Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 17 June 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:

Some challenging headlines this week:

  • The Times Education Commission published the results of its year-long inquiry into the education system in Britain finding it ‘failing on every measure.’
  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) highlighted long-term funding shortfalls affecting adult education and skills; ‘Read and weep,’ as Professor Bob Harrison tweeted.
  • The Public Accounts Committee reported on its Inquiry into higher education in England, concluding that ‘Ongoing financial pressures increase the risk of providers failing, closing campuses or courses, reducing the quality of teaching, or limiting access, any of which could adversely affect students.
  • And the assessment specialists GL Assessment, outlined the challenges facing schools and Yr 6 pupils as they prepare to make the move from primary to secondary after a difficult couple of years.  

If all this left those currently working in the education system and battling away at many of these problems feeling frustrated, perhaps, as the Times Education Commission put it, this provides the stimulus to transform the system for the better. Either way, each report put forward a range of recommendations which could help. Some of these are listed below.

In more upbeat news this week:

  • The Children’s Commissioner for England set out six priorities for tackling school attendance.
  • Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission launched consultation on inspections of area SEND provision
  • Teach First set out further proposals on careers education.
  • The Gatsby Foundation announced a new teacher support network for those working in technical education
  • And the chief executive of UCAS provided an interesting scene setter ahead of this year’s confirmation of higher ed places.

In Westminster news:

  • The government launched a new Digital Strategy, described by the Digital Minister as “the roadmap to strengthen our global position as a science and technology superpower.”
  • The HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill completed its final two stages in the House of Commons with a number of amendments accepted. WonkHE has a useful summary of it all here. It will now head to the House of Lords.
  • The Education Committee questioned the universities minister where she was asked about minimum entry requirements among other things. The Times Higher has a useful summary here
  • And the Opposition probed the Treasury about the UK economy as the latest labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics were published to a fairly low-key reception. The Institute for Employment Studies, for instance, described them as ‘disappointing.’ 

But back to three of the big headlines this week: the Times Education Commission Inquiry, school attendance and adult education funding. A few details on each.

The Times Education Commission Inquiry report first, described as 'the broadest inquiry into education ever held in Britain and the first to look at the system from early years through to lifelong learning.' 

It gathered a huge amount of evidence over its year-long existence and spoke to a wide range of people from ex-Prime Ministers, to industrialists, to those working in the field, suggesting 'a remarkable convergence of opinion.' These translate into a 12-point plan backed up by 45 detailed proposals and where possible, costings.

Three broad themes stand out. 

First, the exam system, heavily criticised as being restrictive to learning, expensive, damaging to children’s mental health and 'due for complete overhaul.' The Commission’s recommendation here is for the well-versed Bacc model at age 18, coupled with ‘a slimmed-down’ set of exams at age 16 and a Digital Learner Profile for every student. Each of these concepts has been around for some time, it’s 18 years since the Tomlinson/Blair Bacc events for instance, but labour market changes and technology developments arguably now make them more irresistible.

Second, and talking of technology, ‘adapting classrooms to the digital age.’ Lockdown learning and adaptive assessment are the latest triggers here while the digital divide remains the challenge. Here the Commission calls for every child to have free ‘data-enabled device,’ exams to ‘evolve’, digital skills to be integrated and new Academies set up.

And third, mental health and children’s wellbeing. Again, not a new issue, but one brought to the fore by the pandemic and ubiquitous reach of social media. Here the Commission calls for better understanding, trained support in every school, and a focus on prevention rather than cure.

There’s a lot more in the report, including important proposals for FE and HE, such as enhancing technical education and setting up campuses in HE cold spots. It’s freely available online for those who want more detail.

Next, getting to grips with school attendance. At the start of this year the Centre for Social Justice issued a startling report suggesting that some 100,000 children had yet to return to school post-pandemic. Worse still, many were vulnerable and had dropped off the radar. Ofsted and the Education Committee were among those expressing concern with Rob Halfon, Chair of the Education Committee, calling it ”nothing short of a national disaster.”

The Children’s Commissioner, who had made it one of her priorities, undertook an Attendance Audit across local authorities earlier this year to find out what was going on, and this week issued her report. It came with six priorities, including making attendance everyone’s business and proposing a unique identifier so that children don’t fall through the cracks. It also came with a new ‘Back to School’ portal of resources. “I am making it my mission to see 100% attendance on the first day of the September term.”  

Government figures on school attendance have painted a more positive picture in recent months, but it’s the unseen children in the system, the ‘ghost children’ as Rob Halfon called them, that remain the big challenge.

Finally, the IfS report into adult education and skills funding. 

In recent months, the government has made much of its enthusiasm for skills. Indeed, at the start of his tenure, the Education Secretary declared his priorities simply as ‘skills, schools and families.’ So, skills first. 

