Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 14 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:

A week of important numbers.

They include details on the latest public sector pay awards – including for teachers; the headline results from this year’s SATs; further costings on scrapping tax benefits for private schools; the latest 2023 university admission data; and some key economic and labour market data. 

A lot to take in and not all of it particularly easy. Some details further down.

More specifically, for education this week, with the exams over, attention has been shifting to making sure everyone is clear about assessment and grading arrangements this year and any actions that might need to be taken come results days in August. UCAS Chief Executive Clare Marchant offered her thoughts for those considering university in a blog on the HEPI website, while Ofqual ran through the grading procedures in various blogs, and Pearson added its guide for students, parents and carers, available on the link here

Elsewhere for schools, away from pay and rations, Ofsted published two more in its series of subject reports – on maths and history respectively – and FFT Education Datalab had some interesting data on how last week’s strike action had affected pupil attendance and the relationship between pupil absence and low Progress 8 scores. There is a relationship, but it’s not clear apparently.

In FE, the government reported on changes to FE system funding and accountability following recent consultation; and two interesting reports on apprenticeships were published.

And in HE, UCAS published the latest data on university admissions this year. 'We are still seeing a strong commitment among young people to go to university or college, with new UCAS data showing the second highest number of UK 18-year-old applicants on record', according to the Chief Executive. Elsewhere, the government published the latest widening participation figures for higher education, and HEPI celebrated its 20thbirthday, carefully avoiding the ‘HEPI Birthday’ trope.

In other news this week, the Public Accounts Committee took evidence from DfE officials on the state of school buildings, while the Education Committee questioned leading providers about teacher recruitment and retention. Next week sees the Education Committee’s final session of the term when it tackles Nick Gibb on school funding and maths to age 18.

Finally, Mumsnet ran an interesting online discussion on university costs prompted by a parent wondering about how much she should be supporting her daughter. The thread is here

The Nuffield Foundation celebrated its 80th anniversary by launching a new programme around ‘Changing Lives for the better’. 

And Keir Starmer revealed what he did to relax after a hard day at work. ‘After a tough day at work I turn to Beethoven’. 

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.  

  • This year’s SATs headlines. The key figure here was 59%. That’s the percentage of Year 6 pupils, who reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths SATs this year. The fact that these numbers were unchanged from last year allowed the government to talk about steady progress but it’s worth remembering that pre-pandemic, 2019 to be precise, the number that reached the expected standard was 65%. In terms of detail, the numbers reaching the standard in maths and writing this year, along with science were up on last year but down in reading. Further analysis will follow in September and December respectively. For the moment, the Schools minister said he was ‘encouraged’ and announced a review of the teaching of writing and an update to the Reading Framework. But ASCL added a dose of reality. “The government’s target of 90% of children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths is a pipe-dream in these circumstances.”
  • Ending tax breaks for private schools. More analysis this week on how much ‘extra’ money could be raised by ending tax breaks for private schools. It’s a policy of course that’s important to Labour plans. The figure often touted is £1.6bn. This would come from ending the tax breaks that come from charitable status and instigating VAT on school fees. A couple of weeks ago, the think tank EDSK urged caution over the final figure. Pupils switching to state schools, a lack of clarity over where VAT could be applied, accounting issues, all needed to be taken into account before assumptions were made it suggested. Analysis this week from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) appeared more positive. We estimate,” they concluded “that removing tax exemptions from private schools would raise about £1.6 billion a year in extra tax revenue.” Not only that, the policy would have only ‘a small effect’ on pupils moving from private to state schools. “A small but potentially worthwhile sum of money for use in state education,” according to the director of education at the Nuffield Foundation which sponsored the research.Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary was quick to tweet her support.
  • Latest economic data. A mass of reports out this week on the economy and the labour market but are there any sunlit uplands yet? The data on the labour market which saw economic inactivity down, employment up and private sector pay at least roaring ahead led to more head scratching according to the Resolution Foundation. As to the economy where the IMF, Bank of England, and the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) all published reports this week “the 2020s are turning out to be a very risky era for the public finances.” It was sentiment reinforced by the Chancellor in his Mansion House speech this week and by the Bank of England which pointed to the pressure on UK households and businesses in particular. This has been the background to the announcement by the government this week on public sector pay including that for teachers. The careful wording by the Prime Minister – “we only have a fixed pot of money to spend from” and so on - suggests a Pyrrhic victory. Arguably three points stand out now. First that the battle for inflation is likely to be more intense than ever; the pay rises will come with efficiency squeezes elsewhere. Schools may notice. Second, and on the theme of battles, the quest for growth will also become more intense. The IMF proposals for more business investment, greater upskilling and support for return to work seem pertinent here and should reinforce the skills agenda. And third, the labour market is still not right, poor skills mismatches, limited support for helping people back to work, uneven pay and flexibility. The Chancellor may return to this in his Autumn Budget.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Ofsted chief warns against ‘overloading’ schools with social challenges’. | Monday
  • ‘SATs results 2023: Reading standards fall in Yr 6 tests’. | Tuesday
  • ‘Schools could face fresh strikes in the autumn as teachers vote for industrial action’. | Wednesday
  • ‘Sunak agrees to public sector pay rises of at least 6% without raising budgets. |  Thursday 
  • ‘Stark gap between private and state school pupils getting into top universities widens’. | Friday


