Coalition Education Policies-Part Three: Specific Coalition Education Policies: Analysis

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Part One: Introduction: Conservative, Labour and Coalition Governments 1979-2015 - Click Here

Introductory Readings
Conservative Governments 1979-1997 and Labour Governments 1997-2010
Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Ideology: General

Part Two: Coalition Education Policies : General Analysis- Click Here
Main Coalition Education Policies
Coalition Education Policies and Ideology
General Criticisms of Coalition Education Policies

Part Three: Specific Coalition Education Policies: Analysis  

Reform of the National Curriculum
Free Schools
The EBacc, the EBacc Certificate and the Reorganisation of GCSE Courses [including Comparable Outcomes]
League Tables and New Measure of Accountability at GCSE Level
The Reorganisation of GCE Advanced Level Courses
Vocational Education
The Discontinuation of the EMA and Aim Higher Schemes
The Sure Start Programme under Labour, Coalition and Conservative Governments
The Pupil Premium
Increased Higher Education Tuition Fees



Reform of the National Curriculum

The National Curriculum was first introduced in 1988  and modified in some ways between 1988 and 2010. Secretary of State Michael Gove announced the launch of a review of the National Curriculum in January 2011 and it was subsequently announced that the new National Curriculum was to be introduced in September 2014. However the Association of School and College leaders  claimed [Click here]  that it would  be very difficult to introduce the National Curriculum by September 2014 and as a result it was agreed that the new NCs for KS4 English and Mathematics would be introduced  in September 2015   and that  the new NC for KS4 Science would be introduced in September 2016 .

Click here    For the DFE's Framework Document: The National curriculum in England which publishes the basis framework of the National Curriculum, the Programmes of Study for all National Curriculum Subjects and regulations relating to the teaching other  compulsory subjects [RE and Sex and Relationships Education{ in Secondary Schools}] and non-compulsory optional subjects. The basic framework is outlined very succinctly on pages 1-7 of the Report

Within the new National Curriculum  there are Core NC subjects English , Mathematics and Science which are compulsory at all key stages and Foundation subjects of which PE is compulsory at all key stages and Art and Design, Citizenship, Design and Technology, Geography, History, ICT, Modern, Foreign Languages and Music which are compulsory at some key stages but not others [See P.6 of  the above report]

It is also stipulated that schools must teach RE at all key stages and Sex and Relationship Education in Secondary Schools.

Several Foundation Subjects are not compulsory at Key Stage 4 which creates space in the Key Stage 4 curriculum  for schools to offer non-NC subjects such as Business Studies, Religious Studies and Sociology at Key Stage 4 Level.

Several significant criticisms of specific aspects of the National Curriculum have been made . It has been argued that there is excessive emphasis on English Mathematics and Science at Primary School level and that  that although it is important to "stretch" pupils" parts of the new National Curriculum will be too difficult for many pupils and that this could "probably lead to more disaffection and failure". It is also claimed that  that there is too much emphasis on correct spelling, punctuation  and grammar , that primary school pupils should not be expected to master the terminology of clause analysis which used to be taught only in secondary schools, if at all and that  there is in general  too much emphasis on the memorisation of facts. More specific criticisms have been made of Programmes of Study in particular subjects: for example it was argued that  an excessively chronological approach will would be taken  in the teaching of History [click here], that there would be undue emphasis on the positive achievements of Britain's imperial past and that insufficient attention would be given to issues relating to climate change.  However you may Click here for Michael Gove's decision to abandon the removal of  Climate Change from the Geography curriculum but as protests against Climate Change gathered pace in 2019 students and teachers continued to criticise what they see as the still inadequate opportunities for the discussion of climate change within the National Curriculum although spokespersons for the DFE dispute such claims.


Further Information

You may click here   for BBC Q and A on changes to the National Curriculum and here for initial BBC coverage and click here for a Guardian article on the publication of the National Curriculum each of which .which provides useful introductory information and then use the following links if you require more detailed information on more specific matters relating to proposed changes to the National Curriculum.

Click here and here for changes to Key Stage 2 English tests and  here for a nice article on History in the curriculum by Tristan Hunt For a critical letter from the Independent on the History curriculum and  here  and here and here  for disputes between Education academics and Michael Gove over the nature of the National Curriculum changes.  Click here for Michael Gove's decision to abandon the removal of  Climate Change from the Geography curriculum. Click here for BBC information on ED Hirsch and here for more detailed information from BBC's Analysis Programme and here for Michael Gove and the core knowledge curriculum and here for information on Massachusetts schools and  Click here for an exceptional article in the Guardian by Richard J. Evans on  History and the National Curriculum.

Click here for Coalition Education Minister Nick Gibb's perspective on the new National curriculum and related matters





  • Please note that in July 2017 the Education Policy Institute published a new , detailed report entitled The Impact of Academies on Educational Outcomes . Click here for this report which also has a concise and very useful executive summary which may be especially helpful for students.

The Coalition Government's approach to Academisation has differed in several important respects from the Academies programme of previous Labour Governments.

  • In June 2010 the Coalition Government announced that all Secondary, Primary and Secondary Schools would eventually be permitted to apply for Academy status but that  priority initially would be given to schools judged outstanding by OFSTED whose applications would be accepted automatically. Subsequently from November 2010 schools judged good but with outstanding features were also invited to apply and their applications would be assessed by DFE  officials. These Schools were defined as Converter Academies
  • Other Schools were then invited to apply but only if they were joined in a partnership with schools judged outstanding or good with outstanding features or partnered with an alternative high performing educational institution.
  • Click here for BBC coverage of Academy sponsorship of other Academies. There can be problems!
  • University Technical Colleges, Free Schools and Studio Schools [ defined in "Unleashing Greatness" as "new schools for 14-19 year-olds delivering project-based practical learning alongside mainstream academic study"] would also become Academies as would some Special Schools and Pupil Referral Units
  • Meanwhile schools deemed to be failing might also be compelled to become Sponsored Academies as under the previous Labour scheme..
  • In November 2010 the Coalition Government announced that the attainment floor below which Secondary Schools would be defined as "failing" would be raised from 30% of pupils attaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C including English and Mathematics to 35% and  a floor of 50% is to take effect from 2015. Click here for new targets announced November 2010  and here for 2011 announcement of higher targets from 2015. The attainment floor was raised to 40% in 2012.
  • Also in November 2010   the Government announced that it intended to oblige force 200 under-performing primary schools to become Academies .This target was achieved by January 2013 by which time the Government had stated that a further 400 under-performing Primary Schools would soon become Sponsored Academies.
  •  Click here for DFE data on the growth of the Academies programme to July 2015.By July  2015 the total number of open academies stood at 4722.
  • In practice the expansion of Academies was if anything greater than the Government had expected and as is indicated above this expansion was driven mainly by the growth of "Converter Academies" which were to be independent of Local Authority control but were not required to attract any sponsorship.
  • These Converter Academies included a significant number of Foundation Schools[ schools already operating with some autonomy from their LEAS] and Selective Grammar Schools as well as a limited number of Private Schools. It should be noted that Selective Schools were allowed to remain selective on becoming an Academy but that no non-selective school could opt to become selective after becoming an Academy. Click here for  an Independent article on Private Schools becoming academies.
  • Whereas supporters of the Academies Programme have welcomed the Coalition Government's decision to oblige an increasing number of Primary Schools [especially those deemed to be "failing" to become Academies there have also been criticisms of alleged Government heavy- handedness  in this respect. Thus there was controversy  when the Downhills Primary School [ Click here ] was forced to become an Academy despite the wishes of many parents and teachers and when parents of children at the Roke Primary SchoolClick here were allegedly given little influence over the choice of sponsor when the school was re-established as an Academy.
  •  It has also been claimed that in several cases OFSTED inspectors have given inaccurate negative assessments of primary schools' progress in order to facilitate the acceleration of the academisation in the primary education sector[ as reported, for example, in a Guardian article by John Harris but denied by Government spokespersons. [ Click here for John Harris on Primary Academisation and click here for  comments from the Conservative Leader of  Lancashire County Council alleging excessive pressure is being employed by the DFE to encourage academisation, claims which of course are denied by the DFE ]
  • It was increasingly argued that the DfE was ill-equipped to deal with the oversight of the increasing number of academies and this led to the appointment of 8 Regional School Commissioners who would be tasked with the oversight of Academies in each region. Each Regional Commissioner would be assisted by a Head Teacher Board consisting of 4 Academy Head Teachers [ elected by all academy heads in that region] and 2-4 additional experienced professionals appointed by the Regional School  Commissioner. The RSCs and the Head Teachers Boards began to operate from the Summer of 2014.  Click here  for articles providing a very useful insight into the work of the Regional School Commissioners. 

