Higher university fees ‘will add £100bn to public debt’

Higher university fees ‘will add £100bn to public debt’

BBC |May 18, 2012

By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter
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Plans to allow universities to charge up to £9,000 tuition fees could push public sector debt up by up to £100bn over the next 20 years, a report says.

Students at England’s universities will be able to take out government-backed loans covering the higher fees, as teaching grants are slashed from 2012.

The government insists its plans are sustainable, and predicts student loan debt will peak at £50bn in 2030.

But a study warns it could be double that.

The report by Andrew McGettigan, for the Intergenerational Foundation, analyses the impact of lending students fees to pay their loans, and allowing them to pay back once they start earning£21,000 a year.

‘National debt’

It says: “Replacing direct grants to universities with higher fees backed by higher loans reduces the relevant government department’s contribution to the deficit.

“But the cost of government borrowing adds significantly to the national debt in the short and medium term.”

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates the loans will cost £12bn a year by 2015-16.

This is an increase of £5 to 6bn a year and “eclipses” the£3bn savings achieved through the cuts announced to the teaching grant, the report says.

This means the policy of higher student loans costs as much as twice as much a year as the annual savings from cutting teaching grants.

The debt will only be repaid when enough graduates are repaying their loans. This is predicted to be in about 2032 by the OBR or eight years later in 2040 by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

‘No protection’

And there are already concerns about the assumptions made about how many graduates will earn enough to pay back their student debts of between £30,000 and £40,000.

The government is predicting that it will get back about 70% of the money it lends out.

But the report says: “Given the amounts, the complexities of the scheme and the long lifetimes of the loans, predicting patterns and levels of repayment is extremely difficult.”

This is something acknowledged by the government as it relies on a great number of assumptions about future events, economic growth and student behaviour.

And the report points out that if repayments are not made as expected, future governments could change the terms and conditions on the loans to balance the books.

It adds that those who will have already taken out loans “have no protection” against any changes to the terms of their loans.

And it adds that future student groups will have loans offered on much less generous terms.

It also claims the government is “secretly investigating” the possibility of selling off student loan liabilities and that under present legislation this can be done without carrying out a consultation.

The author also points out that as tuition fees are included in the basket of goods used to determine the Consumer Price Index raising them to a maximum of £9,000 will have an inflationary effect.

This alone could add £2.2bn to the social security budget by 2016, because payments are linked to inflation, at a time when the Chancellor has asked for £10bn savings from this area.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said:“Our reforms put students at the heart of the system and university funding on to a sustainable footing.

“While the total cash expenditure on higher education will increase due to the extra lending to students, we also expect to receive higher repayments from them as graduates.

“The net impact is that the reforms help to reduce the deficit. Our modelling of student loan repayments is scrutinised by the independent Office for Budgetary Responsibility.”

But general secretary of the UCU lecturers’ union Sally Hunt said the report confirmed that the government’s punitive budget cuts have absolutely nothing to do with reducing the national debt and everything to do with shifting the funding of higher education from the state to the individual.

“Instead of being guided by ideology and adding billions to the national debt ministers should follow the example of other countries and invest in higher education.”

Overhaul of GCSE results could mean fewer grades

Overhaul of GCSE results could mean fewer grades

BBC |May 17, 2012

GCSE results could be overhauled with a cut in the number of grades available suggests the exams regulator for England, Ofqual.

GCSE grades range from A* to G but a new report from the regulator questions whether this will remain the best structure in future.

The government wants a new National Curriculum with new GCSEs by 2015.

An Ofqual spokesman said the curriculum review was a timely opportunity to ask if the grading system met its purpose.

Ofqual’s new corporate plan which sets out its aims for the next three years states: “Before we implement new GCSEs to match the new National Curriculum, we will review the way in which GCSE results are reported …

“The grading structure stretches from A* to G and it is time to look now at whether this is how it should be.”

Prof Dylan William of University of London’s Institute of Education said reducing the number of grades would be a mistake.

“What would be more appropriate to have is a percentage score with a measurement error,” he said.

For example, he suggested, a candidate might score 60% plus or minus 15% for marking errors.

“The problem is, we are not honest about the inaccuracy of assessment,” he added.

Prof William said the wide range of GCSE grades was a throw-back to the days of the two tier O’ Level and CSE exam system.

