Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 03 March 2023

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:

Quite a spread of stories this week.

Headline stories have included the release of government plans on special educational needs and disabilities (SEND.) Elsewhere, universities and leading research bodies called on the government to build on the Windsor Framework and restore research relations with Europe. Skills supporters hailed a day of action this week while the AI chatbot ChatGPT emerged to divide opinion in the education world.

As for other stories, a long list of school and college leaders signed a letter to the Education Secretary calling for a further rethink around scrapping more BTECs, creating ‘a burning platform,’ according to former minister Jo Johnson. Families got to hear about their secondary school places – ‘an anxious time’ as the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) acknowledged.

And talking of family anxiety, spare a thought for those who burnt the midnight oil creating a costume for this year’s World Book Day. The Mumsnet site had a helpful list of costumes you could order overnight or perhaps even better, a list of book characters like grandma in Little Red Riding Hood that could just stay in their pyjamas.

Details on these below, starting with a run through of some of the top education-related stories of the week.

  • Education Questions. Teacher strikes, the state of school buildings, reading standards, apprenticeships, adult skills, the cost of living, and financial woes at UEA were among the issues raised by MPs in questions to Education Ministers this week. But perhaps the most important message to come out of the session was confirmation of an imminent response from the government on its special educational needs SEND) plans. Many people have been waiting for some time for an official response to last year’s SEND and Alternative Provision Review and it duly arrived a few days later.

  • Going for growth. “We’ve put a lot of work into this and we know: growth is the answer.” Addressing UK finance and banking leaders this week, Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer was keen to stress the importance of the first of his big five missions announced last week – that of growth. It’s still not quite clear how we’ll get to have ‘the highest sustained growth in the G7’ but Sir Keir listed a number of ingredients of interest to education. A modern industrial strategy and “more flexible skills training for apprenticeships and the short courses, which can train coders and programmers in weeks” to name two.

  • Spring Budget. Ten days to go to the Spring Budget and how are things looking? There’s been some short-term at least improvement to the public finances since November’s Autumn Statement but according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies who produced a helpful scene setter this week, “the outlook remains highly challenging.” The economy remains fragile, growth is expected to remain low, borrowing high, and pay, and thereby potential strike action, likely to remain an issue. On top of that departmental spending is set to remain tight for the foreseeable future, thrusting sectors like FE once again into the spotlight. All eyes on 15 March.

  • Skills. Talking of FE it’s been a big week for skills. The FE sector launched its Future Skills campaign with a day of activity in Parliament, the CBI hosted its ‘Future of Work’ Conference, and the FT ran a sharp editorial calling for ‘urgent reforms’ and investment in skills training. Colleges let alone employer bodies have been saying this for some time so why the burst of activity now? Partly of course because a Budget is looming, partly because the sector has been woefully starved of funds for some time and needs significant investment to be able to provide the courses people need but partly also because as the FT concluded “Britain’s growth will continue to stutter if it lacks the people and the skills to deliver it.” The briefing for MPs this week (listed below) from the Future Skills Coalition puts it all helpfully into context. 

  • SEND reforms. There are 42 ‘We wills’ in the government’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision (AP) reform plans published this week. The ‘We wills’ cover everything from ‘we will develop national standards,’ albeit over three years, to ‘we will increase the capacity of specialists.’ There’s even a list of six criteria to determine whether the new system is a success in the long run. After a long wait and a struggle with funding, the government’s clearly keen to demonstrate it means business when it comes to special needs. So how’s it all been received? The main gripes seem to be whether there’s enough money and how long it’s all going to take. This for instance is the National Governance Association: “we also share the concerns of our members, the wider sector and above all parents, over the lengthy implementation period when the system is under great pressure.” And this is the headteachers’ union: “it’s unclear whether enough money will be provided to transform the wider system.” Councils felt that the measures don’t address ‘cost and demand issues’ while the children’s commissioner worried that ‘the plan doesn’t go far enough swiftly enough.’ The problem with raising so many ‘we will hopes’ is being able to meet them all.

