Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 15 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:

The end of term is in sight. It’s already arrived for some, while for others it’s just one last heave away.

Yet there’s a lot to plough through before we all get there, as this week’s list of top stories indicates. It includes: 

  • A deluge of reports on jobs, growth and skills. Five in all, from the Treasury Select Committee, the National Audit Office, the CBI, UNICEF, and the Resolution Foundation. A common thread was ‘a lack of long-termism in growth strategy and policy.’
  • Some interesting debates and sessions in Westminster covering free school meals, careers guidance in schools and post-16 qualifications.
  • Some concerns about lost papers and incorrect mark allocations for this year’s SATs. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has called for ‘an immediate investigation.’
  • Worries about the latest school attendance figures which saw pupil attendance down and workforce absences up. It’s not clear how much is down to Covid, but there have been calls for the government to get a grip.
  • Some useful research from Ofqual about the use of teacher assessed grades for last summer’s exams. Teachers spent 15 days on average getting it all sorted. 79% of students were stressed by all the tests they had to take. 
  • An assessment from FE Week on T levels two-years on, finding staff and students generally positive, despite the slog needed to get them up and running.
  • The latest figures from UCAS on university applications this year. ‘Record applications from disadvantaged students’ was their headline.
  • A survey from the National Union of Students (NUS) on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on students. They pointed to ‘students being on the brink.’

The full listing for the week, with links, is below but here are a few details behind the first two of these stories at least. 

The battery of reports this week on jobs, skills and growth paint a pretty familiar picture. Indeed, one college principal tweeted about the same song coming round again. 

As the Treasury Select Committee put it in its report on Jobs, growth and productivity after coronavirus, ‘the Government as a whole is spending a large amount of money and time on devising growth strategies and policies’, but it’s all a bit disjointed. ‘We are concerned about the chop and change and lack of long-termism’. ‘Uncertainty reigns’, according to the CBI. The scrapping of the Industrial Strategy, the ups and downs of the various Business Councils, and the lack of overall direction, are all cited as evidence in the various reports.

As the NAO outlined in its report on workforce skills; when it comes to skills and growth ‘the DfE considers that the skills system will be most effective if it is led by employers’. Yet as they go on to say, employers find it ‘hard to navigate government’s growing, and sometimes disjointed, set of skills programmes’, and employer spending on workforce training has gone down.

Various recommendations were put forward. The CBI pointed to four levers the government could pull, including tax changes that drive investment, and building a workforce for the future. The Treasury Select Committee called for a co-ordinated ‘Plan for Growth’, reform of the apprenticeship levy, and a focus on digital skills. The NAO equally called for a co-ordinated approach, better monitoring and support for the Unit for Future Skills.

But, arguably, the final word should rest with the Resolution Foundation and its summary of the challenges facing the country and the future economy as it seeks to pull away from a decade of stagnation. Its chart of ’10 key facts’ characterising stagnation is on page 24 of their report. Here’s just one. ‘Eight million young workers have never worked in an economy with sustained average wage rises’. Important messages for a future PM perhaps.

Secondly, a quick run through some of those debates and sessions in Westminster this week.

Those two Westminster Hall debates first. 

One was an Opposition motion about the eligibility of free school meals, with a number of MPs pitching in with desperate tales from their own constituencies. In response for the government, the Minister of State Will Quince (back at the helm after what he called “a 24-hour interlude” last week) argued that more children were now in receipt of free school meals. 22.5% of pupils to be precise, up from 15% in 2015. The cost-of-living may see the issue return. 

The next day, MPs tackled careers guidance in schools, with Labour calling for ‘an independent all-age careers guidance service’, along with a statutory two-weeks work experience programme, and a stronger role for Ofsted. Interestingly, the debate provided an opportunity for the new skills minister Andrea Jenkyns to contribute by rounding off the debate. She ran through the traditional list of things the government was doing in this area – Gatsby benchmarks, career hubs and so on – and let slip about her work experience at college. It was with an interior designer. “The lady got me ironing her husband’s underwear” she said, noting how things have since improved. 

