Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 09 June 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 lot to take in this week, and hard to find much that was positive.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, for instance, published an update report on education recovery in schools suggesting it could take a decade for the attainment gap to return to pre-pandemic levels. ‘Feels like a generation abandoned,’ tweeted one observer.

The Resolution Foundation highlighted the plight of economic inactivity among young people, pointing to “a worrying rise in the number of young people who are not working due to ill health” with much of this concentrated among those with low levels of education. As Louise Murphy, the author of the report said, ““We cannot afford to let young people who are workless due to health problems get left behind, so we need both to improve their education opportunities and to ensure that everyone has access to better mental health support.”

And Education Support, the charity that supports the welfare of teachers spoke of a ‘crisis of staffroom morale’ as it published a new report on teacher recruitment and retention. It called for modernisation of work practices for teachers. It was one of four major reports on teacher recruitment and retention out this week.  

Elsewhere, its been a busy week for education around Westminster. MPs discussed student suicides and the case for a statutory duty of care on providers. Other Westminster Hall debates tackled pupil rolls and school closures in London and children’s access to books. The Education Committee took evidence from experts on improving school attendance and the PM announced that the UK would be hosting a summit on AI regulation this autumn.

In other news, the think tank EDSK questioned whether removing VAT exemption on private school fees would really generate a cash bonus as shadow ministers have suggested. The think tank’s view was that current figures appeared ‘over optimistic.’

Elsewhere for schools, the Confederation of School Trusts launched a major new survey of Academy Trusts and the National Literacy Trust raised concerns about a drop in the number of children enjoying writing. Although on a more positive note, the Publishers Association said more people (33%) were turning to books as a form of escapism this summer compared to those (27%) turning to social media.

In HE, the Times Higher reported on Professor Arif Ahmed, the new free speech ‘tsar’ for higher education. “I don’t think he’ll be anarchistic or anarchical” said one commentator before going on to say that he might ruffle some feathers.

Finally, The Times hosted ‘a one-year on’ Education Summit, a year after the release of its Commission Report calling for major changes in the education system.

And according to The Guardian, a school sixth form is abandoning the nomenclature of addressing teachers as ‘Sir’ or ‘Miss.’ Plain ‘Mr Bloggs’ or ‘Mrs Jones’ will do from now on. “While “Sir” brings to mind the heroics of Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad, “Miss” is how you refer to “a small girl, or an Edwardian shop assistant” they said.

Links to most of these stories below, but first a look at four of the top stories of the education week.

  • Education recovery. Is the government prioritising/doing enough to help with education recovery post-pandemic? Ever since the Johnson government rejected the then recovery czar’s plans in the 2021, it’s a question many in education have been asking. This week the Public Accounts Committee, in a follow-up to its 2021 report, offered its verdict. “Without the Department for Education taking faster and more effective recovery action, the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us for a long time, damaging the prospects of a generation of children and entrenching disadvantage.” It highlighted in particular the challenges facing schools battling to support disadvantaged pupils and those with special needs, many of whom could be through the system before the attainment starts to close. The Committee set out a range of actions it wants to see including a published plan on reducing the disadvantage gap, progress measures for the 2030 attainment targets, and regular updating of progress to parliament. It added that it would keep an eye on things. It won’t be the only one.
  • A teacher’s lot. “So, after 23 years in schools – nine as a headteacher - I’m packing up my desk and taking a much-needed break.” So wrote the Chair of an important report published this week on teacher retention. Teacher retention, its seems was the straw that finally broke the back of this this respected headteacher – ‘it was one of the things that kept me up at night’- but as this report highlights, there is a deeper issue at stake here and the clue is in the title of the report: ‘1970s working conditions in the 2020’s.’ Heavy workloads, high-stakes accountability, system rigidity, irrelevant training, constantly looking over your shoulder, poor work-life balance, in fact many of the things that have been raised by unions as part of their industrial dispute this year, constantly appear in the survey evidence collated for this report by Public First. As Sinéad Mc Brearty, the Chair of the charity Education Support which is behind this report, explained “Our system does many things well, but it is antiquated and increasingly unattractive to those who have a choice in where they make their careers.” So what would make it more attractive, more able to recruit and retain? The report makes ten recommendations. These include those on pay, workloads and inspections but also notably an HR service to develop flexible work practices and a proper conversation about what teacher responsibilities should include given the challenging demands coming from many children particularly since the lockdown.

