Smarter accountability in Further Education

To teach to learn coverSam Cannicott with James Kempton and Sean McDaniel
December 2013

Further education colleges are uniquely placed to be “engines of social mobility” as many of their learners come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have left school with poor literacy and numeracy skills.

This report maintains that, while their remit is unavoidably wide, colleges’ attention must be fixed on individuals who have fallen behind in the core subjects of English and maths. Helping these individuals catch up by the time they leave college will strengthen their chances of getting a job.

To that end, the report urges the government to rethink its approach to accountability in further education and make English and maths GCSE results a key performance measure for colleges. It calls on Ofsted to be much tougher on colleges that fall short on improving learners’ literacy and numeracy skills. Colleges that operate in areas with a high NEET rate should be not be considered as 'good' or 'outstanding' by Ofsted.

The report also calls for stronger links to be established between colleges and the business community, and for businesses to step in when a college is shown to be underperforming. It points to earlier CentreForum research which stressed the importance of bringing industry into the classroom to equip learners with the skills needed for employment.

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Build the infrastructure, bin the wishlist

To teach to learn coverQuentin Maxwell-Jackson
December 2013

This report urges the government to be clearer when calculating and communicating its national infrastructure programme. It is argued that the current ‘wish list’ of projects, which infrastructure minister Lord Deighton has been asked to convert into a programme, is in danger of sending the wrong signals to investors, who are not confident that projects will get long term funding.

In 2010, the coalition government planned to raise infrastructure spending levels to £200 billion over the course of the parliament. To ensure that the government meets this level of sustained investment, greater clarity is needed around how projects are to be funded to help investors make choices about their financial involvement.

Lord Deighton’s infrastructure programme is expected to be announced at the time of the Autumn Statement on 5 December.

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To teach, to learn

To teach to learn coverJames Kempton
November 2013

Formal systems of continuous professional development (or CPD) exist in many professions including law, accountancy and medicine. This report urges the teaching profession to follow suit.

It contrasts the support given to England's 400,000 teachers with that provided in other developed nations which invest much more in teacher CPD and in some cases set stringent minimum time requirements. Teachers in world leading Singapore, for example, are expected to engage in 100 hours of professional development every year

The report recommends that every teacher in England should have a bespoke CPD plan to deepen their subject knowledge and teaching skills over the course of their career.

It calls for new post teacher training qualifications and recertification, an expansion of the Education Endowment Fund's remit to give teachers greater access to the latest research, and a government backed pilot scheme that would afford teachers a personal budget to fund their CPD costs. It also joins calls for a new Royal College of Teaching, suggesting that this institution would be ideally placed to lead on the professionalisation of teacher CPD.

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"An autonomous school system can only be as good as its professional workforce. The government is committed to helping schools and teachers take more responsibility for their professional development, and we welcome this contribution to the debate."

- Rt Hon David Laws MP, Minister of State for Schools

"There are currently vast differences in the quality of teaching in our schools. It is essential in a self improving school system that we also have a self improving teaching profession. Giving teachers ownership of their professional development has to be the right way forward and I commend the report's recommendations."

- Graham Stuart MP, Chairman of the Education Select Committee

If Scotland says ‘No’: What next for the Union?

Older People's CommissionerJames Hallwood (Constitution Society)
September 2013

If we are to believe the polls, Scottish voters will reject independence in September 2014. If so, what happens next? A ‘no’ vote will not mean ‘no change’, and it is very likely that unionist parties will head into the 2015 general election with proposals for further devolution.

What will these policies look like? Is the inevitable ‘next step’ a transfer of significant tax-raising powers to Holyrood? And what are the consequences for the Union as a whole?

The Constitution Society has brought together three leading think tanks form across the political spectrum to explore these questions and propose some possible answers.

With contributions form Professor Michael Keating, Magnus Linklater, Jim Gallagher and Philip Blond, this collaboration with CentreForum, the Fabian Society and ResPublica sets the scene for the post-referendum debate.

