Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 27 May 2022

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 big week for reports, some of course more portentous than others. 

It includes a long list for education, where we’ve seen the traditional outpouring of reports ahead of half-term and the latest parliamentary recess. 

Most have come from the government, and include the last in the trilogy of major reports promised at the start of the year in the shape of the independent review of children’s social care, coupled with an instant initial response from government. 

The Schools Bill headed for its Second Reading in the Lords, with a batch of supplementary policy briefings on everything from school attendance to academy trust standards, in hot pursuit. This was all quickly followed by further details on school system reform; the government’s response to the Education Committee’s report into the catch-up programme; and an initial evaluation report into the Early Career Framework.

Elsewhere, the government published an initial evaluation of the T level Transition Programme and launched the first commissioned report from the Future Skills Unit, as the Skills and Productivity Board signed off with its own flurry of papers. While over in HE, the government outlined progress on its International Education Strategy, following its uprating last year. 

They haven’t been the only ones busy pressing the send button this week.

Others have included Ofsted, which published the latest in its series of subject reviews, in this case on English. The Association of Colleges added a provider perspective on prison education; the MillionPlus university group highlighted the work of many modern universities in a new report; UCAS examined what factors influence students choosing to study abroad; and the Office for Students published its business plan for the coming year. 

And to round off the reporting schedule for the week, Ofqual published details of provisional entries for this summer’s GCSE and A level exams, and added to its rolling guidance for this summer’s exams. “Thank you to everyone involved in helping exams and formal assessments run smoothly. We’re now in week 2”. This week’s reminder was about checking exam packs before opening them.

Links to all of these are listed below. But, only space this week for details on a couple of these reports: the landmark children’s social care report and the government’s response on education catch-up.

The children’s social care report first – a major piece of work undertaken over the past year. In its words 'the most wide-ranging rethink of children’s social care in more than a generation' and calling ultimately for a reset of the whole system. The review team assembled a mass of evidence, data, and expertise, and put forward a range of proposals around family help and networks, child protection, children in care and workforce training and support – all of which they argued would cost £2.6bn over four years, but would mean '30,000 more children living safely and thriving with their families by 2032'.

The report, which was published as the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel reported on the two latest cases, has been well received. Both present and previous children’s commissioners called for action to be taken urgently, and the minister was quick to respond outlining initial priorities around, for instance, families and child protection, and setting up a National Implementation Board to drive developments forward.     

Next, the government’s response to the Education Committee's earlier report on the government’s education catch-up programme. The Committee had titled its report ’Is the catch-up programme fit for purpose?’ concluding broadly that 'current plans do not go far enough'. 

In its response, the government acknowledged the issues, while pointing out firmly all the work it was doing to make things better for schools and pupils – particularly around the four listed issues of learning loss, funding streams, disadvantaged pupils and the national tutoring programme. 'In many cases we are already taking action to address the points raised'. Not everyone may agree, but it can certainly point to developments around the tutoring programme, the Parent Pledge on English and maths, and the SEND Review. 

Further announcements on the school day and mental health support are promised for the summer, but in the words of the Chair of the Education Committee, “the elephant in the room remains”,  and that is ‘ghost’ children, i.e. children who still haven’t returned to school. Latest figures from government indicate that nearly a quarter (23.5%) of all pupils ‘missed 10% or more of their possible sessions’ last autumn term. Much of this was due to Covid, but not all. The government has promised a new home-schooling register and new requirements on local councils, but this clearly remains an area of concern and one both government and Ofsted are watching carefully.

As for other activity in Parliament this week, as part of departmental questioning, education ministers faced questions on matters such as severely absent pupils; political impartiality in schools; special needs in FE; and violence against women on university campuses. The FE/HE minister announced a new scheme for higher level tech provision, with the Open University set to partner with a dozen or so FE providers to deliver L4/5 qualifications in parts of the country where access is limited. And the Under Secretary of State for Skills reported to MPs on the launch of activity by the new Unit for Future Skills. 

Elsewhere, the Education Committee heard from witnesses about the government’s recent SEND Green Paper; the Committee looking at the Online Safety Bill had its first sitting, with the Children’s Commissioner for England among those giving evidence; and there was the Second Reading of the Schools Bill in the House of Lords, where former Education Secretary Estelle Morris was one of the contributors. 

And finally, an interesting postscript to the week as the Student Loans Company was urged to adopt the tone of ‘a friendly librarian’ in its communication with students. It was thought that at a time when the cost of living, let alone the cost of loans, continues to soar, such a tone might add a more personal, perhaps reassuring, touch. 

