There is a shortage of rigorous research into teaching methods, and results are poorly disseminated among teachers
Are you left-brained or right-brained? Are you more creative or rational? You can find out easily enough – there are myriad online tests that will help you find your dominant hemisphere.
Or so they claim. In fact, a study in PLOS One last year showed fairly conclusively that the idea one side of our brain is more dominant than the other – and by extension, that this dictates what kind of person you are – is little more than a myth.
It's a shame: this seemed such an attractive idea. After all, there are two distinct (though connected) hemispheres of the brain and some of us are clearly more arty, others more sciencey. Excuse the pun, but it seemed something of a no-brainer. That's the trouble with myths about the brain – just because they sound credible and have the veneer or neuroscience doesn't make them true.
"Neuromyths" can merely perpetuate misconceptions about the brain. Of greater concern is when they influence how we are raised or educated. You may be familiar with the idea of different types of learner. For example, if you are a "visual learner" you need content delivered primarily visually. But there is very little scientific evidence to support this idea, and labelling pupils by type of learner and delivering content accordingly limits the richness of their learning experiences and may reduce what is learned.
Neuroscience is a blossoming field of research and its potential impact on education is wide-ranging. We are already beginning to see examples of it being applied. For example, many American schools now start their classes later in the morning after research suggesting that teenagers do not like early starts – not because they are inherently lazy, but because they have a natural sleep pattern that leads to a late-to-bed, late-to-rise cycle. When systematically tested in US schools, later start times were found to be beneficial. Whether this would be the case in the UK is as yet unknown.
In fact, classroom interventions based on rigorous scientific evidence are surprisingly scarce. Together with the Educational Endowment Fund (EEF), the Wellcome Trust has spent time surveying teachers to find out what approaches and interventions are currently in use. Many teachers say they are influenced by the idea of "learning styles", as mentioned above. Others use Brain Gym which, according to its website, "is based on more than 80 years of research by educational therapists, developmental optometrists and other specialists in the fields of movement, education and child development". Yet there is scant evidence that Brain Gym is doing anything to boost the brain.
Teachers have told us that they want their teaching approaches and tools to be based on evidence. Much of teacher training is shaped by research evidence and many teachers investigate the impact of different practice in their own classes, often disseminating their findings informally through peers. However, teachers rarely have the scientific training to appreciate the difference between informal experimentation in their own classrooms, and the robust evidence base upon which larger-scale change should be based.
The truth is that there is a real shortage of scientific studies and there has not been a good system for sharing the findings of those that exist with teaching practitioners. The government hardly leads by example: a report earlier last year from Nesta noted that out of 70 programmes implemented by the Department for Education, only two or three had been robustly evaluated.
This is why the Wellcome Trust and the EEF are launching a £6m fund for research projects to develop and test evidence-based interventions grounded in neuroscience research in a robust and rigorous manner.
The trouble with education is that we have all experienced it and many of us also have children going through the system, and so we all have a view on how it should be done. But our views tend to be based solely on our own experiences, our own prejudices and our own anecdotal evidence, rather than hard evidence of what is best for children. We need to do better. An education system based on misguided ideas at best misses out on real opportunities to improve, and at worst may be detrimental to our children's learning. But an education system based on policies, initiatives and interventions that have been tried, tested and shown to work has the prospect of offering our children the best possible start to their lives.
Dr Hilary Leevers is head of education and learning at the Wellcome Trust
Hard-to-reach students learn to use positive experiences on the courts to boost their academic performance
The headline of the magazine posted at the entrance to Jeanne-Mance secondary school in Montreal reads "Dream on". Sure enough, students at this school taking part in the "Bien dans Mes Baskets" [happy in my trainers] scheme have no shortage of dreams. With more than half the 970 pupils coming from underprivileged backgrounds, the scheme helps about 100 teenagers a year, who are often struggling with learning or behavioural problems. It offers a way out of the downward spiral, opening the door to new sporting or academic ambitions.
Martin Dusseault, a school social worker, started the ball rolling. "Before 2001 we had great difficulty getting through to challenged adolescents in the neighbourhood ... mainly of Haitian or African origin," he recalls. "The school would shut at 3pm and the kids would hang around in the yard. Some played basketball, which has links with hip-hop culture. One day I went out with my ball to join in." His move had a positive impact on relations with pupils at the school and he soon started acting as their trainer. Players began to confide in him, talking about their problems in one-to-one chats in his office. "They saw me as someone they could trust, no longer as a social worker," he explains. "I understood that basketball was a way of establishing meaningful links with struggling teenagers and turning school into a place where they could flourish."
The Bien dans Mes Baskets programme gradually developed at the school, outside classes. "We managed to get the gym to open at lunch, weekends and even during school holidays," Dusseault explains. He now leads a small team of social workers and volunteers (including former pupils) tasked with supervision and training.
Ball games are "a tool for social intervention" among the Dragons, as the eight basketball teams – six men's and two women's – are collectively known. The aim is to acquire social skills through a project centred on young people's own interests, while encouraging certain forms of social interaction and boosting academic motivation. Among other things, the Dragons have repainted the gym and helped set up rooms for parent-teacher meetings.
Andrée Marquis, the school head, sees a real difference in the young people. "They are much more committed, have a huge sense of belonging to their school and environment, with solid ethical and partnership values," she says. The Bien dans Mes Baskets programme has been extended to include even the youngest pupils, with nine mini-Dragon programmes for middle schools in the neighbourhood. Their goal is to ease the passage from middle to secondary school through basketball, using older pupils as volunteer trainers.
Two years ago, Bien dans Mes Baskets linked up with the Centre for Family, a nonprofit organisation in Brooklyn, New York, which organises youth activities, including basketball. In partnership with the International Association for Social Work with Groups, the two bodies staged a women's basketball event. A team from Jeanne-Mance travelled to New York City for the occasion in February. "Some of them came back completely transformed, with much greater self-esteem," Dusseault says.
Alonie Le Gresley, 17, took part. "It didn't matter whether we won or lost the matches. What mattered was meeting up with other girls like ourselves. There was conflict in the team at the time, but being in New York put an end to all that," she says. The winner of last year's Athlete of the Year award at her school, Le Gresley is indeed transformed. She was expelled from several schools previously, but is now beaming: "I like school. I've found motivation in sport and everything I do with my friends from Bien dans Mes Baskets."
Dusseault is also proud of what Eloho Omalosanga, 26, has achieved. When he landed in Canada from the Democratic Republic of the Congo aged nine, he spoke neither French nor English, as well as struggling with learning disabilities. A football player, he "forgot [his] feet and started playing with [his] hands" in what he now sees as his "second family". In 2012 he won the Quebec province Volunteer of the Year award for his work as a trainer.
Mambi Diawara, 19, is still very attached to his old school. Born in Canada, of Malian parents, his education has seen "ups and downs". Thanks to Bien dans Mes Baskets he found an outlet in sport. But he emphasises the valuable help he received from the social workers, improving his performance in class. In 2011 he won a prize for perseverance at school and in sport, followed by the Quebec Student Sport Federation's Recruit of the Year award. "I still dream of professional basketball," he admits and has just been contacted by an American university team.
