Mike Baker's Award-winning Education Blog

Winner of the 2011 CIPRA National Journalism Award for Best Online Commentary on Education.

 

Decline in university applications confirmed

After much speculation and confusion over the past 5 months, the scale of the fall in university applications caused by the rise in tuition fees is now much clearer with publication by UCAS of the figures up to the January 15th deadline*.

These show that the number of undergraduate applications from students living in England (where fee limits have been tripled for 2012-13) has fallen by 9.9% compared to this time last year.

By contrast, applications from students living in other parts of the UK have fallen by less, with Scotland down by 1.5%, Northern Ireland by 4% and Wales down by 1.9%.

The fall is much less that had been anticipated earlier in the application cycle when they appeared to be down by up to 30%. However, the fall remains substantial, particularly amongst those applying to  English universities and the new fees regime appears to be a large (but not sole) part of the explanation.

English universities lose out

A closer look at the figures shows that it is English universities that have taken the heaviest fall in applications: English students applying to English universities are down by 9.8% but there are even…

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30 Jan 2012 3 comments - read and reply.

Twitter questions for Gove

Well done to the cross-party Education Select Committee for giving the public and the teaching profession a chance to suggest questions to the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, when he comes to give evidence at the end of the month.

You have until 11am on 27th January to send in your one question to the Committee. Mr Gove appears before them on the 31st. 

Send your question via Twitter using the hashtag: #AskGove.

Of course, there's no guarantee he'll answer the question (you'll have to rely on the MPs to do the follow-ups) but it seems a good idea, not just a gimmick. Go for it!

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23 Jan 2012 1 comments - read and reply.

Your top education blog topics of 2011

 It's slightly late, I fear, but I can now bring you the results of my detailed and intensive research(!) into my most read education blog topics of 2011. This helps me get a better idea of what interests the kind people who visit my blog. Its a also a quick reminder, with the new year still young, of some of the big issues of last year.

So, here we go. The winner - by a mile - is a topic I posted on way back in January 2011 on the details of the Education Bill. It just goes to show that you are a serious-minded, policy-orientated lot...I'm proud to serve you!

In the silver medal position was my blog on the Higher Education White Paper in June. Once again this suggests you like to get your teeth into some meaty policy detail.

And in third place was a blog on phonics looking at the government's attempt to limit schools' options of reading schemes.

Here's the rest of the Top Ten:

4. Gove invites parents to come into schools to help on the day the teachers go on strike.

5.The Open University sets its…

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23 Jan 2012 6 comments - read and reply.

Ofsted and to be or not to be 'satisfactory'

Interesting decision from Ofsted to abolish the 'satisfactory' grading. Keen readers of this website will recall that Roy Blatchford had called for exactly this decision back in June in a guest article here: www.mikebakereducation.co.uk/articles/86/why-ofsteds-satisfactory-is-just-not-good-enough  It is worth looking at it again.

While I sympathise with the reaction of many school leaders who must feel the bar is being raised ever higher, in reality 'satisfactory' had already been turned (in Big-Brother-speak) into 'unsatisfactory' by frequent statements from Chief Schools Inspectors. So in some ways this at least clears the waters. If only from the point of view of preserving the meaning of language, this decision is sensible.

However the worry is that the term 'requires improvement' could put the skids under a school that is already starting to improve. It should not be used just as a lever to create more academies.

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18 Jan 2012 8 comments - read and reply.

Problems publishing School Profiles

Since the 2005 Education Act, schools have been required to publish their school profile. Although change is on the way, this remains a statutory requirement on all governing bodies. But it seems the Department for Education is frustrating schools that are trying to do what the law requires.

Caddington Village School in Bedfordshire believes the school profile is a 'useful reporting tool'. Its chair of governors, Mike Smith, believes it is 'less onerous than the old-style Annual General Meetings' and is a helpful summary of a school's achievements.

But when the school tried to fulfil its legal duty by publishing the profile it was unable to access the necessary template which is usually available at the Department for Education's website.  It seems access to the template has been suspended.

In response to an enquiry from Mr Smith, the Department explained that access had been 'revoked' whilst the school profile is under government review.  In September 2011 the government said it planned to end the requirement to publish the school profile as it 'had not proved to be the most effective way of capturing the information parents wanted to know' . Only about 1 in 5 schools appeared to…

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04 Jan 2012 3 comments - read and reply.

National Curriculum delayed for 'more radical' change

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has announced a surprise delay to the revision of the National Curriculum in order to 'allow for more radical reform of both the curriculum and qualifications'. 

The changes being recommended by the Expert Panel will now not be implemented until 2014, instead of 2013 as originally planned.

Mr Gove said he was delaying the changes because  of the 'far-reaching and complex nature' of the interim recommendations of the Expert Panel which are published today. Amongst other things, the panel has suggested changing the length of Key Stages 2 and 3.