The trouble is, as the IfS point out, funding levels have yet to match this enthusiasm. 'Total spending on adult education and apprenticeships fell by 38% in real-terms between 2010–11 and 2020–21, with a 50% fall in spending on classroom-based adult education.' Even the additional money promised in the 2021 Spending Review (£900m), will only take things back to 2015 funding levels. Inevitably, this has had an impact on take-up with 'a 50% fall in adults taking qualifications at Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) and below' at a time when undergraduate numbers have continued to grow. 

The government hopes that its much-vaunted Lifelong Loan Entitlement, due to be implemented in a few years’ time, will help transform provision at this level. But here too the IfS remains wary. 'The ‘new’ entitlement is thus mostly an attempt to make the existing system more transparent.' As the report concludes: 'Greater support is needed for those leaving school with few qualifications,' many of whom need the security of sustained funding, rather than relying on the latest initiative. Sadly, this is not a new refrain.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Some primary school pupils unable to say their names, teachers report’ (Monday).
  • ‘Pupils missing school need more help – report’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘English universities over reliant on overseas students’ fees, report warns’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Times Education Commission adds voice to calls for new baccalaureate’ (Thursday).
  • ‘£8m fund to expand degree apprenticeships announced’ (Friday).


  • Digital strategy. The government heralded London Tech Week by launching a new UK Digital Strategy, bringing together current policies and developments into ‘one unified roadmap’ with the creation of a new Digital Skills Council and a set of ‘ambitions’ across six areas including infrastructure, financing, skills and IP.
  • Loneliness. The government published new research as part of Loneliness Awareness Week showing that 16-34 yr olds, those with disabilities and LGBTQ communities along with those suffering from mental health tended to be more at risk of chronic loneliness, promising in response renewed cross-government efforts and a new delivery plan by early next year. 
  • Education Commission. The Times Education Commission published the final report from its year-long Inquiry into the education system in Britain, highlighting a number of ‘flaws’ in the system and setting out a 12-point plan to ‘transform’ things. 
  • Business concerns. The CBI called on the government to tackle current business and cost of living concerns with a 7-point summer plan that included allowing employers to use their apprenticeship levy to tackle labour shortages, resolving the looming train strikes, and replacing the Recovery Loan Scheme.
  • Latest labour market data. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest set of labour market data for the period Feb- April 2022, showing a slight increase in employment and slight decrease in economic inactivity but a fall in pay notably for the public sector.
  • Latest Labour market data. The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) published is regular analysis of the latest labour market figures, suggesting they were ‘disappointing,’ with only slight improvements for employment and economic inactivity and real pay falling rapidly and rates of economic inactivity remaining high.
  • Demographic change. The Resolution Foundation and LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance published their latest report for the Nuffield funded Economic 2030 Inquiry, highlighting the changing demographics of the 2020s as more original baby boomers reach retirement and a millennial boomer group enters the labour market, bringing different skills and ways of working.
  • Working for some. The Resolution Foundation in conjunction with the Health Foundation, reported on youth worklessness over the last 30 years finding a considerable improvement for young women who are now having children later and combining parenthood with work, but things not improving for young men where there was a 16% rise in worklessness over the last 25 years.
  • UK Young Academy. Leading UK Academies, including the British Academy and the Royal Society, joined forces to launch a new UK Young Academy (UKYA) to support early career researchers and professionals from a range of disciplines with a call for applications remaining open until Sept 8.

More specifically ...


  • School Trusts. The Education Secretary addressed the Confederation of School Trusts Annual Conference where he highlighted the importance of Academy Trusts and set out to allay fears that the latest Schools Bill would impose further burdens or restrictions on them.
  • Missing children. The Children’s Commissioner for England published a new report into children missing from school, building on evidence gathered through last year’s Big Ask and this year’s Attendance Audit, setting out six priorities including making attendance everyone’s business and establishing a ‘Back to School’ portal, to help ensure children return in Sept.
  • Overseas teachers. The government confirmed in a statement in Parliament its proposed new criteria for teachers who have qualified abroad, which will allow them to have their qualifications recognised under the new Applied for Qualified Teacher Status arrangement when it comes in next year.
  • Admissions Appeals. The government confirmed following consultation that it would move forward on proposals to make some amendments to admissions law that would allow appeals to be held remotely and, where necessary, with a panel of two.
  • Post-pandemic workforce. The Education Policy Institute reported on the teacher workforce and how it was shaping up post-pandemic, indicating that while numbers increased during the pandemic, current recruitment is less strong and longer-term established patterns of early retirees, especially of secondary head teachers may be returning.
  • Careers education. Teach First published the results of a survey showing both teachers and employers concerned about the impact of lost learning for children and how far this hindered their readiness for the workplace, setting out eight proposals for rethinking careers education built around additional funding and support from primary learning to apprenticeships. 
  • Area SEND inspections. Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission launched consultation on inspections of area SEND arrangements, listing nine proposals intended to reflect developments, gather more evidence from recipients and clarify responsibilities.
  • Test anxiety. FFT Education Datalab considered how far test anxiety affected GCSE results for Yr 11 students, suggesting only a weak relationship, intimating that this may be because schools and boards already acknowledge the problem with additional support or perhaps because test nerves act as a motivator for some students.
  • Moving on. GL Assessment examined the challenges facing schools and young people as they prepare to move on from primary to secondary education this year, suggesting from survey evidence that the pandemic is likely to add to the difficulties but that most schools have support measures in place.
  • HAF programme. The government outlined details and support available under its Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme where a range of bodies including sports and activity organisations and supermarkets, are once again committing to support families over the holiday period.


