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Sector News, 13 - 17 December 2010

Schools may lose out as Gove ends funding gap for post-16 education.  Education Guardian, 14 December 2010.

Michael Gove’s plan to end the disparity between sixth from and FE College funding and sixth forms in schools inevitably means a reduction in school budgets rather than an increase for others.  The end result could be that a number of school sixth forms close, increase class sizes or offer less in the way of A levels.  Whilst the cuts will be a serious issue for schools, sixth form colleges believe that they may well benefit from the plight of their school sixth form counterparts.

See also: “Sixth-form colleges are a beacon of success”, comment by Chris Thomson, principal of Brighton Hove & Sussex, Sixth Form College where Chris sings the praises of sixth form colleges.


Students taking maths post-16: Japan 85%, UK 14%.  Education Guardian, 14 December 2010.

A report funded by the Nuffield Foundation suggests that the UK is rapidly falling in the world rankings for reading, science and particularly mathematics.  In the UK the take up of advanced mathematics (e.g. AS level) is only 11% in Wales through 13% in England to 15% in Northern Ireland and 23% in Scotland, with a UK average of between 13% and 14%.  This compares poorly with countries like Japan where the take up is 85% and where 95-100 per cent of post sixteens are studying some type of mathematics.


The market in fees may prove unworkable.  Education Guardian, 14 December 2010.

Comment: Bahram Bekhradnia, director. Higher Education Policy Institute.

Concerns about university fees reaching £9,000 may be overstated; the majority of fees are expected to be below this level.  It is in the government’s interest to keep fees as low as possible because the loan is highly subsidised.  However, the government has not said how it will be able to hold down fees or control the number of students being admitted to universities. It seems that there is no clear mechanism for the government to control a system that it has introduced.  The Browne Review said that the government should set a pass mark of Ucas tariff points to determine who it will fund in terms of a loan, but that there should be no constraints on universities in terms of recruitment.  The effect of such a system would be to make the government, rather than universities, responsible for identifying those with the potential for higher education. Other systems considered by Bahram are fraught with the danger that the government will eventually put up fees further or restrict the numbers going to university on the grounds of available public finance.


Student loan costs could take further toll on sector. THE, 16 December 2010.

Following on from the Guardian’s article of the 14 December, The market in fees may prove unworkable ”,  the THE reports that many experts warn that if average fees tend towards £9,000, the government will be forced to take action because of the huge cost of funding student loans.  It is possible that the government will cut university funding further if too many universities charge close to the £9,000 figure and the government would certainly have to introduce new measures to deal with spiralling costs.


Scholarships may bring fiscal woe.  THE, 16 December 2010.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that they believe that the government policy of insisting that universities who charge more than £6,000 should ensure that the first year is free to poorer students will lead to one conclusion, that universities will not accept poorer students.


Lobbying by V-Cs 'reduced budget cuts' and protected student numbers.  THE, 16 December 2010.

Were it not for the lobbying of university vice chancellors the cuts to the teaching budget would have been even greater.  Universities UK, who made the claim, have said that many of the members of the coalition government do not hold David Willetts's views on widening participation and believe that there are too many universities with too many students.


Size matters to students' grades.  THE, 16 December 2010.

It will come as no surprise to many teachers to learn that research carried out by the London School of Economics and University College London found that classes (at master’s level) with a  large number of students did worse in examinations that those classes with fewer students.


Taking a leap in the dark with a radical experiment on funding.  THE, 16 December 2010.

Comment: Professor Sir Peter Scott is vice-chancellor of Kingston University.

Now the raising of the tuition fees cap to £9,000 has happened, it is hard to see any quick reversal of the drift towards privatisation.  Universities will raise their fees over £6,000, because this figure is not enough to replace the cuts in budget and ministers cling to the mistaken belief that universities will not normally charge the £9,000 figure.  Comments from the ministry that Further Education Colleges can deliver HE cheaper than universities ignore the fact that most HE in FE is franchised from universities.  All in all Sir Peter Scott believes that current situation is a mess.


This is customer services.  THE, 16 December 2010.

Opinion: Tim Birkhead is professor of behavioural ecology, University of Sheffield.

Tim Birkhead was shocked to hear Michael Gove say that nobody with a third class degree would be allowed to teach in schools.  According to Tim Birkhead nobody gets third class degrees any more and he wonders where Michael Gove has been for the past few years.   He would have been more impressed if Michael Gove had addressed the three main problems with teaching which are the national curriculum, the tick-box culture of school examinations and the lowly social status of teachers.


