Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 05 August 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:

Another week of sultry days with developments to match. 

For education these have included:

  • A foray into education by the Tory leadership contenders that, in the words of ASCL’s Geoff Barton, ‘completely missed the point.’ 
  • A new briefing paper from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) highlighting the funding pressures on schools in England, and concluding that 'real term cuts are likely after this year'.
  • New research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing the widening average earnings gap between recipients of free-school meals and their peers; 'The two most important factors in accounting for lower earnings among free school meals students are an individual’s education and labour market experience'.
  • A survey from the Sutton Trust highlighting the impact of the pandemic on this year’s A level and university applicants, many of whom have missed days of schooling and are worried about their results. 
  • A new report from the Commission on Young Lives into children’s mental health services, suggesting that the system was ‘buckling under pressure’.
  • New statutory guidance from the government on the design and development of local skills improvement plans that FE providers will need to take on board.

Links to these and other stories can be found in the full issue here.

Before that, a bit more detail on the first two of these stories as they have attracted particular interest this week.

The foray into education by the two Tory leadership contenders came in last weekend’s hustings and media interviews. For many people it was uninspiring. 

There was no attempt to get to grips with current issues and little evidence of any radical vision or new sense of purpose either. The pitch by both candidates for more grammar schools rather proved the point. 

Both stuck to safe ground and generic assumptions although Liz Truss, who professed a wish to be ‘the education prime minister’ did set out a 6-point plan.

This included: reinforcing government targets around primary literacy and numeracy; replacing, as indicated, ‘failing’ schools with free schools and grammars; encouraging greater flexibility and support for childcare arrangements; a nod towards vocational training by transferring subsidies from so-called ‘poor quality degrees’ to support skills training; and that media laden announcement that 3 A* A level candidates should be granted an automatic interview at Oxford or Cambridge.

That last proposal certainly grabbed the headlines, though perhaps not as intended.  Former education adviser Sam Freedman described it as ‘baffling’. HE consultant Johnny Rich in a comment piece on Wonkhe saw it as ‘ extraordinarily anti-market’, while Alice Thomson in The Times labelled the whole package as ‘narrow and elitist’. As Geoff Barton summarised it all: “If we’re going to have a new prime minister who genuinely prioritises education, can we please ask that they prioritise the things that need to be priorities?” Many agreed.

On to the IfS briefing on school finances. The headline message here was of tough times ahead, ‘a coming crunch’ as they put it. 

And that crunch is set for next year, when the full impact of the cost of living, wage increases, energy price rises and so on are likely to hit home. 

According to a survey of 1,400 senior leaders by Teacher Tapp, 'the pay rises alone are going to cost £96,000 for primary schools and £224,000 for secondary schools, and many school budgets next year won’t be able to manage the costs'.  As the IfS explained 'After accounting for growth in specific school costs, we estimate that school spending per pupil will fall by about 1% in real terms in that year and continue to stagnate in 2024–25'. 

It means that government plans to restore recent funding cuts and return per-pupil funding to 2010 levels are now unlikely to be met. 'We estimate that school spending per pupil will still be 3% lower (in 2024/25) than in 2010'. 

Not all schools will be hit in the same way. Those for instance that rely heavily on support staff, where average costs are likely to rise by at least 9%, will be hardest hit. This means schools in disadvantaged areas and with large high-needs cohorts may face the biggest challenges. As the IfS concluded: 'The big fiscal choice for policymakers this autumn is therefore whether or not to provide more funding to public services to compensate for rising costs and the significant challenges they face'. The latest Bank of England report will hardly have helped. 

And a catch-up from last week ...

Finally, there was no Education Eye last week so for those who like to check that they haven’t missed anything, here’s a quick run through some of the top education stories from last week.

