Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 16 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 sultry week all round.

For education, the heat seems to have been on two topics.

First, school inspections, where the latest changes announced by Ofsted left many in the profession feeling short changed. “A modest improvement,” the verdict of ASCL’s Geoff Barton. A couple of days later, the Education Committee announced it was launching a new Inquiry into Ofsted school inspections. ‘The appointment of a new Chief Inspector later this year,’ said the Committee Chair, ‘provides a valuable opportunity to take a step back and assess how well the system is working’. A call for evidence is underway. 

Second, and a regular topic these days, AI and the search for safety control measures, 'guardrails’ as politicians are wont to call them. Plenty of contributions on this during the week as indicated below. 

Elsewhere, MPs' education questions this week covered a range of topics. They included: teacher action (‘the unions rejected our offer but we ‘re looking at the pay board’s proposals for next year’), special needs (‘we’ve increased the funding by 50% over the last four years’), BTECs (‘many will remain’), and university students having their exams marked during the dispute ('we are in discussions with university bodies to ensure alternatives are available – if not they can apply to the OiA').

Away from Westminster, London Tech Week and Nuffield’s teacher workforce seminar both generated notable coverage. The PM, Leader of the Opposition, education secretary, and cyber security experts all spoke at the former. Some details are referenced below.

For schools this week, away from inspections, the government reported on this year’s round of offers on school places –first preference rates were slightly down on last year for secondary, slightly up in primary. And, perhaps reflecting the current cost-of-living times, the Money and Pensions Service raised concerns about how few children have been taught about money – ‘just 47%’ apparently.

For FE this week, the government announced a major new vision for the creative arts, with skills development one of the key features, while Ofqual confirmed that procedures were fully in place for L3 voc and tech students to get their results on time this year. 

In HE, there were a couple of interesting reports this week relating to university admissions. The HE Policy Institute published survey evidence to suggest that not much time is given to reading UCAS Personal Statements. 'While the majority of personal statements are read, the average time spent on each statement is two minutes'. It seems that admissions officers rely more on grades – the Personal Statement is currently under review. Meanwhile the Institute of Education pointed to an element of luck many disadvantaged young people experienced in opening up opportunities such as going to university: 'we didn’t begin our study intending to focus on the role of luck. Ironically, it emerged unexpectedly during data analysis'.

Finally, back to education questions in the House of Commons this week where, following the recent issue of whether teachers should be addressed as ‘Sir’ or ‘Miss,’ one female MP responded, “As a former teacher, can I just say that I was quite happy to be called 'Miss'. I have been called far worse as an MP”. Perhaps, but MPs don’t have to do all that marking ...

Links to most of these stories below, but first a run through three of the top stories of the week in a bit more detail. 

  • School inspections. ‘Sensible but nowhere near far enough in addressing concerns’. That was the verdict of headteachers' leader Paul Whiteman to the latest changes for school inspections announced by Ofsted this week. The changes include: easing the timescale around safeguarding follow-ups, an issue that had caused headteacher Ruth Perry so much anxiety. There were also proposed changes to the complaints procedure and more details about the timing of inspections. The education secretary described the changes as “a really important step”, while Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector, said they had been in listening mode. Yet debate on school inspections is unlikely to go away, with school accountability generally remaining a hot topic. It features among the issues on which unions are currently balloting over action – the Labour Party has already declared its interest in a report card system, while the Times Education Commission, in its review event last week, reiterated its interest in a more progressive model. One of the big current sticking points is single word judgments such as ‘inadequate’ or ‘outstanding’. The latest changes de-personalise some of the reporting, but leave single-word judgments as they are. “Scrapping single-word gradings for schools would not alleviate the 'underlying discomfort' teachers feel”, the chief inspector said. “It’s a trapdoor that’s both demoralising and counterproductive", the view of ASCL’s Geoff Barton. The issue is likely to feature in the new Inquiry into school inspections announced this week by the Education Committee.
  • The great skills debate. More this week on the great skills debate – the ongoing discussion about what skills we’ll all need in the future. AI has prompted considerable recent excitement about the sort of high-tech skills needed in the future, but two contributions this week have reminded us of the importance of more established skills. First in a blog on the HEPI site, education commentator Mary Curnock Cook highlighted the continuing importance of so-called soft skills. She pointed to recent research from the NFER, Pearson, and others – all suggesting a growing demand by employers for such skills such as communication, information literacy and problem-solving. These ‘essential employment skills’ have been the staple for many vocational programmes over recent years and she called for them to be ‘called out specifically in learning programmes in HE’. Second, the British Academy reported on English studies in UK higher education, which some feared could suffer from the rush for new technical skills, but where despite a fall in undergraduate numbers, postgraduate studies remain 'healthy' and the range of skills developed in such courses remain attractive to employers – generating strong employment prospects.
  • This week’s AI news. 'UK leads the world in providing tech to keep us safe' trumpeted the government this week. It was pointing to new research showing that UK firms had gobbled up 25% of the market share in global safety tech. Tech safety, particularly that around AI, has been the big theme for this week’s AI news. The Prime Minister focused on it in his speech to the London Tech event; the Tony Blair Institute called for ‘a new laboratory to test and control safe AI’ in a major new report; UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) listed the new money going into AI safety developments; and the EU adopted a four-level risk system under its ‘landmark’ AI Act. Speaking at the same event as the PM, the boss of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre argued that “AI should be developed with safety at its core”. This is clearly a lead the PM hopes to exploit, complete with hosting a major global conference on the matter in the autumn. For the moment, it’s about gathering evidence of what works, and what the risks might be, as the DfE’s call for evidence exemplifies.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Ofsted changes after Ruth Parry’s family campaign ‘nowhere near’ enough’ (Monday).
  • ‘MPs launch inquiry into Ofsted after head’s death’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Keegan launches call for evidence on AI in schools’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Excess primary school places double in space of ten years (Thursday)
  • ‘Student loan debt in England surpasses £200bn for first time’ (Friday).


