- 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:
It’s not getting any easier.
Another week of financial concerns with four have a bearing on education.
First, the pressure on council services, £2.4bn worth of pressure according to the Local Government Association (LGA) which held its Annual Conference this week.
Finances are often a hot topic at annual conferences but this year has seen what the LGA Chairman described as the added pressures of ‘soaring inflation, energy prices and National Living Wage expectations.’ The suggestion was that local councils were having” to rip up financial plans set just three months ago with the potential of funding cuts to local services – just to meet their legal duty to balance the books.” It’s not just potholes being left unfilled but a reduction in vital care services that’s the worry.
In response, Michael Gove confirmed in his speech to the Conference, that the government intended to introduce a 2-year financial settlement from next year and would be launching a consultation on this shortly before adding deeply “we all know that this difficult period isn’t going to end overnight.”
Second, the challenges around vital fundraising and support for schools, much of which is carried out by PTAs, (parent teacher associations.).
Last week was National PTA Week and to mark it, Parentkind, the membership body for PTAs, published a new report highlighting the challenges of fundraising activities during a pandemic and cost of living squeeze. The Christmas Fair for instance, usually one of the big money spinners, was noticeably down last year. PTAs did manage to raise an impressive £60.8m overall last year but this was well down on pre-pandemic years. As their CEO put it “Although PTA revenues are understandably down on pre-pandemic levels, it hasn’t been for want of trying. In fact, committee members are volunteering even more of their time now than they were before the pandemic.”
Third, more pressure emerging this week about the costs of student loans and long-term financial burden facing the Treasury let alone many graduates. The NUS raised the matter a couple of weeks ago in response to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) research into student living costs – ‘” we’re at breaking point” - and this week, the student newspaper The Tab reported a surge in the number of British graduates facing loan debts of over £100k.
And fourth, the government goes into next week’s debates on future spending plans keen to keep a careful eye on departmental spending limits. According to the House of Commons Library Service which outlined the details, the DfE, for instance, is looking at day-to-day spending for 2022/23 being down £9,1771.1m on the previous year at £71,903.7m, largely driven by ‘lower costs associated with the student loan book.’ The Dept’s capital budget, however, as indicated in the recent Spending Review is up to £6,364.3m.
In all, therefore, a difficult backcloth for much of education where three further stories stand out this week, one each for schools, FE and HE.
For schools, the government took steps to firm up the landscape around academy trusts with the launch of a review as it seeks to build on an academy style school system as set out in the Schools Bill. It came as the government formally confirmed it was rethinking Clauses 1-18 of the Bill containing some of the more contentious aspects of academy oversight.
The review will focus initially on a statutory standards framework, models of continuous improvement and thresholds for intervention, before moving on to regulation and commissioning. The aim is to stress test and beef up the system where necessary. It will be guided by an Expert Advisory Group, chaired by the Schools Minister with the Ofsted Chief Inspector one of the members on board.
For FE, a new apprenticeship target caught the eye. It came in a speech to the AELP Annual Conference by Alex Burghart, the Skills Under Secretary.
Following on from the Chief Inspector, who had described a mixed picture on skills and apprenticeship performance with “around 80% of providers judged good or better in inspections” but some new ones struggling, the minister took his turn to set out the new target. ‘A 65% achievement rate on apprenticeship standards by 2025, along with the promised ‘how was it for you’ exit feedback tool for apprentices. A 15% rise in achievement rates for standards could prove challenging for some.
As for HE, concerns about the financial footing of the sector were somewhat allayed by the latest financial health check from the Office for Students. Drawing on both submitted and forecast data, the OfS declared ‘the overall aggregate financial position of the sector to be sound’ and likely to improve longer-term.
That’s not say financial risks don’t remain, and the report highlights five including a fluctuation in student recruitment, undue reliance on overseas fee income, pension costs, inflation and changes to government funding policy. Labour, for example, has been musing recently about a graduate tax although that appears to be some way off at present.
There’s also been some interest in one other document released this week. This came from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and constituted the first batch of data from last year’s National Census, looking here at population and household estimates in England and Wales. It offers both an interesting insight into society as well as useful planning tool for public service provision such as health and education. Education specific data comes later in the year but already the ‘fewer babies, more older people’ headline is sparking questions in this area.
