Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 14 April 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:

A gradual build-up of stories this week as schools, MPs and others prepare to return to the fray next week.

The two main education-related stories this week have been the release of the inaugural report into teachers’ working lives and the IMF report on the global economy. Each sets a difficult context for government at a time of industrial unrest.   

In other news this week, the think tank Policy Exchange held a seminar on university funding with former ministers on the panel. The government published its latest strategy on digital connectivity, and the costs of childcare featured prominently in a new global report on the early years.

Details below, but first a run through the top education-related headlines of the week.

  • A teacher’s lot. It has taken a while, but the government’s commissioned report into the working lives of teachers eventually saw the light of day this week. Based on frontline responses from over 11,000 teachers and leaders in English state schools last spring, it finds that the teacher’s lot is not always a happy one. There are some positives. More teachers than not (65%) felt valued by their school, 58% reported feeling satisfied with their current job all or most of the time and, despite expressed worries about the impact of the lockdown on pupil behaviour, 62% of teachers rated it as good or very good. Yet it’s not all sweetness and light and many of the findings reinforce what the unions have been highlighting in their current dispute. Teachers, for instance, typically endure 52 hour working weeks; 12% reported experiencing bullying over the last 12 months; 86% reported stress in their work; and 25% were said to be considering leaving the profession. As the headteachers’ body put it: ‘“Anyone questioning why ourselves and other teaching unions are in dispute with the government only has to look at these survey results”. The unions are likely to make sure they will.
  • Tertiary provision. Do we need another review of the tertiary system in this country? That was the question posed in the FT last weekend and it has prompted further debate this week. We haven’t been short of reviews in this area. The most recent one, the Augar review, took place four years ago, and still has to be fully implemented. Prior to that the Browne and Dearing Reviews each left their mark. But there remains a sense of unfinished business, of a dual system that Augar described as a mix of both care and neglect, of a need for a more coherent and responsive system generally. This week David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges put forward three things needed to create what he called "a truly tertiary funding model in England". They included: a costed post-18 education and skills strategy; a managed and coherent funding, quality assured and regulatory system; and a structured employer investment model. His three starters for ten can be found on the Wonkhe site.
  • Global Economic Outlook. Glass half full or half empty? The latest forecasts for the global economy make for pretty gloomy reading especially for the UK. In the words of the BBC economics correspondent ‘we’re set to be at the bottom of the pile among the G7 advanced economies when it comes to growth’. That said the IMF’s forecast of a 0.3% contraction in UK GDP this year is slightly better than its previous -0.6% forecast. And the UK would see 1% growth next year against 1.4% for advanced economies according to the projections, leaving the Chancellor to say “the IMF now say we’re on the right track for economic growth”. The big issue – particularly in the context of industrial action by teachers and others – is inflation, and the impact this is having on the cost-of-living. The IMF see things improving only slowly in this area, ‘declining more slowly’ in its words and not likely to return to target before 2025. Both the Chancellor and the OBR have been more sanguine, the latter even suggesting inflation heading below 3% by year end. 
  • Last week’s headlines. Last week’s Easter break meant there was no Education Eye. So here are four education headlines from last week for those who like to keep track. First, the NAHT joined the other teaching unions in rejecting the government’s latest pay offer, with strike action in schools now looking likely. The government said it was ‘disappointed’. Second, and still on strikes, the UCU announced member support for a further wave of strikes in universities. Third, the government set out details for its proposed Pioneer Programme intended to provide funding and support for UK research and innovation in the absence of an Horizon Europe agreement. And fourth, The Economist examined whether a university degree was worth it. Depends, seemed to be the answer. And completing the roundup, the QAA published its 2023-2027 Strategic Plan; the government myth-busted on apprenticeships; and the Institute for Government published a report highlighting the confusing number of bodies involved in English administration.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘NASUWT members call for Ofsted abolition to end ‘reign of terror’ ’ (Monday).
  • ‘Just 1 in 10 school leaders trust pay review body’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘French schools pick Ireland over Britain after Brexit’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Helping your child with their school subjects? It may not do any good (Thursday).
  • ‘Major change to half-term school holiday sparks fury’ (Friday).