This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le MondeAnne Pélouas
Asylum-seeker status preventing 18-year-old from going to university is behind her upset and disappearance, says sister
A teenager who disappeared after taking out the rubbish was upset because her family's asylum-seeker status barred her from attending university.
Nida Ul-Naseer, 18, of Newport, South Wales, has not been seen since leaving her home in Linton Street on 28 December.
Her family revealed on Tuesday that their attempt to seek asylum in the UK from Pakistan was turned down a year ago.
It resulted in Nida opting to retake a business studies course she had already passed.
Her sister, Shamyla, 23, told a press conference that she believed Nida's disappearance stemmed from being upset because she could not attend university.
"I think that not being able to go to university is the reason for her leaving," she said, speaking alongside other family members at Newport Central police station.
She said her sister had been upset and angry about the situation before she vanished.
Nida might also have been barefoot when she disappeared three days after Christmas, it has emerged. Police said it was not known if she had taken anything to put on her feet, although if she had planned to leave it was likely.
The teenager suffers from a medical condition and needs medication without which she is likely to become anaemic.
Her sister revealed on Tuesday that Nida had been taking iron supplements and also suffered from heartburn.
The teenager had been unhappy for some time about not being able to attend university. Her sister said she had seen friends who did less well in their exams go on to university. She went to college instead but remained unhappy.
Before she left she had argued with her family about her inability to go to university and was said to be shouting and crying.
Her father, Naseer Tahir, who was also at the press conference, said in broken English that he was happy for his daughter to attend university.
He added that he was sad he was not able to provide her with what she wanted.
The conference heard that Nida did not have a boyfriend and was described by her family as very religious.
The family has been seeking asylum in the UK for five years. Their passports are held by the Home Office.
Shamyla began the interview with a direct appeal to her missing sister, saying: "Nida, please come back home. Nida, please come back home. We are desperately worried about you. Nida, we need you. Nida, please come back home, we cannot live without you."
Our peculiar education system that allows for academies and free schools should be phased out. All publicly-funded schools need to be placed in a common framework as soon as possible
The start of a new year is a time for reflection. We might ask ourselves what the future historians of education will make of the extraordinary times we have been experiencing since 2010. I suspect the quick-fire contracting out of a large and growing chunk of our school system will be a key focus of their attention.
This has been achieved through funding agreements, mainly for academies and free schools, made directly with the secretary of state. The term "funding agreements" has a kind of homeliness about it that masks the radical nature of the change. Although it may seem a boring legal technicality, it's actually of great significance.
There were attempts in the 1990s by the Conservative government to create independent state schools – the so-called grant-maintained schools and City Technology Colleges – which were free of local authority control. The new system is often seen as simply a reincarnation of those failed projects.
But as law professor Mike Feintuck and his co-author Roz Stevens explain in their recent book School Admissions and Accountability, those previous attempts were based on detailed statutory provisions. They quote the barrister David Wolfe who says that, compared with the rest of the school system, which has strong legislative underpinning: "The academies model is very open… only a single provision in an act of parliament, and everything else done through contract."
The arrival of academies was a landmark in the running of state education in England, as Feintuck and Stevens point out. Contracting out represented a completely different and untried way of operating a school system. It was started by the Labour government and initially focused on struggling schools in deprived areas. Policymakers may have expected the arrangement to apply to just a small proportion of state-funded schools, and may never have considered the full implications. But when the coalition came to power, they wanted it to become the norm and it now covers more than half of all secondary schools and a growing minority of primaries.
There has been no public debate about whether we want our schools to be run this way, even though this set-up raises enormous issues. An obvious issue of principle is the great power that this process places in the hands of central politicians. As Richard Pring, from the Oxford University, said in his recent book about secondary education: "What is being created is the most personally centralised education system in western Europe since Germany in the 1930s – each school contracted directly to the secretary of state…".
Further, if a few academy chains secure control of large numbers of schools – as some aspire to do – the legitimacy of their power could come into question. After all, who controls schools is far more than a technical matter of performance – moral, cultural and social issues lie at the heart of schooling.
On the other hand, if there is a wide diversity of contractors, many of them small and including numerous stand-alone schools, the risk of great variability in quality is increased. The system becomes highly fragmented, and international evidence shows that this is not an effective strategy for whole-system improvement.
Above all, there is a monumental challenge in managing such a large number of contracts from the centre, or anywhere else. Several high-profile failures, such as that at Al-Madinah free school in Derby, have vividly illustrated the risks. The government seems at last to have recognised this with its plan to regionalise the process based on eight commissioners and headteacher boards.
But such a system will scarcely make the task any easier; it will create a raft of new bureaucracies and continue to block local input. The plan to manage more than 20,000 schools by contract is unsustainable, and the sooner that is accepted the better – not doing so will leave the system in a complete mess, rife with division and artificial distinctions.
This peculiar system should be phased out as existing agreements come to the end of their seven-year life. All publicly-funded schools should be placed within a common framework as soon as possible. Various models could be considered for such a framework but an obvious contender is that of the maintained trust school. This allows schools a high degree of autonomy, enables outside bodies to take part in governance, facilitates school-to-school collaboration and promotes wide stakeholder involvement including a proper role for local authorities. A weakness is that it fragments admission decisions, placing them at school level, so stronger regulation or reform of admissions would be required.
We need an inclusive, integrated and coherent set of arrangements which avoids political favouritism and unjustified status hierarchies. The most successful educational systems, combining high quality with equity, have such arrangements at their heart. If we could develop this, future generations would at least be able to look back at us with less bemusement.Guardian Professional. Looking for your next role? Take a look at Guardian jobs for schools for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobs.Ron Glatter
Duke of Cambridge travelled from London King's Cross to St John's College to start 10-week agricultural management course
The Duke of Cambridge was welcomed by University of Cambridge officials as he began a 10-week course on Tuesday.
William travelled on the 9.44am train from London King's Cross to begin his studies on an agricultural management course organised by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership at the famous university.
He is expected to make the 46-minute commute each day for the course, which has been designed specifically for him but which will see him study alongside ordinary PhD students in some classes.
The duke was greeted at St John's College, where some of his tutorials will take place, by vice-chancellor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, along with the master of St John's, Prof Christopher Dobson, and the director of the programme for sustainability leadership, Polly Courtice.
Wearing a navy blue suit, William looked relaxed as he toured the college's grounds in the rain. He stopped to view a plaque commemorating the Queen's visit to the college in April 2011.
The course, which will end in March, has been designed to help him prepare for when he inherits the Duchy of Cornwall estate.
He will have 20 hours of teaching time each week, including work in small groups as well as one-to-one tuition and his own additional reading. He will also go on a series of field trips.
He will be taught by academics specialising in geography, land economy and plant sciences.
Modules he is expected to study include rural and planning policy, farming and supply chains, site management, agricultural policy and conservation governance.
Following the end of his service as a RAF rescue helicopter pilot in Anglesey, William is considering a number of options for public service, Kensington Palace said. Details will be announced when he completes the course.
It is understood he travelled to Cambridge in a public carriage, although it was not clear which class of ticket he bought for the journey.
Durham's Anne Lakey, who oversaw the country's biggest improvement in GCSE results, denies eight charges including indecent assault
An acclaimed headteacher has denied committing a string of historic sex offences against a boy.
