Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 07 July 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 big policy moves this week. Three in particular.

First, Sir Keir Starmer set out his Party’s plans for education and skills as part of his ‘Mission for a Better Britain.’. In a speech heavy on visual imagery, the Labour leader outlined a number of ways in which a Labour government would ‘tear down the barriers to opportunity.’ The BBC’s Education editor, Branwen Jeffreys, summarised it all as “a different vision for education but without tackling some of the thorniest challenges any government will face.” Details below.

Second, the Russell Group of Universities set out their thoughts on the application of AI in HE. Their five principles embraced the importance of helping to develop staff and student AI literacy and upholding academic integrity and rigour. As the Chief Executive of the Group explained, “It’s in everyone’s interests that AI choices in education are taken on the basis of clearly understood values.

And third, the Association of Colleges called for a more coherent tertiary sector in England spanning ‘colleges, universities and other learning organisations in one (tertiary) system.’ It argued that this would help tackle some of the current challenges such as skills, productivity, and regional inequality.  

Elsewhere strike action returned this week with NEU members walking out on Wednesday and today. As the BBC reported “It has been more than five months since teachers first took to the picket lines in woolly hats, clutching takeaway coffees between gloved hands.” Slightly different today.

In more positive news, education clans have been gathering at Wellington College for the latest and 13th great Festival of Education where speakers have included Eddie Izzard and Amanda Spielman. A link to her speech below.

More specifically for schools this week, next week sees the release of this year’s SATs results and FFT Education Datalab took an early look at what they might show. “Attainment appears to have improved in 2023. However, it still remains below pre-pandemic standards,” it suggested.

Also for schools, the government announced a new panel to promote cultural education and the EDSK think tank published a follow-up report on the issue of private school fees and benefits suggesting that the concept of charitable status was not well understood. “The political attention directed at the charitable status of some independent schools is evidently not underpinned by a commensurate level of understanding about what charitable status entails.”

In FE this week, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students highlighted the effects on many students of the rising cost-of-living. “Many students in further education have been pushed to tipping point by the cumulative effect of ever-increasing food and energy bills, transport, rent and living expenses.”

While in HE, media reports that after months of difficult negotiation, a draft deal had been agreed with the EU for Britain to rejoin the Horizon Europe research programme, have been welcomed. It’s hoped things could be signed next Tuesday when the PM and EU leaders meet. As education specialist Johnny Rich tweeted ‘great news…but being out in the cold for so long has done untold damage to the UK’s position in science and engineering.’

Finally, to return to Sir Keir Starmer and his Party’s plans for education, one of which included improving oracy skills, the prize for the best headline goes to The New Statesman. It simply read ‘Speak Keirly kids.’

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.  

  • Labour plans. Plenty of ambition, lots of catchy phrases (‘shattering the glass ceiling’) and claims of being ‘fully costed.’ Sir Keir Starmer outlined Labour plans on education and skills this week as part of the Party’s fifth and final great mission for a future Labour government. The Party has struggled to develop what’s seen as a convincing narrative on education so far. Forays into universal free primary school meals, school inspections, the charitable status of private schools and university tuition fees have generated mixed reactions. So how do things look now? The 23-page mission statement lists lots of things Labour will do over the next 5 – 10 years, not all of them simple. ‘Tackling all the inequalities that pervade our society’ is easier to say than do for instance but does at least recognise the wider social context within which education operates. Ther’s some important proposals on child care and early years with a focus on more childcare places, workforce reform and language skills The section on schools is quite lengthy and includes earlier proposals such as replacing Ofsted grades with school report cards and recruiting and retaining more teachers through bursaries and mentoring. Its proposals for regional school improvement teams appear more travelling in hope than expectation while the proposed major curriculum review should start from the plethora of curriculum reviews of the last few years to avoid disrupting another school year. As for further and higher education, the plan calls for more trained careers advisers, a review of L3, a national plan for skills built around Skills England, reform for the apprenticeship levy, support for adult basic skills, and reworking rather than reform of the tuition fee system. All of its policies, it says, are ‘fully costed, fully funded and subject to the Party’s fiscal rules’ but little of this was in the plan and as ever remains the big talking point.

  • Should we be teaching AI in schools? This week the Russell Group of Universities published a set of principles to guide the use of AI in higher education. The first principle was about supporting staff and students to become AI-literate. “It is important,” it argued,” that all students and staff understand the opportunities, limitations and ethical issues associated with the use of these tools.” The DfE currently has a call for evidence out to discover more about how ‘generative AI is being used across education.’ So far, ministers have tended to stick to the line that AI could help in reducing workloads for teachers but as the House magazine asked this week “why aren’t we teaching AI in schools?” A number of reasons spring to mind: an overcrowded curriculum, a lack of suitable resources, a shortage of trained staff, and the lack of an ethical framework, to name a few. Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on AI is keen for it to be taught in schools and the DfE now has a Taskforce to guide it on this area. It’s due to report later this year. It’ll be interesting to see if AI teaching in schools comes up.

