In our first Education News Weekly of the new year, we see more Brexit concerns, university grade inflation and a brand new head of Ofsted.
Replacing Sir Michael Wilshaw, new Ofsted head Amanda Spielman has outlined her goals for the organisation. She says she wants an Ofsted that manages risk intelligently and puts its resources in the right place. “I want to get to a point where people just can’t imagine not seeing Ofsted as a force for improvement in any of its remits. That, for me, would be a big success after five years.” Spielman is the founder of the Ark academy chain and has also acted as head of Ofqual, the exams regulator. Despite this, some have criticised the appointment claiming she lacks leadership skills and will be hindered by the fact she has never worked as a teacher (despite the fact Ofsted’s remit stretches far beyond standards of teaching), but those that have worked with her have praised her hard work and desire for improvement. Spielman has said she is planning to spread her time across all the various remits of the job, but has also expressed concern about the national ‘distraction’ of Brexit and the opening new grammar schools, and how both can impinge on her goal of improving education across the board. Either way, you can expect to see her name cropping up fairly frequently in the Education News Weekly.
Oxford University’s newly-appointed head of Brexit strategy has claimed that it could boost British universities by bringing in more of the brightest students and researchers from outside the EU. Professor Alastair Buchan highlighted the current lack of people coming to British universities from America, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand as it had been easier to recruit from the EU, suggesting Brexit could affect this. Indeed, by increasing international tuition fees, it’s possible that post-brexit, British universities could be bringing in an extra £187 million annually. A drop in EU students could also possibly make it easier for British students to find university places, and the current demand for higher education is so high that even with fewer EU students applying, universities will still generate similar revenue.
However, during the same event in Oxford, presenting to the Education Select Committee, the vice Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University argued that a hard Brexit would be the biggest disaster for British universities for ‘many, many years.’ Alastair Fitt, as well as fellow academics from Cambridge, LSE and elsewhere, highlighted the huge funding gap and research difficulties that universities are facing, and the role of EU collaboration in propelling British universities up the league tables over the last few decades. Dr Anne Corbett of the LSE said the UK government had to be ready for some ‘serious funding’ if British universities are to stay head in terms of research.
A recent survey of international university costs shows that, while the UK has some of the best universities in the world, higher education here can also cost up to three times as much as in other countries. The UK was sixth on the overall list according to the Study Abroad Cost Calculator, with the UK’s average annual expenditure per student amounts to £18,305 – nearly triple the £6,706 that a typical German student can expect to pay. Australia and America also proved to be among the very most expensive places to study, while Germany, Sweden, South Africa, Taiwan, Finland and Denmark provided some of the best value higher education globally.
24% of graduates from UK universities are now receiving top honours in their degrees, up from 17% only five years ago (2011-12). The proportion of students receiving a high 2:1 in that time has also increased, from 66% five years ago to 73% now. Whether this is a result of grade inflation, an outdated grading system where standards vary from university to university, or students simply working harder now they have to pay so much more for their degrees is difficult to say. However, Martin Birchall, a graduate recruitment expert at High Fliers Research, said some employers no longer require a particular degree classification, and are relaxing their demands for a high 2:1 or better in the knowledge they may be missing out on highly qualified candidates. Students who achieved a 2:2 but may have exceptional CVs packed with relevant work experience could be better placed than their counterparts with higher grades. Birchall added “It makes life harder if almost everyone who applies for a graduate job comes with a first or a 2:1 because employers can’t use that to differentiate between candidates.” – and so an impressive CV becomes all the more important.
Hundreds of head teachers in West Sussex – many of whom have already signed and sent a petition to Downing Street – have written to their MPs and to parents to say the government’s new funding formula has failed to address the problems they are facing. The letter asks how they should cut spending – whether they should lay off teaching staff, reduce school hours or close counselling services, adding that the “The proposals made under the new national funding formula do not provide a meaningful remedy.” They say that however they voice their concerns, the government has failed to address the problems of underfunding and staff shortages. Education secretary Justine Greening’s plan to reallocate funds from better provided-for areas has not resolved the problem of an overall lack of funding, and a recent analysis from the National Audit Office said state schools in England would have to reduce spending by £3bn by 2019-20.
Labour, Lib Dem and crossbench peers have defeated the controversial higher education and research bill reforms by 27 votes. The bill would have made it possible for private colleges to profit from awarding degrees and eventually become universities, unacceptably commercialising the higher education sector, critics claim. Oxford University chancellor Chris Patten, the former Conservative party chair, described the changes to the government bill as “ham-fisted”, while Sue Garden, the Lib Dems’ higher education spokeswoman in the Lords described the changes as “not fit for purpose.” “With this vote today we have taken a step to ensure the independence of universities, free from the political interference of this and future governments,” Garden added. A Department of Education spokesperson announced they were disappointed by the outcome, believing the reforms would drive up teaching standards at university while giving students greater choice, concluding “we look forward to the next stage of the bill process.”
Yes, sadly, you read that right. Matthew Brown, 38, told the head teacher of Ysgol Maelgwn, Llandudno Junction, that he did it as a joke but had ‘acted foolishly’ and blamed ‘a lapse in professional judgment.’ An Education Workforce Council hearing in Ewloe found two allegations of unprofessional conduct proved, for sellotaping the bare ankles of a boy to his chair, and his hands to the desk. Head teacher Gisella Williams said Brown showed remorse for his actions, and has already de-registered as a teacher.
By David Bard
David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.