Anne Lakey, 54, won national recognition as chief executive of the Durham Federation of Schools after overseeing the biggest improvement in GCSE results in the country.
She appeared at Consett magistrates court on Tuesday for a brief hearing, where details of the eight alleged offences on the boy, who was under 16, during a 12-month period in the late 1980s were read out.
Lakey denies two counts of inciting a boy under 16 to commit an act of gross indecency, two counts of gross indecency on a boy under 16 and four counts of indecent assault on a boy under 16.
The offences were said to have occurred when the defendant was a teacher in her late 20s,. The alleged victim was not a pupil.
Asked if she wanted to indicate a plea at this first hearing, Lakey, of Stanley, County Durham, replied: "I do indeed. Not guilty."
Richard Copsey, defending, said: "She strongly denies these allegations."
Magistrates sent the case to the crown court.
Lakey was granted unconditional bail and will appear at Durham crown court on 28 January.
The federation where she was chief includes Durham Community Business College in Ushaw Moor and Fyndoune Community College in Sacriston.
Fyndoune was last year named the country's most improved secondary school after the number of pupils achieving at least five GCSEs, including maths and English, rose from 26% to 80%.
Both colleges were judged outstanding by Ofsted in 2011.
The effects of 'soft power' are neither soft nor are they, or can they be, about power, explains British Council director of arts
Hi Graham, could you tell me a little bit about the British Council?
We are the UK's organisation for international cultural relations, and we are a registered charity. Our core purpose is the building of trust and mutual understanding for the UK overseas. We do this through our three business areas: English and exams (the teaching and examining of English); education and society, which is the internationalising of higher education into and out of the UK, as well as a programme of work in the area of societal development overseas; and the arts.
Our turnover is in excess of £800m, of which less than 20% is now grant from the public purse. The rest comes from self-generated income through exams, partner income, teaching and contract work, through the EU and other government contracts. We answer to the Foreign Office, through whom our public money comes, but they are not a majority stakeholder in the financial sense of that word. We broadly align ourselves with strategic UK international objectives, even though, like Arts Council England for example, we are at arm's length and independent from the government of the day.
Because so much of its work is outside the UK, the British Council's profile and remit at home is not always obvious – what can you clear up about that?
One of the things our trustees are very clear about is that we have to be more assertive in articulating our work and purpose at home in the UK, and they are right. The arts are very useful for this, and so we are putting a lot of effort into being more visible and confident here.
As I said before, we are an arm's length body, a charity, and less than 20% publicly funded. But our mission has to be about supporting and amplifying broad UK interests in our areas of work, and demonstrably providing benefit back to the UK, which I am confident we do.
The more confident we are about our effectiveness, the more trust the government of the day will have in our contribution to important agendas of diplomacy, of building trust, of education and research, of learning English, of skills for employability, of stability and tolerance within societies, of new and sustainable ideas for this uncertain world. It's broadly a good relationship with government, but of course we will sometimes take a different view in some situations.
You're not a big believer in the phrase "soft power" – why so?
No disrespect to Joseph Nye, who coined the phrase, and I can see what he was after – the trouble is that the effects of "soft power" are neither soft, nor are they or can they be about power. The impact of the arts on lives can be nothing less than transformative and long-term. The deployment of the arts in cultural diplomacy can never be any more than about influence, however profound, and not power. We need a more accurate descriptor.
What role can British arts play, specifically, in the UK's political relations with other countries? I imagine that Russia and China can be tricky bedfellows…
I think the arts can be very influential and demonstrably so. There is a clear causal link between the gradual (albeit fragile) improvement in relations between the UK and Russia and the regrowth of cultural exchange between the two countries. Much of this has involved important work by the British Council behind the scenes. But as with all these initiatives these days, a commitment to reciprocity and mutuality is vital; it's not about how wonderful we are in the UK. That's counterproductive in every way.
With China, there's no doubt that the Chinese are fascinated by the arts and heritage in the UK – as well as our brands. The challenges are, one, to reach enough of the population and, two, to paint a truer picture of contemporary life and business in the UK than you get from Downton Abbey.
What needs to change in that respect?
I just wish that our VIP delegations made more of the cultural dimension; it's a subtler way of doing business and achieving the inevitable economic purposes of such trips. Business comes with trust; the arts build trust. Moreover, the Chinese are putting such an emphasis on the cultural side of their economy, it's a strong card for us to play.
Even with countries with whom we have differences of view in matters of personal freedoms and freedom of expression, I believe it is important to continue engagement. You get nowhere by cutting your lines of communication, and the arts can often provide you with platforms to air and debate difficult issues, where politicians are unable to go.
Jo Caird has written about some of the issues facing Western cultural exports in China, namely that ticket prices are so steep. What are the other big challenges to exporting British arts?
Access to the arts for everyone is important whichever society you live in. We are still – just – fortunate enough in the UK to have a subsidised arts sector that enables a lot of art to be made available either free or at an affordable price. Even the commercial sector is sensitive to this. Sponsorship and private support also helps us in the UK.
Overseas, such mixed-model arts economies are often less developed and sophisticated, and that's one of the areas we deal with in our work: how to find the right audience; how to get the economic model right to attract them; how to make work freely available in the public space; how to attract sponsors and partners.
But touring work, whether performance or visual arts is expensive. The arts need external funding in these circumstances. Luckily some art forms like literature and film are more portable. Other challenges are more to do with finding the right work for the right place – to be sensitive in sending dance to certain areas of the Middle East, where some aspects of some work may cause discomfort.
What are your views on the newly-dubbed MINT quartet of Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey?
It's interesting that we have big plans at various stages of development for each of these countries over the next six years. The cultural sector in each is at a very different stage of development, and each requires a distinctive approach. But there's no doubt of their appetite and the potential in each place – and also the challenges.
In Nigeria, for example, the physical infrastructure and governance is very weak, and in Turkey of course you have the politics and also a worrying degree of mistrust of the UK. So you have to work around these issues, be focused in what you do, and give artistic opportunities to those countries within the UK as well. Mexico is first among them, with a focus year of two-way traffic in 2015, and we have longer plans for Indonesia, but that needs more preparation time.Matthew Caines
Ayona Datta offers six reasons why the impact of teaching fieldtrips goes beyond students and deserves to be counted
Impact in recent years has become the most dreaded and controversial concept that has taken over both the Research Excellence Framework (REF) – how university funding and the fate of academic careers is measured – as well as Research Council funding. The most crucial element of this criteria is not just that our research has an impact, but that we can prove it.
The latter part is what makes academics cringe – how do you prove impact when you deal with ideas and concepts? There have been a number of debates around this question and the challenges of measuring the intangible nature of impact. My experience tells me that fieldtrips make an important impact and should be counted as such.
It was a busy year for me in 2013, not least because of the number of research, writing, and lecturing invitations I took up, but also because I took on the conceptualisation, planning and organisation of a six-day field trip for our students with another colleague. This inaugural fieldtrip, offered for the first time to level 3 students in BA human geography, was on the theme of global cities, with Mumbai as its destination.
