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Sector News, 29 June - 03 July 2009

Teachers go back to school in bid to raise classroom standards. The Independent, 29 June 2009.

£30 million is to be given to an initiative to offer teachers the opportunity to take the masters degree in teaching and learning.  Priority will be given to those teaching in challenging schools in disadvantaged areas.  In addition, newly qualified teachers in the north-west will be able to enrol from September.

Battle of the stars.  Education Guardian, 30 June 2009.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is due to produce details about students’ success at each further education institution and how many have obtained jobs or higher education places thanks to the courses they are taking.  Joy Mercer, a senior policy adviser at the Association of Colleges, says “There is no intention to publish a league table, but people will inevitably create a league table”.  The Government backed off creating a system of star ratings for colleges (similar to hotels) for one which the LSC says is a balanced score card of performance ratings. 

Student squeeze looms.  Education Guardian, 30 June 2009.

The number of applicants for university places will peak at around 800,000 this year. By March the numbers had risen by 8 per cent. This coincides with the Government’s decision to impose a cap on the number of extra students universities can take.  Only 10,000 additional student numbers will be funded this year, 5,000 less than originally proposed, giving a total which could be as much as 177,000 short of the expected demand.

 Edict curtailing freedom to work at home 'appals' staff.  THE, 02 July 2009.

Lecturers at Liverpool Hope University have reacted angrily to a management decision that they should spend their full 35 hour week at the university.  The university management team have said that anyone wishing to work at home during their contracted hours should seek special permission.  Being on campus for the students and the community is important, according to the university’s management.  However, staff see the edict as an example of management “gone mad”.

MP calls on Mandelson to shield London Met 'innocents' from crisis THE, 02 July 2009.

HEFCE have asked London Metropolitan to pay back tens of millions of pounds of funding which they say was obtained on inaccurate student data.  Now an MP has called for Peter Mandelson to intervene and protect the university from the crisis.

Mind your languages.  THE, 02 July 2009

Michael Kelly, director of the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, believes that "British-educated people lack the language skills to operate in a global environment." His comment is set against a background where less than 3 per cent of university graduates have ‘survival skills’ in one foreign language.   Government polices enabling pupils to drop out of foreign language lessons at school have made the situation worse. The number of school pupils not taking a foreign language at GCSE has risen from 22 per cent in 2001 to 56 per cent in 2008.  This has been followed by the closure of nearly a third of all university language departments in seven years. 

Amongst the issues raised are:

·         poorer children get less access to foreign language study than their private school counterparts,

·         restricting access to people of lower social classes can lead to “parochialism”,

·         research is under threat; protection applied to language teaching does not apply to research,

·         the United Nations are complaining of a lack of native English speakers to act as translators and interpreters,

·         the military are complaining about not being able to hire people with the right language skills,

·         there are numerous vacancies for language teachers on PGCE courses

·         too few of us have the basic level of fluency required to operate in a global market.

Under “Not too late to learn?” the British Academy (BA) points to other countries that have increased the extent to which pupils and students learn foreign languages at secondary and higher education level.  BA recommend that a language requirement should be a requisite entry element for university, or at  least for the completion of a degree.

See also "Sacré bleu as we don't say here"

‘Learning how to learn’ vital for student survival. THE, 02 July 2009.

Alison Halstead, pro vice-chancellor for learning and teaching innovation at Aston University believes that the single most important objective for universities is to teach their students how to learn.  Alison argues that modern students need to learn to be flexible and adaptable in a modern world and that being spoon fed knowledge for school examinations takes students further away from being independent learners.

Fundamental problems.  THE, 02 July 2009.

It appears that many undergraduates struggle to write well or perform basic calculations.  Whilst primary education does well instilling basics into its pupils, secondary education seems to have ‘lost the plot’  Amongst the horrors that Harriet Jones has uncovered, are undergraduates who cannot calculate the area of a square with 2cm sides or cannot calculate 50 per cent of 40.   Lack of basic grammar curtails a student’s ability to write well, yet few students seem to want to improve.  In this article, Harriet Jones investigates why these problems are present.

Harriet Jones is a lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia.

Colleges to help ‘failing’ schools lift standards.  TES, FE Focus, 03 July 2009.

West Nottinghamshire College, Barnfield College in Luton, Hull College and New College Durham have been asked to run some of the first accredited schools groups.  They will run groups of “failing” schools using their expertise to raise quality of teaching and help student progress.

Train to Gain boosted by ‘inappropriate’ incentives.  TES, FE Focus 03 July 2009.

Payments have been made to private companies in order to persuade them to join Train to Gain programmes.  The LSC has warned providers that the practice is not acceptable.   A number of other unacceptable practices have been adopted by providers to increase trainee numbers including,  job creation by either putting students on short term contracts or on zero hour contracts and creating volunteering opportunities.

See also “Year of boom and Train to Gain is bust”.

Lucky 13 win £500m but must still trim rebuilding expenses.  TES, FE Focus 03 July 2009.

£500m of capital funding will be given to thirteen colleges chosen by the LSC.  However, the total costs of the building plans for these colleges is greater than the funding available and the colleges will have to look at how they can meet their funding target.  The thirteen were chosen from 180 college proposals.  Whilst the chosen colleges are understandably relieved there are others just as understandably disappointed.   The assistant principal at Abingdon and Witney College accused the LSC of favouring urban over rural areas when he stated that temporary accommodation costs the college £40,000 a week.  More government funding will be made available for building in 2011.

See also “Disabled students hit by capital funding crisis”.

Colleges spend millions on consultants while squeezing the low-paid ‘lifeblood’.  TES, FE Focus, 03 July 2009.

A list of the top ten spenders on consultants and agency workers during 2007-08 is published in the TES this week.  Unions have condemned the huge sums spent by some colleges instead of spending the money on staff.  Barry Lovejoy, the UCU’s (University and College Union) head of further education comments on understandable staff cynicism when heads spend huge amounts on consultation and yet demand that cuts have to be made.