  • Public sector pay. The PM announced that the government was accepting the ‘headline recommendations’ from the public sector Pay Review Bodies including that for teachers but went on to say that government depts would have to find savings and efficiencies to pay for them, although he hoped this would see an end to industrial action.
  • Chancellor’s address. The Chancellor of the Exchequer set out his thoughts on the UK economy in the annual Mansion House address pointing to the ongoing need to tackle inflation and simplify regulation, and announcing new measures to support business investment through pension funds and the strengthening of the UK’s position as a listing destination.
  • Economic Outlook. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicated in its latest report on the UK economy that we were expected to avoid recession this year but that things remained ‘challenging,’ acknowledging the stance being taken by the government on inflation but putting forward three proposals to help stimulate growth including a strategy for business investment, a focus on health outcomes to help people back to work, and the upskilling of young adults.
  • Economic stress testing. The Bank of England published its latest report into the resilience of UK finances acknowledging the impact of higher interest rates on UK households and businesses but confirming that the banking system in general remained resilient. 
  • End of term report. Robin Walker MP, Chair of the Education Committee, reflected on the work of the Committee as the summer recess loomed, pointing to its Inquiries into the early years and school absences with reports due out shortly and forthcoming work on teacher recruitment and retention and Ofsted due to come this autumn.
  • UK labour market. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest statistics for the UK labour market showing employment and unemployment rates both up, economic inactivity down and average pay growth up, notably in finance and business services and the private sector generally.
  • Labour market analysis.The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) provided its regular analysis of the latest labour market figures, pointing to a mix of both positive (economic inactivity down) and negative outcomes (mismatches in wage growth and skills,) calling for a coherent strategy for the supply side to avoid stagflation and address mismatches in pay and skills.
  • UK Jobs market. KPMG and REC published their latest report on the UK jobs market showing ‘a slowdown in recruitment activity’ and pay demands ‘cooling’ as firms continued to remain hesitant about the economic outlook.
  • Growth Hubs. The government published a report into the role of LEP Growth Hubs between 2015 and 2020 whose future remains uncertain with funding due to run out next March but concluding that they have had a strong impact, especially with SME’s in terms of business support and opportunity building.
  • Industrial Strategy. The CIPD argued in a new report for a more integrated approach to industrial strategy, bringing together such interdependencies as skills, job quality, business support and digital adoption, suggesting that this would help improve productivity, living standards and sustainability.
  • Changing Lives for the Better. The Nuffield Foundation market its 80thanniversary by announcing a new, year-long programme of research and activities under the title of ‘Changing Lives for the Better’ and focusing on issues such as AI, the future of work and skills, and place and inclusion.
  • Golden Age Index. PwC published its latest report into older workers in the UK – the Golden Age Index – showing that more UK people aged 55+ have left work and not returned than in other G7 countries with poor health, investment income and high house values among the factors. 
  • 2 child limit. Leading children’s charities called on the government to scrap the two-child limit which deprives families of additional benefits, pointing to latest figures showing that ‘one in ten children are affected by the limit’ and families are struggling with the cost-of-living. 
  • Early Years. The Early Years Alliance launched two new surveys, one for providers and one for parents, on the funding, delivery and impact of the current and the new entitlement offers.
  • Early Years in context. The Sutton Trust published a new commissioned report looking into how England’s early years and childcare systems compare internationally suggesting that despite recent policy commitments, there was still room for improvement in England in areas like quality, costs, and accessibility and urging the country to learn from how other countries have opened access and ensured the provision of highly-qualified staff.
  • Dear Prime Minister. Leading charities and UNICEF ambassadors called on the UK government to do more to help UK families with by committing to a Baby and Toddler Guarantee of essential support services especially with the summer holidays looming and the cost-of-living crisis continuing.

