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Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 11 March 2022

Welcome to Education Eye, a regular update detailing the policies and stories happening in UK education, compiled by Steve Besley.

What's happened this week?

Important stories across the board:

Lots of reports this week with three in particular making the headlines; on missing children, education catch-up and living standards. 

More on these in a minute. A quick run through some of the other reports this week first.

First, a guide for students from Ofqual on this year’s exams and assessments. It’s largely a bringing together of where we are – namely that they’re intending to go ahead but with modifications to allow for the disruption caused by the pandemic. It also sets out how they will operate, as in when they’ll take place, how they’ll be marked and graded, and how students will get their results. Helpful reminders perhaps, given there’ve been no exams for two years.   

Next, its been National Careers Week and the Sutton Trust added its contribution, with a new report on careers guidance in secondary schools. It notes some improvements since its last report eight years ago – the Gatsby principles for instance – but still feels a lot needs doing to ensure access and opportunity, especially for more disadvantaged young people. Hence its call for a new national strategy on careers education.

Finally, it has been another week of reports higher education, three this time. One came from the HE Commission on the role of universities in boosting regional economies. Another was from Universities UK and GuildHE with a new self-regulatory code for fair admissions – ditching for example the use of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers. And finally, the National Audit Office ran its eye over the work of the Office for Students and in particular its work in managing financial risks post-pandemic. Its conclusion was as upbeat as it could be in the present circumstances. “So far, the OfS’s regulatory approach has not witnessed any provider failures, but rising numbers of providers in deficit indicate increased financial pressure in the sector.”

So, plenty of talking points this week but back to those three big reports. 

Missing children first, the subject of an interim report this week from the Children’s Commissioner for England. 

Concerns about ghost children, as they have become known, are not new. The Chair of the Education Committee labelled the problem earlier this year as ‘a national disaster,’ while Ofsted highlighted it in its annual report just before Christmas. “There should be no ‘unknown’ children to the system,” the reports asserts, but the problem is there are, and exact numbers are difficult to piece together.  

Part of the problem, according to the report, is that local authorities'rely on time lagged population estimates to tell them how many children there are in their area, but migration and other factors mean this information is often inaccurate.'  It means that 'only around half of LAs know how many children in their area are persistently or severely absent from school.'

Some of these children are being home educated, some haven’t returned post-pandemic, some have been persistent absentees, and many are vulnerable. The report estimates for instance that 1.78m children were ‘persistently’ absent last term. The Centre for Social Justice, which published a report on the matter in January, reckoned 100,000 children had ‘almost disappeared’ from education since the end of the pandemic. Lack of accurate data makes the problem difficult to quantify.

The Commissioner intends to produce a final report in a few months’ time, but for the moment sets out initial thinking in four areas. These include better collection of data at both a school and local authority level, using for example attendance codes and a unique identifier. Also, clearer responsibilities across all agencies from supportive professionals to government departments. ‘Where are England’s Children?’ the report’s title, is a challenge to us all.

Second, education catch-up and the Education Committee’s report into the matter. The Committee acknowledged the work of all those in the school system who battled to support and provide learning for pupils during the various lockdowns, but concluded that ultimately 'school closures have been nothing short of a disaster for children and young people.' Just how much of a disaster can be seen in some of the statistics it provides on learning-loss, with some groups and some regions suffering worse than others. Some of the evidence presented was stark. 'In our most challenging communities, disadvantaged pupils could be five, six, seven – in the worst-case scenarios eight–months behind in some of their learning.'

The Committee urges the government to put its weight behind a major education recovery programme. It calls for a long-term funding plan and sets out a number of priorities. These include: channelling funding directly through to schools to end what it calls 'the spaghetti junction of funding'; sorting out the National Tutoring Programme, with, for example, half-termly data on its performance and continued levels of subsidy; looking again at the issue of extending the school day to provide extra-curricular activities – particularly for children in disadvantaged areas – to help with wellbeing. And fourthly, tackling the growing mental health situation among young people, potentially instigating an assessment programme for all children and calling on Ofsted to report on progress.

As the Chair of the Committee put it, ‘catch-up must be for the long-term and it must be proven to work.’ 

