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Conflicts of interest in academy schools are symptoms of a wider malaise

Blog Editor, IOE Digital24 September 2014

Toby Greany
This post is co-published with The Conversation
As part of its ongoing inquiry into academies and free schools, the Education Select Committee recently published a report that it had commissioned from Jean Scott and me on conflicts of interest in academies.
We found that real and perceived conflicts of interest are common in academy trusts. These range from instances where individuals benefit personally or via their companies from their position in an academy trust, through to more intangible conflicts that do not directly involve money. (more…)

Election silly season: is research an ornament, a luxury good or ammunition in a war?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 September 2014

Chris Brown
As with many things in our Western consumer culture, research use may be conceived as an act of consumption. Correspondingly, research is often treated by its users as they would a consumer object, much like a coffee maker or television. In the case of educational policy making the research ‘consumer object’ seems to represent one of two perspectives; it is either viewed as a luxury item – with high use value and prestige, or its use is limited and it is primarily employed, much as we employ sparkly trinkets, to distract attention. (more…)

Boyhood: the first longitudinal movie?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital22 August 2014

Evaluating social interventions: What works? In whose terms? And how do we know it works?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital13 August 2014

Sandy Oliver
What do farmers attending schools in the African fields have in common with women attending maternity clinics in England? Both groups have played a role in rigorous academic research. They have influenced studies evaluating programmes that were designed to improve their lives.
In the mid-1990s Farmer Field Schools were spreading across Africa. These schools use active, hands-on learning and collaboration to improve agricultural productivity. Their strong participatory ethos makes the field schools very relevant to those involved.
Logic tells us that these schools should make a big difference to the farmers’ yields and to their lives. However, a strong theoretical base, enthusiasm and participatory principles don’t guarantee success. A research study seeking to collect, analyse and synthesise a wide range of evaluations of field schools found their success is largely limited to pilot projects. Furthermore, success is less likely with poorer farmers and women farmers.
It would be helpful to know how Farmer Field Schools compared with other approaches to improving agriculture – but the authors found a dearth of such rigorous impact evaluations. They see a need for studies that track potential changes through the whole course of the project — from the preparatory work of training facilitators and identifying potential participating farmers through to the ideas they discuss, try out and share with their neighbours.
They particularly recommend rigorous evaluations assessing impact in broad terms – not just agricultural productivity, but also empowerment, health and the environment.
Carrying out such evaluations is highly skilled work. In fact, knowing how to commission research that will yield really practical information – that will answer the questions and concerns of the people whose lives it is seeking to benefit – is not straightforward either.
Such issues will be part of a short course in Evaluation for Development Programmes offered by the London International Development Centre (LIDC) later this year, on which I will be teaching.
The course will offer opportunities for participants and tutors to all learn from each other, and is designed for:

  • development professionals who commission and use evaluation studies
  • academics who plan to work in multi-disciplinary teams on future evaluation studies of development programmes and
  • postgraduate students who wish to gain a better understanding of the terminology and fundamentals of evaluation methods.

Our vision for the new course is that it will help to achieve effective and appropriate support for better health and wellbeing through training professionals who design social interventions. It will help them to understand, commission, use and interpret evaluation studies, and work with potential beneficiaries such as farmers in Africa or pregnant women in the UK.
Research on anti-smoking support for pregnant women in the UK offers a contrasting example of why rigorous academic evaluation of the impact of social interventions is not enough.
In many high income countries in the 1990s, pregnant women were commonly advised to avoid or give up smoking for the health of their baby. The success of this strategy was assessed by rigorous randomised controlled trials, which reported reduced proportions of women smoking and fewer babies born too soon, too small or sick.
However, these trials took little notice of other criteria considered important by health promotion specialists and pregnant women themselves. What, they wondered, were the effects of encouraging women to give up smoking, if smoking helped them cope with the daily pressures of disadvantaged lives? Might asking midwives to counsel women against smoking interfere with supportive midwife-mother relationships?
Concerned practitioners and women who smoked (some who gave up, and some who did not) discussed their theories about the impact of smoking cessation programmes in pregnancy. At that time these theories had not been tested. Drawing attention to this gap in our collective knowledge encouraged a new generation of randomised controlled trials that took into account the social and emotional consequences, not just biomedical measures, of smoking cessation programmes. Subsequent studies showed that concerns about potential harm, such as stressed mothers and damaged family relationships, were largely unfounded. Now national and international guidelines are based on rigorous evaluations designed with women, not just for them.
These two very different examples raise questions in common about theories of change, research methodology, criteria for success, equity and ethics. They also feature not just individual studies, but whole literatures of similar studies which strengthen the evidence underpinning current recommendations. These key characteristics for evaluating complex social interventions require research approaches that cut across traditional academic disciplines, and draw heavily on the policy, practice and personal knowledge of those directly involved.
 

