Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 10 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:

More big announcements this week.

They’ve included a new, more flexible system of student financing, a new Science and Technology Framework and a new school sports package. The latter was announced to mark this week’s International Women’s Day which along with the latest National Careers Week have prompted a number of commentaries this week.

Elsewhere, the build-up to the next big announcement, the Spring Budget, has continued with further analysis of the so-called ‘Great Retirement’ and lots of advice on what to look out for when the Chancellor steps up next Wednesday.

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

  • Leading on science and tech. Three things stand out from the Science and Technology Framework launched by the government this week. First, it’s the nearest we’ve got recently to a coherent industrial strategy. It may just be in one area - science and technology - but its list of ten features and its emphasis on government depts working together to deliver them points to a structured approach to government delivery not seen recently. Second, as the first major piece of work from the new SIT Dept (Science, Innovation and Technology) it offers hope that here is a dept focused on a clear mission, to quote the word of the moment, rather than having to firefight too many competing objectives. And third, it starts to put together a range of different funding sources rather than having to rely on a friendly Chancellor. It also, by the way, includes much of interest for education from the list of key technologies to an increase in specialist PhDs. We’re not there yet. Another action plan is promised this summer but it’s a hopeful start.
  • Lifelong learning loans. Government plans to revamp student financing, announced this week, came with some extravagant claims.  “It will facilitate a complete culture shift in the way further and higher education is viewed and who it is available to,” the Education Secretary argued. The introduction of a lifelong loan entitlement that can be taken as and when up to the age of 60 and used for a variety of different kinds of courses and modules certainly raises a number of interesting questions. Will it attract enough people, is the provider side geared up for such a flexible model, how will quality be assured, will people be happy to pick up modules bit by bit or will they stick to the standard 3-year degree model?  The aim is to provide a more flexible financing system; hop on, hop off, better able to fit in people’s commitments, current needs and so on. A travel card with different stops but a single destination as the government put it. It all sounds attractive but will it work? The system won’t be in place until 2025 and there’s already been an initial pilot scheme but there’s a lot of work to do yet to get this new, flexible model fully operative.
  • Spring Budget. There’ve been plenty of suggestions of what to look out for next week when the Chancellor presents his Spring Budget. The Resolution Foundation, who reckoned that the economy may at last be showing a few signs of life – lower borrowing, wholesale energy prices down – although not for everyone, suggested he faces three policy conundrums: how to take any pain out of the cost-of living; what to do about public sector pay; and how to boost growth. The Guardian’s Economics editor equally suggested a number of things to look out, five in all. They included how the economy is doing, have we really escaped recession? Also whether there’ll be any more help with energy bills, hat he says about public sector pay, any help for consumers and any incentives for business. Much of this sets the scene for education where two high priorities stand out: childcare costs and skills investment. Many will be watching closely.
  • The Great Retirement. Economic inactivity among older workers, the so-called ‘Great Retirement’ and its impact on the economy has featured prominently in recent weeks with the Chancellor expected to set out some ideas on how to tackle concerns in next week’s Budget. Mid-career health MoTs, workplace mentors, a greater focus on employee wellness have been among the suggested options. How far these may work remain to be seen. As the consultancy Public First in conjunction with Phoenix Insights highlighted in their report this week, many older workers have chosen to retire, prompted by the lockdown or not, because they can afford to. Of more concern are those who left the workforce because of ill health or disability, many of whom are more financially vulnerable. The report calls for greater support and workplace flexibility. Interestingly it’s not just a UK phenomenon. A declining birthrate has left many Western countries with an ageing workforce with fewer younger workers coming through. In The latest UK labour market figures suggested that the peak may have been reached with “economic inactivity due to early retirement now back to where it was before the pandemic” as the Institute for Employment Studies explained. The Chancellor will be hoping the trend continues.
  • Careers services. National Careers Week has brought careers guidance into the spotlight again this week. Its not had an easy ride in recent years. Work placements as we heard for T level students this week have been difficult to arrange, schools have been accused of ignoring the so-called Baker Clause on providing a range of options, and provision has suffered from underfunding and pressure from other priorities. On top of that reading the future labour market with its shifting patterns of skill needs and changing working formats has been taxing even the sharpest global planners. How often have we heard the saying: ‘there’s no such thing as a job for life?’ So its not been easy but perhaps things are changing. The Baker Clause has now been written into law, the ‘Gatsby’ benchmarks of good practice have been widely endorsed and according to a report from the Careers and Enterprise Company this week, more young people now say they are career ready. Chair of the Company, former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, claimed ‘we now have a broad consensus about what excellence looks like and there are strong foundations on which to build.’ Let’s hope so.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Ofsted moves to Monday inspections for teacher strikes week.’ (Monday).
  • ‘Remote learners left out of lifelong loan plans.’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Schools in England seeing more pupil absences on Fridays.’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘T-level delays: Colleges face disruption after courses are pushed back.’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Deplorable support services having profound impact on children's wellbeing.’ (Friday).


