships standards. The results of this first review were announced in summer 2018. Then, in December 2018, the Minister asked IfATE to carry out a second review of funding bands for a further 30 standards. Proposals for changes to funding bands have to be approved by the Secretary of State for Education and when he has done so, the changes are entered on an updated list of funding bands, the latest of which can be found at:
OFSTED INSPECTION OUTCOMES SEPTEMBER 2018 TO AUGUST 2019
Ofsted has published data on its inspection outcomes for the full 2018/19 academic year. Analysis of the inspection grades awarded show that the performance of general FE (GFE) colleges has improved. 78% of all GFE colleges were judged by Ofsted to be either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in that year. This compares with 76% in 2017/18, 69% in 2016/17 (a low), 71% in 2015/16 and 77% in 2014/15 (although GFE colleges are still 3% behind the FE and skills sector average of 81%). Part of the improvement in the percentage of GFE colleges being judged as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in 2018/19 is thought to have been as a result of poorly-rated colleges being merged with better performing ones. Between September 2015 and March 2019, post-16 area reviews resulted in 57 mergers and when two colleges merge, both have their Ofsted grades wiped out since they are regarded as a new entity (although this also means that 42 colleges do not currently have an Ofsted inspection grade). Also, the number of Ofsted inspections of GFE colleges in 2018/19 was only around half of that in 2017/18. This is thought to be as a result of a combination of the additional time pressures being exerted on Ofsted by the large numbers of new apprenticeship training providers entering the FE and skills market and cuts to Ofsted’s funding – Ofsted will have lost £15 million from its inspection budget in the period between 2016/17 and 2019/20. Ofsted inspection outcome data for the 2018/19 academic year can be found at:
COLLEGES IN RECEIPT OF T-LEVEL FUNDING REQUIRED TO COMMIT TO CONTINUE TEACHING THEM FOR 20 YEARS
The DfE has made £38 million available to help those colleges and schools involved in delivering the first wave of T-Levels get their buildings ready for the introduction of the new technical qualifications next year. So far, eleven colleges have been allocated a share of the funding. However the terms of the grant requires that the premises funded be used for teaching T-Levels for the next 20 years, and the DfE has reserved the right to recover the funding from those schools and colleges if they should cease to offer T-Levels within that time period. More information on the T-Level capital fund can be found at:
SOME UNIVERSITIES STILL UNDECIDED ON WHETHER TO ACCEPT T-LEVELS FOR ENTRY TO THEIR DEGREE COURSES
UCAS (the University and College Admissions Service) has recently allocated points to T-Levels in respect of university entrance requirements. (For example, a Distinction*, the top T-Level grade, will be worth the same number of UCAS points as 3 A*s at A-Level). However, universities are free to decide whether or not to accept T-Levels as meeting their entry requirements and, with less one year to go before T-Levels commence, many have yet to make a decision. For example, of the universities that are Russell Group members, the majority have not yet decided. Oxford, Liverpool, Newcastle, Warwick and Durham have said that they will accept T-Levels as meeting entry requirements for at least some of their degrees, but one university, Imperial College London, has confirmed that it will not be accepting T-Levels at all. A spokesperson for the university said that this was because it was uncertain that T-Level students would ‘academically able to cope with the rigours of an Imperial degree’. Other Russell Group universities say that they have not yet received sufficient information to enable them to make a decision.
