Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 08 July 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:

It was meant to be a big week for education.

Among the things lined up were:

  • The publication of results for the first SATs for three years.
  • The announcement of reforms for childcare.
  • Education Questions in Parliament.
  • A debate about future spending plans for education.
  • An Education Committee evidence session with the Children’s Commissioner.
  • A keynote speech by the Education Secretary on jobs and skills.
  • All topped off by a welcome return of the annual Festival of Education with its dazzling array of speakers in the traditional sunshine.

These things have been, and in the case of the Festival still are, happening, but against a fast-moving political backcloth.

At the time of writing, the big worry for education is the decimation of much of the Department for Education in the wake of the latest political upheavals.

The initially appointed Education Secretary, Michelle Donelan, lasted 35 hours before stepping down. Most of the other departmental ministers had already gone by then. The job of rebuilding the education department now rests with the incoming Education Secretary, James Cleverly.

As ASCL’s Geoff Barton had put it when originally welcoming Michelle Donelan to the hot seat “These are real and present dangers to the education system that will require urgent resolution.” The dangers to which he was referring were teacher shortages, pay, and the impact of rising costs. There are others.

Currently, other immediate priorities include: ensuring a smooth exam results season this summer, securing a decent pay package for teachers, preventing teacher strikes, overseeing the Schools and HE (Freedom of Speech) Bills through parliament, and delivering on the skills the country needs.

Pitch in education catchup, special needs reform for schools, L2/3 qualification reform, apprenticeship developments for the FE sector, potential minimum grade entry requirements, and international research for higher education, and the in-tray looks positively bulging.  As the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) put it: “It is vital that the government’s internal turmoil does not get in the way of addressing the urgent real-world challenges facing education and the country, not least of which is the current cost-of-living crisis and its impact on schools, staff, children and families.”

But back to the education business of the week, starting with those Key Stage 2 test results.

The pandemic has meant there have been no such assessments since 2019, so as the National Association of Head Teachers among many others was at pains to point out “We need to be very careful with the conclusions we draw from SATs data this year.”

It’s not only being careful about comparisons in performance that matters, but also in any interpretation of the data.

Overall, 59% of this year’s Year 6 pupils reached expected standards in reading, writing and maths against 65% in 2019. As the government explained: “These pupils experienced disruption to their learning during the pandemic, particularly at the end of year 4 and in year 5.” Attainment in writing and maths may have dropped this year but as Geoff Barton at ASCL pointed out, “this is likely to reflect the huge importance of direct classroom teaching in these subjects”. On top of that, numerous reports have indicated that the disruption to teaching varied considerably over the lockdown with disadvantaged regions often suffering the most.

It all suggests that the government’s current target of 90% of pupils reaching required standards in reading, writing and maths by 2030 seems even more fanciful. Unless, of course, as the unions pointed out, the government wants to invest in a substantive education recovery plan. The government is maintaining it has ‘a range of measures’ in the Schools Bill, such as inspections, tutoring, and a strengthened multi-academy system that will help, ‘regardless’ as they put it, of background or pandemic effects. Either way, the target remains a difficult challenge.

Childcare reforms next, which received a mixed reception when they were announced at the start of the week.

The aim, as the minister explained in parliament, was to drive down costs and drive-up options and quality. Measures included consulting on raising the staff: child ratio for two-year-olds from 1:4 to 1:5, opening up and flexing the childminder business, and consulting on the distribution of funding. The Early Years Alliance challenged the government’s claim that changing the staff: child ratio could result in passed-on savings and remained generally unconvinced by the proposals.

The accompanying research paper put out by the government, highlighted many of the pressures facing parents with young children. In a nutshell: “few parents had their ideal childcare arrangements when it came to meeting the criteria of affordability, availability and flexibility – as well as quality.” The House of Commons Library Service has a useful briefing on the proposals, including a chart of childcare ratios in Europe. The issues are unlikely to go away.

Education Questions in the House of Commons at the start of the work produced some sharp questioning about the impact of inflation on school budgets – “Skyrocketing energy bills are squeezing school budgets” – as one Opposition MP put it. Other questions covered student mental health, technical education, HE, the Schools Bill, and the prospect of any teacher strike action, with the former Education Secretary responding that he didn’t think “any teacher would want to strike after the damage that covid did with students being out of school”.