Research for all: a journal for all

Blog Editor, IOE Digital5 April 2014

Sandy Oliver

There is nothing unusual about academics and amateurs sharing and discussing their interests in learning. Professional and amateur stargazers debate the night sky, volunteers dig alongside archaeologists, biographers need readers and museums thrive with interactive exhibits.
Applied research such as medicine, communications or agriculture, elicits opinions about the focus, ethics and governance of research from people interested in the potential benefits and harms of new technologies or ways of working. All this is public engagement with research – where non-researchers are either contributing to the research, or debating or making use of the findings. Citizen science, engaged scholarship, patient involvement, public participation, practitioner research and many other terms describe activities which have overlapping principles and methods.
Sharing lessons between the disciplines and across policy sectors is difficult because we do not have a common language or shared understanding of what public engagement comprises and how it operates.
In the UK universities are supported by Research Councils UK and the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement  to encourage a growing culture of public engagement with research – by developing the “the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public”. This engagement is taken to be “a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit”.
Staff at the Institute of Education have been part of this social movement. Universities across the UK and internationally have been opening up their ‘ivory towers’ and finding new ways to work with other people in organisations and networks where knowledge is valued for culture and for policy decisions.
For instance, university students who grew up in local authority care played a prominent role as workshop leaders and spoke movingly about their own challenging experiences at a conference reporting a study of them and 150 of their peers. Ultimately, the By Degrees study (pdf) led to the introduction of a bursary for care leavers who go on to higher education and encouraged many UK universities and local authorities to improve the support they offer care leavers.
On a lighter note, pupils and teachers were involved in pilot testing software (pdf) that would allow young people to make 3D adventure and puzzle games that are as satisfying to play as the ones they buy. Developing a common language was important for cross-disciplinary and cross-generational understanding of game design, and a new quality, commercial product.
Elsewhere, public debate about nanotechnologies (engineering on a molecular scale) illustrated how public engagement can: reveal public concerns and wishes; suggest new lines of enquiry; open science to public scrutiny; provoke reflection on the wider, social implications of scientific developments; and help scientists and the public develop new skills and mutual appreciation.
Ironically, despite holding similar principles, academics who are applying them in various areas for different purposes are often working in isolation, unaware that other enthusiasts are down the corridor or in neighbouring universities. Now, discussions between the eight universities with RCUK public engagement ‘catalyst’ funding, and the NCCPE, have inspired plans for an international journal for academics and others interested in research.
This journal, to be launched by IOE Press, will focus on the role of academic research in society at large, and the role of society at large in academic research. It will publish empirical research and critical analyses of public engagement with research across all academic disciplines; opinion pieces from public perspectives and engagement intermediaries; and reviews of books and events. It is a forum for sharing the learning from research and practice that crosses boundaries between research and the wider world, across academic disciplines and policy sectors.
The journal will consider the questions academics ask about how to choose between different publics and different methods depending on the context of their research projects, and the consequent impact on the research and those involved. It will consider the questions asked by outsiders wishing to engage academics in research – how to read research, news or commentaries with a critical eye, navigate university structures, and inspire academics with new agendas. Lastly, it will consider the systems and cultures that support or block academics and the public learning from each other.
Typical of this area – where choice of language reveals assumptions, cliques and fashions – an appropriate name for such a journal remains elusive. The vision is to bring together the wisdom of academics, practitioners, Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) Ambassadors and all manner of engaged publics. Their task will be to shape a ground-breaking journal – and find a name.