ANOTHER NEW REPORT CALLS FOR RADICAL OVERHAUL OF TECHNICAL AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING
The National Open College Network (NOCN) and the City and Guilds of London Institute (CGLI) have jointly published a report called ‘Close the Gap – Proposing a map for UK Technical and Skills Education to 2024’. The report says that employers are finding it increasingly difficult to fill a growing number of professional, scientific and technical jobs at Levels 4 and 5 and goes on to say that the 50% contraction in Level 2 apprenticeships since the apprenticeship reforms were introduced is constricting the capacity for progression up to and beyond Level 3, 4 and 5. The report calls on the government to respond to this by prioritising funding to enable more people to take Level 2 qualifications or apprenticeships. The report also calls for the establishment of a ‘TVET system’ (technical and vocational education and training), which would be a ‘single, simple, integrated and economy-led technical and skills development scheme’. The report says that all TVET programmes should be brought into a single national framework, which would be overseen by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE). Within this framework all TVET qualifications at Level 3 and below would be rebranded as T-Levels, while all TVET qualifications at Level 4 or above would be branded as Higher T-Levels. The report also calls for the funding gap between FE and HE to be closed ‘as a priority’ and for all parts of England to have the same devolved access to funds for skills development and the same delivery powers. A copy of the report can be accessed at:
LOCAL AUTHORITIES UNABLE TO FUND ALL EDUCATION, HEALTH AND CARE PLANS (EHCPS)
The Children and Families Act 2014 aims to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to supporting children and young people with special education needs and disabilities (SEND). This involves a bespoke EHCP being produced jointly by health, therapy, education and care teams working together to identify a bespoke package of support for each individual child or young person with SEND. However, the 2014 Act was accompanied by the removal of central government funding for high-needs learners and its devolution to local authorities. At the same time the government imposed swinging cuts to local authority budgets and without ring-fenced funds for high-needs learners, local authorities were always going to struggle with the delivery of EHCPs. There are currently 354,000 children and young people with SEND who have EHCPs, and earlier this month the Local Government Ombudsman published a report on the quality of services they are provided with. The report says that many local councils are struggling to meet their statutory duties towards children and young people with EHCPs. The government has announced an additional £700 million for children and young people with special educational needs, which is an 11% increase, and although this has been welcomed by local authorities, they say that this will be insufficient to meet the increasing number of children and young people with EHCPs. In response, the government has announced plans to review the system to ‘get a clear picture of what more can be done to make sure vulnerable children can get the best support possible’. A copy of the Local Authority Ombudsman’s report, entitled ‘Not going to plan? – Education, Health and Care plans two years on’, can be found at:
EDUCATION SELECT COMMITTEE PUBLISHES ITS REPORT ON SEND AND EHCPS
Following concerns expressed about difficulties young people and their parents face in accessing funding for EHCPs, the House of Commons Education Select Committee has published a report on SEND which highlights the anxiety of parents trying to get funding for their child’s EHCP. The report says that every year there are young people who do not start their education programmes, and instead sit at home for months waiting for a tribunal to decide their fate, and that for a young person who struggles with change the negative impact of this uncertainty can be devastating and often leads to an increase in challenging behaviour. The report goes on to say, ‘it is not the 2014 act that has failed but the implementation of the act, that has created an inefficient and confrontational system, not just between parents, young people and local authorities, but between education, social care and health teams. It has become a tussle of who pays for what, or more about who doesn’t pay for what’. The report says that there is an urgent need for ‘a systemic culture change’, which substitutes ‘confrontation for collaboration’, shifts the focus ‘from short-term budgets to long-term benefits’, and moves away from ‘savings off the bottom line to investing in the individual’. A copy of the report, in which 38 separate recommendations are made, can be found at:
DFE PUBLISHES 2020/21 HIGH NEEDS FUNDING GUIDANCE
Last month the DfE published updated funding guidance on 16-19 allocations for 2020/21. This can be found at:
And for organisations offering provision for high-needs students, the DfE has now published supplementary guidance entitled ‘High needs funding: 2020 to 2021 Operational guide’. This can be found at:
AOC REPORT SAYS MORE FUNDING IS NEEDED TO HELP REINTEGRATE YOUNG PEOPLE WITH COMPLEX NEEDS
The AoC has published a report highlighting the problems faced by colleges when trying to reintegrate young people with behavioural and other difficulties back into mainstream education. Colleges are able to apply for high needs funding, but the report says that just one in four colleges received this top-up funding from their local authority. The remainder were reliant on additional learning support funding (ALS) and ‘Element 1’ funding (see the link above for an explanation of this). The report goes on to say that there is gap of £6,000 per pupil between funding provided for ‘alternative provision’ places (such as Pupil Referral Units) and funding provided to a college to deal with pupils with similar difficulties and needs. This, says the report, prevents colleges from providing the specialist support and smaller group sizes the students need, and restricts colleges’ ability to provide staff with the specialist training they need. The AoC is now calling on the government to fund colleges fairly by providing an additional £6,000 per year for every student attending college who has come from an ‘alternative provision’ setting. A copy of the AoC report, entitled ‘Meeting the needs of students aged 16-19 who were not in school for part or all of Key Stage 4: The contribution of general FE colleges’ can be found at:
APPG PUBLISHES REPORT ON THE LINK BETWEEN SCHOOL EXCLUSION AND KNIFE CRIME
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Knife Crime has published its latest report entitled ‘Back to School? Breaking the link between school exclusions and knife crime’, that draws attention to the fact that ‘many of those excluded have special educational needs and other, often unaddressed, vulnerabilities’. The report goes on to say, ‘too often we are hearing of schools struggling to find resources to support children and manage their behaviour, or being too hasty to exclude a child for minor misbehaviour’. This often has ‘tragic consequences, since exclusion can be the tipping point that leads to young people picking up knives and being placed at serious risk of grooming and exploitation by criminal gangs’. A copy of the report, along with recommendations can be found at:
LWI AWARDED £350,000 TO HELP SUPPORT YOUNG CARERS AGED 16-24 IN FE
There are around 300,000 young carers in England and recent research commissioned jointly by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Young Carers International, and carried out by Nottingham University says that they face significant disadvantage in learning and work. The report, entitled ‘Young Adult Carers in the UK: Experiences, Needs and Services for Carers aged 16-24’, also provides evidence that young carers achieve lower grades at GCSE, are three times more likely to be not in employment, education or training (NEET), and are four times more likely to drop out of college and university. To help young carers a £350,000 fund to support them has been awarded to the Learning and Work Institute (LWI) by the National Lottery Community Fund. The support the money will provide will be based on a new Quality Standard in Carers Support framework, developed by the LWI and the Carers Federation to help 60 colleges across England further improve their support for their students with caring responsibilities. The grant was awarded following a pilot programme managed by the LWI, in which young carers at six colleges were given tailored, one-to-one support. The pilots demonstrated positive outcomes, including increased retention and attainment of students with caring responsibilities and increased staff confidence in identifying and supporting young adult carers. Many colleges were also able to build useful relationships and networks with local carers’ services, councils and other colleges taking part in the project. A copy of the report is at:
ONE IN FOUR SECONDARY SCHOOL PUPILS IN ENGLAND AND WALES ARE NOW RECEIVING PRIVATE TUITION
Research published by the Sutton Trust shows that the numbers of secondary school pupils in England and Wales now receiving private tuition has increased beyond 25%. The highest number of pupils receiving private tuition is in London – at 41%. The most common reasons parents give for hiring private tutors are ‘helping with specific GCSE exams’ and ‘schoolwork in general’. The research also suggests that almost a quarter of classroom teachers in secondary schools have worked as private tutors in the past two years. The average cost of private tuition is estimated to be at least £25 per hour and, as might be expected, the use of private tutors is skewed towards the affluent, with 34% of better-off parents employing private tutors for their children compared with 20% of less well-off parents. Curiously, the Sutton Trust’s response to this has been to call for financial support for disadvantaged families (such as providing means-tested vouchers,) so that they can also pay for private tutoring for their children. A copy of the Sutton Trust report is available at:
TEACHER SHORTAGES IN SCHOOLS CONTINUES TO BECOME MORE ACUTE
DfE data on recruitment and retention of teachers in secondary schools in England show a worsening trend. In 2017/18, 43,000 teachers in state schools (or around 10%) left the profession, a rate that has been fairly consistent for the last five years. The data also shows that more than 20% of new teachers leave the profession within two years of joining and 33% leave within their first five years. Meanwhile, the number of secondary pupils in England is increasing rapidly and is expected to grow from around 3.2 million in 2018 to more than 3.8 million by 2023, an increase of over 20%. By then, the predicted shortfall in secondary teacher numbers is expected to average around 14 for each secondary school and to be particularly acute in mathematics, science and other specialist subjects. Expected shortages by region are:
- London: 7,617
- South East England: 7,534
- North West England: 6,181
- East of England: 5,353
- West Midlands: 5,157
- South West England: 4,487
- Yorkshire and the Humber: 4,511
- East Midlands: 3,952
- North East England: 2,210
In the attempt to reduce the shortfall, the government has already introduced incentive schemes to recruit and retain teachers, such as bursaries and ‘golden hello’ payments, particularly in shortage subjects, and is promising to raise starting salaries for new teachers to £30,000. Other methods are being tried such as overseas recruitment drives and the introduction of teacher apprenticeship schemes to help people train as teachers without incurring further debt. A DfE parliamentary on briefing teacher recruitment and retention issues can be found at:
And the DfE’s teacher recruitment and retention strategy can be found at:
No one in government seems to be particularly worried about the chronic teacher shortages in FE colleges.
NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE (NAO) PUBLISHES REPORT ON INVESTIGATION INTO UTCS
University Technical Colleges (UTCs) are neither universities nor technical colleges. They are a type of free school that were initially supposed recruit pupils age 14-19 offering a limited range of vocational options as part of a normal school curriculum. Despite the best effort of the DfE and the Baker-Dearing Trust, most UTCs have struggled to recruit sufficient numbers of pupils to maintain their financial viability. This month the NAO published a report on its investigation into TUCs. The report shows that:
- In total 58 UTCs have opened but 10 of these subsequently closed as UTCs.