GCSEs ‘irrelevant’The two grade systems overlapped with a top CSE grade being equivalent to a C grade at O’level.

Professor William also predicted that GCSEs would become increasingly irrelevant as more pupils remained in education until 19.

Sue Kirkham of the Association of School and College Leaders said the number of grades should depend on who the exams are aimed at: “If it’s for the whole cohort, then you need a wide range.

“If you want to have different qualifications for different groups of people you don’t need so many grades.”

Ms Kirkham added that reform of GCSEs should be the subject of a major consultation involving teachers, pupils and employers.

A-levels ‘could become university entrance exams’

A-levels ‘could become university entrance exams’

BBC |May 17, 2012

By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter
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Giving academics too much influence over A-levels could turn them into university entrance exams, says private schools leader John Wood.

The chairman of the Independent Schools Association warned that schools may feel forced to choose A-level courses because of links between exam boards and universities.

The government wants universities to have more of a say in setting A-levels.

But Mr Wood says schools should be involved.

Speaking at the Association’s conference in Harrogate, Mr Wood urged the government to re-consider its decision to ask universities to drive the setting of exam syllabuses.

‘Key role’

He said: “It is absolutely right that syllabus development and the oversight of A-levels should not be the preserve of the exam boards alone.

“But we must ensure that universities are not given too much influence over the actual content of exams.

“As competition for university places increases, there is a real risk that schools will feel forced to select certain exam boards, based on their links with higher education institutions.”

Education Secretary Michael Gove has suggested elite universities should be given a key role alongside exam boards in setting and approving A-levels.

And he has asked the exams regulator, Ofqual, to oversee a process of reform.

In a letter to Ofqual last month, Mr Gove said: “I will expect the bar to be a high one: university ownership of the exams must be real and committed, not a tick-box exercise.

“I do not envisage the Department for Education having a role in the development of A-level qualifications.

“It is more important that universities are satisfied that A-levels enable young people to start their undergraduate degrees having gained the right knowledge and skills, than that ministers are able to influence content or methods of assessment.”

Narrower?

But Mr Wood warned there was a danger that greater university input could make exams already considered to be narrow even worse.

He said: “There is also a danger that A-levels will become so narrow that students won’t possess the independent learning skills that successful undergraduates need.”

He added that the current system did not reward students who read widely around the subjects they are studying.

This was partly because certain textbooks were targeted directly at examinations, he said.

Mr Wood added: “I would like to see a partnership between universities, those in schools and colleges and also employers’representatives, who would work with the awarding bodies to ensure that A-levels provide the best possible preparation for young people’s future study or employment.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Leading academics in our best universities have been clear that there are some serious problems with A-levels and they are not preparing pupils properly for rigorous degrees.

“The Department for Education is withdrawing from involvement in A-levels and improving them is now a matter primarily for good universities and exam boards.”

Education Secretary Michael Gove loses High Court battle

Education Secretary Michael Gove loses High Court battle

BBC |May 17, 2012

Education Secretary Michael Gove has lost a High Court battle with Essex County Council over government cuts to nursery funding.

The council claimed Mr Gove breached equality laws when he slashed part of its budget by £10m in 2010 – hitting the county’s disabled children.

The High Court ruled Mr Gove’s decision was unlawful and must be reviewed.

Mr Justice Mitting found Mr Gove had not met his legal obligations under equality laws.

Andrew Sharland, for Essex County Council, told the court the council was told its budget for nursery and primary school building projects would be about £27m for 2008 to 2011.

‘Duty of equality’

It said it had allocated more than £26m of that money, by June 2010, to building projects aimed at improving pre-school education, particularly for the disabled.

But when Mr Gove announced his cuts in July that year, the council was told to review its spending and identify any“uncommitted” funds, the court heard.

A dispute then arose between Westminster and Essex over how much money had been allocated – with government accountants estimating more than £12m was still in the pot, but the council insisting they had less then £2m left.

Essex County Council argued that by not consulting it before cutting funding by £10.7m, Mr Gove breached his “equality duties”.

Mr Sharland told the court: “The grant was expressly aimed at meeting the needs of disabled children. Further, the level of funding was calculated taking into account the level of deprivation in a particular area.”

