Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 05 May 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 shorter working week of course but with some notable headlines.

Three in particular for education: on teacher strikes, Labour’s volte-face on tuition fees and future jobs. Details below.

In other news this week there have been two interesting survey reports. Ofqual published the results of its survey of examiners last year –finding most of them keen to carry on, though with concerns about the stress and low pay. And the HE Policy Institute (HEPI) published the results of its political polling of undergraduates. Most are gearing up to vote in the next general election, generally for Labour, but are unsure what to do about tuition fees.

Elsewhere, the House of Commons Library Service published a paper on the PM’s ‘maths to age 18’ policy. It was also covered in Radio 4’s Briefing Room series. 

The World Economic Forum has been hosting its 2-day Growth Summit, with a detailed look at how work might shape up in the future. 'There is no doubt that the future of work will be disruptive. But it need not be dystopian', apparently. 

And, never far away, AI made its presence felt with the Biden administration hosting an event with AI CEOs; the ‘Godfather of AI’ stepping down from Google; concerns in the UK about the impact of chatbots on the future of education publishing; and the Competition and Markets Authority launching a review into the implications for consumer protection.

Finally, as Coronation weekend looms, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) calculated that the longer opening hours and community atmosphere will boost pub spending by £104m. Prices of pints may vary.

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

  • Teacher action. With more teacher action this week and the major unions planning to work together on action in the future, it feels as if the gap between the two sides is as wide as ever. The government has made what it calls 'a good offer'. The unions clearly disagree. ‘She [the education secretary] has taken her ball home with her and refuses to engage’, as the NEU put it. The issues are not just about pay, but also workload, conditions, recruitment, and just how any award should be funded. IfS Research Fellow Luke Sibieta suggested in a comment piece this week that two major problems remain. First, that the updated offer of an extra 1% would have to be part-funded by schools – the article argues that with energy prices falling, most schools would be able to manage this…but it would be ‘a tight call’. And second, even with the extra funding promised, salaries for many – and school funding generally – would still be below that of 2010. Hence the union calls for catch-up funding. That’s how things remain at present.
  • Tuition fees. Is the current HE tuition fee system sustainable? From comments by the UCU and NUS this week to Policy Exchange’s funding event the previous week, the view seems to be that it isn’t. As electioneering hots up, so do the headlines. The problem, however, is what to do, particularly at a time of financial constraint. The Independent reckons that scrapping fees would ‘cost the taxpayer anything between £9bn and £11bn per cohort’. This week Sir Keir Starmer acknowledged that he was ‘likely’ to have to abandon his leadership pledge of ‘supporting the abolition of tuition fees’ in favour of ’looking at options’. It won’t be easy. A poll of students from HEPI this week found them pretty evenly split on whether the fee should be reduced, capped or scrapped altogether. As Policy Exchange’s Iain Mansfield noted in summing up their recent funding event,“There was no consensus as to the solution, but what is clear is that the status quo is no longer an option”. According to policy commentator Jonathan Simons, the big problem is that the system hasn’t kept up with inflation, and doesn’t deal well with non-traditional students. Sir Keir has promised some thoughts ‘in the coming weeks’. The Times Higher suggested options could include a form of graduate tax or a review, yes another ... HEPI director Nick Hillman reckons the Welsh model of fees and loans, including ‘generous maintenance support’, is the answer. Either way, the economics consultancy London Economics has done a useful costing analysis of the various options. It will be interesting to see what emerges.
  • Future Jobs report. According to the World Economic Forum which published its latest hefty ‘Future of Jobs’ report this week, jobs in education, agriculture and digital commerce and trade are expected to see the largest growth in coming years. “Jobs in the Education industry are expected to grow by about 10%, leading to 3 million additional jobs for Vocational Education Teachers and University and Higher education Teachers.” On the flip side, admin roles and traditional security, factory and commerce roles face some of the biggest falls. In all, the report, which uses company survey responses to track global job trends in the future, reckons that nearly a quarter of jobs will change in the next five years, 69m new jobs will be created and 83m eliminated. Not everyone agrees with all the interpretations but there are some interesting perspectives. The report highlights, for instance, the impact of the green transition and the importance of skills training. And interestingly it points to ‘a negligible 1% increase in level of automation’ from its last report three years ago. Meanwhile, ‘strong cognitive skills’ remain ‘the most important skills for workers in 2023’ and head the standard list of top ten skills for 2023. These include, in order, analytical thinking, creative thinking, resilience, flexibility and agility, and motivation and self-awareness. Empathy and active listening come in at number 8 on the list and leadership and social influence at number 9.  

