Latest Educational News

How good is a British education?

by Prospect Magazine, December 13, 2016

Last week the Education Policy Institute hosted the global launch of the 2015 PISA results—the educational performance of 15 year olds across the world.

The results of PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) are always fascinating, and receive a huge amount of attention both in the UK and internationally. But there need to be health warnings, not just about data quality and cultural factors but about timeliness. To a large extent we are looking in the rear view mirror, and should be cautious about inferring any causation from recent policy changes.

So, in England, for example, we will not know for some time whether the changes to curriculum, qualifications and accountability carried out by the last (coalition) government have been successful or not.

Notwithstanding these reservations, what do we know about performance in the UK, including in our individual nation states? Well, the UK’s overall absolute performance and ranking has changed very little over the last decade. We are a higher performer internationally, but not yet a global leader.

And within the UK there are some observable changes—with falls in science scores in Wales and Scotland, and in maths scores in Scotland. Scotland now appears to be lagging England on many measures, and Wales is well behind the rest of the UK. Following devolution, we are now seeing much greater variation in education policy across the UK, and we need to ensure that we learn the lessons from this.

What else? In England and some parts of the UK, we have some outstanding high achievers, for example in science. There are only three countries—Singapore, Taiwan and Japan—where the top 10 per cent of pupils are more than one school term ahead of their peers in England. However, the gap between the highest and lowest achieving pupils in science is also bigger in England than in many other OECD countries.

The government is failing on education

by Prospect Magazine, December 12, 2016

The latest international education rankings show that this Conservative government is failing our children. The PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study is conducted by the OECD and measures the results of 15-year-olds around the world in maths, reading, and science. Results for the UK are as clear as they are disappointing.

The Tories’ misguided focus on changing the structures of schools—instead of what happens inside them—has ensured that our children have made little progress in the last three years. The UK is now ranked 27th in maths and 22nd in reading out of over 70 countries. Given that we were already in the bottom quarter of countries in the Pisa rankings, this is an embarrassing failure for the government.

Last January, the former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan promised the education select committee that the government would measure performance by just such international tables of student attainment as Pisa. So it has failed by the very measure of success it set for itself. Even though there is now yet another secretary of state, it should be clear that more of the same is simply not good enough to improve attainment in our schools.

Our failure in the Pisa rankings is no surprise to anyone who pays attention to what actually helps improve outcomes in education. Speaking at the launch of the Pisa results, José Ángel Gurría, the general secretary of the OECD, was emphatic that the four ways to improve attainment are to invest in teachers, support disadvantaged schools, delay the sorting process and break down stereotypes.

This is the exact opposite of the policies that this government is pursuing. The OECD says that we need to invest in teachers. How does the Conservative government respond? By cutting school budgets for the first time in nearly two decades. The same government is also missing its targets for initial teacher recruitment for the fifth year in a row.

Growing workload, and the constant and chaotic interference in our schools by Whitehall, have led—to no-one’s surprise—to a crisis in the morale of the teaching profession. No wonder we are now facing a worrying problem in recruitment and retention as talented teachers leave the profession in droves.

UK considers plans to nearly halve international student visas

by The Guardian, December 12, 2016

The Home Office is considering cutting international student numbers at UK universities by nearly half, Education Guardian can reveal. The threat is being greeted with dismay by university heads, who say some good overseas applicants are already being refused visas on spurious grounds.

The home secretary, Amber Rudd, pledged a crackdown on international student numbers at the Conservative party conference in October, to include tougher visa rules for “lower quality” universities and courses. But senior university sources are warning that the cutbacks could be far more severe than expected. They say they have seen Home Office plans that model slashing overseas student numbers, with one option to cut the current 300,000 to 170,000 a year.

The Home Office says a rumour it had modelled even more severe cuts of two-thirds, to 100,000 students a year, are “categorically untrue”. The rumour was discussed at private seminars last month by leading figures at the government’s Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Free schools meals quotas for grammar schools 'won't work'

by TES, December 12, 2016

Classified as 11 Plus.

Grammar schools' FSM quotas fraught with difficulty and only six out of 152 local authorities appropriate for grammar expansion, the Education Policy Institute finds
Free school meals (FSM) quotas for grammar schools will not work and just six out of 152 local authority areas would meet a series of "sensible tests" for grammar expansion, according to new research.

The study by the Education Policy Institute also found that FSM quotas for grammar schools would either only benefit a tiny number of poorer children, or provoke controversy because pupils with better 11-plus results would miss out on places, according to new research.