The members of this committee have been advised by Professor Stephen Machin who has himself conducted important and highly respected research on the possible effects of academisation on pupil attainment some of which is summarised in my own summary document on Academies. The Committee concentrate their research primarily on the effects of sponsored academisation on pupil progress arguing that it is to soon too assess the effects of the Converter Academies.

Their key conclusion is that "Current evidence does not allow us to draw firm conclusions on whether academies are a positive force for change. According to research we have seen, it is too early to judge whether academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children. This is partly a matter of timing. We should be cautious about reading across from evidence about pre-2010 academies to other academies established since then."

With regard to the Sponsored Academies and attainment  the main points included in the Report include the following.


  • There is evidence that rates of improvement in GCSE pass rates [5 or more A*-C GCSE pass rates] have been faster in sponsored academies.
  • However given that attainment levels in sponsored academies started from a lower level some narrowing of the attainment gap between sponsored academies and non –academies was to be expected.
  • It is also important to note that despite some relative improvement attainment levels in sponsored academies have remained below the average national level  although this is entirely predictable given that the original sponsored academies were set up in areas of relative social deprivation
  • In any case there as significant differences in attainment levels as between individual  academies and between academy chains. The ARK and Harris chains have been especially successful but others have not.
  • here is evidence that although the main benefit of academisation is said to be increased individual school autonomy many academies are not actually modifying school practices very significantly.
  • Insofar as attainment levels in sponsored academies are improving more rapidly this may be due to the fact that academy students have been entered disproportionately for “GCSE Equivalent” courses rather than actual GCSE courses. Attainment levels in sponsored academies tend to be much lower when only GCSE courses are considered.
  • Although the DfE argue that the rate of improvement in GCSE pass rates of pupils eligible for free school meals is faster in sponsored academies than in comparable non –academies this has been disputed by other analysts such as Henry Stewart.
  • It has been argued, most notably by O. Silva and S. Machin, that sponsored academies have done little to improve the attainment levels of pupils considered to be in the lowest 20% of the ability range.
  • There is evidence of strong improvement in non-academies suggesting that academisation  is certainly not the only route to school progress.
  • There are claims that high quality leadership, high quality teaching and sufficient capital resources are more important determinants of pupil progress.


With regard to Converter Academies the main conclusions of the Report are as follows

  • It is in general far too soon to assess whether academisation has led to increased pupil progress given that these schools have only experienced academisation for a maximum of four years  Click Here
  • The vast majority of Converter Academies were high performing schools , often with relatively socially advantaged intakes and so one would have expected continued improvement in such schools irrespective of academisation.
  • Please note that in July 2017 the Education Policy Institute published a new , detailed report entitled The Impact of Academies on Educational Outcomes. 
  • Click here for this report which also has a concise and very useful executive summary which may be especially helpful for students.

Academies, The Conservatives and the 2015 General Election

Not withstanding the conclusions of the Select Committee David Cameron has announced that if the Conservatives win the forthcoming General Election his Government intends to target “mediocrity” within the education by means of further expansion of academisation , a proposal which has quickly attracted criticism from educationalists.  Click here  and here for BBC coverage and here for Guardian coverage of Conservative plans for further mass academisation.

Click here  and here and here for articles on Academies from The Conversation   Click here  for Guardian coverage and here for BBC coverage of DFE report on Academy Chains .

This concludes the section on Academies for the time being. There will be continuing controversies as to their effectiveness for the foreseeable future which you can follow in the press and broadcast media. For example you may click here the Guardian’s regularly updated archive of articles on Academies.


Free Schools

 Click here for Free Schools Q and A  and here for  a BBC item for and against free schools and here for a critical item from the New Statesman and here for BBC coverage of a Conference for supporters of Free Schools and here for Observer coverage of Labour policy in relation to untrained teachers in Free Schools and Academies. Click here for an Independent article on the variety of Free Schools and here  and here for a similar Guardian articlesClick here for information from the BBC on the enforced closure of a Free School in 2013

The setting up of Free Schools was proposed in the Conservative Manifesto of 2010 and given approval in the Academies Act of 2010 which also paved the way for existing state primary and secondary schools to become Academies. Free Schools are established as Academies independent of Local Authorities and with increased control of their curriculum, teachers' pay and conditions  and the length of the school day and terms. They may be set up by groups of parents , teachers, businesses, universities, trusts and religious and voluntary groups but are funded by central government. Note also that several Free Schools have been set up by chains which already run several Academies and that some Free Schools have transferred from the Private to the State sector.

As of March 2015 there were 408 Free Schools open and David Cameron announced that if re-elected the Conservatives hoped to open a further 500 Free Schools by 2020. Click here for BBC item  from March 2015

The New Schools network has been set up as a charity with government funding to advise groups wishing to set up Free Schools and such groups are also very likely to contract an Education Provider to deliver the educational services necessary for the running of the schools although such education providers are not currently allowed to make a profit out of the running of the schools.

Click  here  for some complexities of statistics and here for further information

The Government's decision to fund the setting up or Free Schools can be seen as an important aspect of its general support for the operation of a quasi-market in education. Thus it is argued that in localities where parents or teachers or other groups believe that the local authority schools are unsatisfactory they will now have the opportunity to set up Fee Schools and that increased competition between the new Free Schools and existing local authority schools will drive up overall educational standards as has occurred , according to the Government, in Sweden where such a system is in operation. Furthermore the UK Government claim that the introduction of Free Schools will increase equality of educational opportunity for disadvantaged pupils currently being taught in under-performing local authority schools. [However, as is indicated in some of the links critics argue that the UK Government's interpretation of the Swedish experience with Free Schools is not entirely accurate.

The UK Government's case in favour of Free Schools is essentially that the operation of the quasi -market will drive up average educational standards and that disadvantaged pupils will benefit from this but the scheme has also been subjected to substantial criticisms as listed below.

