Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 31 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:

Plenty going on in this final week before Easter.

Big talking points of the week have included artificial intelligence (AI) where the government launched a white paper 'to unleash the benefits of AI'; and the membership body for qualification bodies issued guidance on its use in assessment. Teacher unions headed off to consult their members on the latest pay offer from the government, which seems likely to be rejected. And UCAS launched an important national debate on access to higher education as it revealed data suggesting a million applicants in 2030 alone. 

In other education news this week, the BETT EdTech Conference has been in full swing; the government outlined a new framework for the development of the Academy system; the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) reported on what’s been happening to college pay in England (spoiler alert: it’s been going down in real terms); and the HE Policy Institute (HEPI) published an important hurrah for the Humanities.

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

  • Teachers’ strikes. The government said it was a final offer, the NEU said it was an insult, the headteachers’ union said it was inadequate. After six days of intensive negotiations, we seem to have reached an impasse in the latest talks between government and teacher unions on pay and conditions, and the threat of further industrial action looms. The offer of a £1,000 one-off payment this year and 4.3% next year, will be put to respective union members, but the NEU, whose members will declare on Monday, is recommending rejection. There are at least four bones of contention. The offer is below what’s been offered to teachers in Scotland and Wales; schools may have to find some of the money themselves; it feels more like a pay cut than a pay rise given the current rate of inflation; and it doesn’t tackle what the NAHT called 'the long-term issue of pay erosion'. As funding expert Luke Sibieta explained, the offer would see new teachers catch up to 2010 levels, but leave the rest of the profession 13% behind. There’s likely to be further sabre-rattling at the forthcoming Easter Conferences, but the worry now is how to avoid any disruption as the exam season looms.
  • AI and education. Further evidence this week of the growing impact of AI on education, with the DfE issuing a general statement on its use, and the Joint Council for Qualifications publishing guidelines on the risks related to assessment. In both cases, the information is more summative than specific. The DfE, for instance, suggest that ‘when used appropriately’, it (AI) can free up teachers’ time, but also point to risks over personal data, online harm, and its use in formal assessments. Further detail on this can be found in the guidance issued to teachers and assessors this week by the Joint Council for Qualifications, the membership body for major qualification, and awarding bodies. They list various ways in which teachers/assessors might spot inappropriate use of chatbots – such as the appearance of different styles of language, or spellings, or unclear references, to name a few. Schools and colleges already have policies and procedures in place on assessment, but if in doubt, the recommendation is that they consider doing some work in class ‘under direct supervision’ or using questioning with pupils to ascertain levels of knowledge. Ultimately, if misuse is detected, as with any malpractice, there are reporting procedures. It is, as the guidance says, all about protecting the integrity of qualifications. As they explained, 'Any use of AI which means students have not independently demonstrated their own attainment is likely to be considered malpractice'. 
  • More on AI. Many people have likened regulating AI to a fool’s errand; good in theory – impossible in practice. The EU and the UK have both put forward their proposals for how to do it this week. The EU is opting for legislation. Under the Artificial Intelligence Act, it would attempt to classify the level of risk an AI system could pose and apply sanctions accordingly. AI systems – such as video games, that pose limited risk – would have to meet minimal requirements, while those that pose a greater risk around, for example, personal data, would face stronger regulation. In all, there would be four tiers of risk: minimal, limited, high, and unacceptable, and the whole thing would be overseen by a European Artificial Intelligence Board. As for the UK, where details were set out in a White Paper this week, the government is not, initially at least, opting for legislation, preferring what it calls ‘an agile and iterative approach’ built around five principles: security; transparency; fairness; accountability; and redress. Things may be put on a statutory footing in time, but the aim, as the minister put it, is to be proportionate and flexible in the first instance, to allow the UK to build up a leading global role in this area.
  • Journey to a million. Quite a story from UCAS and colleagues this week. They suggest that by the end of this decade some one million people could well apply for higher education in the UK in a single year. That’s 30% up on what we have currently. The claim comes as debate continues about the benefits, costs and opportunities around student numbers. Just this week, The Sunday Times reported that the government was looking again at the case for applying minimum entry standards for university. So, where are these numbers coming from? UCAS, which has done some extensive research on demographic and population trends, pointed to a number of factors. The continuing demographic bulge of 18/19 year-olds; further demand from international applicants – a 75.6% increase in the number of non-EU applicants for instance – more young people staying on and completing their L3 qualifications; growing demands for high skills; and so on. It’s all prompted UCAS to launch a major national debate about the impact, challenges and opportunity provided by this so-called 'journey to a million’. It’s hoping to garner the thoughts of '50 key thinkers', the first of which were published this week, and collate them in a major report in the summer. It could be an interesting read.