  • Funding adult education. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) with support from the Nuffield Foundation examined adult education funding as part of the build-up to the government’s Lifelong Loan Entitlement, concluding that this will make only limited difference and that current funding commitments will see funding returned to 2015 levels only. 
  • Improving access to apprenticeships. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) examined access to apprenticeships particularly for young people around L2 and 3, pointing to ‘a myriad of barriers,’ including English and maths requirements, wage levels, careers support and relevant work experience, calling for better promotion and financial incentives. 
  • New strategic partnership. The Collab Group and Chartered Institute for FE announced a new strategic alliance that will see them work together on such areas as talent management and professional development as well as create a powerful combined voice for the sector. 
  • IoT provision. The Institutes of Technology (IoT) Network reported on the work of IoTs in helping meet high-level technical skill needs, pointing through case study evidence to how IoTs were delivering skills in key areas such as construction, cyber security and energy. 
  • Supporting technical education. The Gatsby Foundation outlined its new National Networks Programme that will use teacher forums, international, research and collaborative expertise to support technical provision in routes such as construction, digital and health science, with further details to follow this autumn.
  • SEND benefits. The Education and Training Foundation published a set of case studies highlighting some of the benefits for employers of employing young people with special needs and/or disabilities (SEND,) pointing also to the free support available where needed.
  • Youth employment. Youth Employment UK celebrated its 10thbirthday by highlighting some of its outputs and achievements from recent years including its skills and careers hub, youth ambassador programme and policy and parliamentary work.


  • Committee concerns. The Public Accounts Committee raised a number of concerns about future financing and oversight of higher education in its latest Inquiry report, calling on the Office for Students to report back in the coming months on actions taken over sector performance, financing and student satisfaction.
  • Loan cap. The government moved to cap loan interest rates for current graduates at 7.3% rather than the higher 12% anticipated RPI rate, with the rate capped for those starting in 2023, as the cost of living continued to bite.
  • Student loans. The Student Loans Company reported on loans in England for the 2021/22 year, showing a 13.1% increase over the past year to £181.6bn in the overall loan balance with 69.4% liable for repayment.
  • Maintenance loans. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) called for a relook at the way student maintenance loans are calculated after it highlighted in a new briefing a drop in their value for the coming year against rising inflation. 
  • Research funding. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced £480m+ over the next three years from its Infrastructure Fund to help strengthen capabilities and improve facilities for a range of new research and innovation projects, from climate change to adolescent mental health
  • Digital skills scholarships. The Office for Students (OfS) along with the government and Office for AI announced funding for a further 2,000 scholarships, worth up to £10,000 each, as part of its programme of boosting high-level AI skills particularly among under-represented groups. 
  • Regulator rules. Susan Lapworth, interim CEO of the OfS, reflected in a blog on the HE Policy Institute (HEPI) website about the role of the organisation and its relationship with politicians, listing five guiding mechanisms, set by law, that enable governments to exert influence over their work. 
  • Admissions 2022. Clare Marchant, chief executive of UCAS, outlined some important context for this year’s admissions cycle in a blog on the HEPI website, listing in particular five key current factors including what’s likely to be a competitive year with applicants expected to take full advantage of the choices on offer.
  • More admissions matters. Nick Hillman, chief executive at HEPI, offered further thoughts in a recent speech subsequently posted on the HEPI website, on university admissions suggesting among other things that government interest in a new student numbers cap had now passed, that PQA was now dead and buried (until the next time) and that more needs to be done to prepare people for the experience of higher ed.

