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In an article first published in a slightly different form in Edition 100 of FE Week on 24 April 2014, Mike Cooper of the Policy Consortium considers the situation around 24+ Advanced Learning Loans as they approach their second year of operation – and in particular, the position for those providers who have so far been involved with them very little or not at all.

Quietly, the new round of online applications for 24+ Advanced Learning Loans has opened. Learners over 23 meeting eligibility criteria, taking eligible Level 3 and 4 courses, can get funding for 2014-15 course fees in similar ways to HE loans.

As with the university context, there’s controversy over the principle and the practice. Nevertheless, FE Loans are now an established system, probably for the foreseeable future (even if it’s changeable, as when Apprenticeships were dropped from the scheme earlier this year).

But some providers and learners still need to come to terms with greater learner self-funding. Skills Funding Agency figures for 2013-14, as of late January, suggest that provider engagement with the FE Loans policy and practicalities has been patchy. (more…)

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The Policy Consortium is very pleased to provide its full report Taking the pulse of Further Education [700 kB 65 page PDF], with analysis of the responses received from over 1000 people across the FE sector to our recent survey, undertaken in partnership with FE Week. The report offers a thorough analysis and summary of the survey’s quantitative and qualitative data, using a range of techniques.

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Andrew Morris celebrates the gradual advance of evidence-based practice…

We’re all evidence-based now – or so it would seem judging by the frequency with which the phrase crops up in current affairs programmes, ministerial claims and mission statements.

In all seriousness, this is an achievement worth celebrating. The idea that evidence matters, whether at policy level or in daily practice, has only recently been acknowledged. For decades a small crew of diehards has been making the case for evidence, usually in the face of indifference if not active hostility. Academics managed to stifle the issue with fine arguments about epistemology and futile battles about quantitative and qualitative methods; civil servants and politicians gleefully used this excuse to sideline the topic. The struggle for evidence-based medicine only a few decades ago warned us that this kind of stand-off was to be expected.

Recent years however have seen significant changes in many branches of education and other public services: the arrival of the Education Endowment Foundation with its funding of school-based interventions evaluated by randomised control trials, the development of the Teaching and Learning Toolkit of soundly based practices by Durham University, the creation of What Works Centres by the Cabinet Office and the formation of an Alliance for Useful Evidence by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), to name but a few. Yes, these acknowledgements of the importance of sound and useful evidence mark an important milestone in the development of public services. (more…)

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Andrew Morris of the Policy Consortium explores the implications of some new research from the Higher Education Funding Council for England …

Research by HEFCE, published on 28 March, offers plenty of food for thought on equality and diversity in education. The study followed the entire cohort of young people entering full-time higher education in England in 2007 – some 130,000 in all. Their degree results were linked to their A-level results and cross- checked against the type of school from which they came, their gender, ethnicity and relative disadvantage. The degree results for students who had achieved the same A-level results were compared. Thus, for example, students who had all gained BBB at A-level were tracked to see which ones got a 1st or 2.1 degree.

The headlines are:

State school students tend to do better in their degree studies than students from independent schools with the same prior attainment. (more…)

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Mick Fletcher comments.

The latest EFA funding letter for 16-19 year old students covering the 2014/15 academic year can be found here [PDF].

Those with the time and energy might want to compare it with the equivalent letter for last year, which is archived here [PDF]. This shows that the total budget has gone down from £7.43 billion to £7.18 billion – a fall of over 3%, which when put against an inflation rate of around 2% means a real terms cut of over 5%.

Some but not all of this is accounted for by the 17.5% cut in the rate for 18 year olds. The national funding rate for full time 16-19s remains at £4,000 per full time student, which is below the level in HE or pre-16 schools.

Ambiguous wording carefully disguises the fact that the planned number of apprentices actually falls over these two academic years from 257,400 to 240,000. There is no figure this year for total spending on apprenticeships, which it seems will be announced by the SFA shortly. The stalling of growth in this area must add to concerns about the impact of the Richard reforms, which still seem to envisage the need for employers to make cash contribution for 16 and 17 year olds and is widely thought likely to cut employer demand still further.

Nor is there any further detail or indicative allocation for Traineeships, although they remain a high priority. There is nothing on the Youth Allowance. Indeed, the paper is surprisingly quiet about the increase in participation needed to reach the RPA target. Last year’s letter identified that only 91.5% of 16 year olds were engaged in activity that met RPA criteria: so one might have expected this year’s announcement either to reflect the increased numbers resulting from the new legal context, or to set a target or strategy to meet it. The lack of an apparent policy drive in this area suggests that the real impact of RPA is simply to shift responsibility for dealing with the problem of being NEET from government to the individual young person.

