Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 23 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:

Some difficult headlines this week, four in particular concerning education.

First, the latest inflation figures, which in the words of the Chancellor were "disappointing". Two reports this week highlight the effects on families. They include the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest cost-of-living tracker, and a briefing from the House of Commons Library Service on the rise in the numbers of pupils on free school meals and the impact of food insecurity on households generally. Many families are clearly struggling.

Second, the Covid Inquiry, which heard from the former chief medical officer about the damaging impact of the lockdown on many children and students. "We have damaged a generation and it is awful as head of a college [Trinity] in Cambridge watching these young people struggle”, she told members.

Third, the teachers’ dispute, where according to ACSL, 'We are hurtling towards an autumn term where there is going to be unrest in our classrooms unless the secretary of state talks'. The education secretary stuck to her line that “next year, school funding will be at its highest level in history – in real terms”, and that she would respond to the pay board’s recommendations for next year in the coming weeks. Meanwhile the NEU announced two more strike days next month and the ASCL launched its first ever ballot for strike action.

And fourth, worries in the university sector about whether the current marking boycott would prevent many students from getting their degrees. The BBC reported that 'students at the University of Edinburgh are planning peaceful protests at graduations after being told their results will be delayed'.

In more positive news, this week’s annual Refugee Week and Learning Disability Week both sparked lots of encouraging comment and activities. Barnardo’s ‘A Warm Welcome’ blueprint neatly spanned both. And of course we had the annual ‘Thank a Teacher’ Day this week. A reminder of those 'I donut what I'd do without you' puns perhaps.

In sector specific news this week, the NFER found mixed views about the National Tutoring Programme from a survey of school leaders – it can help disadvantaged children, but the programme is not cost-effective. And Ofsted published an international perspective on early years provision. Broadly, most countries are prioritising it, but finding qualified staff can be a challenge.

In FE, the government re-appointed Sir Michael Barber as its skills adviser for the rest of the year and urged employers to dig deeper and invest more in skills training as it hosted a major Skills for Growth Conference. Earlier in the week, the Skills Minister took along his ‘ladder of opportunity’ and set out his thoughts in a speech to the Sixth Form Colleges Association.

And in HE, two major reports – the OfS’s Annual Report and Accounts and HEPI/Advance HE’s Student Academic Experience Survey – pointing to a resilient sector recovering well from the pandemic.

Finally to end on a positive note as the sun shines over Glastonbury: ”I’m at Glasto and I’ve just found out I passed my resit exam”. Might be difficult to spot the happy face among the crowd.

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.

  • Graduation blues. "I'll be walking across the graduation stage with an empty piece of paper". The graduation ceremony season may be upon us, but marking boycotts mean many students could have to wait to get their degree results. Currently 145 UK institutions are affected by the boycott, more than triple the number of last year. Ministers were questioned about it by MPs in education questions last week, while institutions were reminded in an open letter from the Office for Students of their responsibilities to students. 'I’m sure you are also aware of your obligations to students under consumer protection law' it went on to say, 'and that you will have implemented measures designed to ensure students are appropriately supported throughout this period'. The DfE has already declared that trainee teachers can start their courses in September and confirm their degree results later if need be. The Sunday Times reported that the same would apply to the graduate intakes this year at PwC and NatWest. Cambridge meanwhile has suggested that ‘over 50%’ of undergraduates could be affected and will issue provisional results where necessary. The marking boycott is not due to end until the end of this September.

  • The student experience. In his Foreword to the Office for Students’ latest Annual Report and Accounts, Chair James Wharton, pointed to a sense of normality returning to the sector as the pandemic receded. 'Students have overwhelmingly returned to campus and can enjoy a more normal experience of higher education'. This year’s HEPI/Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey – reflecting the views of over 10,000 UK undergraduates and compiled during the first quarter of this year – broadly supports this. Fewer online lectures, more timetabled classes, and a 5% increase in the number who feel the experience has matched their expectations. It’s not all hunky dory of course. Lack of feedback and assessment support, poor teaching quality, and not living up to the hype were some of the downsides cited. Two in particular stand out. First, the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, which has led to an increase in the number of students working as well as studying. Over three-quarters commented that it was affecting their studies generally. And second, student welfare, which continues to be a concern for many – with loneliness a particular worry in many cases. The Survey was published on the day UCAS released its final set of leading comment pieces on coping successfully with the projected surge in student numbers over the rest of the decade. The so-called ‘Journey to a Million’. One that politicians cannot ignore forever when it comes to funding.

