Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 10 June 2022

Welcome to Education Eye, a regular update detailing the policies and stories happening in UK education, compiled by Steve Besley.

Bank holiday catch-up

A double bank holiday last week meant there was no Education Eye. For those who want to check they haven’t missed anything, here’s a quick run through some of the top headlines from last week. Three each for schools, FE and HE.

For schools, the top headline was a call from unions and professional bodies to extend free school meals to include families on universal credit. Two other headlines included rising numbers of headteachers said to be quitting and a roundtable in Number 10 on children’s mental health. 

For FE, the top headline last week was the announcement from the ONS that it was going to review the classification of colleges. Elsewhere, WorldSkills took ‘the difficult decision’ to cancel the autumn competition in Shanghai, while Gatsby announced a new research programme into careers guidance for adults.

And for HE, the main news story last week was the announcement from government of a new High Potential visa route, intended to attract ‘talented international graduates from top universities’ to this country by offering 2-year work visas (3-years for those with PhDs) with the potential for further employment subsequently. It quickly came under sharp scrutiny. In other news, the ONS published sober data about student suicides, while UCL hosted the launch of its new Policy Lab.

Apart from the call from a number of leading organisations for another extra bank holiday next year to recognise public sector workers, that completes last week’s news.

What's happened this week?

Important stories across the board:

Back to business this week with plenty going on.

Much of it of course has been high-wire political news, but there’s also been plenty of education activity too, as follows ... 

In Westminster, but away from the drama, Michael Gove led the Second Reading of the Levelling Up Bill, still seen as a driving force behind much of the government’s socio-economic agenda: “The Government are getting on with the job, and no Department is doing more than my own”. Meanwhile, the Lords tackled some of the amendments to the Schools Bill. 

The DfE also created a new post in higher education to champion students and continued its work on the National Funding Formula for schools with further consultation on some of the details behind its implementation, notably on the implications around high needs and school rolls. And the government published its annual picture of schools – in terms of pupil numbers, characteristics, class sizes and so on – based on this year’s census figures. The headline story is of more pupils in schools in England – just over 9m; more on free school meals; but class sizes, apart from infant classes, remaining stable, 22.3 at KS3 for instance.

Away from Westminster, two surveys highlighted how higher education was emerging from the pandemic. Elsewhere, the Lifelong Education Commission argued the case for microcredentials in higher education; the Education and Skills Funding Agency introduced a new happy/unhappy feedback form for apprentices; and the Education Policy Institute with the Institute of Education reported on ‘stuck’ schools – schools stuck on poor inspection ratings.

And to complete this round up of some of the week’s top headlines, a new global pilot for a 4-Day Week kicked off, with some 70 UK companies involved. It launched just as Tax Freedom Day arrived, the day when we stop paying the taxman and start putting all the earnings into own pockets for a change. The day was Wednesday June 8. As the Adam Smith Institute, which marked the occasion noted, we’ve had to work a day longer for it this year. “This is the latest Tax Freedom Day since reliable records began in 1995.” It’s certainly felt like it.

Moving on, a few words on a couple of those big education stories this week, starting with those two higher ed surveys.

The most prominent is the annual HEPI/Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey. This 2022 report, based on responses from over 10,000 undergraduates, points to things picking up for many students post-pandemic with, for example, “a clear upturn in perceptions of positive value held by students In England and Wales,” with many, particularly first-years, reporting an improvement on last year in terms of ‘experience versus expectations.’ 

But as HEPI director Nick Hillman noted, “we’re not out of the woods yet.” Mental health continues to be a concern, and two issues in particular stand out from this year’s survey. One was the growing impact of the cost of living, mentioned by over a third of responders. And the other was loneliness, with nearly a quarter feeling lonely ‘all’ or ‘most’ of the time. In all though, as the survey report considers, ‘the picture that emerges is significantly more positive than that of last year.’ It goes on to recommend ten ways in which things could continue to be improved, although the government has already stepped in concerning one area, with the creation of a new post of Student Support Champion.

The second report – a global survey from the Times Higher on student attendance and participation in lectures and seminars – paints a more sobering picture. Lecture attendance is down, 'three-quarters (76 per cent) of respondents say they have seen lower numbers of students turning up to lectures,' further fuelling the debate about the role of lectures in the future. It may be, as one respondent commented, that a ‘“culture of expectation of attendance” needs to be rebuilt.

