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Sector News, 01 - 05 June 2009

Big brothers.  Education Guardian, 2 June 2009.

According to the Education Guardian, Ed Balls and John Denham have taken 153 new powers in the new Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill.   A strange move considering the furore over the expenses scandal which has made the general tone of Westminster one of decentralisation.   The Guardian says that the two ministers will, for example, have powers to:

  • determine the content of certificates for apprenticeships
  • stipulate which course other than ICT, maths and English a 16-19 student can study
  • insist local authorities provide information about accountable resources held, received or expended
  • specify the maximum amount of compensation someone is entitled to if a tribunal decides on unfair dismissal  
  • demand revised authority transport plans for sixth formers following a complaint
  • stipulate the qualifications for those aged 19 or over
  • decide the minimum level of literacy and numeracy required for an adequate lifestyle.

There are a number of serious implications in this move, not least that the Government will have the power to intervene if it believes that schools are underperforming and to direct local authorities on the placing of students in referral units.  Even Ofqual, which is supposed to be independent, will have to be aware of the 15 powers given to Ed Balls in relation to its work.

College construction plans must wait – again.  Education Guardian, 2 June 2009.

Despite Treasury instructions to the LSC that it should speedily approve grants of up to £515 million, this is not proving possible. Anger has been expressed by some colleges whose modest proposal were talked up by the LSC to the point where they submitted major re-building projects only to find out that the funding was not available.  Funding is only likely to be given to those colleges who are ready to start work immediately, giving rise to fears that funding will be allocated on first-come, first-served basis rather than on need.  An internal memo by Turner and Townsend, the consultants organising a questionnaire being sent to colleges, states that any list of colleges emerging from the next council meeting will have to submit to a further value for money process to reduce costs. This will take a further 11 weeks on top of an already stretched schedule.

‘New wave’ blurs divide between elite and others.  THE, 04 June 2009.

Leicester University take 91.4 per cent of their students from state schools and 26.7 per cent from  lower socio-economic groups.   Vice chancellor professor Bob Burgess argues that the universities' success in widening participation is down to a shift away from purely teaching and research to one of improving access and the student experience.  Professor Burgess says that along with Loughborough, Exeter, York and Manchester they are forming a ‘new wave’ of universities that he hopes will shape the values of higher education in the 21st century.

Students’ campaigns take some ugly turns.  THE, 04 June 2009.

Whilst no one will deny that student feedback is important, encouraging students to post anonymous scores over the internet or in pigeon holes is tantamount to bullying according to the University and College Union.  Examples given of anonymous scoring are from Bolton,  Manchester Metropolitan and University of Lancashire.  At Manchester, students are texting the Student’s Union to say when their lecturers are late or when lectures are cancelled.  At Bolton students leave anonymous cards in staff pigeonholes and at the University of Lancashire students have posted examples of bad feedback on line.

See also “Value is no cause for complaint” (leader) and the major article “Now is the age of the discontented” which enlarges on an idea that university education is increasingly becoming a consumer product.

Questions of cost and usefulness dog e-learning.  THE, 04 June 2009.

In a survey of 125 university staff, the results suggest that about half of university staff see learning technology as important to students.  However, few staff are taking up the challenge of using the on-line opportunities to enhance learning.  Among reasons given for this lack of use, are the time it takes to prepare on-line material and the loss of interpersonal interaction with learners.

QAA to look into drama at QMU.  THE, 04 June 2009.

A meeting between QAA and Queen Margaret University Scotland has been called following complaints that proposed changes to an undergraduate drama course would affect quality and leave students ill prepared for the future.  Whilst the University say that the complaints are completely without substance, the QAA have taken them seriously enough to warrant an investigation.

(Story first reported in the THE 14 May and on WMCETT news 11-15 May)

Being a humble servant to business will be a disaster for everyone.  THE, 04 June 2009.

Opinion: Thomas Docherty, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Warwick.

Thomas Docherty has some strong words to say in his condemnation of the idea which sees a university's role merely as a business proposition.  University education is, he argues, more than the sum of the information it imparts, it should be seen primarily as a site for the free play of imagination and its ability to unlock the power and potential of students.

Abductions and UFOs: new exam will chart alien territory.  TES, 05 June 2009.

OCR is offering a new level 2 qualification, “Thinking and Reasoning Skills”, which includes teaching pupils to distinguish between argument and an unreasoned outburst.  The move follows the successful launch of the board's popular A and AS levels in critical thinking.   OCR believes that the new qualification will be popular and useful.  However, headteachers' leaders and the Conservative party fear that it could squeeze out essential subjects.

LSC rethink priorities for capital building cash.  TES, FE Focus, 05 June 2009.

The latest update on the issue of capital projects for Further Education Colleges.  The Guardian reported earlier this week that funding for capital projects would be issued on a “shovel ready” basis.  However, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) have admitted that there are more colleges ready to build than they first thought.  More consideration needs to be given to how we allocate funds and this will take longer than initially expected, said an LSC spokesperson.

Guide pulls no punches on building business links.  TES, FE Focus, 05 June 2009.

A 30-page best practice guide outlining colleges' approach to employers, has been published this week by the Association of Colleges (AoC).  The document makes clear the AoC’s views that branding, reputation, marketing and customer engagement should be at the forefront of college thinking.   The publication “Hiding the Wiring”, can be accessed through the link.

A strategic union can bring greater fortune than staying single.  TES, FE Focus, 05 June 2009.

There is no doubt that the political climate concerning college mergers is cool.  Arguments for merger include financial benefits by merging systems and those against argue that we risk losing diversity and losing touch with the local community. Since incorporation in 1993 there have been 83 mergers and at the time that John Denham was expressing doubts about merging, 35 colleges were in merger discussion.  This major article discusses the pros and cons of merging, arguing that mergers must have a solid educational purpose.

Good for you. TES magazine, 05 June 2009.

Normally we do not feature the TES magazine because it is school based rather than post 16.  However, this week there is an interesting article on “praise”.  Over the past 30 years punishment has given way to a reward culture, but not everyone is convinced that constant rewarding is a good idea.