He added: “It is clear that equality issues were neither‘central’ to the decision making process nor exercised in substance with rigor and an open mind.”

‘Greater knowledge’Government lawyers insisted the decision making process was correctly handled.

Mr Justice Mitting ruled: “Local authorities obviously would have greater knowledge of the impact the cuts would have on families in their areas and it would be reasonable for the Secretary of State to assume that any such detailed assessment would be carried out by the local authority.”

He added: “Accordingly, I do not accept that the Secretary of State, either personally or through his officials, fully discharged the duty upon them.”

The Department for Education has yet to comment.

Parents given power of veto on schools’ use of biometrics

Parents given power of veto on schools’ use of biometrics

education.gov.uk

Parents given power of veto on schools’ use of biometric information

Press notice
Press notice date: 15 May 2012
Updated: 15 May 2012

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New advice to schools will make clear that they will no longer be able to use pupils’ biometric data without parental consent. The advice, launched today for consultation, comes into effect from September 2013.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said children’s biometric data was sensitive personal information and parents must have the right to prevent its use by schools and colleges. Pupils also have the right to refuse to participate and these provisions are explained in the guidance.

The advice has been updated to take into account new measures in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which has now gained Royal Assent. It will clearly set out to schools and colleges that use biometric recognition systems, such as fingerprint identification and facial scanning, that:

  • For all pupils in schools and colleges under 18, they must obtain the written consent of a parent before they take and process their child’s biometric data.
  • They must treat the data with appropriate care and must comply with data protection principles as set out in the Data Protection Act 1998.
  • They must provide alternative means for accessing services where a parent or pupil has refused consent.

Frequently asked questions and optional templates for notification and consent will also be included in the advice.

The Government has been clear that parents should have the right to prevent the use of their child’s personal data in automated biometric recognition systems. This commitment was underlined in the Coalition’s manifesto, Our programme for government.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

Biometrics in schools is a sensitive issue. We want schools to be in no doubt of their responsibilities when it comes to young people’s personal data.

I have heard from many angry parents after they have learned that their children’s personal data was being used by schools without their knowledge. The new legislation gives the power back to parents, as it requires parental consent before the information can be collected.

In the age of the internet, identity and the integrity of biometric data are of increasing importance. Young people need to understand from an early age the sensitivity of such personal data. The provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and the accompanying advice to schools will help to reinforce that message.

Some schools and colleges use biometric technologies such as fingerprint identification and facial scanning. These may be used to record attendance, grant access to libraries and to process cashless payments. The benefits to schools include site safety and the speed and ease of access to services.

The consultation is aimed at proprietors, governing bodies, head teachers, principals and staff. The Department wants schools and colleges to be able to accommodate the new duties without increasing the burden on them. The consultation seeks feedback on the clarity of the Department’s advice ahead of its final publication later in the year. It runs for 12 weeks and closes on 3 August 2012.

Further Education Minister John Hayes said:

It is absolutely right that what we do in schools is consistent with the approach in colleges and, in that spirit, I welcome this consultation.

Primary schools ‘failing to honour swimming obligations’

Primary schools ‘failing to honour swimming obligations’

BBC |May 17, 2012

By Judith Burns Education reporter, BBC News
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A third of children in England cannot swim by the time they leave primary school, according to research from the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA).

The research suggests many non-swimmers have never had a school swimming lesson despite its being part of the national curriculum for seven-to-11-year-olds.

The ASA says swimming is the only curriculum subject that saves lives.

The Department for Education said schools must provide lessons and pupils must be taught to swim 25m unaided.

The researchers for ASA and cereal company Kellogg’s, sponsors of the association’s swimming awards, set out to find out what proportion of 11-year-olds achieved the national curriculum target of being able to swim 25m by the time they left primary school.

Only 35 local authorities in England – around a quarter of those contacted – gave full responses to Freedom of Information requests from the team, relating to their records for 2011.

Their answers revealed that two-thirds of children achieved the target, meaning one-third did not.

The researchers calculate that this means around 200,000 children leave primary school each year unable to swim properly.

Accidental death

The survey responses also suggested that of the children who could not swim, 39% had never been offered school swimming lessons.

The report, Save School Swimming, Save Lives, calls for every child in the UK to have the opportunity to learn to swim in primary school.

