Chris Cook

Later this morning, Michael Gove, education secretary, will announce several big things. First and foremost, he is dropping his plan to introduce the EBC, his proposed new qualification for 16 year-olds, which has been attacked as fatally flawed since its announcement. Second, he will unveil details of the new curriculum. Both will deservedly absorb lots of column inches.

But Mr Gove will also announce a new pair of measures by which league tables will be constructed. This change might actually be the most important thing he does during his entire reign. League tables set out the incentives that drive schools. They define success and failure.

So what do we know? Schools will, first, be assessed on the share of pupils getting Cs or better in English and maths. A second measure will record whether children in each school do better or worse than children of similar ability – as measured by standardised tests at the age of 11.

This value-added score will gauge performance across English and maths, as well as three more core subjects and their three best ‘other’ subjects. This replaces the current measure – a crude tally of how many children get Cs or better in English, maths and three other subjects.


Chris Cook

Next week, the Department for Education is unveiling access to the Key Stage 4 league tables. The interesting policy thing to watch for is how many schools are under the floor target – these schools are at risk of a takeover by an academy chain. This is not straightforward: academy chains are not all equal, there is a limit to how far they can grow -and some of them are already struggling with the load they have.

Based on early drafts of the data returns (and assuming the DfE doesn’t calculate this stuff in an odd way*), about 240 schools last year failed to get 40 per cent of their pupils Cs in English, maths and three others. Of these, about 220 had a below-average number of pupils making “adequate progress” in English and maths, putting them at risk of takeovers.

Before the DfE starts its getting-tough-on-failing-schools routine, I thought I would update and republish two graphs. First, I have worked out what happens if you remove the failing schools. Answer: not an enormous amount. As ever, these are average results for poor pupils (on the left) running over to the richest (on the right).


Chris Cook

Students From Liverpool's John Moore University Receive Their Degrees Today’s UCAS statistics are pretty grim: the number of people applying to UK universities is falling, and the drops are big. A 6 per cent fall in applications since last year is a big deal.

At the same stage last year, 321,908 people had applied for places. This year, it is 303,861. At the 2011 peak, it was 344,064. These are preliminary results: lots of students are still weighing their options and will apply in the coming months, but it is a big fall. 

Chris Cook

When Usain Bolt, not a naturally modest man, thanks you for your help after clinching his umpteenth gold medal, you have probably done something right. Brunel and Birmingham universities won his praise for their help in preparing and hosting the Jamaican team.

Other universities can claim to have done rather well. I quite liked this exchange on Twitter between William Hague, foreign secretary, and Patrick McGhee, vice-chancellor of the University of East London (which is hosting the US Olympic team).

But on to the medals! Here, courtesy of Podium, the body representing universities and colleges at the London Olympics, is the roster showing which institutions have done best at the sports. If you look on their site, you can see the full list.

For institutions, this table does actually matter: as I wrote last week, universities are an increasingly important spine of Team GB’s infrastructure.

UPDATE – 22:30, 14 August: The Podium list is correct, but it only includes conventional universities and colleges. However, the Open University won two golds and three bronzes. I’ve not included it in the table – some OU athletes are already booked as the undergraduate alumni of other universities, and this could get messy. But, bear in mind, if the OU were entered in it and credited with all of them, it would be in sixth place.

Institution Gold Silver Bronze Total
University of Edinburgh 3 0 0 3
University of Nottingham 2 2 1 5
University of Oxford 2 2 1 5
University of Cambridge 2 1 2 5
University of Reading 2 1 1 4
St Mary’s University College 2 0 1 3
University of St Andrews 2 0 0 2
University of Bristol 1 2 2 5
University of Bath 1 2 0 3
Peter Symonds College 1 1 1 3
Hopwood Hall College 1 1 0 2
Northumbria University 1 1 0 2
Staffordshire University 1 1 0 2
University of the West of England 1 1 0 2
University of Leeds 1 0 2 3
King’s College London 1 0 1 2
Barton Peveril Sixth Form College 1 0 0 1
Bournemouth University 1 0 0 1
Bradford College 1 0 0 1
Cardiff Metropolitan University 1 0 0
Durham University 1 0 0 1
Kingston University 1 0 0 1
Leeds Metropolitan University 1 0 0 1
University of Sheffield 1 0 0 1
University College London 0 3 0 3

What to make of this table? Here are also some important things to note – and I hope they’ll help illuminate some of the nonsense about sport and education in England that has been swirling around lately: 

Chris Cook

I’ve written before about the fact that there will be a sort of marketplace in universities, as a result of tinkering with student number controls. But while it is clear that universities compete for the best students and for research funding, that pressure might not improve teaching.

I’ll come back to this in more detail but, in the meantime, here is a video of Gervas Huxley, an economist at Bristol University, speaking about this very issue, which deserves more attention. The video is half an hour long, but HE nerds should stick with it. Mr Huxley is very clear and knows his stuff. And, if that were not enough, he is listened to inside the Business, Innovation and Skills department on this very topic: 

Chris Cook

UPDATE: 2 October 2012, to incorporate the latest ratings.

It’s official. Well, sort of. I’ve collected up the credit ratings that exist for the higher education sector, and all of those British universities (or university colleges) which have been rated are either prime or high-grade. (Italy, meanwhile, is not an Ivy League debt repayer.)

Institution Rating Outlook Rating issuer
University of Cambridge Aaa Stable Moody’s
 St Peter’s College, Oxford AAA Negative Fitch
 Lincoln College, Oxford AAA Negative Fitch
 Somerville College, Oxford AAA Negative Fitch
Keele Aa1 Negative Moody’s
Brunel Aa1 Negative Moody’s
De Montfort University Aa1 Negative Moody’s
Kings College, London AA Stable S&P
Lancaster University A+ Positive S&P
Nottingham, University of AA- Stable S&P
Sheffield, University of AA- Stable S&P