Private school chain faces Michael Gove inquiry on whistleblower claims

Private school chain faces Michael Gove inquiry on whistleblower claims

guardian.co.uk |by Daniel Boffey

  • Daniel Boffey
  • The Observer, Saturday 9 June 2012
Sir Chris Woodhead

Sir Chris Woodhead said Cognita would‘robustly’ defend itself against the claims. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/Rex Features

The private school chain run by Sir Chris Woodhead, a former chief inspector of schools, is under investigation by the Department for Education over claims that it has defrauded the generous state-run pension scheme for teachers.

Officials are acting on information from a former senior executive at Cognita, which has a multimillion-pound turnover and manages more than 50 fee-paying schools across the country.

It is claimed that, in order to lure high-achieving staff, Cognita filed paperwork to ensure that headteachers at schools not eligible to benefit from the Teachers Pensions Scheme (TPS) were registered as working in schools that are covered.

Documents seen by the Observer show that at least one headteacher, John Price, working at Chilton Cantelo, in Dorset, a school where staff are ineligible to membership of TPS, did enjoy the benefits, although the company says the arrangement is legitimate.

The matter has been internally investigated by the company’s lawyers and its chief executive, Rees Withers, wrote to the whistleblower denying there was any issue, adding that there were no grounds to accuse Cognita of dishonesty. He wrote: “Given the complexities of pension legislation it would be perfectly feasible for illegitimate arrangements to be put in place through a misunderstanding of the rules.”

However the allegation is now, according to a letter from the education secretary Michael Gove to the whistleblower’s MP, “being investigated by my officials”.

The inquiry comes at a sensitive juncture for Woodhead, whose company is said to be seeking new financial backing to fund its expansion in Asia.

It also follows revelations by the Observer last year that parents at its £7,400-a-term Southbank International school in London believed the company had been “milking profits” at the expense of children’s education.

In other allegations made to both the DfE and theObserver, the whistleblower, a former senior education officer at the firm who was sacked last summer after making the claims internally, says he was asked to take part in commercial espionage, said to be referred to as “secret shopping” within the firm.

He claims he was asked to pretend to be a prospective parent along with a female colleague in order to pick up commercially valuable information from a rival school.

He says the company’s UK marketing director, Nicole Louis, even handed him a script to use during a planned visit to St Michael’s school in Llanelli last year, which competes with Cognita’s Ffynone House school in Swansea. Ffynone House has since been transferred back to its previous charitable owners amid questions over the school’s financial viability.

Two months before he was fired, the whistleblower received a letter from Withers, saying: “I appreciate that you felt it wrong of Nicole Louis to ask you to adopt a false name and pretend to be a prospective parent and that you believe that, as a general rule, it is inappropriate for a senior employee of Cognita to adopt such an approach to assess the facilities of a rival.

“However the issue that you raised in your original letter of complaint was that such conduct constituted ‘fraudulent conduct’.

“I am satisfied that such conduct is not ‘fraudulent’ in the sense of some criminal law offence having been committed.

“I note your opinion on what the head of the school could have done. However, the point is that he did not call the police and, having already said in previous correspondence that the practice has been discontinued until the matter can be debated at board level to determine whether such an approach is ethically and commercially right for the business, I fail to see what further you expect of me.”

The whistleblower further claims there was a brutal culture at the firm. Minutes of a meeting between Woodhead, who is the firm’s chairman, and Cognita heads on 12 May 2011 records Woodhead saying:“Certain members of staff at head office should stop behaving in a brutal and cavalier fashion.”

An email, seen by the Observer, from David Baldwin, then a senior education officer at the firm, to the whistleblower in October 2010, also admits: “We cannot lose people like yourself in this often faceless, sometimes brutish company.”

Woodhead said Cognita would “robustly” defend itself but would offer no further comment. The DfE said it was aware of the allegation but could not comment further.

