Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 28 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 handful of headline stories this week, but plenty of other talking points.

Headline stories have included continuing debate around Ofsted, with a Guardian editorial setting the pace, but also a couple of significant education-related think tank reports. Details below.

As for other talking points on education this week, MPs discussed the Office for Students in a Westminster Hall debate with Labour’s Emma Hardy, setting out the case for the prosecution, and the minister responding. “I am clear that a robust and fair regulator – a good regulator – is vital to ensuring that our higher education sector remains world leading and protects students and the taxpayer”, he said.  

The PM announced a new AI taskforce to lead ‘safe’ developments in this area and also launched a new Business Forum, known as Business Connect. It was described by Bloomberg UK as 'a lollapalooza of a roundtable with 200 CEOs'.  

In other news, the government announced a new capital loans scheme for colleges in England facing restrictions on commercial borrowing following their reclassification as part of central government. It also put Multiply, the adult numeracy programme, on hold. ‘Quietly shelved’ as one headline put it. And the Education Committee published an important report into post-16 qualifications.

As for schools, the government published further details on progress towards the National (Fair) Funding Formula, while its statement on additional money for this year provoked little excitement. ‘Simply a re-announcement,’ said the NAHT. Elsewhere, calls to settle the current industrial dispute became more strident, with the Confederation of School Trusts setting the tone. And Ofqual wrote to parents to reassure them of arrangements ahead of this summer’s exams.

Finally, it’s been a week when footballers have been showing their support for education. Raheem Sterling’s Foundation launched four scholarships to university and Eric Dier showed his support for languages in schools. And not a VAR in sight.

Details on these and other stories below, but first a run through the top education-related headlines of the week.

  • The cost-of-living and schools. Last December the Sutton Trust reported on how the cost-of living was affecting pupils. 38% of teachers, for instance, reported that more pupils were coming into school hungry. This week the Trust returned to the theme, with research from the NFER showing how the crisis was hitting schools overall. Restricting subject choices; cutting back on IT equipment and teaching assistants; limiting activities like trips; and using the pupil premium to plug gaps. It was a pretty depressing picture. As ASCL’s Geoff Barton put it; “the evidence could not be clearer that the school funding crisis is severe and worsening”.
  • “Penalising struggling schools is no way to help them improve”. That was the view of a Guardian editorial this week as debate continued about Ofsted and school inspections. The commentary called for a more supportive system and concluded, like many, that Labour’s proposed report card model offers a more nuanced approach. The NEU, meanwhile, went a step further this week, announcing its own review. Headed up by Labour’s former schools minister, Lord Jim Knight, it will examine the issues, hear views, and come up with its own preferred model. It's due to report later this autumn. Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector, argued last weekend that the current issues are part of a wider debate about how the school system is managed. As Ofsted’s own report this week indicated, granting Trusts a role in overseeing quality standards might be one option. Either way, as former DfE adviser Mark Lehain argued this week, perhaps spending a bit of time reflecting with the sector on the current concerns, allowing the latest amendments to bed in, and giving the incoming new chief inspector ‘space to work on things’ might be a good start.
  • Regulatory reform. ‘One in, two out’. That was the rule of thumb adopted by the Cameron government when it came to regulations, but the rule didn’t last long. This week the think tank Policy Exchange published its report into regulation, calling – among other things – for a new Regulatory Reform Unit and a dedicated minister for regulatory reform. ‘Smart regulation, not more regulation’, is the common call, and the report sets out to prove its point by listing 26 case studies – one for each letter in the alphabet – where regulation has had the opposite effect intended. These include childcare arrangements and the apprenticeship levy where 'the processes that allow large businesses to transfer levy funds to SMEs in their supply chain is burdensome and bureaucratic, meaning a large proportion of the funds go unused'. As the report concludes, regulatory reform often constitutes the 'slow boring of hard boards' but it needs doing. 
  • In sickness and in health. The think tank IPPR’s interim report, published this week, from its major Commission on Health and Prosperity, suggests that the UK is at a crossroads. ‘Sicker and poorer, or healthier and more prosperous'? It has plenty of data to furnish its argument. Poor health, for instance, was associated with a drop in individual annual earnings of £1,700 last year. Equally, it led to 3.3m exits from paid employment in the five years running up to the pandemic. As the report concluded, 'the UK is getting poorer and sicker'. The worry is, it contends ‘a lack of capacity across government to make or sustain positive change’. So what to do? The Commission call for a new health and prosperity mission, modelled on the way that climate change has become a new mission – now enshrined in targets and legislation. We’d all be healthier and better off as a result it maintains.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘School tutoring: one third of £594 post-lockdown cash unspent’ (Monday).
  • ‘Record £4.8bn interest added to student debt in Britain last year’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Cuts in school trips in England hitting children from poorer areas hardest, poll shows’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Teachers’ strikes: NEU accuses government of refusing to negotiate’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Keep BTECs until T levels have stood the test of time, MPs demand’ (Friday).


