A Summer of Love for English Gifted Education? Episode 3: Improving Fair Access to Oxbridge


This post is a critical examination of policy and progress on improving progression for the highest attainers from disadvantaged backgrounds to selective universities, especially Oxford and Cambridge.




  • Uncovers evidence of shaky statistical interpretation by these universities and their representative body;
  • Identifies problems with the current light-touch regulatory and monitoring apparatus, including shortcomings in the publication of data and reporting of progress at national level;
  • Proposes a series of additional steps to address this long-standing shortcoming of our education system.



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summer of love 1967 by 0 fairy 0

Regular readers may recall that I have completed two parts of a trilogy of posts carrying the optimistic strapline ‘A Summer of Love for Gifted Education’.

The idea was to structure these posts around three key government publications.

  • This final part was supposed to analyse another DfE-commissioned research report, an ‘Investigation of school- and college- level strategies to raise the Aspirations of High-Achieving Disadvantaged Pupils to pursue higher education’.

We know from the published contract (see attachment in ‘Documents’ section) that this latter study was undertaken by TNS/BMRB and the Institute for Policy Studies in Education (IPSE) based at London Metropolitan University. The final signed off report should have been produced by 28 June 2013 and published within 12 weeks of approval, so by the end of September. As I write, it has still to appear, which would suggest that there is a problem with the quality and/or size of the evidence base.

In the five months since the appearance of Part Two I have published a series of posts developing the themes explored in the first two-thirds of my incomplete trilogy.

But what to do about the missing final episode of ‘A Summer of Love’, which was going to develop this latter fair access theme in more detail?

My initial idea was to survey and synthesise the large number of other recently published studies on the topic. But, as I reviewed the content of these publications, it struck me that such a post would be stuffed full of descriptive detail but lack any real bite – by which I mean substantial and serious engagement with the central problem.

I decided to cut to the chase.

I also decided to foreground material about the highest reaches of A level attainment and progression to Oxbridge, not because I see the issue solely in these stratospheric terms, but because:

  • The top end of fair access is important in its own right, especially for those with a gifted education perspective. Oxford and Cambridge consistently declare themselves a special case and I wanted to explore the substance of their position.
  • There is compelling evidence that Oxford and Cambridge are amongst the weakest performers when it comes to fair access for the highest attaining disadvantaged learners. There are reasons why the task may be comparatively more difficult for them but, equally, as our most prestigious universities, they should be at the forefront when it comes to developing and implementing effective strategies to tackle the problem.
  • The Government has itself made Oxbridge performance a litmus test of progress (or lack of progress) on fair access and on higher education’s wider contribution to social mobility.

The first part of the post briefly reviews the range of measures and regulatory apparatus devoted to improving fair access. This is to provide a frame from which to explore the available data and its shortcomings, rather than an in-depth analysis of relative strengths and weaknesses. Readers who are familiar with this background may prefer to skip it.

The mid-section concentrates on the limited data in the public domain and how it has been (mis)interpreted.

The final section reviews the criticisms made by the SMCPC and, while endorsing them thoroughly, offers a set of further proposals – many of them data-driven – for ratcheting up our collective national efforts to reverse the unsatisfactory progress made to date.


A Troubling Tale of Unnecessary Complexity and Weak Regulation


A Proliferation of Measures

There is little doubt that we have a problem in England when it comes to progression to selective, competitive higher education (however defined) by learners from disadvantaged backgrounds (however defined).

We may not be unique in that respect, but that does not alter the fact that the problem is longstanding and largely unresolved.

The recent ‘State of the Nation 2013’ Report from the SMPCPC says ‘there has been little change in the social profile of the most elite institutions for over a decade’, adding that ‘while some of the building blocks are in place to lift children off the bottom, opening up elites remains elusive.’

Part of the problem is that the debates about these respective definitions continue to receive disproportionate coverage. Such debates are sometimes deployed as a diversionary tactic, intentionally drawing us away from the unpalatable evidence that we are making decidedly poor headway in tackling the core issue.

The definitional complexities are such that they lend themselves to exploitation by those with a vested interest in preserving the status quo and defending themselves against what they regard as unwonted state intervention.

I shall resist the temptation to explore the comparative advantages and disadvantages of different measures, since that would risk falling into the trap I have just identified.

But I do need to introduce some of the more prominent – and pin down some subtle distinctions – if only for the benefit of readers in other countries.

One typically encounters four different categorisations of competitive, selective higher education here in the UK:

  • Oxbridge – a convenient shorthand reference to Oxford and Cambridge Universities. These two institutions are commonly understood to be qualitatively superior to other UK universities and, although that advantage does not apply universally, to every undergraduate course and subject, there is some academic support for treating them as a category in their own right.
  • Russell Group – The Russell Group was formed in 1994 and originally comprised 17 members. There are currently 24 members, 20 of them located in England, including Oxford and Cambridge. Four institutions – Durham, Exeter, Queen Mary’s and York – joined as recently as 2012 and membership is likely to increase as the parallel 1994 Group has just disbanded. DfE (as opposed to BIS) often uses Russell Group membership as its preferred proxy for selective, competitive higher education, although there are no objective criteria that apply exclusively to all members.
  • Sutton Trust 30The Sutton Trust originally identified a list of 13 universities, derived from ‘average newspaper league table rankings’. This list – Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial, LSE, Nottingham, Oxford, St Andrews, UCL, Warwick and York – still appears occasionally in research commissioned by the Trust, although it was subsequently expanded to 30 institutions. In ‘Degrees of Success’, a July 2011 publication, they were described thus:

‘The Sutton Trust 30 grouping of highly selective universities comprises universities in Scotland, England and Wales with over 500 undergraduate entrants each year, where it was estimated that less than 10 per cent of places are attainable to pupils with 200 UCAS tariff points (equivalent to two D grades and a C grade at A-level) or less. These 30 universities also emerge as the 30 most selective according to the latest Times University Guide.’

The full list includes all but two of the Russell Group (Queen Mary’s and Queen’s Belfast) plus eight additional institutions.

‘The HEIs included in this group change every year; although 94% of HEIs remained in the top third for 5 consecutive years, from 2006/07 to 2010/11. The calculation is restricted to the top three A level attainment; pupils who study other qualifications at Key Stage 5 will be excluded. Institutions with a considerable proportion of entrants who studied a combination of A levels and other qualifications may appear to have low scores. As the analysis covers students from schools and colleges in England, some institutions in other UK countries have scores based on small numbers of students. As this measure uses matched data, all figures should be treated as estimates.’

This categorisation includes seven further mainstream universities (Aston, City, Dundee, East Anglia, Goldsmiths, Loughborough, Sussex) plus a range of specialist institutions.

Indicators of educational disadvantage are legion, but these are amongst the most frequently encountered:

  • Eligibility for free school meals (FSM): DfE’s preferred measure. The term is misleading since the measure only includes learners who meet the FSM eligibility criteria and for whom a claim is made, so eligibility of itself is insufficient. Free school meals are available for learners in state-funded secondary schools, including those in sixth forms. From September 2014, eligibility will be extended to all in Years R, 1 and 2 and to disadvantaged learners in further education and sixth form colleges. The phased introduction of Universal Credit will also impact on the eligibility criteria (children of families receiving Universal Credit between April 2013 and March 2014 are eligible for FSM, but the cost of extending FSM to all Universal Credit recipients once fully rolled out is likely to be prohibitive). We do not yet know whether these reforms will cause DfE to select an alternative preferred measure and, if so, what that will be. Eligibility for the Pupil Premium is one option, more liberal than FSM, though this currently applies only to age 16.
  • Residual Household Income below £16,000: This is broadly the income at which eligibility for free school meals becomes available. It is used by selective universities (Oxford included) because it can be applied universally, regardless of educational setting and whether or not free school meals have been claimed. Oxford explains that:

‘Residual income is based on gross household income (before tax and National Insurance) minus certain allowable deductions. These can include pension payments, which are eligible for certain specified tax relief, and allowances for other dependent children.’

The threshold is determined through the assessment conducted by Student Finance England, so is fully consistent with its guidance.

  • Low participation schools: This measure focuses on participation by school attended rather than where students live. It may be generic – perhaps derived from the Government’s experimental destinations statistics – or based on admissions records for a particular institution. As far as I can establish, there is no standard or recommended methodology: institutions decide for themselves the criteria they wish to apply.
  • POLAR (Participation Of Local Areas): HEFCE’s area-based classification of participation in higher education. Wards are categorised in five quintiles, with Quintile 1 denoting those with lowest participation. The current edition is POLAR 3.
  • Other geodemographic classifications: these include commercially developed systems such as ACORN and MOSAIC based on postcodes and Output Area Classification (OAC) based on census data. One might also include under this heading the Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) and the associated sub-domain Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI).
  • National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC): an occupationally-based definition of socio-economic status applied via individuals to their households. There are typically eight classes:
  1. Higher managerial, administrative and professional
  2. Lower managerial, administrative and professional
  3. Intermediate
  4. Small employers and own account workers
  5. Lower supervisory and technical
  6. Semi routine
  7. Routine
  8. Never worked and long term unemployed

Data is often reported for NS-SEC 4-7.

Sitting alongside these measures of disadvantage is a slightly different animal – recruitment from state-funded schools and colleges compared with recruitment from the independent sector.

While this may be a useful social mobility indicator, it is a poor proxy for fair access.

Many learners attending independent schools are from comparatively disadvantaged backgrounds, and of course substantively more learners at state-maintained schools are comparatively advantaged.

The Office For Fair Access (OFFA) confirms that:

‘in most circumstances we would not approve an access agreement allowing an institution to measure the diversity of its student body solely on the basis of the numbers of state school pupils it recruits….it is conceivable that a university could improve its proportion of state school students without recruiting greater proportions of students from disadvantaged groups.’

Nevertheless, independent/state balance continues to features prominently in some access agreements drawn up by selective universities and approved by OFFA.

There is a risk that some institutions are permitted to give this indicator disproportionate attention, at the expense of their wider commitment to fair access.


Securing National Improvement

Given the embarrassment of riches set out above, comparing progress between institutions is well-nigh impossible, let alone assessing the cumulative impact on fair access at national level.

When it came to determining their current strategy, the government of the day must have faced a choice between:

  • Imposing a standard set of measures on all institutions, ignoring complaints that those selected were inappropriate for some settings, particularly those that were somehow atypical;
  • Allowing institutions to choose their own measures, even though that had a negative impact on the rate of improvement against the Government’s own preferred national indicators; and
  •  A half-way house which insisted on universal adoption of one or two key measures while permitting institutions to choose from a menu of additional measures, so creating a basket more or less appropriate to their circumstances.

For reasons that are not entirely clear – but presumably owe something to vigorous lobbying from higher education interests – the weaker middle option was preferred and remains in place to this day.

The standard-setting and monitoring process is currently driven by OFFA, though we expect imminently the final version of a National Strategy for Access and Student Success, developed jointly with HEFCE.

A new joint process for overseeing OFFA’s access agreements (from 2015/16) and HEFCE’s widening participation strategic statements (from 2014-2017) will be introduced in early 2014.

There were tantalising suggestions that the status quo might be adjusted through work on the wider issue of evaluation.

An early letter referred to plans to:

‘Commission feasibility study to establish if possible to develop common evaluation measures that all institutions could adopt to assess the targeting and impact of their access and student success work’.

The report would be completed by Spring 2013.

Then an Interim Report on the Strategy said the study would be commissioned in ‘early 2013 to report in May 2013’ (Annex B).

It added:

‘Informal discussions with a range of institutional representatives have indicated that many institutions would welcome a much clearer indication of the kind of evidence and indicators that we would wish to see. Therefore a key strand within the strategy development will be work undertaken with the sector to develop an evaluation framework to guide them in their efforts to evidence the impact of their activity. Within this, we intend to test the feasibility of developing some common measures for the gathering of high-level evidence that might be aggregated to provide a national picture. We will also investigate what more can be done by national bodies including ourselves to make better use of national data sets in supporting institutions as they track the impact of their interventions on individual students.’

However, HEFCE’s webpage setting out research and stakeholder engagement in support of the National Strategy still says the study is ‘to be commissioned’ and that the publication date is ‘to be confirmed’.

I can find no explanation of the reasons for this delay.

For the time being, OFFA is solely responsible for issuing guidance to institutions on the content of their access agreements, approving the Agreements and monitoring progress against them.

OFFA’s website says:

‘Universities and colleges set their own targets based on where they need to improve and what their particular institution is trying to achieve under its access agreement…These targets must be agreed by OFFA. We require universities and colleges to set themselves at least one target around broadening their entrant pool. We also encourage (but do not require) them to set themselves further targets, particularly around their work on outreach and, where appropriate, retention. Most choose to do so. We normally expect universities and colleges to have a range of targets in order to measure their progress effectively. When considering whether targets are sufficiently ambitious, we consider whether they represent a balanced view of the institution’s performance, and whether they address areas where indicators suggest that the institution has furthest to go to improve access.

From 2012-13, in line with Ministerial guidance, we are placing a greater emphasis on progress against targets. We would not, however, impose a sanction solely on the basis of a university or college not meeting its targets or milestones.’

The interim report on a National Strategy suggests that – informally at least – many universities recognise that this degree of flexibility is not helpful to their prospects of improving fair access, either individually or collectively.

But the fact that the promised work has not been undertaken might imply a counterforce pushing in precisely the opposite direction.

The expectations placed on universities are further complicated by the rather unclear status of the annual performance indicators for widening participation of under-represented groups supplied by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

HESA’s table for young full-time first degree entrants shows progress by each HEI against benchmarks for ‘from state schools or colleges’, ‘from NS-SEC classes 4, 5, 6 and 7’ and ‘from low participation neighbourhoods (based on POLAR3 methodology)’ respectively.

HESA describes its benchmarks thus:

‘Because there are such differences between institutions, the average values for the whole of the higher education sector are not necessarily helpful when comparing HEIs. A sector average has therefore been calculated which is then adjusted for each institution to take into account some of the factors which contribute to the differences between them. The factors allowed for are subject of study, qualifications on entry and age on entry (young or mature).’

HESA’s benchmarks are clearly influential in terms of the measures adopted in many access agreements (and much of the attention given to the state versus independent sector intake may be attributable to them).

On the other hand, the indicators receive rather cavalier treatment in the most recent access agreements from Oxford and Cambridge. Oxford applies the old POLAR2 methodology in place of the latest POLAR3, while Cambridge adjusts the POLAR3 benchmarks to reflect its own research.

The most recent 2011/12 HESA results for Oxford and Cambridge are as follows:


Institution       State schools        NS-SEC 4-7     LPN (POLAR3)
Benchmark Performance Benchmark Performance Benchmark Performance
Oxford 71.2% 57.7% 15.9% 11.0% 4.7% 3.1%
Cambridge 71.4% 57.9% 15.9% 10.3% 4.5% 2.5%


That probably explains why Oxbridge would prefer an alternative approach! But the reference to further work in the Interim Strategy perhaps also suggests that few see these benchmarks as the best way forward.


National Targets

The Government also appears in something of a bind with its preferred measures for monitoring national progress.

When it comes to fair access (as opposed to widening participation) the Social Mobility Indicators rely exclusively on the gap between state and independent school participation at the most selective HEIs, as defined by BIS.

As noted above, this has major shortcomings as a measure of fair access, though more validity as a social mobility measure.

The relevant indicator shows that the gap held between 37% and 39% between 2006 and 2010, but this has just been updated to reflect an unfortunate increase to 40% in 2010/11.

BIS uses the same measure as a Departmental Performance Indicator for its work on higher education.  The attachment on the relevant gov.uk page is currently the wrong one – which might indicate that BIS is less than comfortable with its lack of progress against the measure.

DfE takes a different approach declaring an ‘Outcome of Education’ indicator:

‘Outcome of education:

i)             Percentage of children on free school meals progressing to Oxford or Cambridge*.

ii)            Percentage of children on free school meals progressing to a Russell Group university*.

iii)           Percentage of children on free school meals progressing to any university*.

iv)           Participation in education and work based training at age 16 to 17

*Available June 2013’

But progress against this indicator is nowhere to be found in the relevant section of the DfE website or, as far I can establish, anywhere within the DfE pages on gov.uk.



Oxbridge Access Agreement Targets for 2014/15

Perhaps the best way to link this section with the next is by showing how Oxford and Cambridge have decided to frame the targets in their access agreements for 2014/15

Oxford has OFFA’s agreement to target:

  • Schools and colleges that secure limited progression to Oxford. They use ‘historic UCAS data’ to estimate that ‘in any one year up to 1,680…will have no students who achieve AAA grades but, over a three-year period they may produce a maximum of two AAA candidates’. They also prioritise an estimated 1,175 institutions which have larger numbers achieving AAA grades ‘but where the success rate for an application to Oxford is below 10%’. In 2010, 19.4% of Oxford admissions were from these two groups and it plans to increase the proportion to 25% by 2016-17;
  • UK undergraduates from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, based on ‘ACORN postcodes 4 and 5’. Some 7.6% of admissions came from these postcodes in 2010/11 and Oxford proposes to reach 9.0% by 2016/17.
  • UK undergraduates from neighbourhoods with low participation in higher education, as revealed by POLAR2. It will focus on ‘students domiciled in POLAR quintiles 1 and 2’. In 2012, 10.6% are from this group and Oxford proposes to increase this to 13.0% by 2016-17.

In addition to a target for admitting disabled students, Oxford also says it will monitor and report on the state/independent school mix, despite evidence ‘that this measure is often misleading as an indicator of social diversity’. It notes that:

‘30% of 2012 entrants in receipt of the full Oxford Bursary (students with a household income of £16,000 or less) were educated in the independent sector…The University will continue to monitor the level of students from households with incomes of £16,000 or less. It is considered that these are the most financially disadvantaged in society, and it is below this threshold that some qualify for receipt of free schools meals, and the pupil premium. The University does not consider that identifying simply those students who have been in receipt of free school meals provides a suitably robust indicator of disadvantage as they are not available in every school or college with post-16 provision, nor does every eligible student choose to receive them.

There are no national statistics currently available on the number of students whose household income is £16,000 or less and who attain the required academic threshold to make a competitive application to Oxford. In 2011-12, around one in ten of the University’s UK undergraduate intake was admitted from a household with this level of declared income.’

Meanwhile, Cambridge proposes only two relevant targets, one of them focused on the independent/state divide:

  • Increase the proportion of UK resident students admitted from UK state sector schools and colleges to between 61% and 63%. This is underpinned by the University’s research finding that ‘the proportion of students nationally educated at state schools securing examination grades in subject combinations that reflect our entrance requirements and the achievement level of students admitted to Cambridge stands at around 62%’.
  • Increase the proportion of UK resident students from low participation neighbourhoods to approximately 4% by 2016. It argues:

‘Currently HESA performance indicators and other national datasets relating to socio-economic background do not take adequate account of the entry requirements of individual institutions. Whilst they take some account of attainment, they do not do so in sufficient detail for highly selective institutions such as Cambridge where the average candidate admitted has 2.5 A* grades with specific subject entry requirements. For the present we have adjusted our HESA low participation neighbourhood benchmark in line with the results of our research in relation to state school entry and will use this as our target.’

Each of these approaches has good and bad points. Cambridge’s is more susceptible to the criticism that it is overly narrow. There is no real basis to compare the relative performance of the two institutions since there is negligible overlap between their preferred indicators. That may be more comfortable for them, but it is not in the best interests of their customers, or of those seeking to improve their performance.


Investigating the Data on High Attainment and Fair Access to Oxbridge

Those seeking statistics about high attainment amongst disadvantaged young people and their subsequent progression to Oxbridge are bound to be disappointed.

There is no real appreciation of the excellence gap in this country and this looks set to continue. The fact that gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged learners are typically wider at the top end of the attainment distribution seems to have acted as a brake on the publication of data that proves the point.

It is possible that the current round of accountability reforms will alter this state of affairs, but this has not yet been confirmed.

For the time being at least, almost all published statistics about high A level attainment amongst disadvantaged learners have come via answers to Parliamentary Questions. This material invariably measures disadvantage in terms of FSM eligibility.

Information about the admission of disadvantaged learners to Oxbridge is equally scant, but a picture of sorts can be built up from a mixture of PQ replies, university admission statistics and the DfE’s destination measures. The material supplied by the universities draws on measures other than FSM.

The following two sections set out what little we know, including the ever important statistical caveats.


High Attainment Data

  • In 2003, 94 students (1.9%) eligible for FSM achieved three or more A grades at A level. The figures relate to 16-18 year-olds in maintained schools only who were eligible for FSM at age 16. They do not include students in FE sector colleges (including sixth from colleges) who were previously eligible for FSM. Only students who entered at least one A level, applied A level or double award qualification are included. (Parliamentary Question, 6 April 2010, Hansard (Col 1346W))
  • In 2008, 160 students (3.5%) eligible for FSM achieved that outcome. The figures relate to 16-18 year-olds, in maintained schools only, who were eligible for FSM at age 16. They do not include students in FE sector colleges (including sixth from colleges) who were previously eligible for FSM. Only students who entered at least one A level, applied A level or double award qualification are included. (Parliamentary Question, 6 April 2010, Hansard (Col 1346W))
  • In 2008/09, 232 pupils at maintained mainstream schools eligible for FSM achieved three or more A grades at A level (including applied A level and double award), 179 of them attending comprehensive schools. The figures exclude students in FE and sixth form colleges previously eligible for FSM. (Parliamentary Question, 7 April 2010, Hansard (Col 1451W))
  • The number of Year 13 A level candidates eligible for FSM in Year 11 achieving 3 or more A grade levels (including applied A levels and double award) were: 2006 – 377; 2007 – 433; 2008 – 432; 2009 – 509. These figures include students in both the schools and FE sectors.(Parliamentary Question, 27 July 2010, Hansard (Col 1223W))


To summarise, the total number of students who were FSM-eligible at age 16 and went on to achieve three or more GCE A levels at Grade A*/A – including those in maintained schools, sixth form and FE colleges – has been increasing significantly since 2006.

2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Number 377 433 432 509 ? 546

The overall increase between 2006 and 2011 is about 45%.


Oxbridge Admission/Acceptance Data

  • The number of learners eligible for and claiming FSM at age 15 who progressed to Oxford or Cambridge by age 19 between 2005 and 2008 (rounded to the nearest five) were:
2005/06 2006/07 2007/08 2008/09
Oxford 25 20 20 25
Cambridge 20 25 20 20
TOTAL 45 45 40 45

Sources: Parliamentary Question, 13 December 2010, Hansard (Col 549W) and Parliamentary Question 21 February 2012, Hansard (Col 755W)


[Postscript (January 2014):

In January 2014, BIS answered a further PQ which provided equivalent figures for 2009/10 and 2010/11 – again rounded to the nearest five and derived from matching the National Pupil Database (NPD), HESA Student Record and the Individualised Learner Record (ILR) owned by the Skills Funding Agency.

The revised table is as follows:

  2005/06 2006/07 2007/08 2008/09 2009/10 2010/11
Oxford 25 20 20 25 15 15
Cambridge 20 25 20 20 25 25
TOTAL 45 45 40 45 40 40



Parliamentary Question, 13 December 2010, Hansard (Col 549W)

Parliamentary Question 21 February 2012, Hansard (Col 755W)

Parliamentary Question 7 January 2014, Hansard (Col 191W)

Although the 2010/11 total is marginally more positive than the comparable figure derived from the Destination Indicators (see below) this confirms negligible change overall during the last six years for which data is available.  The slight improvement at Cambridge during the last two years of the sequence is matched by a corresponding decline at Oxford, from what is already a desperately low base.]