A city like Mumbai presents a rich laboratory for exploring any of the themes on citizenship, identity, migration, belonging, transnationalism, social justice, bourgeois environmentalism, everyday urban politics and so on – seen in the number of student fieldtrips (in geography and other social science disciplines) that are currently visiting the city both from UK and internationally. Fieldtrips are a measure of intellectual dialogue and development not just for the faculty and students but also for wider society.
You can say that all teaching has impact, but I think the fieldtrip deseres special mention. The impacts are both long and short-term, but they are also quite distinct from generic teaching. In the LSE Impact Blog, Peter Wade, professor of social anthropology at the University of Manchester, notes that the REF's narrow definition of impact rules out the historical role of teaching in relation to the social role of the university.
Also writing for the blog, John Parkinson, associate professor of public policy at the University of Warwick, says the current impact agenda should consider the impact of inspirational teaching. Most importantly, perhaps, is the 56 indicators of impact as alternatives for the REF exercise prepared by the Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity, which provide a compelling argument for considering this as an important space for impact generation.
Here are six ways that I think fieldtrips make an impact and should be counted and rewarded by the REF or any other form of banal measuring system that decides the winners and losers in the academic (increasingly neoliberal) marketplace.
Research-led teaching: This is self-explanatory. For me, organising the Mumbai fieldtrip was a direct impact of my research into pedagogy. I enjoyed taking lectures for this module which prepared the students for what they would encounter in Mumbai, as well as taking them to a city that I love, both professionally and personally.
Intellectual dialogue and development: Taking students to my own research field helped me see my work in a different light. Students asked me questions about things they saw, which to me were routine, and when I found answers to them it helped me reflect upon my own biases and insider/outsider paradoxes. This is an ongoing process, which has continued since our return and beyond.
Developing student skills: Many students who become interested in particular themes of sites during fieldwork pick up these topics for a PhD or become interested in employment in issues dealing with debates covered in fieldtrips.
Internationalisation as impact: In an era where several universities are either closing down their fieldtrip provisions or reducing them to UK/EU destinations, the Mumbai fieldtrip bodes well for the aspirations of university internationalisation. This is a different kind of impact from the international courses on the global south that most universities offer – the impact is evident in the actual learning-by-doing nature of fieldtrips that raise the profile of universities and departments which offer them.
Creative outcomes: Often fieldtrip reflective logs are used in pedagogic research, but I think the potential could be exploited further to include outcomes that have wider societal impact. This year students are making a visual essay as part of their assessment, and these will be screened at a special event in the department. Not only will the best essays be showcased during open days and potentially on our homepage, but as online visual pieces, they will be open access and hence their impact will be on a completely different scale than conventional academic journal articles. So watch this space.
Media mentions: Our visit to an Urdu school in Mumbai was reported in Sahara, India's leading Urdu newspaper. This is the stuff that REF celebrates as impact, and although it is not about conventional research, I see our presence in the media as an important transgression of pedagogy into the realm of local language media and arguably higher mpact than English language based Anglo-American open access journals.
This is an edited version of a blog first published on the City Inside Out blog
Ayona Datta is senior lecturer in the school of geography at the University of Leeds – follow her on Twitter @AyonaDatta
From crime-fighting lampposts to garden cities, Oliver Wainwright charts the architecture trends that await us in 2014Oliver Wainwright
Focus on your experience and motivation – and show you understand the challenges of the job
If you're applying to study veterinary science, a personal statement will be just one part of your application. Chances are you will also have to fill out a work experience questionnaire, do a test and possibly go to an interview as well.
"The work experience questionnaire is there to check that the student meets our minimum work experience requirements," says Vikki Cannon, head of admissions and recruitment at the Royal Veterinary College.
Some courses don't even look at the personal statement. Dr Kieron Salmon, director of admissions at the University of Liverpool, says: "In our experience, very few personal statements are 'personal'. They read very similarly and have hints of having being written under the guidance of a teacher or parent. So we focus more on face-to-face interviews."
But for the courses that do ask for one, the personal statement can play a really important role.
"If you get it wrong, then it can be the difference between you getting an interview and not getting an interview," says Cannon.
So here are some tips to help you when it comes to writing yours.What to include
Why do you want to be a vet?
"What we're looking for from a personal statement is to get a feel for why they want to be a vet and an understanding of what they've done about it," says Cannon.
It's also worth thinking about your long-term career aims and what kind of vet you want to be.
Sam Hillage, assistant faculty registrar at the University of Surrey, says: "Showing your motivation and talking about some of your career aspirations would be good. Also acknowledging the diversity of roles in the field."
"Sometimes people forget to actually mention the four weeks of work experience they've done," says Hillage. "As that's a mandatory requirement, it's important they get that in."
It might be that a particular moment from your work experience has stuck with you, and if you link that to why you want to be a vet and what you've learned, it can impress tutors.
Claire Phillips, director of admissions at Edinburgh University's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies says: "Sometimes it can be something quite minor that they have seen on work experience that has made an impression and shown them what it is all about."
Use your statement to show your wider interests as well as your interest in veterinary medicine. Phillips says: "We're looking for a holistic, rounded student. It's not just about academic ability, we want to see people who have other things outside work and academics."
Try to link your hobbies back to your interest in veterinary medicine, but don't worry if not everything is relevant.
"It could be sport, music, voluntary work – it doesn't have to be animal-related," says Phillips.
"Being academically very good is not everything. They need an outlet to cope with the veterinary profession when they qualify. It's a tough job, especially if they go into a practice, so the fact they have something outside of academia is important."
Don't forget to mention people
A vet should understand that a big part of their job is dealing with people, say tutors.
"Some people just explain conditions or talk about animals, but it is important to talk about the sensitivity of the profession," says Phillips.
"You need to be aware that it's not just theory but about the overall sensitivity to people."
You could get this across by talking about some of the human interactions you encountered on your work experience, perhaps how you observed a vet dealing with a client.Things to avoid
You might not be applying to study English, but good spelling is still important.
Phillips says: "It's a professional degree and communication skills are very important."
And if you're going to refer to particular medical terms, it's really important that you spell them correctly.
"The number of people who write that they've witnessed caesareans in their personal statement but can't spell caesarean is amazing," says Cannon.
"One bad spelling isn't going to lose you a place, but you are marked on the quality of your writing, so if it was littered with spelling mistakes then it might be a problem."
"I've wanted to be a vet since I was..."
"We're not interested in the fact that you've wanted to be a vet for the last 16 years," says Cannon.
"You could have been interested in being a vet for the last 16 months, it's what you do about it that is the interesting thing."
That's not to say you should avoid the phrase altogether. Just make sure you link it back to why you would be good on the course.
Cannon says: "Lots of them will start their personal statement with: 'I've known I wanted to be a vet since I was 3, 4, 5, 6'. But then a lot of them do go on and say why. That's what we're looking for."
Too much technical detail
You might want to include some reference to a strand of veterinary medicine or a type of technology that interests you, but don't go overboard.
Sam Hillage, assistant faculty registrar at the University of Surrey, says: "I'd avoid getting bogged down in a lot of technical detail.
"While it's good to show you have some technical knowledge, it's not necessarily what we look for in a personal statement."