Gated communities.  THE, 16 December 2010.

Opinion: Graeme Atherton, executive director of the Aimhigher West, Central and North London Partnership.

The announcement that Aimhigher will close next year did not create the furore that university fees have.  Yet the loss of Aimhigher is likely to have just as big an effect on university admissions as any rise in fees.  Graeme is skeptical abut the new ‘beefed up’ system lauded by the government and run by the Office for Fair Access (Offa) which is supposed to ensure that universities charging high fees meet their widening participation obligations.  Sadly in the draft guidelines for Offa there is no:

·         requirement for universities to describe a minimum amount of outreach work

·         commitment to increase investment in Offa,

·         statutory system of Offa led accreditation for those achieving high levels of good quality outreach work.


Features in this week’s THE:

Giving cause for hope”, Adrian Beney looks at how UK institutions are coping with shrinking budgets and what they can learn from their US counterparts.

See also: Leader,A time for giving and for healing

Knowing when to say no”, is Hannah Fearns's feature on the ethical minefield of fundraising.

Drop out and innovate”, the San Francisco co-founder of Face Book is offering two £100,000 fellowships to teenagers with big ideas - as long as they leave university.


The Arts.  THE, 16 December 2010.

This week’s culture section includes “Tour of beauty”   in which Alex Danchev, professor of international relations, University of Nottingham, applauds Anthony d’Offay’s efforts to bring art to all.  The National Theatre is currently showing “Hamlet” and under “A world of kin unkind”, Peter J Smith, reader in Renaissance studies at Nottingham Trent University, cast a critical eye on this 20th century approach to Shakespeare’s work.   Gary Day’s “Daytime TV”, "Talking in bed", covers, “poetic sensibilities, the iconic couch of the subconscious and the beauty of mathematics”. 


'Sick' exam fakers could be worth tolerating.  TES, 17 December 2010.

Extra marks worth up to 5 per cent of a paper are available under the “special consideration scheme".  The scheme compensates students for illness.  However, schools are increasingly concerned that some people are manipulating the system.   A study conducted by Cambridge Assessment says that less than 1 per cent of GCSE or A level candidates have their grade improved by the special consideration scheme.  Cambridge Assessment adds that it is probably worth tolerating the fraudulent claims because of the support it gives genuine candidates.


Half of local authorities have broken SEN law.  TES, 17 December 2010.

Councils are obliged to issue statements to those with the most severe special educational needs, within 26 weeks.  However, it has come to light that only 55 per cent of councils reached that target in all cases during the 2009/10 academic year.


Statements of intent on road to SEN revolution.  TES, 17 December 2010.

The TES, in a major article, looks at the work of Children’s minister, Susan Teather who is attempting to radically overhaul SEN provision.  The article comments on:

·         SEN support costing more than £4 billion per year,

·         the rise in statements issued,

·         reports commissioned by Labour ministers, who seemed well aware of the criticisms of SEN,

·         the removal of bureaucracy and greater involvement of parents,

·         a reduction of the powers of local authorities,

·         schools who over identify students as special needs and the effect it has on pupils who keep the label even though their problems may have been no more than developmental,

·         a recommendation for simpler assessment of special needs and better teacher training.


EMA replacement is at least ‘£200 million short’.  TES, FE Focus, 17 December 2010.

The 157 Group of leading colleges has calculated that the minimum required to support students with deprived backgrounds is £225 million.  A learner support fund to be put in place by the government has currently only £26 million in its budget.


Crackdown starts on ‘creative’ college data.  TES, FE Focus, 17 December 2010.

Weeks after the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) promised to crack down on colleges who manipulate data, they have drawn up new guidelines which the SFA hope will prevent colleges massaging statistics.


From restaurants to recruitment: how FE is filing its depleted coffers.  TES, FE Focus, 17 December 2010.

Faced with severe cuts, more FE colleges are coming up with innovative arrangements to replace lost funding.   The article features Hadlow College, an agricultural college that was threatened with closure six years ago.  In that time the college has gone from an income of £4 million of which 70 per cent was government funding to £17.5 million of which only 43 per cent is government funded.  The college now has commercial farms, sells 30 million litres of milk to Freshways dairy and they have a series of farm shops, garden centres, an equestrian complex and a tea room.