Please note the next Education Eye is scheduled for after the Easter break.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘UK higher education applicants to rise to 1m a year by 2030, warns UCAS’ (Monday).
  • ‘Teachers’ strikes: Keegan says pay deal is final offer’ (Tuesday). 
  • ‘Keegan: Teachers’ work could be ‘transformed’ by AI’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘UK re-entry into EU Horizon programme threatened by cash dispute’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Home education soars in the wake of the pandemic’ (Friday).


  • Anti-Social Behaviour. The government launched a new Action Plan to tackle anti-social behaviour built around three features: treating such behaviour with greater urgency by using for example a new digital reporting tool and a new Immediate Justice service; cracking down on aspects like illegal drugs; and giving the police and agencies greater tools to deal with such behaviour.
  • Youth investment. The government announced further funding (£90m+) and support for youth services, uniformed groups and youth centres in need of repair as part of a further tranche of funding from the Youth Investment Fund and the Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan. 
  • AI White Paper. The government set out its thinking on regulating AI following a call for views last year, proposing what it called a pro-innovation framework built around five principles incorporating security, transparency, and accountability, all designed to strengthen the UK’s position as a global leader in AI. 
  • Public services. The Resolution Foundation published a further report from its 2030 Economy Inquiry pointing to the impact of a long-term lack of public investment which has seen public services such as transport and healthcare left in a weakened state, calling as a result for decisions about public investment to be taken away from the Treasury and placed within parliament.
  • Jobs trends. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation published its latest briefing on job adverts covering the first week of March and showing a rise in job adverts notably for secondary school teachers along with construction workers and the clergy.
  • Worker wellbeing. The CBI launched a Health and Work Taskforce working with industry CEOs, the TUC and Health Foundation to help improve the health and wellbeing of the working age population over the next 18 months, with a major Conference planned for this September.
  • Long Covid support. The TUC and Long Covid Support Employment Group called for greater support and job flexibility for those coping with Long Covid as they released a new report showing that such people were often treated poorly at work and left suffering financial implications.
  • Worker surveillance. The think tank IPPR reported on the issue of worker surveillance which developed considerably during the pandemic and has the potential ‘to create imbalances between workers and employers,’ calling among other things for better transparency and protection around data collection and monitoring practices. 
  • Ofcom Strategy. Ofcom published its Work Plan for 2023/24 as it takes on new responsibilities around online harm and telecoms security while looking to continue its focus on four key priorities: ‘internet we can rely on; media we trust and value; a safer life online; and enabling wireless services in the broader economy.’

More specifically ...