Mentioning the most up-to-date technology won't always win brownie points. "It's the more grounded things that make an impression," says Phillips.
Don't forget to mention animals
It might sound really obvious that a personal statement for veterinary science should include animals. But not everyone remembers. "Sometimes we get people who focus very much on the science side of things, without ever really mentioning animals," Cannon says.
Equally, make sure not to go too far in the other direction.
Cannon says: "Saying 'I want to be a vet because I like cats' doesn't really tell us anything."
• If you're looking for more help in getting to vet school, why not apply for a place on a summer school? This year, the Royal Veterinary College is offering 50 places on a summer course with the Sutton Trust that will teach you what it's like to be a vet and give you tips on applying to study veterinary medicine at uni.
The scheme, sponsored by Barclays, is free to students from low and middle income backgrounds. If you're interested in applying for a place, take a look at the Sutton Trust's website.
Shifting funding to employers will cause a rapid decline in the number of people taking up apprenticeships, says an expert
In the autumn statement George Osborne announced that apprenticeship funding will be given to employers rather than training providers. Currently, training providers work with employers to identify suitable apprenticeship candidates and then take on the administrative burden of claiming funding and the responsibility for the programme's quality. The chancellor also revealed that in the future employers will need to make a significant cash contribution to apprentices' external training costs.
This change to the way apprenticeships are funded is well-intentioned but ultimately misguided. It risks derailing vocational skills training for our young people and leaving the country without a skilled workforce that's able to compete on an international stage. There are three key reasons why this decision is poorly thought out.
First, it burdens employers with the bureaucracy entailed with claiming money back through the tax system and the audit regimes that come with this. In particular, this will be a problem for small- and medium-sized businesses, which do not have the staffing to easily soak up the additional paperwork.
Employers will also be put off from taking on apprentices because they will now be subject to Ofsted inspections. It's a big burden and one that could have a negative impact on their wider business if their training is found to be lacking. One of the few large providers that currently contracts directly with government for their apprenticeships, Inter-Continental Hotels Group, saw an immediate drop in their share price on the day Ofsted published a report grading them inadequate.
Second, the government seems to have ignored how the apprenticeship system currently works. Large employers only deliver about 10% of apprenticeships, with private training providers making up about 80% of delivery and further education colleges 10%. Private providers are the main reason the number of people carrying out apprenticeships has risen in the past few years. Perhaps because statistics on how employers get involved with apprenticeships have never been kept, the government has assumed employers have come forward voluntarily or were recruited by the National Apprenticeship Service. But any training provider will tell you that they directly recruited at least 90% of their employer client base.
In spite of apprenticeships being around for many years, they are still not well understood by businesses. Currently training providers bridge this gap, particularly with small- and medium-sized enterprises. The National Apprenticeship Service does some excellent work, but this is predominantly with large or high-profile employers and it does not have the resources to reach many small employers.
It's difficult to know what will happen to training providers as a result of the changes until the government gives more detail about its plans. But what is clear is that unless training providers continue to drive apprenticeship demand – and if funding isn't going to training providers how will they be able to commit resources to this? – apprenticeships will die a death.
Third, while using the tax system to distribute funding may appeal to some large employers who are keen to take responsibility for their own apprenticeship programme, it will disenfranchise small- and medium-sized businesses. Again the government appears to have ignored its own statistical data, which shows that 81% of employers have three or fewer apprentices.
It is highly unlikely that an employer with so few apprentices will have the inclination or time to run their own apprenticeship programme. This is why we predict an 80% decline in apprenticeship numbers if the funding reforms are fully implemented.
Training providers offer businesses vital support and help keep them up to date with what can be a complex system. For example, by sharing their expertise on industry best practice and informing them about changes to legislation. Without this advice, there is the potential for small businesses who have limited resources to disengage from delivering apprenticeships.
Rather than increasing apprenticeship numbers, the funding changes will mean apprenticeship figures will radically decline and leave apprenticeships solely in the domain of large employers in the manufacturing sector – an industry that currently only accounts for 7% of apprenticeships. David Cameron has promised that everyone who leaves school and doesn't want to go to university will be offered an apprenticeship. But we struggle to see how this promise can be met if these changes are introduced.
John Hyde is the executive chairman of HIT Training Ltd.This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. Sign up to our FE leadership and management hub for free to get access to expert advice, debate and comment.
Laura McInerney is battling with the education department for the right to know how it decides which new schools to approve
I never intended to involve the lawyers. Really, I didn't. I made a simple request for information from the Department for Education, expecting they would just hand it over. But, rather than release it, Michael Gove, the education secretary, has told MPs he will do "everything possible" to stop me getting it. In the coming months, his department is taking the Information Commissioner – and me – to a tribunal in an attempt to block its release under the Freedom of Information Act.
This whole saga started 15 months ago, when I submitted what I thought was a simple request for information to the DfE. What explosive material did I want? A surprisingly dry package: the application forms sent in by people applying to run free schools, and the letters later sent back explaining whether or not they were successful. Hardly the Pentagon Papers.
To say I am surprised the DfE is behaving in this way is an understatement. I thought the request was a no-brainer.
For the uninitiated, the free schools policy, introduced in 2010, allows any group of people to apply to the DfE for funding to open a state school. The government talked at the time about the policy's prior successes in America and Sweden, but the lesson of the American experience is that some US states do it well and some do it badly. To further research the topic, I took a break from my job as a secondary teacher, and in August 2012 accepted a Fulbright scholarship to study at the University of Missouri.
It quickly became apparent to me that implementation matters – and the application process is critical. If taxpayer money is being handed out to members of the public, we need the government to be savvy about which groups they back and why.
So I decided to ask for the applications and the basis of the government's choices – a process that is otherwise entirely opaque. Prior to 2010, the opening of new schools was far more transparent. The reasons for accepting or rejecting all new school bids were routinely published on the Schools Adjudicator website. Local authorities published school bid information when running new school competitions. Naively, I assumed the government would maintain this level of openness.
The information, however, was nowhere to be found.
I therefore asked for it from the DfE, using the Freedom of Information Act. The act is not well known, but it embeds in law the presumption that information held by public authorities is open to anyone who asks for it, unless there is a specific reason not to disclose. And, usually, even if there are reasons why the government would prefer not to give the information, those reasons must be balanced against public interest. As I saw it, if this sort of information had been available before, why not now?
Yet the DfE rejected my request – twice. Among the reasons given was that releasing the information "would allow opponents of free school applications to attack applications more easily and could undermine local support". But why shouldn't the public know about any issues with the applications? It is our money paying for the schools and our children walking into them. It also claimed the amount of information released would be "overwhelming". Given that the department trusted me to teach people's children, I'm fairly certain I can handle reading some application forms.
Nevertheless, the department disagreed. When a public authority turns down a request even after you have appealed to it, you can then appeal – free – to the Information Commissioner's Office, an independent authority whose job it is to uphold information rights.
I was reluctant to go down this route, but was encouraged by FOI campaigners. As one pointed out: "A response is not a favour to be granted, it is a legal obligation. You are a member of the public, and you are paying their wages. You have a right to the information." In the past 15 months, I have repeated this point to myself time and again.
