Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 26 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 week defined by some important numbers.

Net migration figures have dominated many of the headlines this week, but there’ve been plenty of other important education-related numbers to contend with as well.

These have included the UK headline inflation rate, which fell from 10.1% to 8.7% in the 12 months to April 2023, although core inflation remained high. 'Still sticky' said Bloomberg UK. "We must stay the course", said the Chancellor. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed, but the impact on pay and prices remains.

Next, the home secretary told MPs that “around 136,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022 – a more than eight-fold increase from 16,000 in 2019,” as she announced restrictions on international students bringing in dependants. “It’s time for us to tighten up this route”, she said.

Elsewhere, the pay body for teachers was rumoured to be proposing a 6.5% pay rise for teachers for next year. The NEU said 'Gillian Keegan must now break cover from Sanctuary Buildings'. The unions collectively have written to the education secretary calling on her to publish the recommendations

The government changed its mind and agreed to pay 50% of the subsidy of the National Tutoring Programme for schools next year. It had originally said 25%. ‘Welcome but not enough’, said the NAHT.

The government opened up its £165m Local Skills Improvement Fund to FE provider applicants. The aim is to support them in delivering local skills priorities. The minister said, “this funding will revolutionise how we plug local skills gaps and provide a boost to the economy".

The Digital Poverty Alliance said that around 1.7 million UK households (6 per cent) lacked home internet access, and around 10 million adults (20 per cent) were lacking foundational essential digital skills, as it launched a new Delivery Plan to end digital poverty by 2030. “Digital inclusion is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s an essential, for everyone”, the Chief People Officer at Currys plc said.

Away from the numbers and in other news, the schools minister confirmed that the government would publish the long-awaited data on the condition of school buildings before the end of term. And the children’s commissioner published a report into looked after children missing school, calling for stronger collaboration and support.

In FE, the NFER looked into future skills – yes transferable skills – all six still very much in demand it seems, while the Policy Exchange think tank added its voice to those calling for reform of the apprenticeship levy.

In HE, the Times Higher had an interesting read on the Office for Students which is currently under review by a Lords Committee. Further ‘reinvention’ seems likely it seems. More on HE below, but as a 'finally', students from UCL have been taking their case for compensation for a lack of provision during the pandemic to the High Court. One described how they’d expected ‘a world-class degree’, but “what we got was a cold, damp takeaway”.

Links to most of these stories below, but first a look at those two top HE stories of the week in a bit more detail. 

  • International students. A week after the value of international students, both cultural and financial, was highlighted in a new report, the government announced new restrictions on international student visas. The details, which concern the postgraduate route, were outlined in a Statement to MPs on Tuesday by the Home Secretary and contained six measures. These included removing the right of international students on non-research programmes from bringing in dependants; preventing such students from switching to work study visas before they’ve completed their programmes; reviewing maintenance requirements; and clamping down on ‘unscrupulous’ agents. In the Home Secretary’s view, "these proposals will ensure we can meet our International Education Strategy commitments, while making a tangible contribution to reducing net migration to sustainable levels". Others were less sure. 'Some of the announcements made today are likely to have a negative impact on universities' plans to diversify their international student intakes', was the view from the Russell Group. There’s a suggestion of further consultation to come and for matters to be kept under review, but it’s likely to remain an issue as the next round of recruitment looms. 
  • HE in general. How are things looking in higher education? For anyone wanting a rounded picture, the long read on Wonkhe’s website this week by former chief executive of Universities UK, Alistair Jarvis, is an excellent summary. With three general elections, five Prime Ministers and ten education secretaries over the last ten years, let alone a pandemic, a divisive referendum, and currently a cost-of-living crisis, its been, as he says "a turbulent time" for all concerned. Politics has increasingly overshadowed the sector yet "there’ve been few instances of truly long-term policy thinking". He suggests just four. These include ending student number controls in England; the structural changes emanating from the 2017 HE Reform Act; improvements to post-study work visas; and the Lifelong Loan Entitlement. We’re still of course waiting for other bits from Augar. As to the future, he cites three "primary strategic challenges". Financial pressures – “there is little political or public appetite for more public funding for higher education”– growing, while ensuring quality (“debates over quality will not go away”) and managing international risks. We’ve seen plenty of evidence of all three recently.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘College leaders in England sound alarm on T levels’ (Monday).
  • ‘Immigration curbs on families of foreign students’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘UK students seek compensation for Covid-affected tuition’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘One in ten childcare providers in England likely to close, official report finds’ (Thursday).‘
  • ‘GCSEs: Only a quarter of students had recommended NTP support’ (Friday).