And third, living standards, where the Resolution Foundation published its latest annual report and projections. It comes of course at a difficult time and paints a pretty bleak picture about household incomes over the next four or five years. 

'The defining economic feature of 2022 will be a major living standards hit for households, driven by high and rising inflation' the report concludes. Just how big a hit can be seen by its projection that ‘real typical household incomes’ are likely to fall this year by around £1,000. The biggest fall, it reckons, since the mid-70s, the era of queues at the pumps and dinners by candlelight. Rising inflation and energy prices are the villains of the piece.

The report points to weak pay growth and rising poverty as the two big challenges arising out this situation, with ‘millions of low and middle-income families’ likely to be hardest hit. It also makes for a difficult context for the provision of services like education. It’s perhaps no coincidence that both college and school staff bodies had reports out this week on wage concerns and staffing issues.

In fairness, the report is about projections and modelling, and as it says, there are things that the government could do to limit some of the pain. 

The Chancellor’s Spring Statement in a couple of weeks may provide an early opportunity for this, but as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) outlined in its briefing about the forthcoming Statement, the Chancellor is pretty much stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to financial manoeuvring. In their view, the Chancellor faces three ‘big calls’: on spending/borrowing more vs cuts to household budgets; on pay cuts vs pay restrictions for public sector workers such as teachers;and  on letting defence spending spiral down vs borrowing to boost it at a time of crisis. It doesn’t get any easier.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Universities advised against conditional unconditional admission offers' (Monday).
  • ‘Covid: Attendance reaches 9-month high but schools not out of the woods’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Most councils don’t know how many children are missing education’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Teachers could face sever real-terms pay cuts’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Nearly 10% of Yr 11s still absent from school as exams loom’ (Friday).


  • Girls Education Partnership. The Prime Minister heralded International Women’s Day by launching a new £20m partnership (£9m from government, £11m from business) to help improve access to education and employment for girls in developing countries, particularly in aspects like STEM skills, with bidding for project funding to begin shortly.
  • Women in Work Index. PwC published its latest Women in Work Index covering different aspects of women’s work and lives across 30+ OECD countries and showing that after a decade of progress, things had fallen back recently as the pandemic hit women’s pay and prospects but noting that the UK had managed to progress its work on employment equality, reaching ninth in the ranking of OECD 33 countries. 
  • Living Standards. The Resolution Foundation published its 2022 Outlook on living standards painting a pretty bleak picture with the current Ukraine crisis likely to add to concerns about rising inflation and energy costs leaving average households facing ‘the sharpest fall in incomes since the mid-1970s.’ 
  • Company reporting. The Personnel and Development Company, CIPD, examined annual reports from FTSE 100 companies looking in particular at what they had to say about key features like skills, employee wellbeing and responses to Covid, suggesting that such reports generally left a lot to be desired with only ad hoc use of data and poor levels of coverage overall. 

More specifically ...