The broad headline at the moment was of a population increase of 3.5m since the last Census in 2011. Growth was evident across all regions with the highest, up by 8.3%, in the East of England and also among the population aged 65 and above, up by 2.2%. The Cabinet Office has a summary of it all here.
In Westminster this week, the HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill and the Schools Bill continued their wary progress through the House of Lords, facing in both cases a number of concerns raised by peers. Former universities minister Lord Willetts talked about ‘real concerns’ about some of the substance of the HE Bill for instance. The Schools Bill headed to the Report Stage with a number of amendments included and a retreat on some of the interventionist aspects of the Bill, confirmed.
Elsewhere, MPs discussed the misuse of NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements) in higher education with the minister urging universities to sign up to her ‘Can’t Buy My Silence’ pledge to stop using them to silence victims.
And finally, MPs debated an e-petition this week calling for a 4-day school week. While acknowledging the commitment and sincerity of the petitioners, all sides agreed that in the words of the School Standards Minister who summed up “it would not be in the best interests of the children” (to have a 4-day school week.) Some children may disagree.
The top headlines of the week:
- ‘Graduate jobs target risks killing off English literature degrees’ (Monday).
- ‘Warnings of mental health crisis among ‘Covid generation’ of students’ (Tuesday).
- ‘DfE launches regulatory review to futureproof academy trusts (Wednesday).
- ‘Government announces U-turn on Schools Bill after criticism’ (Thursday).
- ‘Universities told to advertise dropout rates’ (Friday).
- Ukrainian researchers. The Prime Minister announced a package of measures to support Ukrainian science, technology and research including providing for 130 Ukrainian researchers to continue their research in the UK under the ‘Researchers at Risk’ programme, supporting university partnerships with Ukrainian institutions, and prioritising Ukrainian researchers under the Global Talent visa scheme.
- Spending plans. The House of Commons Library Service published a helpful briefing on the government’s spending plans for 2022/23 which show the spending plans for each dept such as the DfE and for related bodies including Ofqual and Ofsted and which are subject to parliamentary debate next week under the Main Estimates debate procedure.
- Local councils. The Local Government Association held its Annual Conference highlighting concerns about growing funding pressures and the potential for cuts to vital local services such as social care and early intervention.
- Productivity. The UK Productivity Commission, set up last year to investigate the country’s poor productivity performance, published its first major report showing how the UK had struggled to perform relative to other G7 economies since the 2007/8 financial crisis, citing regional inequality, poor infrastructure and a volatile policy climate as factors and pointing to investment, levelling up and raised skill levels as remedies.
- Gender pay gap. The consultancy company PwC published data on the gender pay gap suggesting little real improvement (0.3%) last year based on those companies that reported, with 43% of companies actually reporting an increase.
- War children. UNICEF highlighted the impact of war and armed conflict on children across the world with a new report showing that between 2005 and 2020, the UN had verified over 266,000 ‘grave violations’ against children arising from 30 conflicts across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
- Census 2021. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the first batch of data from the 2021 Census covering population and household estimates in England and Wales, showing that the population had grown by more than 3.5m since the last census in 2011 with the greatest increase in the East of England and among those aged over 65.
More specifically ...
- Policy evaluation. The DfE set out its departmental evaluation strategy for the year, ensuring for instance that its approach to policies was targeted and high quality by focusing on four features for evaluation including efficiency, planning and oversight.
- Academy trusts. The government followed up proposals in the Schools Bill by announcing a review into the academy trust system and in particular operational standards, intervention thresholds and expansion capacity.
- Better broadband. The government announced further funding to help extend broadband coverage to rural primary schools as part of its mission for every school in England to have access to high-speed internet by 2025.
- NRT tender. Ofqual invited bids for running, from 2025, the National Reference Test (NRT,) which provides annual benchmark evidence for GCSE English and maths grading, with potential thoughts on how this might shift to an online model in time.
- School report. Pearson published a new school report reflecting the views of those working in the field surveyed by Public First with many school teachers keen to see climate change, life skills and wellbeing all given greater prominence in the curriculum.