  • Education matters. Is education still a high priority for MPs and voters alike? As things build up to the next general election, it’s a question increasingly being asked. A couple of weeks ago, Nesta, (‘the innovation agency for social good’) published the results of its survey into the big policy issues facing the next generation. The three top priorities cited were inflation, the NHS, and energy prices. These were followed by immigration, inequality, a growth economy, and government accountability. Someway down was education. The research was based on battleground constituencies, Red Wall and so on, and so reflected particular concerns, but there was little to suggest that education was likely to emerge as one of the big rallying points in future elections. Rishi Sunak has repeatedly declared that education is ‘the silver bullet in public policy’ yet neither his nor Keir Starmer’s five missions specifically mention education. Nor has either side managed to craft an attractive vision for education for the future as yet. Arguably, there are three reasons: current problems are too pressing – think mortgages; education issues are too intractable – think tuition fee reform; or education doesn’t matter anymore. Let’s hope none of these is true.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Teacher strikes: NEU challenged over ‘devastating’ dates clash’ (Monday).
  • ‘Students to graduate without knowing final results’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Tutoring not a long-term plan to help English pupils catch up, say teachers’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Most university students working paid jobs, survey shows’ (Thursday).
  • ‘DfE mulls tougher Ofsted role in new catch-up plan’ (Friday).


  • Expert taskforce. The government announced the appointment of Ian Hogarth as chair of the Foundation Model Taskforce, which will head up the government’s drive towards the development of safe AI, using research and market opportunities to position the UK as a global leader in this field.
  • Minimum wage. The government listed the names of over 200 businesses, both large and small, that had failed to pay their staff the minimum wage over recent years including some (21%) who had failed to pay the correct apprenticeship rate.
  • Workforce survey. The consulting company PwC published a new survey of the UK workforce showing that 23% expect to change jobs over the next 12 months, up from 18% last year, 46% think that AI will have an impact on their jobs in the next five years against 68% globally, and 47% have virtually nothing left over for savings at the end of the month.
  • APPG on Poverty. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) called for an independent panel to decide benefit levels as it published the results of its call for evidence on the adequacy or not of social security showing many families struggling with the cost-of-living.
  • Cost-of-living. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation called for an Essentials Guarantee for families as it published its latest cost-of-living tracker showing nine in ten low-income households going without essentials.
  • Business investment. The IPPR think tank pointed in a new report to the lack of business investment in the UK (“lower in the UK than in any other country in the G7”) especially in green technologies, estimated at being worth ‘$10.3 trillion to the global economy by 2050.’
  • Good Work in the North. The HR professional body CIPD published its latest Good Work Index focusing on this occasion at work and workers in the North of England and finding that job satisfaction and relations at work remain good but that many are worried about the cost-of-living and public sector workers in particular about pay and work pressures.

More specifically ...


  • Key Stage 1/2 results. The Standards and Testing Agency published leaflets for parents explaining in more detail the information they will receive over the coming weeks about the Key Stage assessment results.
  • Strike action. ASCL launched its first ever ballot for strike action, with eligible members in England having until the end of July to vote and any possible strike action due to be announced in the autumn term.
  • Safeguarding. The government launched consultation on revised information-sharing advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services following recent concerns about the need to share information more widely, with proposals to provide clearer usage for the ‘Seven Golden Rules’ used in such instances.
  • National Tutoring. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) reported on its survey of school leaders about the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) indicating that many saw it as helpful in supporting disadvantaged learners but that too often this came at “at too high a cost in terms of finances and administration” and that other types of support could be more useful.
  • Early years. Ofsted examined early years provision from an international perspective noting that most countries recognise the importance of the early years and are increasingly focusing on it and on children’s educational and emotional development but that staffing shortages are an issue.
  • English teacher recruitment. Education consultant Barbara Bleiman called in an open letter for the education secretary to tackle the recruitment of English teachers, setting out seven proposals to help with this including making changes to GCSE, rethinking inspections, and generally making the subject more fun and flexible.
  • Schools youth work. The National Youth Agency called for ‘a greater alignment with schools’ and the creation of a clear National Youth Strategy as it published a review outlining many of the positive effects of its work with schools in areas such as attendance and enrichment.


