All out for USS

In the news this week: 22 January 2016

22 January 2016

A look back at some of the week's news.

PM criticised for plan to force Muslim women to learn English

The prime minister was heavily criticised for his plans to force Muslim women to learn English or risk being deported. Using the language of division and making spurious links between a lack of English and radicalisation, Cameron announced £20m to help fund his project.

UCU was one of many groups and individuals who highlighted how his government has slashed funding for English classes for foreign language speakers, known as Esol. A £45m programme of Esol courses, run with Jobcentre Plus, was cut in July.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'The prime minister's strong words on the importance of learning English simply do not fit with his actions. His government has repeatedly cut funding to help foreign language speakers learn English and this money, although welcome, does not go far enough.'

Sir Michael Wilshaw attacks FE colleges for not sorting out with schools' mistakes

Also on Monday this week UCU said Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw was right to criticise the lack of careers advice in both schools and colleges, but wrong to attack further education for failing to deal with students who had failed at school. 

Speaking about his time as head of Mossbourne Academy, Sir Michael said: 'A fifth of youngsters failed to reach our targets. Most of them went to a local FE college, usually a large, impersonal and amorphous institution, and did badly.' However, his comments went down particularly badly with the further education sector.

Sally Hunt said: 'Sir Michael Wilshaw is wrong to dismiss further education colleges as simply having failed the pupils that struggled academically at his schools. All young people deserve access to the best education that most suits their needs, and this is something the government's forthcoming area reviews need to focus on. Sir Michael is right, however, to highlight the need for improved careers guidance.'

Government forced to debate axing of university grants

The government was forced to defend and debate its policy of axing student grants this week after heavy criticism for getting rid of them in an obscure committee. After complaints about a lack of scrutiny of plans that were not in the party's manifesto, the Labour party tabled an annulment motion to try to block the proposal, but it was voted down by 306 to 292.

In a bizarre debate on Tuesday, skills minister Nick Boles described opponents of the government plans, the National Union of Students, as the 'National Union of Shroud-wavers', which provoked a rebuke from the deputy speaker of the House of Commons. David Cameron then found himself under attack on the issue at prime minister's questions on Wednesday.

College defenders dismissed as D-list celebs

Sean Bean, David Blunkett and Ainsley Harriot defended further education in the Observer this week. Bean said he despaired at the current state of further education, while Harriot said he was fortunate enough to go to college at a time when everyone could do whatever the exercise was (boning a dover sole in his example), instead of just watching the teacher do it.

However, not everyone was impressed with their intervention. In his TES editorial, Stephen Exley said, while it was wise not to look a gift horse in the mouth, even in the shape of three D-list celebrities (which might offend Bean more than Harriot), he argues that the sector needs to let its guard down and work together to achieve real change.

FE pay dispute latest

FE Week reported that the further education unions are likely to meet after the Unison strike ballot closes at the end of the month to decide on the next steps in an ongoing pay dispute. UCU head of further education, Andrew Harden, said: 'Our invitation to sit down with the AoC to discuss the current pay dispute remains open, despite their recent refusal to talk. Our colleagues in Unison are being balloted for strike action and we will have more to say about the next steps in the pay campaign after that closes.'