Other points of interest that may have got lost in a week of frenetic activity include a useful blog from Ofqual about grade setting for this summer’s exams and what to expect. ‘Results in summer 2022 will be higher than when summer exams were last sat, but lower than in 2021 when grades were awarded by teacher assessment’.  

Also, the government published the latest guidance for college corporations on reviewing provision to ensure it meets local needs; the Office for Students published the results from the latest National Students Survey, and the university sector in England committed to ‘reversing pandemic grade inflation in first and 2:1 degrees’.

Finally this week, MPs discussed priorities for education spending as the then Education Secretary laid down the department figures for up to next March. As the Chair of the Education Committee who was granted the final words said: “Now that the Secretary of State’s predecessor is in the Treasury, let him put his money where his mouth is and fund education in the way that it should be funded.”

An expectant education world awaits ...

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Zahawi: teachers won’t want to strike after pupils’ Covid damage’ (Monday).
  • ‘Proportion of top degree grades in England could fall by nearly 25%’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Losing three ministers from education will have ‘disruptive impact’ say heads’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘James Cleverly becomes the third education secretary in three days’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Seven in ten college staff may quit due to low pay’ (Friday).


  • Cabinet changes. The PM confirmed James Cleverly as the new Education Secretary following a series of resignations that saw both Nadhim Zahawi and Michelle Donelan relinquish the post.
  • Starmer speech. Sir Keir Starmer listed mutual recognition of professional qualifications/ restoring access to funding/vital research programmes as one of five measures to ‘Get Brexit Working’ in speech to the Centre for European Reform, intended as part of a new campaign of economic policy announcements from the Opposition.
  • Education spending. MPs discussed education spending and priorities as part of the Estimates Day procedure with the interim Education Secretary laying out the proposed spending for the dept up to next March and members variously supporting school absence, disadvantage, catch-up, mental health and skills as particular priorities.
  • Financial stability. The Bank of England published its latest report on UK financial stability, concluding that the economic outlook both for the UK and globally “has deteriorated materially” largely due to global inflationary pressures and that while UK banks will be able to cope, pressure on UK household finances will continue to increase.
  • Childcare reforms. The government announced a package of measures intended to improve the costs and access to childcare, incorporating consultations on statutory minimum staff: child ratios, streamlining Ofsted’s registration process for providers, enabling more people to become childminders, and consulting on the distribution of funding.
  • Children’s mental health. The Children’s Commissioner for England published a new vision for children’s mental health based around six ambitions including family support, access for those with special needs, and child protection.
  • Older workers. The government announced new measures to help tackle unemployment among those aged 50+ on benefits involving ‘Mid Life MoTs’ and wider referrals to the Restart scheme.
  • Living Standards. The Resolution Foundation published its latest Annual Audit of Living Standards in Britain pointing to ‘a toxic combination of both low growth and high-income inequality’ with low pay a big factor leaving many poorer households struggling with the current cost of living, calling ultimately for improved productivity and income growth as recipes for the way forward.
  • Economic Survey. The British Chambers of Commerce published its Quarterly Economic Survey for Q.2 2022 with 82% of respondents citing concerns about inflation, 65% expecting to raise prices, and business confidence generally weakening.
  • Family learning. The Campaign for Learning published a collection of essays from leading contributors on family learning policy, highlighting the importance of parental engagement in the early stages and the importance of family learning generally, calling among other things for support for Family Learning Networks.
  • Young people’s mental health. Leading figures celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Anna Freud Centre by highlighting five reasons why, despite the extent of issues around young people’s mental health, there were reasons to be positive such as the fact there’s more training and understanding now, schools are more aware, and partnership working is improving.
  • Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre. The National Audit Office (NAO) published the results of its Inquiry into the setting up of a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre first announced in 2015 but which is yet to be built with concerns about delays and costs, recommending further discussions on costs and greater clarity on emerging plans.

More specifically ...