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Giving older people a voice: the case for an Older People's Commissioner for England

Older People's CommissionerPaul Burstow
September 2013

Every day older people in England face a number of challenges around vulnerability, abuse, poverty, housing, health and transport which remain inadequately addressed by policymakers. Equally, older people’s contribution to society, including an estimated £4 billion in unpaid voluntary care and up to £34 billion in unpaid social care, is frequently undervalued or overlooked.

In the context of an ageing society, there is an urgent need to address these issues, to challenge negative stereotypes, support older people and maximise their contribution to society. Following the examples set by Wales and Northern Ireland, this report calls for the creation of an Older People’s Commissioner for England. The commissioner would be free from party politics, able to act as a strong advocate for older people, fighting their corner in policymaking circles, challenging discrimination, championing their contribution to society and the economy, and spearheading the future proofing of English policy development across government to prepare for the challenges posed by an ageing society.

The report, edited by former care services minister Rt Hon Paul Burstow MP, contains contributions from Esther Rantzen CBE, Baroness Bakewell DBE and Sarah Rochira, the serving Older People’s Commissioner for Wales.

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"Plenty of people have ideas about caring for the old. But who is representing what the old themselves think and want? That's the job of an Older People's Commissioner; that's why we need one now."

- Baroness Bakewell DBE

"Every survey of older people reflects the fact that they are not consulted even when decisions are made that vitally affect them. They are not valued and treated with respect. And yet our nation, our families, charities, cities and villages could not function without their contribution. It is time they are appropriately, adequately represented with an Older People's Commissioner. They deserve no less."

- Esther Rantzen CBE

"We are a nation of older people, which is to be celebrated. Older people bring a wealth of knowledge and experience, as well as real economic value, to our nation. However, many older people feel they have been marginalised, feel that they don't have a voice that is listened to and that the issues that matter to them are not being dealt with effectively."

- Sarah Rochira, the Older People's Commissioner for Wales

Measuring what matters: secondary school accountability indicators that benefit all

Cutting emissions coverChris Paterson
August 2013

This report argues that secondary schools should be judged according to the progress they enable their pupils to make.

Current league tables rank schools in England on how many of their pupils achieve five GCSE grades at A*-C. But this measure has been widely condemned on the grounds that it encourages schools to focus on pupils at the C/D borderline at the expense of everybody else. The measure is particularly damaging for pupils in the bottom 20% or 'tail of underachievement', who leave secondary school with literacy and numeracy skills below the level expected of an 11 year old.

Earlier in the year, the government announced plans to replace the headline 'five A*-C' measure with two new measures: an eight subject progress measure, reflecting pupils' development over time, and a new threshold measure. The latter is intended to capture the proportion of pupils who get C grades or better in the core subjects of English and maths. The report models and tests both measures against real 2012 school data.

CentreForum welcomes the new progress measure as a potential leap forwards.  But it warns that the new threshold measure will create the same perverse incentives and 'gaming' behaviours as the existing 'five A*-C' measure. It urges government to drop the proposed threshold measure and instead enhance the progress measure by giving double weighting to the grades pupils achieve in English and maths.

This new progress measure would ensure that the incentives in the system line up with with the admirable objectives that have been set for it: improving outcomes for all and closing the shameful gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and the rest.

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"I am very supportive of these proposals developed by CentreForum. If you create a system with incentives, you can't blame people and institutions for responding to them. League tables are a real driver of school behaviour and we must make sure we get them right."

- Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee

"It is crucial that the incentives created by any new headline measures are thoroughly tested if we are to avoid simply repeating the problems of the past. This report is important because it begins to do just that. The fairest way to judge schools is on the progress pupils make."

-  Brian Lightman, General Secretary of ASCL

Train Too: industry secondments into Further Education

Cutting emissions coverJames Kempton and Sam Tomlin
July 2013

A strong vocational education system is vital for increasing the life chances of vocational learners and building a stronger economy. This report outlines proposals to create a national programme encouraging industry professionals to take one day a week secondments to teach their skills in Further Education colleges.

It argues that the scheme should be underpinned by six key design principles: a multiple engagement secondment model; flexibility; quality of secondees; strong championing; a strong business case for all key stakeholders; and pilot testing.

Inspired by the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning, numerous case studies and the example of Teach First’s impact in schools across the country, it argues that such a secondment scheme would benefit vocational learners, colleges, professionals and employers.

