Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 20 May 2022

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

What's happened this week?

Important stories across the board:

A mixed bag of education headlines this week.

The big picture was uncomfortably shaped by the latest batch of economic and labour market figures published this week. 

The headlines included a further drop in the unemployment rate over the last quarter, but a worrying rise in inflation. The Chancellor claimed to have a plan in a speech to business leaders, although the governor of the Bank of England reached for the ‘apocalyptic’ as he gave evidence to the Treasury Committee this week. Schools as well as families are clearly feeling the pinch, with news this week that school meals were ‘set to shrink in size.’

Elsewhere, debate on the Queen’s Speech continued, with education featuring prominently in the opening debate at the start of the week. Big promises were touted on both sides. More on this below.

In other education news this week, the Education Committee published the results of its Inquiry into prison education, describing a system that’s ‘chaotic and disjointed’ and calling for secure ‘in-cell laptops’ and access to student loans to be considered. Annual National Numeracy Day also occurred this week with a host of activities and celebrities pitching in to offer their support, and the government promoting an online quiz as part of its contribution.

More worryingly, the Education Endowment Foundation and partners reported on the effects of the pandemic on reception children last year, finding a number failing to reach 'a good level of development' when compared to those before the pandemic. In similar vein, the Education Policy Institute with Teach First hosted an event on closing the attainment gap. 

In other education news, Ofsted published its latest subject review report, looking on this occasion at computing. The EDSK think tank examined in a new report the issue of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs), and the body representing UK universities called on the Home Office to review visa application costs and cut red tape to help attract research talent from around the world. 

And of course, with the weather hotting up, the summer exam season got under way, although not everybody could understand all the fuss. “All the parents obsessing over their kids’ GCSEs.. You’re very kind. I don’t remember my parents being even slightly involved in mine. Maybe a bit of ‘good luck’ on the morning, or a cup of tea. But now, it seems to be a full-family activity. Not criticising, just noting change.” 

But back to that MPs’ debate around education, and the government’s latest legislative programme as set out in last week’s Queen’s Speech. It was a wide-ranging debate and, as indicated, sweeping promises were on offer all round.

The Shadow Education Secretary promised that a Labour government would, among other things, develop a national excellence programme to aid education recovery; set up a skills commission; and provide for careers guidance in every school and work experience for every child. "Labour would promise a curriculum",  she went on to say “in which we teach our children not just the past that they will inherit, but the future they will build. And in which they learn about the challenge of net zero and the climate emergency that we face”.

But it was perhaps the Education Secretary, in opening the debate, who made the most sweeping promise, pledging to make T levels as famous as A levels. He continued boldly: “watch this space”. Many perhaps will – given his acknowledged enthusiasm for performance data and delivery, both of which also featured in his opening remarks. “I have committed to publishing a delivery plan setting out what we will achieve, and a performance dashboard showing progress, so that the House and the country can hold us to account”. It’s becoming quite a mantra ...

A word also on the think tank EDSK’s report on young people not in education, employment or training, (NEETS). It’s not a new issue, but has been sharpened recently by school absences post-pandemic and a changing labour market. EDSK brought some interesting new thinking to the problem in its detailed report, including bringing youth employment more clearly under the remit of the Skills Minister; developing a dedicated CareersLink service; and rebalancing the curriculum around more practical options. Increased support and investment, as the report concludes, lie behind all of this. 

Back in Westminster, the Education Committee heard from witnesses as part of its Inquiry into post-16 qualifications, and the Lords Science and Technology Committee examined the development of a UK science and technology strategy.

But perhaps the abiding image this week has been the desks being laid out in rows in one college hall for the big GCSE English Language and maths Paper 1s. They ran for miles. A reminder of what really matters to so many people.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Parents and teachers step in to invigilate exams’ (Monday).
  • ‘UK schools struggle with rising food prices’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Younger children most affected by Covid lockdowns, research finds’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Caps to curb student loan misery’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Not enough desks as DfE staff ordered back to crowded offices’ (Friday).