Mr Gove also said that, following the recent newspaper revelations in The Daily Telegraph, 'far-reaching reform to our examinations system is vital - and must be considered in parallel with changes to the secondary curriculum''.

Mr Gove's statement is available here. In it he explicitly relates the need for change to England's position in the OECD's international league tables which, he claims, show the country's position has 'deteriorated'.

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19 Dec 2011 1 comments - read and reply.

Examiners give their side of 'cheating' story

 I watched with great interest today's Education Select Committee hearing into The Daily Telegraph's 'sting' which - if you remember - alleged cheating by GCSE examiners during training sessions run by the exam boards for the benefit of teachers.

The underlying theme of the story was that competition for market share had driven examiners to offer undue help to teachers or to claim their own exams were easier than those of their rivals. Teachers paid up to £230 a day to attend training courses run by examiners.

 The Telegraph's story had seemed an example of good investigative reporting and appeared to offer a strong case of malpractice. However, today's evidence from the three suspended examiners - and their bosses - showed that this is a complex issue. 

  The examiners  - who it should be pointed out are teachers not full-time members of staff of the exam boards - seemed to win some sympathy for the way they had been treated. They said they had not been shown the evidence or the allegations before the story was published and were not given the chance to give their version of events.

 The Daily Telegraph has not yet published the full…

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15 Dec 2011 2 comments - read and reply.

Ofqual talks tough with exam boards

The exams watchdog, Ofqual, has said it 'will not hesitate' to take whatever regulatory action is necessary to secure standards following the Daily Telegraph's exposure of cheating. 

An undercover investigation by the newspaper showed exam board staff offering guidance about future exam questions to teachers who had paid to attend seminars. One member of the WJEC board admitted on video that the advice he was giving amounted to 'cheating'. 

Ofqual has said the behaviour of the exam boards named in the newspaper's investigation was 'unacceptable' and it will consider both specific action against individual boards and wider action to reform the system.

An Ofqual spokesperson added: "We have also recently launched a programme of work to look in detail at possible conflicts of interest in the provision of qualifications, in particular study aids such as text books and training sessions, and have notified government of our determination to tackle any issues this work identifies.

 It will report to the Secretary of State before Christmas.

Meanwhile the Commons Education Select Committee has called representatives of the four main exam boards to appear before it in an emergency session next week. 

They are bound to come under pressure to defend…

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09 Dec 2011 5 comments - read and reply.

Education Journalism Awards 2011

 A very enjoyable night at the CIPR Education Journalism Awards at the House of Commons last night - now in their 7th year, these awards have really come of age. 

Huge congratulations to the national award winner, my old colleague at the BBC, Sean Coughlan, who writes with wonderful fluency and lightness of touch.

I was also delighted for my old friend, John O'Leary - former Education Editor of The Times and Editor of the Times Higher Education Supplement  - who received the Ted Wragg Award for lifetime contribution to education journalism. Don't worry, John, it doesn't mean you have to retire now.

Well done too to Mark Ashdown of BBC London for winning the regional/local award. Congratulations too to all the runners-up: Adi Bloom and Helen Ward of the TES, super-tweeter Sarah Pippalini of the THES, and Christine Alsford of ITV Meridian.

And, if it's not too immodest to do so, can I say how pleased I was to win the Best Online Commentary Award. Coming at the end of a rather tough year for me (dominated by my lung cancer diagnosis last April), it really meant a lot. Earlier this year, I wasn't even sure I'd still be around to…

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09 Dec 2011 5 comments - read and reply.

Telegraph exposes exam 'cheating'

 There's an apparently strong investigative story in tomorrow's Daily Telegraph which alleges that in seminars run by some exam boards teachers are being told which questions will come up in future exam papers.

The newspaper's website carries video from a WJEC-run seminar in which one representative of the exam board appears to admit that what he is doing is 'cheating' and would fall foul of the exam watchdog, Ofqual.

Teachers pay a fee to attend these seminars.

More on the story here: www.telegraph.co.uk/education/secondaryeducation/8940781/Exam-boards-how-examiners-tip-off-teachers-to-help-students-pass.html

 The evidence certainly suggests that the growing demands for schools to boost their league table standing is putting pressure on teachers to teach to the test, with a focus on teaching exam technique rather than covering the whole syllabus.

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has ordered an investigation in to the Telegraph allegations but perhaps he should  also look more widely at the consequences of high-stakes testing, in which league table scores are becoming more important than delivering a broad curriculum. 

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07 Dec 2011 3 comments - read and reply.

Perverse effects of latest university fees shift

 25 universities and colleges are being allowed to reduce their average net tuition fees for undergraduates, bringing them below the £7,500 threshold required to bid for extra student numbers.

According to figures just released by the Office for Fair Access, most universities have achieved this by either reducing their fees or by offering fee waivers to groups of students.  

