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Sector news, 21 - 25 May 2012

Ed Miliband demands end to 'snobbery' over vocational courses The Guardian, May 21 2012

Britain should reject the "snobbery" that says the only route to social mobility runs through having a university education, Ed Miliband will say on Monday. In a speech to a Sutton Trust conference in London, on the eve of the launch of the government's social mobility strategy by Nick Clegg, the Labour leader will attack a “narrow-mindedness” that treats vocational subjects as second class. In his speech, Clegg will highlight university as a key route to social mobility by proposing a student premium to guarantee financial help for children on school meals entering higher education.

Cambridge tops Guardian University Guide league table again  The Guardian, May 21 2012

Cambridge has topped the Guardian’s University Guide league table for the second year running, while Oxford has come second and the London School of Economics has climbed a place to third. St Andrews, rated third last year, is now in fourth place, while the University of Warwick rose a place to fifth. University College London (UCL), Durham, Lancaster, Bath and Exeter make up the top 10. The guide is accompanied by rankings showing how universities perform across the main subject areas. Cambridge came top in 16 out of 47 subjects. Universities are ranked on various things including student/staff ratio, graduate career prospects, students’ value-added score and how happy with their course final year students are. Coventry University rose from 63rd to 46th, with student survey results a major factor.

New report warns of collapse in numbers of mature students The Guardian, May 21 2012

A new Million+ report warns that cuts to access courses could put social mobility at risk. The article looks at mature students who have taken access courses then gone to university with great success. Changes to funding access courses in 2013 mean they, and level 3 qualifications such as A levels, will no longer be subsidised for mature students, meaning they will either have to pay for them in full up front or take out loans to cover the costs. A report out this week by the National Union of Students and university thinktank Million +, which represents the view of universities with a large proportion of non-traditional students, urges the government to ensure further and higher education funding changes do not deter mature applicants. It warns of a possible collapse in their numbers, although they currently make up nearly a third of the student body. Applications through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) from those aged 21 or over to start degree courses this autumn fell by 11.4% year on year in April, compared to a fall of 6.6% among applicants aged between 17 and 20.

University graduates embark on earlier chase for jobs The Guardian, May 22 2012

Students graduating this summer have made a record number of applications and begun looking for jobs earlier than ever, a survey of more than 17,000 finalists shows. Applications for graduate jobs in investment banking have returned to their highest level since the start of the credit crunch in 2008, the High Fliers Research survey finds. The wish to take a gap year is at an all-time low, and the survey estimates the volume of applications has risen by 40 per cent in two years. A record 42 per cent of students made applications for a graduate job by the end of October 2011, while 61 per cent had applied by the end of February, compared with 59 per cent last year.

Entering pupils early for GCSEs is damaging to children, warns Ofsted The Guardian, May 22 2012

Inspectors are planning to crack down on schools which enter pupils early for GCSE maths after concerns that a rise in taking exams at a younger age is damaging children’s education, said Ofsted in a report published on Tuesday. The proportion of children sitting maths before they were 16 rose from 4.5 per cent in 2008 to nearly 14 per cent in 2011. Ofsted this has led to underachievement in GCSE, with early entrants less likely to achieve an A or B grade.

GCSEs' value questioned by CBI The Independent, 23 May 2012

Business leaders in the Confederation of British Industry today questioned the value of GCSEs, over concerns that the qualification forces pupils to narrow their options too early. Neil Carberry, director for education at the CBI, said many youngsters may not be getting the breadth of education, core subjects and employability skills they will need for later in life. The CBI said it is planning to look in depth at the issue and present its findings later this year.

Mike Sheridan: Confessions of an Ofsted inspector The Independent, 23 May 2012

Richard Garner interviews Mike Sheridan, one of Ofsted’s most senior inspectors, to gain an insight into the nature of his work, which under the plans of new head Sir Michael Wilshaw is about to get a lot tougher for schools.

 Transfer of fees to students may be 'over the top' Times Higher, 24 May 2012

England may have gone "a bit over the top" in transferring the cost of university education from the state to the graduate, the coordinator of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's skills strategy has said. Andreas Schleicher, special adviser to the OECD secretary general, speaking at the launch of the strategy at a conference in London on 18 May, said the principle of stharing the costs between the state and the student was right but said the reforms had perhaps gone too far. From the autumn universities will charge students up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees. Asked if higher tuition fees would damage prospects for lifelong learning in England, he said it was essential “to figure out more clearly to whom do benefits accrue.”

Play nice and share, schools and colleges are told TES, 25 May 2012

New guidance has been drawn up by the Association of Colleges and the Association of School and College Leaders with the aim of promoting closer co-operation between rival institutions. A report in March by the AoC had found that half of all 11-18 schools were blocking FE colleges’ recruitment efforts, with the issue more of a problem since the government decided schools should be responsible for careers advice.

Dawn raids lead to arrests in £1.6m fraud case TES, 25 May 2012

Three men were arrested in an investigation into a suspected £1.6 million fraud at a football apprenticeship company run by former professional players. Officers from the Serious Fraud Office and four local forces raided four houses and an office building during their inquiry into Luis Michael Training (LMT), a company set up by former Charlton Athletic and Wales defender Mark Aizlewood with ex-Middlesbrough striker Paul Sugrue. The Serious Fraud Office said LMT was suspected of producing false documents, including registration papers, progress reviews and coaching exam certificates, to falsely demonstrate to colleges and exam boards that students had successfully completed apprenticeships. Police believe that the firm made fraudulent claims to colleges for SFA cash from 2009 until it went bankrupt in 2011, worth a total of £1.6 million.


Fraud probe continues but A4e in the frame for £30m contract TES, 25 May 2012

The Skills Funding Agency has revealed that investigations are ongoing into alleged fraud at the training company A4e, despite it being the government's preferred bidder for a £30 million prison education contract. The allegations relate to A4e's education and skills contracts, and follow claims made earlier this year about the company’s welfare-to-work contracts with the Department for Work and Pensions.