Number %age FSM Number FSM
UK HEIs 164,620 6% 10,080
Top third of HEIs 49,030 4% 2,000
Russell Group 28,620 3% 920
Oxbridge 2,290 1% 30



These are experimental statistics and all figures – including the 30 at Oxbridge – are rounded to the nearest 10. The introductory commentary explains that:

‘This statistical first release (experimental statistics) on destination measures shows the percentage of students progressing to further learning in a school, further education or sixth-form college, apprenticeship, higher education institution or moving into employment or training.’

It adds that:

‘To be included in the measure, young people have to show sustained participation in an education or employment destination in all of the first 2 terms of the year after they completed KS4 or took A level or other level 3 qualifications. The first 2 terms are defined as October to March.’

The Technical Notes published alongside the data also reveal that: It includes only learners aged 16-18 and those who have entered at least one A level or an equivalent L3 qualification;  the data collection process incorporates ‘an estimate of young people who have been accepted through the UCAS system for entry into the following academic year’ but ‘deferred acceptances are not reported as a distinct destination’; and FSM data for KS5 learners relates to those eligible for and claiming FSM in Year 11.

  • Cambridge’s 2012 intake ‘included 50+ students who had previously been in receipt of FSM’ (It is not stated whether all were eligible in Year 11, so it is most likely that this is the number of students who had received FSM at one time or another in their school careers.) This shows that Cambridge at least is collecting FSM data that it does not publish amongst its own admission statistics or use in its access agreement. (Cambridge University Statement, 26 September 2013)
  • In 2012, Cambridge had 418 applications from the most disadvantaged POLAR2 quintile (4.6% of all applicants) and, of those, 93 were accepted (3.6% of all acceptances) giving a 22.2% success rate.(Cambridge University Admission Statistics 2012 (page 23))


To summarise, the numbers of disadvantaged learners progressing to Oxbridge are very small; exceedingly so as far as those formerly receiving FSM are concerned.

Even allowing for methodological variations, the balance of evidence suggests that, at best, the numbers of FSM learners progressing to Oxbridge have remained broadly the same since 2005.

During that period, the concerted efforts of the system described above have had zero impact. The large sums invested in outreach and bursaries have made not one iota of difference.

This is true even though the proportion achieving the AAA A level benchmark has increased by about 45%. If Oxbridge admission was solely dependent on attainment, one would have expected a commensurate increase, to around 65 FSM entrants per year.

On the basis of the 2010/11 Destination Indicators, we can estimate that, whereas Oxbridge admits approximately 8% of all Russell Group students, it only admits slightly over 3% of Russell Group FSM students. If Oxbridge achieved the performance of its Russell Group peers, the numbers of formerly FSM admissions would be over 100 per year.


Misleading Use of This Data

To add insult to injury, this data is frequently misinterpreted and misused. Here are some examples, all of which draw selectively on the data set out above.

  • Of the 80,000 FSM-eligible students in the UK only 176 received three As at A level…more than one quarter of those students….ended up at either Oxford or Cambridge – Nicholson (Oxford Undergraduate Admissions Director, Letter to Guardian, 7 March 2011)
  • ‘Of the 80,000 children eligible for free school meals in the UK in 2007, only 176 received 3 As at A level. Of those 45 (more than a quarter) got places at Oxford or Cambridge’ (Undated Parliamentary Briefing ‘Access and admissions to Oxford University’ )
  • ‘The root causes of underrepresentation of students from poorer backgrounds at leading universities include underachievement in schools and a lack of good advice on subject choices. For example, in 2009 only 232 students who had been on free school meals (FSM) achieved 3As at A-level or the equivalent.  This was 4.1% of the total number of FSM students taking A-levels, and less than an estimated 0.3% of all those who had received free school meals when aged 15.’ (Russell Group Press release, 23 July 2013).
  • ‘Such data as is available suggests that less than 200 students per year who are recorded as being eligible for FSM secure grades of AAA or better at A level. The typical entrance requirement for Cambridge is A*AA, and so on that basis the University admits in excess of one quarter of all FSM students who attain the grades that would make them eligible for entry.’ (Cambridge University Statement, 26 September 2013)
  • ‘According to data produced by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, of the 4,516 FSM students who secured a pass grade at A Level in 2008 only 160 secured the grades then required for entry to the University of Cambridge (ie AAA). Students who were eligible for FSM therefore make up less than 1% of the highest achieving students nationally each year.

Assuming that all 160 of these students applied to Oxford or Cambridge in equal numbers (ie 80 students per institution) and 22 were successful in securing places at Cambridge (in line with the 2006-08 average) then this would represent a success rate of 27.5% – higher than the average success rate for all students applying to the University (25.6% over the last three years). In reality of course not every AAA student chooses to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, for instance because neither university offers the course they want to study, e.g. Dentistry.’ (Cambridge Briefing, January 2011 repeated in Cambridge University Statement, 26 September 2013)



To summarise, Oxford, Cambridge and the Russell Group are all guilty of implying that FSM-eligible learners in the schools sector are the only FSM-eligible learners progressing to selective universities.

They persist in using the school sector figures even though combined figures for the school and FE sectors have been available since 2010.

Oxbridge’s own admission statistics show that, in 2012:

  • 9.6% of acceptances at Cambridge (332 students) were extended to students attending sixth form, FE and tertiary colleges (UK figures)
  • 10.5% of UK domiciled acceptances at Oxford (283 students) were extended to students attending sixth form colleges and FE institutions of all types

We can rework Cambridge’s calculation using the figure of 546 students with three or more A*/A grades in 2011:

  • assuming that all applied to Oxford and Cambridge in equal numbers gives a figure of 273 per institution
  • assuming a success rate of 25.6% – the average over the last three years
  • the number of FSM students that would have been admitted to Cambridge is roughly 70.

Part of the reason high-attaining disadvantaged students do not apply to Oxbridge may be because they want to study the relatively few mainstream subjects, such as dentistry, which are not available.

But it is highly likely that other factors are at play, including the perception that Oxbridge is not doing all that it might to increase numbers of disadvantaged students from the state sector.

If this favourable trend in A level performance stalls, as a consequence of recent A level reforms, it will not be reasonable – in the light of the evidence presented above – for Oxbridge to argue that this is impacting negatively on the admission of FSM-eligible learners.


Building on the work of the SMCPC


‘Higher Education: The Fair Access Challenge’

There is no shortage of publications on fair access and related issues. In the last year alone, these have included:

Easily the most impressive has been the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s ‘Higher Education: The Fair Access Challenge’ (June 2013), though it does tend to rely a little too heavily on evidence of the imbalance between state and independent-educated students.



It examines the response of universities to recommendations first advanced in an earlier publication ‘University Challenge: How Higher Education Can Advance Social Mobility’ (2012) published by Alan Milburn, now Chair of the Commission, in his former role as Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility.

The analysis sets out key points from the earlier work:

  • Participation levels at the most selective universities by the least advantaged are unchanged since the mid-90s.
  • The most advantaged young people are seven times more likely to attend the most selective universities than the most disadvantaged.
  • The probability of a state secondary pupil eligible for FSM in Year 11 entering Oxbridge by 19 is almost 2000 to 1; for a privately educated pupil the probability is 20 to 1.

New research is presented to show that the intake of Russell Group universities has become less socially representative in the last few years:

  • The number of state school pupils entering Russell Group Universities has increased by an estimated 2.6% from 2002/03 to 2011/12, but the commensurate increase in privately educated entrants is 7.9%. The proportion of young full-time state-educated entrants has consequently fallen from 75.6% to 74.6% over this period. The worst performers on this measure are: Durham (-9.2%), Newcastle (-4.6%), Warwick (-4.5%) and Bristol (-3.9%). The best are: Edinburgh (+4.6%), UCL (+3.3%), LSE (+3.0%) and Southampton (2.9%). The Oxbridge figures are: Cambridge (+0.3%) and Oxford (+2.3%).
  • Similarly, the proportion of young full-time entrants from NS-SEC classes 4-7 has fallen from 19.9% in 2002/03 to 19.0% in 2011/12. A table (reproduced below) shows that the worst offenders on this measure are Queen’s Belfast (-4.6%), Liverpool (-3.2%), Cardiff (-2.9%) and Queen Mary’s (-2.7%). Conversely, the best performers are Nottingham (+2.2%), York (+0.9%), Warwick and LSE (+0.8%). The figures for Oxbridge are: Cambridge (-1.0%) and Oxford (0.0%).


NC-SEC Capture.

  • An estimated 3,700 state-educated learners have the necessary grades for admission to Russell Group universities but do not take up places. This calculation is based on the fact that, if all of the 20 Russell Group universities in England achieved their HESA widening participation benchmarks, they would have recruited an extra 3,662 students from state schools. (The benchmarks show how socially representative each intake would be if it were representative of all entrants with the grades required for entry – though see Cambridge’s reservations on this point, above.) Some universities would need to increase significantly the percentage of state students recruited – for example, Bristol and Durham (26.9%), Oxford (23.4%) and Cambridge (23.3%).
  • Using the same methodology to calculate the shortfall per university in NS-SEC 4-7 students results in the table below, showing the worst offenders to require percentage increases of 54.4% (Cambridge), 48.5% (Bristol), 45.5% (Oxford) and 42,2% (Durham). Conversely, Queen Mary’s, Queen’s Belfast, LSE and Kings College are over-recruiting from this population on this measure.


NS sec Capture 2.

  • Even if every Russell Group university met the self-imposed targets in its access agreement, the number of ‘missing’ state educated students would drop by only 25% by 2016/17, because the targets are insufficiently ambitious. (This is largely because only seven have provided such targets in their 2013/14 access agreements and there are, of course, no collective targets.)
  • Boliver’s research is cited to show that there is a gap in applications from state school pupils compared with those educated in the independent sector. But there is also evidence that a state school applicant needs, on average, one grade higher in their A levels (eg AAA rather than AAB) to be as likely to be admitted as an otherwise identical student from the independent sector.
  • A Financial Times analysis of 2011 applications to Oxford from those with very good GCSEs found that those from independent schools were 74% more likely to apply than those from the most disadvantaged state secondary schools. Amongst applicants, independently educated students were more than three times as likely to be admitted as their peers in disadvantaged state schools. They were also 20% more likely to be admitted than those at the 10% most advantaged state secondary schools. As shown by the table below, the probabilities involved varied considerably. The bottom line is that the total probability of a place at Oxford for an independent school student is 2.93%, whereas the comparable figure for a student at one of the 10% most disadvantaged state secondary schools is just 0.07%.


NS sec Capture 3

When it comes to the causes of the fair access gap, subject to controls for prior attainment, the report itemises several contributory factors, noting the limited evidence available to establish their relative importance and interaction:

  • low aspirations among students, parents and teachers
  • less knowledge of the applications process, problems in demonstrating potential through the admissions process and a tendency to apply to the most over-subscribed courses
  • not choosing the right  A-level subjects and teachers’ under-prediction of expected A level grades
  • a sense that selective universities ‘are socially exclusive and “not for the likes of them”’

The Report states unequivocally that:

‘The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission is deeply concerned about the lack of progress on fair access. The most selective universities need to be doing far more to ensure that they are recruiting from the widest possible pool of talent. The Commission will be looking for evidence of a step change in both intention and action in the years to come.’

It identifies several areas for further action, summarising universities’ responses to ‘University Challenge’:

  • Building links between universities and schools: The earlier report offered several recommendations, including that universities should have explicit objectives to help schools close attainment gaps. No evidence is given to suggest that such action is widespread, though many universities are strengthening their outreach activities and building stronger relationships with the schools sector. Several universities highlighted the difficulties inherent in co-ordinating their outreach activity given the demise of Aimhigher, but several retain involvement in a regional partnership.
  • Setting targets for fair access: The earlier report recommended that HE representative bodies should set statistical targets for progress on fair access over the next five years. This was not met positively:

‘Representative bodies in the Higher Education Sector did not feel this would be a useful step for them to take, saying that it was difficult to aggregate the different targets that individual institutions set themselves. There was also a feeling among some highly selective institutions that the report overestimated the number of students who have the potential to succeed at the most selective universities.’

Nevertheless, the Commission is insistent:

The Commission believes it is essential that the Russell Group signals its determination to make a real difference to outcomes by setting a clear collective statistical target for how much progress its members are aiming to make in closing the ‘fair access gap’. Not doing so risks a lack of sustained focus among the most selective universities’.

  • Using contextual admissions data: The report argues that ‘there is now a clear evidence base that supports the use of contextual data’. Recommendations from the earlier report were intended to universalise the use of contextual data, including commitment from the various representative bodies through a common statement of support and a collaborative guide to best practice. There is no sign of the former, although the Commission reports ‘widespread agreement that the use of contextual data during the admissions process should be mainstreamed’. However it notes that there is much more still to do. (The subsequent SPA publication should have helped to push forward this agenda.)
  • Reforming the National Scholarship Programme: The earlier report called on the Government to undertake a ‘strategic review of government funding for access’ to include the national Scholarship Programme (NSP). The suggestion that the imminent HEFCE/OFFA National Strategy should tackle the issue has been superseded by a Government decision to refocus the NSP on postgraduate education.
  • Postgraduate funding reform: The earlier report recommended work on a postgraduate loan scheme and further data collection to inform future decisions. The current report says that:

‘…the Government appears to have decided against commissioning an independent report looking at the issue of postgraduate access. This is very disappointing.’

and calls on it ‘to take heed’. However, this has again been superseded by the NSP announcement.

The SMCPC’s ‘State of the Nation 2013’ report reinforces its earlier publication, arguing that:

‘…despite progress, too much outreach work that aims to make access to university fairer and participation wider continues to rely on unproven methods or on work that is ad hoc, uncoordinated and duplicative… These are all issues that the higher education sector needs to address with greater intentionality if progress is to be made on breaking the link between social origin and university education.

The UK Government also needs to raise its game… much more needs to be done… to address the loss of coordination capacity in outreach work following the abolition of Aimhigher.’

It recommends that:

‘All Russell Group universities should agree five-year aims to close the fair access gap, all universities should adopt contextual admissions processes and evidence-based outreach programmes, and the Government should focus attention on increasing university applications from mature and part-time students.’


What Else Might Be Done?

I set myself the challenge of drawing up a reform programme that would build on the SMCPC’s recommendations but would also foreground the key issues I have highlighted above, namely:

  • A significant improvement in the rate of progression for disadvantaged high-attaining learners to Oxbridge;
  • A more rigorous approach to defining, applying and monitoring improvement measures; and
  • The publication of more substantive and recent data

A determined administration that is prepared to take on the vested interests could do worse than pursue the following 10-point plan

  • 1. Develop a new approach to specifying universities’ fair access targets for young full-time undergraduate students. This would require all institutions meeting the BIS ‘most selective HEI’ criteria to pursue two universal measures and no more than two measures of their own devising, so creating a basket of no more than four measures. Independent versus state representation could be addressed as one of the two additional measures.
  • 2. The universal measures should relate explicitly to students achieving a specified A level threshold that has currency at these most selective HEIs. It could be pitched at the equivalent of ABB at A level, for example. The measures should comprise:
    • A progression measure for all learners eligible for the Pupil Premium in Year 11 of their secondary education (so a broader measure than FSM eligibility); and
    • A progression measure for all learners – whether or not formerly eligible for the Pupil Premium – attending a state-funded sixth form or college with a relatively poor historical record of securing places for their learners at such HEIs. This measure would be nationally defined and standardised across all institutions other than Oxbridge.
  • 3. In the case of Oxford and Cambridge the relevant A level tariff would be set higher, say at the equivalent of AAA grades at A level, and the nationally defined  ‘relatively poor historical record’ would reflect only Oxbridge admission.
  • 4. These two universal measures would be imposed on institutions through the new National Strategy for Access and Student Success. All institutions would be required to set challenging but realistic annual targets. There would be substantial financial incentives for institutions achieving their targets and significant financial penalties for institutions that fail to achieve them.
  • 5. The two universal measures would be embedded in the national Social Mobility Indicators and the KPIs of BIS and DfE respectively.
  • 6. Central Government would publish annually data setting out:
    • The number and percentage of formerly Pupil Premium-eligible learners achieving the specified A level thresholds for selective universities and Oxbridge respectively.
    • A ‘league table’ of the schools and colleges with relatively poor progression to selective universities and Oxbridge respectively.
    • A ‘league table’ of the universities with relatively poor records of recruitment from these schools and colleges.
    • A time series showing the numbers of students and percentage of their intake drawn from these two populations by selective universities and Oxbridge respectively each year. This should cover both applications and admissions.
  • 7. All parties would agree new protocols for data sharing and transparency, including tracking learners through unique identifiers across the boundaries between school and post-16 and school/college and higher education, so ensuring that the timelag in the publication of this data is minimal.
  • 8. Universities defend fiercely their right to determine their own undergraduate admissions without interference from the centre, meaning that the business of driving national improvement is much more difficult than it should be. But, given the signal lack of progress at the top end of the attainment distribution, there are strong grounds for common agreement to override this autonomy in the special case of high-achieving disadvantaged students.  A new National Scholarship Scheme should be introduced to support learners formerly in receipt of the Pupil Premium who go on to achieve the Oxbridge A Level tariff:
    • Oxford and Cambridge should set aside 5% additional places per year (ie on top of their existing complement) reserved exclusively for such students. On the basis of 2012 admissions figures, this would amount to almost exactly 250 places for England divided approximately equally between the two institutions (the scheme could be for England only or UK-wide). This would provide sufficient places for approximately 45% of those FSM learners currently achieving 3+ A*/A grades.
    • All eligible students with predicted grades at or above the tariff would be eligible to apply for one of these scholarship places. Admission decisions would be for the relevant university except that – should the full allocation not be taken up by those deemed suitable for admission who go on to achieve the requisite grades – the balance would be made available to the next best applicants until the quota of places at each university is filled.
    • The Government would pay a premium fee set 50% above the going rate (so £4,500 per student per annum currently) for each National Scholarship student admitted to Oxbridge. However, the relevant University would be penalised the full fee plus the premium (so £13,500 per student per year) should the student fail to complete their undergraduate degree with a 2.2 or better. Penalties would be offset against the costs of running the scheme. Assuming fees remain unchanged and 100% of students graduate with a 2.2 or better, this would cost the Government £1.125m pa.
  • 9. In addition, the Government would support the establishment of a National Framework Programme covering Years 9-13, along the lines set out in my November 2010 post on this topic with the explicit aim of increasing the number of Pupil Premium-eligible learners who achieve these tariffs. The budget could be drawn in broadly equal proportions from Pupil Premium/16-19 bursary, a matched topslice from universities’ outreach expenditure and a matched sum from the Government. If the programme supported 2,500 learners a year to the tune of £2,500 per year, the total steady state cost would be slightly over £30m, approximately £10m of which would be new money (though even this could be topsliced from the overall Pupil Premium budget).
  • 10. The impact of this plan would be carefully monitored and evaluated, and adjusted as appropriate to maximise the likelihood of success. It would be a condition of funding that all selective universities would continue to comply with the plan.

Do I honestly believe anything of this kind will ever happen?


flying pig capture



November 2013

Gifted Phoenix Twitter Round-Up Volume 12: Curriculum, Assessment, Fair Access and Gap-Narrowing


This is the second section of my retrospective review of the Gifted Phoenix Twitter feed covering the period from February 24 to July 7 2013.

4-Eyes-resized-greenjacketfinalIt complements the first section, which concentrated on Giftedness and Gifted Education.

This section includes material relating to other ‘specialist subjects’: curriculum and assessment, accountability, social mobility and fair access, disadvantage and gap-narrowing.

It provides a benchmark for consideration of forthcoming announcements about the National Curriculum , assessment and accountability which are expected next week.

This is a chronological narrative of developments over the last four months – my best effort at recording faithfully every key piece of information in the public domain.

I have divided the material as follows:

  • National Curriculum
  • Other Curriculum-related
  • National Curriculum Assessment
  • Qualifications
  • Performance Tables and Floor Targets
  • Ofsted
  • International Comparisons
  • Social Mobility
  • Fair Access
  • Careers
  • Pupil Premium
  • FSM gaps, Poverty, Disadvantage and EEF
  • Selection and Independent Sector

Please feel free to use this post as a resource bank when you reflect on and respond to the material we expect to be released over the next few days.

You might also like to visit some previous posts:


National Curriculum

Pressure from the Board of Deputies for special treatment for Hebrew, exempted from NC language list: http://t.co/CwlD2YAotp  – Tricky

Support in principle and claims that new NC History PoS is unworkable are not mutually exclusive: http://t.co/PZ1tiUQ2Md

Interesting study of competency-based learning in New Hampshire throws light on NC Expert Panel’s ‘Mastery’ vision: http://t.co/58dlXuFY17

MT @michaelt1979: DfE appointed experts to review National Curriculum – and then ignored all of their advice! Blog: http://t.co/zMwl3atP5b

National Curriculum “Cookery would only be compulsory in those schools with kitchen facilities” – surely not? http://t.co/Bu8TEZej0M

The vexed history of the draft ICT programme of study: http://t.co/dpovmo9UM8 – a microcosm of current autonomy/prescription tensions




What the NUT welcomes and doesn’t welcome about the draft National Curriculum: http://t.co/gdaijpaUaR – seems pretty representative

Latest from @warwickmansell on the shortcomings of the NC review (this time featuring the history PoS): http://t.co/sgWtXMlKzX

PQ reply on support for National Curriculum implementation: http://t.co/kLbGXRJz9p (Col 240W)

Cannadine on draft History PoS: http://t.co/465Ruv9kIy – includes a robust critique of the drafting process as well as the content

Confused story on climate change in draft NC: http://t.co/AbgPYZRkKP Does it give the lie to Gove’s claim at ASCL that PoS is uncontentious?

New Truss speech on National Curriculum: http://t.co/ZvFa0zf5Lw – Have I missed the golden nugget of news it contains?

More on climate change in the National Curriculum. I think it contradicts yesterday’s piece: http://t.co/DhWOHruVrm

Third in a triumvirate of climate change in the NC articles: http://t.co/dDB5eECBFs – basically it’s all about what’s on the face of the PoS




DfE has published the list of people consulted on the draft NC Programmes of Study published last month: http://t.co/VdnS8iWTlK

Yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on the Design and Technology Curriculum: http://t.co/ASY1GWvuXZ (Col 285WH)

Richard Evans redemolishes the draft PoS for history: http://t.co/fq3vLX48IR  – Alleges explicitly that Gove himself wrote the final version

Next of the PoS in line for criticism is D&T (following up yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate): http://t.co/P3Gb9l3ARd




So we now have two levels of listing for participants in drafting NC PoS (for maths at least): http://t.co/dYt25UgIKI – awkward precedent

Link to the NUT’s National Curriculum Survey is at the bottom of this page: http://t.co/uD8dEOza8q

Government to extend National Curriculum exemption to all schools rated either outstanding or good by Ofsted: http://t.co/KYp4h0djrz

Engineers don’t like the draft D&T PoS: http://t.co/iJVOtbryvS (warning: story contains the most terrifying stock head-and-shoulders shot)




Don’t see anything wrong with pitching NC expectations high: http://t.co/UlYqXTY8df  – The issue is how you then manage the ‘mastery’ notion

Civitas defends Hirsch: http://t.co/r8p9JReyZQ – Yet more wearisome polarisation. As ever, the optimal path lies somewhere in between.

