Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 24 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:

Some worrying stories this week with absent pupils, teacher recruitment, school inspections, wage stagnation, and inflation all under the spotlight.

In other education-related news this week, Ofqual published its guide for learners taking exams and assessments this year, and its market report on qualifications for last year. Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) reflected on the recent Budget decision to consult on their future: 'silencing the voice of local business will cost money not save it'. A commissioned report highlighted the economic impact of Cambridge University on the UK economy. £11.70 on every £1 spent. And the government issued an International Technology Strategy.  

Details on these and other stories below, starting with a run through of some of the top education related headlines for the week. 

  • Teacher recruitment and retention has been in the news this week, with the NFER publishing its latest annual teacher market report for England, and the House of Commons Education Committee announcing a new inquiry into teacher recruitment and retention. “My colleagues and I will examine the current situation regarding recruitment and retention, as well as actions the Government has already taken”, the Chair of the Committee explained. According to ASCL’s Geoff Barton: “teacher shortages have been a problem for many years, but the situation has sunk to a new low in the wake of the pandemic”. The NFER figures seem to bear this out. Initial teacher training recruitment ‘is likely to be 20% or more below target this year for primary, and nine out of 17 secondary subjects’. The subjects most at risk of under recruitment from last year include: Physics, D/T, Computing, and Modern Foreign Languages. So, what’s to be done? Improvements in pay would certainly help. There are subject bursaries already, and the government remains committed to a £30,000 starting salary, but the report suggests a minimum 4.1% pay increase is needed for next year. Workload remains an issue, and in particular some of the stress around data collection and dealing with the tons of policies that schools now have to manage. But, an interesting and more recent issue – given the current changes in work practices – is that of flexi-working. Many teachers see their peers in offices reconfiguring work demands around their home priorities and would like opportunities to do the same, please. In fairness, many teachers acknowledge the importance of being ‘on site’ and some schools do offer part-time and other options. But it would be an attractive option for many. 
  • Reforming inspections. News this week of the tragic death of a headteacher following an Ofsted inspection has prompted further calls for reform of the inspection system. What’s being suggested? Many favour a report card system that would do away with inspection grades and provide a more rounded picture of a school’s performance. A model for this was first put forward by Labour in 2008 and has recently been resurrected by Bridget Phillipson, the current shadow education secretary. It was proposed too by The Times Education Commission in its major report last summer, and featured in ASCL’s 2021 ‘Blueprint for a Fairer Education System’. Plenty of others have been pitching in. Just this week the group of headteachers, known as the Headteachers’ Roundtable, republished their alternative proposals for school accountability, while Sir Anthony Seldon published a leading article in The Times calling for Ofsted to be replaced. Moving to a report card approach remains the favoured option, but as Sam Freedman argued in an article in The New Statesman this week, this ‘wouldn’t cut it.’ That’s because it would still bear the entire weight of school regulation. There’s also the separate question of child protection. Sam called for a wider information approach overseen by an independent or local regulator. Quite a challenge for the incoming chief inspector.
  • Ghost children. So-called ghost children have featured heavily this week. They were the subject of leading articles in The Spectator and The Times; a podcast on Radio 5; and a major report by a think tank. The term ‘ghost children’ refers to those children who are on school rolls, but rarely in school. According to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) – which originally highlighted the problem in a report over a year ago – the problem was exacerbated by the pandemic when some 100,000 children failed to return regularly once schools reopened. That number has risen to a ‘staggering 140,000’ according to new evidence from the CSJ this week. As they put it, that’s 'the equivalent of 137 entire schools where the children are mostly missing education'. 'Children are falling through a gap in the system into a black hole' according to The Spectator. Many of the children are from disadvantaged backgrounds, vulnerable to abuse, as the Radio 5 series highlights, and in danger of falling into criminal activity, let alone missing out on education. The Education Committee has an Inquiry out on the matter, and the government has taken some steps, appointing Attendance Monitors, Advisers and so on. But the big problem is the lack of precise data that can help track attendance, and on multi-agency support. The recent dropping of the Schools Bill with its proposals for local registers hasn’t helped.
  • The power of poetry. UNICEF’S ‘Poems for Peace’ initiative is a sobering reminder of the horrors and impact unleashed by war. Launched just three years ago it offers an emotive voice for young people caught up in wars around the world, many of whom recounted their experiences and feelings this week as part of World Poetry Day. The event provides, according to UNICEF, an important voice for young people. As might be expected, the current conflict in Ukraine featured prominently this year, with UNICEF reporting it had received over 1,700 submissions from children and young people affected by the war. The UK’s own National Poetry Day takes place on the 6th October this year.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘University strikes continue despite new offer’ (Monday).
  • ‘Ofsted inspection to go ahead after headteacher planned boycott' (Tuesday).
  • ‘Teacher pay: Union calls for long-term deal’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Teacher vacancies in England 93% higher than pre-pandemic, study finds’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Ofsted boss rejects calls to pause school inspections’ (Friday).