  • Tertiary moves. Would things be better if colleges, universities and learning providers were brought together into one structured system? Should we be aiming for a more coherent tertiary system? It’s not a new argument. Sir Philip Augar had proposed something similar for post-18 education in his major report in 2019, Alison Wolf equally in her paper in 2016. This week the Association of Colleges (AoC) added their voice to the debate. ‘Reform tertiary education and kickstart the great British recovery’ they argued. So is the timing better now than say 2019 or 2016? The AoC think so arguing that with a general election ahead and a range of challenges evident, from ‘stagnating growth and productivity to ever-widening skills gaps and an ageing population,’ ‘a bold and confident new vision for tertiary education is needed.’ They put forward a number of solutions to this including a new statutory right to lifelong learning, apprenticeships focused on new starters and sector-based qualification plans. How far this grabs the attention of the wider electorate in a forthcoming general election remains to be seen. In fairness, Labour has acknowledged the importance of the issue in its latest education mission plans promising that “A Labour government will undertake a period of review, with the aim of streamlining regulation and ensuring that regulators are supporting cooperation and collaboration between colleges and universities.” We’ll see.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Labour pledges bonus for new teachers but no commitment to 6.5% pay rise.’ (Monday).
  • ‘UK universities draw up guiding principles on generative AI.’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘MPs blast DfE for refusing to pause BTEC cutback.’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Labour promises a more creative mix at school.’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Ofqual: we won’t let robot markers take over.’ (Friday).


  • Mission education. The Labour Party set out its plans for education and skills as part of its fifth great mission for the country, claiming to ‘break down the barriers to opportunity for every child’ through the three stages of improved early learning goals, improved young people’s school outcomes, and expanded training and employment routes over the next ten years.
  • Keegan interview. The House magazine interviewed education secretary Gillian Keegan where she talked about her family, her background, her views on gender guidance (should be age appropriate,) teacher strikes (‘I got them what they wanted in the Autumn Budget,’) and degree apprenticeships (‘I just think it’s a win-win.)
  • Ed Tech. The OU published its 2023 Innovating Pedagogy report listing ten trends in current pedagogical innovation starting inevitably with ChatGPT but including also multimodal pedagogy and the metaverse for education.
  • Youth support. The government announced the first tranche of funding (£3m) for youth organisations to provide activities and support over the summer holiday for young people in disadvantaged areas as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan announced earlier this year.
  • Cultural education. The government confirmed the remit and names of the 22 experts who will advise the government on the creation of a plan to help develop cultural education and opportunities for young people, with the plan due by the end of the year.
  • Midlife MoT. The government launched its new midlife MoT website, aimed mainly but not solely at 45 – 65 yr olds with tools, tips and links to help people think about their future work, health and money.
  • Business Insights. The British Chambers of Commerce continued extending its reach by announcing the creation of a new Insights Unit, designed to bring together research and data that could provide businesses with ‘first-class intelligence on the big strategic issues impacting the UK economy.”
  • Future of Work Strategy. The Institute for the Future of Work updated its 2022-2025 Strategy suggesting that the transformation of work was at a ‘critical juncture’ and listing three ‘core challenges’ including the changing nature of work, the shifting of power through AI, and the prioritising of people, as part of this.

More specifically ...


