Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Over 450,000 Students Offered Full-Time University Places for 2017

As of midnight on the 21st August a total of 461,860 people have secured a place on a full-time university course through UCAS.

45,550 people had their university and college places confirmed since 08:00 on A level results day.

Of the total, around 33,750 people have been accepted through Clearing at this point, a rise of 1% on the same stage last year.

The Clearing total is made up of 28,270 people placed after applying through the main UCAS scheme, as well as 5,480 who applied directly through Clearing after the 30 June deadline. An additional 8,440 people who applied directly to Clearing are yet to be placed.

The final date for applications this year is 20 September. Applicants can then add Clearing choices until 23 October, if they choose to.

Students who would like advice about the range of options available can call the Exam Results Helpline on 0808 100 8000.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

GP Surgery Threatened With Closure After Two Damming CQC Reports

A GP practice in the London Borough of Harrow, previously rated Inadequate by the Care Quality Commission has not improved. It could now face closure if there are not urgent improvements.

The Stanmore Surgery in Elm Park, Stanmore, was rated Inadequate overall. It was rated Inadequate for being safe, effective and well-led. It was rated Requires Improvement for being caring and responsive, following the latest inspection in June 2017.

Inspectors found that some incidents that had occurred had not been recorded and investigated as significant events.

Risks to patients were not assessed or managed and outcomes for patients were not improving. Patient outcomes were hard to identify and there was no evidence the practice was comparing its performance to others either locally or nationally.

The practice must now:
  • Ensure care and treatment is provided in a safe way to patients.
  • Ensure appropriate standards of hygiene for premises and equipment.
  • Ensure effective systems and processes are in place to provide good governance in accordance with the fundamental standards of care.
  • Develop a system that obtains patient views on improving the service.
  • Provide information advising patients about translation services.

Professor Ursula Gallagher, CQC Deputy Chief Inspector of GP Practices, said “I am extremely concerned that The Stanmore Surgery has failed to address a number of issues since our previous inspection. This service was placed in special measures in May 2016."

“Insufficient improvements have been made such that there remains a rating of inadequate for safe, effective and well led categories. Therefore we are taking action in line with our enforcement procedures to begin the process of preventing the provider from operating the service. This will lead to cancelling their registration or to varying the terms of their registration within six months if they do not improve.”

Friday, 11 August 2017

Society of Authors Calls on Publishers to Look Again at Pricing Practices

The Society of Authors has written an open letter to publishers raising concerns over pricing practices and the damage they can have on authors earnings.

The society's president is Philip Pullman, OBE and other high profile writers on the society's council include Malorie Blackman, Hilary Mantel and Alan Ayckbourn. The SoA acts as a trade union for writers and illustrators at all stages of their careers. Members receive unlimited free advice on all aspects of the profession, including confidential clause-by-clause contract vetting.  They administer grants and prizes to support authors and campaign and lobby on issues that affect authors.

Dear publishers,

Please reassure authors by taking seven simple steps to ensure that special sales do not damage authors’ overall earnings or the market for full-price sales.

What are we talking about? This is not about ordinary high discounts, such as those demanded by Amazon (although those cause concern to authors and booksellers), but about sales where the purchaser pays a very low price per copy for a large quantity of copies, paying up-front and “firm” for all those copies. Such deals appear in contracts under a variety of clauses, including as bulk sales or ultra-high discounts, book club and similar, coedition, special, premium, mail order, own brand, sales at discounts of 80% or more, supermarket, cheap editions and remaindering. They can also include non-traditional retail outlets, which covers outlets such as museum shops, cafés and high-street retail chains, which we know are becoming an increasingly significant market for certain publications, including craft, cookery and art books.

We do appreciate that knowing at the outset that such payment is guaranteed, and factoring in economies of scale, can affect the publisher’s budgeting decisions, particularly with highly illustrated works which remain disproportionately expensive to produce. We know that such deals can reach purchasers who would not buy the book full price and can be useful for books that have been selling poorly. They can also give a boost to an author’s backlist titles in the wake of publication of a new title, or promote a special edition. Publishers tell us that they do not believe that such sales compete with full-price sales.
So what’s the problem?

Our first concern is competition. The huge discounts offered on these books, and the fact that the purchaser has bought them “firm”, so will want a way to dispose of surplus copies, mean that they can be sold on for a very low price. The internet has changed the way we buy books, and cheap copies, which used to be sold to discrete markets, can end up competing directly with conventional titles. The sale of discounted books on Amazon Marketplace is a major concern, since they will be listed alongside full-price copies. This will be exacerbated if Amazon brings the US initiative of winning the Buy Box [whereby third-party resellers compete for the button that purchasers press first to select a product for purchase] to the UK: a conventional, full royalty-bearing sale could be demoted to promote a highly discounted or pristine second-hand copy. Publishers argue that for Prime customers, who benefit from free delivery, alternative routes can prove more expensive than buying from Amazon; but a cursory view shows that for a wide selection of books, particularly paperbacks or backlist titles, it is still cheaper to buy from a third-party. Only copies which, theoretically at least, are legitimately available appear on Amazon: so where are all these cheap books coming from? It is clear some heavily discounted titles intended for export or book clubs are being leaked onto Amazon Marketplace. Paperback copies are usually available on Amazon from other sellers well before they are available from the publishers, often on publication of the hardback. Authors receive very low royalty rates on such sales, much less than on a full-priced home market sale of the book. On second-hand copies, e.g. the resale of special copies and remainders, neither author nor publisher earns anything, but such sales can cannibalise “proper” ones.
The art of the deal