  • International Technology Strategy. The government launched an International Technology Strategy providing what it called ‘a roadmap for reaching tech superpower status by 2030’ through the adoption of six strategic priorities including investment and global partnerships, with a focus on six ‘priority’ technologies including AI, quantum technologies, and engineering biology.
  • Online harm. The Alan Turing Institute reported that a majority of respondents thought that the government should be able to issue large fines for platforms that fail to deal with harmful content as it published new survey showing that a majority of the public had seen or received harmful content online at least once.
  • Digital gap. The British Academy called in a new Briefing for the creation of a Digital Inclusion Unit in the (new) Dept of Science, Innovation and Technology as it reported on its commissioned work into digital and tech gaps, highlighting the extent of different levels of engagement across the country.
  • Wages gap. The Resolution Foundation highlighted the extent of the wages gap in the UK arguing that some 15 years of economic stagnation had left workers £11,000 a year worse off with poorer households particularly vulnerable.
  • Early childhood. The Princess of Wales helped launch the new Business Taskforce for Early Childhood which following the creation of the Shaping Us campaign earlier last month will bring business leaders together to provide support and resources for young children

More specifically ...


  • Ofsted inspections. Teacher unions called for a pause in inspections and reform of the current system following the suicide of a headteacher whose school had been downgraded at a recent inspection. 
  • Ofsted response. Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector, issued a Statement saying that inspections remain an important part of raising standards in schools, but acknowledging that there was a ‘legitimate debate to be had about the use of the current grading system.
  • The teacher market. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) published its latest annual report into teacher recruitment and retention, suggesting that despite a slight improvement this year, recruitment trends remained low particularly in key subjects, with pay, workload and flexi working options all seen as factors.
  • Teacher recruitment and retention. The House of Commons Education Committee announced the launch of an inquiry into teacher recruitment and retention in state schools in England, looking at things like the current challenges, the impact of training and development and whether anything could be learned from other sectors.
  • Teachers’ pay. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) published its response to the Pay Review Body looking into the pay award for teachers for 2023/4, calling among other things for ‘a long-term commitment’ to reversing the longstanding fall in pay, the scrapping of performance-related-pay and consideration given to workloads and wellbeing.
  • School Trusts. The Confederation of School Trusts announced a new inquiry into ‘Sector-led Trust Improvement’ with a panel of experts confirmed to help identify answers to four key questions including ‘How can trusts gain assurance about the quality of their work and capacity to improve?’ and how to build sector capacity and capability for improvement.
  • This year’s exams. Ofqual published its Student Guide for exams and assessments this year running through what students need to know in terms of arrangements and planning before, during and after exams as things return to normal post-pandemic.
  • Qualifications market. Ofqual published its latest annual Qualifications Market Report covering the 2021/22 year with detailed figures on the size of the market, types of qualifications available, and the numbers of certificates issued, pointing to an increase of the latter for vocational and other qualifications up by 5.8% on the previous year. 
  • Ghost children. The Centre for Social Justice called for more attendance monitors, increased support for schools and families, and improved attendance data as it published a further report highlighting the growing problem of children on roll but not in school.
  • Early maths. The Nuffield Foundation reported that the ONE project on early years intervention in maths developed by researchers at Oxford, would now be passed over to the Education Endowment Foundation for further evaluation following initial positive results.
  • Career guidance. The Gatsby Foundation launched consultation on its Good Career Guidance programme of work and in particular the system of Benchmarks, looking to publish results next year as it prepared for another ten years of career guidance support.