  • Minister’s address. Rob Halfon, the Skills Minister, addressed the Sixth Form Colleges Association where he focused in particular on the issues of funding, and government investment in 16-19 provision, and on BTECs, suggesting these could be reconfigured within the reformed L3 framework.
  • Extended Barber. The government confirmed that it was extending Sir Michael Barber’s tenure as adviser on skills policy for a further six months.
  • Missing million. The trades directory Checkatrade highlighted the extent of the skills gap in construction and trades in a new report compiled by Capital Economics, pointing to the million of workers needed (937,000 to be precise) over the next decade to cope with an anticipated demand for skilled tradespeople.
  • Construction worker shortages. The CITB reported that 55% of employers had faced shortages of skilled workers over the past couple of years with a fall in migrant workers a key factor, calling for employers, industry groups and government to work together on its Industry Skills Plan to help alleviate future shortages.
  • Fixing Ofsted. The sixth form colleges association hosted a blog from a teacher setting out a number of proposals for reforming Ofsted inspections including taking safeguarding out and making it subject to a separate checking experience, conducting a data sweep ahead of an inspection to identify key areas, and having a separate body for appeals.


  • Student Experience. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) and Advance HE published the results from their 2023 Student Academic Experience Survey finding many students happy with their course and acknowledging value for money but ‘a major increase’ in the number of students in paid employment as concerns emerge about the impact of the cost-of-living.  
  • Annual Report. The Office for Students (OfS) published its Annual Report and Accounts for 2022/23 with a detailed checklist of performance against its three objectives of quality and standards, equality of opportunity and enabling regulation, along with a breakdown of its funding for the year (£1.457m,) fees (£26.1m) and expenditure (£1.486m.)
  • Future funding. The Office for Students (OfS) confirmed £1.4m in non-capital funding allocations for 2023/4, an increase of £56m on the previous year to include provision for more degree apprenticeships, higher tech qualifications and high-cost clinical subjects.
  • Journey to a Million. UCAS published the final instalment of essays from leading contributors on the theme of managing an upsurge in university numbers over the decade (the Journey to a Million) with widening opportunities, skills alignment, joined up support, and balancing quality with quantity all seen as factors.
  • Embracing the LLE. Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK called on the sector ‘to embrace the Lifelong Loan Entitlement’ (LLE) setting out five areas for further work including opening up opportunity and ensuring sustainable funding, as the Bill enacting the entitlement reached the Lords Committee Stage.
  • Lie of the land. Nick Hillman, director of HEPI, reflected on some of the current issues facing higher education and politicians generally in a speech to Sheffield Hallam, pointing among other things to the success of the international strategy but equally challenges around future funding, teaching quality and staff contracts.
  • Setting the fees. The managing director of Consulting AM, Peter Ainsworth, argued in a comment piece for conservativehome for a free market approach for higher education with universities able to set their own fee levels for home undergraduates along with income-contingent loans “to make up the difference between the government loan and the new fee level.”

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “The Guardian view on teacher shortages: Pay must go up, and workload down” |
  • “Boys are now more enthusiastic than girls about school for the first time in 30 years, according to a new study in Scotland” | @tes
  • “Learning to say “no” when you don’t have the time to do something is the greatest skill you can develop” -@ScottPughsley.
  • “Cost of living crisis forcing students to take on more hours of paid work” | @GdnUniversities
  • “Outstanding teachers, support staff and leaders scoop silver at 2023 Pearson National Teaching Awards”| @FEontap
  • “We all know where the big apple is, but does anyone know where the… Minneapolis”| @ThePunnyWorld
  • “We're saying yay to crumpet ice cream, nay to frozen pea flavour” | @Londonist