Elsewhere in Westminster this week, away from the hustings, the Education Committee took further witness evidence for its Inquiry into post-16 qualifications. T levels and BTECs featured prominently, with the latter the subject of a further Westminster Hall debate next Monday.

Finally, Michelle Donelan gave a brief glimpse on the ConsHome page this week about the inner turmoil she faced over whether to hang on as Education Secretary last week. 

In her words: “I gave him [the PM] the night and was incredibly conflicted, still wanting to safeguard the interests of young people and not add to the chaos. But, in the end, I came to the conclusion the next day, that I had to go for the good of the country”.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘One in ten students turn to food banks in cost of learning crisis’ (Monday).
  • ‘SATs: Call for ‘immediate investigation’ after new claims of wrong results (Tuesday). 
  • ‘School mindfulness lessons don’t work for teenagers, study says’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Record numbers of disadvantaged UK students apply for university’ (Thursday). 
  • ‘Schools plan non-uniform days and early finishes for ‘extreme’ heatwave.’ (Friday).


  • Leadership election. Public First consultancy launched a helpful policy spreadsheet on where the leading contenders for the Conservative Party leadership stand on key policy areas including the economy, education, technology, and science and research.
  • Starmer speech. Keir Starmer set out three major challenges that the country currently faces including the economy/cost-of-living crisis, public services, and uniting the country, outlining broadly in his latest set piece speech around the country how a Labour government would tackle them. 
  • Stagnation nation. The Resolution Foundation published an interim summary paper of the 30 reports published so far under its Nuffield funded Economy 2030 Inquiry, concluding with a key message that a combination of years of slow growth and deepening inequality was leaving middle and poorer households worse off and the country facing stagnation.
  • A Plan for Growth. The Treasury Select Committee published the results of its Inquiry into jobs and growth post-pandemic, condemning the government’s ‘chop and change’ approach and the lack of a co-ordinated growth strategy, calling among other things for a review of the apprenticeship levy and an increase in R/D and management skills. 
  • Developing workforce skills. The National Audit Office NAO) called for a more strategic and better monitored approach to developing workforce skills in a new report, acknowledging the ratcheting up of policy enthusiasm in recent years but questioning how far the government’s preferred model of an employer-led system will work. 
  • Helping Britain grow. The CBI added further details to its recently published plan for UK growth developed around ‘six overriding areas of opportunity’ such as skills, health and innovation, pointing particularly to the need for apprenticeship levy reform, business investment and future regulation.
  • Recovering learning. UNICEF and the Education Commission published a new report to mark this year’s World Youth Skills Day, pointing to a ‘global learning crisis’ around young people as countries struggle to provide for the skills needed for future employment with children in low-income countries in particular falling behind in reading, digital and transferable skills, all made worse by pandemic school closures. 
  • Jobs market. KPMG and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation published their latest report on the jobs market for June pointing to a slowdown in permanent staff appointments with a decline generally in staff availability and some slowing of wages. 
  • Hybrid working. The consultancy company PwC reported on its survey conducted among employers in April about office working, with most (71%) agreeing that being in the office can be beneficial especially for the less well-off who often miss out on opportunities, with 76% agreeing that employers have a learning and development responsibility to encourage office workers back in.
  • Employment relations. CIPD, the professional body for HR, published new research suggesting that employment relations were likely to become more fraught in the coming months as the cost-of-living crisis and a tight labour market take hold.
  • Child Poverty. The End Child Poverty Coalition published latest research undertaken by Loughborough University showing that despite a slight drop last year, child poverty levels remained worryingly high with the North East seeing the sharpest increase, up 38% over the last decade. 

More specifically ...