  • T levels. The government confirmed that it was changing requirements from this September so that when students took the Core and Core Project for the first time they didn’t have to take them in the same assessment series.
  • Careers in construction. The government outlined in a new blog how it was helping people access training and careers in construction, pointing to T levels, apprenticeships and Skills Bootcamps as among the valued routes into the sector.
  • LEPs. The chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Network reflected on the challenges involved in devolving LEP functions to a local level as signalled in the recent Budget, suggesting it could be an expensive process and whatever happens, business should retain ‘a meaningful voice.’ 
  • 10th The 5% Club, which encourages employers ‘to extend workplace learning schemes to 5% of their workforce within 5 years of joining the scheme,’ heralded its tenth anniversary with a Westminster reception and a growing list of employer organisations (currently 820) joining up.


  • Cost-of-living. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students reported on its inquiry into the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on students with evidence form over 70 Student Unions and 800 individual students providing varying stories of how it was affecting their lives and studies, calling among other things for increased hardship funding, the restoration of maintenance grants, and the sharing of good support practice among universities.
  • LLE Bill. Wonkhe provided a helpful summary of the latest debate in the House of Commons on the Lifelong Learning Bill where a number of amendments particularly around costs and the application of a credit system ere discussed but not adopted.
  • Cambridge impact. The consultancy London Economics reported on the economic value of Cambridge university to the UK economy pointing to a total impact of just under £30bn for 2020/21, based on research, teaching, direct spending and tourism. 
  • Skills matches. The National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) examined how far graduate skills were a good fit for their jobs suggesting on the basis of a new indicator that nearly 33% of UK graduates worked in fields unrelated to their degree facing as a result poorer wage returns.
  • Degree apprenticeships. The Institute of Student Employers (ISE) reported on their recent findings from parents about their views on apprenticeships suggesting that nearly a half of parents surveyed were unaware of degree apprenticeships and that there was a general lack of knowledge about how much they cost, who pays and how to apply for them, calling as a result for better marketing to parents.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Our Lifelong Learning Bill is speeding through parliament and bringing us another step closer to transforming student finance so people can retrain and upskill, no matter where they are in their career” | @halfon4harlowMP
  • “I wrote a Tweet about banners last year. I'll share it again. If you want to display a banner on your school, use it to share quotes from pupils, parents or visitors. Use it to celebrate an achievement or your uniqueness! But don't use it to simply share an Ofsted grading” | @RetirementTales
  • “I love the aroma of fresh toffee in the morning!” “Toffee?” “Sorry - I meant coffee. It was a smelling mistake" | @MooseAllain

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “As firms have passed on rising labour and other costs to consumers, inflationary pressures have broadened to sectors in which price setting is driven more by domestic costs than traded goods prices” – the Governor of the Bank of England writes to the Chancellor following the latest rise in inflation.
  • “This is definitely not what normal looks like. This is what failure looks like, and we urgently need an economic strategy to turn this state of affairs around” – the Resolution Foundation reports on the wage gap.
  • “To say we remain puzzled as to why Government wants to put at risk a growth engine that has worked so well for them is an understatement” – LEPs reflect on the government’s recent decision to devolve their functions.
  • “It also means that academics comparing student writing styles between assessments might no longer use that approach to detect academic misconduct” – the Times Higher quotes from an academic on the impact of the latest GPT model, GPT-4.
  • “We must urgently identify solutions to ensure pupils receive consistent and quality teaching, and that teachers feel supported in their roles” – the Education Committee launches an inquiry into teacher recruitment and retention. 
  • “Broadly speaking, a student who would have achieved, say, a grade 7 or A grade in a GCSE or an A level before the pandemic will be just as likely to get a grade 7 or A grade in 2023, even if their performance in the assessments is a little weaker this year” – Ofqual publishes its Student Guide for this year’s exams and assessments.
  • “The broader debate about reforming inspections to remove grades is a legitimate one, but it shouldn’t lose sight of how grades are currently used” – Ofsted’s chief inspector responds to calls for reform of the inspection system.
  • “Carrying on as normal is not an acceptable answer” – the NAHT calls for Ofsted inspections to pause and consider reform.
  • “If, then, we want to seriously reform Ofsted, moving to report card assessments rather than grades won’t cut it” – Sam Freedman on scrapping Ofsted ratings and moving to a report card approach.

