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Education in the media: 14 November


Today’s news review looks at a report on post-19 education, support for school libraries, the cost of childcare for children below school age and the royal charters for the UK's research councils

 Post-19 education

Today, Monday 14 November, the Education Policy Institute published a report on funding for post-19 education and whether the current higher education system is sustainable.

The report, written by Professor Alison Wolf of King’s College London, was covered by The Times, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the FT, TES and FE Week.  Media focused on the suggestion that funding for higher education was ‘unsustainable’ due to the increase in university graduates, and claimed more students should opt for a technical education instead. However, the media coverage does not fully reflect that our Post-16 Skills Plan, published in July, outlines the most radical reform of post-16 education in almost 70 years, creating a high quality technical track which will prepare individuals for employment in occupations which require substantial technical knowledge and a set of practical skills valued by industry.

In addition, the Higher Education & Research Bill will empower student choice and, as a result, we expect to see provision matched more closely to student need.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

We want to build a further and higher education system that works for everyone. And we are taking decisive action to achieve this – with two Bills currently going through Parliament.

We have reformed technical qualifications, ensuring they meet the demands of employers and help boost our economy. And our apprenticeship funding and Skills Plan will ensure that more young people are equipped with the skills that employers are asking for.


As the OECD has recognised, our higher education funding system is sustainable. Our reforms will go further to create a system that’s fairer for everyone by encouraging higher quality, greater competition and ensuring students and taxpayers receive value for money.


School Libraries

Today the Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell wrote to the Education Secretary Justine Greening asking the government to do more to support school libraries. The letter calls on us to put aside money from the education budget for library provision in schools. This has been covered on BBC Breakfast and the Guardian.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

Reading is a key part of a child's education and ultimately helps them to reach their full potential. That's why we've strengthened the curriculum to focus on developing their reading and writing skills, and teaching phonics helps children acquire the basic building blocks of reading.


We want all children to have the opportunity to read widely – school libraries play a role in this and schools are responsible for deciding how to provide this service for their pupils. This is backed up by a record £40bn schools budget this year and it is up schools to spend their funding as they see fit.



Yesterday, Sunday 13 November, the British Chamber of Commerce called on the government to do more to support working parents who care for children below school age. They carried out a survey of 1,600 business leaders,  1 in 4 of whom have seen their employees cut their hours because childcare is too expensive. This story was covered in the Sun, The Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Express.

However, much of the coverage does not reflect the fact that we have committed to give working parents up to 30 hours free childcare by September 2017. We have also extended the flexibility of free childcare places, following feedback from our consultation, to support as many working parents as possible.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

 We are doing more than ever before to support families with the cost of childcare. From next September, we are giving working parents up to 30 hours of childcare a week for three and four year olds, helping to remove the barriers that can stop them from working. This is a doubling of our current 15 hour offer, which 1.3 million children benefit from.


This is backed up by a record £6 billion per year investment in childcare by the end of the Parliament, as well as introducing tax-free childcare worth up to £2,000 per child per year.


Royal charters

On Sunday 13 November, the Sunday People and the Sunday Mirror claimed that the government was planning to take away the royal charters from the UK’s research councils, and that this was causing concern that there will be a loss of freedom and might be subject to political interference.

The articles also suggest that the new Office for Students, being introduced as part of the Higher Education and Research Bill, will be able to override the royal charters granted to 50 universities.

However, this is misleading. The Higher Education Bill does not take away any university royal charters. Under the Bill, the Office for Students will have the power to remove an institution’s ability to award degrees or call itself a university, and, if these powers are part of their charter, the institution’s  royal charter may be removed. This will only happen in rare circumstances and will ensure that students and the global reputation of our higher education sector are properly protected if an institution isn’t delivering the quality expected.

Government remains committed to protecting the Haldane Principle, and the autonomy of the Research Councils. As such, the Bill ensures that Research Councils will retain their ability to operate with authority on decisions within their respective discipline areas and continue to use their names, brands and insignia.

Royal Charters cannot be a subsidiary of another legal body.  Therefore, in order to create UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in the form envisaged by Sir Paul Nurse, the Bill will revoke the Councils’ Royal Charters.  Royal Charters are no longer required to create public bodies, and UKRI will be established through a statutory route instead. Under these proposals the Research Councils will retain their discipline autonomy.

A Government spokesperson said:

On University Charters:

The Bill does not take away the royal charters of any of our Higher Education institutions. Universities are rightly autonomous institutions, and the Bill will not change this.

On Research Council Charters:

The creation of UK Research and Innovation will ensure the UK is equipped to carry out more world class multidisciplinary research. All individual research councils will retain their autonomy, with individual funding streams and will continue to have authority on decisions within their discipline.




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