More specifically ...


  • Teacher’s Pay. The government confirmed that it had formally accepted the Pay Review Body recommendation of a 6.5% pay increase for teachers, pledging an extra 3% for school budgets to help pay for the award with an additional £40m for schools facing hardship along with promised reforms of workloads, all of which unions will now put to their members.
  • Pay Body Report. The School Teachers Pay Review Body published its report on pay for teachers for 2023 pointing to evidence showing salaries had fallen behind the wider labour market and recruitment had missed targets, recommending accordingly an increase of 6.5% ‘at all grades’ with starting salaries rising to £30,000, further action on workloads and career pathways to be considered, and for performance-related pay to be withdrawn, ‘pending further work.’
  • SATs results 2023. The government published headline figures for this year’s SATs showing attainment up on last year in maths, writing and science but down in reading.
  • Reading framework. The government updated its guidance on how reading should be taught in primary schools, adding further information and support to help develop reading proficiency through to KS3.
  • Exam results 2023. Ofqual listed ’10 things to know about GCSE, AS and A level exam grades’ this year in a blog on its website, broadly offering a reminder of grading arrangements and likely impact as procedures returned to pre-pandemic days.
  • Ofsted on maths. Ofsted painted ‘a broadly positive picture’ on maths in a new report based on evidence gathered in 2021/22, indicating a much greater focus on high-quality provision since its last report over a decade ago but urging schools to continue focusing on the core essentials and ensuring these were well understood before pupils moved on.
  • Ofsted on History. Ofsted highlighted developments in the teaching of history since it last report over a decade ago, suggesting it was now more valued in schools with a curriculum to match but assessment, support for SEND pupils and historical understanding appeared variable both within and between some schools.
  • Chinese and Japanese. Ofqual confirmed proposals put forward in its recent consultation on Chines and Japanese AS/A levels, amending the requirement so that from 2024, ‘no more than 40% of the total marks may be used for responses in English’ 
  • Annual Report and Accounts. The Standards and Testing Agency published its Annual Report and Accounts for 2022/23 pointing to high levels of performance in test development but some issues over the year with test delivery although all within budget and with a further review of digital delivery among the actions listed for the future.
  • Private school tax breaks. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) examined the implications of the policy favoured by Labour of ending tax breaks and imposing VAT on private school fees, concluding that not only could it raise the amount of money considered but it wouldn’t destabilise the school system either.
  • Pay and incentives. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) looked into the policy options for long-term teacher pay and incentives in a new report arguing that a long-term strategy of “policy changes to pay, bursaries and early career payments” including splitting pay scales for primary and secondary teachers, was needed to tackle teacher recruitment and retention.
  • Inspecting supported accommodation. Ofsted launched consultation on how supported accommodation for looked after children and those in care should be inspected, proposing a system that looked at features like ‘overall experience and progress,’ that works on two days’ notice and provides for three possible outcomes from ‘consistently strong’ to ‘widespread weaknesses’.
  • Strike days. FFT Education Datalab looked at how far last week’s strike action had affected pupil attendance showing 65% of primary pupils and 27% of secondary pupils attending on the two strike days albeit with differences across year groups and regions.
  • Primary social action. The RSA and Pears Foundation published a range of case studies illustrating the extent of social action and citizenship being undertaken in primary schools in England, how it can benefit both pupils and schools and how it can developed over time. 
  • AI in school. Ed Elliott, Head of the Perse school, reflected in a blog on the HMC website about the future of teaching in the context of AI, arguing that while AI is likely to have a growing role when it comes to some forms of assessment and the seeking of knowledge, it will not be able to replace the human interactions that go into teaching. 