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Colleges call for emergency government funding to boost staff pay’ (Monday).
  • ‘DfE hiring up to 8 more advisers to oversee attendance push’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘DfE plans first step in academy revolution’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘One in four pupils were persistently absent in autumn 2021’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Who’s deciding the future of BTECs? Secrecy surrounds DfE’s ‘independent assessors’’ (Friday). 


  • Labour market scanning. The government published the first of what’s intended to be a regular series of reports to be published through the Future Skills Unit on labour market scanning, looking at this occasion at future labour market trends in six sectors including construction, retail, HE, transport and logistics, health and social care, and energy, and assessing the skills drivers in each case.
  • Future labour market. The government published the first of its commissioned Skills Unit horizon scanning reports into the future of the UK labour market, looking at six sectors in particular including HE through a number of possible scenarios, highlighting the future importance of digital skills, flexible vocational pathways, and employer responsiveness and investment among other things. 
  • Workforce survey. PwC reported on its survey of a sample of UK workers conducted in March showing pay, hybrid working and skill levels becoming discerning factors in the workplace and with nearly 20% looking to change employer within the next year.
  • Children’s social care. The group that has been conducting an independent review into children’s social care published its final report calling for ‘a radical rest of the system’ with a comprehensive plan covering family help, children in care, child protection, workforce support, and sustained investment.
  • Government response. The minister issued a response to the latest children social care reports, outlining three priorities covering child protection, families and children in care, and committing to establishing a National Implementation Board to oversee change.
  • Mental health survey. The mental health charity MIND reported on its survey among grandparents and parents about young people’s mental health with 30% of the former saying it is now their biggest concern for their grandchildren and with the charity calling for much greater support through Family Hubs.

More specifically ...


  • Exam entry trends. Ofqual published provisional entry details for this summer’s GCSE, AS and A level exams showing a rise in entries in each case although less so for GCSEs but including a notable rise for AS subjects, with computing D/T, political studies, psychology, PE and business studies showing the biggest increases at A level.
  • Catch-up response  The government published its response to the recent Education Committee report into its catch-up programme, acknowledging most of the issues raised, pointing out that it was already taking action in many cases including revamping the national tutoring programme, tackling school attendance and providing mental health support, and re-iterating its vision to raise standards and support all round.
  • Schools Bill. The government published a series of adjuncts to its recently published Schools Bill, 11 in all, setting out in more detail the implications of measures such as school attendance, formula funding reforms, academy trust standards, and grammar schools.
  • School system reform. The government set out an implementation plan for the next stage of its reform of the school system which would see the majority of schools in multi-academy trusts by 2030, confirming that the planned academy trust regulatory review would be published shortly, a ‘test and learn’ programme would be used to identify best practice for local authorities applying to establish trusts, and Education Investment Areas would be expected to publish local plans by the autumn.
  • LA MATs. The government published the procedure for local authorities LAs) intending to set up a multi-academy trust (MAT,) inviting them to register an interest before the end of this July.
  • Recovery funding. The government published the indicative standard rates for the Recovery Premium grant for 2022/23 which is available for schools to help with educational recovery support particularly for premium funded pupils and those in need, with the baseline of £30,000 per secondary school set to double next year.
  • Early Career Framework evaluation. The government published the results of a commissioned report into the initial stages of the Early Career Framework training programme, suggesting that most registered schools were participating by the end of the first term with mentors and participants generally satisfied so far but with some concerns about the workload and lack of programme flexibility.
  • Managing technology. The government published commissioned research into how governments in a number of different OECD countries support and fund digital technology in schools with a mix of centralised and decentralised approaches evident but with curricula, teachers’ digital training and broadband reach tending to be regarded as central functions and digital infrastructure in schools a local matter, and funding varying by country. 
  • English research review. Ofsted published the latest in its subject reviews, looking on this occasion at English and stressing the importance of such factors as reading progression, vocabulary development and foundational knowledge as essential building blocks.
  • Effective matters. Researchers at Bristol University reported on a Nuffield funded project into what characterises ‘effective teaching’ especially when it comes to GCSE success, pointing to the use of class time, class matching and observations as key factors. 
  • Online GCSEs. Professor John Jerrim discussed issues involved in moving to an online model of assessment for GCSEs in a talk for Cambridge Assessment, pointing to the seminal shift made by PISA in shifting to online assessment in 2015, acknowledging the potential of teething problems and arguing that trials for GCSE should start here as soon as next year.
  • Eton plans. The i-newspaper reported on its interview with Simon Henderson, the headmaster of Eton College, as he outlined plans for opening three sixth forms in less advantaged areas in the Midlands and North of England that could enable more young people to enter Oxbridge. 


