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Sector news, 18 - 24 August 2013

Universities flash the cash in clearing war Independent, 18 August 2013

Cash incentives to students are being stepped up as universities go to war with each other to fill places this autumn, an investigation by The Independent on Sunday has found. Last week it emerged some top universities were offering mini iPads and laptops to lure students onto courses. At Coventry University, students applying to the computing and engineering department with three B-grade passes are being offered an incentive of £1,000 towards fees or £1,500 towards the cost of university accommodation. Newman University in Birmingham is also extending a £10,000 grant available to students over their three-year study period to those with a minimum of three B-grade passes on its non-teacher training courses. The growth in incentives comes as the recruitment war between universities intensifies, with many of the country's leading universities taking advantage of the Government's new policy to increase their intake. Other incentives offered include a fee waiver by Goldsmiths, University of London, for the 10 most exceptional students from its local borough of Lewisham. Cash incentives of up to £2,000 a year were also being offered by Salford, Bangor, Bradford and Glasgow.

How to get into university without any A-levelsGuardian, 19 August 2013

This article focuses on a couple of young students who are starting university full-time this autumn, despite having no A level qualifications, and looks at alternative ways in. It says some universities are changing the way they think about candidates with alternative qualifications, and are even offering courses specifically tailored towards non-traditional students. One of the successful ones is a man who worked as a freelance journalist after leaving school with few qualifications, and another who served six years in the army. One has gone straight on to a degree course after doing a couple of pieces of work for the university, and the other has an offer on an extended programme for environmental engineering, meaning he will not have to take A levels but will need to pass the foundation year.

GCSE double entry - wise move or test overload?Guardian, 19 August 2013

Schools are under pressure to improve their grades, and it seems more than ever are “double entering” students, that is putting those thought to be at risk of narrowly missing C grades in English and maths, through papers with the Edexcel and OCR boards, sat one after the other on the same day. Ofqual says 15 per cent of candidates sitting maths GCSEs were entered for more than one board last year. Ofqual, the government and even exam boards have raised concerns that double entering, as well as the more established practice of entering students for GCSE exams at the end of year 10, could represent a testing overload for pupils. Sir John Rowling, founder of the PiXL (Performance in Excellence) club, a group of schools that work together to boost results and which has been criticised for encouraging double entry, said the move was just “common sense”.

GCSE results 2013: record fall in pupils getting C grades or higherGuardian, 22 August 2013

This year's GCSE results have seen a record fall in the proportion of pupils getting C grades or higher, triggered by a sharp rise in the number of students aged 15 or younger taking the exam early, tougher science papers and more pupils taking subjects multiple times. The proportion of GCSE entries achieving an A* to C grade was 68.1 per cent, a larger than expected fall of 1.3 percentage points compared with 2012, when 69.4 per cent of entries achieved A*-C. The percentage of pupils achieving A* to C grades rose from 1988 – the first year GCSE results were published – until last year, when they dropped by 0.4 percentage points. The number of the highest A* grades fell by 0.5 per cent. The results, published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), also show girls have extended their lead over boys at grades C and above. Some 72.3 per cent of girls achieving A*-C, compared with 63.7 per cent of boys, and 8.3 per cent gained A*s compared with 5.3 per cent of boys. This may be the last year this happens, since coursework is being dropped in favour of end-of-year exams in which girls tend to do worse than boys. The fall in results could be crucial for many schools trying to stay above the Department for Education’s increased floor standard of results, a fall below which triggers an automatic inspection by Ofsted.

GCSE results warped by high volume of younger entrants, says Ofqual Guardian, 22 August 2013

This year's GCSE results have been so distorted by schools pushing younger pupils into taking the exams that it is difficult to fairly compare them with previous years, the exam regulator Ofqual has said. Figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications showed that GCSE entries from 15-year-olds were up nearly 40 per cent, from 579,831 to 806,141, and made up 15 per cent of those sitting the exam. Only 58 per cent of those aged 15 and younger achieved A* to C grades, compared with 71 per cent of 16-year-olds. Ofqual noted that when the results of 16-year-olds were taken alone, the results were very stable compared with previous years, and even showed a slight increase in English and maths results. In that age group the slight drop in grades was caused mainly by the introduction of a new set of science exams.