I see the endgame in this cycle as ditching the NC entirely, only for it to be reinvented half a generation later: http://t.co/3CsF6BFISN

Sadly it may be too late to rescue the draft NC from the poisonous clutches of ideology and political opportunism: http://t.co/3CsF6BFISN

FoI seeking correspondence with RAE and BCS over preparation of the draft ICT PoS draws a blank: http://t.co/W7ULIg694f

Curriculum for Cohesion response to the draft History PoS: http://t.co/1Qhjfo9hhg – as featured in this BBC story: http://t.co/hoqJtDNWKH




ASCL National Curriculum response calls for retention of levels (at least for KS3 core) or a pilot of alternatives: http://t.co/YB9ZRpLA7q

TES on ASCL and NAHT responses to NC consultation: http://t.co/4drArVSvgC – Is that the sound of chickens coming home to roost?

Apropos Natural England signing that draft NC protest letter, I see they’re currently subject to triennial review: http://t.co/zjXpdMdcee

South China Morning Post: Troubled England has much to learn from HK’s curriculum reforms: http://t.co/mESujyoOYR

UCET’s response to the National Curriculum consultation: http://t.co/J5ElUIkwWf

Latest protest letter about environmental education in the draft NC is signed by Natural England, a DEFRA NDPB: http://t.co/pehCetI1Oh




Full CBI response to National Curriculum Review: http://t.co/ztyUIGR8Ml  – says NC should be focused much more on outcomes:

Truss pushes school curriculum over NC http://t.co/DXcaF3jFGx We could do with guidance on how much time the prescribed PoS should consume?

FoI reveals NC Expert Panel cost £287.6K in fees and expenses for 342 days’ work http://t.co/BDhNDCcvOx – Hardly bargain basement?

Confirmation that the draft History PoS was written by DfE officials: http://t.co/7A6X8cu7SY (Col 881W)

2 years into NC Review, DfE reported to be taking draft D&T PoS back to the drawing board: http://t.co/Nas8LX1My0 – More humble pie consumed

Sec Ed carries a report of a March Westminster Forum event on MFL: http://t.co/QlaaCHYGvi




Bringing balance and diversity to the new history curriculum (courtesy of Curriculum for Cohesion): http://t.co/TCDX8ireIJ

So DECC also thinks there’s an issue with climate change in the National Curriculum: http://t.co/j5bIY3qgVJ – that raises the stakes a bit

There was a very small majority in NC consultation to change ICT to Computing – 39% yest; 35% no: http://t.co/KL0OKK9rkV

This new document on National Curriculum disapplication says only 23% of NC consultation responses supported it: http://t.co/dRFBGGPWS6

DfE consultation on the Order replacing ICT with Computing and disapplying parts of the NC from September 2013: http://t.co/xs6P6TXDcq

SCORE’s Report on Resourcing Practical Science at Secondary Level: http://t.co/zTYvwjZWTH

There’s been a desperate search for additional surveys demonstrating children’s lack of historical knowledge: http://t.co/B6VZQdD5bM

If Government doesn’t abandon NC in 2014/15 my guess is that will be in the 2015 Tory Manifesto: http://t.co/gmE4EHTXA4

@warwickmansell fisks Gove’s speech on curriculum reform: http://t.co/gmE4EHTXA4  Could 2013/14 disapplication pave the way for abandonment?

Gove seems to be suggesting that National Curriculum may need to change iteratively to reflect innovation http://t.co/EdWssxHd84 Unworkable?

Davey’s private letter about climate change in the NC is officially acknowledged in a PQ reply: http://t.co/fx76s9scQU (Col 358W)

Robinson breaks cover to criticise the National Curriculum (and promote his new book): http://t.co/o6h98R1UPn




HEFCE is funding a new programme to support MFL including raising aspirations and attainment in secondary schools: http://t.co/eg5pws1Pme

More of the shortcomings of the National Curriculum Review process laid bare by @warwickmansell: http://t.co/ZUpkvekz8V

More attacks on national curriculum history: http://t.co/OIy1l5dZyD




Twigg has just advocated almost complete fragmentation in curriculum, but says he’s against fragmentation! http://t.co/nepHKaziLH

Twigg’s decision to ditch entire National Curriculum isn’t getting media scrutiny it deserves http://t.co/AHcEL4pPoG  20,000 secret gardens!

Government response to consultation on the order replacing ICT with Computing: http://t.co/xs6P6TXDcq

New Labour policy to drop National Curriculum is directly at odds with ASCL’s preference for a universal entitlement: http://t.co/ZN83xoU2GO

Government response to consultation on NC disapplication: http://t.co/Dg9pbmmCZ6  (we’re going to do it anyway…)

Reports that draft History PoS significantly revised: http://t.co/etSGXxePOj – also being cleared by both PM and DPM!

Groups advising on training/resource implications of new NC PoS have a go at draft PoS instead. Beyond their remit? http://t.co/7Nqtr82JKo




NUT’s Advice on National Curriculum Disapplication 2013/14: http://t.co/zY7KvfkiES












Other Curriculum-Related

Direct link to new APPG Report on RE: ‘The Truth Unmasked’: http://t.co/uClQGD59M9 – stops short of pushing (again) for RE in EBacc

Outcome of PSHE Review: http://t.co/9F6iBqXf4i – There will be no separate PoS. Links to consultation report and FAQ from this page

Yesterday’s Ministerial Statement on PSHE Education: http://t.co/X8n5KpejDv (Col 52WS)

PSHE consultation report doesn’t give percentage of respondents wanting some topics to be statutory http://t.co/IyECrBZ1Qg Likely a majority

Eurydice has published a timely new report on PE and sport at school in Europe: http://t.co/aEyu0fjTSM

Powerful case for statutory PSHE following the relatively pallid Review: http://t.co/he3CIbLRFV  – could be fertile Manifesto territory…

Google wants more emphasis on the STEM pipeline: http://t.co/f9p7rtxlcY  – How can government harness their enthusiasm (and spondoolicks)?

The Next Generation Science Standards: http://t.co/H0oaK6bLeR and an instructive insight into the drafting process: http://t.co/fgnsm5mjtM

Wonder why this PQ reply on school sport funding fails to confirm that it will be ringfenced: http://t.co/BoN08PB0UO (Col1196W)

Letter from Sex Education Forum et al about sex ed in the draft NC: http://t.co/B46EqtMrQ5 Weird decision to write to a paywalled organ (!)

A National Shakespeare Week and new bank of teaching materials? http://t.co/ixaFlV7VQ9 – There are more things in heaven and earth…

Westminster Hall debate on long-awaited National Plan for Cultural Education: http://t.co/7tqSlZKdcF (Col 94WH) – here ‘very soon indeed’

TES comment from YST on spending the £150m for school sport: http://t.co/OTSDTRUUvY – hard for them to add value without national framework

Yesterday’s short Lords’ Debate on PSHE: http://t.co/CXoOAafGNJ (Col GC403)

Sue Campbell repeats warnings about the patchiness that will result from uncoordinated support for school sport: http://t.co/BPsOr6FEnz

Ofsted’s PSHE Survey Report: http://t.co/0TkhFNm32M

New phonics document: Learning to Read through Phonics: Information for Parents: http://t.co/uVtjTzcyXA

Quiet news day on the education front, so all the better opportunity to engage with Mr Point (geddit?) http://t.co/994uBgIvG3 A neat riposte

Education Committee is taking evidence on school sports from 9.30am this morning: http://t.co/IYTM3RR8ap

Two Plashet School students review this morning’s Select Committee session on school sport: http://t.co/W1C3yFLI2N – excellently written

NLT press release on the increase in children’s online reading: http://t.co/uULtsGEYPV – says the report itself is ‘forthcoming’

Belated link to the Smith Institute Survey of Participation in School Sport: http://t.co/qIZO4OZdEm

Is it socially unacceptable to use bad grammar but fine to make mathematical errors? http://t.co/ukuxdCV5we

Lords Oral PQ on school sports: http://t.co/86omWG5x4d (Col 623)

Uncorrected Transcript of 14 May Education Committee Oral Evidence Session on School Sports: http://t.co/n9jMXd13vg

Direct link to ‘Learning the Lesson: The Future of School Swimming’: http://t.co/zRByR2zVDE

What’s going on with this PM intervention over school sports funding? http://t.co/cxhfDZAy9G  – one could read a fair bit into it

Here’s Oxford’s press release on the Snowling phonics test research: http://t.co/1q3BkHS2kQ No link to paper (which isn’t yet peer-reviewed)

Labour wants to bring elements of PSHE into the National Curriculum: http://t.co/AzcNBcSW9x – but why are Home Office shadow team leading?

£7m over 5 years to support A level Physics: http://t.co/KyjajFgXdk and http://t.co/xq4LkvRJDK  – but no hint of priority for disadvantaged

Lords Oral PQ on PSHE: http://t.co/1iVQ0w5vyq (Col 1512) leaves the way open for change to the National Curriculum

By the way, whatever’s happened to the National Plan for Cultural Education? http://t.co/gGaB9ScUJb

The Cultural Education Plan will be published ‘within the next few weeks’: http://t.co/0GkX1TjPZ2 (Col 620W)

Details of Further Maths Support Programme tender now on Contracts Finder: http://t.co/3QHq3rNfb7 – EOIs by 19/4 and Supplier Day on 2/5

Truss increases funding for Further Maths Support Programme: http://t.co/AwNsNN5gDS Current offer is here: http://t.co/nqsOofug0B

Sting in the tail here. That Further Maths Support Programme expansion will be tendered, so MEI may not get the gig: http://t.co/IB0gbZaAud

DfE is inviting bids to run the Further Maths Support Programme: http://t.co/jwBCbdK2Aa – up to £25m over 5 years

NATRE’s Survey of RE provision in primary schools: http://t.co/F1Qc0FpBeC

Short Lords Debate yesterday on Citizenship Education: http://t.co/nFuhwBiBf3 (Col 953)

Need to see how these various maths reforms amount to coherent strategy where whole’s greater than the sum of parts: http://t.co/AwNsNN5gDS

DfE has refreshed its school sports advice on http://t.co/fRKX7ciiSd  Press release on gov.uk http://t.co/xrGaWzl3Vl

Government held a roundtable meeting on arts education on 5 June: http://t.co/zYAuduZ0ST (Col 528W)






National Curriculum Assessment

Still no-one’s rising to the challenge I posed to design a new KS1-3 grading system: http://t.co/kZ2Ki7k18M – The silence is deafening

Today I have been mostly worrying about National Curriculum Assessment: http://t.co/ybJ13d8rVR I desperately need help from @warwickmansell

RT @localschools_uk: Ofsted “expected progress” measure flawed – higher grade students much more likely to achieve it: http://t.co/07TNk

Brian Lightman: we should not be trying to drive the curriculum through our assessment system: http://t.co/6Q8Sr3FMY1 – I agree

Many thanks to everyone RTing my post on future of NC assessment: http://t.co/ybJ13d8rVR – separate KS2 test syllabuses seem inevitable

Warwick Mansell on National Curriculum assessment: http://t.co/me1Ecnd9Ia – the perfect complement to my own post!




Apropos Levels going in 2016, we should imminently get announcement of who has KS2 marking contract 2014-2016: http://t.co/9aKktsQFwm

The Laws speech to ASCL confirms that Level 4b equivalent will become the new KS2 test ‘pass’ from 2016: http://t.co/OT91Q7KfCW

MT @emoorse01: Unpopular level descriptions are going. But what will replace them? http://t.co/P7zkKotuv9 inspired by @GiftedPhoenix Thanks!

Further KS2 grammar punctuation and spelling sample materials for level 6: http://t.co/MMDbkh14KF

“In particular we shall consider refreshing the p-scales”: http://t.co/3cVnw0uGUy (Col 344W)

@brianlightman tells #ascl2013 that abolition of NC levels creates a policy vacuum. ASCL to discuss further with DfE: http://t.co/2g7MKulC4m

2013 Performance tables will show percentage of children achieving KS2 Level 6, but not as percentage of entries: http://t.co/pHV2q4Vvle

New primary assessment and accountability regime (consultation awaited) won’t be confirmed until September http://t.co/VF0r5wEAR5 (Col 722W)

The primary school accountability consultation will still be published “shortly”: http://t.co/nrlWy3x5qx (Col 806W) Next week presumably.

New KS2 Writing moderation and exemplification materials levels 2-6: http://t.co/lzaMwFpTnN

Tokyo high schools are about to introduce a set of attainment targets: http://t.co/xsZ16I7KOd

New DfE research on KS2 Level 6 Tests: http://t.co/2FdvVGeoKY – Critical of lack of guidance; doesn’t mention disappearance of L6




Wonder why there’s no reference to primary accountability consultation in this new timeline for schools: http://t.co/19aW9z2t8W

How Level 6 tests are viewed in secondaries: http://t.co/Ie7nzkOWOA Gifted learners suffer badly from this poor transition practice

The list of Education Oral Questions for this afternoon: http://t.co/X5Dvwd2swc – Includes one from Ollerenshaw on Level 6 tests

113,600 pupils from 11,700 schools (21% of cohort) are registered for a 2013 KS2 L6 test: http://t.co/AfDYI0OsRW (Col 680W) Iffy

More about KS2 L6 tests: http://t.co/hXTS6d4XOO  NB: a 21% entry rate seems excessively high; NC levels will disappear by 2016

@warwickmansell Did you know about this? http://t.co/TXbaOZVtZE – I might have missed it but I saw no announcement. It looks as though…

@warwickmansell ..Pearson were the only bidder and have been awarded a £60m contract following negotiations…

@warwickmansell ‘Only one bid received which did not meet the minimum selection criteria. Negotiations were conducted with that bidder’

@DrFautley @warwickmansell NB that the estimated value of the contract was originally £50m – see: http://t.co/bCS3eMSUJi

What’s wrong with tests being marked abroad, provided quality is sustained and savings are passed on via lower fees? http://t.co/vjhtxgms5O




Worth comparing this Duncan speech on assessment with similar discussion on this side of the Atlantic: http://t.co/DSgzUXEl4i

5 Reasons to Keep NC Levels by @LKMco http://t.co/iYpPn2MTZc If no rabbit in the assessment consultation hat will Labour commit to keep them

This reaction from Crystal on SPAG raises awkward wider questions about current QA processes for statutory assessment http://t.co/q3aVOus50X

Given the furore over the grammar, spelling and punctuation test, any feedback on these L6 materials? http://t.co/iqDpS7vXT8 – helpful?

Wow! This post on National Curriculum levels is a bit of a rollercoaster ride: http://t.co/idrE54bxyO – I agree with substantial parts

For completeness sake, the press release on today’s grammar punctuation and spelling test: http://t.co/KbKXd5trYt

Timetable for the primary assessment/accountability consultation slips to ‘by the end of the summer term’: http://t.co/oaL231aj69 (Col 383W)

New DfE research into KS2 Access Arrangements Procedures: http://t.co/H0Xt49YR1Y




The significance of progression in assessment reform: http://t.co/u2DsNj47PH – a timely reminder from Australia

(Slightly) veiled criticism from Economist for ‘endless fiddling with tests’: http://t.co/LsmW6XSkC5

FoI reveals Standards and Testing Agency’s 2012/13 programme budget was £35.7m: http://t.co/iPNJzvRQRz

My piece ‘Whither National Curriculum Without Levels’ http://t.co/JNTYosr4nL We await a new KS2 grading structure




First Interim Report from the Evaluation of the Phonics Screening Check http://t.co/g4e1o9djiN conveys negative teacher feedback over value

This on NC Levels from DfE rather glosses over importance of internal assessment dovetailing with statutory grading: http://t.co/2wziieK5Bv

There doesn’t seem to be any defensive line on the odd dissonance between the NC and assessment timetables: http://t.co/L9U6ICI0MH

Confirmation that in 2015 pupils will be following the new NC but will be assessed against the old NC: http://t.co/3NQb9AAsGM (Col 357W)

Last night’s #ukedchat transcript on the removal of National Curriculum levels: http://t.co/zGKCjhnwiN – My post: http://t.co/JNTYosr4nL




STA received 240 complaints re non-registration of KS2 pupils for Level 6 tests post-deadline: http://t.co/zYAuduZ0ST (Col 531W)

If it’s not legally possible to keep NC and assessment out of kilter: http://t.co/AxlG0W61Sp  Could this delay NC implementation to 2015?

Breakdown of responsibilities in Standards and Testing Agency: http://t.co/fpVIEknny4  (Col 601W) Will be reducing from 3 divisions to 2







 Chris Wheadon on the difference between tiering and extension papers (via @warwickmansell ): http://t.co/lFJgjllA3Y

DfE has released an Equality Analysis of its planned GCSE Reforms: http://t.co/pXkyHnPZXF  – You can decide whether it stands close scrutiny

Seven new GCSE-equivalent 14-16 courses in engineering and construction: http://t.co/Zdri1TZAZx – Bet they’re not the last!

TES reports Ofqual has embarked on an international comparisons study of GCSE equivalents: http://t.co/HM4tr4b1gP

Truss IoE Open Lecture on A Level reforms: http://t.co/lucLs9KVHM plus the latest increment of maths support

What’s the difference between a Maths M Level and (part of) a stand-alone AS level? http://t.co/zzx6Z5YBGU

Not very revealing PQ replies about the decision to make AS level a stand-alone qualification: http://t.co/hUFtrO6zho (Col 142W)

TES interview with Ofqual’s Stacey throws further doubt on exam reform timetable and viability of untiered GCSEs: http://t.co/V6m5C1BvOH

New letter from Gove to Stacey on A level reform: http://t.co/MUepfQmyn8  – sounds like AS reform beyond content will be delayed

PQ asking which universities us AS level for admissions purposes: http://t.co/mBk6f2IrmU  (Col 594W) – Answer not that illuminating

Uncorrected evidence from Education Select Committee’s 12 March session on GCSE English results: http://t.co/soK7X9z3UR

SEN lobby coming to the forefront in arguments against removal of GCSE tiering (TES): http://t.co/gKnFgTTopB – Looks increasingly vulnerable

Ofqual’s response to the last Gove letter on the exam reform timetable: http://t.co/hdVyDaO26B

Glenys Stacey back before Education Select Committee at 10.40 this morning re GCSE English results: http://t.co/X5B7HIumzZ

So what alternatives are there to GCSE tiering, apart from core + extension model? Any of them substantively better? http://t.co/55eLxHkEjQ

Uncapped GCSE APS data for London Challenge, City Challenges, All secondary by ethnic group, 2007-2012: http://t.co/BoN08PB0UO (Col 1190W)

PQs from Glass and Stuart about HE support for standalone AS levels still getting short shrift: http://t.co/BoN08PB0UO (Col 1187W)

Uncorrected transcript of 26 March Education Select Committee session on GCSE English with Ofqual: http://t.co/iRF55cMZsB

Hansard record of yesterday’s Westminster Hall Debate on AS and A levels: http://t.co/QMJ35QD6ak (Col 33WH)

Today’s TES Editorial is about the perverse effect of comparable outcomes: http://t.co/fGeC5qdQ7V

Ofqual Note on GCSE English Marking in 2012 sent ahead of 26 March Session with Stacey: http://t.co/6QbFIGlQnx

O’Briain advocates core plus extension in GCSE maths: http://t.co/eRmYsc29fN – but his comments seem more likely to justify tiering

Ofqual’s GCSE English S+L proposals would mean a 60/40 split in favour of written papers (compared with 40/60 now): http://t.co/bigkAQQvw1

TES piece on OUCEA report on GCSE reforms: http://t.co/9B1HVEVatB – and here’s the paper itself: http://t.co/8EiV3onziZ

Government Response to Education Committee Report on KS4 Reform http://t.co/Qi4EDjx0W7 Nothing new; handy summary ahead of May consultations

So AS level will be a clear dividing line in educational policy ahead of 2015 election http://t.co/gsoN51rrS6 A one off or first of several?

Direct link to the OUCEA Report on research evidence relating to GCSE reforms: http://t.co/8EiV3onziZ  – think I may have tweeted this before

Ofqual’s secondary accountability consultation response:http://t.co/FjZiWK3Yee – Isn’t weighting Eng and Ma in the best 8 measure overkill?

Coverage of Cambridge Assessment’s call for GCSE scale scores: http://t.co/8ia6fY84At and http://t.co/K5vRXDyRbN and http://t.co/Po14hPyuL9

Another Cambridge Assessment Paper on GCSE tiering: http://t.co/aPra9aCzkB Sees merit in 2 separate levels in Ma and Eng: ie Tiering Plus!

Here’s a direct link to the Cambridge Assessment paper on GCSE scale scores: http://t.co/ldnOTOd0sA

Laws to Brennan on AS Levels: http://t.co/VMAsjOIAdN – internal analysis suggests AS have marginal additional predictive value

Reports of a new commitment from DfE to consult the other education departments on qualifications reform: http://t.co/8ZrMBlqUWX

Coverage of yesterday’s indication of more ceiling space for GCSE high attainers: http://t.co/nrh6KBcBxq and http://t.co/474RgDUgEb

Pretty much inevitable home countries split over GCSE/A Level: http://t.co/9x7dx7tFq9 and http://t.co/YLBPC43ohJ There’s plenty of downside

Here’s the study of the predictive value of GCSE versus AS that Laws quoted last week: http://t.co/3mbNOvtE8v

CUSU has written to Education Ministers about AS Levels: http://t.co/zpfyb98Mcv

TES say AQA is monitoring Twitter for evidence of cheating in its exams (but presumably not in other’s exams): http://t.co/wJFVPY2e8z

Leaked notion that son-of-GCSE grades go from 1 up to 8 reverses Gove’s 1-4 down illustration: http://t.co/oHJUQ4DAYW What’s the logic here?

Incidentally, introducing an I(ntermediate) level at age 16 begs a big question about the identity of E(ntry) level: http://t.co/znAH11STJU

Hmm – building in space for a hypothetical Grade 9 is most definitely a ‘speculative’ proposal! http://t.co/rr91ir37zc

Independent Editorial on I-Levels seems to be off the pace, or at least rather idiosyncratic: http://t.co/79QceNtdR2

Will there be pressure in future to keep Welsh and Northern Irish GCSEs available in English schools? What of IGCSE? http://t.co/CQvDzvT7e0

Twigg on I levels: http://t.co/xzpO3ppS0m

TES on I-levels: http://t.co/MI7mbLmKi0 – also says yesterday’s Estyn report on science is a threat to their PISA 2015 aspirations

Some distancing here from the new I-level moniker: http://t.co/0R8JB6S0VP – maybe we’ll have GCSE(E) instead!

Ofqual on A level review arrangements: http://t.co/aiKa18kbi2 and http://t.co/qLzlWkZKEX  Russell Group references conspicuous by  absence

Ofqual’s Interim Review of Marking Quality http://t.co/LXcht4zCQh + Literature Review on Marking Reliability Research http://t.co/zqWNfdc07c

Two newly-published interim research briefs from evaluation of the linked pair of GCSEs in maths (M LP): http://t.co/L6iTg2aE8w

Direct link to Education Select Committee report on GCSE English marking: http://t.co/mn5l58lXkE

This looks authoritative on today’s GCSE announcements: http://t.co/USfhSmP8SW  New line on reverse grading from 8 down to 1 still looks weak

So it appears tiering may be reprieved in maths, physics, chemistry biology: http://t.co/USfhSmP8SW  Annual 1K pupil sample tests in Ma/Eng

Update on Ofqual’s progress in investigating awarding organisations that also publish text books: http://t.co/wjN6ya5xMe (Col 124W)

DfE consultation says high achievers’ content is separately indicated in Maths spec. But why only Maths? http://t.co/Eog0u5rq10 (p7)

DfE GCSE content consultation says no specifications for any further subjects: http://t.co/Eog0u5rq10 (pp5-6)

Here is Ofqual’s Review of Controlled Assessment in GCSE, also released today: http://t.co/doP85MINLa

Ofqual is proposing new short course GCSEs, and there could be common content with full GCSEs: http://t.co/KHDBXOyyeV (p32)

Ofqual promises a separate Autumn consultation on setting grade standards from first principles: http://t.co/KHDBXOyyeV (p30)

Can’t see any justification from Ofqual’s for why the grading goes from 8 to 1, rather than vice versa: http://t.co/KHDBXOyyeV (pp26-29)

As expected, Ofqual proposes ‘improved’ overlapping tiers in Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology: http://t.co/KHDBXOyyeV  (pp13-17)

DfE GCSE Subject Content Consultation Document: http://t.co/Eog0u5rq10 and subject specifications: http://t.co/JdFkUvlwWk

Ofqual GCSE consultation press release: http://t.co/tUoMAGtZPQ and consultation document: http://t.co/KHDBXOyyeV

Today’s oral statement on GCSE reform: http://t.co/V6bah8Wf8l

Interesting if somewhat idiosyncratic list of the (14) experts consulted on the GCSE specifications: http://t.co/jU9mzRVeE6

As Wales and NI stick with integrated AS level, the UK-wide exam reform picture begins to resemble a dog’s breakfast: http://t.co/BDgyrEEGSW

My gov.uk notification says draft GCSE science spec has already been replaced with a new version: http://t.co/y7ZDv6qwu6 – what’s changed?

