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Sector news, 1 - 5 October 2012

New exams set to be introduced without trials The Guardian, 1 October 2012

The Education Guardian says it has learned that the exams regulator Ofqual has abandoned a promise made in 2003 to ensure that all major exam reforms are piloted in advance. It seems that the next big set of changes, the English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) to replace GCSEs, initially in English, maths and science, from 2015 – are likely to go ahead without any conventional pre-trials. This is expected to cause a lot of disquiet.

New school building designs hit by curve ban The Guardian, 1 October 2012

Curves are to be banned in a new generation of no-frills school buildings, according to a government crackdown on what it believes is wasteful extravagance in educational architecture. The design templates which have been unveiled for 261 replacement school buildings also prohibit folding internal partitions to subdivide classrooms, roof terraces that can be used as play areas, glazed walls and translucent plastic roofs. The government is planning to replace the primary and secondary schools it thinks are in the worst condition in a five-year programme, and the templates are to show architects and builders bidding for the £2.5 bn of contracts what the government expects from smaller and cheaper schools. The government plans to cut school building costs by 30 per cent and save up to £6m per school compare to Labour’s Building Schools for the Future project.

Labour's Technical Baccalaureate can save the pupils ignored by Michael Gove's EBacc Certificates Daily Telegraph, 2 October 2012

Stephen Twigg argues that Michael Gove’s Ebacc Certificates do nothing to help pupils leaving education at the age of 18. He writes that the biggest challenge in today's education system is how we prepare young people for the modern labour market, when every student will stay on in education or training until the age of 18. For the 50 per cent who don’t go to university there needs to be something and he says it needs a gold standard vocational qualification at 18, and this will be called a Technical Baccalaureate. He says it means making them rigorous and high quality, so they are not seen as a second class option.

Ucas launches new application scheme for GCSE students Daily Telegraph, 2 October 2012

Ucas, the universities and colleges admissions service, has launched a new online application scheme enabling pupils aged 16 and younger to apply for apprenticeships and training programmes as well as traditional sixth form courses. The scheme is called Ucas progress and will target students about to enter the two years of education immediately after GCSEs. More than four thousand further education providers including schools, University Technical Colleges and other training providers are listed on the new platform, which features nearly 200,000 courses to which students can apply. While detailed information on the companies that have signed up to provide work-based learning schemes is not yet available, Ucas says there are “many hundreds” including the construction sector training body CITB, and training specialist Kaplan. A third stage of the Ucas Progress scheme known as ‘Inform’ will provide additional guidance and advice for students as young as 11.

World University Rankings 2012-13: Asia's high-flyers challenge Western supremacy Times Higher, 3 October 2012

Apart from Oxbridge and London, the relative performance of the UK's research-intensive universities is slipping, analysis of the 2012-13 Times Higher EducationWorld University Rankings shows. Uk institutions have on average improved scores across most criteria a surge in performance elsewhere has seen UK universities in the top 200 slip by an average of 6.7 places. US universities got 76 places in the top 200. Asian universities, especially in the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and China, performed particularly well in the rankings, rising by an average of almost 12 places. Across the top 400, 29 UK institutions lost ground while 12 made gains. Universities to buck the national trend of decline include the London School of Economics, rising from 47th to 39th place; the University of Edinburgh, climbing from 36th to 32nd; and the University of Warwick, rising 33 places to 124th.

Stressed academics are ready to blow in pressure-cooker culture Times Higher, 3 October 2012

Academics are suffering from growing stress levels as a result of heavy workloads, management issues and a long-hours culture, a survey has found. Unachievable deadlines, acute time pressures and the need to work quickly were also common complaints identified by an occupational stress survey completed by more than 14,000 university employees for the University and College union. Staff were asked about areas that could potentially cause them stress, such as conflicting management demands, workloads and pressures on their time. Academics experience far higher levels of stress in these areas than employees in other professions, the survey found.

Will FE's own 'games makers' sink or swim? TES, 5 October 2012

This article looks at the “college sport makers”, a team of 150 full-time sports professionals given the job of inspiring an exercise revolution among FE learners. The project has been launched with £20 million of National Lottery funding to improve sports provision for tens of thousands of teenagers. But they could have a hard job on their hands, as the most recent survey carried out on behalf of Sport England found fewer than half (49.8 per cent) of college students take part in at least 30 minutes of exercise a week. Colleges will also be allowed to apply for grants of between £30,000 and £150,000 to set up new leagues, hire additional facilities or provide transport to help students attend sessions.