Primary school children to be expected to learn and recite poetry

Primary school children to be expected to learn and recite poetry

guardian.co.uk

  • Press Association
  • guardian.co.uk, Sunday 10 June 2012 04.49 EDT
Michael Gove

Michael Gove, the education secretary, wants to make English teaching at primary schools more rigorous. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Children as young as five will be expected to learn and recitepoetry by heart in a major overhaul of the national curriculum for schools in England.

The education secretary, Michael Gove, will promise a new focus on the traditional virtues of spelling and grammar when he sets out his plans for the teaching of English in primary schoolslater this week.

At the same time, Gove will put forward proposals to make learning a foreign language compulsory for pupils from the age of seven.

Under his plans, primary schools could offer lessons in Mandarin, Latin and Greek, as well as French, German and Spanish from September 2014.

Gove is said to be determined to make the teaching of English at primary school “far more rigorous” than it is at present.

He also hopes to reverse the decline in pupils taking foreign languages at GCSE by making them mandatory for the first time at primary school level.

Ministers believe that equipping children with foreign language skills is essential if they are to be able to compete in a global economy and support economic growth in future.

Officials acknowledge the proposals are likely to be controversial with some people arguing that they are too demanding while others will feel they are not demanding enough.

Gove is said to be keen to promote a public debate on the plans before redrafting them for a formal consultation later in the year.

They follow a report on the future framework of the national curriculum in England drawn up by an expert panel chaired by Tim Oates, the director of research at the Cambridge Assessment exam board.

On the teaching of English, the aim is to ensure that pupils leave primary school with a strong command of both written and spoken English, with high standards of literacy.

It will call for a systematic approach to the teaching of phonics as a basis for teaching children to become fluent readers and good spellers.

It will also emphasise the importance of grammar in mastering the language, setting out exactly what children should be expected to be taught in each year of their primary schooling as well as lists of words they should be able to spell.

At the same time the study of poetry will become an important part of the subject at primary school level.

From Year 1, at the age of five, children will be read poems by their teacher as well as starting to learn simple poems by heart and practise recitals.

The programme of study for Year 2 will state that pupils should continue “to build up a repertoire of poems learnt by heart and recite some of these, with appropriate intonation to make the meaning clear”.

More generally the curriculum will place a much stronger emphasis on reading for pleasure with children from Year 1“becoming very familiar with key stories, fairy stories and traditional tales”.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We will be making an announcement on this shortly.”

Foreign languages to be taught at school from age seven

Foreign languages to be taught at school from age seven

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar on June 10, 2012

  • Jeevan Vasagar, education editor
  • guardian.co.uk, Sunday 10 June 2012 12.25 EDT
primary school pupils

Learning a foreign language could soon become compulsory for primary school pupils from the age of seven under government reforms Photograph: Don Mcphee for the Guardian

All children are to be taught a foreign language – which could include Mandarin, Latin or Greek – from the age of seven under reforms to the national curriculum being unveiled by the education secretary, Michael Gove.

In other reforms, children will be encouraged to learn science by studying nature, and schools will be expected to place less emphasis on teaching scientific method.

The introduction of compulsory language teaching in primary schoolsis intended to reverse the dramatic decline in takeup at GCSE. Pupils will need to be able to speak in sentences, with the appropriate pronunciation, and express simple ideas clearly in another language.

They will be expected to develop an understanding of the basic grammar of the language, and be acquainted with songs and poetry. Ministers say that teaching should focus on making “substantial progress” in one language.

The science curriculum is expected to emphasise using the natural habitat around schools – learning biology by studying the growth and development of trees, for example.

There will be less of a focus on doing experiments. Instead, children will be taught to observe their surroundings and learn how scientists have classified the natural world. One source with knowledge of the curriculum review said: “The idea of science being based around a careful observation of the world is a very important place to begin. The science curriculum in Japan has at its core the love of nature. In the past we put too much emphasis on how scientists found stuff out, not enough on what they have found out.”

The curriculum reforms will result in more demanding lessons, and represent a return to the basics of each subject. In maths, the teaching of statistics at primary school will be slimmed down to make way for more mental arithmetic.

Children will be expected to do multiplication and division with large numbers without the use of pen and paper. Pupils in the final year of primary school will be introduced to algebra.