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “It is also vital that medium-term fiscal policies, including public sector pay awards, be based on the expectation of full achievement of the inflation target” – the Chancellor writes to the Governor of the Bank of England following the latest inflation figures.
  • “We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet in the UK millions are going without the essentials we all need to get by” – the Joseph Rowntree Foundation publishes its latest cost-of-living Index.
  • “If you are an AI specialist or safety researcher who wants to build out state capacity in AI safety and shape the future of AI policy, then get in touch with me – the chair of the new AI expert taskforce issues an open invitation.
  • “We’re going to throw everything at this: planning reform, procurement, long-term finance, R&D, a strategic plan for skills and supply chains” – Sir Keir Starmer on his new Green Mission.
  • “As leaders of two of the continent’s leading research universities, we know that when it comes to research and development, scale counts” – the presidents of UCL and Munich University write to the FT calling for Horizon Europe R/D to be sorted.
  • “While the name will no longer exist, these qualifications can be reformed and re-approved for funding, either as technical, or alternative academic qualifications” – the Skills Minister with his latest thoughts on BTECs
  • “If I started now I would have been sacked about three times on the way! People were pretty forgiving. You don’t get many chances to make mistakes anymore” -long-serving college principal Ian Pryce ahead of his retirement.
  • “I am pleased to announce that NHS England will make available sight testing to all special schools from 2024/25” – the government announces plans to help with sight testing in special schools.
  • “Gillian Keegan is the seventh education secretary in five years. It does not appear that any of them have grasped the problem” – this week’s Guardian Editorial on the current teacher recruitment crisis.
  • “Do not worry if your child is not working at the expected standard” – the Standards and Testing Agency issues guidance for parents about the forthcoming KS1 and 2 test results.

Important numbers

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

  • 7.1%. The figure for core inflation, up from 6.8% previously and the highest figure since1992 according to latest ONS figures.
  • 16. The number of applications received by the government for the post of ‘Free Speech Czar’ in HE, according to an answer in parliament.
  • 33.4. The average number of hours per week spent in class, fieldwork or independent study by undergraduates in UKHE over the past year, according to the latest survey from HEPI/Advance HE. 
  • 244,000. The number of qualified apprentices needed by 2032 to plug the skills gap in construction and trades according to a new report from Checkatrade.
  • 34%. The number of UK workers planning to ask for a pay rise in the next 12 months, according to a new report from PwC.
  • 58%. The number of senior teachers in a survey who don’t see tutoring as a long-term solution to closing the attainment gap, according research from NFER.
  • 75%+. The number of teachers surveyed who have used their own money to buy sources to teach children about the environment according to a survey from Atomik Research.
  • 1.5m. The number of pupils in England with special needs, according to latest government figures.
  • 63%. The number of male teachers surveyed who have to wear a tie to work, down from 75% four years ago according to Teacher Tapp.
  • 60%. The number of users surveyed who said they’d encountered at least one piece of harmful content online in the last month, according to Ofcom.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • AELP National Conference (Monday 26 June – Tuesday 27 June).
  • Education Committee witness session with Nick Gibb MP on persistent school absences (Tuesday 27 June).

Other stories

  • Uni fees. For those starting university in England this September, there have been a number of changes to tuition fees to be aware of. The latest version of the fees -Plan 5- which sees repayments at 9% on earnings of £25,000 spread over 40 rather than 30 years means many more graduates paying back more according to moneysaving expert Martin Lewis. In his words, “Overall these changes swing the pendulum of cost further towards the individual, away from the state.” Labour is currently considering alternative financing models and the whole issue is likely to become an election issue in the coming months. For the moment Martin Lewis’ ‘six need-to-knows about Plan 5’ and overall ‘summary of changes’ chart may prove helpful to many families. A link to it all is here.

  • Why is everyone so angry at work? According to the latest update in the FT on working practices “Anger is on the rise at work — and it’s especially heated in the UK.” Not only that but as the article goes on to say “Weirdly (and perhaps worryingly), UK workers now have the same anger levels as people in Ukraine.” People will have their own theories as to why this is so – Brexit, Covid, war, cost-of-living and so on but it seems that a steady rise in negative feelings has been building for sometime and certainly before this latest set of issues. The advice for managers -perhaps all of us – is to listen more rather than switch off quickly and dive into What’sApp or Instagram. A link to the article, if you have time, 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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