  • Higher tech provision. The government announced that the OU would partner with some 10 or more FE providers, either through delivery or validation, to provide a range of L4/5 courses that could meet employer and learner needs, with the names of those successful in bidding for funds to be announced in the autumn.
  • Future Skills Unit. The government outlined the immediate priorities for the Unit for Future Skills to include creating a local skills demand dashboard, linking qualifications to local job opportunities through an improved careers dashboard, and conducting research and workshops. 
  • Skills and Productivity. The Skills and Productivity Board published a series of final reports covering current and future skills needs, the role of skills in supporting growth in poor productivity regions, levelling up, and understanding skills taxonomies, as it handed over the research baton to the Future Skills Unit.
  • T level Transition Programme. The government published the results from a commissioned report into the early delivery of the T level Transition Programme which was phased in across three routes from September 2020 and clearly made more difficult with the onset of the pandemic but finding many positives from both providers and learners albeit with occasional struggles over English and maths and progression evident to a range of options rather than just T levels. 
  • Funding matters. The Association of Colleges (AoC) called in an open letter to the Education Secretary for urgent funding support including a rate premium for priority courses, a rate increase for adult learning, flexibility over the funded extra hours, and a pay rise of 2.25%, as colleges enter a difficult round of pay, staffing and reform pressures. 
  • Prison Education. The AoC followed up last week’s Education Committee report on prison education by adding their own ‘Provider Perspective,’ setting out a sector vision of improved partnership, access to learning and supported digital infrastructure.


  • Business plan. The Office for Students (OfS) set out its business plan for the first year of its new 3-year strategy, listing 11 goals including ensuring students receive a high-quality academic experience and are regularly assessed, and ensuring students can choose from a range of courses and are not restricted by background, location or characteristics, grouped together under the themes of Quality and Standards and Equality of Opportunity.
  • Quality investigations. The Office for Students (OfS) announced it was launching investigations into business and management courses at eight unnamed colleges and universities, to see whether they met OfS’s new conditions for quality.
  • Data management  The Office for Students (OfS) called for views, in a brief consultation, on the suitability of the merger between HESA and JISC which would see the latter becoming the designated data body for the sector. 
  • International Education. The government reported on progress being made in its International Education Strategy outlining continuing activity under each heading including those added last year with the majority of activities including the visa offer, a review of the experience of international students, and further work around the ELT sector, set for further review early next year.
  • Choosing to study abroad. UCAS examined the factors that can influence students’ choice of studying abroad, finding that while motivation may vary by nation, following their parents’ footsteps, hearing from other similar students and identifying future prospects all feature in their decision making, with the UK still highly regarded as a destination for higher level study.
  • Horizon scanning. The government published the first in its intended series of skills horizon scanning reports delivered through the Future Skills Unit, with HE among the sectors reviewed this time, pointing to the continuing importance of in-person provision but blended delivery, meaningful access, research balance and green skills among the potential scenario issues for the future.
  • Donelan dossier. The conservativehome newsletter carried an interesting profile of Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, variously described as ‘nice, capable, hardworking, good on detail’ and currently pushing through ‘significant reforms.’
  • Marking boycott. The Times Higher reported on the marking boycott due to affect a number of institutions from this week with mixed views on both sides about its potential effectiveness and with universities said to be considering such measures as subcontracting marking as an option instead.
  • Modern universities. MillionPlus published a new report outlining the importance of the work of modern universities particularly in the context of levelling up and their feed in to local labour markets calling among other things for maintenance grants and fee loan forgiveness schemes to support local graduate employment. 
  • The tenure of UK VCs The He Policy Institute (HEPI) in conjunction with GatenbySanderson examined the changing tenure of UK vice-chancellors suggesting that over the last decade and the increasing marlketisation of the sector, the average tenure has increased to at least five years, significantly longer than government ministers.
  • A sense of belonging .Ahead of the HE Policy institute’s Annual Conference and its forthcoming survey with Advance HE into students’ academic experience, Pearson’s Anna Jackson reported on their work with HEPI looking into the importance of student belonging and its impact on student outcomes. 
  • Tackling spiking. The government set up a Working Party to tackle the issue of spiking attacks against students and to report back before the start of the autumn term with universities asked to develop policies by the end of the year.