  • Science and Technology. The government launched its Science and Technology Framework listing ten key actions including focusing on key technologies like AI and engineering biology, and looking into collaborative funding models, intended in the words of the PM ‘to strengthen the UK’s position as science and technology superpower by 2030.’
  • Spring Budget. The Resolution Foundation examined the state of play as the Chancellor put the final touches to his forthcoming Budget suggesting that while recent positive news on borrowing and energy costs may have given him more leeway, the economy remained fragile and he faced difficult choices in three key areas: cost-of-living, public sector pay and supporting growth.
  • The Great Retirement. The consultancy Public First along with Phoenix Insights added further thoughts on the current issue of older workers retiring early, noting this was driven by a mix of reasons including poor health, low job satisfaction, and for those with assets, less need to carry on working, calling for government and employers to look more closely at the quality of work and support available if they wanted to encourage this group to return to the workforce.
  • Recruitment trends. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation and KPMG reported on latest recruitment trends suggesting that this remained ‘dampened’ due to continuing concerns about the economy with permanent appointments remaining flat albeit with an increase in temporary appointments notably in medical and care roles and in hospitality and catering.
  • Cost-of-living. Barnardo’s published new survey evidence showing how hard the cost-of-living crisis was hitting some families with one in four families struggling to provide food and one in seven falling to payment arrears, calling for the government to target help, such as free school meals, at those most in need.
  • Gender pay gap. Labour marked International Women’s Day by announcing a review of the gender pay gap, to be led by senior figures including the Shadow Chancellor and to form part of Labour’s mission on economic growth.
  • Women’s Day. The consultancy, PwC, reported that the UK had seen ‘an absolute decline’ in women’s employment outcomes in 2021 along with a widening of the gender pay gap although remaining a leading nation in OECD’s Index of women’s employment outcomes, as it published research ahead of International Women’s Day.

More specifically ...


  • Industrial action. Teaching unions intimated that a further attempt to break the deadlock by referring talks to ACAS had been ignored by the government which continued to argue that any talks should only proceed once current action had been called off.
  • Inspections. Ofsted announced that to avoid likely strike action in schools next week, it would confirm in a call on Friday for inspections to take place on the Monday/Tuesday.
  • Careers Report. The Careers and Enterprise Company reported on progress in careers education over 2021/22 drawing on evidence to show more young people claiming to be work ready, work experience recovering to pre-pandemic levels and apprenticeship awareness growing, pointing to work around technical routes and quality experience as priorities for the future.
  • Careers Week. National Careers Week partnered with the Careers and Enterprise Company to launch as part of this year’s National Careers Week, new Student Career Champions who will act as ambassadors and work on careers guidance with year groups across secondary schools in the North of England.
  • School sport. The government committed to providing access to the same sports for both girls and boys along with a minimum two hours of PE a week as it outlined new standards and a package of funding to boost sports activities both in and out of school and build on the successes of the Lionesses.
  • Mental health. The children’s commissioner published a report into the provision of children’s mental health services finding that although spending has increased, waiting times and access to services have generally worsened, calling for stronger partnership working among support bodies and government depts and support for schools around inpatient settings.
  • Pupil disadvantage. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) reported on its roundtable last year in which experts considered how best to measure pupil disadvantage and what could be done to improve things, pointing to three possible policy measures including using a continuity’ measure of disadvantage, adopting a simpler metric for disadvantage and/or looking at household income-based measures for disadvantage.
  • Early Language Programme. The Education Endowment Foundation reported on the Nuffield Early Language Programme offered to reception classes in England as part of Covid recovery, finding that while not all schools were fully able to access the programme those that did saw beneficial effects on pupils’ oral skills and confidence generally.
  • Governance pay. GovernorHub, the body that supports governors, trustees and other professionals working in schools, marked International Women’s Day by highlighting the gap in pay that members, who tend to be women, experience compared to peers working in a similar capacity in other sectors, calling for a better system of benchmarking and support for the future.


  • Teaching bursaries. The government outlined the scope and procedures for FE initial teacher education (ITE) bursaries for 2023/4 which will provide funding support for eligible trainees in STEM subjects as well as computing, English and SEND provision.
  • Apprenticeships. The Independent claimed in a new survey ‘widespread use’ of levy funding to subsidise MBAs as apprenticeships starts for young people under the age of 25 have been steadily falling over recent years.