  • Teachers’ pay. The government put forward the case on its latest pay offer to teacher unions arguing that the one-off payment of £1000 this year and an average 4.5% rise for next year, along with reforms to workloads, constituted a good offer for which schools would receive additional funds and thereby not on average have to make cuts elsewhere.
  • BETT presentation. The Education Secretary addressed the BETT Conference where she highlighted the government’s current work around developing technology in schools pointing to the pledge of having all schools connected to gigabit broadband by 2025, the launch of the latest set of technology standards, and the DfE’s recent statement on the use of AI in education. 
  • AI statement. The DfE issued ‘a position statement’ on the use of AI in education contexts, acknowledging that it could help free up teachers’ time but equally pose risks over data, online harm and misuse in student work and assessment. 
  • AI and exams. The Joint Council for Qualifications issued guidance on the risks associated with chatbots such as ChatGPT and their use/misuse in assessment, encouraging schools and colleges to ensure their policies and procedures in this area were up to date and understood, and to consider what was needed to prevent misuse.
  • School buildings. The government announced additional funding to help improve school and college buildings, although unions expressed concern that the amount promised, £2.5bn, included funding for other streams.
  • Academies development. The government followed up its Regulatory and Commissioning Review by setting out a new framework for the development of the Academy system, with pledges to streamline its regulatory approach, improve the approach to commissioning and generally do everything to “support the transition to a dynamic, self-improving system.”
  • Trust leadership. The government published a content framework for aspiring CEO’s of large multi-academy trusts (MATs) listing the sorts of knowledge, skills and behaviours that could be used for developing and guiding such leaders in future. 
  • The campaign group ‘More Than A Score’ called on the government ‘to move away from SATs as a measure of school quality’ as it published new survey evidence suggesting that parents were more concerned with children developing a love of learning than passing a set of standardised tests.
  • ‘Ghost’ children. The government set out a response to the growing concern about persistent pupil absentees, so-called ‘ghost’ children, highlighting the importance of regular school attendance and pointing to steps being taken to ensure this through the release of new guidance last year and attendance advisors and mentorships this year.
  • Free school meals. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) examined the provision of free school meals where further expansion remains under review pointing to some of the current anomalies such as the lack of a taper and the use of the income gap ‘test’ suggesting that reforms here could help.
  • Gender and safeguarding. The think tank Policy Exchange called for parents to be automatically informed if a child discloses feelings of gender distress in schools along with an independent review of Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) materials as it published a report on gender and safeguarding in schools, suggesting the existence of ‘a safeguarding blind spot when it came to gender.’


  • Staff pay. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) examined what’s been happening to the pay of college teachers in England over the last decade particularly in relation to that of school teachers, finding a considerable decline in real terms and a widening gap with school teachers with a high turnover of staff the inevitable result.
  • Apprenticeship ambitions. Rob Halfon, the skills minister, wrote to apprenticeship providers to thank them for their work and to list the further action being taken including the launch next month of an Apprentice Support Centre and the scrapping of the apprentice cap for small businesses as part of the ambition of hitting an achievement rate of 67% by 2024/25.
  • Strategic guidance. The government set out its strategic guidance for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) for 2023/24 listing a number of deliverables by the end of 2024 under three core priorities: the development of an employer-led, high-quality skills system; a high-quality apprenticeship system; and a similarly high-quality technical education system.  
  • Key dates. Ofqual published on its new Information Hub key dates and deadlines from each of the main awarding organisations for L3 vocational and technical qualifications for this year.
  • Skills reform. The Skills Minister Rob Halfon outlined the skills reforms programme the government was currently undertaking in a speech at a German Industry UK event, using his familiar ‘ladder of opportunity’ metaphor to highlight such features as quality provision, apprenticeships and careers empowerment.
  • Mental health report. The Association of Colleges (AoC) published its latest report into mental health issues in the sector with survey evidence showing a significant increase in concerns notably among 16-18 yr olds but with colleges doing what they could, expanding their services and appointing senior mental health leads but looking for greater help and support particularly from aligned services.
  • T level placements. The government confirmed that employers offering placements for T level students from April 2023 to March 2024 would be able to claim up to £25,000 in total for legitimate costs such as equipment, insurance, training and admin.
  • College leadership. The Education and Training Foundation announced the award of a £9.5m contract from the government, working with the AoC and others to provide enhanced leadership and governance programmes within the FE sector until 2025. 
  • Levy survey. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation published the results of its survey among 200 employers last month showing majority support for reform of the apprenticeship levy to make it more flexible, simpler to use and accessible for temporary workers. 
  • Price increases. City and Guilds announced it was conducting a price review of its services and products and would announce any increases in the summer.