  • VAT won’t work. How much money could be raised by levying VAT on independent school fees? The answer often given is around £1.6bn a year but as a new briefing from the EDSK think tank this week explains, that figure might be a tad optimistic. A lot, it seems, depends on the number of pupils in the private sector and which groups are counted when it comes to VAT on fees, early years or not for instance, the number that might subsequently switch to state schools, what actually constitutes the fee, the effects of inflation and so on. In other words, the final figure might not be quite the pot of gold often considered. All of which might disappoint the Labour Party which has included the proposal in recent manifestos, seem likely to do so again at the next general election, and have disputed the briefing’s figures. As the colleges’ Julian Gravatt tweeted, there are other models like New Zealand’s ‘goods and services tax’ which could be better alternatives.

  • Top headlines last week. No Education Eye last week - half-term week – so for those that like to make sure they haven’t missed anything, here’s a quick run through of some of the top headlines from last week. Ofqual published the provisional figures for this summer’s GCSE/AS/A level exam entries. Apart from AS levels, entry numbers were up reflecting the increased secondary demographic. For GCSE, entries for EBacc subjects continued to increase, up by 4% this year with computing the standout, but entries for creative subjects were down as were those for German and ancient languages. It was a similar pattern at A level with modern language entries down, computing along with classical subjects up. In other news, the government announced the formation of an independent expert panel to advise on the review of relationship, sex and health education provision. It also announced the appointment of Professor Arif Ahmed as the first freedom of speech ‘czar’ as the HE Freedom of Speech Act made it to the statute books. Elsewhere, Labour continued to grapple with HE financing with the shadow education secretary suggesting reduced payments through a longer payment plan while university vice-chancellors called the current system ‘broken.’ And never far away: AI. It topped many media headlines with some experts arguing that ‘it poses an existential risk’ to all of us and should be seen as “a societal risk.” The current buzz is all about regulation…although nobody is quite sure how or where.              

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Children’s enjoyment of writing has fallen to ‘crisis point,’ research finds.’ (Monday).
  • ‘Universities told to step up to prevent suicides.’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Pupils face ‘lost decade’ in education after Covid, MPs warn.’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Record numbers of teachers in England quitting the profession, figures show. (Thursday).
  • ‘Ministers accused of neglecting ‘tidal wave’ of child mental ill health in England.’ (Friday).


  • AI Summit. The Prime Minister confirmed during his trip to the US that the UK would host ‘the first major summit on AI safety’ in the autumn, bringing together world leaders to look at he risks associated with AI and possible future regulation.
  • Technology Forum. The Technology Secretary chaired the inaugural meeting of the Global Forum on Technology, announced last year with backing from the UK, US and others to bring countries together to work co-operatively on emerging technologies including AI.
  • Rural growth. The government published a new report on encouraging/’unleashing’ rural growth, encompassing four main priorities: supporting greater connectivity, growing the local economy through jobs and skills, improving local facilities, and encouraging more local homes.
  • Economic Outlook. The OECD published its latest Global Economic Outlook suggesting that ‘global growth has stabilised but the improvement is fragile’ with GDP growth forecast at 0.3% for the UK this year against 2.7% globally and for headline inflation to slow for the rest of the year.
  • Jobs update. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation and KPMG published their latest monthly report on UK jobs pointing to a mixed picture with some sectors such as hospitality and healthcare all looking to hire but construction and IT less so, as economic uncertainty continues.
  • Business Council. The British Chambers of Commerce opened the door to business groups by announcing the creation of a new Business Council for UK business leaders to consider key policy issues and to work on future economic direction ahead of the general election.
  • CBI mandate. The CBI secured an overwhelming mandate from members at an Extraordinary Meeting, who voted 93% to 7% to support the current reform programme as the basis for future working.
  • Basic Income. The think tank Autonomy called for funding to support plans for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) pilot which would see 30 residents in two areas in England (Jarrow and East Finchley) receive a ‘no strings’ sum of £1,600 a month for two years to test out the effects of such a scheme.
  • Austerity costs. The TUC argued in a new report that the austerity programme of the last decade ravaged public services and welfare support and left the country ‘hugely unprepared’ for the Covid pandemic, calling for lessons to be learned as a result.