  • Lifelong Loans. The government published its response to the earlier consultation on creating a Lifelong Loan Entitlement confirming that it will provide from 2025 a flexible system which will enable learners up to the age of 60 to access loans equivalent to 4-years of study which can be used for a variety of different forms of provision that better match their availability.
  • OfS Inquiry. The House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee announced an inquiry into the Office for Students (OfS) setting out a range of issues it was keen to look into, including its overall performance, the nature of its regulatory framework and its relationship with key groups such as government, students and universities themselves.
  • Cost-of-living. The Sutton Trust published new commissioned research on the impact of the cost-of-living on students, showing that many (two-thirds) reported undertaking paid jobs during the week leaving nearly half (49%) of undergraduates missing classes, calling as a result for government to re-consider maintenance grants.
  • Rejoining Horizon. The FT reported on the latest developments around the UK’s move to rejoin the valuable EU Horizon research programme which university leaders are hoping can happen soon but where rumours persist that the PM is yet to be convinced and that delays might be inevitable leading to a reduction in funding available.
  • Digital Transformation. JISC set out a new framework, developed with associate bodies, to support digital transformation in higher education,Whe highlighting the importance of six elements including organisational culture, knowledge development, partnerships and physical infrastructure.
  • New Institute. The University of Nottingham announced the launch of a new national Institute of Technical Skills and Strategy, funded by Research England, hosted by the University and building on the TALENT programme and Gatsby’s Technician Commitment, with the aim of developing technical know-how and talent across the country.
  • Rent guarantors. The Independent highlighted the issue of rent guarantors for students who have been in care or who don’t have parents to rely on when a rent guarantor is needed, pointing to cases of such students having to pay thousands of pounds up front and calling for fairer system of rents to be adopted.
  • Wellbeing analytics. The government’s HE student support champion , Professor Edward Peck in conjunction with JISC, called in a new report for wider use of data models including both engagement and wellbeing analytics, to help target student support better.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Once sat through a hell PD day where the pretender delivering it said, 'Turn to the person next to you...and tell them something you've never told anyone before.' WHY, MAN, WHY” - @tombennett71.
  • “Anyone else feel completely disengaged from #IWD2023 this year? It feels like inequality is only getting worse and a no amount of of tokenistic rebrands, 'girlboss' tweets or shocking data could ever make the tide turn. Just me?” -@BereccaStewart.
  • “For most young children, visiting a museum entails being dragged around in the faint hope of an ice cream in the café afterwards' -@ tes.
  • “I quizzed my daughter, "If there’s a bee in my hand, what’s in my eye?" She frowned, shook her head and responded, "I don't know, what?" I smiled and answered... "Beauty, because beauty is in the eye of the bee-holder!"” -@ThePunnyWorld.

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “That’s why we’re setting out 10 key actions under a bold new plan to cement our place as a global science and technology superpower by 2030” – The PM on the launch of a new Science and Technology Framework.
  • “It has the potential to be transformational” – the Russell Group heralds the Lifelong Loan Entitlement.
  • “The reforms will not end all Applied General qualifications” – the Skills Minister responds to a question in Parliament about applied general qualifications.
  • “We’re seeing a huge amount of Friday absence that wasn’t there before [the pandemic]” – the children’s commissioner expresses concerns to MPs about the number of pupils missing school on a Friday.
  • “For the first time in many years, we now have a broad consensus about what excellence looks like” – Baroness (Nicky) Morgan, Chair of the Careers and Enterprise Company on the company’s latest progress report.
  • “This is the legacy that we want to live much longer than us as a team” – the captain of the Lionesses welcomes the open access to sports for girls and boys.

Important numbers

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

  • £30bn. The extra amount that the Chancellor has from extra receipts and reductions in borrowing to help him with his Budget, according to the Resolution Foundation.
  • 1.46m. The number of women kept out of the labour market because of caring responsibilities, according to a new report from the TUC.
  • 45%. The number of students applying to university this year who are said to have ‘no idea’ over how the student finance system works, according to a survey from The Student Room.
  • 38%. The number of undergraduates undertaking 15 or fewer hours a week of paid work, according to a survey from the Sutton Trust.
  • 74%. The number of pupils said to be work ready by Yr 13, according to a progress report from the Careers and Enterprise Company.
  • 32%. The number of parents that rely on a form of debt to pay for their childcare costs, according to the Pregnant Then Screwed campaign group.
  • 150. The number of new outlets Greggs is preparing to open as it rides the waves according to a report on the BBC.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • ASCL Annual Conference. (Friday 10 March – Saturday 11 March).
  • Education Committee witness session. (Tuesday 14 March).
  • WonkHE’s event on ‘The Secret Life of Students.’ (Tuesday 14 March).
  • Budget Day. (Wednesday 15 March).

Other stories

  • Changing attitudes. The last four decades have seen the UK become generally more socially liberal. Although not in everything. That’s according to evidence collected by King’s College for the latest World Values Survey. Data for the UK was gathered last year and shows for instance attitudes towards homosexuality, divorce, euthanasia and abortion all now much more socially accepting over recent decades. Recognition of euthanasia for instance has risen 20%. 2010 seems to have been a notable decade for a liberal shift in attitudes. That’s not to say there aren’t things that are regarded as not acceptable. Not paying transport fares, claiming benefits to which you’re not entitled and not paying your taxes are among the no-noes. However, it still leaves the UK as one of the most socially liberal among the 120 countries in the Survey. Details can be found here.
  • When I grow up I want to be. As part of National Careers Week, BBC Bitesize surveyed 13-16 yr olds asking what job they’d like when they left school. Surprisingly perhaps the second most popular job proved to be a teacher. The most popular job was engineer, followed by teacher and then a doctor. Being a footballer came in a number six. Over a quarter put feeling good about what you do and being happy as the most important thing in a job. A link to the survey 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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