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Sector News, 4-8 July 2011

Now they want all primary pupils to take a phonics test, Monday 4 July

A new reading test due to be introduced in a year’s time is proving controversial, with only 28 per cent of 1,071 respondents to a government consultation exercise backing its introduction, and the United Kingdom Literary association backed by 13 other groups with interests in primary and reading education writing to Michael Gove in a bid to get him to abandon the test. In the test children will be presented with 40 words and asked to sound them out to their teacher or another adult with the results given to the parents and used to produce statistics on national and local performance and inform Ofsted’s inspection judgments. But opponents, who say phonic recognition is only a part of learning to read English, say it will be disastrous and a waste of money.

Bridgend plans 'McPath' between school and fast food outlet, Monday 4 July

A proposed path linking Brynteg School in Bridgend in south Wales with the local McDonald’s and a residential area is proving controversial. Supporters, including the head teacher David Jenkins, say it will create a safe half-mile route, but critics think it could encourage more youngsters to avoid school meals in favour of burgers. At the moment pupils tend to use a grassy verge next to a busy A road.

Schools try out 'vocational baccalaureate', Monday 4 July

A vocational version of the International Baccalaureate is being trialled in a number of UK schools. The IB Career-Related Certificate (IBCC) is said to combine the academic rigour of the IB with vocational study. The idea behind it is to increase access to the IB, which is generally seen as more demanding than A levels. Some critics have voiced fears that it will dilute the IB brand, and think that the requirement to study a language could potentially alienate students who have not had to take one at GCSE. There are also fears that cuts to sixth-form funding could threaten the IBCC before it gets going.

The white paper: some win, some are 'screwed', Monday 4 July

A week after the White Paper, its implications for students and for universities are sinking in. Here a number of leading figures in the education world give their views on who will be the winners and losers. Those contributing are; Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Claire Callender, professor of higher education, Birkbeck and Institute of Education, Carl Lygo, chief executive, BPP Holdings and principal of BPP University College of Professional Studies, Michele Sutton, principal and chief executive, Bradford College, Matthew Andrews, academic registrar, Oxford Brookes University and chair of Admissions Practitioner Group, Roger Brown, co-director for the Centre of Higher Education Research Development at Liverpool Hope University

Plus, in an opinion piece entitled Is the white paper's real purpose to cut costs?, Peter Scott argues that although the White Paper promises a free market in higher education, deregulation and to put students first it does none of those things. He writes that instead of one cap on student numbers there will be three, covering top achieving students, those on cheap courses and the rest. There will be little relaxation of bureaucratic controls, and he says that bright students will already have realised the aim of the White Paper is to drive down fees and so reduce the funding universities have to meet their needs.

White Paper: Elite to take up AAB gauntlet Times Higher Education, 7 July 2011

Some of the top universities questioned by the Times Higher Education have revealed they will take up the government’s challenge to increase their intake of top-achieving students. Of 12 members of the Russell and 1994 groups of research-led universities who responded, six said they planned to expand their recruitment of students with AAB grades or better. One aimed to boost undergraduate numbers by 10 per cent via such recruitment in 2012-13. Oxford and Cambridge said they had no plans to increase undergraduate numbers.

White Paper: rules may favour the humanities Times Higher Education, 7 July 2011

The government's new higher education policies could cut student places in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and create extra places in cheaper arts and humanities disciplines, vice-chancellors have warned. The critics have also warned that the proportion of AAB students is higher in arts and humanities which could create another incentive to weight provision towards those disciplines in the new market for elite students.

Academic conductors needed on the syllabuses Times Higher Education, 7 July 2011

There have been more calls for academics to become more involved in designing A level syllabuses after a joint report by two universities highlighted incoming students' lack of preparation for academic writing. Flying Start: Practices, Communities and Policies to Ease the Transition to University Writing and Assessment, was published by the University of Derby and Liverpool Hope University. It said that modern A levels’ emphasis on short answers and the fact students could rewrite assessments many times meant that students often struggled to write essays that showed evidence of independent thought. The problem was particularly evident at new universities.

Public history centre hopes to get the records straight Times Higher Education, 7 July 2011

Researchers at a new centre devoted to public history have warned that spending cuts and ill-conceived digitisation programmes pose a major threat to the archives that area essential to much academic work. Kingston University's Centre for the Historical Record held a conference to mark the opening, and Nicola Phillips, a lecturer in history who co-founded the centre, said that libraries, archives and heritage organisations that faced budget cuts were often tempted to allow commercial companies to "snap up" the rights to archive data. Dr Phillips said the effect was to “restrict their full education and research potential”.

Changes in future accrual rates may shrink public-sector pensions Times Higher Education, 7 July 2011

A professor of economics at the University of Sussex has said that the pensions of staff at older universities could be at greater risk from rising inflation than those of their public sector colleagues. Alasdair Smith, a former Sussex vice-chancellor and former chair of the 1994 Group, said the "most significant" change proposed by the Hutton review, on which the government is basing its plans, was the switch from final-salary to career-average pensions. But he said the accrual rate, the proportion of final or average salary awarded for each year of service, was crucial and the government had not said what this would be yet. He said it was the sort of detail that needed tough negotiations. The UCU is holding a fresh ballot for industrial action over changes to the private Universities Superannuation Scheme, which covers academics and senior administrators in pre-1992 universities.

Information overload may give students even more cause for complaint Times Higher Education, 7 July 2011

The government's higher education White Paper puts forward a series of recommendations for information that ministers want universities to provide to students on top of the Key Information Sets that are already set for launch next year. But David Palfreyman, director of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies, said the release of much more information would provide more "pegs" to hang grievances on, but could also make disputes more legalistic.