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Sector News, 24 - 28 May 2010

Government to close Becta.  Education Guardian, 24 May 2010.

Following from last week's news the Guardian confirms the Government’s plans to close Becta saving £80 million.  Becta employs 240 staff and 120 contractors.  Its closure is met with dismay by both Becta and its users in schools and colleges.  Those against the proposal say that central procurement of equipment and standardised technology platforms have saved education more than it costs to run Becta.

What students want from toilets.  Education Guardian, 25 May 2010.

Although the toilets at South Birmingham College were in a poor state of repair, staff were surprised to find that after consultation the state of the toilets were the student’s most pressing concern.  Now they have toilets which would grace a five star hotel. South Birmingham College staff said that they expected students to want state of the art computer suites.  However, students often see poor conditions as a cause for dissatisfaction no matter how sophisticated the learning and teaching styles and equipment are in the college.

Study shows more disabled students are dropping out of university.  Education Guardian, 25 May 2010.

Universities are failing to adequately accommodate disabled students.  As an example, the Guardian tells the story of a deaf student who felt that she was humiliated by her tutor’s attitude to her deafness.  The problems run deep with universities using a tick box approach to reach quotas but failing to implement legally required measures.  In addition, failures by the Students Loans Company exacerbate the situation for disabled students.   As a result of difficulties many disabled students are dropping out of university courses.

Fears of a pedagogic crisis as £315 million quality fund dries up.  THE, 27 May 2010.

Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (Cetl) were encouraged to become self financing after this year.  However, only three universities say that they have achieved this.  A total of thirty two universities say that the work has become fully embedded in their institutions or that activities run by their Cetls would continue.  Academics are warning that the legacy of the £350 million scheme risks being lost and that universities needed Cetl more than ever.

See also "Bad news for teaching as spending crackdown may knock 2% off budget”  where the THE reports on the likely effects of the Government’s budget cuts.

Without fees reform, into the ‘valley of death’ ride the 155.  THE, 27 May 2010.

Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, has told the independent review of higher education funding and student finance that stability needs to be brought to the sector during times of uncertainty.  Steve Smith fears that the Institute for Fiscal Studies report suggesting that up to 25 per cent of funding may be cut could well come true.  The president continued with a call for an increase in student fees. Lord Browne of Madingley, who is chairing the review, has said that no conclusions have yet been reached.  An opinion not shared by the general secretary of the University and College Union who insists that the conclusion will not be about whether we increase student fees, rather by how much. Also included in this report is "Teachers with no training? What a ‘silly situation’".  Herb Marsh, professor of education at the University of Oxford told the review of fees and funding that many university lecturers do not have any training in being teachers.  The comment came under questioning aimed at discovering how quality could be improved to give students better data to inform choices. 

A vision of blue skies shining on ‘clusters’.  THE, 27 May 2010.

David Willetts has given his first keynote speech at the University of Birmingham.  In the speech Mr Willetts laid out, in part, his vision for HE.  Highlights of the speech included:

  • the importance of blue skies research, the science ring fence and even so called Mickey Mouse degrees,
  • the protection of university autonomy,
  • scepticism about reward impact in the research excellence framework,
  • the importance of curiosity driven research.

In a previous speech Mr. Willetts indicated that he favoured clusters, such as science parks, where business and academic expertise can come together.

Features in the week’s THE:

Pulling power”, looks at which universities are good at attracting students and why.  A connected story is "Hot or not?” which looks at the attractions of US universities.

Learning curveballs”, Michael Bérubé, Paterno professor in English Literature and science, technology and society at Penn State University, talks about the effects of  competitive and uncompetitive sports on his life and his highly competitive son with Down’s syndrome.

Bard to the bone”, Matthew Reisz talks to a Stanley Wells about his lifetime commitment to Shakespeare.

New A* grade could veer from 45% to 1% according to subject.  TES, 28 May 2010.

A study of last year’s A level grades by Ofqual suggests that the proportions of A* will vary by from 45 per cent in Japanese to 1 per cent in IT.  It is also felt that independent school pupils will benefit disproportionately from the new grades.   The new A* grades have been proposed to help universities to differentiate between the top pupils.  However, there is a danger that by using A* grades universities will discriminate against pupils from less advantaged backgrounds and put at risk there own widening participation agendas.

September start for state-led IGCSEs.  TES, 28 May 2010.

Whilst the previous government did not seem overly keen on state schools running IGCSEs, apparently the new coalition is in favour of them.  The Con-Libs commitment to opening access to the O level type of examination was confirmed last week.  Some secondaries in the main sector are already secretly teaching IGCSEs and planned to put pupils in for the examination privately. 

On-the-job teacher training at risk as funding cuts leave schools in the lurch. TES, 28 May 2010.

Money given to schools to administer the Graduate Teacher Programme is to be cut.  Universities will face penalties if they over-recruit trainees, a common practice to allow for drop-out.  Under the new funding regime, schools will have to pay 13 per cent of the Graduate Teacher trainee’s salary.  Many schools are of the opinion that they will not be able to continue with the programme at the current levels.

Ministers to resurrect the FEFC.  TES, FE Focus, 28 May 2010.

A Department for Business spokesman has said that “The sector has told us it would like to see a single unified budget for colleges and training organisations.”  “The Public Bodies Reform Bill” aims to save £1 billion a year by reducing the number of quangos.  Colleges are pleased with the announcement that they are to escape the first round of cuts but are concerned that £200 million will be diverted from Train to Gain.

See also editorial, "Be careful what you wish for in FE funding”, where Alan Thomson, Editor FE Focus, warns that there are pitfalls with the acceptance of an FEFC ideology, namely,

  • £4 billion will be taken for the department for Education and placed within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, leaving one to wonder whether that funding would be as secure as it is currently,
  • how would having an FEFC affect college’s desire for parity with schools?
  • How would an FE funding quango affect college’s desires to deliver education from 14?

Calls for colleges to lead HE growth.  TES, FE Focus, 28 May 2010.

A paper from the 157 Group calls for a greater role for colleges to deliver HE.  Colleges are, the 157 Group says, better equipped to deliver HE at lower cost than universities.

 'We don’t believe people leave education behind when they enter work’.  TES, FE Focus, 28 May 2010.

 The CBI and the Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning disagree on how much employers contribute to the education of their trainees.   £39 billion a year is the CBI claim, which is considerably more than the states £25 billion.  However, the Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning puts the figure nearer to £16 billion.  The CBI have countered with evidence showing that they have to put right issues, such as basic skills, which should have been handled by the school and college sectors.  Nine out of ten large employers (more than 5,000 employees) offer apprenticeships, half of those with 200 to 499 staff and 17 per cent of small companies (with less than 50 staff). Small and medium size businesses employ 44 per cent of the workforce, so despite the impressive statistics workforce training remains a problem.  The TES reports on three large employers, Flybe, BAE Systems and McDonalds, all committed to training and with distinctly different approaches.