The findings come on the same day that:

The government's grammar school consultation closes.
David Cameron’s former director of policy said any new grammar schools should be restricted to areas of low prosperity and stubborn underperformance.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said that grammar schools "do not contribute to social mobility and will distract attention from the things that really matter".
The government’s White Paper, Schools That Work For Everyone, suggested that quotas could be used to increase access to grammar schools for disadvantaged children.

However, according to the EPI’s research, implementing such quotas would be fraught with difficulties.

The quota could be set at a relatively low level – raising the proportion of pupils on FSM entering grammars from the current level of 2.4 per cent to 6.8 per cent.

This would “very slightly” reduce the negative impact of grammars on all FSM pupils in areas with high numbers of grammar places.

We should measure what we value, not value what we can measure

by TES, December 12, 2016

After the release of the latest Pisa and Timss international rankings, the chair of Whole Education argues that it's time to reconsider the skills we prioritise
So Pisa (the Programme for International Student Assessment) and Timss (the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) are over for another year, although the debate about the international rankings will continue for some time, especially in countries that scored poorly. The latest results again show East Asian countries in the lead, but some Western countries performed well – Finland (again), Canada, Estonia and Ireland.

In Pisa, the UK has dropped one place in maths and risen by one in reading – still in a mid 20s position in the international league table. The results for children in Scotland and Wales will cause considerable thought in Edinburgh and Cardiff, where being behind England in education is as unwelcome as losing to them at rugby. As they look at the policy confusion south and east of their borders respectively, will they go for greater centralisation of policy and more national assessment, or increased autonomy for schools?

How well children do in maths, science and their mother tongue is extremely important, but there are many factors at work that cause results to be so different in different countries, not least the attitude of parents to education, so replication of what is done in Singapore or Shanghai or Finland is not necessarily the answer. Context is important.

Even more essential than chewing over the results and changing national policy is the recognition that Pisa and Timss do not tell the whole story.

'No winners' following school funding changes, heads warn

by TES, December 12, 2016

More details on new national funding formula are expected as soon as Wednesday
Schools are bracing themselves for more details on plans to redistrubute education funding through a new national formula but heads are warning that all areas will remain financially worse-off, whatever the outcome.

The government's response to a consultation on the proposed schools national funding formula (NFF) is due to be published “mid-week”, the Department for Education has confirmed. Union leaders are expecting an announcement on Wednesday.

The formula will be used to decide how education spending is allocated based on factors such as levels of deprivation, pupil prior attainment, the number of pupils for whom English is an additional language and salary costs.

It is being brought in to tackle wide variations in per-pupil funding rates across the country, from £7,007 per pupil in Tower Hamlets to £4,151 per pupil in Wokingham in 2015-16. Under the current system, the needs of different areas are based on assessments made a decade ago.

The new formula is set to come into effect in 2018-19, after education secretary Justine Greening announced in July that its original 2017-18 implementation date would be delayed by a year.

Although there will be winners and losers under the plans, heads say that all schools are facing real-terms cuts, as budgets continue to be squeezed.

Schools are facing above inflation rises in staff costs and have also been hit by a decision to cut the Education Services Grant, used for school improvement and other costs including redundancy payments, by £600m over two years.

Association of School and College Leaders interim general secretary Malcolm Trobe said: “All schools are facing effective reductions, so even those that might gain from NFF will probably still see real-term reductions in their ability to purchase what they need.”

New grammar schools would benefit just six areas, says study

by BBC News, December 12, 2016

Classified as 11 Plus.

There are only six areas in England where parents want new grammar schools and creating them would benefit the wider school population, a study says.
The Education Policy Institute modelled the impact of government plans to expand selective schools by looking at how 32,844 districts would be affected.
The think tank applied the government's conditions for allowing new schools.
The government called the study a crude attempt to second-guess the results of its consultation on new schools.
The researchers began by constructing a set of tests mirroring the conditions for new grammars set out in the government's White Paper, Schools that Work for Everyone.
These were that they:
should not be to the detriment of pupils who miss out
need to be in areas where there are sufficient numbers of pupils who could attend
should not undermine existing high-performing schools
are only in areas where parents want them
They found that broader education levels would be harmed if new selective schools were created in areas where more than half of highly attaining pupils could access grammar school places.