  • Demand for places. UCAS and partners kickstarted a major national debate about a likely major increase in demand for higher education places over the next few years as increased demographic and international demand worked through, calling on ’50 key thinkers from across the UK’ to offer their thoughts on how some of the challenges this might bring, such as access and equality, might be tackled. 
  • 2023/24 Priorities. The government set out the strategic funding priorities for the Office for Students (OfS) for the 2023/24 year with funding particularly directed at degree apprenticeships in the form of a £40m development fund, along with L4/5 provision, high-cost subjects, mental health and preparation for the Lifelong Loan Entitlement.
  • QAA de-designation. The government issued its response to the consultation on the de-designation of the QAA as the quality body, acknowledging that the majority of the 47 responses disagreed with the move but confirming the procedure to be followed and calling on the Office for Students to consider the points raised.
  • Access and participation. The Office for Students (OfS) published responses and further details on its work around equality of opportunity pointing to the amended access and participation plans from universities, the implementation of the Equality of Opportunity Risk Register and the work being done to support students facing cost-of-living pressures. 
  • The Humanities. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) and partners published a new report highlighting the value of the humanities to education and to work, pointing to the strengths UKHE has in this area and the wide skills developed through such study, and arguing accordingly that the humanities should not be seen as a lesser alternative or in competition to STEM subjects 
  • Twinning initiative. UniversitiesUK reported on the twinning scheme set up between UK universities and their counterparts in the Ukraine one year on, with over a hundred such partnerships now in place and research funding supporting 33 of these.
  • Graduate hires. The Institute of Student Employers reported that new graduates and apprentices are likely to be expected to work from home two or three days a week as they published details from their latest Student Development Survey with the shift to hybrid working increasing the emphasis on human skills. 
  • Digital lifelong learning. The RSA and partners examined in a new report the drivers as well as the barriers that face lifelong learning innovators as they look to scale up internationally, calling on national and local governments to develop more supportive environments to help digital innovators succeed.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “I need to be plain with you ... it's likely that we will be considering strike action to join our sister unions ... you can't deny it, the size of teachers' demonstrations has brought the govt to the table” | @ NAHTnews
  • “Schools may want 'to consider the approach to homework and other forms of unsupervised study as necessary to account for the availability of generative artificial intelligence', says @educationgovuk” | @tes
  • “AI is here- DfE response? "consider reviewing your homework policy" I'm not sure that's the level of response required for technology that changes not onlyassessment validity but also the purpose of learning. We need a much deeper think about this” | @paulhaigh
  • “Teachers who work in the most deprived areas are the least likely to eat lunch. (Possibly because their lunches are usually shorter) | @TeacherTapp
  • “Is there anything more difficult to write than the titles of personal emails? Virginia Woolf didn't have to title her letters, WHY MUST I?” | @clairestrickett
  • “Just told a colleague that we've got our kid a chip and pin machine to facilitate the tooth fairy going cashless, and they believed me, so my day has peaked already” | @mcgregormt

