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Education in the Media: Monday 13 August 2018

Today’s Education in the media blog responds to stories in the press regarding our reforms to A level and GCSEs and Ofsted’s inspection framework. We also cover how we are promoting mental health in universities, and helping to tackle the issue of rough sleeping.

A Level Reforms

Yesterday, Sunday 12 August, the Times and the Telegraph published front page articles suggesting that Ofqual will lower GCSE and A level pass marks to assure that the first batch of students to study the new reformed courses will not be disadvantaged. The government’s new gold-standard GCSEs and A levels are the culmination of a programme of reform over seven years, after employers and universities told us pupils weren’t being prepared for the future. The new, more rigorous qualifications will ensure students have the knowledge they need to succeed both in further study and in the workplace.‎

However, when qualifications change, it is perfectly normal to see a dip in pupil performance. To help manage this change, Ofqual requires exam boards to use an approach called comparable outcomes. This means that if pupils this year have a similar ability profile to pupils last year, broadly the same proportion will achieve the same grades as last year. This approach ensures that the first cohort of students to study the reformed courses are not disadvantaged, which means grade boundaries do tend to be lower.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

We have reformed A levels to meet the expectations of universities and employers, and our new gold standard GCSEs are on a par with qualifications in the best education systems in the world. These reforms will ensure students have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed both in further study and in the workplace.‎

Ofqual has been clear that the qualification standard for A levels remains the same, meaning a student who would have previously achieved an A grade would still do so in the reformed qualification.‎ GCSEs are more rigorous and both teachers and pupils rose to the challenge of the new exams last year.

Ofqual always ensures no student is disproportionately affected by changes tic qualifications, as they do each year for any new exam. Since 2014 we have been working with the exam regulator and the exam boards to ensure teachers are prepared to deliver these changes.

Ofsted Assessment Framework

Yesterday, Sunday 12 August, the Sunday Times published an article suggesting that Ofsted is planning to make changes to their school assessment framework, with exams being downgraded as a measure of quality in favour of prioritising a rich curriculum and quality of education.

Exams and assessments have always been a key factor in reviewing school performance as part of a well-rounded framework. Schools are already required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, offering a range of subjects to pupils. In a recent speech, the Education Secretary made clear his commitment to a well-rounded education and the importance of a wealth of different experiences including extra-curricular activities.

Ofsted propose to consult on updates to their Education Inspection Framework early in 2019.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

We do not comment on speculation. Exams and assessments have always been one of several measures to judge a school's performance and this will continue.

All children should have a broad, balanced and rounded education. We have always made this clear and the Ofsted inspection framework already ‎requires schools to demonstrate this.

Our exams are on par with the world's best education systems and will ensure young people have the knowledge and skills businesses tell us they need from their future employees.

Mental Health in Universities

Today, Monday 13 August, The i has run a front page story based on an interview with Nicola Dandrige, Chief Executive of the Office for Students (OFS) where she called on universities to give priority to student mental health.

The interview supports the commitment made by the Universities Minister Sam Gyimah in July to help tackle the issue of mental health at university. This includes working with the sector to develop a University Mental Health Charter to promote student and staff mental health and wellbeing.

The Department for Education is also leading a work to look at how students can be better supported when they transition from schools to university.

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said:

We want mental health support for students to be a top priority for the leadership of all our universities. Progress can only be achieved with their support – I expect them to get behind this important agenda as we otherwise risk failing an entire generation of students.

Universities should see themselves as ‘in loco parentis’ – not infantilising students, but making sure support is available where required. It is not good enough to suggest that university is about the training of the mind and nothing else, as it is too easy for students to fall between the cracks and to feel overwhelmed and unknown in their new surroundings.

This is not a problem that can be solved overnight, but we need to do a better job of supporting students than is happening at the moment.

Rough Sleeping

Today, Monday 13 August, as part of a wider package of support announced by the Government, the Department for Education has announced £3.2 million for 47 areas to employ specialist personal advisers to provide intensive support to care leavers at risk of rough sleeping.

Approximately 10% of people sleeping rough in London today were in care as a child. We have already taken important steps to help tackle this issue, including introducing the successful Staying Put programme which has helped young people to stay in foster care up to the age of 21. We have also invested nearly £6 million to pilot Staying Close, which provides an enhanced support package for young people leaving residential care, and have committed to rolling out this initiative nationally upon completion of the pilots.

Another £5 million has been committed to pilot three Social Impact Bonds for care leavers, which will include outcome payments when care leavers move into education, employment and training, or sustain suitable accommodation. This will be launched in the Autumn this year. In April 2018 we extended personal adviser support for all care leavers up to age 25 and also placed a duty on local authorities to publish information on how they support care leavers, including where they provide exemptions from council tax.

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said:

Children in care are some of our most vulnerable in society and it is deeply concerning that many of them go on to sleep on the streets as adults, leaving them even more exposed.

To help tackle this we are working hard to provide support and stability for looked after children after they turn 18 so they have the opportunity to flourish as adults. We are investing £3.2 million in new specialist personal advisers who will provide intensive support for care leavers most at risk of sleeping rough, to help them go on to succeed in adulthood.

Read more about the government’s rough sleeping strategy here.

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