The Conservative Effect 2010-2024: 14 Wasted Years?

In education, the years were far from wasted. The ministers were well-prepared and they rounded off the reforms of successive governments since the mid-1980s. Firm foundations were established for English and maths, the curriculum was made more knowledge-rich and flexible, greater rigour was brought to the national tests and exams, schools were given greater autonomy and a pupil premium was introduced to support the disadvantaged. In higher education, realistic tuition fees were brought in.

Not everything was successful. Ofsted was overloaded and underfunded, teacher recruitment proved intractable and there were structural problems with the buildings. But the core aim was to make England’s schools world class and they did rise up the international league tables. After the original ministers left, however, there was considerable churn in personnel and momentum was lost.

GCSE Prospects 2023: Restoring the Value? (click here to read)

The A-level results strongly indicate that GCSE grades in England (Wales and Northern Ireland are waiting till next year) will be restored to pre-pandemic standards. Although it may not feel like it to those receiving their grades this year who have seen the years above them being awarded strings of nines, it is good news because it provides much better information on which to base decisions about the future.

The greater precision will also help to improve education because it puts policies under scrutiny. What is the point of mandatory maths and English re-takes when the failure rates are so high? Is combined science a basis for science A-levels when the grades are so poor? Should the study of foreign languages continue to be pushed when pupils are so solid in their resistance? And what’s behind the growth in religious studies?

A-Levels 2023: Return to Normal? (click here to view report)

During the two years of teacher assessment there was an explosion in top grades. With the return to exams, the government is seeking to restore pre-pandemic standards in two steps, with 2022 as a halfway house. This would mean nearly 100,000 fewer A* grades than in 2021. In 2022 a reduction of nearly 40,000 was managed, but this was 10,000 fewer than required. Will there be a cut-back of 60,000 in 2023 to complete the task?

It is unlikely, but we shall see on 17th August. Teacher assessment has dramatically changed expectations, both generally and with regard to particular subjects. The grades bonanza has been popular with pupils, parents and schools, and the severe reductions necessary to restore the value of the grades will be hard for them to accept. Teacher assessment has also spread top grades more widely to the performing arts and practical subjects, and it is questionable whether this can or should be reversed.

Poor Children Hit Harder by Covid School Closure (click here to read)

In their first collaboration since Alastair McCall joined CEER last month, he and Alan Smithers have analysed the impact of Covid on pupil performance. The stand-out finding is that poor children fared worse, falling even further behind at every level – the Sats, GCSEs and A-levels. Paradoxically, their grades had gone up in GCSEs and A-levels, but this can be attributed to the decision to bake in higher grades in 2022 than in 2019.

The Disadvantage Gap Index, which enables relative performance in different tests and exams to be compared, shows that the gap widened more in primary schools. Since the gap before the pandemic was greater in secondary schools, this had the effect of reducing it somewhat. All children, not just those taking national tests and examinations, will have been affected. Some will still be in schools into the 2030s. Is there a cure for education’s Long Covid?

Sunday Times’ Alastair McCall joins CEER

CEER welcomes Alastair McCall, one of the country’s leading data journalists and formerly assistant editor of The Sunday Times, as its Deputy Director and Professor of Quantitative Studies. He is famous as the man behind such annual publications as The Sunday Times Good University Guide, Parent Power, Rich List and Giving List. He also created the country’s first social inclusion ranking for universities.

It is a great appointment for CEER which was founded to conduct and communicate independent research that is directly useful to those creating education and those benefiting from it, rather than just producing papers for academics. Alastair’s skills and experience are a perfect fit for CEER’s mission and will add strength to its reach and range. Prof Alan Smithers, Director of CEER, and Alastair have an excellent working relationship having collaborated for over two decades on The Sunday Times’ schools guide, Parent Power.

Are Schools Failing Boys? (click here to read)

Boys are seriously underperforming girls at all levels of education, which would indicate that they are not fully developing their potential. While this has been known for some time, it is little understood and so little has been done about it. This means that both they and society are missing out on what they could have been. There is complacency because men seem to come out on top anyway.

There is a plethora of possible explanations, which means we do not sufficiently understand what is going on. This leaves us without a sound basis for tackling it. We need a high-level inquiry to sort it out. The seriousness of the issue is such that it calls for a Royal Commission.

Where Next for Apprenticeships

In a policy report of the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development edited by Tess Lanning (report here), Alan Smithers argues that the introduction of national apprenticeship qualifications would turn the government’s hopes for the new apprenticeships into reality. At present, apprenticeships act as containers for numerous individual qualifications, some of doubtful value and little relevance. There is little to drive the development of tailored training programmes. National apprenticeship qualifications, the highest on par with degrees, would enhance the status of apprenticeships and help win acceptance of them as a genuine practical alternative to established academic ladders. Trainees would have something to aim for and something they could be proud of when successful. Distinctive qualifications would also enable the Government to claim ownership of the apprenticeship brand, fully integrate the maths, English and other core learning with the practical skills, and make apprenticeships easier to regulate. The Government recognizes the problems an apprenticeship qualification would solve, but prefers other piecemeal solutions. It would be so much simpler to have national apprenticeship qualifications.

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