  • Business Connect. The Prime Minister launched Business Connect, a new forum intended to enable government and business to work more closely together in future and champion UK business generally.
  • AI taskforce. The government announced additional (£100m) funding along with the creation of a new expert taskforce to lead UK development in AI and emerging technologies, support start-ups and position the UK as a leading technology nation.
  • Recruitment concerns. The British Chambers of Commerce reported that many businesses particularly in the hospitality and manufacturing sectors, were struggling to recruit skilled staff with higher labour costs and lower training budgets key factors. 
  • Labour market enforcement. The Resolution Foundation published the final report from its 4-year project looking into labour market rules and enforcement concluding that ‘a radical overhaul’ was needed bringing in a new Single Enforcement Body, a super-complaint process and more labour market inspectors to help ensure labour market rights were protected in future.
  • Opening Doors. Business in the Community reported that more than 50 employers had signed up to its ‘Opening Doors’ campaign designed to remove barriers to work for more disadvantaged jobseekers and help diversify the workforce.
  • Commission on health and prosperity.The think tank IPPR published the interim report from its major Commission on Health and Prosperity pointing to a worrying link between poor health and both individual and national prosperity, calling as a result for a new ‘health mission,’ driven by a legislative body.
  • Hoping and coping. The Resolution Foundation looked into some of the challenges faced by hard-pressed families coping with the cost-of-living over the past month, finding many either cutting back, resorting to credit cards or simply putting off ‘the evil day’ with growing concerns about the impact on their physical and mental health.
  • Child protection. The Internet Watch Foundation published its latest annual report pointing to a disturbing rise in Category A child sexual abuse online and calling as a result for increased vigilance and stronger action to remove such images and protect children.
  • Teenage vaccines. The UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency) published figures as part of World Immunisation Week showing that the uptake of important vaccines such as meningitis among 13/14-year-olds had fallen considerably since the pandemic, raising concerns about future protection and urging families to come forward under the School Immunisation Service wherever possible.

More specifically ...


  • School funding. The government added further details on the additional £2bn promised in last Autumn’s Budget Statement, suggesting primary schools would each receive an extra £35,000 on average and secondary schools £200,000, as it rowed back on the requirement for schools to be rated good or outstanding to be eligible for additional funding.
  • NFF consultation. The government issued its response to the consultation on the next stage of the transition to the direct National Funding Formula (NFF) confirming for 2024/5 the introduction of a fairer approach to split site funding, continued flexibility over transferring funding to high needs and minimum levels of funding across the system. 
  • Cost-of-living. The Sutton Trust reported on commissioned research showing how far financial issues were hitting schools with many reporting having to cut back on equipment, trips, teaching assistants and curriculum choices as a result.
  • Exams 2023. Ofqual wrote to parents ahead of the forthcoming exam season, setting out the arrangements for this year and the additional support available for students who have faced disruption. 
    SATs. The Standards and Testing Agency and Capita reported on issues from last year’s SATs and the lessons learnt, pointing to three key changes made as a result including improving system capacity, improving access to the helpline and providing better scanning systems to check for delayed or missing scripts.
  • Industrial action. The Confederation of School Trusts called on the government to return to the negotiating table and resolve the current dispute as the ‘crucial period’ of exams and SATs all now loomed.
  • MATs and school inspections. Ofsted reported on the role of multi-academy trusts in school inspections using survey evidence to show that many play an important supportive role although this is currently limited given Ofsted can only operate at a school rather than a trust level.
  • Languages consultation. The government launched consultation on some proposed changes to Chinese and Japanese AS/A level which would allow English to be used in some of the more complex tasks.
  • Modern languages. Pearson teamed up with England footballer Eric Dier to launch a new campaign to encourage more young people to learn a language as it published survey evidence showing many people regretting not having learnt one at school and being deficient in language skills as a result. 
  • English Lit. The exam board OCR announced the names of the 20 ambassador schools and colleges that will work with the board on delivering the new, more diverse GCSE and A level English Lit set texts. 
  • Governors. The National Governance Association (NGA) launched its latest annual survey for governors and trustees taking in topics such as Ofsted, teacher recruitment, and school finances. The survey is open until 30 May.