  • Funding and accountability The government confirmed changes to FE funding and accountability following the latest consultation which will see the new composite Adult Skills Fund introduced from next year, and a new funding framework for devolution deals and new Accountability Agreements and Performance Dashboard from this year, among other things 
  • Assessment and grading 2023. Ofqual provided a reminder of how assessment and grading will operate for technical and vocational qualifications this year as procedures return to pre-pandemic days for vocational qualifications and formal assessments apply for the first time for T levels.
  • 16-19 programmes. The government published its regular non-statutory guidance for the provision of 16-19 study programmes in the coming year covering standard requirements but also including a request to consider building in 16-19 maths provision where possible as per the PM’s ‘16+ maths mission.’
  • L2 regulation. The government confirmed the proposed regulatory arrangements for L2 qualifications supporting progression to T levels following recent consultation which will mean assessment and grading requirements will remain largely as suggested.
  • T levels. The government published the national technical outcomes by subject area for what students should be able to do by the end of their T level foundation year from 2026.
  • Apprenticeship case studies. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships launched a new report showing a range of case studies over the last year and calling among other things for greater flexibility and minimum levels of funding to help encourage greater participation.
  • Apprenticeship matters. UCAS and the Sutton Trust reported on the experiences of groups of young people keen to take up an apprenticeship, finding issues such as a lack of awareness, the ready availability of suitable options, let alone financial considerations hindering the opportunities and progress for many, especially the most disadvantaged. 
  • Kickstart Scheme. The government published an evaluation of its Kickstart Scheme, set up in the wake of the pandemic to help 16-24 yr olds facing unemployment and where employer funded support ran to the end of March 2022, concluding that the Scheme worked and helped young people although there were teething problems, some groups had a poorer experience than others and there were local issues in some cases.
  • IoT Conference. The Gatsby Foundation reported on its recent inaugural Institutes of Technology (IoT) Conference which focused on the importance of developing partnerships and building skills and which were described by the education secretary as ‘the jewel in the crown’ (of skills.)


  • University entry 2023. UCAS published the picture for university applications 2023 as of the 30 June deadline showing a continuing upsurge in applications by UK 18 yr olds including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, a record number of applications for computer courses, and continuing high numbers of international applicants.
  • Results Day 2023. Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of UCAS, ran through some important information for students seeking university entry ahead of this year’s results day, pointing out in a blog on the HEPI website that universities were still making offers and Clearing had plenty of places this year but that making the right choice remained paramount. 
  • Widening participation. The government published its latest annual data on the entry into higher education by those aged 19 including those from disadvantaged and ethnic backgrounds for the 2021/22 year when many were affected by disruption to exams, but showing a notable increase by those on free school meals, a further increase in those from state schools albeit with independent A level students likely to go to high tariff institutions and a mixed picture for different ethnic groups.
  • Regulation. Guild HE published the summary report on its series looking at regulation, bringing together its findings and making a number of recommendations for the future particularly around the role of the Office for Students to help develop ‘a clearer, simpler and more consistent’ accountability system.
  • Tuition fees. Former universities minister Lord Willetts argued in a comment piece for the House magazine that rather than scrapping the current university funding model, it should be improved, suggesting three possible options including looking at the threshold for repayment, reconsidering the interest rate and looking at index linking the fee to protect university funding levels.
  • 20 years and counting. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) celebrated its 20thanniversary with the publication of a collection of essays by leading HE commentators reflecting on what had changed in higher education England over the past 20 years and more notably what hadn’t and how best to build on this for the future.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “I’d love to know the proportion of time University governing bodies have spent talking about strategic implications of generative AI, particularly on the need for organisation-wide training for both academic and professional service staff, and the investment required to do that” | @EveAlcock
  • “Geography teacher asked if I could name a country with no R in it. I said, "No way" |  @ThePunnyWorld