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “The public have rightly had enough – which is why I am determined to restore people’s confidence that those responsible will be quickly and visibly punished” – the PM announces a new anti-social behaviour action plan.
  • “AI has the potential to make Britain a smarter, healthier and happier place to live and work” – the minister launches the AI White Paper.
  • “Ultimately this is an economic challenge as much as an education one and will have profound impacts on the current and future shape of the UK” – the chief executive of UCAS launches a debate on future HE student numbers.
  • “I want the UK to have a piece of this pie” – skills minister Rob Halfon praises the German vocational system in a speech to a German Industry event and calls for something similar for the UK.
  • “While I am supportive of these new technical-based qualifications, they are in no way a direct replacement for the ones that will be lost” – College CEO Sam Parrett on the T levels v BTEC debate.
  • “We want to reach a trust landscape with coherent geographical clusters, that preserves local choice for parents and benefits from the capacity of multi-academy trusts able to take on and turn around underperforming schools” – the government sets out a new framework for development of the Academy system.
  • “Not only is the offer on pay entirely out of step with the rest of the UK, it is also not fully funded” – the NEU respond to the government’s latest pay offer.
  • “Across the sector burnout is widespread” – The Guardian editorial focuses on the teaching profession.
  • “I’m not the first Education Secretary to say that when it comes to tech, what schools need is stuff that just works, that solves a real problem” – the Education Secretary addresses the BETT Conference about tech developments in school.
  • “AI tools must only be used when the conditions of the assessment permit the use of the internet and where the student is able to demonstrate that the final submission is the product of their own independent work and independent thinking” – the joint council for qualifications issues guidance on the use of AI in assessments.

Important numbers

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

  • 31%. The number of respondents surveyed who expect their pay to be frozen or decline in the next year, according to PwC’s latest Consumer Credit Confidence report.
  • £28bn a year. The cost to the UK economy of people taking time off because of work-related stress and burnout, according to new research from AXA UK and the CEBR.
  • The number of UK scientists who will shadow MPs and civil servants next week as part of a Pairing Scheme started 20+ years ago by the Royal Society to learn about each other’s worlds.
  • 30%. The increase in the number of higher education applicants by 2030, according to projections from UCAS and partners.
  • 18%. The drop in real terms of college teachers pay in England over the last decade, according to the IfS.
  • 9.2%. The increase in higher level adult skill participation and training over the last year, according to latest government figures.
  • 4.1%. The drop in apprenticeship starts for the first two quarters of the year compared to the same period last year, according to latest government figures.
  • 90%. The number of respondent colleges now with a designated Senior Mental Health Lead, according to a survey from the AoC.
  • £42m. The amount of funding announced under the Local Needs Fund to help with low attainment pupils in priority areas, according to the government.
  • £7,400. The net income tax threshold for means tested free school meals which currently leaves 1.7m families entitled to universal credit but not to free school meals, according to the IfS.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Parliament on Easter recess (Thursday 30 March – Monday 17 April).
  • NEU Annual Conference (Monday 3 April – Thursday 6 April).

Other stories

  • Happiness rules. The latest World Happiness Guide published by the UN last week had Finland as the world’s happiest country. That’s six years in a row so what’s their secret? This week, the i newspaper went to speak with Finnish residents to try and find out. There was plenty of good advice such as ‘work hard but don’t build your identity around your career,’ ‘enjoy a relationship with nature and ‘remember that a good life doesn’t have to be luxurious.’ All helpful mantras perhaps but perhaps the key lies in the Finnish concept of ‘Sisu,’ described in a BBC article a few years ago as “strength, perseverance in a task that some may see as crazy;” determination in the face of adversity as one put it. The Finns are even by the way offering four-day masterclasses in how to be happy. A link to the article is here
  • Teens on screen. Ofcom’s latest delve into ‘children’s Media Lives, a long-term study of the impact and experiences of social media on a group of 8 -17 yr olds, reinforces perhaps many perceptions about how such platforms are affecting young people’s lives. Youtube apparently remains the most popular site followed by TikTok and Snapchat.Young people appear to be ‘gravitating towards dramatic online videos which appear designed to maximise stimulation but require minimal effort.’ Gossip, conflict, controversy, and extreme challenges appear to be the most popular themes. Increasingly young people are split-screening (watching two videos at once) and also increasingly turning to such platforms if they want to learn about the world. As to notable positives, young people are tending to use platforms for chat more than for posing or portraying themselves. And older children were often using platforms to provide study motivation or wellbeing support. A link to the report 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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