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Education in the media: 25 August 2016

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Careers, Curriculum, Exams and qualifications, School places


Today’s news review looks at the advice given to pupils on their A level subject choices, careers support, our GCSE reforms and the size of a primary school class in Hull

A level choices

The BBC has today reported research by consumer magazine Which? suggesting that students feel they didn’t get good advice from schools on their A level choices with regard to the degree courses they wanted to do.

The story ignores the fact that the number of pupils doing the subjects universities and employers value most – like maths and science - has gone up. This is thanks to a number of things including good advice from schools and the introduction of the Ebacc, which increases the pool of students equipped to take those subjects by encouraging them to do GCSEs in them.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

This year we’ve seen huge numbers of students getting A levels in subjects, including maths and science, that give them the greatest choice of university courses. The introduction of Ebacc has increased the pool of students able to go on to study these subjects at A level.


Entries into maths, the most popular subject at A-level, and other STEM subjects remain stable, while entries into computing, another skill valued by employers, are up by 16%.

Careers support

This morning, the Today Programme ran a discussion based on a report published April this year for the RSA Open Public Services Network, which called for sixth forms and FE colleges to provide better support for those students who do not achieve five A* to C target.

Today spoke to Charlotte Aldritt, who authored the report, and John Widdowson, principal of New College, Durham. John was clear that that today is about achievement and making choices, and that there are many different options for pupils.

The programme failed to acknowledge the duty on schools and colleges to provide independent guidance for pupils on the full range of education and training options available and the vital work the Careers & Enterprise Company is doing in this area.

The department publishes statutory guidance for schools which sets a clear framework for the provision of this careers advice and guidance. The latest guidance came into effect in September 2015.

The Careers & Enterprise Company has made excellent progress, in particular launching its nationwide Enterprise Adviser Network; its £5 million ‘careers and enterprise investment fund’ from which 33 successful bidders will provide much needed support to nearly 250,000 young people; and publishing its analysis of where support is needed most and a toolkit of what works best.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

Whether they are going on to further education, training or work, it is vital young people receive good careers guidance so that they can make informed choices. That is why we are investing £90 million to transform the quality of the careers education, advice and guidance offered to young people across the country.


All schools and colleges must provide independent guidance for pupils on the full range of education and training options available. The Careers & Enterprise Company is doing vital work helping schools and colleges develop closer links with businesses, including launching a nationwide network of advisers, so they can play a greater role in preparing young people for the world of work.

GCSE reforms

As part of our reforms to make GCSEs the gold-standard qualification at age 16 we’ve introduced new, more rigorous curricula for robust qualifications that match what universities and employers are looking for.

We are also bringing in a new, numerical grading system that better reflects pupils’ achievements – the first results in this format will be published in some subjects next year – and we are measuring schools’ performance using a new system called Progress 8. This measures how children have progressed during their time in a school to the point that they take their GCSEs. It replaces the old measure that judged schools on the proportion of pupils getting five or more A* to C grades in subjects including maths and English. This measure involved too much focus on those pupils at the C/D borderline at the expense of those further down the scale.

Unions have criticised the pace of reform and this has been covered this morning by Sky and by Politics Home, as part of wider coverage around today’s GCSE results.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

Our reforms to GCSEs will make them the gold standard qualification at 16. By requiring pupils to study more rigorous curricula, we will ensure that more young people acquire the knowledge and skills to succeed in modern Britain.


These robust new qualifications will match the best education systems in the world and keep pace with universities’ and employers’ demands. Making these changes to GSCEs means that all students are provided with the opportunity to succeed and compete with their peers internationally.


Content for all of the new GCSEs was published in plenty of time for schools to begin preparing for their introduction.

The Education Secretary Justine Greening and School Standards Minister Nick Gibb have congratulated the hundreds of thousands of 16-year-olds receiving their GCSE results today.

Class sizes

This morning the Sun ran a misleading story claiming a school in Hull had a class of 58 pupils last year. This story was based on a similarly misleading piece in the Hull Daily Mail.

The reports were based on our school census figures, which provide a snapshot of schools on a single day. It is important to note that the class in question was actually two classes being taught together. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence in schools and usually happens for things like assemblies and mass participation lessons like PE and drama.

Like lots of other schools, the school in this case, St Richard’s VC Academy, has two classes in each year. The classes in question had 28 and 30 pupils each, both within the legal limit for infant classes of 30 pupils. Usually the classes are taught by one teacher each, but on this occasion the whole group was being looked after by a teacher and three assistants.

A DfE spokesperson said:

Our figures provide a snapshot of a school on a single day. It is not uncommon for schools to teach two classes together on certain occasions, such as for assemblies or lessons like drama or PE.


The average infant class size is well within the statutory limit of 30 pupils per teacher. However, supporting councils to create sufficient school places is one of our top priorities. That is why we are investing £7 billion to create new school places between 2015 and 2021, which, along with our investment in free schools, we expect to create 600,000 new places.

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