The new programmes of study, which are being published for consultation this week, are to be introduced in schools in September 2014. They follow a report on the future framework of the national curriculum in England drawn up by an expert panel chaired by Tim Oates, director of research at Cambridge Assessment, an exam board. One of the most far-reaching proposals is a plan to scrap the levels that children are awarded in Sats tests at the end of primary school. The percentage of pupils reaching level 4 is used to determine whether a primary school is failing. It is not clear what will replace Sats levels. Scrapping them may pave the way for schools to provide more specific details of pupils’ progress in subjects.

In English, the curriculum will emphasise the importance of grammar. For the first time, the government will set a list of words that all children must learn how to spell. These will include bruise, destroy, ridiculous and tyrant.

Pupils will be expected to learn poems by heart and recite them in public. They will also be taught how to debate.

The new English curriculum will say that by the end of year 4, children should be listening to and discussing a wide range of fiction and nonfiction. There is also greater stress on learning to read through phonics.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “There is no doubt these programmes are more demanding. It is appropriate to express high expectations in a statement of curriculum aims, but schools will need time and support to develop their teaching to reach those aims.”

The shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, said the government was “absolutely right” to make the learning of foreignlanguages compulsory from the age of seven.

On BBC1’s Sunday Politics programme, he urged ministers to go further. “Children will get a love of learning languages if they get the chance to learn them younger. The government’s talking about seven. I would encourage schools to start teaching languages younger than seven,” he said.

Twigg said he was opposed to the legislation that created free schools, but a future Labour government would not close down“excellent schools”. He said: “I have a different concern about free schools … At the moment there is a serious shortage of primary school places in many parts of the country and yet the government’s spending priority on schools’ capital is free schools.”

The number of primary schools teaching languages has been increasing in response to a target set by the previous government., though school inspectors say headteachers’ monitoring of language provision can be weak. This is often because primary heads feel they lack competence to judge language provision, Ofsted says. Languages have collapsed at GCSE since they were made optional at the age of 14. In 2010, just 43% of GCSE candidates were entered for a language, down from 75% in 2002.

1500-1600 Renaissance and Reformation

The History Of Education In England

An occasional series highlighting the history of our education system from the 6th Century onwards

Henry VIII

1500-1600 Renaissance and Reformation

Europe was reshaped by two forces during this time.

The first of these was the Renaissance (rebirth), a cultural movement that started in Italy during the 14th Century before spreading throughout the continents over the following three hundred years. Whilst the Renaissance tends to be considered in terms of artistic development such as linear perspective in painting it also encompassed a resurge in learning from classical sources and a more generally humanist educational reform. This educational reform was based on reasoning and empirical evidence.

The second force was the Reformation, the establishment of Protestantism as a branch of Christianity. It was prompted by discontent with the perceived worldliness of the Papacy and the financial demands it made. It had begun as far back as the 14th Century when the Lollards, led by John Wycliffe and the Hussites who were followers of a Czech reformer called Jan Hus began to attack the hierarchical and legalistic structure of the Church. The Reformation however, is usually reckoned as having begun in 1517 when Martin Luther protested about Church corruption and the sale of indulgences. The movement subsequently spread across Europe during the following two hundred years.

_

 The English Reformation

For England’s part the process was a much more local affair and centred on Henry VIII’s disputes with Rome regarding the status of his marriages. At first Henry (pictured – from the portrait by Hans Holbein) opposed the reforming movement and dedicated his book Assertio Septum Sacramentorum (Defence of the Seven Sacraments) to Pope Leo X, who rewarded him in 1521 with the title Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith).  This Papal loyalty began to change in 1527 with Henry’s desire to end his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. In addition he was also keen to extend the sovereignty of central government. It was therefore, for both political and personal reasons that he both overthrew and dissolved the monasteries.

Henry’s education was under the direction of John Skelton and Bernard Andre amongst others, and as a result he received the best grammar school, song school and university education of the day. He studied Latin, literature, rhetoric, dialectic, music, French, Italian and Spanish.