  1. It is claimed that they will be set up disproportionately in affluent neighbourhoods and that they may attract "better" teachers from local authority schools
  2. They may be set up in areas where local authority schools are already undersubscribed thus wasting resources.
  3. They may attract the better performing pupils from local authority schools thereby undermining them
  4. The combined effects of points 1-3 may be that they lead gradually to the development of a two-tier education system.
  5. There is a danger that although Free School Education Providers are not currently allowed to make a profit this condition could be relaxed in the future leading to the indirect privatisation of parts of the education system.
  6. Free Schools do not need to employ qualified teachers [which to some extent negates the second part of point above.
  7. They may give too much freedom to faith based schools or fundamentalist agendas although the UK Government point out that safeguards ensure that  such schools must teach a broad and balanced curriculum and that creationism must not be taught as a valid scientific theory

Click here  for  a BBC item for and against free schools which provides further very useful information relating to the above 7 points.

Click on the following links for additional information  if required

Click here for BBC coverage of critical OFSTED report on Muslim Free School

Click herehere and here for BBC coverage of possible Coalition conflicts over Free Schools and Academies

Click here for full and regularly updated Guardian coverage of Free Schools [ 433 articles as of December 14th 2013]

Click here and here and here and here and here for further information from the BBC.

Click here and here for items from the Daily Telegraph.

Click here for a detailed Report on Free Schools [published November 2017]  by the Education Policy Institute



The EBacc, the EBacc Certificate , proposals to abolish GCSEs and the non-introduction of these proposals and subsequent changes announced in June 2013 and delays to the introduction of these reforms, announced in September 2013 and announcement in November of  timing of Introduction of new system.

[Click here  for a Guardian item and here for a BBC item and here for the scrapping of the GCSE  and here for the scrapping of the EBacc Certificate and here for a more detailed article on the demise of the EBacc Certificate]


The EBacc

Michael Gove announced in November 2010 that Secondary Schools' performance would be assessed not only in terms of the percentages of their students attaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C grades including English and Mathematics but also in terms of percentages of students attaining the so-called EBacc {English Baccalaureate] which demanded achievement of GCSE A*-C grades in English Mathematics, Science, a foreign language and History or Geography. This policy reflected Mr. Gove's belief that attainment of good GCE grades in EBacc subjects provided a good indication of sound all round educational achievement and that it would discourage some schools from entering their students for "easier" GCSE courses [including vocational GCSEs] in an attempt to inflate their overall GCSE pass rates.

Nevertheless the introduction without prior warning of the EBacc qualification was criticised as unjust since many students had chosen their GCSE options unaware that this would deny them the possibility of gaining the EBacc qualification while overall school league table positions were in some cases unexpectedly affected adversely. Other critics argued that the status of Vocational GCSEs and of GCSEs in subjects such as Art, Drama, Music, Computer Studies   Religious Studies and Sociology would thereby be undermined [and some Computer Studies courses were subsequently added to the EBacc list .]

Also once detailed analyses of GCSE examination results were published it was clear that the difference between students eligible and ineligible for free school meals  in achievement of 5 or more GCSE A*-C Grades including English and Mathematics was even greater in relation to the attainment of the EBacc subjects, a fact that could be expected to undermine even more the future education prospects of disadvantaged students unless major initiatives [which seem unlikely ] are introduced to compensate for these disadvantages.

GCSE examinations have continued to be subject to criticisms that the courses are lacking in academic rigour and that the ever increasing pass rate suggests not that pupil achievement is increasing but that the examinations are becoming easier partly because competition for entrants among examination boards encourages them to engineer higher pass rates and because with this aim in mind examination boards have organised examiner-teacher meetings at which examiners have given teachers too much information about future examination questions.


The EBacc Certificate

Although such criticisms have been rejected by many Michael Gove announced what appeared to be very much like the beginning of the end of GCSE examinations in September 2012.See here for Guardian coverage of the EBacc Certificate proposals Thus under Mr. Gove's proposals:

  1. GCSE examinations in key subjects were to be replaced by a new qualification called the EBacc Certificate with the first new examinations in English, Mathematics and Sciences introduced in September 2015 for first examination in 2017.
  2. EBacc Certificate examinations in History, Geography and Languages would be introduced subsequently.
  3. The new EBacc courses would be more difficult than existing GCSE courses and a larger percentage of examination marks would be allocated for correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  4. Nevertheless the EBacc Certificate examinations were to be taken by a wide range of pupils and there would be no return to the previous GCE O level-CSE split. [It had been suggested that Mr. Gove had favoured such a division but that this had been rejected by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.
  5. Also under the new system the distinction between higher Tier and Foundation Tier examinations which exists in the GCSE system would be discontinued.
  6.  It was, however, admitted that under the new system more students might leave school with no formal qualifications although Mr. Gove claimed that this was overly pessimistic while stating that students who did indeed leave with no formal qualifications would be provided with a detailed "Record of Achievement" by their schools.
  7. Each individual EBacc Certificate subject would be delivered by a separate examination board  thereby reducing the possibility that competition between examination boards would lead to declining standards.
  8. GCSE courses could be expected to operate alongside the gradually expanding EBacc Certificate for several years but their long term future certainly did seem to be in doubt.

However these proposals attracted considerable criticism and in January 2013 Mr Gove announced that they would be scrapped and that GCSE examinations would continue for the foreseeable future. However new changes to the organisation of GCSE courses were announced in June 2013 and these new changes [along with subsequent modifications are summarised below.

The Reorganisation of GCSE Courses

Addition August 2016: Comparable Outcomes

GCSE and GCE Advanced Level Results improved steadily in the early 21st Century leading some to claim that this illustrated not that the quality of teaching and learning was improving but that the degree of difficulty of the examinations. Consequently both GCSE and GCE Advanced Level results have come to be determined by the use of a technique known as comparable outcomes whereby examiners seek to determine the percentages of students attaining each GCSE  grade with reference to attainment levels in Key Stage Two examinations  results and to determine percentages of students attaining each GCE Advanced Level Grade with reference to attainment levels in GCE examinations.. Usage of this system has halted the yearly improvement in GCSE  and GCE Advanced Level Grades.

As a result of the COVID 19 pandemic GCSE and GCE Advanced Level examinations were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 and examination grades were awarded on the basis of  Centre Assessed Grades [CAGs].n 2020 and Teacher Assessed Grades [TAGs] in 2021 which resulted in the award of higher grades than would have been awarded if the Comparable Outcomes procedure had remained in operation. It is intended that the Comparable Outcomes procedure will be reactivated once the examination systems return to normal.

 Click here for information on Comparable Outcomes and here for a little information on the award of GCSE Results in 2020 and 2021


  1. The first new courses in “Core GCSE subjects” would be introduced in September 2015 for first examination in 2017 with new courses in other subjects to be introduced later which meant that for several years “new” and “old” GCSE courses would be taught contemporaneously.
  2. It was hoped initially that new course in 9 core GCSE subjects [English, English Lit, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Combined Sciences, History and Geography] would be introduced in 2015 with other courses introduced in September 2016 but it was announced later that only English, English Lit. and Mathematics would be introduced in September 2015
  3. The new courses would be introduced only in England and the devolved Welsh and N Irish education authorities announced that they would continue with the existing GCSE system while GCSE courses are in any case not taught in Scotland. This led to speculation that the new English GCSEs might be termed “I” levels to differentiate them from N. Irish and Welsh GCSEs but this suggestion was not in the event adopted.
  4. All assessments would take place at the end of the two year courses; There would be no modularisation, no course work except in a minority of subjects where it would be deemed appropriate  an d the  controlled assessments [accounting for 25% of the marks in History, English Literature and Geography] would be abolished. [Consultations on coursework components have continued for some considerable time and you may click here for the situation as of January 2015].
  5. Retakes of English, English Lit and Mathematics would still be available in November..
  6. The new courses were to be graded from 8 to 1  rather than from A*-G  although in November 2013 it was agreed that instead the new course would be graded from 9 to 1
  7. The distinction between Foundation and Higher Tier examinations would be abolished..
  8. The new courses would in general be more difficult, examinations would be based more on essay –type questions  and overall pass marks would be set higher.
  9. Addition. In the new GCSE Science courses it was decided that practical work would no longer be assessed but this decision has provoked widespread criticism and may possibly be reversed. Click here and here  for further information. It has been OFQUAL which decided that practical work would no longer be assessed but Coalition ministers may "persuade" OFQUAL to reverse this decision.
Some further information