Russell Group will have an A Level Content Advisory Group (ALCAB) after all: http://t.co/khv5tOT9KK but no real detail about process

Set of fairly non-committal PQ replies about Welsh GCSEs: http://t.co/c55IFqatcr (Col 581W)

Handy NUT guide to proposed changes to GCSE: http://t.co/09DCibEJJT

GCSE MFL entries by language over the last decade: http://t.co/eKA5N4OOxA (Col WA90)

How well does AS predict A level grades? http://t.co/KMTGBHMvsE

Ofqual needs two new board members, pay is £6K a year: http://t.co/Jm53Ff2ltk






Performance Tables and Floor Targets

Bell criticises Russell Group-focused destination data: http://t.co/vcBS7VB9Mo – likely to be relegated to planned Data Warehouse/Portal?

AoC has complained to the UK Statistics Authority about the KS5 Performance Tables (TES): http://t.co/h7F0xy896G

Details of new primary floor targets from DfE: http://t.co/qlhoDYi5Eq – Level 4 becomes 4A/4B only until it’s discarded in 2016

Repitching Level 4 at current 4B must be precursor to using the higher threshold as new post-Levels end KS2 benchmark http://t.co/qlhoDYi5Eq

By the way, results in the new GSP test ‘are likely to be part of the floor standard in 2014’: http://t.co/qlhoDYi5Eq – why so provisional?

Sounds like there are also plans (long on the back burner?) to publish ‘families of schools’ data: http://t.co/OT91Q7KfCW

@headguruteacher On school accountability: http://t.co/zo3QD7kiRy – Can’t see universal performance indicators being sacrificed entirely

Direct link to IPPR Report on how performance table reforms have affected 14-16 vocational education: http://t.co/l1OoqsiJsm

Direct link to Demos Report on Detoxifying School Accountability: http://t.co/Z5SZk71vDE  plus press release: http://t.co/LSVGazLSex

Interim report tomorrow from Labour’s 14-19 review will apparently recommend abolition of EBacc: http://t.co/Vxo2h6BoYS

International comparisons of school accountability systems: http://t.co/J4fgxLEwHx






FAQs on Ofsted’s School Data Dashboard: http://t.co/SLJX93VUDl – Nothing on link with new Performance Tables proposals

Mumsnet users aren’t impressed by the Ofsted Schools Dashboard: http://t.co/GVN1JA2F0L

TES reports concern that data determining which LAs Ofsted inspects is out of date: http://t.co/FPtyc0uLjn

TES editorial suggests Ofsted should consider Montesquieu before undertaking school improvement alongside inspection: http://t.co/vgArtBkNsg

Ofsted will tomorrow publish data on the outcome of school inspections in first term under new framework: http://t.co/yLQJIZPO2H (Col 987W)

The promised Ofsted school inspection data for October to December 2012: http://t.co/Ampa57zT5M  plus press release: http://t.co/VFbVi2pkuI

38 sponsored academies inspected October-December 2012: 0 outstanding; 20 good; 13 require improvement; 5 inadequate: http://t.co/Ampa57zT5M

Ofsted has published the Data Dashboard/school governors Wilshaw speech: http://t.co/YRBrc9iiYP

Ofsted Survey: Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools: http://t.co/qi05eHb2hY

Update from NAHT on Ofsted data dashboard issues: http://t.co/lv259wSH8n

Following Derby and Portsmouth, Ofsted next blitz Coventry: http://t.co/6Tpf78JChe

Norfolk is next authority in line for the full Ofsted treatment: http://t.co/cxUENfpBqA

Ofsted’s letter to Portsmouth following mass inspection there is less emollient than the earlier one to Derby: http://t.co/6Gzl4uPN2V

Ofsted has published its response to a consultation on improving its own complaints procedures: http://t.co/XQY9jAdDbi

Omigod (literally!) Christian Today says “Sir Michael’s sins are too long to detail”: http://t.co/NLWvc5ohg5 but I think it’s ironic

Ofsted has written to Coventry about the outcomes of the recent LA-wide inspection there: http://t.co/6Gzl4uPN2V

In case you haven’t yet had a link to….Ofsted’s consultation document on early years inspection: http://t.co/6BSMUMjt4T

Not sure if this breakdown of grades for the 9 free schools so far inspected has been made public before: http://t.co/zY98hnQFcO (top link)

Papers from the Ofsted Board Meeting of 26 March: http://t.co/HSLtSywpvZ including a Performance Report on the last Quarter of 2012

All the Ofsted bumph on LA inspection: http://t.co/0uoTSOSgUB and http://t.co/L4uCbIymSV and http://t.co/9MVPli31GM

Norfolk gets a stiff letter from Ofsted, Here’s the full text courtesy of the EDP: http://t.co/AnXruhJytU

Ofsted has released a first set of monthly figures updating latest school inspection outcomes by phase and LA/region: http://t.co/H7dOL1k3TA

NAHT press release about Instead, its alternative inspection model: http://t.co/P0Gg7IOLS6

Interesting piece on the impact of a negative Ofsted on test outcomes: http://t.co/21vs0QbFeS

Ministers haven’t pinned down the criteria determining a decision to ask HMCI to inspect a local authority http://t.co/uIqHyNszr9 (Col 596W)

The Ofsted roadshow reaches Bristol: http://t.co/4xuYt3gIP7

Ofsted will on Monday start inspection of local authority school improvement services in Norfolk and Isle of Wight: http://t.co/Ak3qmFir13

Full DfE FOI response on evidence of effectiveness of Ofsted inspection: http://t.co/Wc6yzuU9qm Includes 2012 internal research review.

TES reports that some private school emergency inspections are prompted by fears of religious extremism: http://t.co/Rs2VKph5Ee

Medway is next in Ofsted’s sights: http://t.co/URDpiAr1Qj

Ofsted press release on its inspection of Medway primary schools: http://t.co/URDpiAr1Qj

East Riding escapes relatively lightly following Ofsted scrutiny: http://t.co/6Gzl4uPN2V

Is Ofsted now acting as a school improvement broker, asks @Robt_Hill http://t.co/rirkTzCdit

Really useful data via Ofsted FOI on how academies’ inspection ratings change after achieving academy status: http://t.co/Ucldk1c5BG


International Comparisons

New OECD working paper on the Predictive Power of PISA test items: http://t.co/YLSiI6aBOu

RT @OECD_Edu: The ideas that shaped PISA, & the ideas that PISA shaped – Slidedeck for @SchleicherEDU TED talk http://t.co/vW3qlyXLQ4

Latest PISA in Focus on marking: http://t.co/hgNXEUYnNK

Schleicher presentation from OECD summit on using evaluation to improve teaching: http://t.co/cOIG1UR31y

What’s wrong with NC Levels: http://t.co/6sgLjPN212 Interested to see how the author’s alternative differs to mine: http://t.co/JNTYosr4nL

BBC reports that PISA test for schools is about to be launched: http://t.co/ECcHnUjaSI  – further background here: http://t.co/t4rBw5sssG

A whole range of US pilot material from the OECD (PISA) test for schools can be accessed here: http://t.co/5aGWuGlZxp

Today’s TES editorial is about our penchant for things American: http://t.co/X72zSyL6vT – but PISA is now driving a more eclectic approach?

‘You’ll be Shocked by How Many of the World’s Top Students are American’: http://t.co/hHH1vihzNx (I wasn’t)

Tim Oates in TES on comparative study of high-performing education systems: http://t.co/hAbCyLSHZ1 – is the full analysis published?

PISA in Focus study on What Makes Urban Schools Different: http://t.co/PoGkZjegCe as reported here: http://t.co/FAEGWkKx3i

Interesting World Bank blog post about OECD’s ‘PISA for Development’ (building PISA use in developing economies): http://t.co/DULGaN96ru

Interesting NCEE article exemplifying data produced from the PISA Test for Schools: http://t.co/WED2ztV8vS

International comparisons of school accountability systems: http://t.co/J4fgxLEwHx

TES on PISA Tests for Schools: http://t.co/KQjAugyG8s – They’ll cost at least £5,250 a throw. Government ‘supportive’ but won’t impose

Forgot to mention you can check how our high achievers perform on PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS here: http://t.co/OvqmNIJO7J

PISA’s approach to assessing collaborative problem-solving (in 2015): http://t.co/Zn01bSsjvy

Here is Education at a Glance 2013 (all 440 pages): http://t.co/vMw2wWsonC and here’s the 10 page note on the UK: http://t.co/hEMaPeHNN5


Social Mobility

The ASCL page from which you can download all three of today’s publications about social mobility: http://t.co/wbXhX89uPx

On quick review ASCL social mobility documents are good in parts while ignoring the Excellence Gap concept: http://t.co/wbXhX89uPx

Upcoming ISER social mobility report: http://t.co/6mheoYoFQj Doesn’t yet show up on their website: http://t.co/vYtaj2Rqfi

NYT article on social mobility through HE access in the USA: http://t.co/qH8Xtd5bNB – unfortunately the paper it discusses is £

@brianlightman on schools’ contribution to social mobility: http://t.co/Yf8dDeVozB

Book of abstracts for today’s HEA social mobility conference http://t.co/clpTWHbsat – let’s hope the papers are published and free to access

Top strand of the IT pipeline is dominated by independent schools: http://t.co/qYmTqQbprT

Some fairly rigorous intervention is required before grammar schools will be a key to social mobility: http://t.co/rQ4RK2tUwU

Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission reminds us of its existence: http://t.co/E6zAQizcuU  – There’s plenty for it to address

BIS FOI Release concerning evidence of guidance on unpaid internships and unpaid interns: http://t.co/Soje8x3Asg

Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has issued a call for evidence to inform 1st annual report http://t.co/wkIx8QBfNo

Grammar schools and the myth of social mobility: http://t.co/ltOADwOJve – Exactly

Not exactly an enthusiastic answer to Hinds PQ on Government progress on social mobility: http://t.co/ZaSg2aw1e5 (Col 1097W)

DPM’s Opening Doors Press Release: http://t.co/3pSPybcQ5O – so glad to know who provided the double-deckers for the Talent Tour!

Full text of Milburn’s Scottish Speech setting out the stall of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission: http://t.co/EFBdc5xfYB

Yesterday’s Westminster Hall Debate on unpaid internships: http://t.co/HRvLNpmlfk (Col 161WH)

20 June Lords Debate on Social Mobility: http://t.co/Mo88u8Y7nW (Col GC139) When Government spokesman ditches his speech, that’s a bad sign

Public Attitudes Research on Social Mobility from the SMCPC: http://t.co/BvbgFBzdLI and press release: http://t.co/rqgfZlP9qV

The Grandparents Effect in Social Mobility: Evidence from British Birth Cohort Studies by Chan and Boliver: http://t.co/aNnf6OpqHE

Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education (US): http://t.co/nOSq5EV2oa


Fair Access

Ever wonder why state schools don’t send students to Oxbridge? Read this and weep: http://t.co/puvhYZhPen

It’s becoming harder to get a place on a UNIQ summer school than to gain admission to Oxford: http://t.co/ro7kV9vbtf

Oxford and Telegraph lock horns over statistical analysis of ‘summer born’ effect on admissions http://t.co/NS4pCYe1Cg

If there’s no problem with Oxbridge admissions let’s have full data transparency. Secrecy breeds conspiracy theories http://t.co/D2vrLdK22N

OFFA has appointed nine new members to its advisory group including Penelope Griffin of the Bridge Group: http://t.co/mQ78zvi3ol

Direct link to HEFCE’s ‘The Uses and Impact of HEFCE Funding for Widening Participation’: http://t.co/0ZbP3GXklg

The sting in the tail of HEFCE’s report is on page 68: http://t.co/0ZbP3GXklg

THE says OFFA/HEFCE national access strategy interim report will propose coordinated outreach strategy: http://t.co/xNBhyJdWLd

The HEFCE/OFFA Interim Report on the National Strategy for Access: http://t.co/WDKbMqWt84 said to propose son of Aim Higher

BiS press notice about the OFFA/HEFCE Access Strategy Interim Report: http://t.co/rPXhuxVUqu

I’m struggling to understand how factual information about applications could be defamatory to universities: http://t.co/rjGrV5LGNL

Early stages of a FOI wrangle over those UCAS admission statistics: http://t.co/RqOpSvPD42

HEFCE has published a bit of extra material from the National Scholarship Programme evaluation they commissioned: http://t.co/781hQMQGn1

The long arm of RCT reaches across to the Sutton Trust’s fair access work: http://t.co/HI8K250mCu – RCT is the new fad/Heineken/Mr Tickle!

Why don’t independent schools introduce loans that aren’t repayable if you don’t enter a Russell Group university? http://t.co/yv9C7pb2uW

Is OFFA going soft on fair access? http://t.co/9MHSRpSNif – no ratcheting up of expectations in 2013-14

HEFCE confirms open recruitment for ABB+ grades (a third of students) Press release: http://t.co/eDGhU3uYym Circular: http://t.co/6qjma2yT8L

New HESA participation data http://t.co/dbUjMykxb4 Higher says 6 of 24 Russell Group HEIs met state school benchmarks http://t.co/5Kt4HLgsvF

Durham press release on that Boliver fair access research: http://t.co/29wqUO8Tz1 and the project that spawned it: http://t.co/AJtP0nm4Cv

Gove statement on the Boliver social mobility research http://t.co/MMXipicX2u Last line seems to contradict Government HE admissions policy

Sounds like IPPR’s HE Commission is developing an approach to fair access that Mr G will not find conducive: http://t.co/pvDZ6PjvRG

The proportion of UCAS applications from private and independent schools 2008 to 2012: http://t.co/JRfh8mQy0A  (Col 1067W)

THE reports a Mahmood speech yesterday. Labour would ‘urgently restore’ widening participation as policy priority: http://t.co/qZEN1QJ6Ed

Ivy League universities are becoming increasingly selective: http://t.co/C8uXBRJgoL

Latest Independent Commission on Fees Analysis of 2012/13 HE admissions: http://t.co/USds5tryru and Sutton Trust PN: http://t.co/SGsxcJIgYr

@conorfryan expands on this morning’s news about the potentially deleterious impact of tuition fees: http://t.co/CnA5SAahY3

HEFCE briefing and report on Non-continuation rates at English HEIs 2003-2011: http://t.co/y4JXksj87r

HEFCE estimates that 18,555 students achieved AAA+ at A level in 2009/10 and 96% entered HE: http://t.co/np7w9UBKcR  (Col 319W)

Laws says proportion of independent/selective students at Oxbridge is ‘unacceptably high’: http://t.co/e40OVnnWf7 (Col 53WH)

Willetts speech in which he announces information packs to support fair access to HE http://t.co/E9WopWgLg3 Marginally positive

Number of Welsh comprehensive pupils admittted to Oxbridge is flatlining – and significantly lower than in 2008/2009: http://t.co/EgSxD63K25

Willetts’ ‘well done’ letters not going down too well: http://t.co/TutennonJw  Idea has a certain affinity with Dux. It won’t impress Milburn

Direct link to the BIS data on HE Participation Rates 2006/07 to 2007/12 (Provisional): http://t.co/cL5NP94rbe

OFFA’s comment on the HE participation data: http://t.co/idXGME8VVP

Imposing a universal embargo on admissions below BBB is hardly praiseworthy university admissions practice: http://t.co/lAkcV0ggIH

Good showing for non-Russell Group in Complete University Guide. Durham also outranks Oxbridge for English: http://t.co/OojYmR16DN

The latest application figures from UCAS: http://t.co/czw2XrXdmw

HEFCE Consultation Document on Student Number Controls 2014-15 onwards: http://t.co/KAUZLzAJYT – includes proposals for moving beyond ABB+

Early evaluation of Unistats from HEFCE: http://t.co/vVERy2JDEj and associated press release: http://t.co/KeHyisXWZx

Is ASCL against all use of contextual data in HE admissions, or concerned about which data is used for the purpose? http://t.co/IjspRbRGL6

Gove’s CPS Joseph Memorial Speech: http://t.co/qfd9TrRAeX  Says his policies are explicitly designed to improve FSM progression to Oxbridge

Direct link to Cambridge Undergraduate Admission Statistics for 2012 http://t.co/5BhG1nmwpC  – disadvantage is by POLAR quintile

Interesting comparison of fair access north and south of the border: http://t.co/LsYBEw0HY7 and http://t.co/Qi2JAn1z5n

Sutton Trust press release on impact of fees: http://t.co/hc1TqEPhpI and Lampl commentary on same: http://t.co/gwuMjHFnst

US debate on ‘affirmative action’ is peaking in expectation of the outcome of the University of Texas court case: http://t.co/P8CgECIvu1

Direct link to new Centre Forum report on access to postgraduate education: http://t.co/tpyjOEW7VI

Guardian preview of OFFA’s annual report (with HEFCE) due out today: http://t.co/yrsl3fqzXh  Expect the anodyne, not fireworks

OFFA’s press release on today’s report: http://t.co/xTWlhOYhuc and the Report itself, plus annexes http://t.co/xGUPzkvQBQ

Stock response from BIS to yesterday’s OFFA/HEFCE report: http://t.co/9KoZTdvNIn – wonder what the latest FSM to Oxbridge figure is…

IPPR’s HE Commission will propose a £1K HE Premium for up to 230K disadvantaged students from existing WP budget: http://t.co/8HqPG9AqOP

Missed this Guardian coverage of geographical disparities in Oxbridge admissions http://t.co/kstNax8Jkw and http://t.co/VC8VFgTp7o

IPPR’s HE Commission is pro-contextualised admissions; HEIs could admit unlimited numbers of student premium-eligible http://t.co/eaZbhFkuZC

Direct link to IPPR HE Commission summary (the download mysteriously provides only pages 112-144): http://t.co/eaZbhFkuZC

Here’s the full IPPR HE Commssion Report: http://t.co/N7wjVbktgO – Glitch now fixed thanks to @IPPR_Nick

WonkHE analysis puts the IPPR HE Commission Report (which I still can’t access in full) firmly in its place: http://t.co/A5E3cmzzPF

I like the IPPR HE Commission Report on both Student Premium and Contextualised Admissions: http://t.co/N7wjVbktgO but two tricks missed…

…first, the Student Premium needs to align with 16-19 support as well as the Pupil Premium as suggested here http://t.co/vopcXghiS6 and…

…second, HE outreach budget/effort (HE ‘pull’) needs to be integrated with the school/post-16 budget/effort (‘push’) to maximise impact.

Milburn quietly re-endorses contextualised admissions to HE while up in Scotland: http://t.co/qRpYIFpKWN

Next set of Destination Measures will be published on 20 June: http://t.co/BQIzJbIdAR (Col 231W)

Milburn will publish a report on Monday showing that fair access to prestigious universities has stalled http://t.co/YOOL8xUkKd

Direct link to new Social Mobility Commission policy paper: Higher Education: The Fair Access Challenge: http://t.co/GCBNqtcxRl

Excellent Report by Social Mobility Commission: http://t.co/GCBNqtcxRl – So good that it raises awkward questions about OFFA’s contribution

Today’s Social Mobility Commission report on Fair Access, but now with added data: http://t.co/IJ5YS8V7no  Can’t see FSM though

OFFA responds to Social mobility Commission Report on Fair Access to HE: http://t.co/NQzuqjydkw which shows OFFA’s having negligible impact

Now there’s a thought – link VCs’ pay to the achievement of their fair access targets: http://t.co/gnUjG3DAtm Warwick OKish on this measure?

THE reports the National Scholarship Programme could be vulnerable under the Spending Review: http://t.co/MrM50928uT

Updated Destination Measures general information: http://t.co/rJ64rECRro and Q&A: http://t.co/0M4ukptFzF

KS4/5 Destinations Data PN: http://t.co/fe8lpw4V8Y – SFR and tables: http://t.co/C7MEmY0lEe  FSM breakdown not published until 23 July

Russell Group on SMCPC Report on Fair Access http://t.co/QXrWgZ6ocd and @tessa_stone’s powerful response http://t.co/EppEi11oN5

THE reviews IntoUniversity: http://t.co/cbsZhVNN1V Successfully squeezing money from corporate sponsors to support fair access

Why 9 of these students: http://t.co/Cj0QXueVp3 rejected Oxbridge: http://t.co/opqCP24K2U – Still a trickle but could it become a flood?

Debate continues over affirmative action despite Supreme Court Ruling: http://t.co/Tw1jquylX2 and http://t.co/C6k4wezKdU

Here’s a brief report on Fair Access issues, especially some news about the Dux Award Scheme: http://t.co/krPc7Uweo4

National Scholarship Programme reduced back to £50m and focused exclusively on postgraduates: http://t.co/52iWzTrjOT

Progress of the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill which supports WP/fair access north of the border, passed yesterday http://t.co/kjZU5vQG5N

I’ve finalised my brief post of yesterday about the future of Dux Awards, now renamed Future Scholar Awards http://t.co/krPc7Uweo4

HEFCE analysis of trends in transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study 2002-2011: http://t.co/RMVP6znz5D

HEFCE’s Overview Report of Postgraduate Education in England and Northern Ireland 2013: http://t.co/MJIr5ik7fe

HEFCE’s invitation to submit pilot project proposals to support progression into postgraduate education: http://t.co/C6mZoCbHrx

Further detail of Government financial support for access by disadvantaged students to postgraduate education: http://t.co/1VU6MOkWWr

Think this is the report: http://t.co/b5ISODUQPl on the state/private school university experience referenced here: http://t.co/EPGDBA7hUX








Deed of variation to funding agreements will require academies to secure independent careers advice: http://t.co/B80SinZNAn (Col WA339)

Lords Oral PQ about careers guidance in schools: http://t.co/L7Q3cZiMD4 (Col 1267)

Updated statutory guidance for schools on Careers Guidance: http://t.co/X04WvS5Bru

Government response to Education Select Committee report on Careers Guidance for Young People: http://t.co/wipyXovbJS

RT @SecondaryCEIAG: Tony Watts forensically takes apart Government response to Education Committee report on careers http://t.co/kHKG8hPhfh

Yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on Careers Guidance: http://t.co/WzQp3ZAI04 (Col 1WH)

Direct link to today’s National Careers Council publication: ‘An Aspirational Nation’: http://t.co/TG0HacIsmj

New guidance for post-16 institutions on Securing Independent Careers Guidance: http://t.co/ubSsBOh8c9

Cridland on careers: http://t.co/sg6rVB0lOK – His topic at the GS Heads Association was ‘nurturing ability’: http://t.co/WsAKS1mqBe

Yesterday’s backbench debate on careers advice in schools: http://t.co/kI8QEAP5W0 (Col 120)


Pupil Premium

Primary floor rises; schools rated by Ofsted below ‘good’ with attainment gap issues need Pupil Premium action plan http://t.co/jKDkZSUycK

DfE Evaluation of Summer Schools for Disadvantaged Pupils: http://t.co/eOd9JF7wKu  plus key findings for schools: http://t.co/sKqsISskUC

Who are these experts that will advise schools on their use of Pupil Premium? http://t.co/bA03gftEMb – What happened to ‘schools know best’?