According to the historian Leach:

“Henry VIII was, perhaps, the most highly educated person for his time who ever sat on the throne of England. … Hence his zeal for learning and for education. No king ever showed more desire to promote learning and learned men, and none was more impressed and desirous of impressing on others the advantages, or did more for the advancement of education. Whether in the statutes of the realm or in the ordinances and statutes of the many foundations of his time, he was never tired of expatiating on the necessity of education and the benefit that educated men were to church and commonwealth.” (Leach 1915:277)

Leach estimated that there were approximately 400 schools for a population of just 2.25 million with one school for every 5,625 people although he did accept that it was difficult to ascertain the precise number of schools and even harder to calculate the exact population levels at any given point during the Middle Ages.

Under Henry’s leadership, the English Reformation affected education in a number of ways. Some of the old foundation schools were closed and an equal number of new ones were opened. Many older schools were revived, expanded, or converted into free schools. The grammar school remained central to the system, but there was an important change in its sponsorship. While the typical medieval grammar school belonged to the church, the new grammar schools were mostly private foundations supervised in variable degrees by both Church and State.

The abolition of the larger monasteries in 1540 resulted in the refounding of twelve grammar schools as part of so-called ‘new foundation’ cathedrals. In these new institutions the monks, who had removed the canons 600 years earlier, were now turned out to make room for canons.

The statutes of the re-founded school at Canterbury included a chapter concerning ‘The Method of Teaching”. It allowed for six classes with three under the Usher and three under the headmaster. These schools would provide the majority of the education of England until the eighteenth century.

Another major outcome of the Reformation was the translation of the Latin Bible into the vernacular of the day and in 1535 Henry VIII’s Vicar-General and chief adviser Thomas Cromwell ordered that copies of William Tyndale’s new English Bible were to be placed in every parish church. Parliament was unhappy with this decision and showed its displeasure in 1543 (three years after Cromwell had fallen from grace and been executed) by passing an Act which banned artisans, husbandmen, labourers, servants and almost all women from reading or discussing the Bible. The prohibition proved impossible to enforce however. And the brief availability of the English Bible had already encouraged many to learn to read and had made them think about the nature of society and the church. ‘This was a cultural revolution of unprecedented proportions and the consequences are deemed to have stretched way beyond the period of the Reformation and the English Revolution.

The English Renaissance

The Renaissance came relatively late to England and is widely viewed as being a feature of the Elizabethan period in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, with writers like William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, Sir Thomas More, Francis Bacon, Sir Philip Sidney and John Milton, architects such as Inigo Jones, and composers Thomas Tallis, John Taverner and William Byrd. However, while the Reformation resulted in changes to the structure of the English school system, the Renaissance appears to have had little effect on the curriculum. One historian wrote:

‘while the schools were reorganised by the Reformation their teaching was not redirected by the Renaissance’.

This meant that Greek and occasionally Hebrew were added to the main Latin curriculum (to assist correct understanding of the scriptures) and there was more study of literature, but the education provided by the grammar schools – and by the universities – remained rigid and narrow.

As a result the major achievements of the Renaissance, in the vernacular literatures, in geographical discovery, in new painting and music, in the new spirit in philosophy and physical inquiry, in changing attitudes to the individual, had little effect on the standard forms of general education.

The renaissance did however, have the effect of extending education to the laity while Henry’s reforms reduced the control of the monks. The period was a complex one, but with three clear trends: ‘the increase in vernacular teaching, the failure of the traditional institutions to adapt either to a changing economy or to an expanding culture, and the passing of most of the leading schools from sponsorship by a national institution to private benefaction. The main educational theories of the Renaissance – especially the ideal of the scholar-courtier – had little effect on English schools. It has also been argued that they had ‘the paradoxical effect of reducing the status of schools’ in favour of an alternative pattern, ‘drawing in part on the chivalric tradition, of education at home through a private tutor’ (Williams 1961:133), a preference which, for many families, would last well into the nineteenth century.