Getting an ICO judgment was not quick, but their officers were extremely helpful. My case worker constantly and professionally explained the legal oddities and remained upbeat. Yet each time there was progress, the DfE would raise a new point – dragging the whole process on for months.
In July 2013, I was finally told the ICO was near a decision. Nothing. By September, the draft notice was apparently ready. Still nothing. In October, I wrote asking for an update. Nearly there. By mid-November, I had practically given up when an email from the ICO dropped into my inbox.
I had won, and then some.
Figuring it out was not easy. Flicking through the 17-page judgment, written in legalese, I struggled to understand what it meant, but the following line made it all worthwhile: "The Commissioner considers that the public interest factors in favour of the disclosure of the withheld information are very strong."
This was not a half-hearted judgment. The ICO argued that the case for disclosure was "very strong" and it would provide "considerable information about the implementation of a relatively new and very important education policy".
The news was timely, arriving hot on the heels of troubling free school developments. Al-Madinah free school's Ofsted report labelled it "dysfunctional" and inadequate in every category. King's Science academy in Bradford is being investigated for fraud. Discovery New School, Crawley, is considered so problematic that it must close before the end of the academic year.
And these free schools have been no small cost to the taxpayer. A recent National Audit Office report price the policy at over £1.1bn. Of this, more than £700,000 was spent on schools that passed the application stage but never opened, and £241m went on schools that opened in areas with lots of spare local school places. The NAO report also noted that some high-scoring free-school applications were rejected, but some low-scoring ones were accepted. Why? On what basis? No answer is given.
How can the public be sure ministers weren't waving through applications from their mates and turning down those whose faces didn't fit? We can't. Without the applications being public, there is no way of knowing if the process was corrupt, or not.
Also, school applicants must include evidence of local "demand" or "need" for their proposed school, usually gathered during a required local consultation. But how can residents know that the reported results of the consultations are fair? There is nothing to stop applicants from writing that everyone was positive at the event even if the exact opposite is true.
Of course, amid this mess some free schools are doing marvellously. I recently visited Greenwich free school, one of the most over-subscribed schools launched under the policy. I was impressed with the teaching, and the pupils, and I spent time discussing with school leaders how the school might continue being great. In fact, it is precisely because I want free schools to be great that transparency is so important.
No one benefits by having applications locked in a dusty vault. In fact, in the US, supporters of the policy – such as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools – actively press for total transparency around the process. In this country it would build public support, prevent cronyism and allow prospective applicants in areas with huge primary school place shortages to learn from the best applications and improve their chance of getting the school they need.
And so I ended 2013 much as I finished 2012 – sitting down, for the second New Year's Eve in a row, to write an appeal against the DfE's counterproductive desire for secrecy. This one, however, will be sent to a judge in the First-tier Tribunal, who will hear the case brought by the DfE against the ICO and me. These courts are designed with lay people in mind, and no legal aid is available, so I am likely to be representing myself.
Surrounded by highlighters, guidance documents and notes, I veer between feeling like Erin Brockovich [the US activist – played by Julia Roberts in a movie – who fought an energy company over contaminated water] and a 12-year-old trying my best with a history project. Still, parents, teachers, pupils and local residents deserve absolute openness in the operation of our schools. I plan to do everything possible to make sure they get it. After all, as I have told myself for the millionth time, transparency is a right – not a favour.
The tribunal is expected in summer. Education Guardian will follow Laura McInerney's progressLaura McInerney
School's closure prompts angry letter to academies minister; community schools miss out on honours; Will Straw campaigns for parent power, and still no news of changes to primary assessmentGovernor hits out at free school policy
The chair of governors at a free school whose closure was announced by ministers last month has launched a fierce attack on the government, remarkably branding the free schools policy itself as "rushed and ill-considered".
In a letter to the academies minister, Lord Nash, Chris Cook, chair of governors at Discovery New school in Crawley, West Sussex, also hit out at the education department for, he alleges, tipping the media off about its closure before the school found out and giving the school "no detailed advice" on how it should go about closing itself down.
In the letter, Cook says: "As chair of governors I was disappointed that your letter of 13 December [announcing the closure] was released to the press and knowledge of its release was available before the school was informed.
"This action demonstrated a complete disregard for the wellbeing of the children, parents and staff." Cook says Nash's letter was made public as parents were preparing to watch their children in a nativity play, with some parents and staff then leaving the school by a back entrance as reporters descended.
He tells Nash: "We sense that you are prepared to wash your hands and crucify the school rather than engage in a proper consideration of our plans because it is easier to make [us] the scapegoat for being an early adopter of a free school policy which the National Audit Office has rightly criticised for being rushed and ill-considered."
It adds that the school's original set-up, which saw its founding husband-and-wife team given jobs as school business director and principal respectively and their daughter serving as a teacher-governor, had been approved by the DfE.
The letter calls on ministers to reconsider. But this seems unlikely.
The DfE says Cook had been sent Nash's letter, and informed by phone some 70 minutes before any press knew about the closure. "We will not hesitate to intervene and take swift action if children are being denied the education they deserve," says the spokesman.Community schools lose out on honours
Few would begrudge the recognition given to those who received honours for longstanding services to education in last week's New Year list. But does the make-up of the list itself say something about the government's preferences for schools reform?
Looking at the backgrounds of those made knights and dames, the DfE-backed academies movement is heavily represented, with those from community schools barely registering. In fact, of the seven new dames and knights with close connections to schools, six are or have been heads of academies or are an academy sponsor, while only one – Sir Craig Tunstall, executive head of the Gipsy Hill federation in south London – currently leads or teaches in the non-academy sector.
A further 17 people from academies received CBEs, OBEs, MBEs or the British Empire Medal for their work, compared with 15 from state-funded non-academy schools. Yet academies make up only one in six of England's 21,000 state-funded schools.
It could be that academies are attracting above their fair share of dynamic individuals who are worthy of recognition. But Jane Eades, of the Anti Academies Alliance, who compiled some of the figures above, says: "There seems to be very little recognition for outstanding heads and chairs of governors of community schools. Is this because they are just taken for granted by their school communities and their names not put forward for recognition, or is their nomination not being approved?" Interesting question.Will Straw campaigns for parent power
A new year dawns with more campaigns to stop schools being forced to become academies against their communities' wishes. In Barking and Dagenham, east London, councillors have unanimously voted to urge any school that is about to convert to academy status to ballot parents on the plans, giving them the "final say".
The move comes after governors at Dorothy Barley junior school in Dagenham were replaced by an "interim executive board" (IEB) appointed by Michael Gove, the education secretary, with a brief formally to consult on the school becoming a sponsored academy.
Schools have sometimes been forced into academy status despite seemingly overwhelming parental opposition, and the National Union of Teachers points out that Dorothy Barley's five-member interim board includes two chairs of governors from schools already run by the prospective academy's sponsor.
Meanwhile, in Darwen, Lancashire, more than 1,600 people have signed a petition , organised by Will Straw, the local Labour parliamentary candidate, asking for parents, pupils and staff to be given a choice over who runs Darwen Vale high when it becomes an academy.
This comes after the DfE lined up the Aldridge Foundation, an academy trust set up by the founder of outsourcing firm Capita, as sponsor of the school, which failed an Ofsted inspection in June. Campaigners are particularly unhappy as the foundation runs the town's only other secondary.