  • PM’s London Tech address. The Prime Minister addressed this week’s annual London Tech event where he pitched for the UK as a leading AI superpower and laid out the safety-first approach the government was taking on AI regulation.
  • 10 reasons for growing tech in the UK. The PM went on to list ten reasons for growing tech businesses in the UK including being ‘one of the most digitally literate societies in the world,’ having ‘some of the best science universities in the world,’ and by having high levels of R/D investment.
  • AI in education. The education secretary launched a call for evidence from across the education sector for views on generative AI, its use, likely benefits, risks and ethical concerns, with a closing date for responses of the 23 August 2023.
  • Leading on AI. The Tony Blair Institute called in a new report for the UK to take a leading role in harnessing, applying and regulating AI, calling among other things for the creation of Sentinel, “a national laboratory effort focused on researching and testing safe AI,” along with investment in future talent and infrastructure.
  • Chancellor’s speech. The Chancellor highlighted the importance of growth to the UK economy in a presentation to the Centre for Policy Studies, pointing to measures the government was taking to tackle this including the work of Sir Michael Barber on skills reform, a review by the Chief Secretary of public sector productivity, and a review of how to measure productivity better generally. 
  • Education Secretary’s speech. Gillian Keegan also addressed the Centre for Policy Studies Conference where she talked about her journey to becoming education secretary, highlighted the work they were doing to raise standards in education and improve options for young people, and claimed that this was all at risk currently from union action and a wasteful Labour Party.
  • Labour market picture. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest set of labour market figures for the quarter to April 2023 showing an increase in the employment rate, and a fall in vacancies and in economic inactivity along with a notable increase in average total pay which, adjusted for inflation, still amounted to a pay cut.
  • Economic Outlook. The CBI published its latest Economic Forecast suggesting that the UK economy would grow by 0.4% this year and avoid recession but that the economy ‘will be around 7% smaller at the end of next year compared to pre-Covid trends’.

More specifically ...


  • Ofsted inspections. Ofsted announced a package of reforms to its current school inspection system, drawn up in the light of the recent tragic death of Ruth Perry and including quicker and clearer re-inspections when issues of safeguarding have been raised, de-personalising some of the language around inspection reports and consulting on a more transparent and responsive complaints system. 
  • Inspection inquiry. The Education Committee announced it would conduct a new Inquiry into school inspections, looking among other things at whether the latest framework has had an impact on ‘school standards and the workload and wellbeing of teachers’.
  • Music education. The government announced the creation of a new music Education Monitoring Board tasked with building on last year’s National Plan for Music Education by ensuring that from September, schools provide at least an hour a week of ‘music development’ for pupils.
  • Sign Language. The government launched consultation on what should go into a new GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL) with a view to making this available for first teaching from September 2025.
  • Financial literacy.The Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) called on teachers, parents and financial services to work with children to help develop their understanding and awareness of financial matters as it published new survey evidence suggesting that less than half of all children have been taught about money either at home or school and some 5.4m children don’t have the money skills they’ll need in adulthood.
  • KS2 progress measures. FFT Education Datalab looked at options for alternative progress measures for KS2 next year given the fact that KS1 data won’t be available as a baseline s it wasn’t collected under lockdown, suggesting the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile as a possible alternative.
  • Updated MoU. The DfE and Grammar School Heads Association published an updated Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) setting out shared aims (including increased partnerships between selective and non-selective schools,) areas of joint working (including extended admission arrangements,) and success measures (Including monitoring the uptake of disadvantaged pupils.)
  • Being Strategic. The National Governance Association published its latest set of guides for leaders and governors on strategic development covering areas like vision setting, creating the right culture, and risk assessment.
  • Teacher Tapp reported that the most popular day of the week for holding meetings is a Wednesday, followed by a Monday, with not many of those surveyed reporting holding meetings on a Friday.