  • Digital connectivity. The government outlined plans in its Wireless Infrastructure Strategy to deliver standalone 5G to all populated areas by 2030 with further funding to provide high-speed broadband to many of the UK’s most remote properties, as it aimed ‘to put the UK at the front of future technology.’
  • World Economic Outlook. The IMF issued its latest World Economic Outlook’ pointing to things remaining tight with projections on growth and inflation hardly improving and the UK set to see contraction this year and only slight growth (1%) next year. 
  • The Jobs market. KPMG and REC published their latest report on the UK jobs market pointing to ‘a relative improvement’ in hiring conditions and starting pay albeit with a fall in permanent placements against a sharp rise in temporary ones.
  • Early Years. TheirWorld and partners called, in the words of Sarah Brown their Chair, for a revolution in early years provision as it launched a major ‘Act for Early Years’ national and international campaign encompassing access to affordable childcare, a trained workforce and global investment kickstarted by an internal Financing Summit set for 2025.

More specifically ...


  • A teacher’s life. The government published the initial findings from its inaugural commissioned report into the working lives of teachers and leaders, conducted last spring and covering such features as workloads (51.9 hrs a week,) pupil behaviour (good according to 62%,) job satisfaction (58% content) and pay (61% dissatisfied.)
  • Strike action. The House of Commons Library Service published an updated briefing on the current position around teacher union strikes, listing the main demands, the position in other parts of the UK and the next planned strike days.
  • Short breaks. The government expanded to ten more regions its ‘Short Breaks’ programme which funnels money to councils to help provide activities, trips and events for disabled children.
  • Multiplication Tables. The Standards and Testing Agency published the admin guidance for this year’s Multiplication Tables Check which Yr 4 pupils take in early June and for which services will be available from this Monday 17 April.
  • Free school meals. The Education Endowment Foundation invited proposers to submit bids to lead an evaluation of the impact on pupil attainment of the London Mayor’s universal free school meals initiative, with submissions of interest to be in by 28 April 2023.


  • Construction industry. The CITB announced the launch of its new Industry Impact Fund which will support employers in developing ‘innovative training and skills solutions’ to issues like productivity, inclusion and equality.


  • Degree apprenticeships. The Times Higher reported on degree apprenticeships, the challenges involved particularly in matching quality and expectations, and how some universities have gone about developing their programmes.
  • Cost-of-living. Jo Richards Insight Lead at UCAS reflected in a blog on the HEPI site about what impact the cost-of-living was having as applicants considered their university options, suggesting that it was a mixed picture with some deferring entry so that they could earn some income before starting, others looking carefully at course costs and options but with many generally continuing to prize the university experience.
  • Funding seminar. Wonkhe provided a useful summary of the Policy Exchange event this week on university funding which was chaired by Sir Philip Augar and which took in such issues as a graduate tax, the value of the current fees, maintenance loans and caps and subsidies.
  • Another review? Minouche Shafik, V.C. at the LSE, sparked discussion among academics as he called in an article in the FT for another review of tertiary education, particularly to tackle issues of funding, quality and access in an era of financial constraint.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • Jo Johnson speaking at @PolicyExchange event says that if tuition fees had risen with inflation @uniofeastanglia (which has financial issues) and others would now have £12.2k a year from domestic students” | @ChrisJParr
  • “My personal favourite is still the one about the inspector who went into EY & asked one of the children what they would like to be in the future. After much thought, the child replied “a fish” | @Julespg
  • “The school library filter prevented Year 9 from researching the story of the Titanic” | @beeeze
  • “My daughter was doing history homework and asked me what I knew about Galileo. I said "He was a poor boy from a poor family...” | @ThePunnyWorld
  • “Chunky bricks and Noughties flip phones are creeping back into the mainstream as an antidote to smartphone addiction” |