Apprenticeships and chivalry

As early as the 16th century and even more so in the 17th there was much criticism of the limited curriculum of the grammar schools because it was based on the requirements of the universities and the learned professions. In particular, it no longer suited the needs of the upper classes, who wanted their sons trained for posts at Court, for diplomacy and for higher appointments in the army.  As a result, two other types of educational provision became popular with the upper classes: apprenticeships in crafts and trades, which were standardised in the Elizabethan Statute of Artificers in 1562; and the chivalry system, which enabled noble families to send their young sons to be pages at great houses and undergo a course of training for knighthood. It has been pointed out that the existence of these two systems, alongside the academic system, reminds us of the determining effect on education of the actual social structure. The labouring poor were largely unaccounted for although there are notable cases of individual boys getting a complete education, through school and university based on merit. For the rest, education was organised in general relation to a firm structure of inherited and destined status and condition: the craft apprentices, the future knights, the future clerisy.

At this time, in France and in the German and Scandinavian states – knightly or courtly academies were being founded to give instruction to young nobles, not only in horsemanship and the use of arms, but also in modern languages, history and geography, and in the application of mathematics to military and civil engineering.

A proposal for the establishment of a school on these lines in England was made by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1572, and in the following century Cowley, Locke, Defoe and other writers urged the setting up of such schools. In the 17th century England’s upper classes sent their sons to private tutors, and then to the continental knightly or courtly academies. The development of this type of school designed for the governing class was one of a number of movements which reflected the disparity between classical grammar schools and the requirements of contemporary life.

New types of school

Although the traditional grammar school changed little, there were significant developments in the education of younger children. The number of schools increased and there was a wide variety of forms, ranging from instruction by priests to private adventure schools..

Another type of school which began to develop was the ‘writing school’. The aim of these schools was to meet the secular needs of a society in which trade was now expanding rapidly and whose administration was becoming more complex. Some grammar schools adopted their policy of teaching English and accounts.

Elizabethan England

Elizabeth I’s reign from 1558 to 1603 was a period of extraordinary expansion: Elizabethan England ‘took the world by surprise’ – in navigation, commerce, colonisation, poetry, drama, philosophy and science. Much of this was due to ‘the immense extension of lay initiative and effort’ in every area of national life – ‘not least in the sphere of education and the schools’ (Leach 1915:332).

One of the most notable educationists of the period was Roger Ascham (1515-1568), the teacher of Queen Elizabeth. He bemoaned the lack of status accorded to education:

“It is pitie, that commonlie, more care is had, yea and that emonges verie wise men, to finde out rather a cunnynge man for their horse, than a cunnyng man for their children. To the one they will gladlie giue a stipend of 200 crounes by yeare, and loth to offer to the other 200 shillinges. God suffereth them, to haue, tame, and well ordered horse, but wilde and vnfortunate children.” (The Scholemaster, quoted in Nunes, undated)

Ascham also stressed the importance of play in education.

‘The Scholehouse should be in deede, as it is called by name, the house of playe and pleasure, and not of feare and bondage.’

He set up his own school, funded by Richard Sackville.

Students slow to apply for teacher training

Students slow to apply for teacher training

guardian.co.uk |by Rebecca Ratcliffe

  • Rebecca Ratcliffe
  • guardian.co.uk, Thursday 31 May 2012 08.46 EDT
teacher training

Figures from last year suggest entrance to teacher training courses is already increasingly competitive. Photograph: Anna Gordon

Fewer students are applying to become teachers since the government began to reduce bursaries for those with 2:2 degrees and turn away applicants with thirds.

Applications to teacher trainingcourses are down by 15% on last year, after the number of bursaries was also cut back for those applying to teach non-priority subjects.

But research shows more students want to join the profession. Over 80% of final-year students think teaching is a high-status career choice, according to research released today by the Teaching Agency, while a separate survey shows schools and universities are the second most popular type of employer

Professor John Howson, director of Data for Education which monitors teacher recruitment, says changes to entry criteria have caused a slump in applications.

“This is the first year since the government has effectively banned applications from those holding a third. At the same time, bursaries are dependent upon degree classification – in competitive subject areas those holding a 2.2 will not get a bursary.”