Click here and here for information on the scrapping of proposals for the EBacc certificate

Click here for a BBC Q and A on GCSE

Click here for Guardian coverage and here for BBC coverage of possible rebranding of GCSEs as "I Levels"

Click here, and here and here and here and here and here for BBC coverage and here for Guardian coverage of June 2013 changes. The 4th link is to a particularly useful, short Radio 4 discussion on the proposed changes

Click here and here for critical assessments of the new system from the Guardian.

Click here for BBC coverage and here for Guardian coverage of the delay of GCSE and A level reforms and here for confirmation of the changes

Click here for BBC coverage of GCSE grading and demotivation

Click here for Guardian coverage of new government policy on continuing study of Mathematics and English for pupils who have failed to gain GCSE  Grade  C passes in these subjects



League Tables

By 2014 GCSE examinations had been made more difficult in several respects . Many non-GCSE courses had either been scrapped completely or excluded from League Table calculations and only pupils’ first examination attempts were included for league table purposes. Also excluded were IGCSE examination results which had the effect of relegating many prestigious Public Schools to the bottom of the League Tables because their pupils are entered mainly for IGCSE examinations. In the State Sector the net effect has been that the number of secondary schools said to be underperforming [ where less than 40% of pupils achieve 5or more  good GCSE passes including English and Maths  and the proportion of pupils making expected progress is below the median percentage for all state-funded mainstream schools] doubled from 154 to 330.

Click here and here  for BBC coverage and here for Guardian coverage of the 2014 examination results.


Changes to the methods of assessing school and pupil progress at GCSE Level.

It has regularly been suggested that schools have responded to the 5 or more GCSE A*-C accountability criterion by concentrating their attention on students who are on the borderline between achieving and not achieving this level with the result that less attention is focussed on lower achieving students with potentially adverse consequences for their educational prospects . However an additional accountability criterion designed to deal with this issue  is to be introduced in 2016. Further information can be found via the following links.

  • Click here for BBC coverage of Mr Gove’s decision to block early GCSE entry
  • Click here for a very useful detailed item from the DFE
  • Click here for BBC coverage of changes to school accountability measurement

Click here for BBC discussion of 2018 league tables


The Reorganisation of GCE  Advanced level Examinations

Click here for Michael Gove letter to OFQUAL  Click here and here and here and here for Guardian coverage and here and here and here for BBC coverage. The last link provides information on Labour plans to reverse the Gove reform.

It was announced by OFQUAL on November 12th 2012 that from September 2013 students would be able to sit GCE AS and A2 examinations only in the Summer. In support of this change of policy it was argued that it would discourage "bite Size" learning whereby interconnections between different elements of a subject were insufficiently recognised, enable students and teachers to spend more time on actual learning and teaching rather than direct preparation for examinations and inhibit the continuing development among students of a "resit culture.". However critics of the change argued that the opportunities for resits were especially helpful to students, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, who found the initial transition  from GCSE to AS/A2 work more difficult such that consequently the ending of resit opportunities was likely to result in increased inequality of educational achievement.

Further significant changes were announced by Michael Gove in January 2013 for introduction in September 2015.[  It was subsequently agreed that the new GCE Advance Level syllabi would be introduced more gradually:  some would be introduced in September 20015 more in 2016 and Mathematics and Further Mathematics would be introduced in September 2017.

  1. GCE A Level courses would now be examined only at the end of the 2 Year Course.
  2. GCE AS courses would be retained but as stand alone courses [lasting one or two years] and not as part of the progression to a full GCE A Level qualification.
  3. The Russell Group of 24 leading universities would participate in the development of new GCE Advanced Level Courses in Mathematics, Further Mathematics, English Literature, Biology , Chemistry and Physics, Geography, History, and Modern and Classical Languages: i.e. subjects which the Russell Universities deemed most useful indications of suitability for entry to their university courses. Click here for additional information on the involvement of the Russell Group Universities  2017 AS-level drop by 42% after reforms | Schools Week

You may use the above links to investigate Michael Gove's rationale for these policy changes and some of the criticisms which have been made of them.  Click here for a BBC item on disputes as to the usefulness of AS examination results as predictors of University degree results [May 2013] . Click here for BBC coverage and here for Guardian coverage of the delay of GCSE and A level reforms and here for BBC coverage of criticisms from Oxford University admissions officer of proposed changes .Click here for recent Guardian information on the proposed reduced role of practical examinations in A Level Science courses.   Click here for  a recent [January 2015] Guardian article reporting UCAS concerns that some students may be disadvantaged by the reorganisation of  GCE A Level courses.

Click here  and here  for further information surrounding the abolition of practical work assessment in the new A level Science examinations.

Click here for an article form Schools Week on reducing entries for AS Level examination 2015-17


Vocational Education: the Wolf Report, University Technical Colleges and the Technical Baccalaureate.

UK Governments have long recognised that the nature and quality of the education system could affect significantly the productivity of labour and hence the competitiveness of the UK economy and this has been a major motivation for government attempts to improve overall educational standards and to emphasise that educational curricula should as far as possible reflect the needs of industry and commerce for an appropriately skilled workforce.

The Coalition Government has introduced a range of education policies which it believes can improve overall education standards and has focused also on what it sees as the need for reform of the provision of vocational education. The Secretary of State for Education  Michael Gove outlined his general approach in September 2010 when he announced the setting up of a review of vocational education for 14-19 year olds to be led by Professor Alison Wolf. Click here for a summary of Mr Gove's views. Thus according to Mr. Gove:

  • It was important that if young people were to become productive workers they should attain a good general level of education especially in English Mathematics and the Sciences .
  • Without these fundamentals actual vocational qualifications would be regarded as inadequate by employers which would undermine the employability of students studying for these qualifications.
  • However because of the evaluation of schools in terms of the percentages of their students attaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C grades including English and Mathematics some schools had encouraged their students to take composite vocational courses deemed equivalent to as many as 4 GCSEs rather than to opt for subjects such as Modern Languages, History and Geography . Mr Gove believed that in so doing some schools in the pursuit of higher league table positions were actually undermining their own students' employability .

Professor Wolf's Review, published in 2011. reached very similar conclusions. Thus the Review stated that although there were many good apprenticeship schemes there were also many courses which "did not do people any good " and that students on vocational courses should be made to keep up with academic subjects such as Mathematics and English. According to the review between 1/4 and 1/3 of 16-19 year old students were on courses which do not lead to jobs or training schemes and this view was supported by another expert , Professor Lorna Unwin  who was especially critical of Level 1 and 2 NVQ courses which were deemed equivalent to GCSEs. and who stated that "There are too many people at the lower levels . These courses do not give progression because the qualifications are just not good enough." [Quoted in The Guardian]. Soon  the Coalition Government responded to the Wolf Review in no uncertain terms by removing several thousand vocational qualifications from the school league tables  although it remained abundantly clear that vocational education has a very important role to play within the overall education system. [Click here for and here  and here and here for some further information]

Very similar conclusions were drawn in relation to the provision of vocational education for students aged 16-19  and this led to the unveiling of so-called Tech Level Qualifications in December 2013 for first teaching from September 2014..

