This page contains a list of all the reports, articles and other publications that I have written or contributed to in previous years. Each has a short written description as well as links to related press coverage, and you can download any full publication by simply clicking on the images. I have also included some links to media coverage that I received from other press releases.
“We are once again experiencing the ‘winds of change’ in the university sector” said Universities Minister Sam Gyimah in February this year, noting that “not a single week goes by without a university story being splashed on the front pages”. Media coverage of rising student debt, Vice-Chancellor remuneration packages, strikes over pensions and debates around freedom of speech have all captured the attention of politicians and the general public. That said, accusations of ‘grade inflation’ in Higher Education (HE) is perhaps the most concerning development because it directly relates to the quality of degree courses in this country.
In the mid-1990s there was no detectable grade inflation at all, with 7 per cent of students awarded a First-class honours (‘First’), yet the upward trend in Firsts over the last two decades has been unrelenting. From 1997 to 2009 the proportion of Firsts almost doubled from 7 to 13 per cent, and in just seven years since 2010 the proportion of Firsts has doubled again from 13 to 26 per cent (climbing from 22 to 26 per cent in the last year alone). 54 institutions have seen their proportion of Firsts double or triple since 2010 and there are now 40 institutions (a quarter of all HE providers) that award Firsts to at least 30 per cent of their students.
The obvious question is what could be causing such a dramatic rise in degree grades? There is considerable evidence to suggest that ‘degree algorithms’ (which translate the marks achieved by students during their degree into a final classification) are contributing to grade inflation. Approximately half of universities have changed their degree algorithms in the last five years “to ensure that they do not disadvantage students in comparison with those in similar institutions”. Research has also identified serious concerns about how these algorithms treat ‘borderline’ cases where a student’s overall mark is close to the boundary of a better degree classification. One expert concluded that “universities are essentially massaging the figures, they are changing the algorithms and putting borderline candidates north of the border”.
Similarly, the pressure being placed on academics by senior managers at universities to lower their standards is also strongly implicated in grade inflation. Some academics have chosen to express their concerns publicly, even though this has on occasion put their own career at risk. One cited the “intolerable pressures on academic staff to pass students who should rightfully fail and to award higher classes of degrees to the undeserving”, while another complained that they had routinely awarded essays low grades “but have been brought under pressure, internally and externally, to provide higher grades.” The sheer volume of similar reports, documented over many years, is concerning and its potential impact on grade inflation is obvious enough.
Regrettably, two decades of uninterrupted grade inflation has resulted in degree grades becoming meaningless. What’s more, existing quality assurance mechanisms such as the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and the system of ‘external examiners’ are clearly unable to prevent any inflation. More recent innovations such as the ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ and the new HE regulator – the Office for Students – are unlikely to fare any better. It is reasonable to assume that leaving the responsibility for ending grade inflation with universities will not have the desired effect. In a world of league tables, competition for students and high tuition fees, HE providers have no obvious incentive to reduce or reverse the seemingly relentless rise in top degree outcomes. A new approach is therefore needed.
This new report recommends that final-year students should sit a new, national assessment for each degree course. The assessments would be designed by professional bodies for degrees such as medicine and law and by learned societies for degrees in the humanities. The results of that assessment would determine the proportions of each degree grade that universities can award in each subject, rather than universities making their own decisions. At the same time, the proportion of Firsts awarded at a national level for each subject would be capped at 10 per cent in order to bring grade inflation to an end.
Now that the apprenticeship levy has completed its first full year of operation, this report reviews the available evidence to determine whether the levy will, as the Government hopes, “incentivise more employers to provide quality apprenticeships” and “transform the lives of young people who secure them”.
In the six months after the levy was introduced (April – October 2017), the number of people starting an apprenticeship fell by 40 per cent compared to the same period in the previous year. A similar downward trend was also evident across November and December. In addition, more experienced and older workers are increasingly becoming the focus of the apprenticeship programme, at the expense of less experienced and younger employees. Alongside the levy, the Conservative Party remains committed to its 2015 manifesto pledge that 3 million people will start an apprenticeship by 2020. Commentators have consistently raised concerns over this target as it prioritises the quantity of apprenticeships rather than their quality.
The introduction of the levy has also diminished the quality of apprenticeships. The list of roles now officially counted as an ‘apprenticeship’ includes many low-skill and often very short training courses. These roles include serving customers in a delicatessen or coffee shop, working on a hotel reception desk, performing basic office administration and serving food and drink in a restaurant. Such training courses do not meet the historical or international definition of an apprenticeship because they typically offer minimal training, represent low-wage jobs and do not constitute skilled occupations.