How I failed to meet the criteria for Blob membership

Blog Editor, IOE Digital3 April 2014

John White
We have known for some time that Michael Gove has taken up arms against ‘The Blob’. This is his name for an amorphous group of people opposed to his policies from the educational world, including teacher unions, local authority officials, and academics from university education departments. But only now, thanks to his ally Toby Young’s new Civitas pamphlet, do we have a definitive idea of ‘The Blob’ and what it stands for.
He tells us that “They all believe that skills like ‘problem-solving’ and ‘critical thinking’ are more important than subjectknowledge; that education should be ‘child-centred’ rather than ‘didactic’ or ‘teacher-led’; that ‘group work’ and ‘independent learning’ are superior to ‘direct instruction’; that the way to interest children in a subject is to make it ‘relevant’; that ‘rote-learning’ and ‘regurgitatingfacts’ is bad, along with discipline, hierarchy, routine and anything else that involves treating theteacher as an authority figure” (p2).
He later adds to these criteria of inclusion ‘the belief that children are essentially good’; a view of learning based on ‘as few facts as possible’; and an ‘epistemological relativism’ according to which ‘no one point of view is more valid than another’ (pp. 4-5).
I am one of the two Institute people identified in Young’s pamphlet and in the Telegraph as belonging to ‘The Blob’. Before I read the details of its membership requirements, I was delighted with my new badge of honour. But now, having absorbed them, I see regretfully that I am not in ‘The Blob’ after all.
I do not denigrate subject knowledge. I want students to learn plenty of good science, history and geography. True, I don’t think that constructing the curriculum should begin with taken-for-granted blocks of subjects rather than overall aims, but that’s another story – and one that my colleague Michael Reiss and I have recently told.
I am not opposed to ‘direct instruction’ where appropriate. I accept that some rote learning may be helpful on occasion. I am not in favour of indiscipline, or opposed to all routine. I do not think that children are naturally good, but would argue that they learn to be kind, fair, thoughtful and so on through habituation into these virtues. I have always been opposed to the idea that knowledge is relative. It is true that London is the capital of the UK and daffodils come out in spring. If someone thinks something else, it is false that their point of view is as valid as anyone else’s.
I can give Toby plenty of evidence, if he wants it, to back up the claims I’ve just made about my beliefs: I know he’s a stickler for knowledge. Mind you, he can have his lapses. He says, for instance, that I think that knowing the names of the Kings and Queens of England is a middle class perspective. I don’t know where he got that from.
As I said, I have to conclude from all this that, although in all sorts of ways I’m opposed to Gove’s policies, I’m not a member of ‘The Blob’. More alarmingly, I don’t think I know anyone who is. Perhaps if you are reading this and feel you meet the criteria laid down, you will say so. In this way we could begin to draw up some kind of membership list.
Meanwhile, I’m beginning to wonder whether anyone belongs to ‘The Blob’. Has Toby’s imagination made the whole thing up?

The self-improving school system: competing policies undermine the coalition's admirable aims

Blog Editor, IOE Digital6 March 2014

Toby Greany
On 18 March I will be giving my inaugural lecture on the ‘self-improving’ school system (there are still some places left, book here!) In this blog I want to set out some of the ideas I will explore in the lecture, focussing on the state of current policy. In a later blog I will identify some of things I think could be done to move us forwards.
In his speech at the North of England conference this January Charlie Taylor, CEO of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, talked about his aim of an ‘irrevocable shift’ towards a school-led, self-improving system by September 2016.
So what does the Government mean by a self-improving system? When you read The Importance of Teaching white paper, I think you can boil it down to four criteria:

  • teachers and schools are responsible for their own improvement;
  • teachers and schools learn from each other and from research so that effective practice spreads;
  • the best schools and leaders extend their reach across other schools so that all schools improve; and (by implication)
  • government intervention and support is minimised.