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “We will not fund them by borrowing more or increasing your taxes” – the PM confirms deptartments will have to find efficiencies to help pay for the latest public sector pay awards.
  • “Delivering sound money is our number one focus. That means taking responsible decisions on public finances, including public sector pay, because more borrowing is itself inflationary” – the Chancellor sticks to the message on pay restraint in his Mansion House speech.
  • 'The proportion of households with high debt service ratios, after accounting for the higher cost of living, has increased and is expected to continue to do so through 2023' – the Bank of England releases its latest report on the UK financial system.
  • “Free speech at university is an antidote to the toxic effects of social media” – Education minister Claire Coutinho in a speech to Policy Exchange on the importance of free speech in HE.
  • 'Window seat available on the third floor, with sufficient light day and night' – the Times Higher reports on the growing practice in China of students renting out their library desks during the vacation.
  • 'The threshold for the expected standard is five marks lower than last year, and the lowest since 2017 – this is significant and clear recognition that this was a more challenging test for children' – the NAHT responds to the drop in the number of pupils reaching the expected standard in this year’s reading SAT.
  • 'We are confident that the additional funding for schools should enable every school and academy in the country to deliver the 6.5% award in full from this September' – the NASUWT responds to the government’s pay offer of 6.5%.
  • “Well, the vast majority can and do cope with using the toilet before school, at break times, and between lessons” – education commentator Mark Lehain responds to the media story of a school locking its loos during lesson time.

Important numbers

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

  • 0.1%. The fall in UK GDP for May 2023, confirming no growth for the three months to May 2023 according to latest data from the ONS.
  • £75bn. The increase in business investment arising from pension fund contributions, announced by the Chancellor this week.
  • £3,600. The amount that UK workers will miss out on this year as a result of their wages not keeping up with the OECD average, according to the TUC.
  • 30,000. The number of university courses likely to be available through Clearing this year, according to the Chief Executive of UCAS.
  • 73%. The number of prospective undergraduates this year who had changed their firm choice plans due to the cost-of-living, according to a survey from The Student Room.
  • 29.2%. The number of young people on free school meals progressing to higher education, up from 28.1% on the year before and the highest recorded level according to latest government figures.
  • 88.5%. The number of eligible NASUWT members who voted in the union’s latest ballot to support strike action, according to a press release from the union. 
  • 90.1%. The attendance rate for schools in England for the last week in June, according to latest government figures.
  • 73%. The percentage of pupils reaching the expected standard in this year’s maths SAT, up from 71% last year according to the latest headline figures.
  • £204m. The additional funding for the early years entitlements for 2023/24 distributed through a new Early Years Supplementary Grant, according to a government statement.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Education Questions in the House of Commons (Monday 17 July.)
  • Westminster Hall debate on pay for teaching assistants (Monday 17 July.)
  • Education Committee witness session with Nick Gibb MP on Maths to 18 and School Funding (Tuesday 18 July.)
  • The Tony Blair Institute ‘Future of Britain’ Conference (Tuesday 18 July.)
  • Parliamentary Summer Recess begins (Thursday 20 July.)

Other stories

  • Pandemic babies. Studies are continuing looking into the effect of the Covid lockdown on young people and the impact on their learning and development at such a crucial stage in their lives but what about on babies? Did long spells of social isolation harm their development or did lockdown itself help build stronger bonds with family members? Thankfully, according to research published on The Conversation site this week, apart from some weaknesses in communication usage, the majority have emerged unscathed. The research was small-scale and the usual caveats apply especially given some tragic cases reported in the media but as the research concluded 'we found that by age two, with the important exception of communication, these pandemic babies were very similar to babies born before the pandemic in behaviour and development'. A link to the details is here
  • World Population. 'It stands at almost 7.9 billion in 2021, and it's expected to grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050, and 10.9 billion in 2100'. The ‘it’ in this case is world population and this quote comes from the World Population Dashboard, published on Tuesday this week to mark UN World Population Day. The Dashboard offers a fascinating picture of changes in fertility rates ('in the early 1970s, women had on average of five children each; by 2015, total fertility for the world had fallen to below 2.5 children per woman',) global lifespans (up from 64.6 years in the 1990s to 72.6 years in 2019,) and living patterns ('2007 was the first year in which more people lived in urban areas than in rural areas.') A link to it all can be found 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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