Not much evidence in this Evaluation of Disadvantaged Summer Schools of a focus on improving attainment: http://t.co/eOd9JF7wKu

Pupil Premium intervention requires accredited ‘System Leaders’ (not all NLEs) to help schools produce action plans http://t.co/OT91Q7KfCW

Laws’ Pupil Premium intervention is basically the old Labour mantra: ‘intervention in inverse proportion to success’  http://t.co/OT91Q7KfCW

Fact Check revisits how much of a premium the Pupil Premium really is http://t.co/hg8MZIlY9o Big issue for current spending review I’d guess

FAQs for the 2013 Summer Schools for Disadvantaged Pupils: http://t.co/s21G1ZbKH8  – continuation announced by Laws yesterday

RT @fimclean: SAM Learning debate on how the £1.25 billion Pupil Premium affects school spending http://t.co/HleTnmUo7d

Hansard record of yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on the Pupil Premium: http://t.co/jVYFyWRENc (Col 25WH)

Laws ratchets up pressure on schools to narrow gaps via the Pupil Premium http://t.co/R4MZyRcMnb – Schools know best approach is now history

Can you see the Pupil Premium reducing the FSM attainment gap to 12.5% any time soon? http://t.co/zKpfBJk5LO – No, me neither

@RobAnthony01 @miconm Then again there’s Deloitte’s ‘Insight 5’: http://t.co/boxxy21V6w (which rather undermines the Pupil Premium concept)

Just how much Pupil Premium is being pocketed by private tutors? http://t.co/XIswAp64nJ – Wouldn’t it make sense to cut out the 3rd party?

Guardian reports new Sutton Trust survey of Pupil Premium funding: http://t.co/Wz3FMP4q96 Presume details here later: http://t.co/SoVIOiRVqG

Here’s that belated Sutton Trust Pupil Premium Survey: http://t.co/OIwNumz8BN and press release: http://t.co/yUPzqPFfgX

The independent evaluation of the Pupil Premium will be published in July: http://t.co/UymKtQiLTq (Col 300W)

Young Foundation Report ‘Social Investment in Education’ urges using Pupil Premium to support said social investment: http://t.co/ojufJMnnfR

More detail of Pupil Premium accountability measures; John Dunford’s appointment as Pupil Premium National Champion: http://t.co/iWhWCt76gE

Limited support in this Pupil Premium evaluation for Ofsted’s complaint that high attainers are neglected: http://t.co/n4K4K771lF

Pupil Premium Evaluation says it’s too early to offer a judgement of the impact on pupil attainment: http://t.co/n4K4K771lF – Why so?

New Evaluation of the Pupil Premium: http://t.co/n4K4K771lF Identifies tensions between schools’ use and ‘external expectations’

Pupil Premium reinforcement illustrates how few strong policy levers exist in a ‘self-improving school system’: http://t.co/iWhWCt76gE

There’s also more detail here about how Pupil Premium Reviews will work: http://t.co/dtejHrLnk9




FSM Gaps, Poverty, Disadvantage and EEF

EEF’s Evidence in Action Events: Discussion Paper on ‘Knowledge Mobilisation’: http://t.co/kYhuJsZ3eC and report: http://t.co/1CpSW18zVh

If the EEF now deals with ‘Improving education outcomes for school-aged children’ isn’t that serious mission creep? http://t.co/pVR0ltTkBe

This implies that elevation of EEF to ‘What Works Centre’ extends its remit to all outcomes for 4-19 year-olds: http://t.co/pVR0ltTkBe True?

What the Education Endowment Fund was originally for: http://t.co/xYqAJYGJuY and http://t.co/chzsiw16lx

Essential reading for right-lurching politicians: The Lies We Tell Ourselves: Ending Comfortable Myths About Poverty: http://t.co/qiQlfobfKe

This is the Troubled Families evidence base: http://t.co/moLvZowzCA about which this report is so scathing: http://t.co/qiQlfobfKe

How the Pygmalion effect works: http://t.co/5sV6Xclq6B

A deeply troubling round-up of the impact of the various April benefits cuts: http://t.co/uGjYwII7b8

And here’s a benchmark report on 2012 UK poverty levels ahead of the new round of benefits cuts. Required reading: http://t.co/MiDBjew7Bj

Teach First commissioned IFS report on its choice of indicators of disadvantage http://t.co/faArHvgcd9 – TES on same: http://t.co/8M49PfNBRQ

Set of new EEF-funded projects: http://t.co/9yp7ddwyN5 – includes £700K for chess in schools. Who is evaluating the EEF?

Laws speech to ATL references a Liberal ‘ambition’ to halve the current FSM gap by 2020: http://t.co/nsurEnGHhY – remember that one!

IoE blog on why linking FSM gap-narrowing to the inspection framework may not be entirely fair or appropriate: http://t.co/uCgoKl06Sa

DfE Research Topic Note on EYFSP Pilot outcomes: http://t.co/UEWS7MO0oM – reports bigger EM and FSM gaps under new model

DfE publishing data shortly on attainment by age 19 broken down by pupil characteristics including FSM. Here is link http://t.co/RX0fVlrolp

New SFR 13/2013 shows increased FSM gap on 2+ A levels measure, one of Government’s social mobility indicators: http://t.co/Nx3EWkNlfp (p13)

Mongon on white working class underachievement: http://t.co/U8SQdhXk93 – advocates a localised, co-ordinated zone-based response

TES feature on underachievement in coastal towns: http://t.co/5EU995vVpp – 10 years on it’s as if Education Action Zones never existed

Is Universal Credit a disaster waiting to happen? http://t.co/VlflM8mHvl What’s the fallback for FSM eligibility if it can’t be made to work?

New Children’s Centre Evaluation (ECCE) baseline survey of families using centres in the most disadvantaged areas: http://t.co/Kj7LpgYdMP

Don’t understand how FSM eligibility could be cut back by councils if it’s passported on universal credit? http://t.co/0YH4F4dd4X

Government does not expect to introduce the FSM element of Universal Credit until after October 2013: http://t.co/Kmhk1F543K  (Col 479W)

Education Endowment Fund has so far funded 56 projects at a cost of £28.7m (full list provided): http://t.co/Wsgd5KLgmx (Col 959W)

New Good Practice Guide for the 16-19 Bursary Fund: http://t.co/VcLM5vVUiZ

Do low aspirations hold back low income students? http://t.co/vTiSTqayc2 – summary of Rowntree research

New Invitation to Tender for Education Endowment Foundation’s data-crunching activity: http://t.co/LmlPHaxZFR – deadline 31 May

New consultation document on allocation of discretionary element of 16-19 Bursary Fund: http://t.co/1uytICb53g

The proportion of FSM-eligible pupils at the first tranche of free schools: http://t.co/HFQfA6fEpg (Col 90W)

Year 1 Evaluation of the 16-19 Bursary Fund: http://t.co/Ffk5yFiD6r plus associated press release: http://t.co/jLiRfUOofr

Replugging my new post about support for FSM high achievers, applying US research to English settings: http://t.co/XREYgg8bmO

Apropos Sutton Trust report do we know how many Academies/free schools give admissions priority to FSM? http://t.co/RjT0iEUfY1 (footnote 22)

Wonder why Sutton Trust isn’t advocating priority FSM admissions to academies/free schools as well as ballots/banding http://t.co/MsISlp7Sh0

New DfE research report on impact of summer schools programme on disadvantaged learners: http://t.co/FZhTDtGBBA – not a ringing endorsement

IoE PN on Jerrim et al research on impact of genetics on reading achievement gap: http://t.co/0YEVA7Sjcv Exec summary http://t.co/raJBzgVmB0

FSM to Universal Credit is all about the transition: http://t.co/eWtxkkI0FQ  Protect entitlement of 168K losers already eligible to age 16?

UCET advice to ministers on closing the achievement gap and ITT: http://t.co/knzaQupHyy

Preview of HMC’sI themes in next week’s speech on disadvantage: http://t.co/HdC2whRFmd  Including disadvantaged high attainers hopefully

Twigg commits to admissions reform so all schools can give priority to disadvantaged learners. Good http://t.co/nepHKaziLH

Direct link to IPPR’s Excellence and Equity: Tackling educational disadvantage in England’s secondary schools: http://t.co/EG5UzaETS8

Interesting that the Education Endowment Foundation has released a statement on teaching assistants: http://t.co/Z4basqS7Ox

Schools, Pupils and Characteristics January 2013: http://t.co/wIpVZg8JT9 Primary FSM down 0.1% to 19.2%; secondary FSM up 0.3% to 16.3%

Series of Jamie Reed PQs following up on Ofsted’s ‘Unseen Children’ Report: http://t.co/1P0wSgQ0p9 (Col 236W)

No Rich Child Left Behind – on the ‘upper-tail inequality’ in US education: http://t.co/dg73xDwHWW

Report of an Expert Panel considering reform of the measure of socio-economic status deployed in NAEP: http://t.co/gOmSdrLxSn

Breaking the Glass Ceiling of Achievement for Low Income Students and Students of Color from The Education Trust (US) http://t.co/MGYMJglK44

“The distribution of opportunity in our education system is nutty”: http://t.co/oo7Ri27gnS – Fair point

Labour also reported to be proposing admissions reform: http://t.co/MunADl43Zz  – devil will be in the detail here

Funding of NZ schools according to socio-economic deciles under further scrutiny: http://t.co/jvHglmxt9H


Selection and Independent Sector

Thin end of the wedge if it’s OK for politicians to say one thing and do another when choosing private education?  http://t.co/8aQ8eXeEcl

So what feedback to we have on the CEM 11+ pilot in Bucks? Exactly how much less coachable is it? http://t.co/Rg1EwHj5rO – I’m sceptical

Subject to DfE approval Invicta GS to run Sevenoaks grammar annex – now seem OK sharing site with Trinity Free School http://t.co/xSs2Eh63Hg

All the papers seem to be reporting the Independent Schools Census 2013. I guess it’s published here towards tiffin: http://t.co/drLgzU0bQd

TES report on the Independent Schools Census 2013: http://t.co/XtxDOqe3Xs – and here is the Census itself at last: http://t.co/p6EKqHKqpr

Today’s Sutton Trust Research on Selective Comprehensive Schools: http://t.co/vipxLDdv7a  and associated press release http://t.co/MsISlp7Sh0

The Ethics of Tutoring: http://t.co/BYWpvluyfw  – refreshingly honest

Hang on! ‘Moronic repetition and preparation for cognitive ability tests’? Aren’t they supposed to be non-coachable? http://t.co/8FlcE4UCUr

Oxford Times profiles Tim Hands, incoming Chair of HMC: http://t.co/BvlmuGwlw0  – who sounds like he might make waves

I simply don’t believe that Chelmsford HS’s change of 11+ test will materially change its intake: http://t.co/wdZZci6dtn

I see Mr G is delivering ‘a fresh vision for the independent sector’ today: http://t.co/LzVIKMoXRc

Mr G’s speech turned out a different animal: http://t.co/MBsmWmynkh – I worry his high expectations are too narrow, like a hurdle in a race

Tony Little says he and others can’t see an overarching ‘big picture’ vision for the Government’s education reforms: http://t.co/XlRGAnzzB8

New GSA President joins the chorus of disapproval: http://t.co/61ltLEtM7s

Outside the elite institutions, the private sector in US education is dying out argues Chester Finn: http://t.co/ypeIcFjln5

Love the ambiguous ‘too’ in the final para of this on Eton and poverty of aspiration: http://t.co/tVEVEEos38

Fair Admissions Campaign Statement: http://t.co/8Qfoa2DSJ8 Will map religious and socio-economic selection. FAQs: http://t.co/Tp1svgyGfJ

Centre for Market Reform of Education on its Tutors Association Consultation: http://t.co/7iWZx3FRwL  More detail here http://t.co/85qoGqevWq

The rapid expansion of online tutoring in the UK: http://t.co/s7oDRmdqbe

These are the grammar school statistics: http://t.co/H27wwW5ik8 cited in today’s latest Mail article on the subject: http://t.co/J8n5Ct1JKH

Grammar schools and the myth of social mobility: http://t.co/ltOADwOJve – Exactly

I wonder if Hitchens would support the wholesale introduction of ‘contextualised admissions’ into grammar schools: http://t.co/QcougJ89fb

@headguruteacher I still stand by most of what I proposed in Jan 2011 – essentially an OFFA for (grammar) schools: http://t.co/8ZvhNo2RA0

Post on selection by @headguruteacher: http://t.co/sajaOw2nSN  Appears to suggest GS select on attainment, not on ability so FSM imbalance OK

The continuing expansion of grammar school places: http://t.co/7yqrNsW2Nb  – How many are adding 1FE+ post academisation?

A second, competing, proposal to run a satellite grammar school in Sevenoaks: http://t.co/KomIp9xlzO

Chris Ray calls for 11+ admission via assessment days: http://t.co/oKjIBRg8Ad – I agree

HMCI prods independent sector towards stronger partnership with state schools: http://t.co/M46q0kiJCg and http://t.co/mbIY0UAeJz






July 2013

A Summer of Love: A Brief Dux-Inspired Interim Report (Updated 23 July 2013)


The elements of the third Episode of the Summer of Love are stacking up nicely.

summer of love 1967 by 0 fairy 0

summer of love 1967 by 0 fairy 0

The broad focus will be social mobility through fair access to higher education, with the DfE-commissioned ‘Investigation of School and College-level strategies to raise the Aspirations of High-Achieving Disadvantaged Pupils to Pursue Higher Education’ likely to be the featured article, assuming it appears in September as scheduled.

The final section of Episode One drew on the contractual specification to explain what this Report will cover.

At about the same time, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC) is likely to publish its first Annual Report on the Government’s performance on these two fronts, delayed from the initial deadline of 8 May set out in the Commission’s Remit and encapsulated in its Framework Document.


But the Commission has already produced Higher Education: the Fair Access Challenge a progress report on a 2012 Report produced by the Commission’s antecedent, the Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility called ‘University Challenge: How Higher Education Can Advance Social Mobility’.

And of course we have already had Ofsted’s ‘The most able students: Are they doing as well as they should in our non-selective secondary schools?’, the centrepiece of Episode Two, which includes a focus on progression to higher education and fair access.

It references the Government’s ‘Destinations of key stage 4 and key stage 5 pupils: 2010 to 2011’, labelled as experimental statistics but now in their second iteration, which appeared on 20 June.

Further breakdowns of this data based on student characteristics, including eligibility for free school meals were published on 23 July.

I had expected that this data would include updated information (from 2011) about the percentage of FSM-eligible learners progressing to Oxbridge and to Russell Group universities.

This remains amongst the overall Impact Indicators contained in DfE’s Business Plan so integral to how the Department wishes us to judge its overall effectiveness (despite universities’ well-publicised preference for alternative measures and the absence of any requirement to include FSM-driven targets in their Access Agreements).

Data on the entry of FSM-eligible students to Oxbridge and Russell Group universities had not been published for some time.

This information relates to pupils in receipt of FSM (so a smaller group that those eligible) who progressed to higher education as long ago as 2007/08. In that year just 40 such students made it to Oxford or Cambridge.

The comparable data for students progressing to higher education in 2008/09 was provided in a PQ reply in February 2012, when the figure was 45. I can trace nothing more recent than that.

The evidence already made public led me to expect little improvement on either the Oxbridge or the Russell Group measure.

The true position was much worse than expected.

The critical figure was not included in the main text or the main tables of the publication, but can be found in the underlying data. It reveals that the 2010/11 figure has fallen by 33% to exactly 30.

This relates to those who had formerly claimed FSM so should be directly comparable with the earlier figures.

The number attending Russell Group universities has also declined. This PQ reply (Col 92W) confirms that, in 2007/08, 1,100 Russell Group students had formerly claimed free school meals. By 2010/11, that has fallen by 16% to 920.

I had some discussion on Twitter about whether the current Government should be held accountable for this sad state of affairs. The quite reasonable argument was made that it could have done little to influence intakes in the Autumn of 2010, having been elected only a few months earlier.

On the other hand, the Government must have been fully aware of the timelag built into this data when it selected its impact indicators – precisely the measures against which it asks to be held accountable. It decided nevertheless to adopt Oxbridge/Russell Group entry amongst these accountability measures.

There comes a point where, instead of engaging in a political blame game, some responsibility has to be taken, some leadership offered for turning round this disappointing downward trend  – and in short order too. Some of the Government’s wider education policies might be expected to have a positive impact in the longer term, but it is hard to argue against direct targeted intervention as the best option to bring about more immediate improvements.  It will be interesting to see whether the Social Mobility Commission takes a similarly robust view.

The third Episode of the Summer of Love series will need to take account of the SMCPC’s first Annual Report, its progress Report on Fair Access and the updated Destination Indicators – as well as the DfE-commissioned Investigation.



On a related matter, I was very kindly invited to attend DfE’s Dux Awards Event at King’s College London, to form part of a panel in a session for accompanying teachers.




I used material from Ofsted’s Report, as summarised in this presentation which I promised I would upload here.

Aspects of the Dux experience may also feature in Episode Three, not least because the Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility was so sniffy about it in his 2012 Report:

‘It is important that all school–university efforts are designed to have maximum impact and bring youngsters into higher education who would not otherwise participate. Not all initiatives work towards these outcomes. We are concerned, for example, about the Dux Awards Scheme, which was developed in partnership between the Department for Education and the Russell Group. This award is open to all maintained secondary schools. Each participating school will nominate one Year 9 student with outstanding potential to visit a Russell Group institution for a day, and the costs will be covered by the Government. This nominee, accompanied by a teacher, will be nominated the ‘Dux’, which is Latin for leader. The scheme aims to champion success and raise aspiration. I am concerned that this scheme is not sufficiently evidence based, and directs resources and attention away from the serious long-term work that is more likely to make a difference. The scheme has also been accused by some, such as million+, as being tokenistic.’

The day at KCL included a brief address and Q and A session with DfE Minister David Laws, who told us two things of note:

  • First, that Dux 2013 has about 1,600 participating students from over 800 schools. This is a significant shortfall on the 2,000 schools which the Minister said he hoped would register back in December 2012 and not much of an improvement on the 1,400 pupils from 750 schools who took part in the inaugural Scheme in 2012.
  • Second, that Dux is being rechristened the ‘Future Scholar Awards’, a roundabout way of confirming that son-of-Dux will survive the Spending Review, despite the Independent Reviewer’s scepticism. Laws joked that the current title probably originated with his boss at the education department. Opinion was divided over whether the new moniker is an improvement on its predecessor and whether it would inspire students.

Since the Independent Reviewer – Alan Milburn – is now the Chair of the SMCPC, and since his reports on Fair Access make no secret of the Commission’s support for contextualised admissions, whereas Mr Gove prefers admission based entirely on merit, this unresolved tension in Government higher education policy could once again come to the fore.

Remember that the Government’s own Higher Education White Paper ‘Students at the Heart of the System’ (June 2011) was broadly positive:

‘The use of contextual data to identify candidates with the ability and potentialto succeed on a particular course or at a particular institution is not a new phenomenon. Many institutions have been using such information on the basisthat there is good evidence that for some students, exam grades alone are not the best predictor of potential to succeed at university. The Government believes that this is a valid and appropriate way for institutions to broadenaccess while maintaining excellence, so long as individuals are considered on their merits, and institutions’ procedures are fair, transparent and evidence-based’ (p 58)

It will also be interesting to see whether the rebranded Dux is integrated into the National Strategy for Acess and Student Success under preparation by HEFCE and OFFA, due for publication by the end of the year.

The Interim Report on the Strategy published last January hinted that it might:

‘However, there is a clear need for schools, colleges and HE institutions to work together strategically to meet the current and future needs of all their learners. This requires commitment from the Department for Education, BIS and across Government to a common set of aims and objectives, and to providing challenge, support and incentives for institutions in all sectors to contribute to their realisation.’

Perhaps the rebranding exercise is part of a wider effort to join up Government policy and there will be wider changes to the shape of the Scheme in 2014. We shall have to wait and see.



June 2013

Which Way Now for UK Gifted Education: Response to Current Government Policy I

This is the third part of a short series of posts about the future direction of gifted education here in the United Kingdom.

The series marks the formal establishment of GT Voice, the new UK-based support network for gifted education, as a steering group is elected to replace the interim working group.

Part One explored some fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of gifted education, to stimulate debate amongst GT Voice members about these core issues.

Part Two reviewed the recent history of gifted education in England, to uncover implications for our current position and the future direction of GT Voice.

Part Three considers the impact to date of the Coalition’s wider education policies on gifted education, to identify some key themes and issues that GT Voice will need to engage with during the lifetime of this Government.

Scope and Purpose

I had intended to cover the full span of the Government’s education policies in a single post, but there is simply too much to cover. So this section addresses policies that support disadvantaged learners and social mobility in schools, further and higher education.

The final part will examine school-level policies on: accountability and reporting; learning and teaching; and structures, choice and diversity

It is not the purpose of this post to unfairly criticise and so undermine the Government’s education policies, but to use evidence from a variety of reliable sources to explore objectively how those policies might impact – whether positively or negatively – on gifted disadvantaged learners, including those who are already high achievers.

We have noted already that the Coalition Government has not published a policy statement defining its approach to gifted education and it does not seem likely that it will do so, beyond stating its commitment to improving the education of all learners, regardless of ability.

As far as we can establish, there is no longer any central co-ordinating function for gifted education available anywhere within central government – and no repository of gifted education expertise within government or contracted to it.

This reinforces the potential significance of GT Voice as a source of advice and guidance at all levels in the education system. It is ideally placed to offer support to schools and other education settings, to providers and commissioners of gifted education services at all levels and to national education policy makers and service providers.

Those in the first two categories will also benefit from membership of GT Voice; there will be mutual benefit for many of those in the third category from either a partnership or a more flexible working relationship.

GT Voice should seek to establish a relationship with central government, helping it to ensure that its policies are properly joined-up and do not have unintended negative consequences for high achieving and high ability learners, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

For it is clear that several of the Government’s wider educational policies impact significantly on G&T education. My analysis of the November 2010 White Paper ‘The Importance of Teaching’ gives a full overview of all relevant proposals in the schools sector.

This post will explore how some of those policies have developed to date. It draws heavily on the Government’s social mobility strategy ‘Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers’, published in April 2011 and also relevant parts of the Higher Education White Paper ‘Students at the Heart of the System’ (June 2011).

This treatment concentrates exclusively on English educational policy. In future I hope to consider comparatively the position in the smaller devolved administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Support for Disadvantaged Gifted Learners

Although there is no overt policy statement, the academic progress of disadvantaged gifted learners is evidently a high priority for the Government.

DfE’s published business plan includes just nine ‘impact indicators’ for the full span of its work, one of which is:

‘Outcome of Education: Two indicators: first the percentage of children on FSM progressing to 1) Oxford or Cambridge; 2) Russell Group; 3) all universities; and second, destinations of young people.’

The comparable BIS business plan has, as one of its 13 impact indicators:

‘The gaps between non-free school meal and free school meal 15 year olds going on to higher education and between state and independent school students who go on to the 33% most selective higher education institutions.’

One might reasonably ask why these two government departments are defining success in different ways, rather than working collaboratively towards agreed outcomes. By pursuing subtly different objectives they surely reduce the Government’s overall chances of achieving either.