  • ChatGPT. The role of ChatGPT is leaving education seemingly divided. The i newspaper reported on its recent survey showing universities broadly split over its use; Cambridge allowing it as long as it’s not used to write course work or exams, others hastily rewriting assessment regulations. The BBC found much the same, while a senior lecturer on the Campus site hailed its value as a teaching tool. Its “dialogic approach develops the higher-order thinking skills that will keep our students ahead of AI technology.” It was a similar line taken in an article in FE News this week while the qualifications body, the International Baccalaureate seized the headlines by telling students they could use it in their essays as long its use was credited. In their words it was like using tools such as spellchecker and calculators. Issues remain around ChatGPT, not least its application in teaching and the implications for assessment. As assessment guru Daisy Christodoulou put it, ‘It’s not about how well it does the job to begin with. It’s about how students respond when they know their work is being marked by AI, and how the AI then responds to that.”

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Pupils studying the International Bacc can use ChatGPT in essays.’ (Monday).
  • ‘Thousands of schools face fresh teacher strikes.’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Leaders call for a 12-month delay to ‘reckless’ plan to defund most BTECs.’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Special educational needs children in England to receive more help.’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Ministers put £15m towards tackling decline in language learning in England.’ (Friday).


  • Fintech launch. The government announced the creation of a Centre for Finance, Innovation and Technology (Fintech,) set up in response to a review two years ago and claimed to be a world first with the aim of boosting fintech growth, jobs and expertise through new partnerships and financial innovation hubs.
  • Growth model. Labour leader Sir Keith Starmer expanded on his growth mission in a speech to UK Finance pointing to ‘a modern industrial strategy’ and ‘a green prosperity plan’ as key ingredients of the mission.  
  • Labour mission. Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner addressed the CBI Future of Work Conference where she highlighted the Party’s new deal for working people, pointing to its industrial strategy and pledging ‘to have the skilled workforce we need.’
  • Back to work. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) suggested that we may have reached a turning point on economic inactivity among older workers with recent data pointing to a drop in the inactivity rate among 50-64 yr olds, although given much of this may have been prompted by the cost-of-living crisis they felt this wasn’t yet a cause for celebration.
  • Budget build-up. The IfS published an update on the backdrop to the forthcoming Spring Budget suggesting that despite some recent better news on the economy, the medium to long-term picture remained challenging with the room for tax cuts or spending increases remaining very limited.
  • Guaranteeing the essentials. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Trussell Trust called in a new report for ‘an Essential Guarantee,’ rated at £200 a week for a couple and £120 a week for a single person, that would ensure those on Universal Credit had access to the basics in life as it highlighted the challenges facing low-income households.
  • Public services. The New Economics Foundation examined the current funding around public services where squeezes have seen for instance a big backlog in needed school repairs and where it’s suggested that even with inflation falling, real spending on such services are likely to remain low.
  • 500 words. The BBC announced the re-launch of its children’s writing competition – 500 Words, which ran from 2011 to 2020 and will open again from this September with two entry categories, ages 5 – 7 and 8 – 11, and with support from BBC Teach and BBC Breakfast along with the Queen Consort.

More specifically ...


  • SEND Plan. The government published its response to last year’s SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) and Alternative Provision (AP) Green Paper in the form of an extensive Improvement Plan proposing ‘a single national SEND and AP system,’ based on proven national standards, incorporating new special free schools and local partnerships, along with more trained staff, clearer accountabilities and additional funding as announced in the Autumn Statement.
  • Maths to age 18. The Chair of the Education Committee wrote to the Education Secretary about concerns raised with the Committee over government plans to encourage pupils to study some form of maths to age 18, pointing to a lack of trained teachers and support for those who struggle with GCSE maths as particular concerns.
  • Last year’s national assessments. Ofqual published its monitoring report into last year’s national assessments, the first full set since the pandemic, giving a clean bill of health to the test development and standards maintenance work of the Standards and Testing Agency but noting issues over the operations side including some incorrect results, loss of some scripts and poor customer service by Capita which it intends to monitor closely this year.
  • Secondary school choices. FFT Education Datalab looked into just how useful Ofsted reports were when choosing a secondary school, concluding that apart from the ‘outstanding’ label, they weren’t especially useful and that parents shouldn’t seek to move house as a result.
  • School admissions. Bristol University published new research into the school admissions system in England showing that despite being able to use different criteria most schools followed traditional practices with few adopting banding or pupil premium criteria although free schools were proving to be the most innovative in their approach.
  • Reforming inspection. The Confederation of School Trusts built on its recent discussion paper on reforming inspections by setting out ten proposals for consideration, including reviewing the current grading system, assessing the validity and reliability of the inspection framework and looking into the idea of an online portal for school quality and performance.
  • Headteacher Wellbeing. The headteacher support body, Headrest, highlighted some of the pressures facing headteachers ranging from budgets to staff recruitment to stakeholder pressures in a new wellbeing report, calling for guarantees on funding and support to meet what they called ‘an impossible complexity of demands.’
  • School libraries. The National Literacy Trust along with the digital bank Chase, which is supporting a school libraries programme, highlighted the importance of school libraries, as new research revealed many families were having to cut back on books and on time needed for quiet reading.