Of course publishers have no control over the price at which a book is sold to the customer (except where they use the Agency Model). And no matter what a publisher might say to a customer about market restrictions, once they’ve made a sale in the EU, no publisher can prevent them from re-selling the books (due to the “exhaustion of rights” in the EU). For that reason, we would urge publishers to exercise caution. All such deals should be considered carefully. Don’t supply books at an ultra-high discount, unless the author and the publisher agree that the deal is worth it. Deals about which we have heard regular complaints over the years include partial remaindering (notably the tail-end of the hardback run in anticipation of paperback launch), covermounts or book club loss-leaders (e.g. a romantic novelist’s one and only title being used as a giveaway to promote a wider romantic list) and—the most prevalent—special deals being permitted at the peak of a title’s life. The children’s market seems to be especially subject to special deals.

There are other concerns too. Contract terms on special sales can be hard on authors. Special sales income is usually based on money received by the publisher, not cover price, so authors can earn far less. In some contracts where royalties are based on net receipts, the percentage rate payable to the author reduces when the discount increases. That is simply illogical.

And it isn’t always clear that a large proportion of an author’s sales will be at discounted rates rather than the headline rates in the agreement.

Authors’ profiles can suffer too. If an author is associated too often with bargain books it can damage their brand. And special sales are not recorded by Nielsen BookScan, so they don’t appear in official sales figures. The same is true of publisher records: special sales will be described as subsidiary licensing with sales statements detailing income paid and not the number of units sold, leading to underestimates of how many copies have sold. But publishers consider previous sales when deciding whether to commission another book. In one case, a publisher lost a TV deal because it could only prove 500,000 trade sales from its records, whereas it had earlier (more accurately) claimed that the series had sold over a million copies.

High street bookshops, wholesalers and distributors cannot compete with low-priced sales and may decline to stock these works. And seeing books for sale so cheaply can damage the perceived value of books and the price that readers expect to pay for them. This was less glaring when special sales editions were branded, of a cheaper quality, had different jackets and were clearly destined for a different market. These days they are often indistinguishable from full-price editions.
The seven steps
  • Consult and involve
Publishers should give the author a right of approval over every special sales deal (even if the current contract does not include such a right). Discounting is sometimes a valid strategy and publishers risk losing as much as the author if deals cannibalise conventional sales. But an author usually only has a handful of books from which to earn, while publishers have many, so an author is more at risk if the strategy does not work. authors may also have more than one publisher, so have a broader view of the overall sales picture. A publisher should always explain the reasons why it wants to do a deal, the likely receipts for the publisher and author, and the likely impact on traditional sales. Hachette has already given us an assurance that it will always consult authors and seek permission before entering into special sales.

  • Inform
When negotiating the contract, tell the author which royalty clauses you anticipate affecting a significant quantity of sales in the first couple of years. Without such explanation, contracts can be extremely misleading.

  • Share the hit
If the author’s royalties are based on net receipts, the percentage rate payable should not be reduced when the discount increases.

  • Protect
Take steps to ensure that books are only sold in the channels for which they are intended and do not leak back to full-price outlets, particularly on Amazon. Give a separate ISBN to each special sales edition, and add appropriate restrictions, where lawful, to make the books traceable and non-returnable. Hachette has agreed to this.

  • Differentiate
Differentiate special sales editions from the full-price edition. If they are cheaper, the quality should not be as high. This will help protect bookshops and other full-price outlets.

  • Monitor
Monitor closely and follow up suspicious sales on Amazon. Stop selling to purchasers who leak books.

  • Record
Include special sales figures in your records of a work’s lifetime sales. Tell authors the size of print runs. Join us in encouraging Nielsen Bookscan to record special sales alongside traditional sales.

We urge every publisher to contact the SoA and openly agree to the seven steps. This will help authors, publishers and booksellers maintain the best prices for books, reduce unfair competition, reward authors appropriately and maximise sales revenues.


Thursday, 10 August 2017

National Student Survey Results Show Students are Happier Than Ever!

HEFCE has published the results of the 2017 National Student Survey. Over 300,000 final-year students took part in the survey, around 68 per cent of those eligible. Of these, 84 per cent were satisfied with the overall quality of their courses.

Student satisfaction with teaching is high, with 85 per cent of students agreeing that teaching staff are good at explaining things and make the subject interesting, and that they are intellectually stimulated and challenged to achieve their best work.

84 per cent of students agree that they are provided with learning opportunities such as exploring ideas in depth and applying what they have learnt. Some 77 per cent agree that they feel part of a learning community and have the right opportunities to work with other students.