- The 48 open UTCs were operating at 45% of capacity on average at January 2019, which has implications for their financial viability.
- UTC’s revenue deficits have grown and accounted for nearly 10% of the total cumulative revenue deficits reported by all academy trusts in 2017/18.
- At July 2019, the ESFA had significant concerns about the finances of 13 UTCs.
- The ESFA has formally intervened in eight UTCs, of which two subsequently closed.
- The DfE monitors whether students from UTCs that close move to other schools or colleges, but has not retained evidence of where students have been placed.
- The DfE spent £792 million on the UTC programme from 2010/11 to 2018/19, the vast majority in capital grants.
- UTCs pay an annual licence fee to the Baker Dearing Educational Trust.
- At August 2019, Ofsted had rated 52% of UTCs as good or outstanding, compared with 76% of all secondary schools.
To help address the shortfall in recruitment, an increasing number of UTCs are changing their admissions policies and seeking permission from the DfE to recruit pupils at age 11. The most recent of these are Plymouth and Wolverhampton UTCs, both of which have been granted permission to recruit pupils from age 11. Other UTCs are expected to follow suit. A copy of the NAO report is available at:
50% PARTICIPATION IN HE TARGET IS REACHED
In 1999 the then prime minister, Tony Blair, set a target of 50% for the proportion of young people attending university. DfE data for 2017/18, shows that Mr Blair’s target has now been achieved with 50.2% of all people under the age of 30 having attended university. The figure compares with, for example 1980, when only 15% stayed on in any form of further or higher education beyond the age of 18. DfE data on participation rates in HE is available at:
UNIVERSITY SECTOR ANNOUNCES NEW INITIATIVES TO ‘PROTECT THE VALUE OF UK DEGREES’
There has been growing concern about degree grade inflation in recent months. In 1997 47% of students gained a first class or upper-second class honours degree (2.1), compared with 78% in 2018, with the increase in higher grade degrees awarded accelerating over the period since the tripling of tuition fees in 2012. Within this growth the number of firsts awarded has now almost quadrupled to 27%. This has led to allegations of unexplained grade inflation as universities compete to attract more students in order to take advantage of the extra income arising from uncapped student numbers and tuition fees paid ‘up front’ by the government on behalf of the student through the Student Loans Company (SLC). The government is now calling on universities to curb the unexplained increases in firsts and 2:1s awarded. In response to this, the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) has published a ‘Statement of Intent’. In the document UKSCQA announces two new initiatives which, UKSCQA says, have been developed collectively by the HE sector to address ‘the potential’ for grade inflation. These are:
- Degree outcomes statements: English HE sector-representative bodies have agreed that HE providers should publish an annual ‘evaluative degree outcomes statement to provide clearer assurance to students, stakeholders and the wider public on how the value of the qualifications they award is protected’. UKSCQA and the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) have published a guidance for HEI’s on what should be included in their degree outcomes statements.
- Degree classification descriptions: The QAA has published a set of common degree classification descriptions in a ‘Framework for Higher Education Qualifications’ that sets out the agreed criteria that students should meet in order to achieve the different classes of degree.
Some cynical observers say that those who hope that these initiatives will prevent further degree grade inflation probably shouldn’t hold their breath. The relevant documents can be found via the following links:
Statement of Intent:
Guidance for universities on producing degree outcome statements:
HE qualifications framework:
Degree classification descriptions:
EHRC PUBLISHES ITS REPORT ON RACIAL HARASSMENT IN THE HE SECTOR
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published the report of its inquiry into racial harassment in universities. The report, entitled ‘Tackling racial harassment: universities challenged’, has revealed that racial harassment is occurring at a high rate across British universities and that 24% of ethnic minority students say they have experienced racial harassment on campus. That report also says that many universities are not only unaware of the scale of the issue, but are overconfident in their ability to handle it. For example, while 43% of universities believed that every incident of racial harassment against students and 56% all incidents against staff were reported, two thirds of students and half of the staff who responded to the survey and who said they had experienced racial harassment also said that they had not reported the incident to their university. The main reason they gave for not doing so was that they had no confidence that the incident would be addressed. The report also exposes the detrimental impact on attainment and career progression, as one in 20 of the students who responded to the survey said their experiences had caused them to leave their studies, and 3 in 20 of the staff who responded said it had caused them to leave their jobs. The report makes a number of recommendations for the higher education providers in respect of addressing racial harassment. These include:
- Introducing a mandatory duty on employers to increase protections for staff from harassment.
