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Sector news, 8 - 14 September 2013

Birmingham college reverses decision to ban Muslim face veils after protests Guardian, 13 September, 2013

A college has abandoned its ban on Muslim face veils after a storm of local protest, a planned demonstration and the involvement of the prime minister. Birmingham Metropolitan College changed their mind on Thursday night despite David Cameron and the Department for Education saying they had the right to have such a policy. A Muslim women’s group had called the ban "disproportionate" and challenged the college to justify why it had considered it. The college had originally said all students must remove hoodies, hats, caps and veils to ensure they were “easily identifiable” as part of a “safe and welcoming learning environment”. Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood, Shabana Mahmood, said the college had made a wise decision to change its policy, as a group of women would have “potentially been excluded from education and skills training at the college” had the ban gone ahead.

Tuition fees rise has not put off applications by disadvantaged students Guardian, 11 September, 2013

The rise in tuition fees to £9,000 a year has not discouraged students from disadvantaged areas applying to university in England, a study on the impact of higher fees has concluded. The Independent Commission on Fees found that applications from areas with historically low numbers of young people progressing into higher education showed an increase in 2013 compared with 2010, the year before the rise in fees from £3,375 to £9,000 was first announced. It also found that the number of 18-year-olds applying from poorer areas included a small rise in applications to England's 30 most selective universities, a fact welcomed by the Office For Fair Access (Offa), the higher education access watchdog. However, the higher fees appear to have caused a sharp drop in applications from mature students, those over 20, for full-time study, which were down in England by 14 per cent in 2013 compared with 2010. It noted that applications by mature students in Northern Ireland and Scotland, where tuition fees were not raised, continued to increase over the same time period.

Qualifications cull comes under FAB fire FE Week, 13 September, 2013

A cull of more than 1,800 adult qualifications that had little or no uptake has been criticised by Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) chief executive Jill Lanning. The Skills Funding Agency has axed funding for awards, from entry level to level four, as part of its New Streamlined Funding System for Adult Skills from the start of last month. She said she was concerned about the impact on members including where funding was removed from one of a suite of linked qualifications offered by an awarding organisation. Among qualifications with no uptake were City & Guilds level one award in creative techniques in jewellery – personalised key fob, and the Royal Society for Public Health’s level two award in health promotion. An SFA spokeswoman said the agency would review funding decisions if there was evidence of demand. FE Week found out through a Freedom of Information request to the agency that 70 per cent of the qualifications cut were axed because they had no uptake in the 22 months from August 2011.

Schools "failing" to provide good quality careers advice, Ofsted warns TES, 10 September 2013

More than three quarters of secondary schools in England are failing to give their students good quality careers advice, with little time being devoted to promoting vocational training and apprenticeships, according to a critical Ofsted report published today. The inspectorate said the careers information given to students was often too narrow and out of date, and staff delivering it lacked training. Ofsted also said schools were not working well enough with employers to give students meaningful work experience. A levels and going to university was still seen as the ‘gold standard’ for young people, parents and teachers. Education and business leaders have urged the government to act quickly to give schools the support they need. Adult education body Niace said schools should not be blamed but instead better supported by employers, colleges and others to help deliver “realistic and inspiring” careers advice. The government said the National Careers Service would be improved, and skills minister Matthew Hancock said he wanted more employers involved in providing high-quality careers advice to schools and colleges.