But, leaving that aside, achievement of these outcomes is dependent on securing improvements in all phases of education, as well as in several other areas of social policy set out in the Coalition’s social mobility strategy.

To demonstrate significant progress against the indicator within the education sector, schools, post-16 institutions and universities will need to:

  • improve the attainment of disadvantaged learners at all key stages, so that a higher proportion eventually achieves the entry requirements for selective universities;
  • improve the aspirations, motivation, self-esteem and information, advice and guidance available to these learners so they have the skills and self-belief to compete successfully for places at selective universities. This involves support for their parents, carers, teachers, schools and wider communities, as well as for the learners themselves;

and, assuming that these bring about an increased supply of eligible candidates,

  • ensure that selective universities respond by increasing the proportion of students they accept from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Social Mobility Strategy addresses each of these elements – and I have adopted this tripartite distinction as a broad framework for the analysis below.

Improving Attainment

The Strategy explains that the Government will take a two-pronged approach to improving attainment, raising universal standards through system-wide reform and pursuing: ‘a relentless focus on narrowing gaps in attainment between children from different backgrounds, with a new Pupil Premium to help raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils’.

Several reforms are described as contributors to bringing about higher standards across the board, including improving the quality of teaching, increasing school autonomy and reviewing the national curriculum. We will explore these in the final post in this series.

Apart from the Pupil Premium (and related funding reforms), which clearly take centre stage, the strategies identified as helping to narrow attainment gaps – and so more relevant to the current post – are admissions reform and the Education Endowment Fund.

The Pupil Premium

The Pupil Premium is a funding supplement paid as specific grant to local authorities and directly to academies and free schools in respect of learners known to be eligible for free school meals (FSM) – our fundamental measure of disadvantage – as well as for looked after children and children whose parents serve in the armed forces.

It applies only to learners aged 4-16, so those in Year R (Reception) and Years 1-11, but not those in Years 12-13, regardless of whether they attend school sixth forms or 16-19 institutions.

The rate in 2011/12 is £430 per pupil, a single flat rate, except in the case of armed forces children where it is £200.

Consultation is currently under way over expansion of eligibility for 2012/13 and succeeding years. It is proposed that the Premium will be extended to include learners who are no longer FSM-eligible but who were eligible either in the last three years or in the last six years. The most generous of these options would bring 24% of all learners aged 4-16 within scope compared with 17% currently.

The proposed level of the Premium in 2012/13 is not part of the consultation, though it is made clear that there will be a trade-off between the value of the Premium and the proportion of eligible learners.

The Premium for FSM-eligible learners will remain as a single flat rate but the consultation invites views on shifting to a variable rate to reflect costs in different parts of the country. Such variations will not be introduced before 2014/15.

The size of the 2012/13 Premium will be announced later this term. So we have no information about the value of the Pupil Premium beyond 2012, other than that the total budget will increase four-fold, to £2.5 billion a year by 2014/15.

If the sum available increases at a steady rate, there will be £1.25 billion for 2012/13. Depending on decisions about eligibility, that may be sufficient to increase the Premium rate to over £600.

Assuming that the rate of FSM eligibility does not increase significantly, it seems likely that the Premium might eventually reach something between £1,000 and £1,500.

It will be less than half the maximum £3,000 originally suggested by the Policy Exchange which proposed such a Premium and about half of the £2,500 figure adopted by the Liberal Democrats prior to the Coalition Government assuming power.

Of course we do not know what level of expenditure is necessary to reduce significantly attainment gaps in an English context (and such a calculation would need to take fully into account the wider school funding situation). But we do know, from PISA studies of international comparisons, that there is a relatively weak correlation between per pupil spending and educational outcomes.

The social mobility strategy says that the Premium will:

  • ‘provide headteachers with the money they need to provide an excellent and individually tailored education for these children’
  • ‘make it more likely that good schools will want to attract less affluent children; and
  • ‘make it more attractive to open Free Schools in disadvantaged areas’

but there is as yet no empirical evidence to justify these claims.

Moreover, there is some reason to doubt that the Premium can and will be used by schools to provide ‘an individually tailored education’.

Schools are entirely free to decide how they will spend the Premium. The social mobility strategy says that the Government will ‘make available best practice on what works’ including findings from an independent longitudinal evaluation. It gives examples of some interventions that have had a positive impact, including intensive 1:1 tutoring in English and maths, parental engagement activities, mentoring and revision programmes.

The Sutton Trust has produced a Pupil Premium Toolkit which draws on research evidence to argue that the most effective low cost strategies are effective feedback, meta-cognition and self-regulation strategies, peer tutoring and peer-assisted learning. Early intervention and one-to-one tutoring are also relatively effective but costly.

From September 2012, schools will be required to publish online how they have used the Premium and school performance tables will report separately some aspects of the performance of Premium-eligible learners. The social mobility strategy says the Government will expect schools to be accountable to parents for how the Premium is used, but this is not further explained and may simply refer to the performance tables.

The key concern for GT Voice must be whether gifted learners from disadvantaged backgrounds will receive the same level of benefit from the Premium as other disadvantaged learners, notably those who are not likely to achieve national benchmarks at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4.

For the Premium does not currently operate as an individual entitlement following the learner. The Government has issued no advice to schools to suggest that it should be deployed in this fashion. Especially while the per pupil value of the Premium is low, schools are quite likely to pool the funding, using it to provide generic support that will not exclusively benefit those learners who attract the Premium.

Moreover, schools’ spending behaviour will be influenced by how they are judged in performance tables and through the wider accountability regime. We shall examine the full impact of those reforms in the next post but, in summary, although some further differentiation is being introduced into the tables, it is relatively crude and so insufficiently sharp to isolate the performance of disadvantaged high achievers.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has argued that each eligible learner should receive a Pupil Premium Entitlement, so ensuring that the funding directly benefits those eligible for it. The IPPR argues that this should pay for:

‘extra catch-up tuition, small group tuition or one-to-one teaching to stretch the most able low-income pupils’.

In another publication, the IPPR elaborates:

‘Under this scheme, local authorities would set out a menu of approved activities upon which the money could be spent. The child’s parent and the lead teacher would have to agree at the end of each school year how the following year’s Pupil Premium Entitlement would be spent. This would encourage the development of an individual learning plan for each child and would act as a lever to engage parents, which we know is an important factor in a child’s learning’.

Such an approach is close to my own thinking and provides a basis for linking the Premium to Pupil and Parents’ Guarantees, should a future Labour Government decide to maintain the Premium and revive the Guarantees. (We noted in Part Two the signs that the Guarantees look set to be restored in Labour’s emerging education policy.)

The IPPR’s proposal might be criticised on the grounds that:

  • schools should be free to pool the funding if they can achieve economies of scale, more flexible use of resources and, ultimately, a relatively greater impact on the attainment of more Premium-eligible learners;
  • especially while the value of the Premium is low, an entitlement attached to the pupil is relatively less attractive to schools and would unhelpfully fetter their discretion to do what is best for their learners

but, on the other hand, it would help to ensure that gifted disadvantaged learners receive personalised support as a consequence of the Premium, rather than risk being set aside as a lower priority, on the grounds that they will anyway achieve the performance benchmarks against which schools are most commonly judged.

It will be critical for GT Voice to monitor closely the evolution and impact of the Pupil Premium, and to be ready with recommendations about how to rectify any perverse consequences for eligible gifted learners.

Admissions Reform

This policy is essentially part of the Pupil Premium. The social mobility strategy says the Government is:

‘considering carefully how the admissions process can be improved for these children. This could mean certain schools being able to take on more of such pupils, in order to concentrate resources and specialise in their particular educational and supportive needs’.

The Government has subsequently concluded a consultation on a new draft Admissions Code which includes the following footnote:

‘Free Schools and Academies may also, where their funding agreements permit, give priority in admission arrangements to children eligible for Free School Meals (in future, the Pupil Premium). [Further guidance will be produced on this policy area following consultation]’

And this has since been amplified in a speech by the Deputy Prime Minister, though we have yet to see the detail:

‘We are also taking unprecedented steps to make sure disadvantaged pupils actually get into these schools. Along with academies, free schools will, for the first time, be able to give them special priority in their admissions.

How can we be confident they will? Because, crudely, these pupils receive the pupil premium. The more of them the school takes, the more money it gets.

That’s a simple, but crucial, financial incentive. No one has reformed the admissions code like this for years. In future, free schools must use this power to do all they can to make sure that they have the same proportion of Free School Meals pupils as the local average – at least’.

It appears then, that both free schools and academies will be able to admit pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium ahead of others, but their only incentive to do so will be the financial bonus provided by the Premium.

This is much more permissive than a requirement, but – reading between the lines – it may be that schools taking this route must then agree to work towards achieving the ‘local average’ for FSM eligibility, however that is to be defined.

This they are likely to do anyway, since the financial incentive will only become significant on the admission of a critical mass of Premium-eligible learners – a few token disadvantaged pupils will make too little difference to schools’ budgets.

It is conceivable that some oversubscribed schools in or near areas of high disadvantage may specialise in Premium-eligible learners, or even select all their pupils on that basis, though it is a moot point whether the Coalition could accept that while continuing to resist an expansion of academic selection.

It is also intriguing to explore whether this provision might be extended to selective grammar schools. If it were, that might help considerably to restore their reputation as engines of social mobility: a reputation that has suffered in recent years as they have increasingly become a haven for middle class parents.

And there is the prospect of selective 16-19 free schools, including a bid in progress for a sixth form college in Newham which is explicitly for gifted disadvantaged learners.

So, within the constraints of a policy that prevents the creation of more selective schools for 11-16 year-olds (but not an increase in places at existing selective schools), there is some scope for admissions policies to benefit gifted disadvantaged learners. And GT voice is in an excellent position to advise and support schools that decide to go down this route.

Education Endowment Fund

The Education Endowment Fund has been established to: ‘encourage innovative approaches to raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils in underperforming schools’.

It is administered by the Education Endowment Foundation, founded by the Sutton Trust and the Impetus Trust. The Government has provided a grant of £125m which the Foundation hopes to increase to £200m over the Fund’s 15-year lifespan.

A very high proportion of this – up to 10% – will be spent on project evaluation. This is surprising given the Government’s interest in pushing the maximum resource down to schools and may well attract criticism, for it should be possible to undertake effective evaluation without imposing a £20 million topslice.

The Foundation is seeking innovative solutions that have an explicit focus on improving attainment, are replicable and scalable. It has begun its first funding round, inviting bids for grants of £50,000 plus for approval by June 2012.

At least for the time being, it appears that the EEF has been subverted to the more pressing policy of improving under-performing schools. For at least the first two years, all projects must wholly or mainly benefit FSM-eligible learners in schools which are below the Government’s floor targets.

Although the Foundation’s guidance does not say so explicitly, it is likely that successful projects will be those that help these schools climb above the targets.

In primary schools, these are expressed in terms of the percentage of pupils achieving level 4 in KS2 English and maths and making two levels of progress between KS1 and KS2.

In secondary schools, they are defined in terms of the percentage of pupils achieving 5 A*-C GCSE grades at KS4 including English and maths and making three levels of progress between KS2 and KS4

One might reasonably infer that successful projects are most likely to prioritise the marginal learners who can help schools achieve these targets rather than gifted learners who already comfortably exceed them.

It will be important that GT Voice monitors the development of the Education Endowment Fund as an instrument to develop innovative approaches to raising the attainment of gifted disadvantaged learners, especially given the pressures on the Foundation to prioritise elsewhere.

For there is a risk to the achievement of the Government’s own impact indicators if insufficient attention is paid to developing new and better ways of improving the attainment of gifted, disadvantaged learners with the capacity to progress to selective universities.

Improving aspirations, motivation and self-esteem

We now move on to the second priority identified through the social mobility strategy – improving the aspirations, motivation, self-esteem and information, advice and guidance available to these learners so they have the skills and self-belief to compete successfully for places at selective universities.

The strategy highlights a duty on schools in the current Education Bill to secure access for pupils to independent, impartial careers advice, including advice on routes to further and higher education.

Schools are also expected to offer complementary activities such as talks, visits and taster sessions, while universities will be expected to make clear information available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Post-16 and post-19 ‘destinations measures’ introduced into performance tables will incentivise schools to provide high-quality advice.

The Strategy refers to the wide range of organisations engaged in aspirations-raising activity and its variability in terms of quality and coverage. Because this is ‘crowded territory’ the Government will not introduce its own provision but will ‘support and promote’ existing activity.

(That said, the text goes on to establish that the Government’s own National Citizen Servicewill be part of this market. NCS pilots are under way, but the Education Select Committee has drawn attention to the high unit costs and the unlikely prospect that the Government will be able to make it universal, as it intends, without significant adjustment.)

This is slightly odd, in that the logical intervention would be a flexible framework to improve the supply, quality and co-ordination of provision, much like that which has been suggested on this Blogbut perhaps this is seen as over-interventionist by a Government committed to markets and autonomy.

Changes to the careers service have been highly controversial. The Government announced the introduction of a new all age careers service from April 2012. Schools might be expected to use this service to fulfil their new statutory responsibility, but they can also choose another supplier.

Because there is no ring-fenced funding within school budgets to support this activity and apparently limited Government funding to support the student element of the all-age service, there are fears that schools will be forced to secure online rather than face-to-face advice, regardless of the provider they choose.

The July 2011 Report of the Government-appointed Advocate for Access to Higher Education (the Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes) made several recommendations about careers, including that the Government:

‘should act urgently to guarantee face to face careers advice for all young people in schools’.

The Education Select Committee has also called for face-to face provision:

‘Online career guidance, which allows young people to explore at their own pace and according to their own interests, is valuable; and we heard praise for the online careers services offered by DirectGov. However, this is no substitute for personal advice, given on the basis of an understanding of a young person’s circumstances and ambitions. We recommend that the all age careers service should be funded by the Department for Education for face to face career guidance for young people.’

In a recent Parliamentary debate on the matter, the Government refused to guarantee face-to-face careers support on the grounds that it was still considering the full range of recommendations in the Advocate’s Report.

But Hughes himself said:

‘I can hold back my colleagues from voting with the Opposition only because of the undertaking he has given’.

It therefore seems highly likely that the Government will be forced to give way on this issue. Assuming that this happens, key beneficiaries will include gifted disadvantaged learners needing clear and objective guidance to inform their progression into higher education and beyond.

Although the Government will itself engage in quality assurance, GT Voice is well-placed to unite with other organisations, such as The Bridge Group, in ensuring that the all-age careers service and its competitors in the market are equipped to provide high quality, independent advice to disadvantaged gifted learners, so that the service they receive is comparable with that available to more advantaged young people attending independent schools.

As part of its efforts to broker relationships between schools and suppliers of gifted education services, GT Voice might consider including providers of information, advice and guidance.

16-19 Education

Many gifted learners from disadvantaged backgrounds will transfer from schools at age 16 into 16-19 institutions. The Government is raising the compulsory leaving age to 17 from 2013 and 18 from 2015 but, for the time being, it remains true that disadvantaged gifted learners will more easily progress into higher education if they continue education in a post-16 setting rather than leaving school to seek employment.

Since post-16 employment is scarce in the current economic environment, there is perhaps less of an incentive to leave than has historically been the case but, nevertheless, it must be financially viable for learners to continue in post-16 education.

Since the Pupil Premium continues only to age 16, what provision is in place to ensure that Premium-eligible learners continue to receive support?

This question can be posed in relation to institutional funding and also to the support available to learners themselves, in lieu of income from employment or the benefits they would receive if unemployed.

In the case of the former, the Government claims (Col 52) that

‘£770 million is being spent on supporting the education of disadvantaged 16 to 18-year-olds. That is £150 million more than would previously have been available to schools and colleges specifically for the education of the most disadvantaged 16 to 19-year-olds. Nearly 550,000 young people will benefit from that student premium’.

However, this briefing from the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) makes clear that:

  • the increase of £150 million per year relates to 2014/15 and also includes support for low attainers;
  • although at least 500,000 learners will benefit in 2011/12, it is not possible to ‘provide a figure comparable to the pre-16 pupil premium’ because this involves two separate elements of the funding formula. The YPLA says it will review the formula to make funding for disadvantaged learners more transparent.

There is to be an open consultation on the 16-19 funding formula. Reports of the preceding informal consultation suggest that it may indeed identify something akin to a ‘post-16 pupil premium’, but it remains to be seen whether this would be passported on previous eligibility for FSM, or based on some other measure of disadvantage.

If the latter, obvious questions arise about continuity of support. It also remains to be seen whether the Government can match the rate of Premium provided pre-16 and load the same expectations on post-16 institutions in relation to how the funding is used.

There are potentially strong arguments for a continuous system of support through to age 19, especially given the imminent raising of the participation age. If the Government is measuring the success of their support for disadvantaged learners at least partly in terms of their higher education destinations, the continuation of targeted support through to university admission is much more likely to generate more positive results.

But support provided direct to the post-16 learner is at least as important as institutional funding in this context. The Government’s route here has been much more contentious because of its decision to abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), on the grounds that it was poorly targeted, replacing it with a new 16-19 Bursary Fund.

The evidence on which this decision was based has been hotly contested, but there are also concerns about the operation of the Fund. The social mobility strategy argues that it:

‘…will be sufficient to pay bursaries of up to £800 a year to all young people who were eligible for free school meals in year 11 who choose to stay on in post-16 education or training’ (p47)

but post-16 providers have discretion to decide who receives a bursary and its value, so there is no guarantee that formerly FSM-eligible learners will receive it and, even if they do, they are quite likely to get significantly less than £800.

This arrangement has not escaped the censure of the Education Select Committee:

‘It will be difficult to ensure that bursary funds are matched efficiently to need and that inconsistencies which will inevitably arise do not erode confidence in the scheme or distort learners’ choices of where to study. The Committee is not persuaded that a strong enough case has been made for distributing £180 million in student support as discretionary bursaries rather than as a slimmed-down, more targeted entitlement. We believe that the Department should have conducted an earlier, more public assessment of the options for better targeting of student support.’

As new post-16 funding arrangements are introduced, it behoves GT Voice to interest itself in their impact on disadvantaged gifted learners as they progress from school to selective universities. In many respects, post-16 is the ‘missing link’ between the school and HE sectors and we neglect it at our peril.

Improving fair access to university

This is not the place to explain the detail of the Government’s controversial reform of higher education tuition fees. Regardless of the built-in support for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, there is a risk that they and their parents will perceive that they are likely to incur a higher level of debt and, since working class people are inherently more debt-averse than others, they will be deterred from participation in higher education.

It may or may not be possible to counteract this effect through informational campaigns highlighting the economic value to the individual of an investment in higher education, as well as the beneficial repayment terms for those on low incomes and the availability of offsetting support while the student is attending the course.

At institutional level, the Government faces a major challenge in turning round the admissions behaviour of some universities, as this previous post illustrated:

  • In 2005/06, the universities with the worst records on fair access were, in order of shame: Newcastle, Warwick, Durham, Loughborough, Oxford, Nottingham, Sheffield, Bristol, Bath, Cambridge and York. In all 11, the percentage of FSM-eligible entrants was under 2%.
  • By 2007/08, the comparable list in order of shame was: Bath, Cambridge, Exeter, Oxford, York, Southampton, Bristol, Newcastle, Warwick. Two fewer universities, but seven of those with under 2% representation in 2005/06 were still under 2% two years later.
  • Over this period, the percentage of FSM-eligible students actually declined at Bath, Bristol, Cambridge, Exeter, Oxford, Southampton and York universities.
  • In 2005/06 Oxford took 20 FSM-eligible students and Cambridge 25 (all figures are rounded to the nearest 5) giving 45 in all at Oxbridge; by 2007/08, Cambridge had fallen to 20 while Oxford remained at 20, so the total number at Oxbridge had fallen to just 40 [the total has since risen again to 45 in 2008/09].
  • However, in percentage terms, in 2007/08, Bath was a worse performer than Oxford and Cambridge and Exeter were worse performers than Oxford.

Access Agreements

Under the new funding arrangements, all universities charging annual fees above £6,000 must confirm annual Access Agreements with the Office For Fair Access (OFFA) .

OFFA announced the outcome of the first round of Agreements in July 2011. These apply to academic year 2012/13.

OFFA estimates that national funding in support of Access Agreements will be £512.6 million, up significantly from £407.3 million in 2011/12. This will be supplemented by a further £52.4 million from the Government’s own National Scholarship Programme.

£299.1 million of the funding from Access Agreements is allocated to bursaries and scholarships to support eligible students, while £77.6 million is for outreach activities and £51.6 million for retention of students once admitted.

The institutional breakdown shows that Oxford and Cambridge together will spend – through Access Agreements and the NSP combined – some £24.2m in 2012/13. It will be interesting to see what increase in formerly FSM-eligible students this produces.

One concern is that the targets within Agreements are perhaps not as tight as they might be. Perversely, there is no requirement placed on universities to specify how many formerly FSM-eligible students they will aim to admit. OFFA failed to impose this indicator of disadvantage – or any other single indicator of disadvantage – consistently across all institutions, so universities are free to use their own preferred indicators.

It follows that the Government has significantly less leverage than it might have secured over universities that are admitting few formerly FSM-eligible learners. This compounds fears about the relative weakness of the OFFA regime and its capacity to challenge recalcitrant universities.

The Higher Education White Paper ‘Students at the Heart of the System’ (June 2011) confirms that OFFA will be strengthened:

‘…so that it can provide more active and energetic challenge and support to universities and colleges…. We will ask the new Director to advise on whether OFFA’s current powers are the right ones to achieve its statutory goals, or whether some clarification or extension is required. This could include, for example, the power to instruct an institution to spend a specific amount on access or retention from its additional fee income; a more flexible range of sanctions; or to make public an assessment of any institution that the Director feels is not making sufficient progress against its Access Agreement.’

Some clarification of the targets regime might be hoped for through this route. The Advocate for Access has also gone some way towards challenging this state of affairs, arguing that OFFA should:

‘assess higher education institutions’ annual progress on access and widening participation by measuring results against objective benchmarks rather than by statements of future intent’

but he makes no effort to define those benchmarks. Since DfE and BIS have impact indicators expressed in terms of FSM eligibility, one might reasonably expect them to be exerting some pressure in that direction.

National Scholarship Programme, Contextual Admissions, Competitive Funding

The Advocate is, however, more concerned about the operation of the National Scholarship Programme. Rather than distributing scholarships to universities, Hughes argues that they should be given mainly to schools and post-16 institutions.

Each year, schools and colleges would be informed of their allocations three years ahead. Scholarships would be awarded to disadvantaged students achieving specified grades, or potentially on the basis of demonstrated potential, say in Year 10 or Year 11.

Hughes draws a parallel with the Texas 10% scheme under which the University of Texas offers a scholarship to the top 10% of every graduating class in every school. Under this arrangement, students need only secure the High School Diploma to be admitted to a Texas university of their choice.

This is a rather muddled and ill-defined idea which would require considerable work to be viable and acceptable to universities. It will be interesting to see whether it is rejected out of hand by the Government or whether they propose a hybrid model.

Otherwise, the White Paper adds relatively little to the package of fair access measures though, like the social mobility strategy, it cautiously encourage universities to use contextual data when admitting disadvantaged learners. The White Paper says:

‘The use of contextual data to identify candidates with the ability and potential to succeed on a particular course or at a particular institution is not a new phenomenon…The Government believes that this is a valid and appropriate way for institutions to broaden access while maintaining excellence, so long as individuals are considered on their merits, and institutions’ procedures are fair, transparent and evidence-based.’

