Changes to the learning world

01 July 2011

Over the last month the Department for Education (DfE) has been busy conducting reviews and discussing forthcoming changes to operation and policy. We expect most of the responses and recommendations to come through in the autumn, but there have been a number of significant announcements for cultural learning over the last few months. In this post we highlight new plans for executive agencies, the review of key stage 2 assessment, changes to GCSEs and the Higher Education White paper.

Plans for executive agenciesThe DfE has not yet officially responded to the James Review of Schools Capital funding but we do know that there will be changes to the way schools receive their capital and revenue funding across the board. Partnerships for Schools (PfS – the organisation currently responsible for school and academy capital funding) and the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA – currently responsible for funding learning opportunities for 16-19 year olds, funding and supporting Academies and funding support for young learners) will be merged in 2012, creating a brand new Education Funding Agency (EFA). This EFA will be an executive agency, directly reporting to the Department for Education, and will be headed up by Peter Lauener, current Chief Executive of the YPLA. You can read the DfE’s announcement here. It is likely that this new agency will be responsible for administering all funding streams related to schools.In a similar reform it was announced this week that Ian Todd has been appointed as the Chief Executive of the new Standards and Testing Agency (STA) – a new executive agency established to deliver National Curriculum tests and assessments following Ministerial decisions to close the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA). Here is the DfE announcement which tells us that the exact remit of the STA will be decided following consideration of the recommendations of Lord Bew’s review of Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability. The new agency is already recruiting and has a website up and running.Review of Key Stage 2 Testing (SATS)Lord Bew published the final recommendations of his review this week. He has suggested that:

  • assessment data should be used to benchmark schools against each other, inform parents of their child’s progress and attainment, and to hold schools accountable for their work;
  • every pupil’s progress should be seen as equally important as their attainment;
  • league tables should reflect a wide range of different measures, not just SATs;
  • schools should be benchmarked against schools similar to them, but also against a national average;
  • statutory assessment should include external tests (exams), but also teachers' own assessments of their students;
  • only a small sample of schools should continue with science tests – otherwise science will be monitored through teacher assessment;
  • teachers should form networks to share their knowledge and practice in monitoring and assessment.
The Guardian particularly highlighted the recommendations for creative writing – that testing can limit children’s imaginative work, and that creative writing is better assessed directly by teachers throughout the school year.Unions have given a mixed response to the recommendations. You can read the ‘cautious welcome’ from the NUT here, the ‘initial encouragement’ from NAHT, and comments from NASUWT claiming that the recommendations are ‘incoherent’ and ‘a fudge’.Changes to GCSE structuresThis week Michael Gove announced his intention to scrap GCSE modular testing, with all students from 2012 now to sit exams at the end of their course. The BBC reported the story here.Higher Education White PaperThe new Higher Education White Paper ‘Students at the heart of the system’ has now been published. It aims to make our universities more sustainable, improve teaching and learning and increase social mobility. As ever, the inestimable Mike Baker has included a summary of the main points of the paper on his blog.The reforms set out in the paper are influenced by Lord Browne’s recent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance published last year.As expected there will be a dramatic reduction in the grants given to Universities for their teaching. The paper does state that:‘HEFCE will consider what further funding is needed for ‘strategic and vulnerable’ subjects which are no longer covered by a teaching grant, as well as considering providing targeted funding for widening participation and support for small and specialist institutions such as music and arts conservatoires’It will be interesting to see whether this will have any impact on the many arts and cultural course providers currently struggling to see how they will continue. HEFCE are launching a public consultation on the allocation of the teaching grant this week, and it will be critical that we make a strong case as to why our sector must receive additional support. Details of the consultation and how to feed in can be found on the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) website. It closes on the 22 of September.The White Paper does aim to open up more opportunities for new and private providers to offer Higher Education, and this could be an interesting opportunity for some of our cultural learning organisations and their partners. Some of the reforms mentioned could include allow non-teaching institutions to award degrees and BIS will be shortly consulting on the criteria and processes for institutions wishing to gain the title of university or university college.Student charters and student feedback will take on new importance for universities, with published online feedback summaries for all courses.The paper emphasises the importance of internships and work-related learning, announcing a small amount of further funding for the Government’s internship matching website The Graduate Talent Pool . The QAA will also convene a group to develop guidance for universities on the development of entrepreneurs, chaired by Professor Andy Penaluna, the world’s first professor of Creative Entrepreneurship. CCSkills, the sector skills council for the UK’s creative and cultural industries, has welcomed the White Paper, and has highlighted that it calls for employers to become more involved in the design and quality assurance of higher education courses. It has also welcomed a new review announced in the document: Professor Sir Tim Wilson will research how to make the UK the best place in the world for education-industry collaboration.