Former AoC president takes governor post at college mauled by OfstedFE Week, 21 August 2013

A former Association of Colleges president has become the new governors’ chair at City College Coventry, after its disastrous Ofsted report resulted in the Skills Funding Agency calling for “fundamental changes”. Maggie Galliers, who was the association president for 2011/12, was unanimously voted into the post and joins interim principal John at the college. She said: “I am delighted as someone born, bred and resident in Coventry, to be part of the team working to ensure City College delivers high calibre education and training to its students.” Mrs Galliers was appointed a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to local and national FE in June 2009. She was Leicester College principal for around a decade and was also a former principal of Henley College Coventry. City College had a grade four (inadequate) result in its Ofsted inspection earlier this year. Mr Hogg once taught at Coventry Technical College, and Tile Hill College, later becoming principal of Middlesbrough College.

Pupils returning to traditional subjects, says exam board chief 23 August, 2013

The resurgence of pupils taking traditional subjects such as geography and science is being driven by young people becoming "much clearer" about what they want to do with their lives, according to the head of the UK's largest examinations board. It was also because employers and universities were making it plain what they wanted to see from applicants. Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA board, said the recent entries for A levels and GCSEs were evidence of a shift in subjects driven in part by career concerns among pupils as young as 13. The 2013 A-level candidates chose maths, biology, chemistry, physics and geography in greater numbers than before, at the expense of subjects such as media studies. At GCSE level, modern languages such as French and Spanish showed strong growth, reversing previous years of decline.

Young people’s jobless figures draw union criticism for government 23 August, 2013

A tiny fall in the number of young people not in education, employment or training (Neets) has failed to impress union leaders despite leaving Skills Minister Matthew Hancock “heartened”. Labour Force Survey research shows the proportion of England’s 16 to 24-year-olds who were Neet between April and June was down on the same period last year by 51,000 (0.8 percentage points) to 935,000 (15.5 per cent). The fall, described by the Department for Education itself as insignificant, was welcomed by Mr Hancock. However Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said the “slow rate of progress” shamed the government and Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, hit out at the UK total of 16-24-year-old Neets, which is 1.09 million.

Apprenticeships director to step down FE Week, 23 August 2013

The executive director of the Skills Funding Agency’s apprenticehip division, David Way, has announced that he is to step down at the end of the month after 38 years working in the employment and skills sector. Way has overseen an expansion in the number of apprenticeships to more than 500,000 a year, and was in charge during the development of apprenticeships into new sectors and professions; the growth in higher apprenticeships (up to masters level); and, the strengthening of a network of ambassadors to promote apprenticeships to business and in schools. From April 1, the National Apprenticeship Service became fully integrated within the agency. Way said with this occurrence and a long-term reform agenda for apprenticeships set out by the government, he knew it was the best time to hand over the reins to others.

Pupils urged to look at alternatives to academic route after GCSEs TES, 23 August 2013

Pupils who received their GCSE results yesterday are being urged to look at alternatives to the traditional academic route of A-levels and university. With pupils in England now having to stay in some sort of education or training until they are 17, they are being encouraged to consider work-based options that might improve their chances of securing a job. These include traineeships, a new government programme available since the beginning of August. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) said traineeships were a “much needed” reform that combined basic academic study in English and maths, alongside vocational training and a work placement. Although new, traineeships are expected to grow in number quickly and be available across many different sectors. The Gazelle colleges group, which has 20 members across the UK, aims to transform further education by bringing entrepreneurship into the classroom. Its chief executive, Fintan Donohue, told TES that colleges should create more experiences and opportunities for their students.