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Sector news, 20 - 24 February 2012

Two heads, one idea: sponsor an academy TES, 24 February 2012

This article looks at how two colleges in Basingstoke have submitted a unique proposal to the Department for Education to back the Vyne School in the town to become an academy. The idea was put together when the principals had a drink at the AoC conference in November. The school was the third in the town to be placed in special measures. Basingstoke College and Queen Mary’s College are now hoping to create the first academy jointly sponsored by a general FE college and a sixth form college, the first time two different types of college have joined forced to manage a school.

SFA under fire over claims of a 'cover up' at FE choices TES, 24 February 2012

When the FE Choices website - which contains the latest performance data for colleges and training providers - came in for strong criticism following last month's launch, FE minister John Hayes was quick to defend the government's "steps to increase openness and transparency in public services". But the TES says it has learned that significant errors in the data have since been quietly corrected without the approval, or the knowledge, of the minister or senior civil servants at the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), prompting fears of a "cover up". The TES’s source at the SFA said there had been "a clear case of maladministration" within the Data Service, the agency responsible for publishing FE data, which was commissioned to carry out the work.” It is believed more than 60 figures have been amended.

 Graduate unemployment levels on a par with school leavers The Guardian, 23 February 2012

Graduates leaving university found it harder to get jobs in 2011 than students finishing A-level courses, as youth unemployment hit its highest level since the 1980s, official data has shown. Last year 20 per cent of 18-year-old who left school with A levels were unemployed, compared with 25 per cent of 21-year-olds who gained a university degree, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. A total of 26 per cent of 16-year-olds who left school with GCSEs were unemployed. Charlie Ball, deputy director of research at the Higher Education Careers Service Unit said the cohort of post-A level students was smaller, and most of those leaving university were likely to get jobs within six months. Some large firms have recently stepped up recruitment of school leavers to attract bright students put off by the cost of going to university, including the UK’s largest four accountancy firms.

Universities cut number of degree courses by 27% The Guardian, 23 February 2012

The number of degree courses on offer at British universities has been slashed by more than a quarter in the past six years, new research suggests. The study by the University and College Union found there are almost 20,000 fewer full-time undergraduate courses available now than there were in 2006, with cuts from the sciences to arts and humanities. The report found that among the single-subject courses examined in the UK, there has been a fall of 14.6 per cent in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem subjects), while social science courses have dropped by 12.8 per cent, and arts and humanities are down by 14 per cent.

Michael Gove: Get set for new age of exam failures The Independent, 22 February 2012

The education secretary Michael Gove has said that more teenagers will fail their GCSEs and A-levels after a radical toughening of the examinations system. He plans to make exam questions harder in a drive to restore confidence in the system and to improve standards, which will see pass rates fall for the first time in years. He also wants university academics more involved in setting A-level questions to give pupils greater scope to show their talents. GCSE coursework will be phased out and more emphasis put on end-of-year tests. Teaching unions attacked Gove for portraying the education system as “failing”.

Examiners could be banned from attending seminars with teachers The Guardian, 21 February 2012

Exam boards are considering imposing strict new curbs on examiners in the wake of allegations that some are telling teachers the questions pupils will be asked. Mark Dawe, the chief executive of exam board OCR told MPs that in future examiners could be banned from attending seminars with teachers. Thousands of teachers go to seminars organised by exam board to find out tips on what examiners are looking for when they mark pupils’ exam papers. But the Telegraph discovered last year in an undercover investigation that examiners were tipping teachers off about the questions pupils should expect. Exams regulator, Ofqual, withdrew a GCSE exam paper as a result and three examiners were suspended.

Let for-profit firms transform weak state schools, urges former headteacher The Guardian, 19 February 2012

The former head teacher of an inner-city comprehensive has said for-profit companies should be brought in to help improve hundreds of underperforming state schools. Trevor Averre-Beeson, former head at Islington Green comprehensive in north London, now works as the education director of one of the UK's biggest for-profit education firms, Lilac Sky Schools. Last year education secretary Michael Gove said the UK did not need any profit-making organisations involved at the moment, but many Conservatives are said to be pushing for the next manifesto to include ideas on how to allow for-profit firms more involvement in schools.

'I'm in Birmingham but my students are global' The Independent, 16 February 2012

The feature focuses on what it calls a revolution in the way people are learning in further education colleges, looking at a course at Birmingham Metropolitan College which is run online for hundreds of apprentices in nine different countries including Russia and China. The style of course is becoming increasingly commonplace at the college which is trying to meet the demands of a globalised training world. The foundation degree in counselling studies is the course featured, but the article says in many colleges there is a flaw in the way in-service training is being designed to help teachers cope with this brave new technological world.

Russell Group attacks university admissions targets The Telegraph, 20 February 2012

The Russell Group, which represents 20 top institutions including the University of Warwick, said that forcing universities to meet tough benchmarks on admitting poor pupils would fail to resolve the “real problems” in the education system. It warned that poor A-level grades remained the “key reason” why low numbers of students from deprived backgrounds get into the best universities.

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