- PTA Impact. Parentkind hailed the importance of PTAs (parent-teacher associations) in a new report, pointing to the amount of money raised by PTAs over the year for schools, the increase in hours by volunteers and the events and other activities that PTAs individually support.
- GCSE grades 2021. FFT Education Datalab reflected further on the issue of why independent school students received higher GCSE grades last year than their state school counterparts, suggesting from the data available, whether as a result of less disrupted teaching or not, that their teacher assessed grades appeared more generous.
- Apprenticeship Achievement. Alex Burghart, the skills minister, set a new target of ensuring an achievement rate of 67% on apprenticeship standards by 2025, up 15% on the current rate, in an address to the AELP Annual Conference.
- Ofsted view. Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector, also addressed the AELP Annual Conference where she outlined training system strengths (tailored delivery) and weaknesses (low success rates in functional skills) evident from recent inspection reports and reminded delegates of a full round of inspections by 2025.
- Top Apprenticeship Employers. The government in association with High Fliers Research published this year’s list of top apprenticeship employers based on their overall commitment in creating and supporting apprenticeship opportunities and progression, with the armed forces taking three of the top four places.
- 5 reasons to undertake an apprenticeship. The government set out five reasons why people of all ages should consider an apprenticeship, pointing to the fact that you get paid, enjoy high-quality training, have a range of options, it’s rewarding and they’re ‘now better than they’ve ever been.’
- Apprenticeship funding. Kathleen Hennehan argued the case for ringfencing apprenticeship levy funding for young people in a blog on the AoC website, noting that the current system tends to favour those already in work or requiring higher-level training leaving many young people left out.
- Pre-apprenticeship guides. The Learning and Work Institute published a series of guides to support pre-apprenticeship providers with such aspects as design and delivery, blended learning and skills development.
- T level alternatives. The Association of Colleges (AoC) highlighted issues around the potential loss of a number of alternative qualifications to T levels under the current rationalisation programme, calling on the government to ensure that ‘no successful qualification should be defunded until a better alternative is well established’ and for greater clarity on what will be available in 2026 and where it will leave young people.
- LEP Priorities. Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) leaders set out their priorities for the future with a focus on helping deliver the UK Digital Strategy along with science, innovation and international trade, as they continue the shift towards integrated local bodies as set out in the recent LEP Review.
- College Corporations. The government updated its governance guide for college corporations to reflect latest developments and with new advice on recruiting governors as well as the importance of inclusion.
- Skills Boot camps. The FT reported on skills boot camps, pointing to some initial teething problems but highlighting their potential in providing more accessible and targeted short course provision as part of the skills revolution.
- Financial health. The Office for Students (OfS) reported on the financial health of HE institutions in England based on latest data and forecasts indicating most providers were in “sound” financial health despite the challenges of recent years but that an overreliance on overseas income, fluctuations in student recruitment and pensions issues, remained among the risks.
- Annual Report and Accounts. The Office for Students published its detailed Annual Report and Accounts for 2021/22 covering progress made against its five objectives (participation, experience, outcomes, value for money, efficiency and effectiveness,) its future work around regulation and lifelong learning, along with its financial performance and accounts for the year.
- Marketing messaging. The government issued guidance for higher education providers on how they should best advertise and promote data and information about their institution and its provision, with a review set for early next year on how it’s all working.
Tweets and posts of note:
- “Hi all, Many thanks to all the staff who have taken 200 pupils on the adventure weekend residential to the Lake District. They set off on Friday morning at 4am and are due to return at three am on Monday. Tired students may take Monday off. Staff are expected in at 7:45” | @NewbieSlt
- “Best advice if you’re starting a new school in September…. Check the dress code for INSET day. Kind regards, ‘Suit-boy” | @ScottPughsley
- “One cost no-one will have factored into the cost-of-living crisis is all the bits that teachers buy and never claim for their classes will slowly dry up” | @mrlockyer
- “Just about to start teaching Handmaid’s to year 12. Feels less like speculative fiction and more like the news” | @MissDunmore1
A selection of quotes that merit attention:
- “If productivity had continued to grow at two per cent per year in the last decade, it would have meant an extra £5,000 per worker per year on average” – the Productivity Institute issues its first report.