Moreover, employers are using the levy to rebadge existing training courses as apprenticeships to shift the costs of training onto the Government instead. The most obvious examples of this relabelling are found in leadership and management skills. The list of the most popular apprenticeship standards includes becoming a ‘Team Leader’, ‘Supervisor’ or ‘Manager’. Cranfield University’s prestigious School of Management has even re-designated its existing Executive MBA as an apprenticeship to attract up to a 90 per cent government subsidy towards the programme costs.
Almost 40 per cent of the ‘apprenticeship standards’ approved by the Government since 2012 fail to reach the international or historical definition of an apprenticeship. These mislabelled courses are consuming over 20 per cent of the funding available for newly-designed apprenticeships. Without reform, in 2019-20 the Government will spend £600 million on courses incorrectly labelled as apprenticeships.
Employers have become increasingly critical towards the levy, primarily due to the burdens associated with accessing the levy funds as well as identifying and selecting training and assessment providers. The substantial increase in bureaucracy, plus several other issues, has led business groups to brand the levy ‘disastrous’, ‘confusing’ and ‘broken’. Furthermore, the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers has been beset by difficulties and the Register of Assessment Organisations has also struggled to command the respect of stakeholders, with serious concerns being raised about its approach to quality assurance.
The opening page of the Government-sponsored Richard Review, published in 2012, observed that the growth in apprenticeship numbers in the preceding years had “led us to stretch the definition of what an apprenticeship is too far and, as a consequence, we risk losing sight of the core features of what makes apprenticeships work, what makes them unique.” Six years on, there is a real danger that the same mistakes could be made all over again. At present, the levy is too complicated for employers, focused on too many inappropriate forms of training and as a result is unlikely to deliver value-for-money. If the necessary changes described in this report are made then apprentices, taxpayers and employers across the country stand to benefit for many years to come.
The world of education has never been short of initiatives and fads, some of which added value whereas many do not. While the number of Free Schools remains relatively small compared to the total stock of local maintained schools across England, the considerable political and financial investment that they have received will inevitably draw attention from many quarters.
The most up-to-date evidence shows that we cannot yet determine with confidence whether Free Schools have indeed raised educational standards. On that basis, it does not seem prudent to claim that they are the most successful education policy in the modern era, let alone the entire post-war period. The policy itself is also open to change, with Justine Greening announcing in one of her last acts as Education Secretary that Free Schools would be focused on more “challenging areas” in 2018. Such changes could make it more problematic to track the effect of Free Schools on school standards over time. Furthermore, even if Free Schools do indeed succeed in driving up standards, there is then a further question of whether any benefits that we may eventually see can reasonably justify the money spent on achieving said benefits.
This paper calculates that over £3.6 billion has been spent on Free Schools thus far. Supporters may choose to label this as money well spent, whereas critics are likely to claim it is precious money wasted (particularly in a climate of financial austerity). This paper does not aim to settle the debate over the value-for-money of Free Schools, rather to provide an additional lens through which to view the costs and benefits of the programme both now and in future. Supporters and critics will no doubt continue to cherry-pick individual case studies of Free Schools that confirm their respective points of view. What would be more useful for all sides of the debate is to continue monitoring the examination results and Ofsted ratings of Free Schools in the coming years as well as providing an on-going analysis of the overall programme expenditure. By doing this, we may finally be able to answer the question of whether the Free Schools programme as a whole has led to a tangible improvement in the lives of pupils and parents across the country.
An aura of rigour and quality has surrounded private schools for many years. This has subsequently become embedded in the minds of parents, politicians, pupils and no doubt many others. When the state sector is deemed to require additional support, it is the private sector that politicians turn to for their supposed expertise and knowledge. In light of this, it seems prudent to ask whether private schools deserve their reputation for high-quality teaching. Seeing as the chair of the Independent Schools Council declared last year that “parents should be more interested in the exam value-added score – a truer measure of the impact of teaching”, this paper has taken his advice and used the Government’s value-added data to analyse the impact of teaching in the leading private schools and state schools.
This new analysis shows that, while some private schools do a good job of educating children and young people, many do not. Given the Government’s commitment to forcing the private sector to become more involved in assisting state schools, it is somewhat alarming that the top state comprehensives seem to be delivering a better standard of education than the top private schools for a fraction of the cost. When the veil of impressive examination results and league table dominance of private schools is lifted, what you find underneath is an independent sector that contains a substantial number of poorly-performing institutions – including some schools that produce large numbers of top grades at A-level. For these schools to continue charging parents as much as £30,000 a year when the best data available shows that their progress scores place them in the bottom half of schools nationally is verging on scandalous.
It is hoped that the scrutiny provided by this paper shines a much-needed light on the performance of private schools, and in doing so prompts a serious discussion about whether state schools have anything to learn about high-quality teaching and learning from the independent sector.