  • KS2 test results. The government published headline data for this year’s KS2 national assessments, the first since 2019 showing that 59% of Yr 6 pupils had reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths.
  • KS1 data. FFT Education Datalab reported on its evidence data for KS1 attainment pointing to a drop in the number of pupils reaching the expected standard especially in writing and among disadvantaged groups while noting that the majority of KSI pupils had faced disrupted learning due to the pandemic.
  • Exam results 2022. Ofqual set out the context for this summer’s exam results in a blog listing 10 points explaining how grades are being set this year and what the implications are likely to be.
  • Children in care. The Education Committee called for ‘an education guarantee’ for children in care along with an extension of the pupil premium for looked after young people beyond the age of 16 as their Inquiry revealed ‘system-wide’ failing in the support and education of children in care.
  • Teacher shortages. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) published the results of a survey showing growing concerns about teacher shortages with 95% of respondents reporting difficulties in recruitment and 65% facing difficulties with teacher retention.
  • School buildings. The TUC called in a new report for a £1.2bn pa nationwide school building programme to make sure schools were fit for the future and energy efficient, arguing that most were built before 1970 and were ‘in dire need of repair.’
  • Model History curriculum. The government set out the terms of reference and Expert Panel membership that will develop a model curriculum for history at KS 1-3, building on the national curriculum but developing detailed non-statutory guidance to support teaching and development.
  • Board members. Ofqual announced the names of six people appointed as Board members for the next three years.


  • Meeting local needs. The government published the latest statutory guidance for college governing bodies on what’s required in reviewing provision to meet local needs, listing a range of principles covering timing, collaboration, evidence, and expected actions.
  • Zahawi on Future Jobs. Nadhim Zahawi, in his final speech as Education Secretary, argued the case for T levels, future skills mapping, and skills recruitment as he addressed the Conservative Home Future Jobs Conference, citing from his own experience the importance that he and the government were currently placing on the skills agenda.
  • Vocational Qualifications. Ofqual published a new commissioned report into perceptions of vocational-technical qualifications in England looking at views from both during the pandemic and longer-term trends, with employer awareness of the overall qualification system a continuing issue but with providers and learners more aware and valuing the provision generally.
  • Incorporation 30 years on. Ian Pryce, chief executive of Bedford College Group, reflected in a blog for the Association of Colleges (AoC) about the impact of incorporation as the 30th-anniversary approaches, suggesting that it had brought three features to the sector: a new approach to funding, geographic freedom, and new-found asset control.
  • Lifelong learning. The Learning and Work Institute announced the winners of this year’s Festival of Education (lifelong learning) awards, covering both individuals and providers.


  • Grade inflation. Universities UK and Guild HE announced that following the return of pre-pandemic grading for A levels and GCSEs this year, they would commit to returning to pre-pandemic levels of firsts and 2:1s for undergraduate degrees by 2023, as well as continue pre-pandemic work reviewing degree classification levels, aiming to publish a progress update in January 2023.
  • Turing scheme. The government confirmed the numbers of students expected to benefit from this year’s Turing (international exchange) scheme, pointing in particular to an increase in those included from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • National Student Survey. The Office for Students (OfS) published details from this year’s National Student Survey suggesting that things are picking up after the pandemic with positive ratings on access to resources and course management but concerns about teaching quality in some courses notably medicine and the sciences.
  • Levelling Up. Universities showcased their work in supporting levelling up as they participated in Universities UK’s ‘Getting Results’ campaign, highlighting their work in supporting local communities through teaching, research, and local partnerships.
  • Most excluded minorities. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI,) with support from Sussex University, highlighted in a new report the challenges facing Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers attempting to access education, calling for better data, support, and funding as ways forward.
  • The good, the bad, and the ugly. Nick Hillman, director at the HE Policy Institute (HEPI) examined the current state of HE in a presentation at the UPP Annual Conference, pointing to continued growth and resilience among the good points, funding and the cost-of-living impact on students among the bad, and managing disadvantage and minimum entry requirements among the ugly.
  • University challenge. Professor Sir Chris Husbands, V.C. at Sheffield Hallam University reflected in a new comment piece on how the places where universities have developed have been based on ‘historical accident’ as much as design, suggesting that they may need to reach out and partner with local communities, businesses, and colleges if they are to help with levelling up and flourish as 21st-century innovation centres.