- “As a business and an employer, we can't ignore market pressures and want to ensure pay at every level is as competitive as possible” – PwC announces a minimum 7% pay rise for staff.
- “The majority of students are burdened by anxiety” – the NUS report on student mental health.
- “Without literature, without music and art and dance and drama, people young and old alike will perish of mental and emotional and imaginative starvation” – author Philip Pullman on the threats to literature and the arts from some higher ed institutions.
- “I want to thank the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Further Education and Lifelong Learning Peter Aldous for raising it in the Commons” – the AoC responds to an MP raising the issue of FE staffing during PM Questions.
- “It was a ridiculous attempt to centralise power in Whitehall over matters which are obviously much better decided by professional educators who know the needs of their schools and their pupils” – ASCL responds to the government’s U-turn on aspects of the Schools Bill.
- “This review will deliver a set of practical recommendations that will help build a resilient school system” – the government launches a review of the academy trust system.
- “If schools were to close on Fridays, as the petition proposes, pupils would lose an average of 38 school days in each academic year” – the School Standards Minister rejects proposals for a 4-day school week.
Not-to-be-missed numbers of the week:
- 51% v 49%. The number of women versus the number of men in England and Wales, according to the 2021 Census figures published by the ONS.
- £71,903.7 m. The proposed day-to-day spending limit for the DfE for 2022/23, down just over £9,177.1m from last year according to latest figures.
- 6.5m. The number of workers in the UK likely to quit their jobs in the next 12 months with over a third looking for better pay and conditions according to CIPD.
- 71. The number of partnerships agreed so far between UK and Ukrainian universities, according to Universities UK.
- £45.72bn. The forecast income from HE in England in 2024/25, up from £37.31bn last year according to the Office for Students.
- £26,076. Advertised graduate salaries this summer, a 6-year high according to job search site Adzuna.
- 6.4%. The percentage of 16–18-year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET) at the end of last year, one of the lowest on record according to latest government figures.
- 89.4%. The attendance rate for pupils in state schools in England, apart from Yrs 11-13, last Thursday, down from 91.5% previously according to latest government figures.
- 92%. The number of teachers in a survey who believe that wellness and mental health awareness should be introduced to pupils in primary school, according to a new report from Pearson.
- £60.8m. How much money PTAs raised for schools last year, down on pre-pandemic levels yet with a notable increase in volunteering hours over the year, according to Parentkind.
- 6. The number of common birds and insects that a typical adult can identify, according to a survey commissioned by Redrow.
Everything else you need to know ...
What to look out for next week:
- Education Questions in the House of Commons (Monday 4 July).
- Education Committee evidence session with the children’s commissioner (Tuesday 5 July).
- Release of initial data on this year’s KS2 results (Tuesday 5 July).
- The Education Secretary addresses the Conservativehome ‘Future Jobs’ Conference (Tuesday 5 July).
- MPs debate education spending (Wednesday 6 July).
- OECD Webinar on ‘How education systems have coped with the second year of the pandemic’ (Wednesday 6 July).
- The 2022 Festival of Education (Thursday 7 July – Friday 8 July).
- What’s the best day of the week to come into the office? It’ll come as no surprise perhaps that the best days are midweek. That at least is according to a survey last week from the Chartered Management Institute. 54% of people in their poll voted for Wednesday/Thursday, 35% for Monday/Tuesday and 9% for Friday. The pattern let alone the acronym for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday office working, for those that can, appears to be growing. A link to the poll is here.
- Turning into our parents. It’s one of life’s cliches that we gradually turn into our parents. Whether you view this as a good or bad thing depends on your point of view of course. According to a recent survey by the research agency OnePoll, 63% of those heading in that direction don’t mind. The precise age when this appears to manifest itself apparently is 32 and a half. Quite precise. And for those looking for signs, the survey lists 20 tell-tale signs such as falling asleep on the sofa, telling terrible jokes and using that old mantra ‘you’re not going out dressed like that.’ A link to the full list can be found here.
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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.