Next, that report into stuck schools. This was based on some extensive research into a range of schools – primary, secondary and non-mainstream, around 580 in all – stuck over recent years in a cycle of poor inspection ratings. 

Raising performance has been a mantra for governments over many years and the current government with its levelling up Schools White Paper is no exception. The Education Secretary claimed “we know what works” when launching the White Paper, but as the report highlights, things aren’t always that straightforward. It lists, for example, eight different ‘challenging circumstances,’ that such schools face, ranging from pupil disadvantage and high rates of teacher turnover to restricted locations.

A poor Ofsted rating in the first place of course may not help, but the report suggests these provide only a ‘modest contributing factor,’ although there is room for a more sensitive approach to inspections. 

The government believes moving such schools into academy trusts would help, but the report points to only ‘small positive benefits’ in this for secondary schools and none for primary schools. A relentless focus on the quality of education seems to be the best way of becoming unstuck but that of course requires funding and support.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Thousands of UK workers begin world’s biggest trial of 4-day week’ (Monday).
  • ‘DfE asks schools to step up tutoring as it scrambles to hit target’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘ESFA launches Trip Adviser style feedback feature for apprentices’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Almost 1.9m pupils are now eligible for free school meals’ (Thursday).
  • ‘SEND, AP and ‘elite’ sixth forms prioritised in next free schools wave.’ (Friday). 


  • 4-day week. The 4-Day Week Global group along with the think tank Autonomy, plus universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, announced the launch of a six-month global trial of a 4-day working week that will run until November 2022, involve 3,300+ workers in the UK and take in countries including the US, Australia and Canada.
  • The Productivity Problem. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) discussed UK productivity issues with LSE Professor John Van Reenen who pointed to a lack of investment in infrastructure and political short-termism as among the reasons for such a problem in the UK, with improved R/D, education and skills, and institutional structure among the recommended solutions.
  • Levelling Up. The Resolution Foundation in conjunction with the LSE published a new report for its major ‘Economy 2030 Inquiry,’ in this case looking at focus group evidence on what constitutes levelling up with recipients highlighting job quality, transport links, housing and basic town centre improvements above ‘new tech hubs and hanging baskets.’
  • Economic Growth. The British Chambers of Commerce issued its latest Economic Forecast showing growth likely to flatline as the year proceeds with inflation projected to hit 10% by the end of the year leading to a concomitant drop in business investment.
  • Social mobility. Katharine Birbalsingh, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, called in a major inaugural speech for a broader approach to improving social mobility, proposing using a range of data to help a wider group of people ‘left out,’ with a focus on priorities such as education, enterprise and employment.
  • Family Review. The Children’s Commissioner reported on the first roundtable held this week where integrated local services were among the topics discussed, and which are intended to help provide evidence for the government-commissioned review into contemporary family life.

More specifically ...


  • New schools. The government announced plans to create a further 75 free schools as part of its next wave including SEND and Alternative Provision places and, more contentiously, ‘elite’ sixth forms.
  • School census details. The government published its annual census details on schools, pupils and their characteristics, showing an increase in the numbers of schools and of pupils as well as a big increase in the numbers now on free school meals but with class sizes generally remaining stable.
  • Workforce profile. The government published new data on the school workforce in England showing a continuing increase in headcount including that of support staff, an increase in those joining as well as leaving, a predominantly female (75.5%) workforce and a more ethnically diverse one.
  • Funding consultation. The government launched further consultation on the detailed implementation of the National Funding Formula including notably the relationship with high needs and the case for notional or flexible budgets, as well as how best to reflect changing rolls, the operation of the funding floor and overall funding cycle.
  • School attendance. The Children’s Commissioner published analysis of responses from young people being home educated or missing school, carried out as part of last year’s Big Ask survey, with factors such as demography (boys rather than girls,) bullying, wellbeing, gaps in support and various forms of unhappiness variously contributing to school absence. 
  • Stuck schools. The Education Policy Institute and IoE reported on their detailed research into schools ‘stuck’ on poor inspection ratings, indicating that such schools tend to face a ‘combination of unusually challenging circumstances,’ and that joining a MAT tends to offer limited benefits at secondary level only, calling for more to be done generally to understand and support such schools. 
  • Exam grades. FFT Education Datalab investigated exam grading at A level suggesting that Physics tends to be more severely graded than other subjects with other STEM subjects also facing stiff grading regimes.
  • School libraries. Cressida Cowell, the Children’s Laureate, highlighted the importance of school libraries in a valedictory report along with BookTrust, profiling six ‘Life-changing school Libraries’ and encouraging others to do the same. 