I am not convinced that either the system capacity or the policy conditions are yet right for an ‘irrevocable shift’ to be achieved, even by 2016.  My worry is that if the self-improving system becomes no more than a narrative device to justify the removal of central and local government support as quickly as possible, then a two-tier system could rapidly emerge in which strong schools thrive but large swathes are left behind.
In saying this I am by no means entirely negative, nor am I harking back to a centralised model of top down improvement.  There are a number of policies in train that do appear to be giving schools greater ownership of their own improvement, and many schools and teachers are responding energetically. These policies include the sponsorship of struggling schools by school-led multi-academy trusts, the concept of School Direct (although in practice its development has been problematic) and the work of many teaching schools.
So what am I worrying about? One key challenge for me is that the coalition government does not have a clear or coherent strategy for supporting a self-improving system to emerge. Instead ministers are following at least four different reform approaches at the same time (see table below). These compete with each other in the minds of school leaders, creating confusion at best and unresolvable tensions at worst.
Four narratives for the coalition’s approach for system improvement

The world class (no excuses) approach:We are raising the bar in every area and benchmarking ourselves against the best in the world – a new curriculum, more rigorous exams, less teacher assessment.  Ofsted’s new inspection framework and area based inspections are shining a spotlight on schools and authorities that require improvement, while its new regional structure means it can follow up to check that schools take action in response. Where a school is found to be failing we will broker a new academy sponsor.
Key quote:  “High-performing jurisdictions set materially higher expectations in terms of what they believe children can and should master at different ages…If our schools, and young people, are to become internationally competitive again we must learn from the best in the world”.
Michael Gove MP, December 2011
Key message for school leaders: Raise your game or accept the consequences.
The freedom to teach approach:Teachers should be free to get on and teach. We have given schools autonomy and freedom and we have focussed accountability on what matters: the quality of teaching. We have given schools greater powers on classroom discipline.  We have stripped away bureaucratic guidance and removed the requirement for teachers in academies to have Qualified Teacher Status. We have made it easier to sack poor teachers and pay good teachers more. We have raised the bar for new entrants to teaching and given schools a greater role in training new recruits.
Key quote: academies “will be free of any government interference, free to hire whoever they want, pay them whatever they want, teach whatever they want, and as a result we can demand higher standards”.
Michael Gove MP, November 2011
Key message for school leaders: We trust you – it’s all down to you.
The market based approach:It’s not the job of civil servants to tell teachers how to teach, so we have closed the quangos and are cutting one in four DfE jobs. We are reforming the funding model so it is fair and transparent and we have introduced the Pupil Premium to ensure equity. Our academies policy has freed schools from the grip of local bureaucracies. We are supporting new free schools, University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools so that weak schools are challenged to improve and parents and employers have real choice.
Key quote: “Hopefully, recent reforms will push the English system towards one in which the state provides a generous amount of funding per pupil which parents can spend in any school they wish…while the DfE does little more than some regulatory, accountancy, and due diligence functions.”
Dominic Cummings, Special Advisor to Michael Gove, 2013
Key message for school leaders: Choice and competition rule.
The system leadership approach:We want the best schools and heads to drive improvement. We have over 400 school-led academy sponsors taking on the most challenging schools. We are designating 500 teaching schools and giving them a key role in professional development and school to school support. We are designating 1000 National Leaders of Education and introducing payment by results so they focus on supporting struggling schools. We want to develop a champions league of outstanding leaders who can travel to the most challenging schools and regions to secure improvement.
Key quote: “At the heart of this Government’s vision is a determination to give school leaders more power and control. Not just to drive improvement in their own schools – but to drive improvement across our whole system.”
Michael Gove MP, June 2010
Key message for school leaders: The strong will inherit the earth (and make it better)

