Today’s news review looks at coverage of Key Stage 2 statistics, claims that graduate vacancies have fallen and school uniform costs.
Key Stage 2 statistics
Yesterday, 1 September, we published provisional Key Stage 2 attainment statistics at national and local authority level. These follow interim statistics published in July which showed that 53% of pupils achieved the expected standard under the new system.
Media coverage looked at a range of different angles including local authority-level attainment, gender breakdown and attainment by school type.
The Telegraph and the Mail report that more boys are leaving primary school having not mastered the basic skills in reading, writing and maths, with the Mail reporting comments that the new exams may have been “pitched too high”. However, we are clear that a more rigorous curriculum will raise the standard we expect pupils to reach by age 11.
The Guardian led on the threat from the NUT to “boycott” the tests, and also reported claims that wide variance in local authorities is an indication that the tests need to be overhauled.
The story did not reflect that the Standards and Testing Agency externally moderate a sample of local authorities and no concerns were identified with this years’ assessments.
School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said:
We want to build a country that works for everyone so that all children, regardless of background or ability, have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. A high quality education is integral to this. Ensuring pupils have mastered the fundamental skills of mathematics and literacy when they leave primary school means they have a strong foundation to build on at secondary school and are less likely to fall behind.
That’s why we have introduced a more rigorous curriculum, raised the standard we expect pupils to achieve by age 11 and placed more emphasis on phonics in the teaching of reading. That has led to an additional 120,000 six year olds being on track to become fluent readers. Thanks to this focus on raising standards and the hard work of teachers, the majority of pupils have performed well in this year’s tests. We will continue working with the sector to build on that success and further develop the primary assessment system.
These figures show that many schools and local authorities have risen to the challenge and have delivered high standards but we want that success to be the standard everywhere. We have made great strides with over 1.4million more pupils in good or outstanding schools than in 2010 but the Government’s objective is to extend that opportunity so every child has the excellent education they deserve.
On moderation of the tests, a Standards and Testing Agency spokesperson said:
We externally moderate a sample of local authorities to judge their moderation model and ensure it is consistent. No concerns were identified with this years’ assessments. Departmental analysis of this year’s results suggests similar levels of variability overall at school level to last year.
Today, 2 September, the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) published its annual survey and claims that the number of graduate vacancies has fallen by 8% compared with last year.
The story was picked up in the Times and Financial Times. However, neither paper recognised that the survey covers only 208 member companies and does not provide a concrete measure of graduate employment rates, which have continued to increase. The coverage also does not acknowledge how our reforms to Higher Education will target further improvements to graduate employment rates and outcomes.
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
Graduates continue to have stronger employment outcomes, earning on average £9,500 a year more than non-graduates.
Last year the vast majority of graduates - 93.9% - were in employment or further study with a consistent increase over the last four years, up 3.6%. Our Higher Education reforms are focusing universities on further improving graduate outcomes, by delivering excellent teaching which gives students the skills that both they and employers need.
Higher Education and Research Bill
Today, 2 September the FT ran an opinion piece from Martin Wolf, claiming that the Government’s Higher Education reforms being introduced through the Higher Education and Research Bill would “seize the power to abolish [the] independence” of universities.
The article focuses on the new regulatory system being introduced through the new Office for Students (OfS) and inaccurately claims that this will be given “powers to control what and how universities teach”. It also claims that members of the OfS would be required to “know nothing about higher education” and that the body would be given new powers to “abolish the ability of Oxford and Cambridge … to grant degrees”.
It is wrong to claim that the reforms are “a fully-fledged government takeover of the higher education sector”. As Clause 2 of the Bill makes clear, the government will have no control over the content of courses or how they are taught. The Bill will not introduce any new powers relating to course structure and universities will continue to have autonomy on setting their own curriculum. The OfS will be about ensuring quality of teaching for students, not content of what they are taught.
The OfS will be also be an independent, non-departmental body, just as the current regulator, HEFCE, is now. It is inaccurate to claim therefore that it will be ‘subservient’ to government.
It is also incorrect to claim there is a requirement for members of the OfS to have ‘no knowledge’ of Higher Education. In fact, the opposite is true; Schedule 1 of the Bill specifies the importance that OfS board members have experience that reflects the diversity of providers in the HE sector. Creating the OfS will put student choice, teaching quality and social mobility at the top of the agenda in higher education. This is essential if we are to remain competitive and ensure that a high-quality education is open to all.
It is also wrong to assume that the OfS will commonly intervene to remove University’s abilities to award degrees – often referred to as degree awarding powers (DAPs). The power to remove DAPs would only be proposed in exceptional circumstances when universities have consistently failed to meet minimal standards. The Bill also gives universities statutory rights to object to the OfS about any proposed removal and then to appeal to a judicial body if they think the OfS has got it wrong.
Finally, it is not the case that the Bill will specifically make it easier for for-profit universities to gain University Title. For-profit providers already have the ability to gain University Title if they meet the existing rigorous criteria as set out in departmental guidance - and this is not changing. Nothing in the Bill will make it easier to gain University Title or remove safeguards. Proposed changes to departmental guidance will make it quicker for some providers to gain University Title, but this will be only be possible if they meet exacting quality thresholds set by the OfS.
As children prepare to return to school, the Local Government Association (LGA) has prompted a debate over the cost of uniforms.
BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme looked at claims from the LGA that parents have paid too much for uniforms.
We have been clear that it is up to schools to set their own uniform policies and when doing so they should keep costs to a minimum. The guidance also says schools should only enter deals with exclusive suppliers if it follows a competitive tendering process and offers good value.
We agree with the LGA that schools should follow a common sense approach when deciding upon their uniform policy.
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
All children, regardless of background or ability, should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and we are absolutely clear that no family should be at a disadvantage because of the price of a school uniform. Our guidance is clear that when setting their uniform policies, schools should keep costs to a minimum and be affordable for everyone. Any exclusive arrangements with suppliers should follow a competitive process and provide the best value for money for parents.
For more information on school uniform, see our guidance to schools, governing bodies and local authorities.