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Sector News, 11 - 15 August 2008

Investigation to test integrity of exam standards.  The Independent, 11 August 2008.

A review covering the setting, marking and long term standards of A-levels, GCSEs, SATs and other school examinations is to be conducted in the Autumn by the Government’s new independent exams watchdog.  Ofqual is to test the ‘health’ of examinations so that the public can have faith in what is being tested and marked.

The remarkable rise of re-marking.  Education Guardian, 12 August 2008.

With confidence in the marking of A level so low, exam boards are bracing themselves for a wave of complaints.  Coupled to this are concerns about grade inflation which may grow if predictions about increased pass rates are met when the A level results are announced.

Does size really matter?  Education Guardian, 12 August 2008.

When colleges were freed from local authority control in 1993 there were 465. That figure has now been reduced to 373, mostly through mergers.  However, a change in Government thinking (first reported by John Denham in November) has the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) stating that mergers may not be such a good idea.  Despite evidence that shows large colleges gain slightly better Ofsted grades the department is not convinced that large colleges perform well.

Oxford is doing its best to widen participation. Education Guardian, 12 August 2008. Comment: Tom Kemp admissions tutor at St John’s College Oxford.

Tom Kemp makes the point that St John’s College takes almost 70% of its students from the state sector.  However, he is concerned that the public (and the government) do not understand how difficult it is to root out raw academic talent in a society where affluent parents have the wherewithal to prepare their students to perform better.

A level results.

The A level results came out today.  Stories about the 97% pass rate feature in all major newspapers,   For example, “Another record year for A level students”, The Independent;  “ A level results, students receive more top grades”, The Guardian, “Maths and science comeback as A-level grades soar”, The Times, “Another record year for A-levels as 97% pass”, Daily Express and “A -level pass rate rockets to highest level ever as test chiefs herald the ‘unfailable’ exam, Daily Mail.

Scholars remain unconvinced about the value of professional doctorates.  THE, 14 August 2008.

Growth in professional doctorates, the qualification designed to be relevant to the workplace, has come under scrutiny, and some criticism by academics.  To academics the PhD is still seen as the ‘gold standard’ and this has forced some universities to attempt to obtain the same standards for professional doctorates.

Degree of optimism as engineering on the up.  THE, 14 August 2008.

According to the Engineering and Technology Board, engineering is enjoying a surge in popularity.  The number of applications to engineering and technology courses rose by 7% between 2002 and 2007.

Are good mixers badly served?  THE, 14 August 2008.

There is a real fear that interdisciplinary research in the arts and humanities will be lost unless it receives more recognition and funding.  Key amongst concerns is the treatment of some interdisciplinary research journals.  The European Reference Index for the Humanities ranked Radical Philosophy the lowest rating in its initial list for philosophy journals, yet the publication is considered to be one of the most reputable journals of its type.

Grappling with the digital divide. THE, 14 August 1008.

One of the major articles in this week’s THE deals with students increasing literacy across a range of technologies and wonders whether academics can keep up.  ‘Transliteracy’, as it is known is the ability to communicate across a whole range of digital communication platforms.  Yet our students' standards of English literacy remain poor.

Almost no failures at A-level.  TES, 15 August 2008.

The TES has its say about yesterday’s A-level results, pointing out that the overall pass rate is 97.2% and that this has been the 26th year of increased grade scores.  Its table of most popular subjects shows that mathematics has done best with a 7% improvement, followed by English and art and design with 4% each.

Watchdog for student complaints.  TES, FE Focus, 15 August 2008.

Plans are being drawn up for an independent complaints service to give students the right to hold FE colleges to account.  Student representatives want to see a similar body to the higher education adjudicator, who has the power to order universities to change their procedures and even grant compensation.

Jobless reject forced training.  TES, FE Focus, 15 August 2008.

In a small survey (over 100 people) the Department for Work and Pensions has concluded that learning should be voluntary and only for those who want new skills.  This contradicts the policy of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills who propose forcing the unemployed to have their skills assessed followed by compulsory classes for those deemed below par.

Paperwork is cut to lure business.  TES, FE Focus, 15 August 2008.

In a meeting of Government, college and business delegates a decision has been made to reduce the bureaucracy surrounding apprenticeship schemes.  Schemes will no longer be required to keep paperwork for up to six years, provide monthly reports or expect monthly inspection visits.

Mergers falling from favour.  TES, FE Focus, 15 August 2008.

(Repeat story) Following on from recent stories, the TES once again lays out the Government’s requirements for college mergers.

Beadles’s about to raise public awareness of adult learning.  TES, FE Focus, 15 August 2008.

Carol Taylor, Director of literacy, language and numeracy at NIACE looks at the impact of channels 4’s Can’t Read Can’t Write  programme.