The first three approaches might enable an improving system, but not a self-improving system. Applying the government’s four criteria, they might make schools responsible for their own improvement, but they will not foster the sharing of expertise, capacity and learning or the better use of evidence. Partly in response to these flaws, the role of accountability in these models becomes over-dominant and punitive, setting up unrealistic expectations for what Ofsted can achieve and an unhealthy us-and-them dynamic between school leaders and the centre.
The fourth approach – system leadership – reflects the beginnings of a sea change in attitudes and practice in England over the past ten years.  Many of the best schools do now provide hard edged support to their peers, whether as an academy sponsor, teaching school or National or Local Leader of Education. These approaches do meet the criteria for a self-improving system and there is evidence that they can be effective.
But their potential is being undermined by policies enacted to foster the first three approaches.  Furthermore, in the rush for an ‘irrevocable shift’, the pace of devolution to system leaders is arguably too rapid, with too little attention being paid to building capacity.
One illustration of all this can be seen in the tensions at the heart of the Teaching Schools model:

  • how to marry individual school accountability with system leadership? The fear of losing their Teaching School status if Ofsted downgrades them from ‘Outstanding’ is preventing many school leaders from investing real energy in this model.
  • Are Teaching Schools a publicly funded good, or a solution for a broken school improvement marketplace? Teaching Schools are told to earn their income by meeting the needs of other schools, but are also heavily incentivised to deliver on policy priorities such as School Direct.
  • how to manage supply and demand for system leadership on a geographical and phase basis? As Ofsted noted in its 2013 annual report, there are large parts of thecountry with too few system leaders and no established culture of school to school support.

These tensions are all symptoms of the wider fault lines caused by incoherent policy on school system reform. In my next blog I will outline some of ways in which they could be resolved. Do come to my inaugural lecture if you would like to hear and discuss these issues in more depth!

Brain science and education: seeking the right connections

Blog Editor, IOE Digital28 February 2014

 Kevan Collins
What can neuroscience tell us about education? This question elicits a wide range of responses from teachers, neuroscientists and educators – from the pessimistic “Nothing. What can a brain scan tell a teacher about what to do with a difficult Year 9 class?” to the very optimistic “Everything! If only I could see what my pupils were thinking I’d know what to do”.
At the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), we believe the answer is likely to be much more complex and that the potential for this area of work is huge. That’s why we have joined with the Wellcome Trust in a £6m Neuroscience and Education funding initiative.
Neuroscience has already confirmed that certain existing educational practices have an impact on the brain. But it can also prompt questions about how best to implement them. “Spaced Learning” – the idea that it is better to split the time spent learning something into several short bursts rather than learning it in one large block – has long been used in education. However, recent neuroscience research suggests that the positive impact may be due to the additional time spent thinking about the material. This raises questions such as: How long should you leave between sessions? And what type of activity should you do in between?
Neuroscience can also provide us with fresh ideas for educational approaches. One such idea is that of uncertain reward and computer games. It seems that one of the reasons that computer games are so compelling is that they employ “uncertain reward”. Sometimes an action is rewarded and sometimes it isn’t, so whether you progress in the game is partly down to skill and partly down to luck.
This type of reward structure stimulates a much greater dopamine release in the brain than completely certain or completely uncertain reward. Dopamine is important for motivation, but also for memory formation – a combination that would surely prove useful educationally. Learning games that employ the same reward structure as commercial games are being developed [link] and could provide a powerful learning tool.
Ensuring that neuroscience can usefully inform education requires the involvement of many groups: neuroscientists, psychologists, educational researchers and teachers, for example. It also requires the careful use of evidence throughout the process:

  • firstly looking at the evidence generated by neuroscience to select those ideas most likely to be useful to education;
  • then ensuring these ideas are applied within the classroom in a way that is both feasible and supportive of teaching and learning approaches identified as effective by educational research;
  • and lastly the neuroscience-informed approach or intervention needs to be rigorously evaluated.