  • Qualification system.The Education Committee published the results of its inquiry into post-16 qualifications acknowledging the importance of having a simplified system of routes for young people but raising concerns about abandoning applied general qualifications before alternatives are established and about young people missing out on apprenticeships along with the need for ‘a wholesale review’ of 16-19 funding.
  • Capital loans. The government invited colleges having to borrow commercially or facing a funding gap as a result of commercial borrowing following last autumn’s reclassification of colleges, to apply for loans under its capital loans scheme with bids needing to be submitted within criteria by the end of May.
  • Apprenticeship update. Rob Halfon, the skills minister, reported on apprenticeship achievements for the first six months of the academic year and outlined further developments including an Apprentice Support Centre and improved end-point assessments, as he confirmed plans to meet the stated 67% achievement rate for standards by 2024/5.
  • EPA guidance. Ofqual outlined a number of changes to its end-point assessment (EPA) guidance following consultation, largely clarifying expectations around such matters as terminology, centre arrangements and assessment plans.
  • Maths mastery. The Education and Training Foundation reported on its work in helping post-16 students resitting GCSE maths show signs of improvement through the use of dedicated resources, lesson observations and model lessons developed under the Centre for Excellence in maths programme.


  • Financial Sustainability. The Office for Studies reported on how it monitors and in some case intervenes to ensure the financial sustainability of registered providers and protect students’ interests, using case study evidence from the last five years to illustrate the range of activities in this area.
  • OfS debate. MPs discussed issues surrounding the Office for Students (OfS) in a Westminster Hall debate with Labour MP Emma Hardy setting out concerns about its role, value for money, the burden of regulation, quality oversight and its proximity to government, with the minister responding arguing the importance of its regulatory role and as voice for students and defending it on value for money.
  • HE finances. The HE Statistics Agency published a batch of data on the finances of UKHE providers covering key financial indicators along with tables on institutional income and expenditure.
  • Cost-of-living. Universities UK outlined in a new briefing how universities were helping students manage the cost-of living including fuel/energy poverty, calling once again on the government to re-instate maintenance grants.
  • Specialist providers.The HE Policy Institute examined small and specialist providers in a new report arguing that they represent an important form of provision and constitute 40% of providers in England yet suffer from a lack of support and exposure, calling as a result for shared services and de-regulation to help them flourish.
  • Regulation. GuildHE published the latest in its series of briefings on regulation looking on this occasion at world-class regulation, identifying some of the principles involved with case study evidence and concluding with four headline features including risk-based and leading to accountability.
  • Care scholarships. The John Lewis Partnership launched a new scholarship programme for young people under the age of 25 to undertake an undergraduate programme through the OU. 
  • Sterling Foundation. The Raheem Sterling Foundation in partnership with the University of Manchester and King’s College London announced a new series of scholarships to support British Black students in gaining access to HE starting with four this year, two at Manchester and two at King’s. 

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Schools should plan for ‘a range of potential outcomes’ on teacher pay this year when making budget decisions @educationgovuk officials have said” | @tes
  • “Open-plan classrooms are a nightmare, and openly scorned by many who have to suffer them. There is no evidence of utility and lots of evidence to suggest that they are as bad as students and teachers report” | @tombennett71
  • “I have a terrible memory. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's the worst thing about me apart from my terrible memory” | @GlennyRodge
  • “Bought some chilled Spanish soup online the other day so I'm glad to receive an email saying my order's been gazpached”– MooseAllain