TES AND FE WEEK
Here are some articles that I wrote for education magazines:
Apprenticeships have enormous potential. In terms of brand awareness amongst employers and would-be apprentices, they offer the best route for delivering high quality technical education. But the concern is that not enough of the new apprenticeship standards will deliver the quality that is needed. This report concludes that it is time to put the Government’s apprenticeship reforms on a new path that gives the programme stronger foundations and a better educational and economic rationale as part of a more coherent vision for what our apprenticeship system could and should deliver for apprentices, employers and taxpayers across the country. In particular, this report details a series of recommendations across three main themes:
– Set a clear goal for the apprenticeship programme based on international best practice – and which is not about number of apprenticeships taken up
– Redefine all existing and upcoming apprenticeship standards to focus unequivocally on quality
– Design a delivery infrastructure and funding model that supports apprenticeships and wider high quality technical education qualifications
It is easy to see how the current approach, if not unchecked, risks leaving apprenticeships by 2020 in the same position as Train to Gain a decade earlier; a programme consumed with numbers, that lost sight of quality, that sought to bring in all forms of training within its orbit, and did not consistently deliver the transformative outcomes which were required. A skills system in a country that works for everyone, not just a privileged few, has the potential to do so much better. This report sets out how this can be done.
Here are some articles that I wrote for the TES magazine, including my look at the future of Ofsted, the research evidence on grammar schools, the prescience of the Labour Party’s election manifesto in 2015, how exam board franchising might work and the 9-1 grading scale for GCSEs being introduced in 2017:
JANUARY 2016 – ‘Could Ofsted be facing the final curtain?’
AUGUST 2016 – ‘The case against grammar schools’ (£)
This publication described the steps taken to reform the use of vocational qualifications (based on occupation or employment) in full-time education, including a timetable for the introduction of the reforms.
The reform programme aimed to ensure that qualifications:
– give employers greater ownership of standards and qualifications
– are designed and assessed in light of the best research and international practice
– attract funding only if they are valued by employers and offer learners an opportunity to progress in employment or further learning
– are open and accessible, and are available on databases which it is easy for learners and employers to use
The publication also presented some ideas for future reforms, particularly to the way that the development of skills and competences relating to employability are funded.
Following a Government consultation on how to reform our Apprenticeship system, this Implementation Plan set out the policy, process and timescales for reforming apprenticeships in England. The reforms were designed to ensure that Apprenticeships become more rigorous and more responsive to the needs of employers. This would be achieved by improving the quality of Apprenticeships through introducing:
– higher expectations on English and maths
– grading, eg pass, merit and distinction
– an increased emphasis on assessment at the end of an apprenticeship
This ‘annual review’ contains a wide range of information about how G4S Welfare to Work supports jobseekers in the South East, Yorkshire and Humber and the North West through the Work Programme – the Government’s flagship scheme for helping long-term unemployed people into employment. The review includes case studies of the jobseekers that G4S helped into sustainable employment, the results of their supply chain survey, examples of G4S’s work with local and national employers and feedback from key stakeholders in their three contract areas.
Here are some of the key achievements over the first 12 months of the G4S Work Programme from June 2011 to June 2012:
– G4S and their supply chain worked together to help over 9,000 people into employment, with 82% sustaining that employment
– G4S invested £3.6 million in voluntary sector partners throughout their supply chain
– The work of G4S generated an estimated annualised saving of £54 million to the taxpayer through helping people off into work
– G4S supported over 5,000 employers across three contract areas to take on a jobseeker through the Work Programme
The ‘Work Programme’ represents the most significant shift in the welfare-to-work industry for many years. One of the most innovative features of the Work Programme is its emphasis on ‘payment by results’, which means that providers only get paid once an outcome has been achieved. In the case of the Work Programme, an outcome is helping someone secure employment. This policy paper looks in detail at the challenges faced in designing the funding model for the Work Programme. These challenges include: how the Government should fund ‘payment by results’; choosing how many providers the Government needs, and whether should they be from the private, public or voluntary sector; ensuring that providers deliver a high-quality service; and deciding when providers should be paid for delivering services.
The policy paper goes on to discuss how the funding model for the Work Programme could be applied to two other policy areas that will soon incorporate ‘payment by results’: offender rehabilitation and college courses. The same issues can also be considered by ministers and government officials when assessing other potential opportunities for a more outcome-based funding system such as the NHS.
With youth unemployment at record levels and graduates struggling to find work, internships – typically a period of workplace learning for undergraduates and graduates lasting from 3 to 12 months – have become an increasingly high-profile option for those finishing their university and college courses. The benefits to young people of completing an internship can be considerable in terms of learning technical or practical skills, gaining experience in an industry sector and developing their employability skills such as teamwork. In addition, employers who run internships stand to gain through bringing young people with new ideas into their organisation and building a talent pipeline for their industry, while some employers are even using internships as a way of assessing potential new recruits. However, despite these significant benefits to young people and employers, the debate over whether internships should be paid or unpaid has yet to be resolved.