Straw (pictured), says: "Essentially the DfE are trying to impose the Aldridge Foundation on the school without consultation with parents, teachers or children."
But will the campaigners be listened to? Given the DfE's record, we wonder if another interim board may be around the corner. A DfE spokesman says: "The Aldridge Foundation is our preferred sponsor for Darwen Vale due to its excellent track record in similar schools. However, no final decisions have been taken."Primary assessment – why are we waiting?
And finally, we are still waiting for news as to when the government will respond to the consultation on controversial plans for the reform of primary assessment and accountability, including the public ranking of pupils into 10 "deciles". The consultation finished in October, but there is still no word on when a final response will be published. As reported previously by Speed read, the whisper is that plans to rank pupils into 10 categories in national curriculum tests have died, but that the almost-as-contentious move to introduce baseline assessments for four-year-olds may still be on the cards. When will the policy be finalised, we wonder.Warwick Mansell
Is the education secretary's job really just to fight off the hordes of insubordinates, like Horatio at the bridge?
I don't suppose you can imagine my feelings on hearing that you were appearing on Radio 4's Start the Week to take part in a discussion about history teaching. Eminent though your fellow contributors were (Simon Schama, Tom Holland and Margaret MacMillan), it must have struck you as bizarre that a 45-minute programme about school education didn't include anyone who taught school-age pupils or who could talk about how young people do or don't learn the stuff you were talking about. Such a person might have suggested that the matter of which bit of history should be laid down by your government is no less important than finding ways for children to investigate and discover history for themselves.
But of course you weren't surprised by this gaping hole in the middle of the discussion because the last 20 years in the running of education is the story of government sidelining how young people do or don't learn. Instead, types of school, types of classroom, school curricula and ministerial statements take place as if we are all agreed that the best learning for all takes place as a consequence of nationally run tests and exams. In place of open discussion about learning, we have had to put up with sudden ministerial blurts about, say, the virtues of rote learning, delivered from on high as if the wisdom on such matters rests with you or whoever occupies your office.
If ever any of us wanted confirmation on how this is indeed the way you view yourself, it came at a delightful moment in the radio programme. You wanted to describe to us all what it feels like being Michael Gove. Now, anyone in your place, wanting to conjure up an image of what it's like being secretary of state for education, could choose from a bank of sources. Some might see your job as that of The Facilitator, a person who convenes conferences of teachers and researchers, who would be presenting research, examples of best practice, going off into break-out sessions and producing documents that are immediately useful to teachers in the classroom. Perhaps this facilitating secretary of state would inventively find ways in which strong local and democratic voices could be heard within these professional conferences. Even pupils themselves would figure. When this facilitating minister reported to the House and select committees, he or she wouldn't lard their speeches with endless reminiscences of their own education, one that took place in another era, in another country, and from within the private system. In fact, the word "I" would hardly be heard, as the speeches or answers would be full of examples taken from other people's experience: the daily practice of classroom teachers, pupils, researchers and local representatives.
But the words that came to your lips in the programme were that you felt like "Horatio at the bridge" because many, many people came to you with suggestions about what should be taught on a history curriculum. What a fine image that was, plucked from a poem learned as homework by people like you and me, celebrating the heroic putting-down of a rebellion in Ancient Rome, a poem written by a member of the British ruling power, who, even as he wrote the poem, was taking part in putting down the rebellion in India that he and his colleagues called the Indian Mutiny, a poem I learned while the British government was putting down a rebellion in Kenya. Learning poetry by heart – something I know you care about – is not always entirely innocent.
So there you are, Horatio, the last man standing, holding off 30,000 foes who make a "wild wrathful clamour" and who, when faced with you, shrink like boys. When the bridge you stand on gives way, and you manage to swim the Tiber, even your enemies (the Tuscans) acclaim you: "And even the ranks of Tuscany // Could scarce forbear to cheer". And so, as the poet tells us, your name goes down in history as the lone warrior who stood against the hordes, you become a folk hero and people make of you a molten image: Govatio at the bridge.
Has it come to this? In a mature democracy, with the matter of the organisation of a highly complex institution of acute concern to all of us, with hundreds of questions around method and content, equality of resources, training, structure, governance and more – is the best model you can come up with for your job that of a sword-wielding warrior hacking away at insubordinate chiefs and their troops?
To be fair, it's not your model, it's ours. Our politicians have let it get like this. You're just the guy who revels in it.
But you're not only a Horatio (or Horatius) at the bridge. You also scythe down history professors who don't hold your view on the first world war. "Prof Sir Richard Evans, the Cambridge historian, makes arguments, you say, that "are more reflective of the attitude of an undergraduate cynic playing to the gallery in a Cambridge Footlights revue rather than a sober academic contributing to a proper historical debate." Remind us, which research qualification equips you to deliver these judgments? Ah, but I'm forgetting, you're not very keen on qualifications in the field of education.
Yours, Michael RosenMichael Rosen
The government's higher education reforms are not sustainable, yet already they are changing universities' behaviour, argues Peter Scott
More than three years since the Browne report on student fees and funding, the government's reforms of English higher education should be working.
Well they aren't – and they are.
These reforms are not working because the funding regime on which they rely is unsustainable. Put simply, it involves a degree of continuing public expenditure that undermines any claim that the government has created a private "market". It also makes a mockery of another claim, that they were needed to reduce the black hole in the public finances.
The post-Browne funding regime of high fees, up-front loans and generous repayment terms is doubly unsustainable. First, far too many of the loans (funded by the state, of course) will never be paid back in full. The government initially claimed that an RAB (resource accounting and budgeting) charge – the proportion that would be written off – of 30% was far too high. Recently the top civil servant at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills admitted this was likely to be more than 40%.
In other words, almost half the public money used to fund loans will never be recovered. "Selling off" the loan book to banks and others will not change that, except in a purely cosmetic accounting sense. No one is going to "buy" it without cast-iron guarantees that in effect leave the state, ie taxpayers, carrying nearly all the risk.
The second reason why the funding regime is unsustainable is that the government has just signed a blank cheque. In his pre-budget statement, the chancellor, George Osborne, announced that in future there would be no controls on student numbers. And any student admitted by a university is entitled to a loan – which she or he is 40% likely never to repay in full.
The reason for this unexpected move is transparent: there is an election coming up, and the Conservatives (and, even more so, the Liberal Democrats) need to draw some of the electoral poison from their very unpopular reforms of higher education. Ministers have given the political game away by loudly welcoming the bounce-back in the number of students after the disastrous plunge in demand following the introduction of high fees three years ago.
The only straw at which they can clutch now is that, as private providers pile in to offer higher education-lite, fees will fall and the total bill to the public will be cut. But faux-privatisation has nearly always been an expensive option for customers and taxpayers alike. Railways, energy … Why should universities be different?
So far, so bad – and so irresponsible. The next government will have to start again to create a sustainable system of higher education funding.
But even worse news is that the government's reforms may actually be working, in the sense that they are beginning to corrupt institutional behaviour. It is not just a question of lies, damned lies, statistics – and performance indicators, kite-marks, logos and league tables. Pimping the brand is minor stuff.