  • Pupil numbers. The government published the latest data on pupil numbers and projections indicating that numbers in nursery and primary peaked in 2019, those in secondary along with special education are set to peak in 2024, while those in alternative provision are dropping although the data here is less secure.
  • Exam errors. Rob Halfon, Chair of the Education Committee, wrote to the (new) Education Secretary expressing concerns about errors in exam board papers this year, recommending that Ofqual not only ensures full marks are given but that fines are imposed on boards where necessary.
  • SEND Review. The Chair of the Education Committee also wrote to the Education Secretary raising a number of concerns about proposals in the government’s SEND Review, pointing in particular to issues around future funding, inclusion, early intervention, and forms of accountability.
  • Inspections. Ofsted updated its inspection manual for use from Sept 2022, removing references and transitional arrangements put in to contend with Covid, redesignating section 5 and 8 inspections, and clarifying the ‘quality of education’ judgement.
  • Annual Report. Ofsted published its Annual Report and Accounts for 2021/22 outlining its inspection activity carried out in the shadow of the pandemic, along with its series of published insights and reviews, work on data, digitalisation and a new strategy, and potential risks and challenges in the face of an extending remit.
  • Another Annual Report. Ofqual published its Annual Report and Accounts for 2021/22 outlining its performance against its four organisational priorities of regulating academic qualifications, regulating vocational qualifications, supporting quality and managing people and resources against net expenditure of £24,772m, with much of the work conditioned by the response to the pandemic.
  • School rebuilding. The government announced a third set of 61 schools listed for rebuilding/refurbishment under its school rebuilding programme.
  • Alternative Provision. The government followed up its recent Green Paper by trying to find out more about how unregistered alternative provision is commissioned and delivered, with a call for evidence intended to help determine future models. 
  • Exam results and beyond. The government explained about exam grading this year and post-16 options in a new blog on the DfE site.
  • Last year’s assessments. Ofqual published the results of its research report into the workings of the Teacher Assessed Grades (TAG) system used last summer with both staff and students finding it all stressful, time consuming and pressurised and hoping not to have to repeat the exercise.
  • SATs results. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) called for answers from the government as it pointed to problems with this year’s SATS with papers said to be missing and marks incorrectly allocated.
  • SATs on reflection. FFT Education Datalab reflected on the recent headline KS2 assessment results, using its own databank evidence from a sample of schools to compare performance this year with that of 2019, acknowledging that while attainment in maths and writing had fallen this year, the bigger picture could be viewed in different ways.
  • Behaviour in schools. The government published latest non-statutory guidance for schools on pupil behaviour covering such features as the features of a whole school behaviour policy, roles and responsibilities including of pupils, and the legal duties of staff and what the law says about sanctions.
  • Attendance Audit. The Children’s Commissioner published the latest in her office’s series of deep dives into school attendance issues, looking on this occasion at data from three academy trusts and finding that children who miss the first few days of a new term tend to go on and have higher levels of absence generally and those who miss midweek days tend also to be ‘habitual absentees.’
  • Tackling attendance. Headteacher Caroline Barlow argued in a blog on the Headteachers’ Roundtable site for working closely with parents and trying to understand some of the wellbeing issues facing pupils when it came to tackling pupil attendance, suggesting that these tended to work better than focusing, as the government’s White Paper does, on data collection and sanctions. 
  • Researchers from UK and US universities reported on their study of school-based mindfulness used as part of adolescent resilience training, finding views mixed about its worth, with many not going on to do the required follow-up practice at home.


  • Hello and welcome. The Association of Colleges (AoC) welcomed Andrea Jenkyns as the new minister pointing to staff recruitment and pay, and vocational qualifications options as two immediate priorities.
  • Labour plans. Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions called in a speech at the Learning and Work Institute for a ‘proper employment plan’ built around what he termed ‘the 3 D’s shaping future lives and jobs,’ namely: decarbonisation, digitisation and demographics.
  • Economic inactivity. The Learning and Work Institute called in a new report for a dedicated plan around jobs, skills and growth to encourage/enable more of those who left the labour market during the pandemic through ill health or age, to return with the provision of more flexible working.
  • Ofsted updated its inspection manual for Sept 2022 on, removing references and transitional arrangements put on to contend with Covid, and adding in how colleges contribute to meeting local skill needs, with a set of criteria incorporated in a new sub-judgement.
  • Impact report. The Education and Training Foundation published a commissioned report into the impact of its work over the last year showing, against a context of the pandemic, continuing volumes of courses and high levels of attendance, both actual and online, for training events as the Foundation sought to deliver on its 5 strategic ‘GLIDE’ objectives of ‘Grow, Lead, Influence, Develop, and Evolve.’
  • T level overlap. The Education Policy Institute examined the 2021 cohort of T level students to assess the impact of overlapping qualifications, concluding that about a third of students were taking tech/voc qualifications that could be defunded given overlaps with a T level and that a similar number were not ready for T levels largely because of poor English/maths GCSE grades.
  • T levels. FE Week reported on T levels two years on, finding many stories about the hard work needed to get them up and running particularly the industry placements element but both staff and students positive about the outcomes.
  • Apprenticeship reach. The 5% Club and the School Outreach Company announced a new partnership that would see them working together to support more opportunities for young people.


