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Sector news, September 29 - October 5

AQA in the morning, Edexcel in the afternoon: Multiple GCSE entries in same subject expected to soar TES, 2 October 2013

The TES reported that Ministers’ crackdown on early GCSE entries is expected to prompt a flood of multiple entries with different exam boards, as schools work out how to get around the new rules. Schools had said a lot of pupils were annoyed at being withdrawn from GCSEs next month by schools trying to protect league table positions. Michael Gove had accused some schools of cheating by entering pupils for GCSEs before they were ready, and that in future league tables would only count a pupil’s first GCSE attempt rather than their best one.

'We want to be there when students need us – not just after GCSE results'Guardian, 3 October 2013

Joanna Bailey, principal of Stockton Sixth-Form College, has written in the Guardian about how her college is taking a new approach to enrolment practices to pick up more students rather than just those who know what they want to do at the traditional recruitment time. There is now a ‘second chance’ enrolment opportunity for students to begin A levels in late October and early November. Students join existing classes, plus get additional one-to-one support to help them catch up. Also being planned is a Btec in Business and Enterprise to start in January, and a Btec for those interested in a career in the public sector. The college will not get financial benefit from the initiative until 2014-15 but sees long-term benefit in trying to generate income at several points during the year.

Apprentices paid below £2.65 an hour legal minimum jumps 45%FE Week, 4 October 2013

Nearly a third of apprentices were not paid the legal minimum wage in 2012, according to information published by the department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The findings in the Apprenticeships pay survey 2012 show 29 per cent of learners did not receive the minimum of £2.65 an hour last year, up 45 per cent from 20 per cent the year before. In October this year, the legal minimum wage was increased to £2.68 an-hour. The amount of time apprentices spent on off-the-job training also fell, from 6.3 hours in 2011 to five. Time spent on- the-job training fell from 12.4 hours in 2011 to 11.6 in 2012. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady described the findings as shocking, and said the government should do more to make companies aware of their responsibilities. Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said paying less than the minimum wage was illegal and if employers broke this law they needed to know that the government would take action.

New loans being used for leisureFE Week, 4 October 2013

The government’s £232m pot of cash for FE loans could be going on courses not aimed at getting people into a job or higher education, FE Week reported. The cash was set aside by the Skills Funding Agency to fund provider “loan facilities” as part of the new 24+ advanced learning loans system, launched two months ago. But FE Week found loans being used to fund leisure-focussed courses, despite apprenticeship loan applications failing to take off. FE Week found a level three Royal Horticulture Society certificate in horticulture being advertised with the loan offer at Bicton College in Devon. The course covers practical skills such as planting and pruning, and the college is also advertising a creative craft course with the loan. The college’s head of marketing said people who had completed courses at the college such as in horticulture had gone on to build their own businesses or change careers. Shadow Skills Minister Gordon Marsden has told of concerns the loans may not be getting directed towards “retraining” and “reskilling”, and said he would ask the agency to look at FE Week’s information.

Minister boosts traineeships with £20m – but only for 19 to 23sFE Week, 3 October 2013

An extra £20m funding will be available for over 19 traineeships, but there is no new cash for 16 to 18-year-olds despite a “pressing” need. The funding, announced by Skills Minister Matthew Hancock on Thursday, is for the government’s flagship scheme which offers learners work experience alongside English, maths and employability training. The cash has been welcomed by the sector, but some people have expressed concerns that it will be restricted to the programme for 19 to 23-year-olds. ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said he was disappointed, when the pressing need was for younger students to have access to the route into apprenticeships and higher level training. Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said it was “bizarre” as all unemployed under-24s needed help to get a job, and was “another illustration of the government’s disjointed policy-making on the hoof.”

Foundation rejects non-competitive bidsFE Week, 3 October 2013

The Education and Training Foundation is binning contract bids it received under its old non-competitive tendering process. Foundation interim chief executive Peter Davies told FE Week last month that contracts would have to be awarded through a competitive process in future. Because of this, a number of bids already submitted for a share of the foundation’s £18m government funding, to carry out research and development, are being binned. A letter co-signed by Davies and foundation interim chair David Hughes said: “We will not be able to proceed with the majority of the bids for work the foundation has received from across the sector, some of which we initially asked for, which were more speculative in nature.” It follows £75,000-worth of contracts being awarded to member organisations such as the Association of Colleges and the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education through a non-competitive process. It is understood these contracts will remain in place. The letter continued to say that all other work would be subject to competition, either through separate open tenders or framework agreements. Contracts that could be put up for tender in the near future cover Teach Too, traineeship and apprenticeship support programmes, National Occupational Standards for teachers and practitioner-led research projects.