The real threat is that universities will develop innovative "products" they will then work hard to persuade their "customers" to covet (students primarily, but also employers). After all, the whole neo-liberal project – economic liberalisation, privatisation and the rest – is based on the manipulation of demand. Bank customers may have really wanted old-style managers, local branches and straightforward financial services, including investment in decent companies. What they got were call-centres in India, dodgy financial products and "vulture" property loans. The same could easily happen to higher education. For-profit private providers in the US spend almost as much on sales, marketing and "product" development as they do on teaching.
Is it too alarmist to imagine a dystopia in which higher education-lite is delivered by a de-professionalised academic workforce (on zero-hours contracts)?
Of course, our "top" universities will never behave like that, or only a little – special deals are always available for royal dukes. Harvard does not behave like the University of Phoenix. To do so would be brand suicide.
But as for the rest – the institutions attended by the bulk of students (to which the extra students liberated by Osborne's generous lifting of the cap will be directed) – who can tell? Universities will be very tempted to offer high-volume, low-cost, big-appeal courses, even if they add little long-term value to either students or the country. The business school bubble could well be pumped up still more. Can courses in "celebrity" be far behind?
Maybe, thanks to the government's reforms, the worm is already in the apple.
Peter Scott is professor of higher education studies, Institute of EducationPeter Scott
From Michael Wilshaw resigning to a new school-led improvement network, educationalists give their predictions for the coming yearToby Greany, professor of leadership and innovation at the Institute of Education, University of London
With an election just a year away, Michael Gove will be keen to ensure his reforms are irreversible and to secure his legacy so that the 2015 Pisa results show an improvement on 2012's. Accountability will no doubt become even more stringent, perhaps with the reintroduction of key stage 1 and 3 tests, and school monitoring systems will stay firmly in place.
But where will the support for schools come from? The answer has to be other schools, but many schools do not choose to collaborate in a competitive system. My sense is that the solution will be to require, or at least heavily incentivise, all schools to join a school-led school improvement network.
New York implemented something similar a few years back, where all schools had to choose a school improvement network to join. The New York networks didn't have to be school led, but in England, where the focus of improvement has been on schools supporting other schools, it would make sense to build on the achievements of successful leaders.Eugene Spiers, assistant headteacher at the John of Gaunt School in Trowbridge
I predict some good news. The economy is apparently on the up and there is an election in 2015 so I expect the government will be attempting to win votes from teachers and parents.
An increase in overall education spending or a rise in the pupil premium might be on the agenda, although the latter is likely to come with increased conditions. There is also likely to be a rise in the capital expenditure on refurbishing and rebuilding schools, but this will almost certainly come with the requirement that they become an academy.
Lastly, I suspect there might be a performance related payment for schools that are closing the gap quicker than others.Jill Berry, former headteacher and education consultant
Sir Michael Wilshaw will retire from his role as chief inspector of schools and the government will take the opportunity when recruiting his successor to rethink some of the principles on which Ofsted operates.
There won't be whole-scale reform of the inspecting body next year, but there will be some changes. There is now sufficient evidence to show that assessing pupil progress within a 20 minute slot of a lesson is unreliable and I believe this practice will stop. The pressure exerted on individual teachers to attain an outstanding grade for every observed lesson is also unhelpful. Inspectors will continue to observe lessons, but the focus will shift from individual teacher performance to the standard of teaching and learning across the school. Individual lesson grades will no longer be passed on to teachers and school leaders.Barry Read, headteacher at The RJ Mitchell primary school in Essex
I have no doubt that the main item on the government's agenda will be the academy programme. In their manifesto they state: "we want the academy status to become the norm". The figures are currently so far away from achieving this that the flagship government policy is in serious trouble. Out of 24,600 schools in the UK only 2,924 have become academies.
Michael Gove promised a bright new future with a strong academy structure. I am hugely concerned that 2014 may lead to persuasion and pressure being placed on school leaders to make the system the norm. Will golden carrots be offered as incentives for schools to convert at a time when another round of cuts loom? We will have to wait and see.Sue Cowley, author and teacher trainer
In a high pressure, high stakes profession the sensible employer looks after their workforce. Stress and illness have a high personal cost for individuals and families, and they also have a high cost for employers. My prediction for 2014 is that there will be a strong focus on teacher wellbeing, with much more talk of work-life balance. There is already a clear expectation from Ofsted of wellbeing as a goal for children; in 2014 I hope it will become a goal for staff as well. Perhaps a judgement on levels of staff sickness and stress will become part of a school's Ofsted report.Peter Smith, assistant headteacher at a school in Suffolk
I feel that the current political agenda will see Gove claiming that schools waste too much money on teaching assistants when it could be used on other areas. He will falsely portray them as mumsy figures and use evidence, such as the Sutton Trust's work on pupil premium, to point to their supposed limited effectiveness. Those in schools who know the good they do and the power that such staff can have in reaching the most difficult students will be horrified. It will be a cynical attempt to further reduce school budgeting on the quiet.John Howson, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on education at Oxfordshire County Council
When the participation age was raised to 18 by the coalition nothing was done to alter the rules on school transport. This means that although young people now stay on in education for an extra two years transport policy still assumes that the leaving age is 16. This is unfair to many families in rural areas that suddenly find that they have to pay bus fare.
The free school meals policy for five to seven year olds was the unexpected gesture of 2013. Next year I hope it will be changing transport rules so all under-18s in education and training are entitled to free transport.
To fund this I think free travel will no longer be offered to parents of pupils over eight who live less than three miles from a school. At present, if the route is deemed unsafe to walk, their travel is paid for.Jonathan Simons, head of education at the think tank Policy Exchange
The evidence has long been clear that primary school improvement represents the biggest opportunity for raising standards and social mobility.
A perfect storm is brewing for primary schools in 2014. The local authority services that many of them depend on will continue to wither away, many heads are nearing retirement (4,500 are aged 55 plus), the ongoing bulge in pupil numbers will put schools under strain and in the longer term a move to a national funding formula could see many experience financial turbulence.
To address these issues, the government will make a renewed push on clustering primaries, typically under multi academy trusts with an executive head or more informal locally led partnerships.Sarah Findlater is assistant principal at Riddlesdown Collegiate
There will be a change in the landscape of professional development in our schools. Teachers and school leaders will begin to take charge of their own professional development more than they have ever done before.
We all benefit from a little bit of inspiration from a great speaker, but when it comes to teaching and leadership we are the experts.
I predict that schools will stop pumping money into external companies for training and become more skilled at tapping into the expertise they already have in their school. Training is so expensive – there must be a better way to spend our limited funds.
There are already a few schools and groups of independent educators that are moving fast in the right direction, but this is on a relatively small scale and their good practice needs to be shared. Let the professional development revolution begin.This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. Looking for your next role? Take a look at Guardian jobs for schools for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobs.Holly Welham
Van Badham: Gove claims that the British generals have been unfairly maligned – yet they imported thousands of Australian troops to fight, then sent them to their deathsVan Badham
Trevor Cobbold: A study by Melbourne University showing that private school pupils earn more than their peers lays bare the inequality of Australia's education systemTrevor Cobbold