It is this process that the Wellcome Trust and EEF are hoping to facilitate through the new funding initiative.
Many practitioners are excited by the idea that neuroscience could influence education; indeed a recent Wellcome Trust survey found that eight out of ten teachers would collaborate with neuroscientists doing research in education. This is very encouraging. However, it’s also important that ideas are not adopted before they have been rigorously tested, and that their neuroscientific basis is sound.
There is then potential for neuroscience to inform education, enhancing current practice and providing new ideas. Developing educational interventions truly informed by neuroscience would also stop unproven commercial products from filling the current gap in the market. The EEF and Wellcome Trust funding initiative intends to generate evidence about the impact of existing neuro-informed educational interventions, as well as funding some more developmental projects to develop and pilot new approaches. Generating a much larger body of evidence to provide an answer to our opening question and hopefully identifying approaches that raise the educational attainment of young people.
More information on the funding round can be found here, including a literature review that discusses other ideas from neuroscience that could be applied within education. 
Kevan Collins is Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation and a Visiting Fellow at the IOE

What are students ‘remembering’ on Holocaust Memorial Day?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital27 January 2014

Paul Salmons
In classrooms, assemblies and public events across the country today young people have been gathering at events to commemorate the Holocaust. Candles are being lit, poems read, pledges made.
For many, particularly those privileged to hear from Holocaust survivors or, increasingly, survivors of other genocides, it will be an intensely moving experience. But what are students remembering, exactly? What do they know and understand about the Holocaust, and what meanings do they make?
Despite years of educational work in teaching and learning about the Holocaust, the intensive activity of many specialist institutions and the dedication of thousands of teachers, the simple (but somewhat troubling) answer is that we don’t really know what young people think about this complex and emotive subject.
Of course, we have the essays, artwork, musical and theatrical performances that many school students produce for these occasions. The messages inscribed into memorial books. The comments made to teachers, guest speakers and the organisers of these events. All of this certainly tells us something. But we also know that young people learn very early on how to “get by” in school: the importance of saying what your teacher wants to hear, what kinds of comments and behaviour gain praise and which are out of bounds, and what will gain acceptance among your peers. Different settings can produce different kinds of responses; different ideas may be expressed in the classroom to a teacher, at a podium to an audience, in the playground to friends, or at home to family members.
And a wide range of sources inform and shape the views and attitudes of our students. There is no reason to assume that the voice of the teacher or the narrative of a textbook holds sway over the opinions of friends and family, or the popular representations of the past encountered in film and television, museums and novels.
So what do our young people know about why and how the Holocaust happened? What does this mean to them – what is the relevance and meaning for their lives, and are there common misconceptions or areas of confusion?
This picture is about to become a lot clearer.
A new research project launched by the IOE’s Centre for Holocaust Education will explore the knowledge, attitudes and understanding of up to 10,000 secondary school pupils from across England. Unprecedented in scope and scale, this ground breaking study will provide the fullest picture yet of what the Holocaust actually means to young people by listening to students themselves, through large-scale and in-depth research into their thinking.
The findings of the research, funded by the Department for Education together with the Pears Foundation, will be of importance both in the UK and internationally. It will reveal patterns in students’ knowledge, as well as common preconceptions, myths, or areas of confusion and inaccuracy. It will help identify issues and challenges that need to be tackled in the classroom. And it will clarify the meaning and significance attached to the Holocaust by the next generation.
The research into students’ understandings is part of our commitment to working with teachers to transform teaching and learning about the Holocaust. It follows our 2009 national research into teachers’ attitudes to teaching about the Holocaust, the foundation of all our current work, and the basis of a research-informed approach that makes our programmes uniquely responsive to classroom needs.
The student research will allow the IOE’s Centre for Holocaust Education to further improve its CPD programmes (already offered free of charge to teachers across the country), and to develop even more effective resources and approaches to teaching about the Holocaust.
As a result, it is to be hoped that in future years, as students across the country again mark our national Holocaust Memorial Day, they will do so with ever more sophisticated and nuanced understandings and that the meanings they form as they join in collective acts of memory will be even deeper, more personal and more profound.