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “I’m really enjoying the #Michaela But as someone who teaches in a school down the road I don’t like some of the insinuations (through the editing by ITV) that we’re failing. My kids also go to Oxbridge. That isn’t the only measure of success.” | @rosethechemist
  • “Doing a final Literature revision session with year 11s. Quote: Miss, you keep talking about ‘analysis’…what’s analysis?” | @AliceyAB
  • “I never wanted to be THAT mum who sent their child in for food tech with ‘not quite right’ kit. Today I am that mum. The flan dish is a bit big” | @JFletcherSaxon
  • “Hi all, This morning’s GCSE Geography exam was not without its problems. First of all, many of the students (and Mrs Thorpe) were unable to find the correctroom, despite being given a map of The Academy and secondly, it seems there were no “colouring in” questions. Thanks x” | @NewbieSlt

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “This review cannot be kicked into the long grass without putting more children at risk” – the former Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton, and the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, respond to the latest children’s social care report.
  • “We are in a soft way trying to encourage people to come back, but it’s counterproductive if you push too hard” – the boss of Credit Suisse on home working.
  • “My message to you is simple: don’t work for climate wreckers. Use your talents to drive us towards a renewable future” – the UN Secretary-General addresses new university graduates.
  • “Graduates on the whole are not as hyper-mobile as the stereotype might lead us to believe” – the MillionPlus Group make the case for local universities.
  • “Colleges want to deliver but are not being given the funding they need to do it” – the AoC calls on the government to increase financial support for colleges.
  • “On average, primary pupils have recovered around two thirds of progress lost since Spring 2021 due to the pandemic in reading, and around half of progress lost in maths. But we know that there is still more to do” – the government responds on the catch-up programme.
  • “It’s going to take time to realise any benefits – maybe 10 years, maybe a bit sooner - so we’ve got to bite the bullet now” – Professor John Jerrim on moving to digital assessment for exams.
  • “Pupils usually need to encounter a word a number of times in different contexts for it to enter their working vocabulary” – Ofsted reports on effective teaching of English.
  • “We need more passionate, resilient, remarkable teachers that can inspire and encourage the next generation to dream big and achieve” – the children’s commissioner heralds national ‘Thank a Teacher Day.’

Important numbers

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

  • £76 bn. Government current expenditure as of April 2022, down £6.7bn from April 2021 according to latest figures from the ONS.
  • 27%. The number of UK workers in a survey planning to ask their employer for more money over the next year, according to PwC.
  • 10%. The percentage of students who make a decision before the age of 11 to consider studying abroad, according to new research from UCAS.
  • 29,153. The number of reformed NPQ (National Professional Qualification) courses for teachers and leaders declared since their launch last autumn.
  • 66.8%. The number of state schools that have participated in the National Tutoring Programme so far this academic year, up 6.9% since March according to provisional figures released by the government.
  • 124,000. The number of ‘ghost’ children yet to return to the classroom, according to figures indicated by the Children’s Commissioner.
  • 442. The number of serious incidents involving children reported over the last year, according to experimental statistics published by the government.
  • 63%. The number of schools with a mental health/wellbeing policy that includes the wellbeing of staff, according to a survey from Teacher Tapp.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • House of Commons Whitsun Recess. (26 May to 06 June).

Other stories

  • Hybrid working. Remote working, hybrid working, blended working, the debate goes on. This week the Office for National Statistics (ONS) offered some useful context with new data from its Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OLS.) According to this, the proportion of people planning to spend most of their working hours at home has increased rather than decreased. ‘Up 12 percentage points between April 2021 and Feb 2022’ to be precise. Unsurprisingly perhaps this was most common among high earners and least likely among older and younger workers. A better work-life balance was seen as one of the determining factors. A link to the data can be seen here.

    Causing concern. The two biggest chart risers in Ipsos’s latest monthly Issues Index are, unsurprisingly, concern about inflation and lack of faith in politics/politicians; up nine and five percentage points respectively over the last month. The inflation/cost of living concern is at its highest level of public concern since the early 1980s. The wider economy and defence/foreign affairs featured second and third in the Index with the lack of faith in politics coming in at fourth. Brexit and Covid remain lower down in the table of expressed concerns, with the latter ranked alongside petrol prices and education in tenth position. A link to the survey 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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