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Sector news, 10 - 23 June 2013

Pre-school and further education may face cuts in spending review Guardian, 20 June 2013

In an article in the Guardian, Patrick Wintour reported that the schools minister David Laws had told a public meeting that the education department had settled its departmental spending figures for 2015-16, and that he was pleased with the outcome for schools. This was taken to mean that the settlement for further education and pre-school learning may not be so good. Laws’s aides said he actually said a settlement was close.

Top universities strike deal with DfE to have say in redeveloping A-levelsGuardian, 14 June 2013

Britain's top universities, members of the Russell Group, will take a permanent role in dictating the design and content of A-levels after a deal with the Department for Education, in spite of concerns that the qualification will be reduced to a university entrance exam. A-level content is currently set by the examination boards and the DfE but education secretary Michael Gove earlier this year invited universities to have a greater input into their development. The Russell Group says the new body will take in the views of other universities and education groups, and urged ministers and awarding organisations to "continue to engage with a range of education bodies and learned societies" on A-levels. According to a letter to Gove from Professor Nigel Thrift, the vice-chancellor of Warwick University and chair of a Russell Group working party, the group will establish a new body to be known as the A-level Content Advisory Body (Alcab) to co-ordinate input from university experts and specialists.

Raise interest rates on old student loans, secret report proposes Guardian, 13 June 2013

A confidential report commissioned by the government has proposed redrawing the terms of student loans taken out over the past 15 years in a way which would make them more expensive to pay back for 3.6 million borrowers in England alone. The proposal to increase the interest rates on the £40bn worth of loans is the most controversial option in a series contained in a Whitehall-commissioned study by Rothschild investment bank examining how the coalition could privatise the entire stock of student loans issued since 1998. Increasing the amount student would pay back would make the loans more attractive to buyers. A statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed that ministers were still looking at how to privatise the pre-2012 student loan book. At the moment, the interest on all student loans taken out before 2012 is capped. Graduates pay interest at either the RPI measure of inflation or banks' base rate plus 1%, whichever is lower. Rothschild found that the rate-cap was a major deterrent to potential investors, who worried that if inflation outstripped the base rate they would lose out on returns.

Universities face more complaints since rise in tuition fees Guardian, 13 June 2013

Students have become more willing to issue formal complaints about their treatment by universities since the imposition of £9,000 annual tuition fees, the higher education watchdog has revealed in its annual report. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), which reviews complaints from students in England and Wales, said that appeals jumped by 20 per cent between 2011 and 2012, the first year of the new, higher fee level, to about 300. The adjudicator decided agreed on nearly one in five appeals in favour of the complainant, and compensation totalled £190,000. In one case, a group of postgraduates complained that their university had "misrepresented important facts about an MA course," and that they suffered financially and academically as a result. The OIA's intervention led to the university refunding two-thirds of the MA course fee to the students. Students are only able to take complaints to the OIA once they have exhausted internal complaints and procedures.

Seven deadly sins of teacher developmentTES, 21 June 2013

This article in the TES looks at what it calls the seven deadly since of professional development for teachers, based on the international systematic reviews of effective practice carried out between 2003 and 2007 by Philippa Cordingley for the UK’s Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Coordinating Centre, and in 2007 by Helen Timperley for New Zealand’s Ministry of Education.

EU group wants teacher training for lecturersTES, 2013

University lecturers should be required to take teacher training classes, according to an EU commission on higher education led by the former president of Ireland Mary McAleese. The call for mandatory teaching certificates is one of 16 recommendations made by an EU high-level group set up last year to examine the modernisation of higher education. Other recommendations in the group’s “report to the European Commission on improving the quality of teaching and learning in Europe’s higher education institutions”, published on 18 June, include putting more focus on helping students to develop entrepreneurial and innovative skills and the creation of a European Academy of Teaching and Learning.

Clerks’ course safe with us, says ETFFE Week, 20 June 2013

Governors’ clerks have been assured that their training will continue after the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) closes at the end of next month. Sir Geoff Hall, interim chief executive of the Education Training Foundation, said there was “no basis for thinking the clerks’ course won’t continue”. He said the course was discussed at the clerks’ conference “and we are expecting a proposal from the national clerks’ network so they can take responsibility for the continuation of the courses, which is just the type of professionalism we want to encourage”. The report, based on consultation with 31 clerks, also highlighted increased demands they faced as a direct result of the new freedoms under the New Challenges, New Chances policy document.

Agency losses top £6m markFE Week, 20 June 2013

More than £6m of Skills Funding Agency cash was written off last year, an increase of nearly 50 per cent on the previous year. The agency’s annual report and accounts show a 43 per cent increase, £1.871m, in its losses for the 2012/13 academic year. The overall loss of £6.192m was largely accounted for by dealings with just four providers, who either went into liquidation or administration. They were responsible for £5.989m of taxpayers’ money being lost. An agency spokesperson said: “While £6m is a significant amount in absolute terms, in relative terms to the actual budget it represents approximately 0.15 per cent of the total funds — £4.1bn — allocated to more than 1,000 colleges and training providers during the year.”

Success rates are ‘palpable nonsense’FE Week, 20 June 2013

Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has launched a scathing attack on the FE and skills sector, branding success rates among colleges as “palpable nonsense”. At Westminster’s Church House on Thursday, he reissued his call for the government to “shine a spotlight” on the sector. He said too few people reached 19 with the qualifications they needed for work, but success rates in colleges had been very high. Sir Michael said the government should be prepared to dismantle colleges that were too large to assure quality across different activities, smaller specialist units should be created with stronger links to business and industry, and there should be more 16-19-year-old apprentices.

Government to ‘radically reduce’ work experience heath and saftey red tapeFE Week, 21 June 2013

The government plans to revise health and safety red tape to make it easier for employers to take on work experience students. In an open letter to employers, Ministers Mark Hoban, Vince Cable, Matthew Hancock, Oliver Letwin and Michael Fallon voiced a commitment to put an end to excessive bureaucracy which may have dissuaded employers from offering vital experience to young people. The letter sought to make it clear to employers that they will not have to do special risk assessments for young people, or have to repeat the same assessment for every work experience placement, where the circumstances are exactly the same. Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive, said there was no need for “lots of paperwork or an over-cautious approach”.