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Sector News, 09 - 13 March 2009

Next stage in rebuilding programme: legal action.  Education Guardian, 10 March 2009.

Yet more on the rebuilding debacle.  The LSC has granted 79 colleges “approval in principle” on their rebuilding proposals.  An “application in principle” means that you can go ahead planning the rebuilding because it has been approved by a national committee on the understanding that you come back with detailed plans. On this basis (at least) the AoC has consulted lawyers to see if there is a legal case to be answered.  John Denham, the skills secretary, has announced that except for eight colleges, decisions on all pending building schemes are frozen.  He has asked Sir Andrew Foster, the Audit Commission’s former chief exec, to find out what has gone wrong.

‘A solution to a problem we don’t have’.  Education Guardian, 10 March 2009.

Caps is the Ucas-style national on line admissions system, through which it is planned, all year 11 pupils will have to apply if they want to progress to sixth form study.  Currently, Caps is being piloted by a few schools including the John Mason School in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.  The scheme is part of the online 14 - 19 prospectus that all local authorities must make available.  In theory, it helps students to decide whether they want to stay in one place or mix and match schools to achieve their A level and other options, it should also make information about provision easier to obtain.   Needless to say there are issues with this idea.  Some colleges have already created sophisticated computer admissions systems and they will be loathed to lose these. Other concerns include what authorities will do about the large numbers of students who cross authority boundaries and how well an apparently complex system will work.

Fast track teacher training offered to ex-city workers.  Education Guardian, 10 March 2009.

High flyers from the city who have been made redundant and bright graduates could become teachers within six months and headteachers within four years under a new Government plan.  Teaching unions are furious that the Government believes that teaching can be learned in six months. Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Training someone to be a teacher in six months is an ill thought out scheme that consigns Gordon Brown's vision of a world class education system to the scrap heap”. Jim Knight, the schools minister, believes that cutting teacher training to six months makes a more attractive choice for experienced people and attracting high flyers into the education system will do much to raise its standing. 

Not surprisingly, most of the papers have this story. 

In The Independent it is covered in Fast-track plan to turn jobless into teachers”. The Daily Telegraph under “Professionals will be able to retrain as teachers in six months”.  Fast-track teacher training for failed City staff just a ‘gimmick’ is the Daily Mail’s headline and the Daily Express runs with, PM defends 'fast-tracked' teachers, the TES under “Bankers fit for class in just six months?”.

New frontiers.  Education Guardian, 10 March 2009.

Becta supports this weeks extra supplement in the Guardian which discusses developments in educational IT. There are no links to the paper, but the Becta website can be accessed using the following link  Becta was formerly known as the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency.

  • Access all areas”, poses the question “Can further education and work based learning keep up with schools and universities?”  FE colleges have lagged behind the developments in schools and universities.  One reason for this is FE’s autonomy, further education colleges have not been forced to address the issue as schools have. Another issue for FE is the apparent lack of communication between senior managers and technicians and staff (not in all colleges). In terms of best practice, around 25% of colleges make full use of technological opportunities to deliver teaching and learning, 71% routinely use internet based research. However, this leaves a significant minority who appear to be slow taking up the challenge. Becta want organisations (including work based providers) to assess their own technology, including the risks posed by access to the ‘net’ without making it virtually impossible to use.
  • Remote control”, brings the readers attention to off-site working, which is not just for students but which can be a boon for staff also.  North Warwickshire and Hinckley College is noted for its work with an on line technology self-assessment tool known as Generator.  The system has helped the college to work out staff development needs.  The software enables college senior management, private training providers and adult and community education to assess performance on a range of competencies. will take you into the Generator web site, note that you will have to register your organisation before you can access any information other than the introductory page.

  • Make the connection via on-screen applications”, gives some examples of the successful use of ICT. 

Oakwood Court college in Devon have found that by using getting their autistic pupils to sit at a computer with a camera has the most extraordinary effect.  For reasons which they admit they do not understand, pupils who find it difficult to hold conversations will do so if they are talking at the screen.

Garth Prison, Lancashire, have allowed some of their prisoners, separated from the rest of the prison, to use online Learndirect courses.  The effects, according to the prison, are liberating, only 2 of the original 25 have withdrawn and because the inmates can work at their own pace they feel a sense of achievement.  Prison staff have reported an improvement behavior, mental health and well-being.

Henshaw’s College, Harrogate, caters for 16 to 25 year olds with visual impairments.  The college has won a Becta award for exploring ways in which the students can earn to look after themselves. For example, the students use MP3 players as voice recorders to follow recipes as they cook.

Widening participation in an open environment is the theme for six local authorities on Teesside.  They use a learning platform to support students who find it difficult to attend classes regularly *(e.g. shift workers).

Finally, Lifetime Health & Fitness, a Bristol training consultant has produced its own tracking and assessment system which has increased the number of NVQ learners it can train.