  • L3 VTQ Results. Ofqual confirmed the procedures in place this year to ensure that all students taking vocational and technical qualifications (VTQ) at L3 get their results on time, highlighting the importance of sticking to information deadlines.
  • Mergers and inspections. Ofsted examined the impact of college mergers on inspections pointing to the importance of context but concluding that “most colleges either maintained or improved on the grades of their constituent institutions at their first inspection after merging”.
  • Creative Industries. The government published a new Sector Vision for the Creative Industries aiming to grow it by an extra £50bn while creating a million extra jobs by 2030 with new investment, new startups, new skills programmes and a new career talent pipeline, all generating export income and global leadership.
  • End Point Assessment. The AELP reported on its recent consultation on end point assessment (EPA) with issues about a lack of consistency, availability of slots and poor feedback among the top concerns raised.
  • ITB reviews. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) outlined arrangements for the forthcoming government review of Industry Training Boards (ITB) for Construction and Engineering.
  • Enrichment learning. NCFE and the AoC published the interim findings from their joint Project on ‘valuing enrichment learning’ in post-16 provision, calling for better resources, funding and recognition generally for a form of learning that they argue could greatly benefit and extend the skills of learners.


  • AI opportunities.The government announced a new investment package through UK Research and Intelligence (UKRI) intended to provide for an HE led consortium to develop safe AI, and for a number of universities to undertake leading research in AI-based projects ranging from energy and transport systems to woodland expansion. 
  • UCAS Personal Statement. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) published a report on the personal statement used in UCAS applications which is currently under review and which researchers indicated from a survey was only briefly read by admissions officers, concluding that adopting a brief question format would be a better alternative. 
  • REF 2028. Research England outlined a number of initial changes as part of the next Research Excellence Framework (REF) intended to help define research excellence more clearly and shift the assessment emphasis away from individuals to ‘broader contributions’ such as the research culture of the institution as a whole.
  • Student rights. The Office for Students (OfS,) which has been working with National Trading Standards on the protection of students’ consumer rights, confirmed it intended to consult on an updated approach over the next year as it published a briefing setting out the current procedures and expectations.
  • Cyber security. JISC announced the launch of a cyber security protection system for UK tertiary education and research organisations, using a managed firewall service that “automatically detects and mitigates a range of threats”.
  • Student loans. The Student Loans Company released a batch of data on student loans for the financial year 2022/23 showing that the loan balance for HE had reached £205.6bn with the average borrower’s loan balance “on entry into repayment remains relatively consistent with previous two years, at £44,940”.
  • English studies. The British Academy reported on how English studies were faring in UKHE noting that despite a drop in numbers of first-degree undergraduates and of staff in many parts of the UK, the subject fares well when it comes to employment prospects and in skills valued by employers.
  • A degree of luck. The institute of Education challenged some of the traditional mores on social mobility by arguing in a new paper that many of the people surveyed who became the ‘first in the family’ to access higher ed, had benefitted from ‘luck,’ like finding a helpful mentor, as much as anything else.
  • International students. Former Universities Minister Jo Johnson reported on his recent speech on international students in a blog on the HE Policy Institute (HEPI) site, outlining some of the current concerns around the debate such as whether they’re displacing domestic students, and went on to list four reforms including for the regulator to publish an annual statement on international recruitment plans, as a way forward. 
  • Future skills. Mary Curnock Cook reported on Nuffield’s future skills project and in particular the recent analysis from NFER in a blog on the HEPI site, noting the continuing importance of ‘soft’ skills and calling for these to be included in university course details.
  • Maximising R/I. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced it was setting up a new network, the Innovation and Research Caucus (IRC,) that would work with it in building a community of experts, as well as leading on funding strategies and helping deliver its plan of action.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Interesting Pandemic Hangover: More teachers put their desks in rows during Covid and have mainly kept them there ...” | @miss_mcinerney
  • “Teacher probs #35. Spending your summer holiday terrified you’ll hear “Hiya sir” whilst you’re laying like a portly walrus by the pool” | @ScottPughsley
  • “I don't know how any teacher has time for tea these days? I used to drink it regularly. Now I reckon I have about one cup of tea every two months” | @JamesTheo
  • “God why does EVERY contact insist on a video meeting now? Really, I just want to speak to you on the phone for five to ten minutes. No hassle. We really don't need a specific meeting time, link and agenda ...” | @hannahfearn