  • Digital Poverty. The Digital Poverty Alliance pointed to the number of people without internet access or struggling to pay broadband bills, as it launched a National Delivery Plan to end digital poverty by 2030.
  • Financial inequalities and the pandemic. The Covid social mobility and opportunities (COSMO) study examined financial inequalities arising out of the pandemic in its latest survey report, finding evidence that many households struggled, disadvantaged gaps widened, mental health concerns grew and pupils from families using food banks achieved poorer GCSE grades.
  • Cost-of-living. The Youth Select Committee which comprises young people aged 13 – 18 and which is supported by the Dept for Culture, announced it would hold an Inquiry into the impact of the cost-of living on young people’s health and wellbeing.
  • Migrant workers. The HR professional body CIPD called for further reform of the points-based system for immigration as well as of the wider skills system as it published a new report showing that UK employers were not hiring and sponsoring migrant workers in large numbers yet and were still needing to invest more in training generally.
  • Jobs Outlook. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation published in conjunction with Savanta ComRes its latest monthly Jobs Outlook showing improved business confidence in both hiring and investment, calling as a result for a greater push on people and skills to help businesses meet labour needs.
  • Youth employability. The think tank Demos called for a big push on extracurricular activities in schools and colleges as it published a new report, sponsored by the Scout Association, highlighting the importance for young people’s employability of both transferable as well as technical skills.
  • City growth. Demos and PwC reported on their latest ‘Good Growth for Cities’ Index, showing that the gap between the highest and lowest performing cities was closing and that growth was improving in some cities – with Oxford, Swindon, Exeter, Bristol, and Southampton emerging as the top cities in the Index, but with growth generally considered too sluggish.
  • Productivity matters. The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) reported on the UK’s recent ‘anaemic’ productivity figures, listing a number of sectors where the fall in productivity since 2019 has been the sharpest, with two in particular – retail and wholesale, and government – causing the most concern. 
  • Childcare concerns. The childcare body Coram Family and Childcare – in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – raised concerns in a new report that the recent announcement of extra investment by the government will not benefit the most needy and not improve the quality of provision, calling instead for wider system reform including directly funded childcare places and investment in staff training. 
  • Organisational shifts. McKinsey published its 2023 ‘State of Organisations’ report which, based on survey evidence collected from global leaders including from the UK last summer, sets ten important ‘people, procedural and structural shifts’ facing organisations today including ‘walking the talent tightrope,’ making way for applied AI’ and ‘finding the new balance of in-person and remote working.’

More specifically ...


  • National Tutoring Programme. The government confirmed that it will now meet half the costs for schools for the National Tutoring Programme for next year as it published new guidelines on delivery next year, covering the costing, planning, delivery and reporting of the Programme.
  • Pay recommendations. Unions bodies called on the education secretary to publish the pay body’s recent recommendations and their proposed increased award and to reopen negotiations with them to avoid further strike action.
  • Parliamentary lobby. Leading school bodies including unions, governors and support staff, announced a lobby of parliament for Tuesday 20 June to bring home to MPs issues over funding, workloads and inspection.
  • School buildings. The schools minister confirmed to MPs in a debate in Westminster that data on the condition of school buildings which had been formally collated in 2019 and which Opposition MPS, unions and others had been pressing for release, would be published ‘by the summer recess.’
  • Children missing school. The children’s commissioner highlighted the issue of looked after children missing school, pointing in a new report to particularly vulnerable groups including those with special needs, ethnic groups and boys, and calling for better monitoring, data, accountability and support for such groups generally.
  • SEND support. The House of Commons Library Service published a briefing on Special Educational Needs (SEND) covering the latest data and trends, funding and legal responsibilities and running through the latest developments such as the government’s recently published improvement plan.
  • Primary Project. The Centre for Education and Youth reported on its work with Big Education and NCFE to develop a new Primary Extended Project Award (PEPA) that would encourage children to develop skills beyond SATs. and for which it is now seeking development funding.