  • Class and a glass”.  Rural students in Lincolnshire can now use their local village pub which doubles as a college when a tutor arrives to assess the students’ work in their laptops.  With 368 apprentices and other learners spread across rural Lincolnshire, ISIS Training saw the potential of an e-portfolio to dramatically cut down on travel times for both tutors and students.   Now students can use wi-fi in pubs, restaurants and cafes to collect their assignments and send in their work.

MPs call for ‘toothless’ watchdog to be put down.  THE, 12 March 2009.

More on the Common’s Select Committee for Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills which is meeting to discuss progress in higher education.

The QAA has come under attack from the commons select committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills.  Phil Willis MP, IUSS chairman said that his committee had heard significant evidence that QAA was not doing its job.  Mr. Willis suggested that that it is time for the Government to look to a new agency to control quality in HE.

Also in this section, Rose-tinted spectacles come off as MPs hear about plagues of plagiarism and faulty washing machines”.  Here, it is reported that there is some dissent about the standards of achievement in HE along with the worth of the Student Survey. 

The 157 Group of large further education colleges told the select committee that widening participation to higher education was a myth and that universities should be compelled to form partnerships with local colleges to ensure that college students get a fair chance to enroll on their degrees. This is reported under the headline: “Colleges claim FE students lose out on places”.   Those who studied for vocational qualifications found it harder to obtain paces at universities when compared with their counterparts studying A levels at school.

Lib Dems declare their opposition to higher education expansion.  THE, 12 March 2009.

The Lib Dems are officially opposed to the Government target of 50% of all under 30 year olds participating in higher education. It was also re-affirmed at the conference in Harrogate that the Lib Dems are opposed to charging undergraduates fees and would expand free tuition to part time students. A mainstay of their arguments appears to be based upon a minority of graduates unable to find graduate level posts, a belief that the graduate premium for posts is not a reality and the number of graduates earning less than £20,000, three and a half years after graduation.  In terms of tuition fees the Lib Dems regret the high level of debt being forced upon graduates.

Lifelong learning threatened by funding change.  THE, 12 March 2009.

Universities are not immune from the loss of adult students through funding difficulties.  Manchester confirmed it would shut its Courses for the Public programme and Reading has announced a review of its School of Continuing Education after being hit by the Government funding rule for equivalent or lower-level qualifications.  Manchester commented that the decision, not taken lightly, was an inevitable consequence of falling student numbers along with a progressive withdrawal of government funding.  Reading has suffered a 69% reduction in “other recurrent teaching grants”.

Tougher A-levels knock back Baccalaureate.  TES, 13 March 2009.

UCAS say that the new A level has more stretch and challenge.  In recognition of this the International Baccalaureate is to have its university admissions points downgraded from next year. The current A level tariffs will remain the same whilst the IB points have been reduced.

Universities to sponsor new 14-19 vocational academies.  TES, 13 March 2009.

Plans are being drawn up for a new series of university sponsored 14-19 vocational academies. Birmingham will be the first to take part with Aston University acting as a sponsor for a school specialising in engineering and manufacturing. The idea of Lord Baker, former minister of education for the Conservative party, and the late Lord Dearing, is based on the German model of 14-19 technical schools. John Bangs, head of education at the NUT said that the move would create post-14 secondary modern schools and that the education system needs no more upheaval.

FE at high risk of plagiarism.  TES, FE Focus, 13 March 2009.

Plagiarism is increasingly rife in the internet age and a report by Hefce (Higher Education Funding Council for England) about HE in FE suggests that FE students are particularly prone to misuse the internet.  Evidence suggests that less academically experienced students are most vulnerable to charges of plagiarism, says the funding organisation.

Adult education now worth £94bn.  TES, FE Focus, 13 March 2009.

According to a Niace inquiry, adult education is worth almost £100bn.  However, this figure dwarfs the £4bn spent through the Learning and Skills Council on what would be considered traditional adult education services.  Niace (National Institute for Adult Continuing Education) has constructed the report in order to obtain the balance between the different allocations of funding for adult education, for example, between work related and personal education.  A UK report to an international conference stated that the UK has made substantial progress in widening access to information, where technology has spread quickly and widely and policies designed to get people into work have been successful.  However, there is concern about people with low skills.

Only third of mergers improve results. TES, FE Focus, 13 March 2009.

The Hay Group, which looked at 16 FE colleges resulting from mergers, has said that two out of three have not delivered any improvement in student achievement.  However, the group also pointed out that colleges were more successful at combining than business, which had a failure rate of 91%.

Academies fail to meet launch target.  TES, FE Focus, 13 March 2009.

“The Learning and Skills Council is pressing on with plans to develop enough skills academies to support one million learners over five years, despite missing its first target”.  A report in this week’s TES states that only 3,000 learners have enrolled this year and that obtaining funding is an issue.  The Government expected each academy to receive about £5m in sponsorship but, for example, food and drink manufacturing has received just £1m in cash.