  • Economic plan. The Chancellor addressed business leaders at the CBI Annual Dinner, running through current initiatives and calling on businesses ‘to invest more, train more and innovate more’ while arguing that the government had a plan to help with the cost of living and for growth. 
  • Treasury report. The Bank of England published its latest economic report for the Treasury Committee, pointing to continuing pressures around inflation and GDP growth with the caveat that “uncertainty around the outlook remains high.”
  • Inflation explainer. The Resolution Foundation provided a useful primer on the latest inflation report outlining what was driving it, its impact on low-income families in particular, and the longer-term prospects generally.
  • Latest labour market picture. The Office for National Statistics published the latest set of labour market figures covering the period February – April 2022 and showing the number of vacancies now higher than the number unemployed but the rate of growth for the economy continuing to slow.
  • Labour market analysis. The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) published its regular accompanying analysis of the latest labour market figures, equally highlighting the fall in unemployment but pointing too to continuing recruitment and participation issues and a widening wage gap.
  • Labour Market Outlook. The HR professional body, CIPD, published its latest Labour Market Outlook suggesting that firms were still finding it hard to fill vacancies and that many were looking at alternative options to secure staff such as more training and flexi working as the option of pay rises was reaching its limit. 
  • Employer Survey. PwC reported on its latest employer survey conducted last month and indicating that many expect to have shortages in critical skill areas with digital skills and problem-solving skills the two biggest current skills issue for employers.
  • Struggling with numbers. KPMG published the results of a survey on numeracy and attitudes to the cost of living, undertaken as part of its support for National Numeracy, showing that a large number of adults struggle to cope with the effects of the cost of living because their numeracy skills are so poor. 
  • Prison education. The Education Committee described a system ‘crying out for an overhaul’ as it published the results of its Inquiry into prison education, recommending as a result a much greater focus on education for inmates with secure laptops, potential higher ed loans and the creation of Deputy Governors of Learning as important remedies. 
  • Think before you Link. The government announced the launch of a new free app to help users of social networking sites carry out their own due diligence and identify potentially harmful fake profiles, with over 10,000 UK nationals reportedly targeted this way last year.
  • ARIA autonomy. Government ministers from the four UK administrations formally signed up to the principles behind, and autonomy of, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA.)
  • ‘Give a doubt. ’The Prince’s Trust and Cadbury’s launched a new campaign to help support young people who suffer from doubts about themselves and their worth, with Dairy Milk bars carrying examples of leading figures sharing their own doubts in an effort to help others feel supported. 
  • Assistive Technology. UNICEF and the World Health Organisation reported for the first time on how large chunks of the world, particularly those in low and middle-income countries, were missing out on assistive technology, denying those in education as well as employment and old age of the opportunities and support seen as vital in life for so many. 

More specifically ...


  • Schools Bill. The Education Secretary wrote to the Chair of the Education Committee setting out the main proposals in the recently published Schools Bill and offering to work closely with the Committee as the Bill progresses.
  • Fake exam papers. Ofqual reminded students in its latest rolling guidance, about the dangers of fake exam papers being offered on social media websites which if used, could lead to student disqualification.
  • Review of computing education. Ofsted published the latest in its series of subject reviews looking here at computing and highlighting features that make for successful delivery and assessment including the sequencing of knowledge and skills and the use of formative assessment but pointing to concerns about a lack of specialist teachers.
  • STEM support. The Children’s Commissioner outlined the work the Commission was doing to support pupils, especially girls, undertake maths and science subjects, including an interactive ‘where can I go with maths?’ quiz, launched to coincide with National Numeracy Day.
  • Pandemic effect. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and partners published a major report on the impact of the pandemic on Reception Year children who started school after the first lockdown indicating that although many parents felt that their children had settled in well, a percentage in each class, typically 13% and particularly those with a second language, struggled to make ‘a good level of development,’ particularly in English and maths.
  • MAT sizes. FFT Education Datalab examined optimum sizes of multi-academy trusts (MATs) in light of government proposals on preferred sizes and for all schools to join, noting that while trust sizes overall have grown in recent years, many schools are still in groups of less than the magic 10 size. 
  • Flexible working. The government issued updated guidance to schools on flexible working to include a broader definition and range of arrangements.
  • Workforce diversity. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) along with Teach First and the Ambition Institute published a new report highlighting ethnic disparities in teacher career progression, particularly at early career stages and at leadership levels, calling as a result for better monitoring and transparency of workforce diversity 
  • Condition Improvement Fund. The government announced £498m of funding to help improve the facilities and estate across 1,129 academies, sixth form colleges and schools.