UK schools lead the way in creating future scientists

by TES Connect, December 9, 2016

International Pisa study reveals British pupils’ enthusiasm for science both in school and as a career
The UK is one of just a handful of countries where teenagers do well at science, enjoy it and want to become scientists, international research revealed this week.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) results, published on Tuesday, delivered mixed news for the UK, revealing that although pupils’ scores had dropped in science, the country had managed to climb six places up the ranking to 15th place.

Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which produces Pisa, revealed that the UK was among only seven countries where pupils had above-average science performance and stronger than average beliefs in scientific approaches, and where an above-average percentage of pupils expected to go on to work in a science-related occupation.

The other countries were Singapore, Canada, Slovenia, Australia, Ireland and Portugal. Other high-performing countries, such as South Korea and China, had students who did well in science but who were not interested in becoming scientists, Mr Schleicher said. In the US, many students wanted to become scientists “but lack the knowledge and skills to live up to their dreams”, he added.

Children of 'just managing families left out by grammars'

by BBC News, December 9, 2016

Classified as 11 Plus.

Lack of access to grammar schools is not confined to the poorest children, those from "just managing" families are also left out, research suggests.
"There is a strong indication that families on below average earnings are not being helped by the current grammar school system," said the Sutton Trust.
Grammar schools in England should not expand until the government can ensure fair admissions, the charity argues.
Ministers said their plans would address these issues.
The government's consultation on proposals to lift the ban on opening new grammar schools ends on Monday.
Prime Minister Theresa May has insisted that the plan will not represent a return to "the system of binary education from the 1950s" with a grammar in every town.
Unequal access
The Sutton Trust looked at entry to selective schools in 2015, according to neighbourhood deprivation.
In selective education areas outside London, the researchers found a third (34%) of Year 7 pupils were from the richest neighbourhoods while only 4% came from the poorest and 11% were from neighbourhoods with below average incomes.
The report says that in these poorer areas, children from non-disadvantaged groups - those not-receiving free school meals - are likely to be from the "just about managing" families, which the prime minister has said she wants to prioritise.
But the researchers found these children "were substantially less likely to attend grammar schools" than children from better off areas.
"A lack of access to grammar schools isn't merely restricted to those at the very bottom of the scale," say the researchers.

Private schools plan 10,000 free places for low-income pupils

by BBC News, December 9, 2016

Private schools will offer to provide up to 10,000 free places a year to low-income families in England.
The Independent Schools Council (ISC) says if the government pays £5,550 per place - the cost in the state system - the schools will cover the rest. This is expected to cost up to £80m.
Some pupils would be tested for academic ability but the scheme would not just target the brightest children.
Chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw said the plan was not enough.
The proposal, originally seen by the BBC and now confirmed, will be made in the ISC's response to a government consultation on the future of education.
The scheme would be open to primary and secondary school-age children.
However, details about which families would benefit and what form the tests would take are yet to be settled and the scheme could not take place without the government's approval.
'Tax privileges'
The plan is designed to meet government demands that - in exchange for its tax-free, charitable status - the private education sector does more for potential pupils whose families cannot afford to pay the fees.
This status saves independent schools at least £150m a year.

The best places to study for a degree in Europe

by The Guardian, December 8, 2016

Studying abroad is a fun way to grow up. You travel. You meet new people. You get out of your comfort zone. It shows you’re willing to get out, leave your home town, and go see the world.

As it stands, some European countries enable Brits to study without paying tuition fees or incurring anywhere near as much debt as they would in the UK. Living costs can also be cheap. Many learn a new language and experience a different teaching style. Some stay on and find jobs. Others fall in love and life takes a different direction altogether. Whatever comes of it, studying in Europe is worth considering. Here’s a roundup of our top destinations:

Calls for 'complete overhaul' of UK university application process

by The Guardian, December 8, 2016

University workers are demanding an overhaul of the UK higher education application system after a report revealed that five out of every six predicted results for A-levels turns out to be wrong.

Research commissioned by the University and College Union (UCU), which analysed the results of 1.3 million students over a three-year period, found that the majority of students applying to university are predicted better results than they ultimately achieve.

The study by Dr Gill Wyness of the University College London Institute of Education revealed that just16% of applicants’ grades were predicted correctly; three-quarters were over-predicted and 9% were under-predicted.

Under the current system, most students make applications to universities based on their predicted grades, which leads to uncertainty for both students and institutions when results differ from predictions – as they frequently do. Many students end up securing places through the clearing system.