Click here for Guardian coverage of new government policy on continuing study of Mathematics and English for pupils who have failed to gain GCSE  Grade  C passes in these subjects.


Another important initiative in relation to vocational education has been the setting up of University Technical Colleges under the aegis of the Baker Dearing Trust. It was stated in the Conservative Party General Election Manifesto that  if elected the Conservatives would facilitate the building  of 15 such schools by 2015 but as of September 2015 39 such colleges were in operation and it is projected that by 2017 more than 55 would be either open or under construction.

University Technical Colleges are Academies which are geared to the technicality oriented education of 14-18 year olds. As stated for example on the Norfolk University Technical College Website they aim to offer students "a high status, full-time technically oriented education that blends academic education and hands -on opportunities".  In many cases students will study the 5 current English Baccalaureate subjects along with additional technical/ vocational subjects in their first two years before proceeding to specialise more fully on technical/vocational subjects in their final two years. They are sponsored by universities and their curricula are influenced by local and national businesses  which also guarantee to provide students with relevant work experience. It would appear , therefore, that such college will provide high quality academically based vocationally relevant education which should improve students' employment opportunities and contribute in some measure to long term increases in economic efficiency.

Teachers unions have argued that students will have to make the decision whether to attend a University Technical College at the early age of 13 and that the effects of this may be to increase the academic -vocational divide although this criticism is rejected by supporters of University Technical Colleges who point out that students will continue to study EBacc subjects and claim that the vocational focus of the colleges actually stimulates interest in academic subjects. Click here for a BBC Q and A on University Technical Colleges and Click here  and Click here  for additional information and here for a detailed interview with Lord Baker.

In October 2013 major new plans have been unveiled for the expansion of University Technical Colleges and the setting up of Career Colleges. Click here

Click here for a Guardian article on University Technical Colleges published in September 2015 and here for an article from Schools Week published in September 2016 and here for a Guardian article on UTCs and vocational education in general published in February 2017 and here for an article suggesting that Michael Gove had himself opposed UTCs. This article also discusses some of the difficulties faced by UTCs 2015-18

Click here for a Parliament Research Briefing  on UTCs .


  •    Vocational education is provided also by means of Apprenticeships  which may involve a combination of on the job training and college attendance leading to a recognised qualification.
  •    Apprenticeships were for many years associated primarily  with the skilled manual trades such as plumbing, engineering and building  but nowadays the main sectors providing apprenticeships are Business, Administration and Law, Engineering and Manufacture, Health Public Services and Care and Retail and Commercial Enterprises.
  •    Consequently there are now more female than male apprentices and there are significant gender differences in the choice of apprenticeships in different sectors.
  •    Over 2.4 million apprenticeships were created between  2010/11 and 2014/15 and the current Conservative Government is aiming to create 3 million new apprenticeships between 2010 and 2015.
  •   Apprenticeships may currently be undertaken at 3 levels: Intermediate, Advanced and Higher equivalent to GCSE Level , Advanced Level and Post-Advanced level standards.
  •   The vast majority of apprenticeship schemes are at Intermediate and advanced Levels and in 2014/15  only 4% of apprenticeships were at the Higher Level. However this percentage is increasing albeit from a low level.
  •   There are many good schemes which should ensure career progression but considerable concern has been expressed as to the quality of some Intermediate Level apprenticeships  especially in Care  and in Retail
  •    Particularly scathing criticisms come from an OFSTED Report published  in October 2015. Respondents to the survey variously stated that they felt they were being used a cheap labour to be replaced once their apprenticeships ended and that their apprenticeships offered no real training. Indeed some respondents  were actually unaware that they were on an apprenticeship scheme.
  •   The OFSTED Report uncovered schemes where participants completed their apprenticeships with only low level skills such as serving or cleaning floors.
  •   Thus the Report claimed,  “As well as stifling the career opportunities of these apprentices, the low quality process undermines the status of apprenticeships  and devalues the brand.”
  •   One is reminded here of some of the criticisms  which were made of YTS schemes as early as the 1980s .However the expansion of better schemes at all levels is to be welcomed and Government Ministers state that they are very keen to eliminate deficiencies where they occur

Click here for a detailed report on Apprenticeships from the House of Commons Education Select Committee March 2015]

Click here for a critical assessment of current apprenticeship schemes from the Independent [August 2015]

Click here for a House Of Commons Research Brief on Apprenticeships

Click here for OFSTED Report and here for BBC coverage of this report. October 2015



The End of  the EMA and the Aim Higher Programme

  • Education Maintenance Allowances were first piloted in 1999 and introduced throughout the UK in 2004 in order to encourage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to remain in education. There were made  available to all 16 -19 year olds whose Household income is less than £30,810 p.a.  and are following academic or vocational courses up to Level3 [AS and A2 levels or AVCEs], some LSC -funded courses and courses leading to apprenticeships. The rates of payment related to Family Income are shown below
Family Income Weekly EMA
Up to £20,817 £30
£20,817- £25,521 £20
£25,522- £30,810 £10
  • By 2011 -12 about 650,000 students were receiving EMAs of between £10 and £30 per week.
  • It is estimated that around a half of all 16 year olds are eligible for EMAs of at least £10 or more per week.
  • Eligible pupils receive a weekly term -time allowance of £10, £20 or £30 depending upon the precise level of household income which is available for the two or possibly 3 year duration of their course so long as they fulfil the terms of their EMA contract which must be negotiated with their school, college or training provider and lays down conditions as to regular attendance and necessary progress.
  • The award of an EMA does not result in the reduction in any other social security benefits for which households may be eligible.
  • Successful students may also be eligible for additional financial bonuses and may continue to work part-time without losing their eligibility so long as they are meeting the terms of their contract.

The Conservatives had denied during the 2010 General Election Campaign that they would abolish the EMA  but following the formation of the Coalition Government George Osborne announced in the 2010 Public Spending Review that the EMA would in fact be replaced by "more targeted support. The Government claimed that at £560 Million p.a. the scheme was expensive and that it was also wasteful because , according to research from the NFER 90% of students would continue their courses  without the payment.

However controversy soon arose as critics claimed that the Government had misinterpreted the results of this NFER study , a conclusion supported by the main author of the study. Click here and click here  for BBC coverage of  discussion of research surrounding the ending of the EMA .

When the Government had announced that the EMA was to be scrapped it did announce that a targeted replacement scheme would be introduced but there were nevertheless fears that about 300,000 students would lose their EMAs midway through their courses ..

In March 2011 the Coalition Government announced that  it would replace the EMA scheme [estimated cost £560M p.a.]  with a new fund for  low income earners [ estimated cost £160M p.a. ] and that £15 M of this £160M will be used to give 12,000 of the most disadvantaged 16-19 year olds bursaries of £1200 p.a.  The rest of the funds would be added to the existing "learner support fund" [estimated cost £26M p.a.]  which is given to schools, colleges and other learning providers to use at their discretion. The Government also announced details of the gradual phasing out of the EMA payments. [See BBC Q and A on EMA.]  However  click here and here  for discussion of controversies which soon surrounded the successor scheme

Further Information

Click here for a Conservative view

Click here for a New Statesman article

Click here for Channel 4 Factcheck


The End of the Aim Higher Programme

The Aim Higher Programme was introduced by the Labour Government and was designed to provide information and activities designed to encourage children to consider the benefits of Higher Education. It was geared especially toward children whose parents had not themselves undertaken Higher Education courses. You may click here for further information about the Aim Higher programme and you can then discuss its likely effectiveness with your teachers.