Only in one area is there more detail in the 2014/15 announcement.  EFA is planning for 39,000 high needs students post-16 (i.e., up to the age of 24).  It is not possible from these documents to know whether this constitutes growth, a cut or a steady state.

Finally, the letter reminds institutions that although the method of allocating the £150 million of discretionary bursary funding available to institutions seems seriously flawed, there would be considerable turbulence were it to be allocated instead in relation to pupil premium numbers -– see http://goo.gl/5Dyigv [PDF]. In essence, such a change would benefit urban institutions with disadvantaged students (which is what one might have thought it was intended to do )  In announcing that there would be no change this year however the government explained that : ‘Basing allocations on the number of students eligible for Pupil Premium shifted the distribution of funding significantly and towards urban institutions with large concentrations of disadvantaged young people’.  They were clearly hoping that this would be offset by a rurality factor to reflect transport costs, but modelling showed that this was not the case.

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Mick Fletcher looks at different takes on employer ownership of vocational qualification reforms …

All the headlines about the long awaited Skills Funding Statement were understandably about the 19% cut to adult FE funding and the climb down on loans for older apprentices. Tucked quietly away however was the announcement that a Vocational Qualifications Reform Plan would be published in early 2014. Those who have been around for some time will have received the news with a heavy heart; governments have been announcing reforms to vocational qualifications since well before the current Minister of State was born; and the resulting turbulence compared with the stability of the academic route is a major cause of their poor public standing.

Two things can be said with near certainty about the forthcoming plan. One is that it will promise to put employers in the lead, or in the driving seat, or at the heart of the reforms; they always do. The second is that like all its predecessors it will fail. It is worth spending a few moments reflecting on why. (more…)

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Colin Forrest, Mike Cooper and Carolyn Medlin of the Policy Consortium discuss some of the potential questions and issues arising about Ofsted’s complaints system, as described in the preceding edition of FE Week.

In a previous article for FE Week, and elsewhere over the past six months, we’ve written about how well or otherwise Ofsted supports improvement in the FE sector, as it claims – and how it might improve its own approaches. Last week’s FE Week article, although centred on a single college and its former principal, was underpinned by revealing insights into Ofsted’s published inspection complaints system.

In short, there were 35 formal (‘Steps 2 and 3’) complaints from September 2012 to mid-November 2013. That’s around 14% of approximately 250 inspections undertaken over that time; 13 of those (about 5%) were upheld. At least one produced a significant uplift of grades from ‘requires improvement’. (more…)

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Ian Nash, member of the Policy Consortium, unpicks the subtleties behind the headlines on the BIS inquiry into adult learning …

The first parliamentary inquiry for 13 years looking exclusively into the state of adult literacy and numeracy was announced this week, following recent OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) survey revelations of a dramatic decline in standards among young adults.

The OECD Survey of Adult Skills is the new PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) for adults (otherwise known as PIAAC, the Programme for International Student Adult Competencies ). Last autumn, it showed all countries had cause for serious concern except for Finland, Japan, Korea and the Netherlands which had made impressive progress equipping more young adults with better literacy and numeracy skills.

Conservative MP Caroline Dinenage has been the driving force behind the call for a national inquiry in England since well before the release of the OECD report. The new inquiry by the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) education select committee is the first since 2001 following the collapse of Individual Learning Accounts under the Labour administration. Her concerns – that adult education had suffered unduly with the concentration on school-age education – were echoed by the OECD. (more…)

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Mick Fletcher, member of the Policy Consortium, scrutinises the DfE impact assessment for the cut to funding for 18 year olds.

Imagine a man (let’s call him Matthew) who is embarrassed at his short stature. Instead of saying he is four inches shorter than his friend Michael he could accurately say that he is only two inches shorter than the average of their heights. Indeed if he were six inches shorter than everyone else in the whole land except for Michael he could still truthfully say that he is only two inches shorter than the average, as long as he reveals in a footnote that he means the average of himself and his friend. If this sounds convoluted it is, but that in essence is how DfE have approached the impact assessment for the cut to 18 year old funding. (more…)

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Little or no sound evidence exists to support claims that brain training, and other brain-based programmes that are now used widely in schools and colleges will accelerate learning and improve performance. Even the much-vaunted Brain Gym has precious little peer-reviewed neuroscience evidence to back it up.

Now, the whole region of neuroscience and its potential benefits for education is to come under the microscope with a £6m fund created by The Wellcome Trust and Education Endowment Foundation launched jointly this week at the Education Media Centre. (more…)

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