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Cost-of-eating crisis:’ price of school lunches up by a third in parts of England’ (Monday).
  • ‘Labour to ditch its promise to abolish tuition fees in England’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘AI race is disrupting education firms – and that is just the start’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Half of examiners unhappy with pay and most are stressed’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Early years sector joins call for Ofsted changes’ (Friday).


  • AI review. The Competition and Markets Authority announced a review into the implications of AI foundation models for competition and consumer protection, with a call for evidence by 2 June and a report lined up for this September.
  • Student mobility. The House of Lords European Affairs Committee highlighted problems faced by school and student groups seeking to move freely between the UK and EU post-Brexit, calling in a new report for a reciprocal student exchange element under the Turing scheme and a youth travel scheme for school parties along with improved youth mobility programmes to support cultural exchange and opportunities in the future.
  • Future jobs. The World Economic Forum published its latest ‘Future of Jobs’ report based on survey evidence gleaned from 800+ companies across 45 world economies, with big data and AI seen as key drivers of growth, analytical thinking listed as the top skill and nearly a quarter of jobs expected to change over the next five years.
  • Employment Support. The Institute for Employment Studies published initial themes emerging from the nearly 250 pieces of evidence submitted to its Commission on the Future of Employment Support, with clearer guidance, more joined up thinking, new entitlements, and local skills provision and career support among the views expressed.
  • Work absences. PwC reported on long-term sickness in the workforce, pointing to mental health and concerns about the cost-of-living crisis as key factors with increasing numbers of employers putting in support measures to help workers especially those with complex needs.
  • People management. The HR professional body CIPD published a report highlighting the importance of quality line management with survey evidence showing that poor line managers can often have a negative impact on employees’ wellbeing and performance. 

More specifically ...


  • Teachers’ pay. Luke Sibieta, Research Fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS,) examined the latest pay offer for teachers arguing that while schools would still be expected to fund half of the extra 1% on offer, they would largely be able to afford this but that it would still leave average salaries at least 10% below what they were in 2010.
  • Examining the examiners. Ofqual published the results of its survey of examiners last year report showing most examiners having at least ten years’ experience in examining, confident in their abilities to examine and keen to carry on not least because it can help with preparing students with their own exams where need be.
  • SATs.The Standards and Testing Agency published a little updated guide for parents on the arrangements for this year’s SATs which begin next week.
  • Sowing the seeds. The government outlined the resources and teaching materials being offered to schools as part of the coronation including working with the Eden Project to provide wildflower seeds to primary schools as part of the King’s commitment to the environment. 
  • Maths to 18. The House of Commons Library Service published a briefing on the PM’s ‘maths to age 18’ policy, running through the background to the policy, the latest announcement including the creation of a new advisory group and various reactions to it all.
  • Children’s physical activity. The Early Years Alliance published research from the University of Bristol showing that children’s physical activity had returned to pre-pandemic levels but that equally many children were still not getting enough physical activity each week.
  • Ark ventures. Ark announced that from this September it was creating a new charity incubator to bring together its various spin-off ventures which, while working closely with the main organisation, will create not-for-profit start-ups for young people. 


  • Energy costs. The Association of Colleges (AoC) announced it was working with energy consultants Inenco to support colleges in managing their energy costs and help the sector with energy issues generally.
  • Coronation apprenticeships. The government announced that to mark the King’s Coronation six green apprenticeships, selected for their contribution to green skills and including a L2 Countryside Worker and L7 Sustainability Business Specialist, had been bestowed with the Coronation emblem 
  • Route review. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) published its latest route review, looking on this occasion at the qualifications and skills needed for transport and logistics and the key principles and challenges faced in developing standards, including notably around decarbonisation and sustainability.
  • Technology centre. Dyson announced it was planning to open a new R/D hub as part of a new Technology Centre in Bristol and would be looking to create ‘hundreds of jobs in software and AI’ as a result.