The Coalition announced that the Aim Higher Programme would close at the end of academic year 2010-2011 and  that alternative policies would be introduced to encourage HE participation among pupils unlikely otherwise to enter  HE. Click here for further information from the Guardian. and here for information from the BBC and here and here for information from the Times Higher Educational Supplement.  {I have not as yet been able to find any information on the effectiveness of alternative Coalition policies.


The Sure Start Programme under Labour , Coalition and Conservative Governments

Labour' Sure Start Programme [Click here for a DCFS video on YouTube which presents Sure Start Centres in a lively. , positive lightClick here Guardian on Sure Start and Click here for more from the Guardian on Sure Start. Both Guardian Reports highlight some possible problems with the Sure Start Programmes. However a recent [2019] IFS study  suggests that  Sure Start Centres under Labour significantly improved the health prospects of poorer children Further  information follows on the Sure Start programme and the Coalition Government and Conservative Governments.

It has often been suggested that the Sure Start Programme has been influenced at least to some extent by the organisation of the Operation Headstart Programme which had been introduced in the USA in 1965 as an attempt at early intervention to promote the development of disadvantaged children via the encouragement of better parenting techniques. The first Sure Start centres were set up in 1998 and concentrated in areas of severe social deprivation. They were  designed to provide facilities in deprived areas for childcare, early education, health and family support services  and employment advice for families with children under 5 with the aim of reducing child poverty and social exclusion. Between 2006 and 2008 additional centres were set up in less disadvantaged areas while by 2010 the aim was to provide a total of 3500 Sure Start Centres to reach all children under 5 in all areas of the country.

The original overall rationale for the Sure Start Programme was based upon the general idea that parents in deprived areas might well be very keen to do the best for their children but that their lack of knowledge and parenting skills might put their children at a considerable educational disadvantage even before they entered school which would would then restrict their future educational progress throughout their school careers. Recent support for the rationale behind the Sure Start Scheme is provided in several studies which suggest that many children from economically deprived backgrounds enter First Schools at a considerable disadvantage relative to middle class children.

For example the necessity for some forms of assistance for children in disadvantaged families has been emphasised in the research of Professor Feinstein who has shown that social class disadvantages tend to affect the intellectual progress of poorer children even before they enter First School  and in more recent research from the Sutton Trust.

Click here for information on Professor Feinstein's research findings and click here for BBC coverage of the recent Sutton Trust Research.

Click here for a BBC item on the Sure Start Scheme suggesting its benefits may be limited

Click here for recent [July 2011] BBC Radio 4 Analysis Programme on Sure Start.

Click here for a Guardian article outlining the history of the Sure Start Programme to 2011

Sure Start and the Coalition Government 2010-15 and the Conservative Governments   2015-.

There have been controversies surrounding the development of the Sure Start Programme under the Coalition government. Critics have claimed that several hundred Sure Start centres have been closed while the Government has argued that the decline in the number of Sure Start centres has arisen primarily [but not entirely] as a result of amalgamations of smaller centres. Click here and here for recent information on Sure Start closures. [Thanks to Fran Nantongwe  for drawing my attention to these articles.]

Click here for Government research: Children's centres: their impact on children and families .[December 2015]

Additions June 2019

It later  came to be argued that the rate of closure of Sure Start Centres under the Coalition and Conservative Governments has been faster than official data suggest and also that Sure Start Centres have improved the health outcomes of children in poorer areas  which may be assumed to have had some beneficial impact on their educational opportunities. For further details:

Click here for a 2019 report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. This item also contains a useful summary video

Click here for Guardian Coverage of the IFS Report

Click here  for Guardian Trust Coverage of  a 2018 Sutton Trust Report on closure of Sure Start Centres


The Pupil Premium  

Click here for DfE information on current values of the Pupil Premium and procedures for overseeing the effectiveness of the Pupil Premium. In 2014-15 and 2015-16 annual Pupil Premium rates have been set at £1300 and £ 1320 for Primary age pupils and £935 ad £ 935 for Secondary age pupils. Schools may be allocated £1900 p.a. to spend on additional resources for looked after children. {See DFE publication for details].

The following table provides recent information on students achievements at GCSE level related to eligibility or ineligibility for free school meals . The  key purpose of the Pupils' Premium is to target additional school resources on looked after children and those eligible for Free School meals.

The following information on Gender, Free School Meal Eligibility and GCSE Attainment has  been, extracted from  SFR 2011/12 and SFR 2012/13 and SFR 14  on GCSE Attainment and Pupil Characteristics


Table : Gender, Free School Meal Eligibility and Percentages of Pupils gaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C  Grades including English and Mathematics 2008/9 - 2014/15 and Percentages of pupils achieving the EBacc [ with grades 9-4 in English and Maths  2016/17 [Source : DFE SFRs 2011/2012  - 2016/17: GCSE Attainment and Pupil Characteristics: English State Schools]


Table : Gender, Free School Meal Eligibility and Percentages of Pupils gaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C  Grades including English and Mathematics 2008/9 - 2016/17 [Sources : DFE SFR Various Years:  GCSE Attainment and Pupil Characteristics: ]

Pupil Category % gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English and Maths in 2008/9 % gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades  inc English and Maths in 2009/10 % gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English and maths in 2010/11 % gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc. English and Maths in 2011/12 % gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc. English and Maths in 2012/2013 % gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English and Maths in 2013/14 %gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English  and  Maths in 2014/15 % achieving the EBacc [with9-4 grades in English and Maths]   2016/17
Boys FSM 23.4 28.1 31.4 32.0 33.5 29.2 29.3 7.6
Girls  FSM 29.9 34.4 37.9 40.6 42.5 38.0 37.2 13.2
Total FSM 26.6 31.2 34.6 36.3 37.9 33.5 33.1 10.3
Boys NFSM/Unclassified 50.6 55.1 58.3 57.8 59.5 55.4 56.2 20.4
Girls NFSM/Unclassified 58.1 62.7 65.8 67.5 69.8 65.7 65.8 31.4
Total NFSM/Unclassified 54.3 58.8 62.0 62.6 64.6 60.5 60.9 25.9
All Boys 47.1 51.5 54.6 54.3 55.4 51.6 52.5 18.7
All Girls 54.4 58.9 61.9 63.6 63.5 61.7 61.8 26.9
All Pupils 50.7 55.1 58.2 58.8 59.2 56.6 57.1 23.7
Gender Gap-F-M 7.3 7.4 7.3 9.3 8.1 10.1 9.3 8.2
Total NFSM-FSM Gap 27.7 27.6 27.4 26.3 26.7 27.0 27.8 15.6

Between 2008/9 and 2014/15 the gender gap fluctuated between 7.3% and 10.1% while the NFSM-FSM gap fluctuated between 26.3% and 27.8% It is very important to note however that as  a result of methodological changes introduced in 2013-2014 results in 2013/14 and 2014/15 are not comparable to earlier results.

The 2016/17 data are in no way directly comparable with all of these previous years  although once again the gender gap is smaller than the NFSM Unclassified/FSM gap..


