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Sector News, 23 - 27 February 2009

Just stick to sewing mailbags.  Education Guardian, 24 February 2009.

The prison system does not help those inmates who wish to study education as well it ought.  This is the view expressed by the Guardian in an article which gives examples of how poorly some prisoners are treated.  In the conflict between security and learning, security can prevent prisoners from successfully achieving educational goals.  The article cites Long Lartin prison where, despite warnings, the prison only allowed two and a half hours for an Open University examination which should have lasted three hours.  Furthermore, the two and a half hours were punctuated by interruptions and frequent arguments between prisoners and guards.

The honours degree system must not be allowed to die.  Education Guardian, 24 February 2009. Comment.

Terence Keeley, Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham comments on how grade inflation is damaging the UK’s reputation and is turning the honours degree system into a farce.  During 1996 only 45% of graduates achieved a first or 2:1, now it is around two thirds.  There is a call to scrap honours degrees and replace them with higher education achievement reports (HEARs).  Those in favour argue that a student’s achievements cannot be summed up by a single grade.  Needless to say Terence Keeley sees this as an error of judgement.

‘The opposite of science’.  Education Guardian, 24 February 2009.

A long time campaign by David Colquhoun and fellow scientists may be having an effect.  They have campaigned that homeopathy degrees are unscientific and do not allow students to develop critical evaluation skills.  Certainly a number of alternative medicine courses have closed.  In this article David Colquhoun give his reasons for disliking alternative medicine degrees arguing that they should not be taught as scientific degrees.

David Colquhoun is Professor of Pharmacology at University College London.

The training game.  Education Guardian, 24 February 2009.

One of this weeks two (extra) supplements covers training, through Train to Gain, university teaching to libraries.

There are no links to the paper but, the following may be useful: Sector skills councils: and Lifelong Learning UK: Other websites that may be useful are given within the following text.

In the supplement are:

  • “Beware false economies”, which discusses the effect of the economic downturn on training.  It is an all too common event that when money is in short supply, training is often the hardest hit.  The remit of the LLUK is covered as the only the body charged by the Government for setting standards.  LLUK is keen to ensure that training is not viewed as a pastime which can be dispensed with, arguing that companies who continue training will be better placed when the country comes out of recession.
  • “Free money, anyone?” There is a call to re-assess Train to Gain which was produced in the context of a good economic climate.  Now that there is a downturn in the economy, questions are being asked as to whether the targets set can be achieved.  Liberal Democrat MP Phil Willis, chair of the commons select committee on innovation, universities and skills says that Train to Gain is too bureaucratic and has led to a situation where employers are being offered ‘free’ money yet,  turning it down. Despite this criticism, the CBI want the Leitch proposals to be adopted en-masse.  The Leitch report is also criticised for focussing primarily on up-skilling, under the current economic climate, re-skilling has become just as important.
  • “Forget gain-learn for living”, Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace),  comments that unemployed adults can be trusted to choose what they need to learn.  He further comments that the economic downturn has shown the loss of adult places in colleges and learning in general has remove opportunities for the vulnerable, opportunities which now are more important than ever. “Second Chance”, also comments about the loss of adult education places.  Richard Boslin, general secretary of the Workers Education Association (WEA), says that obtaining a balance between training for those in as well as those not in work is critical for the good of society. 
  • “Not a closed shop”, highlights the possibility that the credit crunch may bring FE Colleges motivated staff with relevant industrial experience. The article tells the story about Robert West, a pattern maker for formula 1, who responded to a radio advert which encouraged vocational professionals to start a new career as a teacher.  Whilst Robert is still working, he admits that having a second string to his bow in times of recession could be an asset.
  • The Government wants every further education teacher to be qualified.  “A qualified decision” asks whether this approach risks alienating valuable ex-industry professionals.  Not so argues Tony Fazaeli, chief exec. of the Institute for Learning, who says that the requirement for qualification has led to a new sense of professionalism amongst staff.  This up-beat assessment is echoed by Alison Twiney, director for England at LLUK, along with the private training company JHP. JHP says that the economic downturn has had little effect on the demand for training assessors and trainers.  Ioan Morgan of Warwickshire College comments in “Skilling and problem- solving are what matters to us”, that good teacher training is at the root of their success with Aston Martin Lagonda.  Warwickshire College prides itself on the fact that its staff do not just receive the mandatory public training, but that they are trained to a higher level. “Stamp of approval for universities”, shows that while FE lecturers have a new training and licensing system, university lecturers have got their own act together, with continuous professional development their next priority.  Universities act independently and are responsible for their own training which in many cases can last up to two years and should lead to a PGCHE.  This is a far cry from the experience of lecturers in the 60s and 70s, where training amounted to little more than how to use an overhead projector. Sue Crowley, chair of the Institute for Learning (IfL), says that “Professional development [is] a key focus for FE body”.  With more than 18,000 members, IfL purports to represent the broadest range and diversity of professional teaching and guided learning across the FE and skills sector.  IfL’s aim is to raise the status and professional standing of teachers, trainers and assessors in further education. 