  • Student loans. The government published latest data on student loans in England indicating that those who started f/t undergraduate courses this year will borrow £42,000 over the 3 years of their course, with 20% set to pay the loan back in full and the number of loan-borrowers likely to grow 5.2% over the next 5 years.
  • UCAS update. UCAS published its latest set of data on university applications this year reflecting the picture as of the end of June, showing record application numbers from UK 18yr olds including those from disadvantaged areas as well as an increase in international applicants and the first showing of T level applicants.
  • Exam cheating. Alpha Academic Appeals, a law firm that specialises in student appeals, reported the results of a survey indicating that “approximately 1 in every 6-university student in the UK has cheated in online exams this academic year” with a third convinced it was not always morally wrong. 
  • Cost of Living. The NUS published the results of a survey among students and apprentices about the impact of the cost of living, suggesting that existing support through loans and wages hardly provide them with enough to survive on leaving many (30%) turning to credit cards and some (11%) using food banks.
  • University governors. Dr Alex Bols, Deputy Chief Executive for GuildHE, called for university governors to be more involved in overseeing course quality in a new paper for the HE Policy Institute (HEPI,) arguing that this would allow institutions to map their own dedicated provision better and manage its quality without further external oversight. 
  • Student mental health. The Office for Students (OfS) published commissioned research from its Mental Health Challenge Competition showing the importance of partnership working between HE and health services in helping support student mental health. 
  • Horizon Europe. The British Academy called on the new Chancellor to set out contingency plans and alternative funding details in case UK researchers are no longer able to access Horizon Europe programmes, pointing especially to the need for short-term arrangements to be in place soon.
  • Engineering Research. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council reported on its work on engineering challenges of the future, outlining a range of high-level priorities (including skills and diverse output,) cross-cutting themes (including data and systems) and technological challenges (including robotics and nature-based engineering,) calling among other things for a more flexible approach to future funding and provision. 

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Thinking of all the teachers today who will be stuck in poorly ventilated classrooms with 30 hot, sweaty, hormonal children” | @merrillteaches
  • “Hi all, Thank you for your continued hard work this term. There are just 2 weeks of this very long term to go. Two weeks, or as we call it, 50 teaching periods, 20 hours of CPD, three parents’ evenings, an awards ceremony, 3 school plays, sports day, and an open evening. Thanks x” | @NewbieSlt
  • “We shouldn’t use the word ‘disadvantaged’ for young people as it makes it sound like they lack something... We should use the word ‘under-served” | @ThePiXLNetwork
  • “Been running into dads of my 3yo’s classmates and asking for their emails for his birthday party and so far 3 out of 3 dads have proceeded to give me their wives’ emails instead. This is now a social experiment” | @SonyaBonczek
  • “Controversial opinion: The effort involved in doing a BBQ is not worth the pay off. Just cook food in the oven and eat it in the garden” | @Mathsimpact
  • “My wife was bitten by a radioactive owl last week and now she's making all my decisions for me. She's been given power of a tawny” | @pauleggleston
  • “Shout out to the @TfLdriver who told one young man on my tube to "put your shirt back on this isn't Love Island" | @HeyMissSmith