More specifically ...


  • Education Recovery. The Public Accounts Committee published a further report on education recovery in schools expressing concern that it could take a decade for some disadvantaged pupils to catch up and calling on the government to get a tighter grip on support features such as the National Tutoring Programme.
  • VAT on private schools. The EDSK think tank examined issues around levying VAT on independent school fees, something that the Labour Party is said to be considering for its manifesto, but which according to the think tank’s calculations is unlikely to raise the sorts of sums expected.
  • School workforce. The government published data from its latest census on the school workforce in England showing an increase in the number of teachers, teaching assistants and new entrants to the profession over the past year, although equally with record numbers leaving.
  • Teacher retention. The charity Education Support published the final report from its Commission on Teacher Retention, setting out ten recommendations for modernising the profession and encouraging retention including the provision of formal reviews of working conditions and school accountability including the role of Ofsted.
  • More on teacher recruitment. Teacher Tapp and SchoolDash offered further thoughts on teacher recruitment and retention in a report funded by the Gatsby Foundation showing recruitment issues in secondary schools likely to persist as the pupil demographic continues to rise, some concerns about non-specialist teaching, and mixed views about how schools could manage more flexible working patterns.
  • And more on teacher R and R. The Education Endowment Foundation published ‘a rapid evidence assessment’ of teacher recruitment and retention, pointing on the basis of global evidence to the importance of financial incentives along with improved working conditions in attracting teachers to work in more disadvantaged schools.
  • Schools data. The government published data on school and pupil numbers and characteristics sourced from this year’s schools census, showing a slight drop in the number of schools but an increase in pupil numbers to nearly 9.1m along with the number on free school meals.
  • Behaviour survey. The government presented the findings from the first national behaviour survey covering the 2021/22 academic year and providing, in some cases mixed, survey evidence on aspects like school behaviour culture and policy (generally understood by teachers, pupils and parents alike,) school environment (73% of pupils said they felt motivated to learn,) misbehaviour (72% of teachers reported this having a negative impact on their health over the last week) and interventions (94% of teachers felt confident managing situations.)
  • Nick Gibb interview. Conservativehome published an interview with long serving education minister Nick Gibb MP in which he explained how he and Michael Gove had prepared for education reform while in Opposition, talked about the importance of the phonics programme and concluded by arguing that you should come into politics because you believe in ideas rather than personal ambition. 
  • School connectivity. The government announced details of its (ConnectThe Classroom) scheme providing funded support for schools in disadvantaged and priority areas to help upgrade their networks and internet systems.
  • Behaviour and mental health. The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition published the results of its extensive inquiry into the links between behaviour and mental health, suggesting that “a culture shift is needed in how behaviour is viewed in schools” and calling among other things for an expansion of the Behaviour Hub programme, mandated time for staff training, and a more coordinated approach generally.
  • Trusts survey. The Confederation of School Trusts launched the latest major survey of Academy Trusts in England which remains open until the end of June and aims to help build up a detailed picture of Trusts and how they operate, with the findings due to be published in the autumn.
  • Staff strike meetings. Unions wrote to staff in schools calling on them to hold ‘short staff meetings’ during the week beginning the 19 June to encourage members to vote in the current ballots on industrial action.
  • Industrial action. The NASUWT launched its ballot to members on industrial action (it remains open until 10 July) calling at the same time for the PM to step in and ‘find a resolution to address the mounting crisis.’
  • Phonics screening. The Standards and Testing Agency published a new leaflet for parents explaining the phonics screening check for Yr 1s which starts next week.
  • Missing school. FFT Education Datalab examined pupil absences by Yr 11s in England so far this year concluding that while figures had improved on last year, they were still way above pre-pandemic levels with the S.W. having the highest rates.
  • Writing survey. The National Literacy Trust called for urgent action as its latest survey into children and young people’s writing suggested that things were “at a crisis point” with a further drop in the number of young people saying they enjoy writing in their free time despite it being seen as an important factor in school attainment and pupil wellbeing.