  • Tuition fees. Sir Keir Starmer acknowledged that while the current tuition fee system was unfair, his previous pledge to scrap them altogether was now ‘unlikely’ to happen and instead the Party was reviewing other options. 
  • University applications. The government outlined what students with university offers need to do ahead of this year’s approaching deadline date, along with details on Clearing, and other options and resources currently available. 
  • Taking the pulse. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) published the results of its recent (April 2023) political polling of UK undergraduates finding the majority registered and expecting to vote in the next general election with nearly half likely to support Labour but with mixed views on what to do about tuition fees.
  • Lifelong Learning (HE) Bill. The Lifelong Learning Bill completed its passage unscathed though the House of Commons this week before heading to the Lords with further details on implementation promised by the minister next year.
  • More student views. The Student Room published the latest round-up of student views covering hopes for the future (improvements to climate change and the cost-of-living), student finances (need more info), and 2023 applications (most had received offers).

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Environmentally conscious students at North London Collegiate School vote to add insects to their school dinners” | @Telegraph
  • “Odd, but unsurprising, to see that some people think it’s too much to ask pupils to sit up straight and focus on their teacher” | @michaeldoron
  • “Anyone who gives you easy answers to the total mess we've made of Higher Education finance can be dismissed immediately and ignored” | @gsoh31
  • “Woman 'locked out of laptop' 20 minutes after resigning from job of 10 years” | @Independent
  • “No greater joy than a parent out without child taking the top deck of the bus”| @hannahfearn

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “45% of chief economists say a recession is likely, but the same proportion considers it unlikely” – World Economic Forum chief economists appear split about the prospects of a recession.
  • “We are looking at options for how we fund these fees. The current system is unfair, it doesn’t really work for students, doesn’t work for universities” – Sir Keir Starmer on tuition fees.
  • “We consider school visits between the UK and the EU to have considerable value as a means of exposing children to different cultures and deeply regret the substantial decline in visits from the EU since 20192 – the Lords European Affairs Committee reports on the drop in school visits between the UK and EU in recent years.
  • “But, at the moment, it all looks pretty thin and uninspiring. Until we’re through the election, schools may find themselves having to muddle along without much direction” – policy commentator Sam Freedman reflects on the lack of education policy thinking at present.
  • “Right now, they're not more intelligent than us, as far as I can tell. But I think they soon may be" – Dr Geoffrey Hinton, leading AI scientist at Google, reflects on the potential powers of future AI chatbots.
  • “Generative AI is a great tool for ‘cheating’ [but] less good (for now) for content creation/assessment” – analysts reflect on the impact of AI chatbots on educational publishing.

Important numbers

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

  • 30%. The percentage of students polled who ‘strongly support’ the current staff strikes with 37% ‘somewhat supporting them,’ according to polling from HEPI. 
  • 41.17%. The number of university applicants surveyed who have heard from all their choices so far this year, according to The Student Room.
  • 195,600. The number of apprenticeship starts so far this year August 2022 to January 2023, down 4.1% on the same period last year according to latest government figures.
  • 91.7%. The pupil absence rate in state schools in England for w/commencing 17 April, according to latest government figures.
  • 4.9%. The number of schools in England closed due to the teachers’ strike on Tuesday with 49.8% open but with restricted attendance and 45.3% fully open according to figures from the government.
  • 2,460. The number of exam (GCSE, AS, A level) appeals last year, 0.04% of the total of certificates and down 23% on the pre-pandemic year according to Ofqual. 
  • £200 a year. The increase in the cost of school lunches over the last four years due to inflation, energy and staff costs according to the Lib-Dems.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • SATs week (Tuesday 09 May – Friday 12 May).
  • Education Committee evidence session on support for childcare and the early years (Tuesday 09 May).
  • Westminster Hall debate on centre assessed grades (Wednesday 10 May).

Other stories

  • Lingering lockdown effect. An interesting article in the FT this week on the impact of the lockdown on many young people joining the workplace. It seems that a lack of work experience and social interaction coupled with lengthy periods of isolation during the lockdown has left many struggling “with basic tasks such as making presentations and speaking up in meetings.” The evidence comes from some of the big recruiting companies where Deloitte and PwC, for example, are having to put on extra coaching sessions and supportive mentoring for some of their youngest recruits who lost confidence and skills during the lockdown. Special induction programmes are being planned for the future. A link to the article is here
  • Negative ratings. According to YouGov’s Teacher Track Survey of more than a thousand teachers, neither the education secretary, nor the DfE, let alone Ofsted are going down well with teachers at present. Perhaps unsurprisingly currently Ofsted comes out with the worst rating with 90% of teachers surveyed regarding them ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ unfavourably. They’re followed by the DfE with an 80% negative rating and the education secretary with a 69% negative rating. A link to the survey 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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