The UCU is advocating a new post-qualifications admission system where students only apply after they have received their final results, which would create greater certainty for both student and institution. The union also believes it would get rid of the growing use of unconditional offers, which it describes as “unethical”.

Five out of six A-level grade predictions by teachers are wrong, study shows

by TES, December 8, 2016

Teachers are treating predictions as 'targets to aim for', research suggests
The vast majority of A-level grades predicted by teachers are incorrect, and accuracy levels are likely to worsen in future, according to research published today.

The findings are included in a report written by a UCL Institute of Education academic, which reveals that only one in six A-level grade predictions were accurate. Three-quarters of actual grades turned out to be lower than teachers had estimated, while just one in 10 were higher.

The report has sparked renewed calls for a complete overhaul of the UK’s university applications system, so that students apply after their final exam results are known.

Author Dr Gill Wyness suggested that teachers tended to over-predict, rather than under-predict, grades – particularly for lower-attaining pupils – because they treated predicted grades as a “target for students to aim for, rather than a prediction of how they will perform”.

Her report added: “Moreover, there would seem to be little incentive for teachers to under-predict a student's grade since this may encourage them to ‘give up’ or at least discourage them from aiming ‘high’.”

AS levels, upon which predictions are often based, are a poor predictor of subsequent A-level attainment, but the “decoupling” of AS levels from A levels could make it even harder for teachers to make predictions, the report says.

'Potential for even more errors'
It adds: “This may result in some teachers/schools using GCSE outcomes as predictors of A-level results, potentially introducing even more error into predictions.”

A-level choice 'more important with AS-levels changes'

by BBC News, December 8, 2016

A shake-up of the exams system makes it all the more important for teenagers to think carefully about their A-level choices, leading universities say.
Sixth-formers now have fewer chances to try a subject at AS-level before committing to taking the full A-level.
This means their subject choices carry more weight, according to the Russell Group, which represents 24 research-intense UK institutions.
The warning came as the group published its updated Informed Choices guide.
The guidance gives students and schools advice on the subjects and subject combinations that are most useful for courses offered by Russell Group universities.
"Up to 15% fewer students are taking AS-levels after changes mean they no longer count toward A-level grades," the Russell Group said.
"Students therefore may have less opportunity to try a subject before taking it to A-level and their choices now bear more weight."
Disadvantaged students
Director general of the group, Dr Wendy Piatt, said: "We are wholeheartedly committed to ensuring our doors are wide open to talented and able students from all backgrounds, but our universities can't offer places to those who do not apply or do not have the right grades in the right subjects.

Most students' predicted A-levels 'wrong'

by BBC News, December 8, 2016

Only 16% of university applicants achieve the grades their teachers predict, research suggests.
Analysis of the results of 1.3 million young people over a three-year period found 75% had been given overly optimistic predictions by schools.
But nearly one in 10 (9%) did better than predicted, the study, published by the University and College Union, says.
University admissions service Ucas said the 16% related to those with no net deviation from all their predictions.
The UCU is calling for an overhaul of the university admissions system, which currently sees students apply on the strength of their predicted grades.
It said it was time the UK allowed students to apply with firm results not predictions that are "poor guestimates".
It said a post-qualifications admission (PQA) system would also abolish the need for unconditional offers for university places.

Isle of Wight Council 'still failing' in education

by TES, December 7, 2016

Department for Education issues order keeping the council's children's services department in the hands of Hampshire County Council director
Isle of Wight Council is still failing to promote high standards in the island’s schools, according to a government order that leaves its children’s services department under the leadership of an outside official.

The direction from the Department for Education, dated November 28 and published today, comes only months after the chairman of Ofsted resigned after branding the island a poor white "ghetto" that suffers from "inbreeding”.

David Hoare quit in August, following an uproar over the comments he used when linking educational under-performance to the social problems he claimed the island suffered from.

It is the second time since 2013 that the DfE has issued a direction to the local authority because of concerns about standards of education, as well as children’s social care.

The latest direction says the council is “failing to perform some or all of its education functions”.

“Whilst there have been improvements, including an ‘effective’ judgement by Ofsted of the school improvement function (June 2014), key stage 2 and key stage 4 attainment in the council’s maintained schools remains below national averages,” it adds.

According to the latest Ofsted data, 33 per cent of the island’s schools are rated "requires improvement" or "inadequate", compared with 11 per cent across England.