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • We are bringing together some of the UK’s biggest companies and investors for meaningful dialogue” – the PM launches a new business forum, known as Business Connect.
  • “We will discuss our progress with you at the Member EGM taking place in June” – the CBI sets out to reassure members in an open letter.
  • “Pernicious, dangerous and hateful” – Keir Starmer promises to tackle spiking.
  • “There are increasingly concerns that it has become overly bureaucratic, imposes increasingly high costs on providers, takes an inconsistent view on what does and does not affect the quality of student education” – Labour MP Emma Hardy lays out the case against the Office for Students in a debate in Westminster.
  • “Regular meetings are scheduled for every six weeks” – the schools minister confirms how often the education secretary meets the chief inspector.
  • “I think it’s really important to understand that there’s a wider disagreement here between different factions, about how schools should be run, about how school accountability should be run more broadly” – Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman reflects on the current debate around school inspections.
  • “No-one should be fooled into thinking that this is new money” – the NAHT reacts to the government’s latest announcement on school funding. 
  • “Talking is the only way this dispute will be resolved and ensure that children, who are our first priority, can get back to learning” – the Confederation of School Trusts call for a return to negotiations to end the current pay dispute.
  • “We want to see more learners given the opportunity to take a project qualification” – exam board AQA endorses the think tank EDSK’s recent call to include an extended project as part of 16-19 learning.
  • “Academic, education and consumer publishers are all now dealing with digital at scale with millions of users generating massive amounts of data” – the incoming President of the Publishers Association on the changing nature of publishing.

Important numbers

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

  • £139.2bn. The amount the government borrowed in the year to 31 March, lower than expected but still up on last year according to latest figures from the ONS.
  • £5bn. The fall in charitable donations in the UK last year, down from £9.3bn as people faced the cost-of-living crisis, according to Benefact Group’s Value of Giving report.
  • 6m. The number of working days lost to sickness or injury last year, a record high and largely due to minor illnesses according to latest figures from the ONS.
  • 76%. The number of young people worried that the cost-of-living crisis is harming their ability to find secure work now and in the future, according to a poll from UK Youth.
  • 31. The number of UK HE providers subject to formal financial monitoring in the financial year ending 2021, according to the Office for Students.
  • 35,540. The number of trainees, largely in secondary, needed to start postgraduate initial teacher training this year, an increase of 9% according to latest figures from government.
  • 75%. The percentage of costs that schools will have to bear under the National Tutoring Programme from this September, up from 40% according to latest official figures.
  • 50%. The number of school leaders reporting that they’re having to cut back on school trips and other activities because of financial limits, more than double from last year according to the Sutton Trust.
  • 52%. The number of education staff who have spent their own money buying resources for their classroom, according to a survey by the Discounts for Teachers service.
  • 1M+. The number of food parcels distributed to children last year and 3m generally, up 37% on the previous year according to the Trussell Trust.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • NAHT Annual Conference (Friday 28 April – Saturday 29 April).
  • HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill, consideration of amendments (Tuesday 2 May).
  • NEU industrial action (Tuesday 2 May).
  • World Economic Forum ‘Growth Summit: Jobs and Opportunity for All’. (Tuesday 2 May – Wednesday 3 May).
  • Learning Technologies 2023 Event (Wednesday 3 May – Thursday 4 May).
  • Local Council Elections (Thursday 4 May).
  • HMC Spring Conference (Thursday 4 May).

Other stories

  • A day in the life. Teacher strikes are back in the news again and the chances of a settlement seem as remote as ever. There are strong views on both sides, but as the i newspaper reported this week in an article headed ‘A Day in the life of a Striking Teacher,’ a teacher’s lot is not an easy one. “It takes 45 to 60 minutes to plan a lesson effectively, including the relevant scaffolding, (in layman’s terms, various degrees of visual, written or oral support to allow all students to access the highest level of learning) and resources (documents that can range from literature to persuasive letters to the Government) which are required to be printed and prepared for the day ahead”. Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, urged both sides this week “to come back to the negotiating table and find a resolution”, particularly with exams and SATs all looming. Many would agree. A link to the i article is 
  • Revision tips. Practice testing using cue cards or past papers and spreading revision over a sustained period were two of the tips on revision in a list included in the i newspaper this week. Revision and exams are often a difficult time for families, and the list from teachers for parents/carers wanting to know how best to help runs through the familiar handy hints. ‘be realistic;’ ensure they take meaningful breaks;’ avoid cramming’; and ‘find your best technique’; they’re all there. As one parent who is also a teacher put it: “keep your own emotions in check, walk away from arguments about work, and just remember that it will soon be over”. A link to the list 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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