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “The outlook is uncertain again” – the IMF introduces its latest World Economic Outlook.
  • “This is an incredible opportunity; widespread adoption of 5G could see £159 billion in productivity benefits by 2035” – the government launches its plans for digital connectivity. 
  • “We will create a new, elevated position of Chief People Officer which will sit on our executive committee and report directly to the Board on all matters of workplace conduct and culture” – the CBI takes steps in response to the recent report into its workplace culture and behaviour.
  • “Investing in skills will be key, especially in ageing, service-based economies such as the UK” – the V.C. at the LSE calls for a new review of tertiary funding.
  • “A succession of education secretaries have expressed warm words about tackling workload, but in the same period they have failed to shift the dial” – the NEU reacts to the new report out on teachers’ working lives and the pressures they face.
  • “‘I’m delighted that we will have Nick’s experience, talent and energy on board with us as we take the Sutton Trust into a new phase of expansion and seek to continue and deepen our impact on education and social mobility in the UK.’ – the Sutton Trust on the appointment of Nick Harrison as its new CEO.
  • “Nothing beats that excitement, that thrill of knowing you’re going to score” – footballer Ian Wright opens a new football pitch at his old primary school with the aim of providing a safe space for young people to play.

Important numbers

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

  • -0.3%. Predicted growth for the UK economy this year, according to latest figures from the IMF.
  • 1,426. The number of job adverts promising among their benefits to finish early on a Friday, according to a recent survey from Bloomberg UK.
  • 23%. The number of UK parents who have had to quit their job or drop out of their studies because of high childcare costs, according to research from TheirWorld.
  • 5,122. The number of spin-offs and start-ups registered across 125 HE providers in 2021/11, according to data cited in the Times Higher.
  • 19,600. The number of apprenticeship starts for the period August 2022-January 2023, a fall of 4.1% on the previous year according to latest provisional figures from government.
  • 25%. The number of teachers and leaders from across the state sector reporting that they were considering leaving over the next 12 months for reasons other than retirement, according to a research report into the working lives of teachers.
  • 13%. The number of teachers in a survey saying that had been assaulted by a pupil in the last year, according to research from the NASUWT.
  • 90%. The number of Yr 11s and Yr 13s reported to be revising for their exams as of this Easter according to a survey in The Student Room.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Education Questions in the House of Commons (Monday 17 April).
  • Education Policy Institute and OECD event to launch the OECD report on ‘Empowering Young Children in the Digital Age’ (Monday 17 April).
  • Education Committee evidence session on childcare and the early years (Tuesday 18 April).
  • Westminster Hall debate on R/D funding and Horizon Europe (Tuesday 18 April).
  • Wonkhe online event: ‘HE and the AI revolution’ (Wednesday 19 April).
  • Edge online event: ‘What is the future role of universities?’ (Wednesday 19 April).

Other stories

  • Musical chairs. A fascinating article in the TES this week about the impact of at least one aspect of last autumn’s government turmoil on the DfE. Usually when new ministers are appointed, a series of introductory ‘meet and greet’ meetings with key sector leaders is arranged. When, as happened between July and October last autumn, ministers come and go rather quickly, sometimes in the space of a few hours, the choreography becomes a little more confusing. For example, as the article reports, on July 7 last year, Michelle Donelan as the new education secretary held four such meetings. 48 hours later she had resigned leaving the same education leaders to head off to a further round of such meetings with her successor, James Cleverly, who in turn left a couple of months later. In all, it seems, some 130 such meetings were held in the space of six months. A link to the article is here
  • Children’s Books. The National Literacy Trust recently ran through what it considered to be some of the best children’s books for this spring. Many, as might be imagined, featured tales of animals, such as Gill Lewis’s ‘Moonflight.’ Homes, such as Marcus Sedgewick’s ‘Ravencave, provided another theme, offering both comfort but also tension.And of course the supernatural as in Holly Black’s ‘The Stolen Heir’ was never far away in many of the tales published. 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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