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “So let me tell you now: Labour will fight the next election on economic growth. The first line of the first page of our offer will be about wealth creation” – Keir Starmer sets out Labour’s stall in his latest set piece speech.
  • “The TUC would like to see a change in the law so that employers must attempt to reduce temperatures if they get above 24 degrees C and workers feel uncomfortable” – the TUC reacts to the current hot working conditions.
  • “However, there have been some differences in opinion as to how to run a university” – The Times Higher reports on leadership changes at the University of Buckingham.
  • “We plan to make another announcement later this year to confirm further schools selected” – the new Education Secretary tells MPs that more schools may get money under the school rebuilding programme.
  • “There are a number of positive policy proposals in the recent SEN Green Paper, but there have now been more reviews than casting sessions for a Ben Hur movie” – THE Chair of the Education Committee shows his age, but also his frustration with the pace of special needs reform.
  • “We believe you should publicly acknowledge the impact that your loss of composure is likely to have on the ability of education teams to maintain common decency in schools” – unions express their disgust at the Jenkyns hand gesture.
  • “The government has announced its intention to reduce the size of the Civil Service to 2016 levels over the next three years. Like all government departments, we have been asked to draw up proposals for headcount reductions” – Ofsted reports on headcount in its Annual Report and Accounts.

Important numbers

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

  • 0.5%. Reported growth for the UK economy in May, better than expected according to the latest figures form the ONS.
  • 4.4m. The number of UK households facing ‘serious financial difficulties,’ up from 2.8m last October according a survey from the ABRDN Financial Fairness Trust.
  • 85%. The number of organisations holding or planning to hold learning and development sessions on hybrid working, according to a survey from PwC.
  • 40%. The number of higher ed students asking families for loans as the cost-of-living crisis bites, according to a survey from the NUS.
  • 16%. The likely number of undergraduates said to have cheated in online exams this year, according to a survey from Alpha Academic Appeals.
  • 11%. The fall in the amount employers spent on workforce training per employee between 2011 and 2019, according to a new report from the NAO.
  • 490. The number of T level students who have applied for HE through UCAS this year, the first such cohort according to UCAS.
  • 86.9%. The attendance rate for state school pupils in England as of last Thursday excluding Year 11-13 students, down from 89.4% two weeks previously according to latest government figures. 
  • 3,163,175. The projection for the number of secondary school pupils in England in 2028, up 37,000 on current figures, but falling gradually according to latest government figures.
  • 70%. The number of schools inspected over the year and previously requiring improvement that have improved to ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ according to Ofsted.
  • 8. Roughly the number of children in a class of 30 living in poverty as of last year, according to latest figures published by the End Child Poverty Coalition.
  • £7.58. The average weekly pocket money for children, according to recent research from Barclays.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Westminster Hall debate on BTECs (Monday 18 July).
  • Parliament begins its summer break (Friday 22 July – Monday 05 September).

Other stories

  • Pandemic effect on education. An interesting Leader piece in The Economist this week on the effects of the pandemic on education globally. Its broad thrust is that the lockdown of schools reversed improving trends in learning, and left many children round the world struggling to catch-up and facing a future of uncertainty and possible poverty as a result. “The World Bank says the share of ten-year-olds inmiddle- and low-income countries who cannot read and understand a simple story has risen from 57% in 2019 to roughly 70%”. It goes on to suggest that $21trn will be wiped off their lifetime earnings as a result. Worse still, a quarter of countries don’t have educational catch-up plans. It’s a disturbing read. A link to it can be found here.
  • Spending habits. As has been widely reported, more people turned to online shopping during the pandemic but has this changed post-pandemic? And what about the cost of-living crisis, what effect is that having on spending habits? According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which published a blog on the matter this week, ‘although online spending remains high, we have started shifting back to shopping in store’. Online purchasing remains strong in some sectors such as clothing, household appliances and sports equipment, games and toys. A lot of this is to do with the take-up of hobbies during the lockdown. And yes, the cost-of-living in having an effect. Social spending is down and limits are being set on essentials. 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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