However, at the same time, the universities have reduced the amount they were planning to spend on bursaries and scholarships. They have also reduced their planned spending on measures to improve outreach and student retention. 

In other words, in order to comply with the new government rules on the student numbers market, most of the universities have made changes that will benefit graduates once they reach middle-age at the cost of cash support for undergraduates while they are still studying.

Who's cutting fees?

The 24 universities and 1 FE college that have received approval to reduce their fees are:

Anglia Ruskin University, Aston University, Canterbury Christ Church University, University of Chester, University of Chichester, University of Cumbria, University of Gloucestershire, University of Hertfordshire, University of Huddersfield, Institute of Education, Leeds Trinity University College, London South Bank University, Nottingham…

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02 Dec 2011 2 comments - read and reply.

Next Ofsted chief would remove 'satisfactory' grade

 The future head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, delivered an interesting and controversial speech this week which gave the strongest clues so far of where he wants to take the schools' inspectorate. I couldn't attend the speech, so couldn't check against delivery, but the full text is published  here

No more satisfactory

 Perhaps the most striking proposal was that the Ofsted category of 'satisfactory' should be removed. Sir Michael, who was speaking in his current role as the Director of Education for ARK Schools, said he did not like the satisfactory grade  'because it sends the wrong message to parents and others on the nature of acceptable provision'.

He added that 'if “satisfactory” is replaced with a simple grade 3, it would give inspectors the opportunity to use their judgement to describe standards of the school in depth; explain why it’s not yet a good school and what capacity it has for improvement. Some schools within this category that are not moving forward will, of course, be given a “notice to improve”.'

Incidentally, this idea seems to pick up from the suggestion made on this website in June by HMI Roy Blatchford, who argued for the ending of what he called…

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02 Dec 2011 1 comments - read and reply.

Free resources to make students safer drivers

A non-profit organisation is offering schools and colleges free software and resources to help them teach 16 and 17 year olds how to drive safely.

The organisation, a2omcic (pronounced 'atomkick') www.a2omcic.org/ was set up by a group of mothers with the aim of making young people better and safer drivers.

They say the need is great since young drivers are 'the most vulnerable of road users' and last year caused over 45,000 crashes in the UK. More than half of these resulted in injury.  Around 1 in 5 young drivers will have a crash in their first year.

  So a2omcic is marking road safety week by offering the software and resources (plus free tutorials for teaching staff) to schools and colleges. The brain-training software is called DriveiQ.

Sarah Rowley, the organisaton's CEO,  says the programme is starting in the south-east of England but will eventually be rolled out nationwide. She says every school they have visited has taken on the programme, usually delivering it in PSHE time. 

For more on the programme: www.driveiq.co.uk/

 

 

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23 Nov 2011

Ofsted annual report highlights social care failings

 Although the judgements on schools and teaching quality will probably capture most of the headlines, perhaps the most shocking finding in the Ofsted annual report relates to the role of local authorities in relation to vulnerable young people.

Children in care

According to Ofsted, the 'stark' finding is that  almost one in five of the local authorities which had a safeguarding inspection this year were found to be inadequate. According to Ofsted this meant that 'children were at risk'. Of those inspected this year, not one service for 'looked after' children was outstanding.

Early Years

There was a better picture elsewhere. Amongst early years and nursery provision, 12% of those inspected were found to be outstanding, with 62% good, 23% satisfactory and 3% inadequate. This was an improvement on the last year.

Schools

The overall picture for schools shows that 20% are outstanding, with 50% good, 28% satisfactory, and 2%  inadequate.  This is a similar to picture to last year. 

However, there was an improved picture for the number of schools that are either judged inadequate or have been put in special measures. There were 451 such schools at the end of August 2011 compared to 533 in the…

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22 Nov 2011 2 comments - read and reply.

Labour's new line on free schools

It's always nice to have your own words re-quoted, so thank you to Labour's new Shadow Schools Secretary, Stephen Twigg, for quoting from my last Guardian column -- even if he did describe me as the 'veteran' education correspondent (I’ll try to take it as a compliment).

 Stephen was quoting my description of the way Michael Gove's policy on academies and free schools was, effectively, 'nationalising' education, since these schools are wholly-funded and regulated by central government.

 Setting out his own thoughts on the way ahead for free schools, Twigg suggested following the model of the Co-op schools. For Labour, he said, the test of free schools will be that:

  •  they should not be imposed
  •  they should not take money from other schools
  • they should close the attainment gap between rich and poor

 Clearly free schools will be a tricky policy issue for Labour, as they are likely to be well entrenched by the next election. Hence the interesting, if subtle, shift set out here. 

Here's an excerpt from his recent speech:

 'EduCo-op trust schools will be part of the answer to this democratic deficit. The numbers of trust schools are growing - from 100 pilots in 2008,…

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14 Nov 2011 1 comments - read and reply.

