What can we expect in education in 2016?

Professionalisation-The teaching profession will take one more step towards raising is status as the Teaching College advances from the foothills towards its establishment in 2017. Member-driven voluntary , and run by teachers for teachers, much of the heavy lifting on this project will begin in 2016. The government for sure will seek some leverage over its development given that taxpayers seed money will be involved. Interesting that some unions now realize that they can better  shape the education environment and enhance  the professions  status by engaging constructively with the government rather than throwing their toys out of the pram,  from somewhere in the far  distance.

Character Education-whether you can teach character in schools may be a moot point but resilience and other character traits and non-cognitive soft skills will be more heavily promoted in schools

Careers Guidance-Guidance in schools is a mess. Ministers have pretty much admitted as much, as has the regulator Ofsted. The government will deliver a Careers Strategy in the spring .But it’s a big challenge The Lords Social Mobility Committee and a joint Committee (BIS/Education Select Committee) will deliver a report too . Ministers are obsessed with getting more employers into schools, delivering better work experience but are still struggling with the idea that some children , particularly the most disadvantaged, really do need early access to face to face advice from a professional. Talking to a few self-serving employers wont in itself cut the mustard. Big changes are  needed here if the social mobility and access agendas are to take off. .

The Prevent strategy-efforts to protect children from radicalisation in schools, through a more proactive information campaign across the schools system will be increased.There is now greater awareness of how vulnerable some children are to grooming via the internet so there will be more restrictions on its use in schools.

Mental Health– Ministers have decided that mental health in schools is an issue. Data suggests that in every class of thirty there are around three pupils who have mental health issues. However, whether it’s a greater problem now than ever before is difficult to judge. There is certainly greater awareness of the problem, so more reporting is evident. Natasha Devon is helping to develop a more coherent approach to identifying and supporting children with mental heath issues in schools and alleviating the stigma . The penny seems to have dropped that social media and bullying are major issues that affect mental health. A rigorous and burdensome assessment regime probably doesn’t help much either .And that the problem, is cross cutting, ,in  Primary schools  in Higher Education and in the private sector.

Curriculum-the Government seems less gung-ho now about forcing schools to focus so much  on Ebacc subjects. If you give schools freedom over the curriculum it’s a nonsense to then prescribe to Heads  from the centre what their curriculum should look like. Its fair to say that the government should have a say in ensuring that schools offer a well balanced curriculum but should surely give schools more wriggle room not least so that the arts and creativity are allowed to thrive.,and  that not all teaching is to the test.
Assessment-I don’t think for a second that the government, as it has threatened, will create just one exam board or fiddle too much with the current assessment system. I just cant imagine Ministers, with  a  new found  responsibility for assessment, sitting there accepting the media flak that comes with results day every year . But there will be a closer look at how technology can be better utilized  both for pupils taking tests and in assessment processes to ensure more speed and consistency.
Academisation –the government is pledged to increase the number of academies. But there are problems on the horizon. Many of the big multi academy trusts will tell you that they are over regulated and spend too much time managing their relationship with DFE, RSCs and Ofsted. They complain that they really don’t have any freedoms, find it hard to innovate , and are beginning to wonder why they have taken on demanding schools in poor areas. Because they are given precious little slack in this area. The government wants more MATs in rural and coastal areas but most will see this as too risky and with  insufficient  incentives in place to encourage them to do so. Ministers want academy chains to help deliver transformative changes but  how this is to be achieved when so many chains are not allowed to expand by the government  and the best chains are cautions about expanding further  is anyone’s guess.

Schools Funding-we will have sight next year of the new schools funding formula. My view is that it is bound to be fairer than the current system but will still be controversial and will deliver its own anomalies. Some schools will see significant improvements in their funding , others will see a drop. Local MPS will make their feelings known. All against the background of a significant real drop in funding for schools, in the region of 20% according to some estimates.  Heads and governors will have to do more with less. Watch out for Graham Stuart in this area . He is a man with a mission since stepping down as the Select Committee chair

Regional Schools Commissioners –by the end of next year we will know whether or not the RSC system works. My view is that they are going to find it hard to deliver their (increased) responsibilities with the resources and staff they currently have and will find themselves vulnerable to attack (think Ofsted).