The above data indicate that the FSM-NFSM attainment gap did narrow slightly between 2008/9 and 2011/12 and this narrowing continued in 2012/13. However in 2013/14 , largely due to methodological changes in the calculation of the percentages of pupils who had attained 5 or more A*-C GCSE pass grades including English and Maths , the overall percentage of pupils reaching this standard actually fell and also  2013/14 the FSM-NFSM attainment gap actually widened . In 2014/15 there was a slight increase in the overall percentage  of pupils attaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE pass grades but the attainment % of FSM pupils actually fell and  the NFSM/Unclassified pupil- - FSM pupil gap actually increased which does suggest that the impact of the Pupil Premium must not be overstated. However it is also the case that the NFSM/Unclassified pupil- FSM pupil gap in percentages entering and achieving the EBacc did fall slightly between 2013/14 and 2014/15.


The data for 2016/17 based upon attainment of the EBacc suggest that the relationships between gender, FSM eligibility and attainment have continued although the 2016/17 are not comparable with the previous data which are based upon attainment of 5 or more GCSE A*-C grades including English and Mathematics.


  1. Using information in the above table  on Gender, Free School Meal Eligibility and Educational Attainment answer the following questions.
  • What percentage of all boys gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths in 2013/14?
  • What percentage of all girls gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths in 2013/14?
  • What percentages of boys eligible for FSM and ineligible for FSM/unclassified  gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths in 2013/14?
  • What percentages of girls eligible for FSM and ineligible for FSM/Unclassified  gained 5 or more A*-C grades including English and Maths in 2013/14?
  1. Which factor seems to be the more significant influence on educational achievement : Gender or Free School Meal Eligibility?
  2. Which factor seems to be the more significant influence on educational achievement: gender or social class?

Further Information

  • The following three links on the Pupil Premium suggest that any increase in overall school finances provided via the Pupil Premium will to some extent be offset by the effects of reductions in funding elsewhere in the school budget. Furthermore it is suggested that although many schools are using the monies provided via the Pupil premium to target additional resources on disadvantaged pupils a sizeable percentage of schools are not doing so. Click here and here for two items from the BBC 
  • However for very useful recent article suggesting that the Coalition are very committed to improve the effectiveness of the Pupil premium click here for a recent [July 2nd 2013] Guardian article
  • Click here and here for additional information from the BBC on the Pupil Premium and here for Guardian coverage of a Demos assessment

Both Conservative and perhaps especially Liberal Democratic spokespersons argue that the Pupil Premium should improve the educational opportunities of the poor and promote upward social mobility. Given the scale of the educational disadvantages faced by many such pupils many analysts argue that any improvement in equality of educational opportunity will be decidedly limited. We can certainly hope but should not expect too much.


Higher Education Tuition Fees

[Although I concentrate here only on the question of tuition fees there are other very significant issues affecting the future of Higher education as is indicated in this Guardian article on the future of the Humanities in Higher Education]

In December 2010 the UK Parliament passed the Coalition legislation which provided for the increase in Higher Education tuition fees in English institutions to  a maximum of £9000 p.a.  with effect from September 2012 . The precise details of the tuition fees scheme are quite complex and you may  click here  for a Q and A on Tuition Fees and University Funding from the BBC for further detailed information. Notice especially that the higher tuition fees would apply  also to English students studying at all UK Higher Education Institutions but not to N. Irish , Scottish and Welsh students studying at N .Irish, Scottish and Welsh Higher Education institutions who would however pay the higher fees if they enrolled at English Higher Education institutions. Welsh students  at English HE institutions would receive grants to cover the difference between English and Welsh tuition fees.

Students would receive loans to cover the costs of their tuition fees. They would also receive a combination of grants and loans to help to cover their maintenance cost where the relative size of the grants and loans would depend upon parental income. Also universities were to offer a mixture of fee waivers and bursaries to help to reduce the financial hardships experienced by relatively socially disadvantaged students. It was recognised, however, that combined maintenance grants and loans would not be sufficient to cover full maintenance costs which meant that many students would need to work to supplement their grants/loans  and /or take out additional private loans.

Consequently assuming tuition fees of £9,000 p.a. and maintenance loans which varied between £5,500 p.a. and £3,575 p.a. students could well leave university with debts to the government of more than £40,000p.a. on which interest would be charged. Once new graduates were in paid employment they were to contribute 9% of any gross income above £21,oo p.a. toward repayment of their loan. Thus for example a new graduate earning £30,000 p.a. would contribute about £16 per week to loan repayment.

It was agreed initially that the £21000 threshold would be increased in line with inflation but this provision has been dropped.

It has been recognised also that many graduates on low and/or intermittent incomes would never repay the full amount of their loans  which would eventually be written off.

It was widely argued that higher tuition fees would discourage especially poorer students from entering Higher Education and the following data from UCAS Reports enables us to analyse whether and to what extent this has actually been the case.

The UCAS publishes  very comprehensive annual reports on enrolment to UK Higher Education Institutions by UK students [subdivided into the 4 countries of the UK] as well as by students from the EU and other non-EU countries. These reports also provide information on enrolment trends categorised by gender, ethnicity and social disadvantage measured according to different geographical areas and eligibility and ineligibility for free school meals. These reports themselves do cast some considerable light on the effects of higher tuition fees on Higher Education enrolment but this UCAS data has also be reanalysed by the Independent Commission on Fees set up in 2012  specifically to investigate the effects of the higher tuition fees on Higher Education enrolment.

In this document I aim to pick out some of the main conclusions from the  2014 and 2015 reports of the UCAS .

  • Basic UK Trends

Applicants and Acceptances for Full Time Undergraduate Courses from UK Higher Education providers 2010-2015{Adapted from UCAS Report December 2014 and UCAS Report December 2015]  [Please note that the following data exclude applications from and acceptances of part-time students. I shall return to this point below]

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Total Applicants 697,350 700,160 653,635 677,375 699,655 718,480
Total Accepted Applicants 487,330 492,630 464,910 495,595 512,370 532,265
Acceptance Rate 69.9 70.3 71.1 73.2 73.2 74.1

We may note from these statistics that the total number of applications to UK Higher Education Providers  rose in 2011 as more students aimed  for early enrolment rather than a gap year as a means of avoiding one year of higher fees; that applications fell in 2012  and had only narrowly exceeded their 2010 level by 2014 but that applications increased quite significantly in 2015.. The number of accepted applicants also rose in 2011 and  fell in 2012  but by 2014 had surpassed its 2010 level by approximately 25,000 and, indeed exceeded  500,000 for the first time with another significant increase in 2015..

However it is also necessary to analyse these data in more detail focusing especially upon numbers of English applicants and accepted applicants since it is these students [who apply primarily to English H.E. providers [HEPs] charging the higher fees]  who might be most affected by them.

