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by Tom Bradley

University tuition fees From the end of the second world war until the mid 1990’s, the Local Education Authority (LEA) paid tuition fees for undergraduate students as well as providing a yearly grant for living expenses based on family income. There were also low-interest loans available from the government, payable upon leaving. From 1998, however, the grant was abolished and students had to pay £1000 per year towards their tuition. This figure was increased to a maximum of £3000 in 2004 and then again to £9000 per annum from 2012 in England. Additional loans were made available for the exclusive purpose of paying tuition fees. In August 2012, it was announced that this price rise had led to an 8% drop in English university applicants (around 15,000 potential students). This trend was not mirrored in other parts of the UK where the cost was not raised. Links:

The return of O-Levels? In 1986, the GCSE examination replaced the previous two-tier system of O-Levels and CSEs for 16-year-olds. The percentage of students gaining A-C grades has risen every year since its introduction (only falling for the first time in 2012), leading to accusations of dumbing down. In September 2012, the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) was announced as a GCSE replacement for English, Maths and science. To be introduced from 2015, it would drop the modular element, as well as coursework in English and Maths, and instead reinstate the single test at the end of the two-year course. Gove hailed this as a return to a more traditional type of teaching and examining. However, in response to pressure from teachers, MPs, exam boards, arts organisations and even the EU, Gove was forced to drop these plans in February 2013. The GCSE exam will be retained but in a modified form with less of a modular format and less emphasis on coursework. Links:

Baccalaureate In an effort to combat the falling numbers of students achieving A-C GCSE grades in core academic subjects, in 2010 Michael Gove announced a European-style Baccalaureate certificate. It is awarded to those students who get A-C grades in Maths, English, one science, one humanity and one language, and is designed to reverse the 15% fall in grades for these subjects since 2006, and the subsequent rise in students taking (supposedly easier) vocational qualifications. The 2012 GCSE results saw a 10% jump in the number of students taking Spanish, and a dramatic slowing of the decline in German and French study. Experts attribute this to the Baccalaureate. Links:

Free schools In September 2012, it was announced that 55 new free schools were to be opened for the new school year, tripling the total number. Free schools, introduced in September 2011, are government-funded but not under the control of the Local Authority. They can be set up by groups of parents, teachers, charities, businesses, universities, trusts, religious or voluntary groups, but must not operate any form of academic selection. They are at the heart of Michael Gove’s education reforms and aim to offer more choice for parents, driving up overall standards through competition. Critics say that they will create a two-tier, class-based system, give too much freedom, and have a disproportionate amount of funding. The government wants a further 114 to open in 2013. Links:

Academies One of the key aspects of the coalition government’s education policy is expansion of Labour’s academies programme, which enabled failing schools to become independent of the local authority while still getting state funding and up to £2m of private sponsorship. The idea is to offer schools greater control over their finances, the curriculum, and teachers' pay and conditions to enable more flexibility. In 2010, the government extended this offer to the country’s leading schools. As of April 2012, 50.3% of England’s secondary schools were academies or had applied to be (but just 5% of primary schools), and GCSE results appear encouraging. As with free schools, critics say that they will create a two-tier system and that the government is manipulating GCSE grade boundaries to force schools to become academies, a kind of ‘backdoor privatisation’. Links:

Trends in UK education  
Trends in UK education  

Summaries of recent developments in UK education, with links to further reading.