  • Local skills fund. The government invited FE providers to apply (one per improvement plan and by midday 20 June) for funding from the local skills improvement fund which will provide £80m for each of the next two years to enable providers to respond to priorities identified in local skills improvement plans.
  • Apprenticeship reform. The think tank Policy Exchange published a new report on reforming the apprenticeship levy with a range of recommendations around three key areas: a broader levy, support for small businesses, and increased opportunities for young people.
  • Future skills. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) published the latest in its major Nuffield funded series of reports into skills for tomorrow, suggesting that transferable skills such as information-literacy, problem-solving and communication which are harder to automate, are likely to be in increased demand in the future and more should be done to help future workers develop them.
  • Skills Bulletin. The Edge Foundation published its latest Skills Bulletin with articles highlighting the importance of both green and creative skills and greater investment in skills training and investment.
  • Manufacturing Skills report. WorldSkills UK in partnership with BAE systems called for education, industry and government to do more to encourage young people from all backgrounds to take up a career in manufacturing, as it published a new report showing concerns from manufacturers about the lack of young people with the requisite skills coming through.
  • WorldSkills competition. WorldSkills UK announced that the National Finals events, which will bring together 500 competitors from across the UK, will be hosted in Greater Manchester.


  • Visa restrictions. The government announced a number of changes to international student visa routes to come in from January 2024 including removing the right of postgraduates on non-research programmes to bring in dependants and preventing international students from switching to work route visas before the completion of their course. 
  • Tuition fees. Weekend media reports suggested that Labour shadow ministers were erring towards a form of graduate tax, potentially with maintenance grants for the poorest, as the Labour Party grappled with an alternative student finance model for higher education.
  • Reflecting on the OfS. The Times Higher examined the Office for Students (OfS) currently under review by a House of Lords Committee, highlighting views from across the sector about the challenges of regulation, teething problems and concerns about bureaucracy, concluding that further ‘reinvention’ was likely.
  • UCAS address. Rob Halfon, the skills and HE minister addressed the UCAS Admissions Conference 2023 where he praised the work of UCAS in supporting students during the pandemic and in working to provide a range of informed options for young people, reinforcing at the same time his wish to see an expansion of vocational choice with UCAS ultimately becoming the Universities, Colleges, Apprenticeships and Skills service.
  • Freedom of Speech. The Times Higher reflected on the recently enshrined HE Freedom of Speech Bill with various commentators indicating it was likely to force the issue up the agenda for university managers although many might be waiting for the promised new guidance from the OfS along with the new free speech director. 
  • Student mental health. The government published its commissioned report into institutional policies and practices being used to support student health and wellbeing, concluding that this is becoming increasingly important to providers with more now prioritising suicide prevention strategies, talking to students and generally ensuring procedures and support is in place.
  • Prevent data. The Office for Students published the latest report from institutions on Prevent activities covering the 2021/22-year showing an increase in the number of events both approved and not approved with a total of 260 planned events not happening.
  • Transnational education. The Office for Students (OfS) reported on the scale and characteristics of English transnational education for 2021/22, showing 455,000 students, largely undergraduates and largely In Asia being taught by 146 English universities and colleges often through a collaborative arrangement.
  • A decade of HE. Former chief executive of Universities UK Alistair Jarvis outlined in an article on the Wonkhe site a fascinating past, present and future summary of HE as things stand, with a look ahead at likely future challenges as a general election looms.
  • Friend or foe? Jess Lister, policy manager at the consultancy Public First argued in a comment piece on Wonkhe that an incoming Labour government may not be the close ally everyone expects and cautioned against raising too many hopes.
  • Thinking about going to university. Nick Hillman, director of the HE Policy Institute (HEPI) published a useful presentation, prepared for his son’s school but available to all and of potential use to parents and teachers as well, about higher education, what you need to know and how to be prepared for it.
  • New partnership. The UPP Foundation and the student volunteering charity Student Hubs, announced a new strategic partnership to work together to help support and recognise student-based volunteering.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Pizza for staff staying late to prepare for next day’s Ofsted visit isn’t leadership for wellbeing. It’s leadership that assumes wellbeing' @TeacherToolkit” |  @SchoolsWeek
  • “Spare a thought for Britain’s new persecuted minority: the privately educated” | @guardian
  • “Heard a joke yesterday that keeps making me smile: “Why can’t you see a hippo hiding in a tree? Answer ‘because it’s really good at it.’ Don’t know the source of this smidgeon of genius but whoever it is thank you” | @ConfedMatthew