However, one new proposal elsewhere in the White Paper potentially drives a coach and horses through the fair access arrangements. This is the idea of allowing competition between universities for high-achieving students:

‘We propose to allow unrestrained recruitment of high achieving students, scoring the equivalent of AAB or above at A-Level. Core allocations for all institutions will be adjusted to remove these students. Institutions will then be free to recruit as many of these students as wish to come…This should allow greater competition for places on the more selective courses and create the opportunity for more students to go to their first choice institution if that university wishes to take them. We estimate this will cover around 65,000 students in 2012/13. AAB will represent a starting point, but our ambition is to widen the threshold over this parliament, ensuring that the share of places liberated from number controls altogether rises year on year’.

These high-achieving students will be drawn disproportionately from advantaged backgrounds. Arrangements for competition currently lie outside the scope of the Access Agreements just agreed with the universities, so there is no expectation that a proportion will be drawn from disadvantaged backgrounds. Moreover, there was nothing in the White Paper to suggest that contextual admissions could or should be applied in the case of these places.

The Advocate for Access calls only for close monitoring of such arrangements.

Collaboration and Complexity

Finally, it is worth noting that the Advocate for Access is rightly seized of the case for the regional co-ordination of fair access, recommending that a commitment to regional collaboration should be an OFFA-imposed requirement.

It is not clear who will meet the costs which would presumably have to be topsliced from the funding made available to support students.

Moreover, regional collaboration is not sufficient for admission to selective universities, which take in students from throughout the entire country. A student in the South West who wants to attend Durham University derives no benefit from regional collaboration.

A flexible national framework is really essential to maximise the chances of success and minimise financial inefficiency. I have already spelled this out in a previous post.

We have not yet heard from Alan Milburn, appointed ‘The Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility’, who has indicated that access to higher education will be his priority in his first year in the role, now to be expanded to cover Child Poverty and pave the way for a new Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

Although Milburn was expected to publish his first report in September 2011, the Social Mobility Strategy appears to delay this to Spring 2012. It remains to be seen what space if any he has left to add further ideas and suggestions to the pot. There is already a surfeit of cooks in this territory.

The sheer range of these strategies puts great pressure on the Ministerial Group on Social Mobility, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, to co-ordinate activity and ensure that it joins seamlessly together.

The sheer complexity of this policy area is problematic and the chances are that it will continue to develop over the coming months as the White Paper consultation ends and the Government responds to Hughes’ report.

Some have even suggested that the Liberal Democrats will deliberately focus on this area as part of their wider strategy to secure a bigger say on the political direction of the Coalition.

It will be incumbent on GT Voice to take a watching brief and to engage in dialogue with the parallel Bridge Group over how the two can work together in this territory.

Measuring success

We end where we began, with the question of how we define success.

The social mobility strategy devotes a fair bit of attention to measuring progress against different elements of the plan. The indicators it proposes may be regarded as interim measures, contributing towards the ultimate achievement of the HE destination outcomes defined by DfE and BIS

Rather strangely, the specified progress indicators for both these elements of attainment-raising in schools are the percentages achieving KS2 level 4 in English and maths, 5+ GCSEs at grades A*-C including English and maths and 2+ A levels or equivalent of any grade.

These are not particularly relevant to the academic achievement trajectory one would expect of those progressing to a selective university, or even to any university. Such learners need to be securing level 5+ at KS2, A*/A grades at GCSE and grades A*-B at A level.

So there is a fundamental mismatch between the Departmental impact indicators and these declared progress indicators for attainment.

There is also an aspiration – not quite a commitment – to ‘closing the gap between state schools and the independent sector’. This will be supported by ‘a more aspirational indicator comparing the attainment of children in independent school with those in state schools’, which presumably underpins the BIS impact indicator. No further details have emerged to date.

We know that a post-19 destinations measure will be introduced for those completing KS5 in 2012/13. This will include higher education destinations and officials have proposed that it should separately identify selective universities, attracting some criticism as a consequence, in recognition of the risk of perverse incentives.

A London Councils working group objected that separate reference to Oxford and Cambridge:

‘has the potential to skew the real value of courses. Courses offered by other universities, for example, are often ranked higher than the equivalent Oxbridge courses (engineering at Imperial for example). Furthermore, certain courses may be unavailable at Oxbridge such as specialist art or drama courses or the wide range of vocational courses including nursing. Specific reference to Oxbridge destinations could reinforce the intense focus many schools place on Oxbridge as a preferable destination; this has the potential to hinder informative and impartial advice on the full range of options available to young people.

There is no indication to date that any of this destination data will be differentiated to show the progress of learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, though that will presumably be essential.

Final words

One’s overall impression is of a huge policy agenda that requires significant further refinement before it is coherent enough to stand a really good chance of achieving the outcomes expected of it by the Government. There has been some movement in the right direction, but not yet enough.

Because of the time-lags involved, it may be that the Government will never be held to account if there is only a marginal increase in the proportion of disadvantaged gifted learners progressing to selective universities. In the short term, it can always deploy the excuse that change takes time to effect and that slow progress is at least partly attributable to the shortcomings of its predecessor.

Nevertheless, GT Voice and the Government have a shared interest in trying to make these reforms work. There are some real opportunities for GT Voice to make its mark in shaping, as well as supporting both policy and delivery.


September 2011

On Fair Access to Competitive Universities and Grammar Schools


This post examines recent policy and data on fair access to higher education for gifted disadvantaged students in England.

Part Two will look at fair access to selective secondary education, comparing and contrasting fair access policy in the two sectors.

It will show how fair access to grammar schools might be improved, in response to a challenge issued by the Next Left Blog – a Fabian Society publication – to offer solutions to ‘the challenges of educational inequality’.

Recent developments in fair access to higher education (HE) arise from the UK Government’s Response to the Browne Review of Higher Education and Student Finance.

We will not examine here the detail of the student finance package, as set out in the Review and revised in the Response, but we will look closely at progress to date on the Higher Education Scholarship Fund, now known as the National Scholarship Programme (NSP).

One key issue is the relationship between the NSP and support for disadvantaged students in schools and post-16 institutions. This critical issue was examined in a previous post – my response to the November 2010 Bridge Group seminar on securing social mobility through fair access to HE and the professions.

What is Fair Access to Higher Education?

We began to explore how this term is used in the HE sector in an earlier post on the relationship between fair access and social mobility.

For further guidance, who better to consult than the Office of Fair Access (OFFA), the independent public body that exists to promote fair access?

OFFA defines fair access as:

removing the barriers to higher education, particularly financial barriers, that students from lower income and other under-represented backgrounds face’.

Policy makers often assume that fair access is exclusively about securing stronger representation for such students at ‘competitive’ universities, and that it is a subset of ‘widening participation’ activity, which is concerned with the broader issue of entry to higher education per se.

I shall use the phrase ‘competitive universities’ as a catch-all to encompass several related terms including ‘elite’, ‘Russell Group’, ‘academically selective’, ‘leading’ and ‘top’ universities.

There is not space here to explain the fine distinctions between these broadly similar subsets of the wider HE sector but, in broad terms, we are interested in those universities with relatively more demanding entry requirements, including those most likely to charge fees in excess of £6,000 per year under the new arrangements.

While the OFFA definition of fair access is deliberately broad, enabling it to have a remit across the entire HE sector, this post is largely concerned with the operation of fair access at competitive universities, simply because gifted disadvantaged young people should be aiming higher than entry to any institution, given that some 45% of all young people now enter HE.

The population we are concerned with would typically expect to enter HE – at least they would if we assume that they will not be dissuaded by the new student finance package – but they are heavily under-represented in most of the competitive universities.

The task is to improve their attainment, strengthen their aspirations and provide the necessary information, advice and guidance to enable them to compete on a level playing field when applying to such a university.

I note in passing that by no means all ‘competitive’ courses are offered by competitive universities and, conversely, that ‘competitive’ embraces many more institutions than Oxford and Cambridge, despite Michael Gove’s tendency to define the issue solely in terms of entry to those Hallowed Halls.

And, for the sake of completeness, I should add that I am using eligibility for free school meals as the measure of disadvantage, not least because it has now been adopted for the Pupil Premium and so may also determine eligibility for the NSP.

OFFA’s definition of fair access is helpfully amplified in its three strategic aims:

  • to support and encourage improvements in participation rates in higher education from low income and other under-represented groups;
  • to reduce as far as practicable the barriers to higher education for students from low income and other under-represented groups by ensuring that institutions continue to invest in bursaries and outreach;
  • to support and encourage equality of opportunity through the provision of clear and accessible financial information for students, their parents/carers and their advisers.

These aims are secured through an Access Agreement which a university must conclude with OFFA.

All three remain broadly relevant in the new policy environment, though they may require some adjustment to reflect new draft guidance to OFFA from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which outlines the implications for OFFA’s work of the Government’s response to Browne. We will return to that later.


What Browne recommended as additional support for fair access

The Browne Review recommended the merger of several different central funding streams supporting disadvantaged students to enter and remain in HE, noting that the 2010-11 allocations include:

  • £60 million for widening access for full-time students from disadvantaged backgrounds

  • £70 million for widening access for part-time students from disadvantaged backgrounds

  • £10 million for widening access and improving provision for disabled students

  • £170 million for Teaching Enhancement and Success improving retention of full-time students

  • £50 million for Teaching Enhancement and Success improving retention of part-time students

There is a risk of double-counting here but these sums do not seem to include the funding for Aimhigher – a national programme supporting widening participation to the value of some £78 million in 2010-11 – which the Government recently announced it was terminating in July 2011.

If so, this amounts to a total annual investment of some £438 million in widening participation, fair access and retention.

And it is not clear from the Browne Review how much overlap there is between these allocations handled by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the £400 million or so (in FY 2009-10) that Browne says universities have spent on bursaries and the like:

‘Since the 2006 changes, institutions have been required to promote access as a condition of charging higher fees. They spent almost £400m in 2009-10 on meeting this commitment. Most of the money goes on providing bursaries to students receiving the full maintenance grant from Government. Yet the latest evidence from OFFA – the body responsible for promoting fair access since the 2006 changes – states that bursaries have been ineffective in influencing the application decisions made by students from disadvantaged backgrounds.’

Assuming the worst case scenario that there is zero overlap, this increases the total annual spend – by Government and HE combined – to well over £800 million. Let us be generous and assume that current expenditure is of the order of half a billion pounds annually.

Browne proposed merging Government support into a single ‘Access and Success Fund’ (which it did not explicitly quantify) to help ensure that resources are more:

‘tightly focused on students from low participation neighbourhoods…. This funding currently rewards institutions for retaining students regardless of their background. The Access and Success fund will change this – it will only be available to support institutions in recruiting and retaining those students who need additional support due to the effects of a disadvantaged background.’

Browne also proposed changes to the accountability system, recommending the merger of OFFA and the Higher Education Funding Council for England into a single HE Council and the integration of Access Agreements and Widening Participation Strategic Assessments into a single document. (Since 2006, in addition to the Access Agreement concluded with OFFA, universities must also produce a WPSA consistent with a HEFCE framework to receive funding for widening participation.)


The Government’s Alternative Approach: A National Scholarships Programme

Browne envisaged that, when universities charged a fee of more than £6,000 a year, they would pay a levy to cover the additional costs to Government of providing the necessary upfront finance to students. There would be no maximum cap on fees.

This approach was adapted in the Government’s response to Browne, which proposed a maximum annual fee of £9,000, arguing that this removed the need for a levy.

Instead, any university charging more than £6,000 would be required to take part in a National Scholarships Programme, first announced by the Deputy Prime Minister a month earlier.

The NSP will not be introduced until Autumn 2012. It will be worth £150 million by 2014-15. As far as I can establish, we do not yet know how much will be available in the two preceding financial years (although several commentaries wrongly assume that £150m will be available from the outset).

We do know already that there is no transitional funding between April 2011 and Autumn 2012.

The initial Government response to Browne made clear that it aimed to secure matched contributions from universities to its own investment in the NSP, but stopped short of imposing a levy.

It continued:

‘Our current preference is for universities to offer scholarships to targeted students – including the principal beneficiaries of the pupil premium – that would mean at least their first year [of higher education] is free. Other attractive ideas include expanding the model of a foundation year for young people with high potential but lower qualifications.’

These arrangements would be secured through new access agreements policed by OFFA, which would remain separate from HEFCE. It would agree with universities:

a programme of defined progress each year towards their access benchmarks as calculated by the Higher Education Funding Council. If they are not making adequate progress towards these benchmarks, a mechanism will be established to allow OFFA to redirect a proportion of the income from contributions over £6,000 to specified access activities’.

These proposals were clarified in a December 2010 Press Notice which announced a steering group to develop the NSP.

It revealed that Ministers had asked the steering group to consider two specific options:

  • ‘A first free year for disadvantaged students funded by their university with the NSP then funding the students’ final year, meaning that those who stay the course are rewarded’ (presumably this secures the necessary matched funding from the university).
  • ‘A foundation or professional scholarship year to attract young talented people into the professions like law, medicine, finance and architecture who might have been badly advised on which A-Levels to study, with fees waived for a foundation year to get them the qualifications they need.’

The press notice says that both these proposals could potentially help support 18,000 students’ (though the mathematics underpinning this calculation is not explained.)

Meanwhile, OFFA received its new draft guidance which includes several interesting details:

  • All universities’ access agreements will continue to be published.
  • While agreements will apply at the institutional level, universities are free to target their access support more tightly, eg on courses leading to professional careers.
  • There will be no minimum requirement for the content of access agreements, though a reserve power exists in the legislation to create one.
  • OFFA will ‘want to ensure that institutions do not require students to take out higher loans, which the institution then recycles into poorly targeted bursary schemes which your own evidence has shown are not an effective mechanism for widening participation’.
  • However, OFFA should encourage the use of financial waivers – such as the free year of study being examined by the HE scholarships steering group.
  • Although institutions may wish to continue to offer targeted bursaries, this is no longer a universal requirement.
  • Progress measures should be agreed on an institution-by-institution basis.
  • OFFA’s main sanction is not to agree an institution’s access agreement, which would prevent a university from charging more than £6,000 in annual fees.
  • OFFA can also impose a fine of up to £500,000 and secure restitution on behalf of affected students.

Reaction to the NSP: Million+

Although the December proposals make a welcome (if belated) connection between the Pupil Premium and the NSP, initial responses have suggested that they are not well thought through and that the steering group would be well-advised to reconsider. Responses have focused primarily on the proposal for free tuition rather than the foundation year concept.

The think-tank Million+ published a letter to the Minister for Universities describing the proposals as ‘unworkable and unfair’.

Whereas many commentators have wrongly assumed that the Government is committed to contributing £150m per year to the NSP from 2012-13, Million+ makes the opposite – and presumably equally incorrect – assumption that a total of only £150m is available across the three financial years to 2014-15, so only £50 million a year.

Million+ notes the Government’s stated intention that a free first year of university tuition should be offered to ‘the principal beneficiaries of the Pupil Premium’ – in other words all those students in the relevant age group who are eligible for free school meals and who progress to higher education.

Published figures show that there were 10,670 learners meeting these criteria in 2006/07, whereas a funding pot of £50 million annually would allow the Government to fund just:

  • 8,333 students per year if fees are set at £6,000
  • 6,944 students per year if fees are set at £7,200 or
  • 5,555 students per year if fees are set at £9,000

Million+ also points out that, by placing an expectation on universities to match fund, by providing a further year’s free tuition, the Government will create a perverse incentive, punishing financially those universities that contribute most to social mobility by taking in relatively larger numbers of disadvantaged students.

These universities would then be more likely to have to increase their fees unless – like Oxford and Cambridge for example – they were wealthy enough to be able to meet the cost from their endowments.

The letter provides figures to exemplify the argument:

  • With a £9000 pa fee, a university admitting 10 FSM-eligible students would need to spend £90,000 per annum on the NSS to provide one year’s free tuition;
  • However, a university admitting 100 FSM-eligible students would be required to spend £900,000 per annum;
  • And a university with 300 FSM-eligible students would be required to spend £2.7million per annum;
  • While a university with 420 FSM-eligible students (the highest number admitted by any HEI in 2006/7) would be required to spend £3.78 million.

An arrangement of this kind that loaded the financial dice against the newer and relatively less competitive universities would be an own goal because – while it might begin to redistribute FSM-eligible students towards competitive universities – it would be highly unlikely to increase the overall proportion of FSM-eligible students in higher education.

Reaction to the NSP: The Sutton Trust

The Sutton Trust publication ‘Responding to the new landscape for university access’ is also critical of the NSP proposals.

It advances similar arguments to Million+ based on a statistical analysis of the distribution of FSM-eligible students in higher education. It agrees this will have relatively less effect on the country’s most prestigious universities (typically those with the fewest FSM-eligible students) especially those in non-urban settings and will penalise financially those universities with largest numbers of FSM-eligible entrants.

The Trust acknowledges its own support for a ‘first year for free’ arrangement (which it included in its submission to the Browne Review) but argues for a pilot to examine the impact on students’ decisions about which universities to attend.

It also recommends that NSP funding should not be used exclusively for this purpose but should also fund other activity including ‘proven outreach schemes to raise aspirations and the drive to improve access to the most selective universities…’

This can be taken to refer, inter alia, to the Sutton Trust’s own Summer School Programme.

The Trust makes several other recommendations:

  • Given that Aimhigher funding is disappearing, OFFA’s role in securing effective university outreach through access agreements becomes even more important. In this environment, OFFA needs the powers and political support to respond assertively to universities that fail to achieve their access targets.

  • To achieve this, OFFA needs more power and independence. It should have a board including external members and should not be subsumed within HEFCE as recommended in the Browne Review.

  • Access agreements should include ‘an explicit commitment to proven outreach work such as summer schools and mentoring schemes – perhaps 25% of extra fee income or more, depending on the extent of the under-representation of certain groups. At the very least, it should be a significant proportion of fee income spent on access work as a whole’.

  • Access agreements must commit universities to the dual responsibilities of widening participation generally and ensuring fair access into their own institution. The balance between these two imperatives will depend on the nature of the institution.


What next?

There is clearly a lot of work still to do on the NSP and on the wider arrangements supporting fair access.

Key aspects of the bigger picture remain to be clarified, including how much funding (if any) will be available to universities through HEFCE allocations in 2011-12 and subsequent years to complement NSP support.

The HEFCE funding letter just released shows that, while fair access is a high priority, the global sum available will diminish significantly.

It remains to be seen whether the real terms investment in fair access will decline compared with the current investment. If it does, the task of improving the representation of disadvantaged students in competitive universities will be correspondingly harder.

The expected HE White Paper will need to fill the remaining gaps in our knowledge and understanding. It has not been helpful that this complex jigsaw is seemingly being built up piece by piece, rather than emerging holistically from a comprehensive overarching vision and overarching objectives.

Such an approach creates a strong risk that overall coherence will be lacking: policies will not be properly ‘joined up’, as the Government seeks to build connections between the different elements and ‘retro-fit’ them together.

The relationship with the Pupil Premium stands out in this respect. The Premium itself is facing criticism as probably too blunt an instrument to support social mobility.

It is not yet apparent how a sum – initially set at just £430 a year – and which schools are free to deploy as they wish at a time when all budgets are under pressure, will be combined effectively with the NSP to create coherent long-term support for FSM-eligible pupils to secure places at competitive universities.

The demise of the Educational Maintenance Allowance for 16-19 year-olds adds a further strand of uncertainty. But, somewhat belatedly, the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) has acknowledged that the discretionary learner support intended to replace the EMA needs to be factored into the equation.

Its recently published 16-19 Funding Statement says:

‘A consultation in 2011 on the [16-19] funding formula will look at how the formula can better support the Coalition Government’s aims of transparency and fairness, and, in particular, how targeted support for young people can be aligned with the Pupil Premium and the National Scholarships Programme in Higher Education. The review of the funding formula will also take account of the recommendations from Professor Alison Wolf’s review of vocational qualifications.’

This is very much to be welcomed, though it would have been better to have begun to plan with the overall objective of providing coherent support for FSM-eligible students across the three sectors of school, post-16 and HE, rather than examining only now how 16-19 support will fit with the other two elements.

We do not yet know the exact size of the 16-19 Discretionary Support Fund and whether it will be sufficient to continue Pupil Premium support at the same level for all FSM-eligible students once they become 16. We expect a budget of some £70m per year and there is some reason to doubt that this will be sufficient, particularly as the size of the Pupil Premium increases towards £1,500 per pupil per year by 2014-15.


Coda: Interpreting the data on fair access to competitive universities

To complete this analysis, I thought it would be salutory to review different ‘takes’ on recently published data on fair access. Because of the time lags involved in matching different datasets, the latest year for which we have data is academic year 2007/08.


The Browne Review

The official view was encapsulated in the Browne Review, which faithfully reported the evidence submitted to it by the Chairman of OFFA:

‘Sir Martin Harris’s recent report on fair access presented data to show that despite the substantial increases in participation among the least advantaged 40% of young people across higher education overall compared to the mid-1990s, the participation rate among the same group of young people at the top third of selective universities has remained almost flat over the same period. After controlling for differences in attainment at secondary school, there is still a difference in the participation rate of these students on the most selective courses.’


The Sutton Trust

This perspective has been further developed in the Sutton Trust report referenced above.

It first examines the relative achievement of FSM-eligible pupils and pupils educated in independent fee-paying schools, showing that fee-paying pupils are 3.5 times more likely than FSM pupils to attain five GCSEs with grades A*-C including English and maths.

By age 18, they are over 22 times more likely to enter a highly selective university and 55 times more likely to enter Oxford or Cambridge.

The Trust also considers progress on fair access by FSM-eligible students to the UK’s ’30 most academically selective universities’ over the three latest academic years for which figures are available: 2005/06, 2006/07, and 2007/08.

During this period, some 5.5% of students entering English universities were FSM-eligible – equivalent to about 10,000 students a year – compared with 81.5% of other state school pupils and 13% of independent school pupils.

But only 2% of the intake to the 25 most academically selective universities (about 1,300 pupils a year) were FSM-eligible, compared with 72.2% of other state school pupils and 25.8% from independent schools.

At the most selective universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, fewer than 1% ofstudents were FSM-eligible, while almost 50% were from fee-paying schools.

On the other hand, FSM-eligible pupils comprise almost 25% of students at the least selective universities. The Trust acknowledges that A level attainment is the key driver of these differences, but also notes that FSM-eligible numbers are typically higher at all universities based in inner-city areas.


The Labour Opposition

Labour has made some sort of attempt to defend its record on fair access in this newspaper article which uses the same statistics for the same three years.

It says that, between 2005 and 2007, the total number of FSM-eligible pupils attending university increased by 18% while the comparable increase among those not eligible for FSM was 9%.

And that the proportion of FSM-eligible students at the 20 Russell Group universities increased 10% from 975 to 1,075 while the comparable increase for those not eligible was 4.5%, increasing from 32,535 to 34,000.

A Labour MP is quoted:

‘The Tories’ highly selective use of statistics does not accurately reflect the improvements Labour made, both in increasing opportunities for the poorest children and narrowing the achievement gap.’

Given the overall imbalance between FSM and non-FSM, this is – to be honest – mere clutching at straws. An increase of just 100 pupils across 20 universities over three years is hardly a success story, especially given an annual investment of at least half a billion pounds.

Gifted Phoenix

I too have examined these statistics, but from a slightly different perspective.

This table shows changes in the raw numbers and percentages of FSM-eligible entrants to the 38 most competitive universities in England over the same three-year period.