  • Applicants and Acceptances [as above ] by Domicile Country: UK, EU and Other Countries 2010-2015 [Adapted from UCAS Report Dec 2014 and December 2015]
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
England Applicants 494,765 496,635 454,000 471,120 487,870 494,495
Accepted Applicants 359,025 367,130 342,755 367,400 382,515 394,380
N. Ireland Applicants 19,680 20,240 19,375 20,543 20,570 21,030
Accepted Applicants 13,505 13,790 13,285 14,555 14,455 14,050
Scotland Applicants 46,345 46,015 45,115 45,720 44,785 51,295
Accepted Applicants 32,250 30,800 30,900 31,495 30,315 34,775
Wales Applicants 24,910 24,975 24,845 24,595 25,065 25,200
Accepted Applicants 18,170 18,325 19,305 19,665 20,165 20,510
UK Applicants 585,300 587,865 543.340 561,985 578,290 592,025
Accepted Applicants 423,430 430,070 406,240 433,610 447,450 463,715
EU [Excl.Uk] Applicants 47,320 49,275 43,150 44,835 46,830 50,705
Accepted Applicants 25,605 26,700 23,235 24,510 26,380 29,300
Non -EU Applicants 64,730 68,070 67,150 70,555 74,560 75,750
Accepted Applicants 38,290 35,260 35,435 37,475 38,535 39,250
All Applicants 697,350 700,160 653,635 677,375 699,665 718,480
Accepted Applicants 487,330 492,630 464,910 495,595 512,370 532,265

From the above table we see that , unsurprisingly the vast majority of applicants to UK HEPs are English and that the number of English applicants fell very significantly in 2012 and still had not reached its 2010 level by 2015. However the number of accepted English applicants had surpassed its  2010 level by 2013 and also increased further in 2014 and 2015 .

[However it is also the case that the Independent Commission on Fees indicated that among English 18 year olds in 2013 although the total number of applicants fell the figure for applicants as a percentage of the age cohort  actually rose which shows that we must interpret the application data with care. Unfortunately I have not been able to find trend data for the overall rate of application per head of population  among English applicants!

Be that as it may we draw the following main conclusions

  • In the UK the number of applicants rose in 2011 [as students rejected gap years in order to avoid 1 year of higher tuition fees], fell in 2012  and  did not surpass its 2010 level until 2015.
  • In the UK  the number of accepted applicants rose 2011 and  fell in 2012 but surpassed its 2010 level in 2013 and increased further in 2014 and 2015.
  • Overall UK trends are much influenced by English trends and in England the number of applicants in 2015 had not returned to its 2010 level but the number of accepted applicants surpassed its 2010 level in 2013 and rose further in 2014 and 2015.
  • Both application data and accepted application data should also be considered in terms of full population trends which, unfortunately, I do not have


On the basis of these data we may conclude that applications and acceptances to UK Higher Education Providers now exceed the levels which existed prior  to the announcement in 2010 that student tuition fees would  increase in 2012. The number of English applicants to UK Higher Education Providers is still lower in 2015 than it was in 2010 but the number of accepted applications from English students surpassed the 2010 level in 2013 and has increased further in 2014 and 2015.  

However although applications by and acceptance of full-time students have surpassed their 2010 levels it may nevertheless be the case that in the absence of the increases in tuition fees there may have been even more applications than have in fact occurred although Higher Education providers may not necessarily have been able to accept more students than they have because of various government restrictions on student numbers.

As already mentioned  it is important to note that the UCAS data refer only to applications and accepted applications of full time students and it is abundantly clear that applications by and accepted applications of part-time students has fallen consistently since 2012 such that  the  overall total number of full-time and part-time students in UK Higher Education has actually fallen in recent years. The following links provide more information on the decline of part-time Higher Education.

  1. Click here for HESA data
  2. Click here for BBC item on decline in numbers of part-time HE students
  3. Click here and  Click here  for Guardian items on the decline in numbers of part-time HE students


The UCAS 2014 and 2015 reports also provides comparative in formation on access to HE for 18 year olds according to gender, ethnicity differing levels of residential area advantage/ disadvantage to free school meal eligibility and non-eligibility.  As expected females are shown to be increasingly likely to enter higher education relative to males and Chinese and Asian students are the most likely ethnic groups to enter HE. Students requiring detailed information and Gender, Ethnicity and access to Higher Education should consult the UCAS reports for I shall only provide summary data on variations in access to HE related to residential differences in social advantage/disadvantage and eligibility /ineligibility for free school meals.

There are considerable variations in HE entry rates across the UK and in the following summary points I concentrate for illustrative purposes on variations in entry rates for 18 year old English students .

  1. Rates of entry for all 18 year old English students have increased for students from all disadvantaged, intermediate and advantaged English areas between 2006 and 2015.
  2. Students form advantaged areas have been consistently more likely than students form disadvantaged areas to gain access to Higher Education.
  3. However the rate of increased access for students from disadvantaged areas has been greater than for students from advantaged areas which means that the relative likelihood of that students from advantaged areas would gain access to HE has fallen. Thus the advantaged-disadvantaged ratio has fallen from 3.7 in 2006 to 2.5 in 2015.
  4. However this ratio has always been considerably higher in the case of access to Higher Tariff HE institutions: in this case the ratio has fallen from8.5 in 2006 to 6.3 in 2015.
  5. That is : in 2015 students from advantaged areas were 6.3X more likely than students from disadvantaged areas to gain entry to Higher Tariff Higher Education institutions. In medium tariff institutions the ratio fell from 3.4 in 2006 to 2.3 in 2015 and in lower tariff institutions the ratio fell from 1.9 to 1.2
  6.  In relation to FSM eligibility and ineligibility comparisons are made between English 18 year old state school pupils who were eligible for free school meals at the age of  15 and those who were not. Between 2006-2015  12%-15% of 15 year-old pupils in English state schools were eligible for free school meals..
  7. HEI Entry rates for Male and Female English 18 year old state school students eligible and ineligible for Free School Meals at age 15 both increased in 2015 when they reached their highest levels.
  8. Among 18 year olds who were eligible for free school meals at age 15  16.4%  entered HEIs whereas among 18 year olds ineligible for free school meals  31.3% entered HEIs.
  9. The FSM ineligibility- FSM eligibility ratio for access to HE fell from 2.7 in 2006 to 1.9 in 2015.
  10. However in 2015 the NFSM-FSM ratios were 3.8 for high tariff HEIs ; 2.3  for medium tariff HEIs  and 1.3 for low tariff HEIs.

We see therefore that students ineligible for free school meals aged 15 were in general 1.9X more likely than pupils  eligible for free school meals aged 15 to enter HEIs  and 3.8X more likely to enter high tariff HEIs in 2015.

Click here for  an article by Professor Danny Dorling in which he points out that although the advantaged-disadvantaged ratio has fallen  the gap in access to HE between advantaged and disadvantaged students has still increased.

There have also been concerns that that the adverse impact of increased tuition fees has been felt most among  English potential mature students. For example whereas for English  students up to the age of 19 acceptances in 2013 were 2.4% lower than in 2010, they were 17.7% lower for potential English students over the age of 25.

 Click here for a recent New Statesman article on tuition fees and part-time and mature students.

  Click here for an assessment from the Full Fact Organisation of the impact of Coalition's decision to increase tuition fees .

Click here for a Guardian item from 2015 on Graduate employment prospects and  click here for information from HESA. Thus the June 2016  HESA Report states "In 2014/15 of the full-time first degree leavers who were employed 71% were in posts classified as professional employment[66% in 2012/13 and 68% in 2013/14]. The remaining 29% were in occupational groups classified as non-professional." Interested readers can find a link to Table 7 which summarises the differing employment destinations of graduates in different subject areas

January 19th 2016: the end...for the time being

Click here  for a page of links on Conservative Education Policies 2015

Click here for Guardian article: England schools :10,000 sidelined due to league table pressure 

Click here for DfE publication; Revised GCSE and equivalent results in England 2014-15 [DFE]

Click here for Guardian coverage of  DfE publication of revised GCSE results.


To return to Coalition Education Policies Summary Part 1 - Click Here     Or follow main menu at bottom