Courtroom offer to Free School providers

Prospective free school founders are being invited to make use of disused court rooms for their new schools. 

The Department for Education is offering three magistrates courts and one youth court as suitable accommodation for free schools. It has also identified two of its own office buildings, one in Darlington and the other in Runcorn, as 'suitable' for free schools.

Meanwhile, 8 new free schools - including the special schools and 5 'alternative provision' schools, have been approved by ministers. They join 79 others that are due to open from next year onwards.

One of the 'alternative provision' schools, designed for vulnerable youngsters, will be run by the charitable arm of Everton Football Club. David Moyes, manager of the premiership team, said it would 'provide a real chance for some less-privileged, less-fortunate children'.

There was no mention of any school uniform being in the club's blue-and-white colours.

 


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14 Nov 2011 1 comments - read and reply.

Schools worry about being left behind in academy rush

 Over the past couple of days I've been chairing two conferences aimed at schools that are considering converting to academy status.  

It's been interesting to see how many primary schools, in particular, are feeling under pressure to consider the issue. Many fear they will be left behind if they miss the moment, such is the momentum of change with some 1500 academies now in existence (up from just over 200 at the last General Election).

Some interesting points were made by speakers, including those from the Young People's Learning Agency, which is responsible for funding academies. It was pointed out that the new funding system has changed since July and - as the speaker admitted - 'the days of open cheque-books have gone'.

 There is general acceptance that the early converters often had substantial financial gains, but that looks far less likely in future. There is no longer a direct link with the per pupil funding formula used for local authority maintained schools. Instead, there is simply an assurance that no school will lose out by converting to academy status.

The biggest cultural shift for most schools is recognising that they will become, in legal terms, a company. As…

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10 Nov 2011 2 comments - read and reply.

Schools worry about being left behind in academy rush

 Over the past couple of days I've been chairing two conferences aimed at schools that are considering converting to academy status.  

It's been interesting to see how many primary schools, in particular, are feeling under pressure to consider the issue. Many fear they will be left behind if they miss the moment, such is the momentum of change with some 1500 academies now in existence (up from just over 200 at the last General Election).

Some interesting points were made by speakers, including those from the Young People's Learning Agency, which is responsible for funding academies. It was pointed out that the new funding system has changed since July and - as the speaker admitted - 'the days of open cheque-books have gone'.

 There is general acceptance that the early converters often had substantial financial gains, but that looks far less likely in future. There is no longer a direct link with the per pupil funding formula used for local authority maintained schools. Instead, there is simply an assurance that no school will lose out by converting to academy status.

The biggest cultural shift for most schools is recognising that they will become, in legal terms, a company. As…

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10 Nov 2011

Disappointing response to university admissions plans

It is good to see that the UCAS proposal for an overdue modernisation of the universities' admission system has made a big splash in the media -- but disappointing to see the predictably over-cautious response from the Russell Group and the negative spin that appears to be coming from government.

According to the BBC, the government has let it be known that  it has 'no appetite' for significant reform. This weasel-like, off-the-record response is in contrast to the on-the-record comments from the Universities Minister, David Willetts, who appears to be taking a much more open-minded approach.

The UCAS report  www.ucas.com/reviews/admissionsprocessreview/ is a very thorough analysis of the current system which has not changed substantially for 50 years.

It proposes that students should apply to university only after they have received their exam results. UCAS  says change is needed because the current system is ‘no longer fit for purpose’ as it is inefficient, cumbersome and lacks transparency.

The changes, which could begin in 2016, would involve bringing forward the date of A levels so that results are published by early July instead of mid-August as now. This would cut three weeks from A level teaching time and would…

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31 Oct 2011

Teaching Awards 2011

 Another hugely enjoyable, and uplifting, Teaching Awards ceremony ably and enthusiastically hosted again by Lenny Henry.

Despite difficulties with the loss of government financial support, the teaching 'Oscars' continue to do a great job by putting outstanding classroom teachers in the much-deserved spotlight. It was very noticeable that the Department for Education was not well represented at the ceremony, with not a single minister turning up. Despite the official snub, the support of Pearson and other sponsors - and an impressive cast of celebrity supporters - means the show goes on.

While some still mutter about awards being inappropriate for something so collegiate as teaching, I feel strongly that the glory for the winners does reflect well on the profession as a whole. And while some also argue that there's an element of chance about picking a few winners from 500,000 teachers, I think that too misses the point. We celebrate 'celebrity' far too much, so it's quite right to celebrate, with a bit of razzmatazz, something so important as teaching. 

  All the winners were impressive but I would like to pick out the Lifetime Award winner, Jeff Stratton, from Lipsom Community College in Plymouth.

He is still…

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31 Oct 2011

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