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “I want to make the UK not just the intellectual home but the geographical home, of global AI safety regulation” – the PM addresses the London Tech Conference.
  • “The risks are very real that we end up widening the gap between those with the skills to take advantage and those without, who lose their jobs or have their jobs drastically changed” – Keir Starmer offers his take on AI developments to the London Tech event.
  • “We are keen to explore the opportunities this technology presents for education, as well as understanding the concerns of educators and experts in education” – the DfE launches a call for evidence on the use of AI in education.
  • “When it comes to the cost-of-living crisis, workers are swimming against the tide. Despite strong wages growth, prices are rising faster with the cumulative result that every month the average pay packet doesn’t go as far as it did the month before” – the HR body CIPD reacts to the latest labour market data. 
  • “There are many better and more appropriate uses for the vice-chancellor’s very costly time” – the Times Higher reports that union members are unimpressed with the V.C. of Bristol stepping in to mark some art history essays during the current industrial action.
  • “We are in the process of reviewing the independent School Teachers’ Review Body’s recommendation on teacher pay for 2023-24, and we will publish our response in the usual way” – the education secretary responds to an MP’s question about when she’s going to resolve the teacher action.
  • “This cross-party Committee is well-placed to conduct a rounded, nuanced examination of the inspection regime” – the Education Committee announces a new inquiry into school inspections.
  • “Couples are less likely to physically bump into other people when walking in busy public spaces than pairs of acquaintances or work colleagues are. However, adding a child into the mix makes the group more likely to have a collision” – research from the New Scientist.

Important numbers

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

  • 0.2%. The GDP growth figure for the UK for April, amounting to an increase of 0.1% over the three months to April 2023 according to the latest figures from the ONS.
  • 21%. The economic inactivity rate for the period February – April 2023, a drop of 0.4 percentage points according to latest ONS figures..
  • Nearly 4m. The numbers days lost to industrial action since the start of last year, according to Bloomberg News.
  • £4.2bn. The volume of loan repayments made by students in higher ed in 2022/23, up by 24.6% according to the Student Loans Company.
  • 39%. The number of admissions officers surveyed who take a minute or less to read a UCAS personal statement, according to a survey report from HEPI. 
  • 89%. The number of students surveyed who think there should be more about pensions on the school curriculum, according to a poll from NOW: Pensions.
  • 92.5% and 82.6%. The proportion of primary and secondary school applicants respectively who got their first choice offer this year, slightly up for primary slightly down for secondary according to latest government figures.
  • 8.9%. The absence rate in schools for w/commencing 22 May 2023, up 2pp on the previous week according to latest government figures.
  • 43.3m. The number of children around the world forcibly displaced through war, climate and other concerns as of the end of last year, a record according to UNICEF.
  • £14.6m. The amount of money raised for children around the world by this year’s Soccer Aid event, according to UNICEF. 

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • HEPI Annual Conference (Thursday 22 June).
  • National Association for the Teaching of Englich (NATE) Annual Conference (Saturday 24 – June Sunday 25 June).

Other stories

  • Who are the world’s most influential commentators in international higher education? An interesting comment piece this week from Phil Baty, Chief Global Affairs Officer at the Times Higher. He asked ChatGPT just that question. It came up with 19 names, 20 actually but one was named twice. They included Simon Marginson from Oxford and Christopher Hill from Cambridge along with a sprinkling of global names. The full list can be seen here
  • Turning off the news. “The proportion of news consumers who say they avoid news, often or sometimes, remains close to all-time highs at 36% across markets.” This was one of the findings from the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2023 released this week. Its latest report, based on data and surveys from 46 markets across the globe, suggested that trust in the news has fallen generally by a further two percentage points on last year -Finland apparently is the country where trust is highest – that a fifth of respondents source their news from a website or an app, and that Facebook and Twitter are still up there as sources of news. But significantly “when it comes to news, audiences say they pay more attention to celebrities, influencers, and social media personalities than journalists in networks like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat.” For the UK specifically, the BBC followed by Channel 4 News and ITV top the most trusted news brands followed by the FT and The Gurdian among news print. In summary “News consumption has remained broadly stable (here) in the last 12 months, with the exception of newspapers (-3pp).” A link to the report is here

If you find my policy updates useful, please consider donating something, however small, to help support its publication. EdCentral is a not-for-profit social enterprise and relies on donations to continue its work.

You can sign up here to receive access to Education Eye straight from your inbox on publication.

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.



EdCentral Logo