Minister, it will cost young people a lot of money to attend a high status university

Blog Editor, IOE Digital19 November 2013

John Jerrim
Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Sutton Trust summit about access to “high status” universities. It was great to be able to engage with a number of leading experts in higher education and widening participation over the two days. For the summit, I produced a report (pdf) outlining various issues surrounding widening access in England and the United States. These range from the link between family background and access to high status institutions, to the thorny matter of tuition fees, living costs, bursaries and debt.
Although the report seems to have been generally well received, it has also touched on some sensitive nerves. In particular, David Willetts, the minister for universities and science, stressed that no graduate has to pay back their loan until they earn more than £21,000 – and then only nine pence in the pound over this amount.
This is indeed an incredibly important point, as my colleague from the London School of Economics Gill Wyness pointed out during our session at the summit. Such “income contingent loans” help insure young people against the risk associated with investing in a degree, and mean they do not have to turn to wonga.com if they do not immediately find a well paid job.
However, one cannot escape the fact that at some point this debt has to be repaid. This is particularly relevant for young people attending elite institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics. Graduates from such leading universities tend to earn the highest wages. It therefore seems reasonable to ask, how much will attending one of these elite institutions costs?
Unfortunately, this is not an easy question to answer, as it depends upon the specific career path chosen after university. But let’s take secondary school teaching as an interesting example. How much might an Oxbridge graduate who enters this noble profession pay for their degree?
Below is a spreadsheet with some back-of-an-envelope calculations based upon the following (generally conservative) simplifying assumptions:

  • Zero real interest is paid on the loan and there is zero inflation
  • There is no real pay increase in the teaching pay scales and no change to the £21,000 repayment threshold
  •  The debt is written off after 30 years (as per the current HE finance system)
  • All costs associated with post-graduate study (including a PGCE) are ignored
  • The teacher chooses to work in an inner-London school throughout their career
  • They complete a 3-year undergraduate course
  • They work full-time continuously between the ages of 21 and 50
  • They take out a a £9000 tuition fee loan and a £5000 loan to cover living costs
  • Their parents’ household income is roughly £40,000 per year
  • The teacher is promoted bi-annually (from M1 to M6 on the teacher pay scale) during their first ten years of service. They then remain on pay point M6 for the next 10 years (to age 40) and then move on to pay point U1 to age 50[1].

jerrimspreadsheet

Click on graphic to see a clearer version

 To highlight a few key figures:

  • This student (and prospective teacher) would accumulate a debt pile of around £42,000 by the end of their course.
  • They would repay their debt at age 50, just before the 30 year cut-off point where the outstanding balance is written off
  • The cost of their university education would therefore equal approximately £14,000 per year (including all tuition, books and living expenses).

This is of course just one single example. Many Oxbridge graduates will go on to enjoy much higher wages, incur substantial real interest on their debt, and will pay back substantially more. Others may decide to live outside of London, follow a different career path or work part-time, with university costing them substantially less.
However, one thing should be abundantly clear. Income contingency may mean that repayment of debt is manageable and reduces the financial risk of investing in a university degree. But for the majority of young people, the cost of attending one of England’s most prestigious universities is going to be quite high. Indeed, even more stark figures come from this cost calculator, which shows that even medium earnings graduates may make total repayments of more than £60,000.
Prospective students, as well as the Secretary of State, should remember this when thinking about higher education and the student finance system currently in place in England. They should be clear that going to a high status university is likely to cost quite a lot of money upon graduation. Furthermore, the Government must start to present figures for the total cost of higher education separately from the funding mechanisms (income contingent loans) that are designed to reduce risk and ease the upfront costs of attending such an institution.
You can find out more about John’s work at johnjerrim.com