Professor Sir David Bell, Chair of the Student Information Advisory Group, said ‘These excellent results show that our universities and colleges continue to offer a high-quality experience for their students. The National Student Survey is instrumental in driving improvements across an increasingly diverse higher education sector. It also plays a key role in supporting student choice. The revised survey which has been run in 2017 offers new insights on student engagement, a crucial component of a successful experience in higher education.’

A summary table of results for the UK is shown below. More detailed data is available through the HEFCE website. Prospective students will be able to compare NSS results and other relevant information on the Unistats website from September.

Percentage of students who selected 'definitely' or 'mostly agree' on the survey

The teaching on my course 85%
Learning opportunities 84%
Assessment and feedback 73%
Academic support 80%
Organisation and management 75%
Learning resources 85%
Learning community 77%
Student voice 73%
Student union 57%

Responding to the survey NUS Vice President (Higher Education) Amatey Doku said “The government wanted to use today’s NSS results to allow universities which scored highly to raise fees from £9,000 to over £10,000 by 2020 as part of their draconian reforms to higher education.
"Our membership made it clear to us that they found this unacceptable and demanded we campaign to sever any link between their crude Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and a rise in tuition fees which would hit students hard."

"Figures released today demonstrate just how easily this data can be skewed and how unreliable they are as a measure of teaching quality within this framework. This serves as a reminder that students are opposed to soaring tuition fees and are ready to use their power to challenge any ill-thought changes to the sector which will ultimately see them losing out."

"The government has promised a complete independent review of the TEF and we look forward to contributing to that process, putting forward a positive vision of what students actually think teaching excellence looks like and crucially, severing the link with TEF and higher fees. However this is not enough, NUS is asking for a comprehensive review of the student finance system in its totality. Currently students from the poorest 40% of families are emerging with the highest debts of £57,000.”

Thursday, 3 August 2017

CQC Issues Urgent Suspension of GP's Providers Registration

A GP practice in Rainham has been rated as Inadequate overall by the Care Quality Commission and an urgent suspension of the provider's registration has been made to enable the provider to take action to improve while removing patients from the risk of harm. A caretaker practice has been identified by NHS England to provide care and treatment to patients at the practice during this period.

Spring Farm Surgery in Upminster Road North in the London Borough of Havering, has been rated Inadequate for being safe, caring and well-led. It was rated Requires Improvement for being effective and responsive following the inspection in May 2017.

Inspectors found:
  • There was no evidence of learning and communication with staff.
  • The practice had failed to adequately review its ability to respond effectively in the event of an emergency or mitigate any risks associated with the absence of oxygen, adequate supplies of emergency medicine and a defibrillator.
  • The practice failed to mitigate the risks associated with fire. There was no testing of fire alarms or fire drills. Electrical safety checks had not been carried out on portable equipment.
  • Staff undertaking chaperone duties had not been trained. Also, the practice could not demonstrate that all staff had received mandatory training such as fire safety, basic life support, infection control and information governance. Appropriate recruitment checks had not always been undertaken prior to employment.
  • The practice did not have a patient participation group. However, patients were positive about their interactions with most staff and said they were treated with compassion and dignity.
Included in actions the practice must now take are:
  • Review the system for reporting, recording and sharing learning from significant events.
  • Ensure sufficient quantities of equipment or medicines to ensure the safety of patients and to meet their needs.
  • Ensure persons employed for the purposes of carrying on a regulated activity are of good character including by carrying out appropriate pre-employment checks for all staff.
  • Ensure learning from complaints is discussed, analysed and shared for the purposes of evaluating and improving the practice.
  • Ensure effective systems and processes are in place at the practice, in particular regarding vision and strategy, governance, staffing, practice policies, performance awareness, quality improvement, risk management and leadership.
  • Provide staff with appropriate support and training to carry out their duties.
  • Improve processes to support the seeking and acting on of feedback from relevant persons, including a patient participation group.
The areas where the provider should make improvement also include:
  • Reviewing how patients with caring responsibilities are identified and recorded on the clinical system to ensure information, advice and support is made available to them. 
  • Consideing how to assist patients with a hearing impairment accessing the service.
Professor Ursula Gallagher, CQC Deputy Chief Inspector of GP Practices, said “It is always disappointing when we find ourselves in a position of having to take urgent action. This is particularly the case when patients essentially believe the care they have been receiving is safe and effective. By suspending the provider’s registration we are giving them the opportunity to improve the service and in time have their registration reinstated.”

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

More Help For New SMEs Completing Their Tax Returns

A new online tax forum and dedicated webchat service for small businesses and the self-employed has been launched by HMRC.

The Small Business Online Forum is a quick and easy way for small businesses to get answers to their tax questions, as well as help with:
  • starting a business
  • support for growing a business – including taking on employees and expanding
  • buying and selling abroad
  • completing tax returns
  • tax credits
Linked to the forum, HMRC’s new dedicated webchat service offers direct support to businesses and the self-employed and HMRC advisors will moderate the forum between 9-5pm Monday to Friday.

Mel Stride, Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General, said: "We want to help businesses get off the ground and support them as they grow. That is why we are launching a new forum and webchat service which will give these companies useful hints and tips – including how to complete tax returns, grow a business and trade outside the UK".