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Education in the media: 18 August 2017

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Apprenticeships, School tests

Today’s news review looks at A level results day and Learndirect.

A levels

On Thursday, 18 August, pupils received their A level results. These are the first results since we brought in reforms to make sure the qualifications prepare pupils better for university and the world of work. Overall, the pass rate remains stable at 97.9 percent. There was also an increase in the number of entries awarded the top A* or A which now stands at 26.3 percent. Maths remains the most popular A level subject and this year saw an increase in entries for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

A level results day was covered widely in the media in print, online and on broadcast, with most outlets focusing on either the rise in the number of top grades being awarded or the fact that boys have outperformed girls.

Toby Young has written for the Telegraph (p.15) about the A level reforms, distinguishing between ‘more difficult’ and ‘more rigorous’ — the latter of which is the overall aim of the reforms and is the reason why there is no decrease in the pass rate. In addition Rosemary Bennett has written for the Times praising the radical A level reforms and adding a comment from Professor Smithers of the University of Buckingham who has said that the ‘more demanding exams are having an impact and universities should be pleased when students start next month’.

New A levels were reformed to ensure the content is up to date and the structure of the course better prepares students for the challenges of university study. They remain of the same high standard as the ones they are replacing.

Minister for Schools Standards Nick Gibb said:

Congratulations to everyone receiving their results today, which are the culmination of two years of dedication and hard work. We want everyone, regardless of background, to be able to fulfil their potential and for many, A levels are the pathway to a university degree.

The increase in entries to facilitating subjects, those that give students the greatest choice of options at university, mean even more young people will have access to all the opportunities higher education provides.

There has been a strong uptake in core subjects, such as maths, which continues to be the most popular A level with maths and further maths having nearly 25 per cent more entries than in 2010. This and increasing entries to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects bodes well for the economic prosperity of our country. It will help to grow our workforce in these sectors, allowing young people to secure well paid jobs and compete in the global jobs market of post Brexit Britain.

Increasing the number of girls studying STEM subjects has been an important objective of the Government, so it is particularly pleasing to see that more young women are taking STEM subjects and that for the first time since 2004 there are more young women than young men studying chemistry. I hope everyone receiving their results will go on to successful careers.


Following a poor Ofsted report, we have confirmed that Learndirect’s current adult education budget (AEB) contract with the ESFA will end on 31 July 2018. It is important to note that whilst Ofsted graded Learndirect as inadequate (grade 4) overall, and gave the same grade to their apprenticeship provision, they graded their adult education delivery as ‘requires improvement’ (grade 3).

The AEB contact will be gradually wound down rather than immediately terminated in order that learners are protected.  This contract extension comes with a number of specific conditions designed to prevent the delivery of inadequate provision and ensure that the ESFA has detailed oversight of Learndirect's delivery over the course of the year.

ESFA funding rules are clear that any contract that is terminated must be given at least a three month winding down period. However, that should be longer where it is necessary to protect learners or essential services. In the case of Learndirect, we decided to give it a year to wind down so that learners still receiving training aren’t unfairly penalised and to avoid jeopardising contracts for other public services.

Commentators have claimed that this constitutes “special treatment”. This is entirely wrong. In fact, around 15 percent of terminations have been given notice periods of longer than three months.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

 We are creating a world-class technical education system and already have the highest number of apprentices on record. We are determined to build on that success so where providers are failing to meet the required standards it is right that action is taken.

Following Learndirect’s Ofsted inspection we are terminating its ESFA contract. In line with ESFA rules we are winding down the contract over the course of a year rather than terminating it in the minimum three month period. This is in order to protect those apprentices still receiving training.

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