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “Workers need both lower inflation and faster wage growth” – the TUC responds to the latest inflation figures.
  • “This package strikes the right balance between acting decisively on tackling net migration and protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK” – the home secretary tells MPs about the government’s plans on postgraduate visa restrictions.
  • “For many, including staff, this is a stressful and anxious time” – Cambridge calls for talks on pay and conditions to resume to prevent a marking boycott hitting students.
  • “They didn’t get what they bargained for and they seek justice”– the barrister representing students seeking compensation in the High Court from UCL over their pandemic experience.
  • “The Levy should be transformed into an Apprenticeship and Skills Levy, with up to 25% of the levy able to be spent on high quality employer-relevant skills training that relates to occupational standards” – the think tank Policy Exchange call for reform of the Apprenticeship Levy.
  • “Neither the Department nor the Standards and Testing Agency (STA), who are responsible for the development of the tests, have any current plans for a formal review of the SATs papers for 2023” – the minister responds to a question in parliament about the impact of this year’s SATs on children’s wellbeing.
  • “The government has a history of short-changing schools. We will need absolute clarity that any pay award really is fully funded for every school” – ASCL’s Geoff Barton responds to rumours about next year’s pay award for teachers.

Important numbers

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

  • 0.4%. The predicted growth figure for the UK, up from a previous prediction of a 0.3% contraction according to the IMF.
  • 60%. The number of respondents in Britain who think it’ll be at least a year before inflation returns to normal, according to a survey from Ipsos Mori.
  • 606,000. The net migration figure for the UK for 2022, higher than the 504,00 figure for the previous year but lower than the 700,000 that some had predicted, according to the ONS.
  • 1.7M. The number of households in the UK without home internet access, according to figures from the Digital Poverty Alliance.
  • 6.5%. The pay award for teachers being recommended by the independent pay body, according to latest media rumours.
  • 50%. The government subsidy for schools for the National Tutoring programme for next year, up from the 25% originally envisaged according to the DfE.
  • £99m. The amount of money raised for schools collectively by Parent Teacher Associations last year, according to Parentkind.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Parliamentary recess and school and college half-term.

Other stories

  • How much? Getting a good result at school meant some children last year saw their pocket money boosted by £15.98 according to NatWest’s latest annual Pocket Money Index. The survey has received a lot of media attention because it shows children getting above inflation pocket money rises at a time of financial restraint. On average, children’s earnings last year rose 11% to £6.42 a week, with six-year-olds on £3.94 a week and 16-year-olds on £12.75 a week, seemingly doing the best. Many had to work for their money, with the top five most lucrative chores being'“cleaning the car (£2.46 per-job average); helping with the shopping (£1.11); hoovering (£0.96); doing the laundry (£0.67); and helping in the garden (£0.64). Making Dad a coffee and smiling in photos could even lead to a payout as well. A link to the survey can be found here
  • They should teach that in school. A few years ago, education policy adviser and commentator Mark Lehain published a fascinating list of all the things that people recently had said should be added to the school curriculum. They ranged from the expected such as cooking skills and how to manage your money, to the more obtuse such as ‘learning how to swear to aid social development’ and ‘Lessons from Love Island’. Five years on, Mark is compiling a new list. Many of the same topics remain, money skills, the dangers of social media and other life skills for example, but among the latest suggestions are teenage boys being taught about bromances and Taekwondo lessons to scare off bullies. A link to the story is here

Education Eye will be back on 9 June after the Whitsun break.

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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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