  • VQ trends. Ofqual reflected in a new blog on trends in vocational and technical qualifications, collected from data over the last ten years, noting the impact of factors such as the pandemic and government policies on the drop in actual certificates issued and pointing to a new interactive visualisation for users to interpret such data.
  • Apprenticeship feedback. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) announced the launch of a new feedback feature for apprentices enabling them to rate their training every three months using an anonymous response form.
  • Cyber security. JISC launched a new survey to help gauge how well-prepared education and research institutions were for potential cyber-attacks with a summary report due for this autumn.


  • Minister’s address. Michelle Donelan, the universities minister addressed the HE Policy Institute (HEPI) annual conference where she outlined the investment the government was putting into the sector, highlighted the importance of delivering quality, stressed the need for flexible provision, and announced that Professor Edward Peck would become the first Student Support Champion.
  • Funding cake. The Office for Students (OfS) confirmed how the government funding grant would be allocated for 2022/23 with £1,347m available as recurrent funding for priorities such as high-cost courses, nursing and healthcare courses and degree apprenticeships/L4/5 provision as well as to support Ukrainian students and £450m for biddable capital funding.
  • Student survey. HEPI and AdvanceHE reported on their latest annual Student Academic Experience Survey pointing to a more positive feel from students this year following the pandemic years, with higher numbers of students reporting good value for money but with concerns about the cost of living and loneliness emerging.
  • Attending lectures. The Times Higher reported on its global survey among academics into lecture and seminar participation by students pointing to a continued drop in attendance and a need to rebuild a culture of participation.
  • HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill. The Times Higher reported that a number of amendments had been added to the HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill including granting the OfS oversight of overseas funding of registered providers as well as student unions. 
  • Student characteristics. The Office for Students (OfS) reported on student characteristics data in HE providers in England over the last decade up to 2020/21, covering features such as age (68% of undergrads are under 21,) gender (largely female,) ethnicity (growing numbers,) disability (an increase) and deprivation (increasing.)
  • Graduate labour market stats. The government published the latest set of graduate/postgraduate market data showing a slight increase in the graduate employment rate over the previous year with postgraduates having the highest (nominal) salary rates, followed by graduates and then non-graduates.
  • Micro credentials. ResPublica’s Lifelong Education Commission examined in a new report the role of microcredentials (small units of learning,) noting that while there are many different forms and definitions, they can play an important part in the development of modular learning, calling on the government and the sector to map, test and promote them accordingly.
  • HE funding. Nick Hillman, director at the HE Policy Institute (HEPI) reflected on HE funding in a new blog on the HEPI website, listing ‘ten killer facts’ worth noting including the likely impact of 1970’s style inflation on the value of the student fee loan and the growing shortfall in research funding. 

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “The dawn of mass home-working has brought many benefits, but it’s also created 13 per cent more meetings and an 8.2 per cent increase in the length of the working day, according to a global study by @HarvardHBS” | @New Statesman.
  • “Anyone else thinking their children might be very disillusioned with work later in life because we have led them to believe that everyone works from home with their laptop on the bed/sofa/kitchen table?!” | @jodieworld.
  • “The only person that arrives before me every day is the deputy head. She parks in a different parking space every day and I don't know how it doesn't boggle her mind” | @mRb_ABC.
  • Hi all, As Mr Perkins is retiring at the end of term, we have a vacancy for a Loud-Mouthed-Know-It-All. The job includes: telling everyone they’re wrong about everything and starting sentences with “in my day”, “you say that but” and “they’re no bother for me”. Tlr2b. Thanks x” | @NewbieSlt.
  • “Avocados should have different toys inside instead of the same wooden ball every time” | @YoungParikPatel.
  • “Why do seagulls fly over the sea? Because if they flew over the bay, they’d be bagels” | @ScottPughsley.