- Giving sector regulators and funding councils adequate powers to hold universities to account on their performance in preventing and tackling harassment.
- Ensuring that HE providers enable students and staff to report harassment and ensure their complaints procedures are fit for purpose and offer effective redress.
- Senior leaders taking steps to embed an inclusive culture where staff and students feel confident and supported when making complaints.
In response to the EHRC report, Universities UK (UUK) has pledged to lead-cross sector action to support universities to take effective steps to prevent and respond to racial harassment. A copy of the report is at:
NEW REPORT ON LEVELS OF BAME STUDENT PARTICIPATION IN HE SUBJECTS
For reasons that are not immediately obvious but nevertheless welcome, R S Components, a company that specialises in electronic components, electrical, automation and control, test and measurement equipment and engineering tools and consumables, has produced an interesting report on the participation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in various HE subjects. The report commences by highlighting that in 2017/18, 75.3% of UK domiciled undergraduate entrants were white and the remainder were BAME, (of which 11.2% were Asian, 7.8% were Black, 4.1% had mixed ethnicity, and 1.7% were from other ethnic groups). The report also says that while BAME representation is higher than in the UK population as a whole, white students who graduated in 2018 were 13% more likely to graduate with a first-class or upper-second class honours degree than those from BAME backgrounds. The report then looks at the HE subjects with the highest BAME representation and finds that BAME students make up:
- 36% of all undergraduates studying Medicine and Dentistry.
- 34% of all undergraduates studying Law.
- 33% of all undergraduates studying Business and Administration.
- Just 5% of all undergraduates studying Veterinary Science and Agriculture.
The report also includes an interesting GIF (graphics interchange format) presentation that shows the proportion of BAME students studying all the main university subjects. The GIF can be found at:
ETF LAUNCHES A NEW ‘DIVERSITY IN LEADERSHIP’ PROGRAMME
An analysis of staff individualised record (SIR) data compiled by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), has revealed that people from a BAME background make up just 7.1% of all college principals and 6.8% of all college senior and middle managers. To address this, the ETF has developed a new ‘Diversity in Leadership’ programme which it proposes to commence delivering early next year. The ETF says that the aim of the programme is to challenge bias, to remove obstacles to achieving leadership roles, to motivate and build confidence in aspiring leaders and to develop their capacity to achieve senior leadership positions. The programme, which will be offered to participants free of charge, will have four ‘strands’ consisting of ‘unconscious bias’ workshops, one-to-one coaching for aspiring leaders, a ‘Diversity Charter’ for colleges and new ‘leadership toolkits’. The ETF has recently launched a £130,000 tender for a partner to help with implementing and refining the design of the programme, details of which can be found at:
A student on a pre-nursing course was on placement at a local hospital. He was helping nursing staff to treat a patient who was recovering from a minor operation on his haemorrhoids and who was also proving to be a thoroughly disagreeable person. The patient had insisted on a private room and despite having been given one, he had been consistently rude and offensive to the nursing staff, insulting them and bossing them around as if they were his employees. The staff were thoroughly fed up with the patient’s abusive conduct and did not really know how to respond to it, but the student nurse said he had an idea about what to do. He went into the patient’s room and announced, ‘I have to take your temperature’. After complaining about this, the patient finally settled down and opened his mouth. ‘No, I’m sorry’, the trainee nurse said, ‘Because of the nature of your operation I can’t use an oral thermometer. Would you be so good as to roll over on to your front and lower your pyjama trousers below your buttocks please?’. After another bout of complaining, the patient eventually did as he was asked, but let out another string of expletives as he accused the student nurse of inserting the thermometer none too gently. The student nurse then said, ‘Would you just lie there in that position for a moment please? I just have to pop out get something from the dispensary but it’s very important that you don’t move until I get back’. The patient was annoyed to notice that the trainee nurse had left the door to his private room open, and shortly after became even more annoyed by the sound of raucous laughter coming from people walking past his room. After the patient had lain there grumbling for almost an hour, a doctor came into the room and asked, ‘What on earth is going on here?’ to which the patient sarcastically replied, ‘What’s the matter with you doctor? Have you never seen anyone having their temperature taken like this before?’ After a pause, the doctor sighed and shook his head, and then said, ‘I have to confess that I haven’t – not with a daffodil anyway’.
Alan Birks – October 2019
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