Skip to main content

Sector News, 26 - 30 January

Teachers say diplomas do not prepare pupils for university.  Daily Telegraph, 26 January 2009.

A survey commissioned by the Sutton Trust has found that 83% of teachers do not believe that the new Diplomas are suitable as courses for entry to HE.  The Telegraph suggests that the report also purports to show that a majority of teachers believe that Diplomas are fine for vocational routes and for poorer areas, and that A levels are the best course for HE. The sample size for the survey was just under 1,300 teachers.

Chill wind hits training budgets.  Education Guardian, 27 January 2009.

Despite Government pleas and support from the CBI to continue training throughout the recession, a survey conducted by the Guardian suggests that many employers are cutting back on training. Half of the training managers in a survey of more than 100 companies, stated that their training budgets have been or will be cut.  More than two thirds stated that they will have to streamline their course portfolio this year.  Evidence that 51% of employers say that their managers will have to reduce off site training, going against the wishes of the CBI who have urged businesses to co-operate more closely with colleges.

Why accountability can be a positive thing.  Education Guardian, 27 January 2009.

Comment – David Eastwood, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council.

David Eastwood argues that accountability for the £12bn of public money given to HE should be applied with a ‘light touch’ and trust that HE establishments are using the funding wisely.  Hefce have worked with HE to reduce the bureaucratic burden on universities and according to a study by PA Consulting, Hefce has reduced the burden by 21% between 2004 and 2008.

In an article in the Guardian today (“Regulation, regulation, regulation”), the 21% cut is confirmed but the Guardian wonders whether anyone has noticed.

Long-distance relationships.  Education Guardian, 27 January 2009.

In January last year, Gordon Brown accompanied five vice-chancellors of research led universities on a mission to foster stronger ties with India and China. The fact that the prime minister did not take a more representative sample of HE management which would have included those from teaching-led universities, clearly still annoys those in such universities.  Colleges, like many universities, feel that their overseas involvement has been under-measured and under-appreciated by a Government that does not understand that the idea you can supply overseas markets with a few HE establishments is laughable.

All nursery workers 'must have an A-level'.  Daily Telegraph, 27 January 2009.

Currently, all three and four year olds are entitled to 12.5 hours of free nursery a week, spread over 38 weeks.  However, the right will be extended to two-year-olds in the most deprived areas, while all parents will be allowed to use childcare vouchers more flexibly.  Along with this comes a demand that all nursery workers must have a relevant A-level or equivalent by 2015.  Concerns expressed about this move include the possibility of child costs rising to meet the demand for higher level training.

Grant letter raises spectre of £400 million black hole. THE, 29 January 2009.

John Denham’s grant letter to the Higher Education Funding Council appears to show an increase in funding.  However, some academics are concerned that the figures mask a cut in overall funding for HE.  There is a drawdown of £200 million pound from the 2010-11 science and research budget which could potentially create a deficit of £400 million.  In addition the 60,000 increases in planned student places between 2008 - 09 and 2010 - 11 has been cut by 15,000 and extra numbers for 2010 - 11 are on hold.  The current concern is that over time this scenario will create a serious financial situation for universities.

‘Toxic’ talk poisons admissions debate, v-c says. THE, 29 January 2009.

Steve Smith, vice chancellor of the University of Exeter says that “politicians blame universities for unwelcome social mobility figures, even though the class bias in attainment levels is driven by many students’ failure to achieve five good GCSEs at the age of 16 – something universities can do little about”.   He also believes that the Government wrongly conflate widening participation figures in HE with concerns about ensuring access to top universities for state school students.  Steve Smith’s view is that the Government should concentrate firstly on ensuring good GCSE results at 16.

Well what do you know? THE, 29 January 2009.

In some universities, traditional exams and essays are beginning to lose their appeal.   Amongst a number of issues, large class sizes and constant complaints from students (especially through NUS surveys) about the quality of summative feedback are forcing universities to re-think many of their traditional assessment methods.  The National Union of Students has published a paper entitled the “Principles of Effective Assessment”. There are ten points to their plan:

assessment should :

1.    be for learning, not simply of learning,

2.    be reliable, valid, fair and consistent,

3.    consist of effective and constructive feedback,

4.    be innovative and have the capacity to inspire and motivate,

5.    measure understanding and application, rather than techniques and memory,

6.    be conducted throughout the course, rather than being positioned as a final event,

7.    develop key skills such as peer and reflective assessment,

8.    be central to staff development and teaching strategies,

9.    be of a manageable amount for both tutors and students,

10.  encourage dialogue between students and their tutors and their peers.

See also “Update the time-tested models”.

Pulling all the bits together.  THE, 29 January 2009.

The second major article in this week's THE looks at IT and argues that whilst computing has come a long way in universities, work needs to be done to make everything accessible everywhere, every time.  John Gilbey, lecturer in IT service management, Aberystwyth University, makes the point that IT has become a corner-stone of modern living and learning, it is only when things go wrong that we realise this.

Leading Article: The diploma that could fail.  The Independent, 29 January 2009.

The Independent is the latest paper to report on the findings of the Sutton Trust whose findings state that far from reducing the academic/vocational divide, the new Diploma could strengthen it.

Almost 24 million adults with poor numeracy skills, say MPs. Daily Telegraph, 29 January 2009.

Despite some £5 billion being spent on training between 2001 – 07, there are still 17.8 million over 18s with poor literacy and 23.8 million with poor numeracy skills, commons public accounts select committee has stated.

GCSEs taught in 60 minutes.  TES, 30 January 2009.

Pupils at Monkseaton High School, North Tyneside, have had remarkable success in a GCSE science paper after being involved in a revolutionary teaching approach.  The “spaced learning” technique requires pupils to take part in a learning session of one and a half hours duration in which they were presented with the entire biology module in 70 rapid fire slides in 20 minutes.  The slide show is then followed by a 10 minute break for physical exercise and then the processes were repeated twice.  In the (public) exam, taken a year early, some pupils achieved an A grade, 40% achieved at least a C and 80% at least a D, despite this being their first look at the syllabus. 

 For a detailed report see “One hour: time it took Year 9 to crack GCSE science”.

For opinion see “High-speed learning has one upside”.

MPs slam raid of FE funds.  TES, FE Focus, 30 January 2009. 

MPS have severely criticised the Government for siphoning off £50 million for Train to Gain.  “The money was the first of three occasions when unspent cash in the FE budget was used elsewhere”.  The lack of transparency was highlighted by the committee chair who commented that “if you find the budget significantly underspent you have to ask whether the policy is correct.

See also “A call for clarity on FE’s lost cash”.

Foster to sort college renovation problems. TES, FE Focus, 30 January 2009.

After some weeks of expressed concern that colleges face difficulty through the LSC's move to stall funding for building projects, Sir Andrew Foster has been appointed to find out what has gone wrong. Sir Andrew will examine why the LSC has had to halt decisions on the £2.3 billion initiative for three months.

‘Dismal' England lags behind on basic skills. TES, FE Focus, 30 January 2009.

Following on from The Daily Telegraph report of 29 January (Almost 24 million adults with poor numeracy skills, say MPs), the TES reports on the concerns expressed by the lack of success in England’s basic skills policy.  Even if England meets its target of 95% functional literacy and numeracy by 2020, England will only have caught up with the top 25% of countries today.  A committee of ministers has called for a repeat of the 2003 Skills for Life Survey to see what effect Government funding has had.