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Sector news, 6 - 10 May 2013

Student loans: Will it soon be pay-back time? The Guardian, 6 May 2013

Heads of universities are lobbying the government to alter student loans as a way to limit cuts. Senior academics are asking the government to get graduates to start paying back their loans much earlier to cut public costs and stop the axe falling on government funding for universities. Some vice chancellors are reported to see changing the student finance arrangements as a fairly painless way of absorbing costs. Nicholas Barr, professor of public economics at the London School of Economics and one of the leading experts on student loans said graduates should start repaying their loans when they are earning £18,000 or more, and not £21,000 as at present. He said the NUS would claim it was hitting graduates, but it would add only £22.50 a month to repayments. NUS president Liam Burns however was furious at the suggestion. The article also claims that Russell Group universities are lobbying for the £4.6bn annual science budget to remain ringfenced even it means BIS has to claw back funding aimed at increasing the number of poor students who go to university.


School inspections deeply toxic, thinktank says The Guardian, 7 May 2013

School inspectors’ reports should be scrapped and replaced with write-ups by parents, students and teachers, according to the thinktank Demos. It argues in a report out today that the way the government inspects schools at the moment "profoundly toxic". Inspectors' views of schools are pitted against those of students and teachers, with inspectors' "singular voice allowed to dominate", says the study, which is called Detoxifying School Accountability. James Park, the report's author and a Demos associate, recommends that instead of Ofsted inspectors publishing their reports schools should collect data each year from teachers, students and parents and produce "an honest account of what is strong and what is less strong in the school".

A separate report by the centre-left thinktank IPPR warns that government reforms could result in a quarter of a million teenagers no longer being able to study their preferred subjects at school. Most GCSE equuivalent vocational courses have already been removed from school league tables, and there is a plan to cut those for over-16s. As many as 60 per cent of schools plan to reduce the number of vocational qualifications they offer, and most said that was because they no longer counted in league tables.


Exams chief warns against emphasis on English and maths GCSEsThe Guardian, 8 May 2013

Overall progress by pupils studying English and maths is a better measure of school performance than an over-emphasis on exam results, England's exam regulator has told the government in response to its overhaul of secondary school accountability. Glenys Stacey, chief regulator of the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) suggested in a letter to Michael Gove that the government’s reforms had not yet succeeded in ironing out distortions in the school league tables which rewarded schools that raised students’ exam results from Ds to Cs at the expense of pupils on either side of that threshold. Stacey also said English and maths should be given greater weight in the government’s proposed measure as qualifications recognised as most likely to improve students’ life, but warned against using exam results in the two subjects alone.


New chief executive at the Association of Employment and Learning ProvidersFE Week, 8 May, 2013

The incoming chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers has told how apprenticeships will be at the top of his agenda. Stewart Segal takes over from Graham Hoyle in three months. He has worked with the association for a number of years and was previously chief executive of national training provider Spring Skills and Hertfordshire Training and Enterprise Council. He has also worked with the Learning and Skills Improvement Service and the Skills Funding Agency and Education Funding Agency, serving on a number of advisory groups. He said the apprenticeship programme had to be transparent and open, and had a great deal of engagement with employers. Segal said he was “delighted” with his appointment and that he had a keen interest on working on the development of the FE Guild, which he saw as a great opportunity for the sector to take more ownership of professionalism and quality of delivery.


NAS investigates apprentices’ hours FE Week, 10 May 2013

The National Apprenticeship Service is investigating claims that apprentices are regularly working “over and above their contracted hours”. UnionLearn, the learning and skills organisation of the Trades Union Congress, has reported that apprentices are breaking their contracts by doing their contracted hours in the workplace — and then studying on top without pay. A UnionLearn spokesperson said this was happening largely with 30-hour contract apprenticeships, as learners would spend four days at work which used up all their hours, then a fifth studying for their apprenticeship. A spokesperson said the question was whether there was an intention or not to exploit the young people. A spokesperson for the service said it would “assess” evidence to see if there was a problem.