  • Catch-up programme. The Education Committee published its report into the government’s education recovery programme, hailing the work of those who supported pupils during the lockdown but highlighting the learning loss facing many pupils and calling for a major funded recovery programme built around tutoring, mental health support and extra-curricular programmes.
  • Further recovery plans.The Education Secretary prepared to outline plans to provide more support for teachers to aid learning recovery by reconfiguring Oak National Academy as an Arm’s Length Body to the DfE, working with the Education Endowment Foundation to highlight best practice and provide resources for teachers to match.
  • Exams and assessments 2022. Ofqual published a ‘Student Guide to Exams and Assessment’ this year, bringing together much of the information already out such as the modifications and advance information on exams but also outlining system procedures such as grading and the publication of results, for those less familiar with them after two years of no exams.
  • Missing children. The Children’s Commissioner reported on the interim findings from her Office’s work on missing children in England, many of whom have not returned to school post-pandemic and where council data appears patchy, outlining a number of proposals around data and roles ahead of a final report in a few months.
  • Teachers’ pay. The National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) set out its proposals on teachers’ pay to the Pay Review Body, supporting the proposed £30,000 starting salary but arguing against differential pay uplifts and performance-related pay, and calling for a full review of the pay framework.
  • Careers guidance. The Sutton Trust reported on careers guidance in secondary schools pointing to some improvements since their last report 8 years ago but finding evidence of gaps and in some cases lack of access, calling for a revised careers strategy with minimum standards, uniform access to work experience for 14-16 yr olds, and improved investment all round.
  • Destination Toolkit. The HMC highlighted a new toolkit developed in partnership with a number of bodies designed to improve the prospects for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering selective universities, looking at aspects like school culture, applications and widening participation generally.
  • Spielman addresses Early Years. Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector, addressed the Nursery World Business summit where she acknowledged the challenges the sector faced during the pandemic and urged providers to continue their work around reading, language skills and play as part of children’s recovery as she announced Ofsted would be focusing on early years education in the coming years. 
  • Does passing maths GCSE matter? John Jerrim at FFT Education Datalab examined how important it really was to get a pass grade in GCSE maths given so much political capital is placed on it, suggesting that it does matter for future educational outcomes and in some cases in the job market although it doesn’t seem to make much difference to young people’s happiness and wellbeing.
  • Natural History GCSE. The i-newspaper reported on the battle to get a GCSE in Natural History, which has already been drafted and submitted for recognition by exam board OCR, endorsed by government.
  • Sent to Coventry. Dr Kindy Sandhu, education and skills member for Coventry City Council, outlined the learning partnership adopted by the Council and listed four proposals (using local intelligence, building pathways, establishing partnerships, creating a unified approach) that she hoped would be in the forthcoming Schools White Paper
  • Dropping out of sport. The ‘Women in Sport’ charity examined issues around teenage girls and sport, reporting that many (43%) who considered themselves sporty at primary school disengage at secondary level, pointing to body image, fears of being judged and lack of confidence as key factors, and setting out eight principles to encourage girls to continue to participate.


  • Staff pay. The Association of Colleges (AoC) called on the government to undertake an analysis of college pay levels and to look at aligning the recommended starting salary of £30,000 for school teachers with that for college staff.
  • Earn and Learn. The 5% Club, which recognises employers that aspire to have 5% of their workforce in skills training, announced the launch of its 2022 ‘Earn and Learn’ recognition scheme, with an awards ceremony planned for early December. 
  • Digital experiences. JISC reported on its survey among professional services service staff, many of whom like teaching staff had to adapt to different ways of working during lockdown, but finding similar challenges with 23% reporting shared drives and 11% lacking fit for purpose laptops.


  • HE finances. The National Audit Office (NAO) issued a report on the Office for Students (OfS) and its work in ensuring the financial sustainability of the sector in light of the pandemic and longer-term challenges, recognising the work of the OfS and its use of data but suggesting that it still has some way to go to convince all users about its approach. 
  • Fair admissions. Universities UK (UUK) published a new Fair Admissions Code of Practice, based on revised Schwartz principles, developed by UUK and Guild HE, self-regulatory in format, and setting out a range of principles including not using ‘conditional unconditional’ offers and only using conditional offers in limited circumstances. 
  • Innovation Deals. The HE Commission published its report into the role of universities in boosting local economies in the context of levelling up, recommending the creation of local Innovation Deals led by local leaders with funding and powers to help drive skills, R/D and regional innovation.
  • Evaluating the evidence. John Blake, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS outlined in a blog the importance of not just collecting evidence on initiatives for widening participation but also evaluating what works with the latest report on the Uni Connect partnership an example of this.

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “One thing I’ve been thinking about as we return to offices is dress codes. Right now I’m sitting waiting for a commuter train. Next to me is a man in jeans, a blazer and leather loafers, tapping on a laptop. Meanwhile I’m in a suit and trainers. Like we got half a memo each” | @Vicki_Stott
  • “I tried group work today. Still don't like it” | @MBDscience
  • “The next big thing in teaching was probably the last big thing before the last few things but with a different name” | @RogersHistory
  • “Having a child at nursery is amazing. They bring home adorable things all the time to share with our family. Like this week just gone, Jonah has brought us norovirus and has shared it with his grandma and I who are both chatting to each other from the comfort of our toilets” | @MrsVRE
  • “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but calories consumed during and after parents evening don’t count so just get yourself a takeaway” | @Unofficial OA
  • “For a few days, Margaret has had her heart set on creating some mosaics with the class. She couldn't decide whether to go with the Classical Roman style or with the Vintage 1970s era. Sadly, it turns out that gummed shapes aren't as easy to come by as they used to be” | @RetirementTales
  • “Wedding anniversary coming up so been saving for something extravagant. Can’t wait to see her face when she sees the full tank of petrol” | @damien_page