  • Labour plans. The Labour Party pledged to deliver more childcare places, commission ‘an expert-led review’ of the curriculum and assessment, support more creative, digital and oracy skills, replace Ofsted grades with report cards, recruit more teachers and establish regional school improvement teams, as it set out its plans for education under a future Labour government.
  • Education secretary’s address. The education secretary addressed the LGA Conference where she praised local councils for the work they were doing supporting schools and families and highlighted the importance of three areas in particular: getting more children back into school, transforming SEND support, and supporting families through the Family Help services.
  • Chief inspector’s address. Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector looked both back and forward as she gave her final address at the Festival of Education as chief inspector, arguing that changes such as the revised inspection framework and the focus on the curriculum had helped move inspections on for the better but that the role of grading and reports remained an issue for any future inspection system.  
  • Teacher disputes. The teaching unions along with the TUC called on the government to publish the recommendations from the Pay Review Body amid concerns that ministers may be preparing to ignore its findings.
  • Industrial action. The House of Commons Library Service reported on the current state of teacher disputes – what the government has offered, what the unions are calling for and the current position on teacher pay – as NEU members staged two more days of strikes.
  • Teacher recruitment. Researchers at Sussex University reported on their research among primary school teachers and the challenges they faced, calling for better peer support and earlier interventions as a way of helping improve teacher recruitment and retention.
  • Exam results 2023. Ofqual followed up its recent letter to schools and colleges by writing to governors and trustees reminding them of how grades and results will be awarded for this summer’s exams, noting that the return to ‘normal’ awarding will see results nationally lower than last year.
  • KS1 Attainment 2023. FFT Education Datalab investigated initial Key Stage 1 results for this summer using data from its Early Results Service to suggest that while there had been ‘a small increase’ in the percentage reaching the expected standard in maths, reading and writing, there’d been a slight increase in the disadvantage gap and attainment generally was ‘still some way below pre-pandemic standards.’
  • Creative subjects. In another blog FFT Education Datalab looked at the impact of Progress 8 on creative subjects suggesting there had been ‘a small decrease’ in entries since the measure was introduced seven years ago but that this may have been caused by other factors rather than Progress 8 itself.
  • Attainment gaps for children in social care. The Education Policy Institute called for ‘a much bigger and versatile toolbox’ to help close the attainment gap for children in care and other children in need, which has worsened since the pandemic.  
  • Independent schools. The EDSK think tank followed up its recent report into the effectiveness or otherwise of levelling VAT on private school fees by examining the issue of charitable status, suggesting that while calls to remove it might appear popular, it would be better to make schools that benefit from it demonstrate how they supported local schools and disadvantaged families.
  • NEET figures. The government published the latest council by council figures on participation in education and training by 16/17 yr olds as well as NEET figures based on data collated in March, suggesting among other things a likely increase in the proportion of NEETs in many regions.
  • Academy Trusts. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) published what it called ‘a shortened and sharpened’ Academy Trust Handbook for 2023/24 with some limited changes around financial requirements, roles and responsibilities, and intervention.


  • Labour plans. The Labour Party promised to beef up careers provision, review L3 options, establish a body (Skills England) to drive forward a national skills plan, simplify the local landscape, reform the apprenticeship levy and develop a more cohesive tertiary system, as it set out its plans for education and skills under a future Labour government.
  • Post-16 qualifications. The government published its response to the Education Committee’s report into the future of post-16 qualifications leaving the Committee disappointed that concerns, raised in the report about the defunding of applied general qualifications like BTECs, about the T Level Transition Programme and about post-16 funding generally had not been properly addressed.
  • Tertiary system. The Association of Colleges called for a reformed tertiary system in England with colleges, learning providers and universities working together to deliver a workable apprenticeships system, a statutory right to lifelong learning, and a curriculum for all, aided by improved investment and workforce support.
  • Cost-of-living. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students reported on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on FE students, finding many facing extreme financial pressures with colleges reporting three issue in particular, including high numbers of students dropping out, growing family tensions and poor apprenticeship financial support.
  • Apprenticeships. The government announced the latest listing of top-ranking apprenticeship employers, both large and small, with the services heading the list of top large employers, and nurseries and crafts among the top small employers.
  • Apprenticeship panel. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) launched a recruitment campaign for members to join its panel of apprentices with a closing date of the end of the month.
  • GCSE resits. The Education Endowment Foundation published its commissioned report into post-16 GCSE English and maths resits suggesting that while different learning approaches were often helpful, the biggest issue was a shortage of qualified staff in these key areas.
  • Green skills. City and Guilds and Engineering UK called for greater support, collaboration and investment around the development of so-called green skills as they published a new report showing that less than half of current energy sector workers reckoned they had the skills to support a zero-carbon energy system by 2035.


  • Labour plans. The Labour Party welcomed the model of civic universities, praised university research, encouraged universities to work with colleges and others to deliver high-level skills but refrained from any major reform of tuition fees as it set out its plans on education under a future Labour government.
  • AI application. The Russell Group set out five principles intended to guide the application of AI across the university sector, covering such features as its use in teaching and assessment, ensuring staff and students have the skills needed to apply AI appropriately, and safeguarding academic rigour and integrity in the context of AI.
  • Funding Guide. The Office for Students (OfS) published its Funding Guide for 2023/24 setting out the funding available, how allocations are calculated and the accompanying rules and regulations.
  • LEO Data. The government published LEO data (Longitudinal Education Outcomes) for graduates in 2020/21 at a provider level, indicating that ‘most providers and subjects have seen their graduates’ earnings increase at or above the rate of inflation since 2014/15’ albeit with provider variations evident in subjects such as Computing and Law, and with those in the North East typically seeing lower salaries.
  • Pay dispute. The Times Higher examined the current position in the long-running pay dispute, finding increasingly divergent approaches as universities struggle to deal with the exam marking boycott, graduation ceremonies and local arrangements.
  • STEM and SHAPE. The British Academy launched a new communications campaign to highlight the importance, in terms of research and other activities, of the collaboration between STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Maths) and SHAPE (Social Sciences, Humanities, Arts, Economy) disciplines.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “I would be a lot less forgiving if I were a student": The Lord Blunkett interview” -@The HouseMag.
  • “There don't need to be super hit squad school improvers when schools are able to improve themselves. And if they're not able to improve themselves, you give them to a multi-academy trust who can improve them. WHY IS THIS SO HARD FOR POLITICIANS TO UNDERSTAND?” -@miss_mcinerney.
  • “Any of the super teacher hit squad wanna do my year 9 cover lesson tomorrow period 5?” -@annasiancole.
  • “Used to love it when there was a limit to how many tweets you could read” –@MooseAllain.