  • Young and workless. The Resolution Foundation highlighted the plight of 18 – 24 yr olds with low levels of qualifications who are out of work, a number that has doubled over the last decade, calling in a new report for the Health Foundation for better educational and mental health support to be targeted to this group.
  • Apprenticeship qualifications. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) responded to earlier consultation by setting out a new policy for apprenticeship mandatory qualifications designed to ensure that they better match employer/ apprentice needs and align with end point assessment.


  • Higher Technical support. The government launched phase 2 of its skills injection fund which will provide a mix of capital and resource funding to a total of £48.8m over the next two years for eligible providers of higher technical education (HTE) from September 2024 in sectors such as digital, construction, childcare and care services.
  • Duty of care. MPs discussed concerns around student suicides and the case for a statutory duty of care on institutions in a Westminster Hall debate with the minister confirming he was not ruling out future legislation but that currently, with institutions adopting their own practices as well as being encouraged to sign up to the University Mental Health Charter, this was not being envisaged.
  • Business Plan. The Office for Students (OfS) outlined its proposed plan of action for the second year (2023/24) of its Business Plan, confirming a continued focus on quality and standards and on equality of opportunity along with enabling regulation, listing a number of measures to be achieved over the year in each.
  • HE funding. Professor Nicholas Barr set out his thoughts on reform of the HE funding system in a blog on the LSE site arguing that the current system is a mess and neither fair nor efficient, proposing instead a system based around three elements: institutions financed through tuition fees and taxpayer finance; students funded through efficient loans that protect low-earners; and widening participation achieved through earlier policy intervention.
  • Horizon Europe. The government confirmed an extension of the Horizon Europe Guarantee scheme to the end of Sept 2023 to enable successful UK applicants to continue their work in the UK.
  • Student Update. The Student Room published its latest survey of student views showing a slight increase in the number of prospective students worried about money this year but being able to make friends emerging as the top worry for most due to start this September.
  • Graduate recruitment. Bloomberg UK reported on recent data from Reed Recruitment suggesting that it could be tough for graduates looking to enter the job market this year with vacancies still below pre-pandemic levels as companies grapple with inflation, wage spirals, skills matches and global uncertainty.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “I’m only entering month 6 of being a teacher but it’s already clear to see why there is an issue with teacher retention. It’s a job I’ve wanted to do my whole life but I spend every day exhausted, worrying about something and constantly being stressed” -@MISSNTEACHING.
  • “Man 1. “I taught my dog to whistle.” *Dog doesn’t whistle* Man 2. “I thought you taught your dog to whistle?” Man 3. “I said I taught him how to whistle. I didn’t say he learned it.” - good gag about learning from @hruizmarttin” -@C_Hendrick.
  • “I’ve been teaching so long I’ve seen an entire generation of new teachers on Twitter come into and then leave the profession” -@HeyMissSmith.
  • “Juliet Samuel: We're mad to give our children smartphones | The Times” -@FEontap.