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “The UK’s post-Covid economic recovery is well underway, but a deep living standards downturn is just getting going” – the Resolution Foundation forecasts a challenging time for living standards.
  • “The unit will be drawing on lessons learned from the trailblazer LSIPs to understand how it can best support employer representative bodies and local stakeholders when LSIPs are rolled out nationally” – the minister answers a question in Parliament about how the Unit for Future Skills will work.
  • “2022 will be a landmark year for shaping the rules that govern digital technologies” – the Tech Minister addresses the Digital City Festival.
  • “The main reason that there is variation in careers advice is that the government dismantled the national provision about a decade ago and transferred the responsibility to schools while also squeezing their funding” – ASCL responds to a new report out on careers guidance in secondary schools.
  • “From the survey we have conducted we have found that LAs do not have an accurate figure of how many children there are in England – let alone the number of children not receiving education” – the Children’s Commissioner reports on missing children in England.
  • “So, we’ve chosen to have a specific strategic focus on the early years in our next 5 years” – Ofsted confirms a focus on early years in future inspections.
  • “The single most powerful thing that you can do in times of uncertainty is to transmit calm” – Mumsnet looks at ways of talking to children about what’s happening in Ukraine.

Important numbers

Not-to-be-missed numbers of the week:

  • £1,750. The possible reduction this year to the gross salary of public sector workers if the Chancellor did not consider the impact of inflation, according to the IfS.
  • 10. The number of HE providers at the end of last year being closely monitored over their financial viability, according to a report from the NAO. 
  • 150. The number of new customer service jobs being advertised in the North East by the Student Loans Company.
  • 5. The number of days of strike action for the last two weeks of March, as announced by the University and College Union (UCU.)
  • 37%. The number of top companies surveyed that included data on apprenticeships and internships in their annual reports, according to the CIPD.
  • 26%. The number of Yr 13 receiving careers information on apprenticeships, according to a survey from the Sutton Trust.
  • 12%. How much more a male headteacher earns on average compared to a female headteacher, according to figures from the NAHT.
  • 58,000. The number of pupils in state funded schools in England off for Covid-related reasons last Thursday compared to 182,000 just before half-term, according to latest government figures.
  • 1-3 hours. How many hours the average primary school teacher spent last week searching for resources, according to a survey from Teacher Tapp.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • ASCL Annual Conference (Friday 11 March-Saturday 12 March).
  • MPs’ Education Questions (Monday 14 March).
  • Remaining stages of the Professional Qualifications Bill (Monday 14 March).
  • The Education Policy Institute host the OECD’s latest Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) Report (Monday 14 March).
  • Westminster Hall debate on LEPs (Wednesday 16 March).

Other stories

  • Consumer confidence. Every month the polling company YouGov asks Britons about their finances. Their latest poll, completed with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR,) doesn’t make for very happy reading with household finances at their lowest ebb for nearly ten years. ‘Soaring’ energy prices are to blame. That said there are positives in the poll. Homeowners, for instance, who have seen house prices rise and many employees who have seen business activity increase and job security strengthen. As ever a mixed picture as the poll shows here.
  • Free school meals. Marcus Rashford’s campaign last year highlighted the importance of free school meals to so many families. There are growing concerns this year that the cost-of-living crisis will reinforce that importance as families struggle to bills. This week, as part of International School Meals Day which occurred on Thursday, the Children’s Food Campaign published the results of a poll on free school meals showing that 66% of adults responding would like to see school meals free for all primary school children. 25% disagreed but it is being taken forward in other parts of the UK. A link to the poll is here.

If you find my policy updates useful, please consider donating something, however small, to help support its publication. EdCentral is a not-for-profit social enterprise company and relies on donations to continue its work.

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Steve Besley

Disclaimer: Education Eye is intended to help colleagues keep up to date with national developments in the education sector. Information is correct at the time of writing and is offered in good faith. No liability is accepted by Steve Besley or EdCentral for decisions made on the basis of any information provided.




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