This policy paper made three recommendations:
1. The existing apprenticeship minimum wage structure should be converted into a new ‘training wage’ of £2.50 an hour, which applies to all apprenticeships and internships.
2. Through guaranteeing that all interns are paid a minimum of £2.50 an hour, all unpaid internship positions should subsequently be treated as a breach of National Minimum Wage legislation.
3. To accompany the new training wage, a code of best practice for internships should be published to deliver as many high-quality opportunities for young people as possible.
Financial Times – Call to pay interns ‘training wage’ (subscription required)
Financial Times – Call for review of 50% university target (subscription required)
The world of skills, whether it be vocational education, apprenticeships or adult education, has been subject to near constant upheaval for at least 25 years. In recent years the Government has attempted to increase the volume of post compulsory education, improve the status of vocational courses and make the whole system more ‘demand-led’. Yet the skills system in England remains chaotic and unproductive. It is widely agreed that not only is not demand-led, being driven instead by the priorities of the Government, but it is also shockingly complex and wasteful. The purpose of this report was to unpick the problems which beset the skills system in England. We offered recommendations for reform which will simplify the system and make it genuinely responsive to the needs of employers and individuals, whilst incentivising providers to deliver to the hardest to reach learners. As part of this analysis the report looked in detail at Train to Gain, the Government’s funding scheme for employers; apprenticeships; Sector Skills Councils, basic skills; Skills Accounts; and the hardest to reach learners.
This guide was aimed at employers that are either thinking of starting an internship programme for the first time or wish to improve their current offering. The guide covers six principles of internships:
PAYMENT AND DURATION;
REFERENCE AND FEEDBACK.
Each of these principles is given a dedicated section within this guide and goes on to suggest how they can be addressed in a way that gives the greatest benefit to both the intern and the employer. At the back of the guide, you will also find a checklist for employers to use when assessing the quality of their internship programme and a voluntary written agreement that gives employers the option of formally recognising their commitment to the principles in this guide.
Britain will need more science skills if it is to prosper. According to the CBI a staggering 92% of firms across all sectors require people with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills, but more than 59% are experiencing problems finding them. The Government has repeatedly claimed that the numbers of pupils studying STEM subjects is going up. However, this is misleading as the school population has also increased considerably since 1997, meaning that we cannot derive any accurate measure of how popular STEM subjects are from raw numbers. Our report debunked the Government’s claims about the performance and take-up of science subjects at every level – GCSE, A Level and degree. Instead, misleading figures and lowered standards were found to behind many of the apparent ‘improvements’, with the result that British businesses now face a critical skills shortage.
RISING MARKS, FALLING STANDARDS
AN INVESTIGATION INTO LITERACY, NUMERACY AND SCIENCE IN PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS
One of the most enduring debates in education concerns ‘standards’ in primary and secondary schools. Literacy, numeracy and science form the backbone of the school curriculum with the intention of equipping pupils with these core skills by the time they leave school. The purpose of this report is to investigate the extent to which literacy, numeracy and science have improved since 1997 with a particular focus on SATs at age 7, 11 and 14. Through a detailed analysis of national school performance data, a number of serious concerns are raised with regard to the current state of pupils’ core skills. In addition, the curriculum from the ages of 14 to 16 – which includes GCSEs, Diplomas and Apprenticeships – is assessed in terms of its rigour, complexity and credibility. We also put forward our recommendations for the future direction of primary and secondary education, including a new model for SATs, more freedom for schools in how they teach core skills and creating a better set of academic and vocational options for pupils at age 14.
With a long way to go to meet the government target of one million fewer claimants on Incapacity Benefit by 2015, there is an increasing recognition that efforts must focus not only on returning people from welfare to work, but also on preventing the slide from employment towards benefits in the first place. Intertwined with this challenge is the prevalence of mental ill health in the UK population and workforce, with as many as one in six employees suffering from some form of common mental illness – such as stress, anxiety or depression – at any one time. Mental ill health presents significant costs for individuals, employers and the state, but although all these stakeholders would benefit from the provision of effective and timely interventions to support those with common mental health conditions, diluted responsibilities mean there is a market failure in the provision of appropriate products and services.
This study explored the significance of mental ill health for UK businesses and society, the benefits of remaining in employment for those with mental health conditions and the barriers to doing so. It argued that employers should be encouraged to take on responsibility for the provision of appropriate support and advocated a range of mechanisms which the government should explore to offer effective incentives.