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Looking forward to @nadhimzahawi accepting his own request for bigger pay rises for teachers” | @JohndickensSW
  • “Have just invented a new Wordle spin-off, where you wake up each morning and have six guesses to work out who that day's Education Secretary is” | @jonnybid
  • “UK Education Secretaries, a short history: Tuesday: Nadhim Zahawi Wednesday: Michelle Donelan Thursday: James Cleverley” | @DanielHewittITV
  • “I spoke to Margaret last night. She said she would have answered The Call to be the new Education Secretary. She realises she wouldn't have met the criteria of the person spec though, what with liking children, loving teaching and knowing an awful lot about the education system” | @RetirementTales
  • “I’m taking Reception to @PizzaExpresst his morning. Not sure who is more excited” | @HeyMissSmith
  • “What's blue and not very heavy? Light blue” | @Dadsaysjokes

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “Of course, it's painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself. But as we've seen at Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful” – Boris Johnson in his resignation speech.
  • “The UK is in the middle of a remarkable real income shock” – the Resolution Foundation publishes its latest Annual Living Standards Audit.
  • “Our members in England will report to their governing bodies and then publish revised degree outcomes statements by the end of 2022” – English universities pick up the pre-pandemic work on reviewing degree classification.
  • “So, I'm urging employers to think differently about their recruitment. Think about whether they really need someone with a degree” – the former Education Secretary urges employers to think beyond degrees to technical skills when recruiting.
  • “We will continue to fund applied general style qualifications including BTECs as part of mixed programmes where there is a clear need for them, and they meet new quality and other criteria” – the former Skills Minister answers a question in Parliament about BTECs.
  • “These are clearly unusual times and the fact that we have another new Education Secretary less than 48 hours after the appointment of Michelle Donelan has to be seen in that context” – ASCL responds to the latest change of education secretary.
  • “Disappointing but not unexpected” – the former Schools Minister on the latest SATs results.
  • “We do not think it can possibly be fair to judge schools on this basis as it is a judgement that could be based more on the impact of the pandemic than it is on the performance of the school” – ASCL on using KS data in Ofsted inspections this year.
  • “Chicken is on the menu less often, replaced instead with cheaper turkey” – the BBC reports on how school meals are facing cost pressures.
  • “It’s about joy and these days there’s little of that left” – the author Amanda Craig in a letter to The Times about the joy of literature

Important numbers

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

  • 828m. The number of people around the world suffering from chronic undernourishment last year, a rise of 46m on the previous year according to the UN.
  • 37%. The number of hospitality businesses currently making a profit, according to the British Institute of Innkeeping and UK Hospitality.
  • 200. The number of pubs that have shut so far this year in England as inflation and trading conditions continue to bite according to the Altus Group.
  • 76.3%. The number of UK university students satisfied with the quality of their course, slightly up on last year, but still down on pre-pandemic levels according to the latest National Student Survey.
  • 5%. The price increase for City and Guilds qualifications next academic year, according to the company’s latest release.
  • 40%+. The number of primary teachers intending to buy end-of-year presents for their pupils, according to Teacher Tapp.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Education Committee evidence session on post-16 qualifications (Tuesday 12 July).
  • Westminster Hall debate on eligibility for free school meals (Tuesday 12 July).
  • Westminster Hall debate on careers guidance in schools (Wednesday 13 July).
  • Latest data from UCAS on undergraduate applicants (Thursday 14 July).
  • Publication of Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) Annual Report into Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality (Thursday 14 July).

Other stories

  • The future of learning. Wellbeing education and Watch Parties are among the various forms of learning we may have to get used to in the future according to researchers at the Open University. Each year, they examine different learning practices from around the world and highlight future possibilities. This year’s list of ten possible future approaches includes not just Watch Parties (viewing presentations and encouraging online calls to engage,) but also Dual Learning Scenarios (essentially combining theory with practice,) Pedagogy of Discomfort (a process of self-examination,) and Walk and Talk (combining movement with conversation.) A list of the full ten is here
  • Lessons from the past. Former Education Secretary, David Blunkett remains a forceful voice on education. This week, in a blogpost for the House (as in House of Commons) magazine, he reflected on lessons that could be learned from the past. “Let me be honest. There were things I didn’t do, or didn’t do sufficiently vigorously, which could make a difference now.” He cites two in particular: doing more on whole family learning and tackling the assessment system. “Norm referencing and grade boundaries are frankly nonsense. They are a transactional means of ordering pupils to fit a preconceived spread of results.” A link to the blog 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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