Important numbers

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

  • 23.9%. The number of respondents who said they were not confident that the latest Budget would ‘make a difference to their situation,’ according to a survey from PwC.
  • 10.4%. The latest CPI inflation figure, up from 10.1% previously largely due to rising food and service costs according to latest figures from the ONS.
  • 86%. The number of 18-34 yr old respondents who had witnessed harmful content online, according to a survey from the Alan Turing Institute. 
  • £29.8bn. The amount that Cambridge University contributes to the UK economy, largely through research-related and knowledge exchange activities according to a report from London Economics.
  • 229. The number of Ofqual recognised awarding bodies in 2021/22, including 46 non-active and 38 apprenticeship only, according to Ofqual’s market report.
  • 140,000. The number of children on school rolls but hardly ever in school during last summer term, according to new report from the Centre for Social Justice.
  • 92.2%. The absence rate for pupils in state schools in England for the week commencing 6 March, according to latest indicative figures from government.
  • 23%. The number of secondary schools in England at or over capacity last year, slightly up on the previous year but down at primary according to latest government figures.
  • 70%. The number of primary schools in England (40% of secondary schools) that already offer ‘wraparound’ childcare until at least 4.30pm, albeit with regional differences according to Teacher Tapp.
  • 65.3Mbit/s. The average download speed for UK home broadband connections as of last autumn, up 10% according to the latest report from Ofcom.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • The Bridge Group webinar on ‘Online Outreach: Lessons learned three years on’ (Monday 27 March).
  • Education Committee witness session on SEND (Tuesday 28 March).
  • The Campus webinar on ‘University Admissions: A Flawed Process?’ (Tuesday 28 March).
  • Bett 2023 (Wednesday 29 March-Friday 31 March).
  • UPP/HEPI seminar on the recent report on ‘Public Attitudes to Higher Education in England’ (Thursday 30 March). 

Other stories

  • If you’re happy and you know it. Once again Finland has come out on top in the latest World Happiness Report rankings. That’s six years in a row. Denmark, Iceland and Israel came second, third and fourth respectively. The UK came in slightly lower this year at 19th, behind the USA (15th) and Germany (16th) but just ahead of France (21st.)  The top 20 countries in the Index haven’t changed a great deal over the last decade although Lithuania moved up 30+ places this time to break into the top 20. Lebanon and Afghanistan remain the two unhappiest countries.The survey of some 137 countries looks at six different factors covering income, health, generosity, having someone to count on, freedom to make decisions and an absence of corruption, and is conducted by Gallup. This latest survey issued to mark World Happiness Day this week covered the years 2020-2022 and interestingly shows that despite the pandemic during this period, ‘life satisfaction averaged just as high as in the pre-pandemic years.’ Though sadly not for everyone. A link to the 166-page report is here
  • Missing from the Budget. An interesting article in The New Statesman this week suggested that one group had been pretty much been left out of the recent Budget. That was the so-called Gen Z. There were announcements on pensions at one end of the age spectrum and on childcare at the other end but for Gen Z, those defined as being born between 1997 and 2012, there was zilch. Given that a survey last autumn reckoned that over half of that group felt negative about the future of the UK economy and of UK politics, the Budget may just have further reinforced their negativity. What they do worry about according to the same survey is the cost-of-living, being financially secure, coping with mental health issues, being able to buy their own property and climate change. Not a great deal in the Budget perhaps to reassure them on any of these things. A link to the article 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 and relies on donations to continue its work.

You can sign up here to receive access to Education Eye straight from your inbox on publication.

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.



EdCentral Logo