And following this summer’s GCSE exams, the provisional Progress 8 score for the area was “below average”, while 48 per cent of children at the end of primary school reached the expected standard, compared with a national average of 52 per cent.

Grammar schools: just because a policy is popular, doesn’t make it right

by TES, December 7, 2016

Classified as 11 Plus.

Those of us opposing selection need to remember that Theresa May’s policy is based on politics, not education, writes one heads’ leader
Those of us who oppose the expansion of grammar schools are not lacking in data to support our argument. A variety of studies have shown that in the parts of the country where selection already exists, there is a greater disparity in performance between children from poor neighbourhoods, and those from wealthier backgrounds. While there is some evidence to suggest that those who do attend grammars make more progress than they otherwise would, it is clear that children from disadvantaged backgrounds or those with SEND are far less likely to get into these schools in the first place.

And yet the government does not seem deterred from pressing ahead with the idea. This is because it is essentially a politically-motivated policy, not an educationally-based one. I suspect that the data which interests this government the most is that produced by various polls showing that a substantial proportion of the population are in favour of the reintroduction of grammars. An ICM poll carried out in September found 65 per cent in favour of more grammar schools. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is even more popular with those who identify themselves as Conservative voters, as demonstrated by the BMG poll. Politicians look for policies that will play well with their core vote and appeal to potential new voters, and in reintroducing academic selection they feel they may just have found one. It is, of course, also a convenient distraction from Brexit woes.

Schools minister Nick Gibb’s recent assertion that grammar schools would only be opened where there is popular demand appears only to support this argument. If the reintroduction of grammar schools is genuinely about improving social mobility then surely these schools would be carefully targeted in areas where the biggest problems with social mobility exist, not simply where there is the strongest demand from parents. Doesn’t this demonstrate that the policy is less about social mobility and more about gaining votes?

The 17 best business schools in Europe, according to the Financial Times

by Business Insider, December 7, 2016

Getting a degree in business, management, or finance can springboard you into a lucrative career in banking, finance, or the hedge fund industry.

This week, the Financial Times released its final 2016 ranking of the best business schools in Europe, ranking the most prestigious universities with the highest levels of academic rigour and best job prospects.

The FT took loads of data from business schools, including average salaries, the increase in salary its graduates see three years after finishing their degree, and the percentage of grads in work three months after finishing school. It then collated that data to create a great list of all the best schools in Europe for aspiring bankers, hedge funders, and businesspeople.

The schools are spread across the whole of the continent, although the UK, France, and Switzerland have the most universities at the top of the list.

Can grammar schools really sprinkle fairy dust on struggling secondaries?

by The Guardian, December 6, 2016

Classified as 11 Plus.

“Further turmoil at troubled academy chain as Cedar Mount’s GCSE results plummet,” reported the Manchester Evening News in September. Under the headline was a striking story with a message for ministers as they seek, controversially, to encourage grammar schools to get involved in running non-selective institutions as part of Theresa May’s plan to expand selection.

The article was about an academy chain set up by the highly successful Altrincham grammar school for girls, which has faced a challenge in trying to turn around a comprehensive in a much tougher part of Manchester.

Cedar Mount academy has been in special measures for 18 months, despite being in the Bright Futures chain – praised as transformational five years ago by then education secretary Michael Gove. The school has seen the proportion of pupils passing English and maths GCSEs drop for four years in a row.

Does this carry ominous messages for England’s education system as a whole? Ministers, in moving to allow more selection, seek to mollify critics by suggesting an upside: that grammar schools will be forced to work with non-selectives to improve them. But the Cedar Mount experience offers a cautionary tale.

Irish secondary school pupils ranked fifth at reading in global study

by Belfast Telegraph, December 6, 2016

But concerns have been raised about a slip in scores for science in the last three years.

The marks were awarded by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which ranked 15-year-olds in Ireland fifth best for reading out of 70 countries worldwide and second in the European Union.

In science they scored 19th out of all the nations in the study and sixth in the EU while in maths they were 18th overall and ninth in Europe.

The research also showed girls performing better than boys in reading and boys performing better than girls in mathematics and science.

Education Minister Richard Bruton said improvements were needed in maths and science.

"We also need to reduce the gaps in gender performance in all areas, and also improve the performance of our higher achievers and address higher order thinking. I am encouraged by the good progress made by lower achieving students in terms of improving their performance," he said.

The triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that the gap between girls and boys in reading is narrowing but boys are continuing to stretch the gap from girls on mathematics and science scores.

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