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Sector News, 16 - 20 November 2009

Starting at 22, Britons have talent.  The Independent, 16 November 2009.

Edge, an education foundation dedicated to improving the quality of vocational education, declared in a report today, that Britons tend to find their ‘feet’ when they are 22 years old.   Fifteen per cent of those surveyed said that they had been written off as failures at school.  The article is littered with the names of famous people who ‘failed’ at school but who have since become household names, for example, Alan Johnson and Damien Hirst.

A new role for grammar schools? Education Guardian, 17 November 2009.

When the full A level results for schools are published in January, it seems that sixth from colleges will have outperformed the average grammar school.  The news has prompted Peter Newsam, former chief schools adjudicator, to suggest that the best grammar schools should be turned into sixth from colleges.  This, he argues, would give 16 year olds the best opportunities and would boost the intake of comprehensive schools.

Universities plan job losses in response to looming public spending cuts.  Education Guardian, 17 November 2009.

A possible loss of around 5,000 teachers/lecturers posts is expected by the University and College Union.  Nearly half of the country’s universities are planning job cuts and restructuring in order to save £35 million by 2010.  The union expects that the cuts will affect around 90,000 students.  There are, however, those who question the motives of universities, seeing the cuts as no more than using the economic climate as an excuse to restructure.

Young people learn more and more about less and less.  Education Guardian, 17 November 2009.

Opinion: Dort Nutbeam, vice chancellor, University of Southampton.

A criticism of A level provision is that it has too narrow a focus for 16 to 18 year olds and that it forces specialism too early.  Universities could influence the process of widening the curriculum for 16 – 18 year olds if they stopped using A level as the only measure of standards for entry to university.  Whilst new developments such as the Diploma and the introduction of modular programmes have gone some way to alleviate the problem, universities continue to make it worse by offering more and more specialised courses.  Thus according to Dort Nutbeam, universities are out of step with what most undergraduates want from their course.

Cost is the big deterrent for would-be students.  THE, 19 November 2009.

Futuretrack, is researching the progress of students from when they apply to university until two years after they graduate.  The organisation surveyed 130,000 people as they applied to university and 50,000 full-time students after their first year.  Of those students who applied but did not enter university, almost 40 per cent were put off by the cost and 32 per cent were fearful of the debt they could generate.  First year students generally had a positive opinion about the tuition and support they received, 80 per cent agreeing that it was almost excellent.  Unfortunately, up to 40 per cent said that hardly anyone on the academic staff knew their name.

Full report –

You’re hired?  Apprenticeship degree mooted.  THE, 19 November 2009.

Following the Government’s promise earlier this year to help more apprentices enter university, it has announced a pilot of composite honours and masters programmes.  The programmes will maintain the principle requirements of an apprenticeship; employment status, technical expertise, occupational competency and professional recognition of their skills.

Cash-for-quality link could be ‘damaging’. THE, 19 November 2009.

In its framework on the future of higher education, the Government says that funds will be diverted from institutions whose courses "fail to meet high standards of quality or outcome" to boost courses that "meet strategic skills needs".  The threat has come under severe criticism.  A former head of QAA has said that how you link quality with funding is anybody's guess and the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute believes that such a policy could be morally questionable. 

Engage with quality assurance or face state takeover, scholars told.  THE, 19 November 2009.

Peter Williams, former head of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), has said that the state was attempting to increase its control of HE at the expense of university independence.  Mr Williams said that when he became head of the Academic Audit Unit in 1990 he had a vision of a scholar-led approach to quality.  However, universities’ quality procedures are now run by administrators using the form filling approach which he disliked from the beginning.

Do you want to be in my gang?  THE, 19 November 2009.

An article rather than news in which Melanie Newman looks at the dynamics of university mission groups.  Mission groups exist to highlight the differences between the various sectors of higher education.  For those who are unsure which universities comprise, for example, the “Russell Group” or the “University Alliance", the article lists the universities and gives some information on the groups' backgrounds.

 Other articles in this week’s THE:

Reinventing the past; Ulrike Zitzsperger ponders souvenirs and how they reshape history.

In the heavens, as is it on Earth; looks at the surge in astrobiology and considers whether proof of the existence of extraterrestrial life might be closer than we think.

Examiner overload threatens Diploma.  TES, 20 November 2009.

Exam boards recruited and trained 1,300 examiners and moderators to assess “principal learning qualifications” (PLQs). However, just 894 candidates completed the core PLQs.  This amounts to approximately 1.5 examiners for every candidate and the figures have raised concerns that the consistency of the Diploma assessment could be impaired by the sheer number of examiners.

Ofqual falls short on grading consistency in GCSE science.  TES, 20 November 2009.

Despite Ofqual’s demands for exam boards to tighten their standards for GCSE Science, it admits that OCR and Edexcel are more lenient than AQA.  The regulator said that “By summer 2010 the differences between awarding bodies will have been substantially reduced …”.

Colleges stung by 6% cut in Train to Gain funding.  TES, FE Focus, 20 November 2009.

The Government has announced that all college courses will be funded at 3 per cent less than they were this year.  However, Train to Gain courses will suffer a further 3 per cent cut.    Whilst colleges were aware of the 3 per cent cut, 6 per cent has come as something of a surprise.

See also: A bitter blow, but FE too busy for tantrums”, comment by FE Focus Editor, Alan Thomson.

‘Embracing efficiency’ could save FE from frontline cuts, claims 157 group.  TES, FE Focus, 20 November 2009.

According to the 157 Group of colleges, £175 million could be saved across FE without affecting frontline services.  Furthermore, more than £250 million could be saved by reorganising sixth form studies so that schools are made to run as efficiently as FE.   A paper issued by the group, also requests a rethink on the “elaborate consortium” arrangements made for Diplomas.

‘We should control 16-25 funding’, says councils.  TES, FE Focus, 20 November 2009.

Margaret Eaton, chair of the Local Government Association, has said that national planning will not work and funding for education up to the age of 25 is better held by authorities.   Her views put her at odds with Conservative party policy which favours a return of an FEFC style operation.  It is Ms Eaton’s view, that local authorities are better placed to meet the needs of the communities it served than unelected quangos.

Tories pledge to cut quangos.  TES, FE Focus, 20 November 2009.

As part of their plans to give FE colleges more freedom, the Tories plan to cut the number of quangos to just three.   The ambition of the Conservative party is to have one funding body, one regulatory body and one improvement body.