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “This is going to take a global effort” – the PM announces a global summit on AI for later this year.
  • “I think it is not zero” – the PM’s AI adviser on the chances of whether AI could ultimately wipe out humanity.
  • “The voice of business needs to be heard loud and clear, and now is the right time for us to speak up” – the British Chambers of Commerce seizes the moment to announce a new Business Council.
  • “Astonishingly, as a fraction of national income, we don’t spend any more public money on it (education) than we did 30 or even 40 years ago” – IfS director Paul Johnson reflects on public service spending.
  • ““She leaves UCAS in an incredibly strong position, with a talented and dedicated team and a clear focus for the future” – UCAS on the departure on the departure later this summer of chief exec Clare Marchant.
  • “Industry placements policy is under constant scrutiny and challenge so you will need to have excellent resilience and interpersonal skills and experience of working closely with, and influencing, Ministers and senior leaders” – the DfE advertises for a Head of T Levels Industry Placement Policy.
  • “We’re not convinced that the Department fully appreciates the pressures schools are under as they seek to help pupils catch up” – the Public Accounts Committee reports on education recovery post-pandemic.
  • “The people who buy from these accounts are your most desperate students" – the BBC reports on scammers charging hundreds trying to flog fake exam papers online.
  • “The next time you hear someone saying that our schools are exam factories and our children lack the skills for the 21st century ask them, simply, this: name the school that does this, and show me the child you are talking about. You will be met with the silence of the unmasked charlatan” – education commentator David James responds to recent remarks by Bear Grylls about schools not preparing young people for modern life.
  • “Shorter than ever” – the attention span of many early years and primary children post-pandemic, according to a survey of teachers from Kapow Primary.
  • “Closing schools reduced COVID-19 mortality rates globally by 5.9 per cent with an arithmetic average of 0.2 per cent and a median of 0.0 per cent” – the Institute of Economic Affairs remains sceptical about the impact of school lockdowns on global Covid mortality rates.

Important numbers

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

  • 319. The number of student suicides in the three years 2017 – 2020, according to figures presented by Nick Fletcher MP who led a debate on the matter in Westminster Hall.
  • 38.1%. The number of students saying their main worry when they start university this year is making friends, according to The Student Room.
  • 185,000. The number of 18 – 24 yr olds economically inactive last year because of ill-health, a near doubling of the total over the last decade according to the Resolution Foundation.
  • 195,600. The number of apprenticeship starts for the year August 2022 – Jan 2023, largely at higher levels but down 4.1% on the same period last year according to latest government figures.
  • £140m. The capital funding available for some 40+ schools and colleges to upgrade facilities under the latest round of the post-16 capacity fund, according to the DfE.
  • 468,371. The number of full-time equivalent teachers in England last year, up by 2,800 on the previous year according to latest government figures.
  • 21%. The percentage of secondary school teachers surveyed who said they were unlikely to be in the profession in five years’ time, according to a report from Education Support.
  • 30.6%. The percentage of Yr 11s who have missed at least 10% of school sessions this year, down on last year but almost double the pre-pandemic rate according to new data from FFT Education Datalab.
  • 6.3. The numbers of minutes on average per half hour, lost in lessons to misbehaviour, according to a government report.
  • 517,026. The number of children and young people with Education, health and care plans as of the start of the year, up 9% on the previous year according to latest government figures.
  • 19.3%. The number of children and young people reporting that they wrote something each day in their free time, a drop of over a quarter over the last 13 years according to the National Literacy Trust.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Education Questions in the House of Commons. (Monday 12 June).
  • Phonics screening check for Yr 1s. (w/commencing 12 June).
  • Education Committee evidence session with Ofsted. (Tuesday 13 June).
  • Campus webinar on Digital Assessment. (Thursday 15 June).

Other stories

  • Workplace habits. ”If you work in an open-plan office where there is frequent conversation and interchange of ideas between colleagues, do not wear AirPods or headphones.” That was the advice this week from the guide to etiquette in Britain, Debretts. Open-plan offices let alone the wearing of headphones in the office, are vexed subjects it seems as people slowly return to the office. According to The Economist which ran an article on workspaces this week, there’s even a condition known as Misergonia or to give it its more common name: desk rage which can be triggered by the disturbing habits of our work colleagues. Whether they’re any worse than the disruptions and disturbing habits facing those working from home appears to be a moot question. A link to The Economist article is here.
  • Uni festival goers. With Glastonbury looming and the festival season under way, the student newspaper The Tab offered a light-hearted commentary on different university types to be found at festivals. Exeter students for instance disappear on the second day because they like to find a nearby hotel to take a shower. York students are the friendliest because ‘they’re just happy to be finally invited,’ while Cambridge students tend to struggle because they’re not used to the drink. For more on these and other uni types, turn to the article 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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