The basic skills test of literacy and numeracy to be sat by all trainee teachers from this year is to be made more rigorous, as part of government efforts to make the profession “brazenly elitist”.

Figures from last year suggest entrance to teacher training courses is already increasingly competitive. Entrants to Initial Teacher Training (ITT) held the highest number of 2:1s and first-class degrees on record, while the numbers of top-class graduates entering university-based training has also increased.

It is difficult to predict if the recruitment changes will create better teachers, says Howson. “On the one hand, you can argue that the better qualified graduates are, the better teachers they will be. But of course there are other characteristics which make great teachers, such as interpersonal skills and resilience.”

Dan Ashbury, who is studying for a PGCE in modern and foreign languages at Goldsmiths, University of London, says there are many different elements to teaching: “I spent time teaching English in Austria while I was on my year abroad and realised that it was what I wanted to do. But it isn’t any easy job – as a teacher you’re expected to do everything from providing care and support, to imparting knowledge and being an authoritative figure.”

The Department for Education revealed recruitment for five subject areas is below target in its evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) earlier this month, though it did not specify which these were.

Alex McClimens, a spokesperson for the Teaching Agency, says it expects more people will apply towards the end of the year.“Inquiries about training to teach are up and we’re confident that this will translate into applications later in the year.”

For some subjects, more funding has been made available. Applications to teach modern foreign languages and physics have increasedfollowing the introduction of financial incentives, including tax-free bursaries of up to £20,000.

Teachers could have pay frozen after poor school inspection reports

Teachers could have pay frozen after poor school inspection reports

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar

  • Jeevan Vasagar, education editor
  • The Guardian, Tuesday 29 May 2012
Pupils in a classroom

Ofsted’s ‘satisfactory’ grade for schools will from September be replaced with ‘requires improvement’. Photograph: Alamy

Teachers could have their pay frozen after school inspections under new Ofsted measures aimed at linking salaries with the quality of classroom performance.

Announcing the changes, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, said Ofsted will“consider whether there is a correlation between the quality ofteaching and salary progression”.

Inspectors will look at anonymised information about the performance management of all teachers in schools they visit to ensure that heads are using pay to raise standards, Ofsted says. But inspectors will not be able to influence the salary of individual teachers.

In a speech in February, the chief inspector said heads should only approve salary increases for the most hardworking teachers. “The thing that irritates good teachers, people who work hard and go the extra mile, is seeing the people that don’t do that being rewarded,”Wilshaw said.

MPs have recommended that teachers’ pay should be more closely linked to the value they add to pupil performance so that the best are rewarded while the weakest are discouraged from staying in the profession.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, criticised the measure, saying it was wrong to pay one teacher more than another for success that was due to the efforts of everyone in the school.

She said: “Performance management is supposed to be about encouraging teachers in developing their skills, not about judging pay or comparing pupil results,” Blower said. “Teaching is a collegiate profession and this is a divisive, unrealistic and simplistic way of looking at how schools work.”

In the same announcement, Ofsted dropped plans to inspect schools without notice after protest from heads. From this autumn schools will be given notice the afternoon before inspectors visit. At present, the normal notice period is two days.

Heads feared that inspecting schools without notice meant they might be away when inspectors arrived, and that the proposed change indicated a lack of trust in the professions.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), praised Ofsted for dropping the proposal for no-notice inspection.

Wilshaw said the progress made by pupils would be central to inspectors’ judgment. If pupils were making good progress, a school would be able to get a good Ofsted report even if results were below average.

Wilshaw confirmed that Ofsted would no longer describe schools as “satisfactory” when they were not providing a good level of education. From September, the “satisfactory” grade will be replaced with “requires improvement” and those schools will be subject to an explicit report of its failings and a full re-inspection within two years.

If a school is judged to require improvement at two consecutive inspections, and is still not providing a good education at the third, it is likely to be placed in special measures. Ofsted will expect schools to improve to “good” within four years.