  • Mind the skills gap. The FE sector published a briefing for ministers as part of a day of campaigning on skills, highlighting the scale of the skills shortages currently and calling for effective investment, a national strategy to support local growth, and a right to lifelong learning.
  • Skills gap. The FE sector continued its campaign for further investment for the sector by publishing research from YouGov showing that many people were keen to acquire new skills but that providers were lacking the funds to put on the courses needed.
  • Annual Skills Survey. The CBI published its latest annual skills survey conducted over 270+ businesses last autumn showing firms maintaining rather than increasing their training budgets, continuing issues about the current apprenticeship system and a lack of awareness of government skills reform programmes generally.
  • Future of Work. The CBI president Tony Danker called for support for childcare, employee welfare, and upskilling as he laid out five principles of the UK labour market such as accepting flexible working and seeing automation ‘as our friend,’ in an address to his organisation’s Future of Work conference.
  • Skills deficit. The FT highlighted in a leading editorial the importance of investing in skills and training calling among other things for reform of the apprenticeship levy, support and training to help inactive workers back into work, help with childcare to enable more to work, visa reforms, and greater investment in skills training generally.
  • Green skills gap. The New Economics Foundation called in a new report for ‘a bold and well-funded strategy’ to tackle the green skills gap, suggesting it would take the average worker six to eighteen months of additional training to develop the skills needed for the green economy.
  • Funding uplifts. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) confirmed it was increasing adult skills funding, enabling more over-delivery and applying a 20% uplift for provision in six subject areas including Building and Construction, Engineering, and Maths and Statistics.
  • L3 reforms. School and college leaders called on the government to delay the removal of further BTECs and scrap plans to review more applied general qualifications arguing that otherwise students could be left without viable choices and providers would struggle to meet the current timescale.
  • Membership benefits. The Education and Training Foundation announced a range of new benefits including health and fitness offers, travel savings and wellbeing support for members of its professional body - the Society for Education and Training (SET.)
  • WorldSkills UK. Registration opened for WorldSkillsUK 2023 with applicants having until 24 March 2023 to submit their forms.


  • Research and innovation. Universities along with leading research and innovation bodies called for ‘rapid progress’ on securing the UK’s place in EU research programmes such as Horizon Europe following the positive messages coming out of the Windsor Framework.
  • Regional support. University groups and small businesses called on the Chancellor ahead of the forthcoming Budget to provide funding support from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund for regional innovation programmes as EU Regional Development Funding for such programmes started to draw to a close.
  • Student loans. The Student Loans Company opened its loan application service for 2023/24, running through the procedures and documentation needed and encouraging students to start applying now whether they have a confirmed place or not so as to ensure finances were in place for the start of the year.
  • Academic misconduct. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) highlighted some of the key themes arising from its recent casework on academic misconduct pointing to the importance of ensuring good academic practice and working with students when they have concerns.
  • Universities and ChatGPT. The i reported on the impact of the AI chatbot ChatGPT on the university sector pointing to a mixed picture, with some looking at how to take it into account yet a further 28 institutions looking to prohibit its use.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Strong sympathy for the school mum who just messaged our WhatsApp group to ask if the school is 'doing anything for World Book Day tomo?' Everyone replying that they've been working on costumes for weeks while she panics and is clearly wondering if the Halloween costume would do” - @FelicityHannah.
  • “You think it's a golden teaching moment, someone puts their hand up, you are gleeful, and they say.... 'Can I go to the toilet?' -@ RogersHistory.
  • “We recommend that parents think twice before paying more money for a house because it is near a "good" school': new research calls into question the value of @Ofstednews grades for parents choosing schools” - @tes.
  • “Did you know? 40% of UK workers don't have the correct qualifications for their current jobs.  If only we had the funding for it.” - @ NewCityCol.
  • “Having just received a message explaining why BT ‘needs’ to increase my bill by 14% in April (inflation +3.9%) and same from mobile provider it would feel completely reasonable for public sector employees to expect at least the same “ - @brianlightman.
  • “Do you ever look at someone and think… I bet you reply all?” - @ScottPughsley.
  • “I told a helium joke in Chemistry class There was no reaction” -@ThePunnyWorld.
  • “l asked my friend when their birthday was. He said March 1st. I stood up, walked around the room, and asked again” - @Dadsaysjokes.