It quotes figures from the National Water Safety Forum which show that more than 400 people drown each year in the UK and that drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death in children.

The report states: “Each child should be safe in and around water, and a key element of this is being able to swim a minimum of 25m unaided.

“We call on central and local government to show their commitment to school swimming by reiterating this expectation to schools.”

It also calls on primary head teachers to make swimming a priority in their school budgets and wants Ofsted to monitor the inclusion and delivery of swimming lessons.

ASA is also offering help and advice to encourage schools with their own pools to keep them open.

David Sparkes, of the ASA, said: “Swimming is the only subject on the national curriculum that can save your life.”

Struggling to swim

The report points to a direct correlation between swimming ability and school lessons. For example, all children in South Northamptonshire, where 91% of 11-year-olds achieve the government target, get swimming lessons at school.

The report also includes a survey of more than 1,000 parents which showed almost all (98%) believed every child should be able to swim by the end of primary school but only 40% thought their children would be able to swim to safety if they got into danger in the water.

Around a quarter (24%) of parents paid for private swimming lessons but another 24% said they could not afford either lessons or pool admission.

David Walker, of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) said: “We are concerned to see that so many children are struggling to swim at an acceptable standard.

“RoSPA believes that good awareness of water safety and the ability to swim are essential skills.”

A spokeswoman for the DfE said: “Swimming is a compulsory part of the national curriculum, and all primary schools have a duty to provide swimming lessons for their pupils.

“By the end of primary school, pupils must be taught to swim 25m unaided using recognised strokes on their front and back and use a range of personal survival skills.

“We would expect that schools would take the needs of their children into account in making all decisions.”

Helen Bilton, of University of Reading’s Institute of Education, called for the government to help with the upkeep of school pools.

“Schools are getting the blame but really they need more support from government,” she said. “PE is not sufficiently valued as a subject for the resources to be spent on it.

“At the end of the day, swimming can’t be a priority if English and Maths Sats results are what makes a school survive an Ofsted report or not.”

Delay school entry until six, researchers urge

Delay school entry until six, researchers urge

BBC |May 16, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News education reporter
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Schooling in England should not start until the age of six because having formal lessons too early can put bright children off learning, research claims.

Formal lessons should be delayed at least a year, says Dr Richard House, of the Research Centre for Therapeutic Education at Roehampton University.

Dr House is calling on the government to slow down the“premature adultification” of children.

But the government says each additional month of education is of benefit.

Children in England are expected to be in school by the age of five, earlier than most of their European peers.

‘Poorer health’ fears

However, many start in nursery or reception classes at age three or four.

They are taught using the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) compulsory curriculum – a revised version of which will be used from the autumn.

Presenting his research at the Westminster Education Forum on Wednesday, Dr House said too early an emphasis on reading, writing and maths could lead to weaker academic performance in the long term – and even poorer health.

“There are of course some children from very deprived backgrounds who on balance would, and certainly do, gain a net benefit from early interventions.

“But the evidence is now quite overwhelming that such an early introduction to institutional learning is not only quite unnecessary for the vast majority of children, but can actually cause major developmental harm, and at worst a shortened life-span.”

Dr House cited research from the United States which tracked gifted pupils.

The study found those children benefiting from being allowed to develop at their natural pace.

“Young children’s “runaway” intellect actually needs to be slowed down in the early years if they are not to risk growing up in an intellectually unbalanced way, with possible life-long negative health effects,” said Dr House.

Early benefits

But a spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “It is vital that all children get a thorough grounding in the basics from an early age – the three Rs form the bedrock of education.

“There is a wealth of international evidence which shows how much each additional month of education benefits a child’s development and achievement by age 11.

“The new early-years foundation stage, starting this September, focuses on getting all children ready for education at age five and increasing their attainment.”

Dr House added: “More anecdotally, I am myself a living example of the virtues of ‘later is better’.

“Coming from a working-class background, I was allowed to repeat my first year at primary school when I first started school in 1958, as I was very young in the class – and I went on to obtain a first-class degree at Oxford University and a PhD.

“I doubt this would have happened if the system hadn’t had the flexibility in 1959 to allow me to repeat my first year at primary school – and from the evidence, I would also have been more likely to have had life-long negative health effects and, quite possibly, an earlier death too.”

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