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “We are going to move away from the popular narrative about social mobility – which we refer to as the “Dick Whittington model” – the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission sketches out a new approach to social mobility.
  • “We firmly believe that a four-day week with no change to salary or benefits will create a happier workforce and will have an equally positive impact on business productivity, customer experience and our social mission" – one of the firms supporting the ‘four-day week without loss of pay’ pilot.
  • “The biggest problem is that we are a low pay economy and that is above all because we are a low productivity economy” – former universities minister David Willetts reflects on jobs and living standards.
  • “A meaningful ‘levelling up’ agenda cannot be limited to new tech hubs and hanging baskets on high streets, and should focus instead on improving town centres, connectivity and the quality of low-skilled jobs” – the Resolution Foundation and LSE ask residents what levelling up means.
  • “The Champion’s overarching role will be to provide sectoral leadership to share best practice and promote new initiatives for how to ensure students remain supported and engaged with their course” – the universities minister announces a new post of Student Support Champion.
  • “Now, with a brilliant team in place, is an appropriate time to begin the succession to a new CEO” – @ the CEO of the Student Loans Company announces her departure.
  • “GCSE maths paper 2 today - hundreds of students sitting. We have to put on transport – all colleges do. We also have to have back up transport in case public transport doesn't meet its intentions. A typical story from today....” – a college principal on the realities of life in the FE sector.
  • “Stuck’ schools can get ‘un-stuck’ given the right time and support” – the EPI and IoE report on schools ‘stuck’ on poor performance ratings.

Important numbers

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

  • 8.1%. The rate of inflation for the Eurozone in the year to May 2022, according to figures from the EU’s statistics agency.
  • 0.0%. The projected growth rate for the UK for 2023, according to the OECD.
  • 475,000. The numbers of civil servants at the end of last year, according to official figures as the government looks to reduce their number by over 90,000.
  • 27.9%. The increase in City bonuses in finance and insurance over the last year, rising six times faster than average wages according to the TUC.
  • 51%. The number of 18–34-year-olds borrowing money to pay off ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ debts, according to Citizens Advice which is calling for clearer information and regulation of the system.
  • £36,000. The median salary for graduates last year, according to latest government figures.
  • 17.3%. The number of f/t entrants to HE in England eligible for free school meals at KS4 in 2020/21, according to new data from the OfS.
  • 204,000. The number of apprenticeships starts so far this (academic) year up by 26% on the same period last year but with achievement rates down according to latest provisional figures.
  • $1.7bn. The valuation of Multiverse, the tech ed start-up co-founded by Euan Blair that matches young people with apprenticeship routes, according to Sky News.
  • £42,358. The average pay for school teachers in England in 2021, according to latest government figures.
  • 9,000,031. The number of pupils in the current school year in schools in England, up slightly from the year before according to latest data from the government. 
  • 71,000. The number of fines issued to parents of children absent from school in the (school) year up to Easter, with the number creeping up according to a news story from the BBC.
  • 61%. The number of UK primary schools yet to receive their commemorative Jubilee book, according to a survey from TeacherTapp.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill debate (Monday 13 June).
  • London Tech Week (Monday 13 June – Friday 17 June).
  • CIPD Festival of Work (Wednesday 15 June – Thursday 16 June).
  • Times Education Commission Final Report due (Thursday 16 June). 
  • Northern Powerhouse Education and Skills Summit (Thursday 16 June).

Other stories

  • Exams 1952 style. In keeping with the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, the exam board AQA posted an interesting blog looking at education in 1952, the year the Queen took over as monarch. School places, funding, the school system and exams were all (familiar) priorities at the time. This, for instance, was one of the questions from the maths O level paper that year. (c) In a cinema the price of 185 seats is raised from 2s. 10d. to 3s. 1d. each. How many seats must be sold at 3s. 1d. for the total takings to amount to the same as they did when all 185 seats were occupied at 2s. 10d.? For those not sure what 2s and 3d is, remember the government is thinking about returning to pre-decimal usage. A link to the article 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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