Paul Steer, OCR’s Head of Policy, gives us a round up of current education and skills policies (in less than 600 words!)
With the Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper published and the EU referendum heralding a much-needed break on new policy initiatives, it seems like a good time to take stock of some of the policy changes and issues facing the education and examination system.
For example, Progress 8 is set to become the headline performance measure this year as anxious schools try to work out how it will affect their place in the league tables. Meanwhile, the government is taking steps to make EBacc subjects compulsory for (nearly) all students by 2020. Some fear this emphasis on an academic core will be at the expense of wider curriculum subjects.
The new GCSEs in maths and English, considered by many to be larger and more demanding than their predecessors, have gone live. These are the first GCSEs graded 9-1. Grade 5 is set to be the new ‘good pass’, replacing the ‘lower’ C grade, and there are compulsory resits for those who fail maths and English GCSEs. Professor Adrian Smith is to investigate the viability of making post-16 maths compulsory for all and Functional Skills qualifications are under review.
New reformed vocational qualifications have been introduced with greater levels of external assessment. But Lord Sainsbury is leading plans for new ‘technical and professional education’ (TPE) routes which could mean further changes – look out for a Skills White Paper in the summer/autumn. A new Institute for Apprenticeships will oversee the quality of apprenticeships, to be funded by the new employer levy. It will have its work cut out to secure a coherent, affordable and assessable range of apprenticeship programmes.
The first wave of ‘decoupled’ A Levels has been introduced and the future uptake of AS looks set to decline as colleges face cuts, grapple with co-teachability and unscramble messages from Higher Education Institutions about their admissions policies. There is a surge of interest in the Extended Project Qualification as an alternative to an AS and a predicted decline in the uptake of ‘fourth’ A Level subjects.
A Select Committee is about to report on the perennial concerns about the quality of information, advice and guidance available to young people. Ofqual’s new Chief Regulator has a challenging year ahead overseeing: changes to appeals processes; monitoring the quality of marking; reviewing rules about exam board-endorsed support materials; implementing the new National Reference Test; and plenty more.
As budgets tighten, FE and sixth form colleges are undergoing Area Reviews to bring about “fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient providers”. A national funding formula is planned for schools at a time when an ASCL survey has highlighted a growing shortage of critical funds. Compulsory academisation, for good or for bad, signals further uncertainty and reorganisation.
There has been a scatter of initiatives to improve teacher training, recruitment and retention, but a growing shortage of teachers seems unavoidable. The recent White Paper includes proposals to relocate outstanding teachers to schools in underperforming regions. Meanwhile, the secondary school population is set to increase by 80,000 places and exam reforms will also mean an unprecedented spike in demand for teachers to act as examiners.
At the recent NASUWT conference, Nicky Morgan pledged more support to reduce teacher workload. She paid tribute to the profession and thanked them for their “phenomenal efforts” helping drive up standards that have led to 1.4 million more children in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools compared with 2010. But she also underlined that there would be no pulling back from the vision outlined in the Education White Paper.