  • L3 issues. Edge responded to the government’s recent plans to defund a number of L3 qualifications that overlap with T levels, arguing that the proposals could have ‘significant consequences’ for learners, especially the most disadvantaged and urging the government to consider the lessons that could be learnt from previous policy experience. 
  • NEET options. The EDSK think tank reported on the issue of NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training) highlighting the continuing extent of the problem and calling for a stronger emphasis on prevention rather than cure through for example a dedicated careers link and a more practically focused curriculum to increase options. 
  • Work Local. The Learning and Work Institute published its commissioned analysis of the LGA’s proposed framework for greater devolution of employment and skills support, suggesting it could potentially generate 15% more outcomes for the same funding.
  • Adult skills and training. The Fabian Society and partners published a collection of essays from leading commentators on adult skills and training with contributors highlighting weaknesses in the current system, regional inequalities, apprenticeships and the need for a coherent skills settlement. 
  • New survey. The Education and Training Foundation launched a new survey to find out more about the challenges facing those working in the FE sector and the sorts of resources and support needed.
  • WorldSkills competition. WorldSkills UK announced the six college venues that will host the 2022 WorldSkills National Finals which will see a spread of 62 finals and other activities spread across the various colleges in November.
  • FE funding. The House of Commons Library Service published a helpful briefing on FE funding covering the different streams, rates and trends, current issues and recent announcements.
  • Think Further. The Association of Colleges (AoC) and NCFE launched a new platform providing thought leadership for the sector with the first contributions covering lobbying and skills systems among other things.


  • Capital funding. The Office for Students (OfS) set out the arrangements for capital funding for the next three financial years with £11.2m to be distributed via a numbers-based formula and £400m via a bidding process. 
  • Blended learning. The Office for Students announced the names of the panel members that will support the OfS’s review of provider approaches to blended learning likely to meet regulatory requirements, with review outcomes set for September. 
  • Attracting international talent. Universities UK published a new report highlighting issues around attracting and retaining international research talent pointing in particular to the high costs and mismatch of visas, calling for a review of costs and a more inclusive and less burdensome system.
  • A new International Education strategy. Former Education Minister Chris Skidmore, argued in a blog on the HEPI website for a new International Education strategy complete with regional approaches, new forms of collaboration and more flexible visas, able to compete in the changing world of international education.
  • Levelling up. Teesside University reported on its commissioned survey undertaken by Public Fist into the role and impact of the university in its local region in the context of levelling up where its role, although not widely understood, was seen as key to providing employment, skills training and local expertise.

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “It is a universal law of parenting that 36 hours before a dress up day, at least one child will want an entirely different costume than the one they originally stated and you planned for” | @MrsLouisa Harris
  • “Hi all, Due to an unfortunate “autocorrect” in this week’s Academy Newsletter, the headline from the Gardening Club’s article “Get your willies out and get stuck in”, should of course have read “wellies”. Please accept our apologies for any concern or distress caused. Thanks x” | @NewbieSlt
  • “Am I an old grump for thinking Year 6 leavers parties may be getting a bit OTT? (I hate to say ‘prom’) Flower wall, balloon arch, photo booth, large illuminated letters… all that posing! They aren’t Kardashians. Can’t children just have fun with their friends?” |  @tracyshopkins
  • “Yesterday a kid said: ‘Sir would look loads younger if he didn’t have wrinkles on his forehead’ and now I’m contemplating phoning in sick” | @UnofficialOA
  • “Shout-out to the dad of one of the kids at an 8yo's birthday party I went to in the park at the weekend, who didn't speak to any of the parents or any of the children, but instead lay down in the sun about 20 metres away from the action with his earbuds in for the whole afternoon” | @CasparSalmon
  • “My wife asked "Do you know any tennis puns?” I said "No, they're not really my forte love" | @DadJokeMan

