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Sector News, 02 - 06 March 2009

Hasta la vista, Denham.  Education Guardian, 03 March 2009.

Courses that are more about curiosity or a desire for self fulfilment should get less assistance from the treasury than those courses which are about employability.  This is the (well known) Government stance on adult evening classes.  Currently John Denham is using holiday Spanish as an example of courses which should not be funded, at least not fully.  CaLL, the Campaign for Lifelong Learning gave John Denham a rough ride when he met them to explain what the Government had done for adults and when he explained that people now learn in different ways (e.g. Internet) rather than sign up for classes. However, in the meeting, nothing matched the attack by David Blunkett who talked about learning for its own sake as well as for the equality of opportunity it brings.  CaLL is a fast growing organisation determined to create a public debate on the state of adult education.


Funding freeze is a heavy blow for colleges.  Education Guardian, 03 March 2009.

Comment: David Willetts, shadow secretary of state for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

More on the loss of capital funding for FE colleges. David Willetts points out that there are colleges who having embarked on building projects, now face losing money.  He also explains why he believes that the re-organisation, which will effectively remove the LSC, should be stopped until the economic crisis is over.


School drops ‘easy’ GCSEs. Daily Telegraph, 03 March 2009.

Manchester Grammar School is to drop GCSEs in nearly all subjects and opt for international GCSEs.  This is the first time a top school has refused to use Government favoured examinations and it is seen as opening a possible ‘floodgate’ of other schools to copy the move.

The story is also covered in The Independent of 05 March.
85% failure rate was ‘appropriate’, but marks were raised.  THE, 05 March 2009.

The House of Commons’ Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee which is investigating charges of dumbing down in higher education, has ruffled a few feathers at the Manchester Met.  A second year international business law course had an 85% failure rate for two years running (2003/4 and 2004/5).  Whilst the examiners thought that the marking was appropriate, the final marks were nevertheless raised by 10%.  The university stated in its defence that it was its opinion that the teaching in the module had been very poor and that it was unfair that students should be penalised for failure through poor teaching, hence the decision to raise the marks. 

Other stories included in this Select Committee section are:

Compensated passes’ and easier work are the reality, says lecturer”.

An economics lecturer, employed by Manchester Met. reported to the committee that her university is guilty of dumbing down its course content and pass marks.  She gave an example of a question put to students in 1996-97, “Represent the following relations graphically: {(x,y) y=3x,x is a real number}.”  In 2007-08 the first question was “Calculate the following: (a) 10-3+5+4-6.” Mrs Evans also accused the examining board of raising marks without consultation.

Third-class efforts won firsts, examiner claims”.

Richard Royle, senior lecturer in law at the Lancashire Law School, University of Central Lancashire, told the Select Committee that he was astonished at the poor quality of work awarded firsts by one university (not University of Lancashire).  He stated that firsts were given to students who normally would be borderline thirds.

The story also runs in the Daily Telegraph of 05 March.


We’ll shift Britain’s economic engine from the City to the science laboratories, Prime Minister says.  THE, 05 March 2009.

Short article outlining the PMs desire to make Science the key to the UK’s economic recovery.


Vocational ICT courses condemned.  TES, 06 March 2009.

Ofsted has stated that vocational ICT qualifications are of doubtful value.  The GNVQ in ICT became popular when schools found that it counted as four GCSEs in league tables.  When this was phased out in 2006, Edexcel stepped in with its diploma in digital applications and OCR with the national level 2 in ICT. Whilst Ofsted says that the modular work based qualifications have motivated pupils, they are limiting achievement and are poor preparation for A levels.


Colleges must get up to speed with IT or face losing students.  TES, FE Focus, 06 March 2009.

Becta’s 2008 review has noted that whilst there has been strong development in the use of IT to support learning, there are a stubborn core of FE colleges that are late in embracing change.  Becta gives a stark warning, that if colleges do not embrace IT then students and employers are likely to look elsewhere for opportunities. In order to be successful in the use of technology for learning, colleges need commitment from the top and need to be negotiating with staff from the start of planning.


Nimble colleges could benefit from recession.  TES, FE Focus, 06 March 2009.

Opinion: Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive and director of research and development, Association of Colleges.

If the past is a guide to the current recession, then colleges are likely to see an increase in full time and a decrease part time student numbers.  At least this is what happened during the last two recessions in the early 1980s and early 1990s.  However, Julian Gravatt admits that nothing is certain and colleges will need to respond fast to what ever situation arises.