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Feeling proud. The youngest came home very proud that he’d been given a sticker for being the 8th fastest at getting changed for PE” | @john_rendel
  • “One day I'd like to meet someone who prints out and keeps the certificates from all of the CPD they do” | @DanielBundred
  • “Today my 7 year-old came into the room crying. I asked him what happened and he said that his 5 year-old brother put 80 cows in his house in Minecraft while he was offline and that it was "entirely too many cows" and honest, I have no idea how to parent any of this” | @GrahamKritzer
  • “I renewed my car insurance over the phone today, and as I was about to hang up the woman on the other end asked if I had a pet. I said, "Yes, I’ve got a dog." She asked, "Would you like to insure him too?" I said, "No thanks, he can't drive!" | @DadJokeMan

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “Overall then, the labour market continues to see a toxic combination of falling real terms pay, high worklessness and labour shortages” – the IES reacts to the latest labour market figures.
  • “I am looking forward to working closely with my private sector colleagues, to help support our communities and customers with practical and real cost of living saving initiatives” – the government appoints a Cost-of-Living Business Tsar.
  • “The impact of Covid-19 on youth worklessness has been much better than feared” – the Resolution Foundation offers a glimmer of light for young people.
  • “We wanted the Commission to be a catalyst for change” – the editor of The Times introduces the final report from The Times Education Commission.
  • “We welcome the Times Education Commission’s report, particularly its recommendations on strengthening further education and tackling 50 higher education “cold spots” – the OU and AoC jointly welcome proposals in the Times Education Commission report on FE/HE..
  • “Too many providers are too heavily dependent on overseas student fees to maintain their finances, research base and provision” – the Public Accounts Committee raises concerns about HE finances in a new report.
  • “We’re hearing from students who can’t even afford to continue getting the bus to therapy sessions” – the NUS highlights the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.
  • “Let’s work together to make sure that the first day back to school after the summer holidays is the beginning of a year of friendships, opportunities and learning for every child in England” – the Children’s Commissioner sets out plans to tackle school attendance.
  • “We plan to strengthen accountability through introducing a continuous cycle of inspections” – Ofsted and the CQC consult on inspections for area wide SEND provision.
  • “Where students arrive late, centres should consult JCQ guidance on what to do” – the Minister responds to a Question in Parliament about exam students affected by possible train strikes.
  • “I’m gratefully keeping the Haribo flowing and my mouth shut” – a parent on the exams season.
  • “Soon, we’ll launch new reminders for teens to turn on Take a Break when they’ve been scrolling in Reels for a period of time” – Meta announces new tools to limit time spent on Instagram.

Important numbers

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

  • 0.3%. The amount the UK economy shrank in April, according to latest figures from the ONS.
  • 3.8%. The UK unemployment rate for the three months to April 2022, up marginally from 3.7% previously, according to latest figures from the ONS.
  • 3.4%. The real terms fall in pay in April 2022 compared with a year ago, the largest fall for some time mainly in the public sector according to analysis of the latest labour market data by the Learning and Work Institute.
  • £63bn pa. How much the digital skills gap currently costs the UK economy, according to the latest Digital Strategy. 
  • 91.5%. The pupil attendance rate for state school pupils in England (excluding Yrs 11-13) as of 9 June, according to latest government figures.
  • 4.8%. The number of secondary school pupils experiencing symptoms of long Covid after a recent infection (1.8% in primary,) according to recent ONS figures.
  • 1.5m. The number of school pupils in England with special educational needs, according to latest government data.
  • 9,900. The number of school places offered so far to pupils from Ukraine, according to latest government figures.
  • 79%. The number of teachers surveyed who fear that pupils moving up to secondary school this year will be less prepared, academically and socially, according to a report from GL Assessment.
  • 34%. The number of teachers saying that unannounced learning walks take place in their school, down from 40% two years ago according to a survey from Teacher Tapp. 
  • £2,000 pa. How much the average cost of childcare has risen a year since 2010 for parents with children under the age of two, according to research from the TUC.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • UN World Refugee Day (Monday 20 June).
  • Education Committee witness session on ‘The Future of Post-16 Qualifications’ (Tuesday 21 June).

Other stories

  • Is the party over for millennials? An article in The Knowledge this week argued that ‘the party was over for millennials.’ The cost of living, housing costs and an over-reliance on app-based delivery were cited as reasons. It’s interesting therefore to turn to Deloitte’s annual Gen Z and Millennial Global Survey published recently to see how true this picture really is. The survey, undertaken over the winter across 46 countries, painted a fairly downbeat picture. 47% of millennials live from one pay check to the next, 31% are not sure they’ll ’be able to retire comfortably, although perhaps more positively, 36% are choosing to live sustainably and two in five reject some form of work because it didn’t align with their values. Like many generations, it’s a mixed picture. A link to the survey is here
  • Time spent on Instagram. As the Online Safety Bill grinds through Parliament -it’s currently at the Committee Stage with a report due back by the end of the month – Meta announced this week some new ‘controls’ for Instagram accounts and VR use.They include more parental/guardian supervision tools, such as purchase notifications so that when a teen submits an ‘Ask to Buy’ request, this triggers a notification for a parent. Parents will also be able to set/limit the amount of time a teen can spend on Instagram. And teenagers will have a Nudge function, encouraging them not to focus on just one topic but move on and discover others. Meta’s press release with the details 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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