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “We could see below-inflation pay recommendations for the second year running” – the IfS reviews options facing the Chancellor ahead of the Spring Budget.
  • “I reiterate the significance of this Bill. It is a further piece of the jigsaw of the transformative reforms that will improve our skills system and revolutionise how and when people can and do access study” – the FE/HE minister rounds off the Second Reading of the Lifelong Learning Bill.
  • “Both sides must now put renewed efforts into constructive dialogue to get association swiftly over the line, finally ending the damaging impasse that has lasted over two years” – UK research bodies call for rapid progress in joining EU research programmes following the Windsor Framework.
  • “Work stretch aspirations” – the language of targets for Job Centre staff who will receive bonuses if they can get more people into work, according to the BBC.
  • “I want to bring peace to our cultural war” – Michael Gove lists cultural polarisation as one of the four big challenges facing society (the other three being inequality, the changing global economy and the decline in public trust.)
  • “Removing such a significant proportion of applied general qualifications will have a hugely negative impact on many of our students” – school and college leaders call for a rethink on BTECs.
  • “We should not think of this extraordinary new technology as a threat” – the International Bacc on facing up to the use of ChatGPT.
  • “US parents say Peppa Pig is giving their kids British accents,” – a headline in this week’s Guardian.

Important numbers

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

  • 8.5%. The projected inflation figure for the Eurozone last month, according to Eurostat.
  • 18. The legal age of marriage in England Wales following the coming into force this week of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022.
  • 3m. The number of respondents who said they felt lonely ‘often or always,’ the same as the previous year according to the latest government Community Life survey.
  • 68%. The number of respondent firms who reported having links currently with an education provider, down from 71% the year before and 94% in 2019 according to CBI’s annual skills survey.
  • 41%. The number of respondents in a survey who said they’d learn a new skill to get a better job, according to a poll from YouGov for the Mind the Skills Gap campaign.
  • 12.3%. The percentage of 16-24 yr olds in England not in education, employment or training (NEET) in 2022, up from 10.5% previously.
  • 20%. The number of parents in a survey reporting that they were buying fewer books for their children, rising to 36% among poorer families, according to a survey from the National Literacy Trust and Chase.
  • 2.5M. The number of children in the earthquake area of Turkey and N. Syria in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to UNICEF.
  • 5. The number of times in a week couples argue over household chores according to a survey from the i newspaper.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Education Committee evidence session on ‘persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils.’ (Tuesday 7 March).
  • CBI’s Conference series on Skills and Work. (Tuesday 7 March).
  • International Women’s Day. (Wednesday 8 March).
  • Westminster Hall debate on racial discrimination in schools. (Wednesday 8 March).
  • Public Accounts Committee Inquiry into Education Recovery into Schools. (Thursday 9 March).
  • ASCL Annual Conference. (Friday 10 March – Saturday 11 March. The Education Secretary and Ofsted present on the first day.).

Other stories

  • Have you returned your library book yet? According to the student news site, The Tab, which has been looking into such things this week, Russell Group universities has been using library fines to top up their money. They doled out £120,000 in library fines last year alone and £7m over the past decade. The biggest individual fine was for a student at Exeter University followed by one at Cambridge. In both cases, over £1,000. £1850 to be precise for the Exeter miscreant. Mercy was shown in both cases and the fine waived. Just as well perhaps given that Cambridge University library is still waiting for a book that was taken out over 30 years ago to be returned. That might have generated quite a late fine by now. A link to the article is here. 
  • Fear of public speaking. Many people even in education have a fear of public speaking. According to a new survey published this week by YouGov, it comes in third in a top ten list of phobias reported by Britons. A fear of heights and of spiders came in first and second respectively. Glossophobia, to give anxiety about public speaking its official term, was singled out by15% of respondents. Higher even then going to the dentist at 10%. That said it worth noting that even some of the world’s great communicators and actors from Gandhi to Nicole Kidman are on record as having had a fear of public speaking. A link to the list of phobias is here.

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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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