Research-we will see more extensive efforts to ensure that schools access the latest research and use it in the classroom. Ofsted may take an increased interest in how schools and groups of schools are using research tied mainly to the Pupil Premium

Collaboration– Collaboration as a principled approach to school reform and a self-improving schools system is good. Motherhood and Apple pie spring to mind. But there is a growing realisation that we still don’t fully understand what precise collaborative arrangements are best for driving up pupil attainment and schools improvement. More empirical research is needed in this area. What collaborative arrangements, that focus on improving attainment,  are scalable ?

Teacher Shortage- its not absolutely clear whether or not  their is a crisis in teacher  recruitment and retention. Ministers appear sanguine, experts such as Professor John Howson less so.  There does seem to be a shortage in certain areas (try recruiting a specialist maths teacher, for example) . We will know either way next year.  Targets for ITT in the Primary sector have been met but  there has been a shortfall in the Secondary sector. The recent recruitment campaign rather suggests that Ministers  are not quite as laid back on this issue as they might at first seem. And of course we wouldn’t have such recruitment problems if we were able to retain more teachers and ensure that they had clearer career pathways and sound continuous  professional development throughout their careers .

Higher Education- so, switching sectors -Jo Johnson’s  modest efforts to shift Higher Education from  being supply to demand driven are to be welcomed. As are his efforts, expressed in the recent Green paper, to improve the quality of teaching in universities which is far too variable,    and to give students a greater voice . A focus on better accountability  with easier access to information , including on employability , are aimed at ensuring  students can  make  better informed choices.Steps to open up the market perhaps lack ambition, but are heading in the right direction. Inevitably, entrenched interests   claim  there is no need for change. I simply dont  buy it .And I find it very hard  indeed to believe the findings of the National Students Survey, where student satisfaction rates are always  (unbelievably ) sky high (think North Korea).  Never has there been such a dis-junction between anecdotal evidence  (try talking to recent graduates across  degrees and institutions  from Russell group Unis) and official  survey data. I predict that closer attention will be paid to   ensuring we mine better data  from students and closer attention is paid to pastoral support . But  I predict modest changes in the sector, partly because of resistance from within the sector  ,but also because radical change could require Primary legislation, which is not on the cards.Other issues on the horizon include how Higher Education can,  or indeed are willing to adapt   to the Prevent anti-terrorism strategy, and how Vice Chancellors react to the threats to freedom of speech on campuses, as the claimed  right  not  to be offended by the views of others,  seems to  be trumping the right to freedom of speech and expression. This is arguably one of the greatest current threats to our universities.

Apprenticeships and Skills  The government has a  target of 3m apprenticeship starts by 2020.From April 2017, employers will have to pay 0.5 per cent of their pay roll costs towards an Apprenticeship  levy — offset by a £15,000 allowance meaning that most employers would not have to pay. The levy will fund £900m of apprenticeship spending and comes with a new employer-led Institute for Apprenticeships, which will set standards and quality. It is encouraging that the government is tackling the shortage of high quality  Apprenticeships. For too long inadequate training programmes  have sought to be passed off as bona fide  ‘ Apprenticeships’   when they are no such thing, so the focus on quality and  protecting the Apprenticeship brand  along with  new funding has to be welcomed . But there will be in 2016 some  increased tensions between employers  and the government  as greater clarity is provided  on the detail. FE colleges will be expected to improve  their Apprenticeships offers, and there will be much more pressure  in the Further Education sector to rationalise  and cut costs-so expect more strategic alliances between Colleges , and  a few, perhaps as many as 10-15 colleges , will close or merge.

Above are some initial predictions (to be added to, in due course ) for 2016


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