Key points to emerge are:

  • In 2005/06, the universities with the worst records on fair access were, in order of shame: Newcastle, Warwick, Durham, Loughborough, Oxford, Nottingham, Sheffield, Bristol, Bath, Cambridge and York. In all 11, the percentage of FSM-eligible entrants was under 2%.
  • By 2007/08, the comparable list in order of shame was: Bath, Cambridge, Exeter, Oxford, York, Southampton, Bristol, Newcastle, Warwick. Two fewer universities, but seven of those with under 2% representation in 2005/06 were still under 2% two years later.
  • Over this period, the percentage of FSM-eligible students actually declined at Bath, Bristol, Cambridge, Exeter, Oxford, Southampton and York universities.
  • As we know from Michael Gove, in 2005/06 Oxford took 20 FSM-eligible students and Cambridge 25 (all figures are rounded to the nearest 5) giving 45 in all at Oxbridge; by 2007/08, Cambridge had fallen to 20 while Oxford remained at 20, so the total number at Oxbridge had fallen to just 40.
  • However, in percentage terms, in 2007/08, Bath was a worse performer than Oxford and Cambridge and Exeter were worse performers than Oxford. They must be thankful that Oxbridge is taking the rap!
  • Three of the universities in the table – Bradford, City, Queen Mary – recruit between 20 and 30 percent of their intake from FSM-eligible pupils.
  • All of the London universities – including the elite institutions like Imperial, Kings and UCL – achieve a FSM-eligible intake of 5% or more, more than double the proportion recruited at the more problematic institutions.
  • Over the period, there was a 0.7% increase in the average FSM-eligible intake amongst these universities, representing a real increase of 620 students.
  • In 2005/06, 26 of the 38 universities in the table were recruiting below the average of 4.53% eligible for free school meals; by 2007/08 this had increased to 27 recruiting below the average of 5.24%. (so the average intake had improved by just over 0.7%.)

Final thoughts

Overall, this record is not inspiring – suggesting that Browne was right to conclude that the previous regime of bursaries, HEFCE benchmarks and OFFA access agreements was hardly a resounding success.

But it is also hard to see how the new plans will achieve a step change in the short term, or over the lifetime of this Government.

The best chance of achieving success through an education-based intervention is to create a co-ordinated holistic support programme for selected FSM-eligible students from at least Year 9 to HE entry, as suggested in my earlier post.

By fully participating in a collaborative programme of this kind, the worst offending universities could significantly increase the proportion of FSM-eligible students they admit, and do so far more efficiently than by pursuing their own individual outreach programmes with no proper integration with other universities and with the support provided by schools and post-16 institutions.

By insisting on institutions in all three sectors operating autonomously, we are collectively putting the ideology of institutional autonomy ahead of the drive for greater social mobility, even though the Government says that improving social mobility is its top policy priority.

Given the relatively small number of students affected, a co-ordinated centralised programme, flexible enough to meet the different needs of the participants, offers the best prospect of success. By refusing to recognise this we are at risk of compromising the life chances of many gifted disadvantaged learners, for the universities that have become bastions of unfair access will not change of their own volition.


January 2011

On Social Mobility Through Fair Access to Higher Education and the Professions

Regular readers will recall that Part 3 of my extended post on ‘The Transatlantic Excellence Gap’ scrutinised the UK’s progress on improving social mobility through fair access to university – and sought to establish the relationship between that policy priority and gifted and talented (G&T) education.

I will not reprise the full details, but the broad thrust of my argument is that there is a significant overlap between these two areas of education policy – they form a Venn Diagram, each with their own separate concerns but also with a substantive element of shared common interest – and that they should be drawn much more closely together, combining the ‘pull’ from universities and the ‘push’ from schools and the post-16 sector, so securing positive outcomes for all three sectors at lower aggregate cost.

The case is strengthened by this last point: by eliminating duplication and securing economies of scale through effective partnership towards a common end, we can help reduce public expenditure and so contribute towards reducing the deficit.

The continued separation of national responsibility for universities (in DBIS) and schools (in DFE) makes this harder to secure in organisational terms but the obstacles should not be insurmountable. Such a relationship could potentially be fostered and secured between the wider range of stakeholders through determined partnership between G&T Voice, the planned umbrella group for G&T education in England and the the Bridge Group, the newly-formed independent policy association promoting social mobility through higher education.That might be something for each to consider as they develop their respective roles and rationales.

The Bridge Group

The Bridge Group does not as yet have an online presence (though members are beginning to tweet under the hashtag #bridgegroup).It has been formed to:

  • influence the development of national policy and strategy relating to social mobility and higher education;
  • promote greater awareness and clearer understanding of the social mobility agenda with the English government, Parliament and other key decision-makers;
  • identify, share and commission research on matters of relevance to the role of higher education in achieving social mobility; and
  • establish and maintain a network through which members can engage with a wider group of stakeholders to share expertise relating to social mobility and higher education.

Membership is open to those with experience and expertise relevant to social mobility policy and practice – and who are committed to the aims above. The Group plans to meet three times a year. Each meeting will have a theme and evidence will be collated to generate a policy paper and recommendations.

The first meeting has just taken place. I will not say too much about it as it is important to respect the unofficial ‘Chatham House’ arrangements we agreed to observe. However, it addressed the issue of how, in the current funding climate, can higher education institutions work with the professions to promote social mobility. We heard and discussed evidence from three experts, put forward our own ideas and heard from Alan Milburn, who has been appointed by the Government as an independent scrutineer of its progress towards securing better social mobility. From September 2011 he will be reporting annually to Parliament.

The discussion at the workshop has prompted this coda to my September post, which will develop and extend the argument about the benefits of connectivity. In particular, I want to set out how the principle could be translated into a transferable, scalable and sustainable policy solution, since that was the challenge presented to us by the Bridge Group, which is quite rightly seeking workable solutions to recommend to Ministers. Their timing is admirable, since the Coalition Government is currently developing its cross-departmental social mobility strategy which it will publish in February 2011.

There were many strong ideas emerging from yesterday’s discussion but many of them were either:

  • significant, but essentially second-order, process-related issues that might influence provision but could not be said to directly increase the number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds progressing into competitive universities and thence into the professions; or
  • partial solutions that might contribute to that end, for example by strengthening the provision of internships in the professions (as recommended by Milburn in his report for the previous Government, which was referenced in my earlier post. I feel confident in mentioning it here because it is already in the public domain.)

One recommendation that fell into the first category was also reprising a Milburn recommendation: the creation of an independent Social Mobility Commission. I can see how that might be counter-cultural when we are experiencing a ‘bonfire of the quangos’. But Milburn confirmed that he has only two Cabinet Office civil servants to help with his gargantuan task.

It is not quite clear how this arrangement can operate for an exercise that is supposed to be fully independent of Government and one process-based recommendation the Bridge Group might offer could be to provide, through its membership, full support to Milburn as he undertakes his role. A de facto commission already exists in the form of the Bridge Group itself.

A holistic, strategic approach (that is also scaleable and sustainable)

But surely the Bridge Group’s search for policy recommendations must be directed, first and foremost, at identifying policy interventions that have the capacity to increase significantly the numbers of gifted but disadvantaged young people – the ‘most able, least likely’ – entering competitive universities and the professions. I will not repeat the data showing which universities and which professions most need attention: they know who they are.

Ideally these must be policy interventions that can bring about a significant, measurable improvement in numbers within the maximum 5-year lifespan of this present Government. Although the politicians refer regularly to the generation-long lead times required for social mobility reform, the fact that Milburn will be reporting annually tells us that they will also need to look for ‘quick wins’.

Michael Gove never tires of telling us that, in 2007, just 45 FSM-eligible young people made it to Oxbridge. To put it bluntly, we must all agree that we cannot afford to allow that scandalous situation to continue. And it should be perfectly possible to design a policy intervention that begins to increase those numbers significantly within the next five years.

Ideally, binding commitments are also needed to continue the effort over perhaps 10 or more comprehensive spending reviews, but as pragmatists we know that may be impossible to secure. In short, such is the short-termism of government, that ‘quick wins’ may be the only wins in town, despite the best intentions of all concerned.

What I am advocating is a ‘flexible framework’ that is capable of imposing some organisation and coherence on an increasingly fragmented policy context, while allowing all players sufficient autonomy to continue to do their own thing, consistent with the wider philosophy espoused by the Coalition Government.

As I noted in my earlier post, Sir Martin Harris, Director of the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), rightly argued in his April 2010 report commissioned by the previous Government that there is a pressing need for strategic co-ordination and sustained intervention, not least across the education sectors involved. If anything the case for such co-ordination has increased as a consequence of the direction of travel pursued by the Coalition Government, since there is a risk that greater institutional autonomy carries with it unhelpful fragmentation of joint endeavour.

So we need to draw together – within a loose federation that does not unduly compromise autonomy -:

  • the different sectors involved – primary and secondary schools, post-16 institutions, universities and the professions – as well as the many national organisations with an interest, many of which were represented at the Bridge Group event;
  • the wide range of existing support and provision, some of it regional, some national, designed to improve fair access to HE and to the professions. This includes holistic programmes supporting target groups of students to enter particular universities and professions, but also initiatives that may be addressing separately different elements of need, such as raising attainment and achievement to the necessary levels, strengthening students’ aspirations and expectations, providing relevant information, advice and guidance and developing parental and family support;
  • the different sources of funding which support this endeavour, which are also becoming more fragmented as a consequence of recent Government decisions. In terms of central Government support they now comprise the Pupil Premium, the ‘targeted support’ expected to take up some of the slack from the abolition of the EMA, and the planned National Scholarship Fund supporting entry to HE that was proposed in the Browne Review. It is also desirable to lever in some matching funds from universities’ own budgets and from the professions.

Some additional notes on funding

Apropos the National Scholarship scheme, we know that all universities that want to charge a higher graduate contribution than the £6,000 threshold will be obliged to participate. DBIS plans to consult on the details but it proposes to attract matched funding from universities against its own investment of £150m.

It anticipates that universities will offer scholarships to targeted students, including relevant recipients of the pupil premium, to ensure that the fees for at least their first year of higher education are fully subsidised. It is also interested in other ideas, such as expanding the model of a foundation year for young people with high potential but lower qualifications.

But it is vital that the solution incorporates the post-16 sector and post-16 funding, since the pupil premium is only available to those in schools aged up to 16, and we know that something like half of the target group currently enter different post 16 settings after completing Year 11. Although the Government’s structural reforms might change this somewhat, a substantial proportion of these students will continue to move into the post-16 sector between school and university, and we cannot afford to ignore their needs during that crucial two-year period.

Given that a significant proportion of funding in all three sectors will in future follow the disadvantaged student, it is crucial in my view that any policy intervention is also focused directly on the student, rather than on the institutions that he or she chooses to attend, and draws on these resources. That removes much potential deadweight.

What might this flexible framework look like?

Well, potentially it might look something like this:

Partners Eligible Students: – gifted

– disadvantaged

– age 14-19 or 14-21

Initial needs analysis process

Access to a comprehensive, constantly updated database of external opportunities

Development of a tailored programme linking school/college/HEI internal provision with external opportunities drawn from the database

Tailored programme will address as necessary:

– attainment/achievement

-aspirations and expectations

– information, advice, guidance

– parental and family support

– other customised provision as required

Termly/annual targets and renewed needs analysis

Learner carries portable programme via portfolio between schools, sectors, into university and potentially into profession

Schools Pupil premium
Post-16 institutions Post-16 targeted support
Universities HE National scholarships (and matched university funding)
Professions Contribution from Professions
Potentially managed by the Bridge Group at arm’s length from Government
Robust formative and summative independent evaluation to inform development

A flexible framework of this kind would have the following elements:

First, support for a tightly defined cohort of the ‘most able least likely’ young people. I would suggest that this includes all learners:

  • formally identified as gifted by their schools in Year 9 (and recorded as such on the school census return)
  • who are eligible for FSM, assuming this is the measure adopted to define eligibility for the Pupil Premium
  • who are aiming to enter a competitive university and potentially a professional career.
  • within a specific age range. This should start in Year 9, when pupils are choosing their GCSE options and should extend at least through to the point of entry to HE, and potentially to obtaining their first professional post (assuming these two are sequential). So either a 5-year or a 7-year programme. (This is not to say that there shouldn’t also be wider awareness-raising activity for younger pupils in both primary and secondary schools which could also be made coherent under the same framework,)

I note in passing that there are surprisingly few young people who will meet these criteria – probably no more than 2,000-3,000 per year group.

Second, a process for determining on an ongoing basis the particular needs of each student, so that a tailored programme can be devised that might draw differentially on the different resources available according to the students’ particular needs. (The National Strategies have already refined a potentially suitable needs analysis tool developed by Young Gifted and Talented for the City GATES initiative, but there may well be other similar tools available.)

Third, a comprehensive searchable database of all the different types of external opportunities and provision available to these students – provision which can be combined with the support provided through the learner’s own school, college or university to create a coherent programme, complete with termly review and targets, designed to give these young people the best chance of securing the outcomes they seek in terms of entry to university and a profession.

This would ensure that young people’s options are not constrained by what is on offer in their region and/or from their local university. It would also happily accommodate the several holistic support programmes of this type that already exist in different parts of the country.

Suppliers of such external opportunities could if they wished use the database to identify gaps in the market and establish new provision to fill them.

Fourth, such an entitlement would be passported between school, post-16 settings and HE, provided the same students can be sure of receiving support from each of the three different funding sources. All cost could be met from the pupil premium, post-EMA targeted support, HE scholarship and, potentially, matched funding from HE and the professions. So existing and planned budgets would take the strain.

It would also be possible to use it to introduce radical reform, such as increasing the scope for young disadvantaged learners to undertake elements of degree level study while at school, thus shortening the duration of university-based study and reducing the cost to them of undertaking it. There are several models to build on, in the UK – the OU’s YASS scheme – as well as in the US and Australia.

The Bridge Group and its members could if they wished take responsibility for establishing and co-ordinating this framework at arms-length from Government, though it would need a small topslice from the available funding – or an additional source – to meet the associated costs. It would be highly desirable to include sufficient funding to allow for robust formative and summative evaluation which could be tendered competitively.

An initiative of this kind would be affordable, scalable and sustainable. It would offer the Bridge Group an excellent opportunity to make a real difference to social mobility. And it would be much more likely to increase relatively quickly the flow of bright young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into our most competitive universities and the most demanding professional careers.



The Transatlantic Excellence Gap: Part 3 – Social Mobility Through Fair Access to Higher Education

How the Excellence Gap and Fair Access are Related

In Part 1 we looked at the excellence gap in the US; in Part 2 we considered evidence of a similar gap in the UK and asked whether the Coalition Government’s education policy would help to narrow it.

Michael Gove refers repeatedly to the fact that very few disadvantaged young people enter our top universities, giving even greater prominence to this persistent, concrete and much-debated manifestation of the excellence gap.

While the relatively lower attainment of bright but poor applicants isn’t the sole cause of social bias in application for and entry to selective universities, it is the main cause. Hence any policy intervention must help to improve the pre-university attainment of such students so they can compete with their more advantaged peers.

In the UK the issue of admission to our selective universities – including Oxford, Cambridge, the rest of the so-called ‘Russell Group’ and some others – is commonly labelled ‘fair access’, ie about securing the fair access of under-represented groups.

It is one facet of the broader issue of widening participation in higher education as a whole.

As a higher education matter, fair access falls within the remit of Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. Gove has a clear interest, but not the lead responsibility.

Many had expected ministerial responsibility for universities to be restored to the education portfolio when the new Cabinet was appointed, but this did not happen.

Since securing fair access depends critically on co-ordinating the admissions-driven ‘pull’ from universities and the achievement-driven ‘push’ from schools and colleges (to which many students transfer between the ages 16-19), this significant obstacle will need to be overcome if we are to see any real improvement.

If we add to this the autonomy of competitive universities over admissions, which is jealously guarded, plus the Coalition Government’s enthusiasm for greater institutional autonomy in the school and college sectors, the path towards co-ordinated system-wide improvement seems fraught with difficulty.

Like many higher education matters, fair access is currently ‘parked’ while the Government awaits the outcomes of the Browne Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance, due in Autumn 2010.

As we saw in Part 2, the Government is publicly committed to consider Browne’s recommendations ‘against the need to… increase social mobility…and attract a higher proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds’.

The review was instigated in November 2009 by Peter Mandelson, Vince Cable’s predecessor, on behalf of the former Labour Government. The terms of reference make clear that, in considering finance and funding options, it should take into account ‘promoting fair access to all institutions’.

Browne issued a call for proposals which notes that, while there is evidence of good progress over the last five years in widening participation in the HE sector as a whole, ‘there appears to have been less progress in widening access to the most selective institutions despite considerable efforts by these institutions to improve the position’.

This is a cautious understatement of the damning evidence reported in a parallel review of fair access, conducted by Sir Martin Harris, Director of the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) which Browne’s terms of reference require it to take into account. We shall look briefly at Harris’ recommendations later in this post.

Meanwhile, Vince Cable has offered Browne a few gentle steers of his own. In July 2010, he made a speech on Universities which floats the notion of quotas (‘For example, what would be the pros and cons of colleges reserving places for a certain number of pupils from each of a wide range of schools?’).

This is noteworthy, given that quota systems received short shrift under Labour. For example, the Milburn review (see later) expressly rejected them, having drawn attention to US models developed at Harvard Medical School and the University of Texas. Browne may feel obliged to address the issue given that Cable has raised it, paying due regard to the views of Harris.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. To understand the detail it is necessary to sketch in the bigger picture. Any relationship between fair access, the excellence gap and gifted and talented education will be determined within a much bigger political agenda: social mobility.

Social Mobility – a Priority for the Coalition Government

In August 2010, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister gave a wide-ranging speech on social mobility, marking the first 100 days of the new Coalition Government.

His speech outlines a direction of travel rather than a finished policy. Key points include:

  • The Government’s short-term agenda is dominated by the need to control public expenditure, but it also has a necessarily longer term agenda to improve inter-generational social mobility.
  • Labour failed to achieve this because their objectives were confused and unclear. They relied over much on ‘standardised, centralised, universal solutions rather than putting power and resources in the hands of those who need them most’.
  • The role of further and higher education is identified as one of five key sources of social segregation – alongside the impact of background on educational attainment and three other dimensions: early years education, parental engagement in their children’s education and access to the professions.
  • The Government is drawing up its own ‘comprehensive social mobility strategy’ through a ministerial group chaired by Clegg himself. Alan Milburn is appointed an ‘independent expert reviewer’ who will report annually to Parliament on the Government’s progress, starting in September 2011.

The adoption of independent annual progress reviews rather gives the lie to Clegg’s insistence that improving social mobility is predominantly a long-term strategy. This Government will be under pressure to demonstrate tangible evidence of progress, including any ‘quick wins’ that are achievable in the next 4-5 years.

Since fair access is potentially one such relatively ‘quick win’, we might expect it to have some prominence within the Coalition Government’s Social Mobility strategy. It is a high profile indicator of progress in which the media takes a keen interest (that is why Gove references it so regularly).

In order to secure such a win however, the Government must give priority to a coherent support package for relatively small numbers of academically gifted but socially disadvantaged 14-19 year-olds.

Positioning Fair Access and Gifted Education Within Social Mobility Policy

The Coalition Government’s interest in social mobility was shared by the previous Labour Government. Clegg’s Ministerial Group will face the difficult task of moulding a coherent and workable strategy that is discernibly different from Labour’s: this cannot simply be a matter of ‘putting power and resources in the hands of those who need them most’.

One concrete action they could take would be to bring fair access and gifted education together into a coherent cross-Departmental policy for the support of academically gifted young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

This would make a virtue of the significant overlap between the two policy agendas while continuing to recognise the much wider focus of gifted and talented education on one hand and of widening participation in higher education on the other.

There was an opportunity missed to secure this under Labour, through Alan Milburn’s wide-ranging report on fair access to the professions.

But Milburn recommended instead translating the entire national gifted and talented programme into a much broader-based aspiration-raising concept, so providing an umbrella for several of the report’s more specific recommendations for additional mentor support, work tasters and activities to develop ‘soft skills’.

No substantive justification was offered for this attempt to hijack the G&T programme. The few arguments advanced are confused. For example, the claim that funding for the existing programme is too thinly spread is used to justify spreading it more thinly still!

In the event, it mattered little. Although the Labour Government accepted most of Milburn’s recommendations in its generic January 2010 response (arguing that the reforms it was already introducing for the G&T programme would bring it into line with Milburn’s vision) – the General Election was called shortly afterwards.

The Harris Report on Fair Access

Unfortunately, the April 2010 Harris Report – ‘What More Can be done to Widen Access to Selective Universities’ , also fails to make the case for bringing fair access and gifted education into closer relationship.

Harris suggests at one point that the education department’s responsibilities are outside his remit, but this does not stop him from making at least one recommendation directed towards it. In fact his terms of reference include: ‘how best to promote the partnership of schools and universities to identify and mentor the most talented young people from an early age’.

He is certainly seized of the importance of strategic co-ordination and sustained intervention:

‘And indeed, the essential core of my recommendations is that selective universities, almost certainly working in groups to maximise regional coverage and of course in close partnership with schools-based colleagues, should take substantial further steps to identify, at the earliest possible time, those young people of talent from poorer families with least experience of higher education – those ‘most able but least likely’ to apply to such universities. I have suggested that the process must start not later than the end of year 9, when curricular decisions are made which, as we have seen, may have far-reaching consequences for students…..Clearly very close collaboration between universities and schools is needed to identify those young people most likely to benefit from such intensive support and then to provide the intensive, independent advice and guidance – pastoral, curricular and financial – that all commentators agree is essential if real progress is to be made.’

But he fails entirely to recognise the potentially valuable contributionoffered by gifted education, even though this is prominent in some of the earlier documents he will have reviewed when compiling his own.

For example, the October 2008 report by the Sutton Trust for the National Council of Educational Excellence ‘Increasing higher education participation amongst disadvantaged young people and schools in poor communities’ offers a wide-ranging review of the evidence and a coherent set of recommendations, including that ‘all schools should have an effective gifted and talented programme which makes links to higher education institutions’

This was further developed in the Government’s own publication – the rather clumsily titled NCEE Implementation Plan for the Higher Education Mobilisation Strand:

‘…officials will work closely together to ensure that the Government response to NCEE’s recommendations draws them together into a coherent policy, so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and the relationship between HE, colleges and schools is strengthened significantly. This will ensure better progression for all learners, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have the potential to progress to our most competitive universities. They will benefit in particular from work across DIUS and DCSF [the two Government Departments responsible] to build a stronger relationship between support for gifted and talented learners in schools and colleges and the promotion of fair access to HE’.

So what are the prospects for gifted education in the new social mobility strategy?

While there may not be full consensus about the best course of action to improve fair access, most parties are broadly agreed that action should be co-ordinated:

  • across the school, college and HE sectors
  • across the government departments responsible for schools and HE respectively
  • geographically and across different initiatives, to ensure economies of scale, efficiency and elimination of duplication

It should also be drawn together into a single, sustainable support framework for the ‘most able least likely’ (ie least likely to apply and achieve entry to a competitive university) that addresses the full range of their needs, beginning in Year 9 and continuing right through the HE entry, spanning any transition into a post-16 institution.

Strengthening attainment is of paramount importance, but other dimensions include aspiration-raising, the development of soft skills, and the provision of high-quality, relevant and timely information, advice and guidance.

This is very close to the design of the targeted support dimension in the current gifted and talented programme. A flexible framework of this kind – funded by matched sums from the pupil premium (additional school funding that will follow the disadvantaged pupil) and universities’ funding for disadvantaged students’ bursaries – could lead to a significant improvement in Gove’s favourite statistic within the lifetime of this Government.

It remains to be seen whether something of this kind will emerge from either the Browne Review or Clegg’s wider Social Mobility Strategy. Given the obstacles noted above, advocates may have their work cut out to persuade Government of the case.

But this should not stop the apologists for gifted education and fair access from making common cause.


August 2010