He said: “School leaders will be relieved to hear that Ofsted has listened to their concerns. This signals a move towards establishing a more constructive working relationship between the profession and its inspectorate.

“Ofsted is rightly maintaining a robust position on standards– a position which the NAHT supports – but this move signifies a genuine attempt to work with schools on the best way to achieve those standards.”

Minister rejects claim that immigration curbs will damage higher education

Minister rejects claim that immigration curbs will damage higher education

guardian.co.uk |by Hélène Mulholland

  • Hélène Mulholland, political reporter
  • guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 30 May 2012 05.44 EDT
Students in a common room

Britain attracts around one in 10 foreign undergraduates and postgraduates who study outside their home country. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

The government has rejected claims that the crackdown on immigration risks deterring legitimate foreign students and losing the British economy billions of pounds a year.

A letter to the prime minister, David Cameron, signed by 68 university chancellors, governors and presidents, urges the government to take foreign students out of net immigration counts amid fears that toughening up the rules on student visas may drive applicants towards institutions in other countries.

They urge ministers to class foreign students as temporary rather than permanent migrants.

Signatories to the letter include the former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell, who is chancellor of St Andrews University, as well as the broadcaster Lord Bragg, chancellor of the University of Leeds. They also include former Conservative minister Virginia Bottomley, chancellor of the University of Hull, and Patrick Stewart, chancellor of the University of Huddersfield.

The letter – circulated by Universities UK (UUK) –says Britain attracts around one in 10 foreign undergraduates and postgraduates who study outside their home country, according to the Daily Telegraph.

This generates around £8bn a year for the UK in tuition fees and other investment, it is claimed, with the total expected to more than double by 2025.

But UUK told the Telegraph that many risked being pushed towards other countries such as the US, Australia, Canada and Germany.

The immigration minister, Damian Green, said the Office for National Statistics was responsible for producing net migration figures, which were based on an internationally agreed definition of a migrant – someone entering the country for more than a year.

Green insisted the policy did not stop genuine students coming to the UK but said the government was “determined to prevent the abuse of student visas as part of our plans to get net migration down to the tens of thousands”.

“Public confidence in statistics will not be enhanced by revising the way the net migration numbers are presented by removing students,” he said.

Home Office research conducted in 2010 showed 20% of students who came in 2004 remained in the UK five years later.

Green said: “When we announced our full raft of changes to the student visa route, Universities UK said that the proposals ‘will allow British universities to remain at the forefront of international student recruitment’.

“Students coming to the UK for over a year are not visitors– numbers affect communities, public services and infrastructure.”

The letter states: “In this Olympic year, when our universities will be hosting athletics teams and media from across the globe, we urge you to send a clear message that genuine international students are also welcome in, and valued by, the United Kingdom.”

Home Office ministers have introduced a wide range of curbs on the 400,000 overseas students who come to Britain each year to study as part of their drive to reduce annual net migration from its current level of 240,000 a year to below 100,000 by the time of the 2015 general election.

The changes to the student visa system place a limit on the number of years non-European Union students can spend studying and restrict the number of hours of paid work they can do during and after their degrees.

In addition, they are no longer allowed to bring their spouses or children with them unless they are enrolled on a postgraduate course that lasts more than a year.

They claim some universities have already seen the number of applications from India drop by a third this year.

Nicola Dandridge, the UUK chief executive, told the Telegraph the “cumulative effect of all these changes is to present a picture of the UK as not welcoming international students”.

“As competitor countries start to introduce visa changes to attract more international students and academics, we have real concerns about the situation in the long term,” she said.

“Although the UK continues to have one of the strongest higher education systems in the world, in recent years, we have already started losing market share in the face of growing competition globally.

“The reality is that countries such as the US and Australia are taking active steps to encourage international students and are communicating a very different message … It is clear that international students at universities should not be treated as permanent migrants, since the vast majority of them leave the UK at the end of their studies.”

A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research publishedearlier this month said the refusal to exclude international students from the government’s drive to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands was damaging British education and putting at risk £4bn to £6bn a year in benefits to the UK economy.

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