The Institute for learning link is

  • “Colleges may be at the heart of communities but further education cannot be locally organised in a global economy”. Dick Palmer, the principal of City College, Norwich, argues that in a global economy colleges cannot afford to just think ‘locally’.  A sentiment echoed by Jo Clough, director of international strategy at the Learning and Skills Improvement Service.  There are probably far more than one quarter of British jobs linked to overseas business (one quarter is a statistic given originally by the Department for Trade and Industry).  This figure is likely to grow as the country strives to attract foreign investment and increase exports.  It is simply not the case anymore that supporting local business is a local issue when local businesses are operating on a world stage.  Hence, colleges need to be talking to local, regional, national and international employers to understand their human resources needs.
  • Connected to the above (to a degree) is the reality of creating education and training programmes in a UK where the four different countries have four different political, educational and qualification systems. “Pick and Mix”, highlights the issues faced by LLUK and UKCES (Lifelong Learning UK and UK Commission for Employment and Skills) who see themselves working in a way which has to be almost international.   For example, in Wales LLUK has been wrestling with a Welsh language audit of further education and whilst England is in the process of developing 14-19 Diplomas, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have different agendas.

LLUK website: (England) and (Northern Ireland).  For the Scotland:  and for Wales;

Denham to draw up 15-year framework for the future.  THE, 26 February 2009.

John Denham, the Universities Secretary, has made it clear that the Government will produce a document setting out a 10 to 15 year framework for higher education.  Furthermore, he will not get into a debate about tuition fees until the plan is produced.  It is John Denham’s view that to get into a debate on fees will remove any possibility of discussing the 10 to 15 year plan.  He further refutes the claim that universities are close to bankruptcy. In the article, the secretary outlined the key issues for higher education as:

  • Postgraduate students – view is that there is a lack of clear public policy in taught and research students, that funding can be ad hoc and unstrategic and questions are being raised as to whether more students doing masters degrees could undermine what had been achieved on widening participation.
  • Part-time students – more flexibility is required and there should be a move away from the notion that part time degrees are full time degrees done in bits. Credit should be given to those who have completed part of a course.
  • Widening participation – Government still determined to ensure that 50% of under thirty year olds take part in HE.
  • More investment in universities is required. 

 If you are interested in the fees debate then see also: “Ministers won’t say the F-word – it’s up to us to make the case for fees.

This involves what exactly?  THE, 26 February 2009.

Universities have come under fire for misleading statements in their prospectuses.  A common complaint from students is that the prospectus is little more than a marketing tool which can be likened to a holiday brochure.   All too often statements are generalised, often incomprehensible and at times make things sound more exciting than they really are.  The article gives examples, often amusing, of statements from university prospectuses.

Universities warn of plans to axe B.Ed.  TES, 27 February 2009.

Representatives of higher education have requested an urgent meeting with ministers amongst growing fears that the B.Ed will be dropped by the Government.  Increasing rumours suggest that the Government believes that B.Eds are not good value for money and that they may scrap them in order to fund the new masters degree in teaching and learning.  Gerard Kelly, Editor of the TES, argues in “B.Ed has had its day: let’s bid it farewell”, that the requirement for entry to B.Ed. is too low which for a sector that wishes to raise its status is far from ideal.  He further comments that, in his opinion, the B.Ed. is too theoretical and not as flexible as other teacher training programmes.

Diplomas struggle to build a profile.  TES, 27 February 2009.

The findings of a poll conducted by Ipsos Mori, conducted during November and December last year, makes poor reading for the Government.   Only 26% of parents said that they knew a great deal or a fair amount about diplomas, 43% of teaching staff claim to know nothing and 39% of pupils said that they knew a lot about the diplomas.  Adding to the Government’s woes is the fact that in September only 12,000 students signed up to the first diploma, well below the 50,000 hoped for by the Government.

A call for clarity and a quango with clout.  TES, 27 February 2009.

Surprising though it may seem three large exam boards, Edexcel, OCR and AQA have called for the Ofqual to be given more powers.  The general view is that Ofqual’s remit is open to interference from ministers.  It is the opinion of AQA that the wording of clauses in the bill are too ambiguous and are likely to lead to protracted arguments over what Ofqual can and cannot do.

Campus projects face priority queue after rush for funding.  TES, FE Focus, 27 February 2009.

In a continuation of the row over project funding, this weeks FE Focus reports that some building projects may have to go on hold for two years.  The news came as it was also revealed that the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) had asked some colleges to increase their bids.  Colleges are now calling for the Council to priorities work so that urgent building programmes can be undertaken now, whilst other developments wait until 2011.  The LSC is meeting on Wednesday to re-assess its capital programme.

21,000 extra apprenticeships – but that may not mean new jobs.  TES, FE Focus, 27 February 2009.

Many apprentices are in jobs before they begin their apprenticeship.  This is an acknowledgement by the Government that although they are planning 21,000 public sector apprenticeships, the increase may not create extra jobs.  A spokeswoman for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said that the department believes it might not be fair to offer training to external candidates that was not available to internal ones. In a further announcement the Government stated that apprentices who were made redundant will be allowed to continue their training for up to six months after redundancy. The Government stressed that the funding is for training not wages.

Business as usual as FE returns to county hall. TES, FE Focus, 27 February 2009.

The Apprenticeships, Children, Skills and Learning Bill had its second reading in the commons.  This is the bill that puts 16-19 education (amongst other things) back in the hands of local authorities.  Next year the LSC will cease to function and colleges are, understandably, concerned as to the effect local authority funding will have on them.  The Government believes that it will be business as usual.  However, with thousands of students crossing authority boundaries and a situation where local authorities are the purchasers but with some of the providers effectively part of the local authority, colleges wonder how all this will work.  Further complicating the switch is that there are two models of funding, a top down model laid out in “Delivering 14 to 19 reform” and a local authority model in line with learner choice.  One wonders what will happen if the learner choice is different to the top down funding model.

There appears to be inconsistencies with the new regulations.  For example, a new adult oriented Skills Funding Agency is likely to keep over half of the LSCs staff and it will be responsible for college capital funding although no one knows how sixth form colleges will be funded.

Delivering 14 to 19 reform” can be found at