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “Too many people go to university and more should get a technical education to fill labour shortages and reduce Britain’s “addiction” to immigration” – according to the New Conservative Group.
  • “The principles I have outlined – beauty, infrastructure, democracy, environment, neighbourhood – B, I, D, E, N – spell BIDEN” – Michael Gove addresses the LGA Conference armed with a new acronym.
  • “"If reading opens up a world of imagination and possibility, then speaking and listening opens up a lifetime of empowerment" – Sir Keir Starmer on the importance of speaking skills.
  • “While my frustration is not directed at the striking lecturers, many of us are sick of being caught in the crossfire” – a university student expresses her frustration about her university experience.
  • “The document sets out our vision for a new tertiary education system, with clear priorities and great impact” – the Association of Colleges calls for a new tertiary system in England.
  • “The Government’s response to our detailed and strongly evidenced recommendations was disappointing and gives the impression of prioritising saving face over ensuring its reforms are carried out in the interests of young people” – the Chair of the Education Committee on the failure by the government to respond adequately to its concerns about post-16 qualifications.
  • “There is no good reason for any delay in their publication” – teaching unions call on the government to publish the Pay Body findings.
  • “To be clear, a lower results profile in 2023 does not indicate any change to the underlying performance of the school or college you help govern” – Ofqual writes to school governors and trustees ahead of this year’s exam results.
  • “We are only responsible for diagnosis. Others have the responsibility for support and improvement” – Amanda Spielman on the role of Ofsted.
  • “Shut up. And read” - bestselling author Bonnie Garmus with a sharp tip at this year’s Publishers Association gathering.

Important numbers

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

  • 86.5%. The number of adults in Great Britain who report having made some changes to their lifestyle to help tackle environmental issues, according to the ONS.
  • 41%. The number of businesses surveyed pointing to high interest rates as a concern for them, up 5% from previously, according to the latest survey from the British Chambers of Commerce.
  • 72%. The number of FE students in England in a survey who said they were facing financial difficulties due to the cost-of-living, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Students.
  • £58 per hour. The remuneration for the role of a Schools Adjudicator as advertised by the DfE this week.
  • £2,400. The bonus being proposed by the Labour Party to encourage more teachers in their third year to remain in the profession, according to latest Labour plans.
  • 25%. The number of teachers surveyed who said they were having ‘a major restructure of their curriculum this year,’ down from 39% in 2019 according to Teacher Tapp.
  • 48%. The number of councils confident about having enough childcare places available for children under two under current entitlements, according to the LGA.
  • 7.1m. The number of suspicious emails and websites reported to the National Cyber Security Centre services last year, roughly one every five seconds according to the Centre’s Active Cyber Defence Support report.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • The Chancellor’s Mansion House Speech on the Economy. (Monday 10 July).
  • This year’s SATs results published. (Tuesday 11 July).
  • HEPI webinar on 2023 Unite Students Application Index. (Tuesday 11 July).

Other stories

  • The top ten emerging technologies of the year. The World Economic Forum has just released its latest listing of what it calls ‘the most impactful emerging technologies of the year.’ Such lists can be intriguing and it’s interesting to see at this halfway point of the year which emerging technologies are staying the course. The list is based on the views of nearly a hundred academics and futurists from around the world and inevitably features AI, particularly in relation to health care, but also other less obvious items such as wearable plant sensors that can reduce water and fertilizer use and improve crop yields. Other items in the top ten include flexible batteries and sustainable computing. A link to the full top ten can be found here.
  • Classic children’s books. Summer is often the best time for reading and in familiar tradition, the children’s charity Coram has opened its poll for the best classic children’s books. Its top ten list includes such classics as Winnie the Pooh, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Tale of Peter Rabbit. But also more recent favourites such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar. And Roald Dahl is in there tool. Anyone wanting to vote for their favourite has until the end of August to do so. A link to it all 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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