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Sector News, 29 September - 03 October 2008

Best foot forward.  Education Guardian, 30 September 2008

The Further Education and Training Act 2007 extends qualification awarding powers to all further education institutions.  Colleges are showing considerable interest in the possibilities created by this act.  Although only one college, City College Norwich, has so far applied to accredit its own foundation degree, many colleges are likely to follow suit.


Research and transparency the key to fair admissions.  Education Guardian, 30 September 2008. Comment – Kevin Whitson, head of widening participation at Hefce.

Universities would agree that “admission decisions should not categorise people based on social class, gender, ethnicity, affluence or anything else”.  Despite these conditions there remains controversy over admissions procedures.  Hefce, (Higher Education Funding Council for England), along with others supports the Supporting Professionalism in Admission Programme.  This promotes fair admissions and helps establishments  make their policies fairer and more transparent.


This weeks Guardian has a supplement entitled “New model colleges” which explores how better buildings transform further education.

(No links) 

Within the supplement are:

At long last...it’s makeover time.

Discusses the momentum for the Building Colleges for the Future programme (running from 2001).  When colleges were granted independence from local authority rule, they found themselves in charge of buildings which were in need of considerable repair.  There was a growing consensus that appearance was no less important for further education than for any other sphere.  Despite colleges having to find part of the funding for themselves, many have improved their buildings considerably, including knocking down old buildings and replacing them with new.  

Palaces of the people.

Comments that the new crystal palace in your vicinity might just be a new college building.   Of the 376 colleges only a few have not had a project approved by the Learning and Skills Council.

Rewards of a better building.

Most college buildings were erected in the 50s and 60s and were not fit for purpose.  The new buildings now being created by many colleges are exciting and better designed to deliver learning.  The article gives examples from Middlesbrough, Matthew Boulton (Birmingham), Lowestoft, Derby and York.

This investment is having a huge impact.

Highlights the balance between college and LSC contributions along with an transcript from an interview with Bill Rammell (minister of state for lifelong learning).   Bill Rammell is increasingly excited about the transformation of colleges brought about by new building development and comments that “if you give people decent facilities they tend to do better”.

A moment of optimism, but where are we going?

Dame Ruth Silver, principal of Lewisham College, adds a cautionary note by commenting that “we need to honour the investment in FE’s estate with new practice and a promise of greater success.

Don’t bow to the tyranny of design.

Comment – Simon Alford, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris architects.

A warning that whilst world class buildings are important, we should not expect them to work unless the education system is also world class.

Eyes on the prize.

There is an annual award joint-sponsored by the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Learning Skills Council to honour the best new further education buildings.  The current winners of the design excellence award are jointly, Matthew Boulton Birmingham and Usworth sixth from college Sunderland.


Pass the exam hall to enter Dragons’ Den.  THE, 02 October 2008.

Amongst the unusual practices adopted by universities as alternatives to traditional examinations are assessments based on pub quizzes and Dragons’ Den.  Use of web sites and role play also feature in the move away from traditional methods.  Abigail Hind, head of educational development at Harper Adams foresees a future where student grades will be derived from a series of test situations where no more than 40% will be traditional examinations.


‘Ignore new A* grade’, admissions tutors told.  THE, 02 October 2008.

A report by the National Council for Educational Excellence raises concerns about the lack of data on the reliability of students’ predicted A* grades. 


Academic A levels ‘best preparation’.  THE, 02 October 2008.

Recently published statistics raise serious questions about whether vocational qualifications are as good as their academic counterparts in preparing students for higher education. According to The Higher Education Experience and Outcomes of Students with Vocational Level Three Qualifications, students with academic A levels show consistently more success in HE based on a number of parameters, including for example completion, successful applications and grades obtained.


Flexible learning is the way to widen access, meeting told. THE, 02 October 2008.

The Conservative Party is suggesting that universities should adopt US-style community orientated learning rather than reform admissions procedures.  John Hayes, the Shadow Minister for Vocational Education told the Conservative Party conference that going away to university is fine but many (especially more mature students) are not able to do this.


Business links ‘must be more than supply and demand’. THE, 02 October 2008.

According to a report from the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE), “universities should develop questioning minds rather than operate simply as suppliers for business”.  The CIHE question the validity of a supplier-customer type of contractual model of employer-higher education engagement.


Joint strategy on widening access.  THE, 02 October 2008.

Nine of England’s most selective universities have agreed to extend opportunities for the best performing students from the most challenging backgrounds.   Their agreement is set against a background of debate in which it is believed that the Government are looking to introduce a ‘super compact’ scheme.


The long and the short of it.  THE, 02 October 2008.

In 1999, the education ministers of the UK, France, Germany and Italy agreed to from a common higher education system.  Since then the number of participating countries has grown to 46, including Russia. The processes stated in the “Bologna Process” aim to create a European Higher Education Area, within which degrees are equivalent and students and academics can transfer easily between universities.  Needless to say, the process has not gone smoothly.  This lengthy article describes some of difficulties encountered to date.


Boys outperform girls in crucial admissions tests.  TES, 03 October 2008.

For years there have been those who have argued that there are genuine issues of gender bias in school assessment.  Females are ahead of boys in almost all GCSE and A level subjects and 59% of UK undergraduates are women.  However, in recent US style admissions test trials for university, boys outperformed girls.  Boys also outperformed girls in BMAT test used by five leading universities.

See also: Boys so much better than girls in university tests (TES, 03 October).


Brightest need a push to Oxbridge.  TES, 03 October 2008.

“State schools are letting down their brightest pupils by failing to put enough of them forward for Oxbridge university places, the Conservatives said this week.  Nick Gibb, shadow schools minister, believes that the teacher’s desire to protect students from failure is stopping them encouraging youngsters to apply for the top universities.


Vocational A-levels prove only small barrier to getting first-class degree. TES, 03 October 2008.

In contradiction to the Times Higher Education claim that “Academic A levels [are] best preparation” (THE, 02 October, see above), the TES show evidence that those with vocational A levels are only 1 percentage point behind those with academic A levels when it comes obtaining a first class degree. 


Jobs training courses slashed.  TES, FE Focus, 03 October 2008.

The Governments claim that cuts to adult learning places would only affect leisure courses has come under fire this week when a Learning and Skills Council report showed that course, particularly in health, public services and computing courses have lost large numbers of adult students.  Enrolment in computing, for example, have fallen by more than half since 2005.


Tories promise £18k to apprentices.  TES, FE Focus, 03 October 2008.

Apprentices have been promised bursaries of £18,000 by the Conservative party.  David Willetts, shadow minister  for higher and further education has made it clear that, if elected, part time students will have their education costs covered.  The scheme would give students up to £6,000 per year for degrees or foundation degrees.  Such scholarships would be awarded to 1,200 new people each year.