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"'Train Too' offers practical and excellent ideas for improving the quality of vocational education in this country."

- Professor Alison Wolf CBE

"I am pleased to support this excellent piece from CentreForum. Based, as it is, on many very intelligent conversations with both providers of vocational education and employers, it sets out the case for an organised scheme of teaching secondments for the best in industry, and details a set of values which must be at the heart of any such programme."

- Lynne Sedgmore CBE, Executive Director at the 157 Group of Further Education Colleges

Money down the drain: getting a better deal for consumers from the water industry

Cutting emissions coverGeorge Turner 
July 2013

Backed by former Director-General of the regulator Ofwat, Sir Ian Byatt, this report presents a devastating critique of water companies' financial activities since the turn of the 21st century. It describes an opaque, overleveraged and poorly regulated industry that consistently places short term profit maximisation above the interests of consumers and taxpayers.

The report makes a set of recommendations for the government, Ofwat and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee to implement. It urges amongst other things the imposition of a levy on 'highly geared' (overleveraged) water companies, as well as German style earnings stripping rules to prevent all companies from drawing excessive loans with the intention of avoiding tax.

The report also calls for greater corporate transparency at a time when most English water companies have passed into the hands of private equity funds. It says that Ofwat should impose London Stock Exchange disclosure requirements on non-stock market listed water companies, and require public disclosure of all intermediate holding companies and ultimate controlling companies.

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"This report sets out the issues involved in the financing of investment in the water sector with great clarity, making them accessible to non-expert readers, while providing a set of well thought out suggestions for action both by parliament and the regulator."

- Sir Ian Byatt, Director-General of Ofwat 1989-2000

Postgraduate education: better funding and better access

Cutting emissions coverTom Frostick and Tom Gault 
June 2013

This report likens postgraduate education to "an exclusive golf club" which is becoming increasingly exclusive amid rising tuition fees and real terms cuts to research and funding council support. It includes chapters by the British Academy, CentreForum, Confederation of British Industry (CBI), GuildHE, Higher Education Commission, National Union of Students (NUS), Russell Group, Sutton Trust and economists Dr Joanne Lindley and Professor Stephen Machin.

In joint chapter with NUS, CentreForum urges the government to implement an undergraduate style loans scheme for postgraduate taught courses. It is argued that a more restricted loans scheme could be piloted within the government's existing higher education budget before being rolled out in full.

In addition, the report urges universities to take steps towards expanding their endowment capacity and accessing financial markets to enable postgraduate students to draw loans. It also calls for data to be collected to assess how far current funding arrangements are suppressing demand for postgraduate study, as well as a review of the rules, regulations and funding structures in postgraduate education.

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"We welcome this report as a useful contribution to the debate."

- Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)

"Successive higher education reviews have swept this issue under the carpet. Social mobility and the economy are suffering as a result, and people are being deprived of opportunities. We need to review postgraduate funding as a matter of urgency."

- Julian Huppert MP, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Cambridge

The wrong sort of money: options for quantitative easing

Cutting emissions coverJo Owen
May 2013

In this report, Jo Owen argues that quantitative easing (QE) – through which the Bank of England has so far bought £375 billion of assets  is "past its sell by date" and should only be used in future as a "weapon of last resort".

QE is considered to have had harmful side effects since its introduction in 2009, including propping up an asset bubble, making the rich wealthier, and building an economy dependent on low interest rates. But the report argues that the reversal of existing QE should not happen in the foreseeable future, as the costs would be too great for the UK's recovering economy to bear.

It instead urges the Bank to start exploring alternatives to QE, such as remunerating marginal excess reserves by the banks at below the base rate to encourage more lending, and recapitalising RBS and Lloyds.

The report calls for monetary, regulatory and fiscal policy to be better aligned, suggesting that monetary policy cannot do all the "heavy lifting" and that radical alternatives such as "helicopter money" should be avoided.

It also calls for additional capital expenditure while the government continues to follow its fiscal mandate of reducing current spending. It recommends the establishment of an independent Office of Capital Expenditure to ensure current spending is not reclassified as capital expenditure through "creative accounting" at the Treasury.

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