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “There is no measure that any government could take, no law we could pass, that can make these global forces disappear overnight” – the Chancellor addresses business leaders.
  • “Inflation overall is 9%. But our analysis suggests that the poorest are facing an inflation rate or around 11%. That’s because they spend a large fraction of their budget on energy and food” – Paul Johnson director at the IfS on the latest inflation figures.
  • “Overall, the risks to the inflation projection are judged to be skewed to the upside in the second and third years of the forecast” – the Governor of the Bank of England explains all in the latest report to the Treasury Committee.
  • “The last time unemployment was lower was in May-July 1974 and Waterloo had just reached Number 1 in the charts” – the Institute for Employment Studies responds to the latest unemployment figures.
  • “In June, July and August, our people will be able to take half days on Friday if they can” – PwC brings back its summer working arrangements. 
  • “Does it really matter if the person did their work at their desk or a coffee shop, as long as they made their EOD deadline?” – McKinsey dips into remote working.
  • “Hugely looking forward to be joining @UniBristol this autumn as professor of HE Policy” – Nicola Dandridge returns to academia.
  • “I pledge to the House that I will make T-levels as famous as A-levels – watch this space” – the Education Secretary opens the debate on the Queen’s Speech.
  • “Some forms of flexible working may be more suitable for particular roles in schools than others” – the DfE updates its guidance on flexi working in schools.
  • “In light of this, we do not think it is appropriate for school and college leaders to use 2022 performance data as the basis for performance management or decisions about pay progression for teachers” – professional bodies urge caution about using this year’s exams results in teacher appraisals. 

Important numbers

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

  • 9%. The UK inflation rate for the period to April 2022, up from the previous month’s 7% and driven largely by higher energy and food prices according to latest figures from the ONS. 
  • 1,295,000. The number of job vacancies Feb-April 2022, an increase on the previous quarter and on the same quarter pre-pandemic according to the ONS.
  • 49%. The number of adults in a survey who resort to making jokes to cover their lack of numeracy skills, according to a poll from KPMG for National Numeracy Day.
  • 150,000. The number of additional researchers and technicians needed by 2030 if we are to meet R/D targets, according to Universities UK.
  • 80. The number of providers accredited under the first round of the Initial Teacher Training reform programme, according to the government.
  • 91.9%. Pupil attendance in state schools in England as of last Thursday, minus the figures for Years 11-13 and down 0.45 on the previous week, according to latest government figures.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Education Questions in the House of Commons (Monday 23 May).
  • Education Policy Institute event on the Schools White Paper (Monday 23 May).
  • Education Committee evidence session on the SEND review (Tues 24 May).
  • Launch of OECD report on ‘How employers gain from helping young people get career ready’ (Wed 25 May).
  • National ‘Thank a Teacher’ Day (Thursday 26 May).
  • House of Commons Whitsun Recess (26 May -6 June).

Other stories

  • Inflation factors. Obviously, the hike in inflation, the highest in 40 years according to the latest figures, has been a big talking point this week with energy and food prices seen as big factors. But what other goods and services have contributed to the picture on inflation over the last month? The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) had an interesting table in their analysis of what’s causing some of the ups and downs. Their table for the top ten items for inflationary increases includes mascara, golf green fees, household cream cleaners and garden chairs. Quite a mix and tough on mascara wearing golfers. The list, including a top ten of those that contributed the least which included cream liqueurs and smart speakers, can be found here
  • Managing doomscrolling. Among recent discussions about restricting social media use, has been the suggestion that we should limit our time doomscrolling. Doomscrolling or being hooked on bad news, can lead to negative tendencies and in the worst cases affect wellbeing but it can be hard to limit. An article on The Conversation website this week listed five ways in which the habit might be contained including seeking out the positive as well as the negative and avoiding confirmation bias. A link to the article 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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