  • Exam board AQA published a research report into on-screen exams, suggesting these could emerge within the next five years, but that a government-led, national project to test, trial and establish the ground rules was needed to co-ordinate action.
  • The Parent-Teacher organisation. Parentkind published its response to the government’s SEND consultation pointing to the things that would make the SEND system work better for them, including  greater accountability from schools/local authorities, quicker needs assessments and better working together.
  • The Impetus Foundation published a report on tutoring, listing three factors that would help the National Tutoring Programme work effectively, including access to regular performance data, paying higher rates for higher quality providers, and creating an expectation that quality providers would capacity build.
  • Ofsted reported on the impact of the pandemic on children’s social care services, indicating that it had exacerbated staffing pressures which in turn meant that places and support were not as readily available as needed. “As a result, too many children, with increasingly complex needs, are not getting the help they need.”
  • The government published data on school exclusions and suspensions for last year showing the rate of exclusions down but suspensions up. ‘Persistent disruptive behaviour’ was the determining factor in both data sets.
  • The Office for Students launched new consultation on changes to the National Student Survey, taking out for instance the question on ‘overall satisfaction’ and adding in questions on freedom of expression and mental wellbeing.
  • The Office for Students also published the outcomes of recent consultations on regulating student outcomes and updating the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) with new minimum requirements and TEF eligibility criteria set to be announced next month.
  • The IfS examined the impact of Long Covid on the labour market showing that it’s costing the economy around £1.5bn pa with some 110,000 people missing from work at any one time, including many from poorer backgrounds suffering important earnings losses as a result.
  • The government published the final report from the Review Group led by Professor Adam Tickell looking into Research Bureaucracy. It listed six areas ‘where there is scope for significant positive change:’These included applying for funding, grants and institutional bureaucracy, although any ‘reset’ could take time.
  • Keir Starmer promised another new Industrial Strategy in his latest speech on the economy, suggesting it should be based on five broad principles including ‘refocusing investment to boost productivity’ and supporting the best of British. 
  • And the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee launched a new Inquiry into the UK labour market. It came under the heading: ‘Where have all the workers gone?’ Many people will be interested in the answer.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Government urged to act as nine in ten schools in England in need of repair’ (Monday).
  • ‘Schools in England face funding crisis as costs soar, study warns’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Teacher vacancy levels ‘unprecedented’ this late on in year' (Wednesday).
  • ‘Universities urged to allow for Covid impact on poorer students’ A levels’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Education unions gain 46,000 members since pandemic' (Friday).


  • Devolution Deal. The government announced an ‘historic’ Devolution Deal with York and N. Yorkshire backed up by a long-term £540m investment fund, that would see a new combined authority and elected mayor invested with powers to tackle local priorities such as transport, housing and education.
  • Lionesses’ legacy. The government claimed to build on the legacy of the England women’s football team at EURO 2022 by reinforcing plans to invest in grassroots football and undertaking a review later this summer into the domestic women’s game.
  • Bank of England report. The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Commentary announced a hike in interest rates as its latest report pointed to the onset of a recession for the UK this autumn lasting well into next year, with CPI inflation set to hit 13.3%, productivity remaining low and real income falling.
  • Economic outlook. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) published its latest economic outlook for the UK suggesting that CPI inflation was likely to peak at 11% at the end of the year before returning to 3% next year, GDP growth would be 3.5% this year dropping to 0.5% next year and the UK economy would enter into recession in the coming months. 
  • Earnings gap. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported on the earnings gap between free school meal recipients and their peers, showing that those from poorer backgrounds typically go on to earn less than their peers with gender, ethnicity and missing out on higher education all factors. 
  • Professional qualifications.The government announced a new grants programme to help professional bodies and regulators secure mutual recognition abroad of UK professional qualifications. 
  • Youth Guarantee. The government invited a second wave of bids from local authorities to its £380m Youth Investment Fund which helps provide access for young people to a range of activities, trips and volunteering opportunities and which follows a successful round of activities earlier this year.
  • Global education challenge. The global children’s education charity ’Theirworld’ published a new survey a month before a major UN Education Summit, pointing to a range of challenges facing global education with many children, especially in poorer countries not in school and young people generally concerned about their lack of future skills and subsequent opportunities.

More specifically ...


  • A levels and university access. The Sutton Trust examined in a new report how the pandemic had affected this year’s A level and university applicants noting that some (20%) had missed as many as 20 days over the year, many (60%) were worried about getting a place at their first-choice university and a number of teachers (45%) thought this year’s exam mitigations had not gone far enough. 
  • School finances. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) examined the impact of rising costs on school funding suggesting that these are likely to grow faster than the increase in per-pupil funding, leaving schools facing sharp funding pressures over the next few years. 
  • Mental health concerns. The Commission on Young Lives published its latest thematic report looking on this occasion at young people’s mental health, pointing to a system ‘in crisis’ and calling among other things for guaranteed assessments where necessary, a programme of drop-in mental health hubs and a future £1bn wellbeing recovery programme.
  • Grammar schools. The polling organisation JL Partners reported the results of its recent (June 2022) survey into grammar schools finding little support for more of them, notably among the younger electorate.
  • Summer-born children. The House of Commons Library Service published a briefing on the arrangements for parents of summer-born children to defer entry, following the government’s recent decision to drop planned legislation.


  • Local skills planning. The government set out statutory guidance for the creation of Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIP) covering their design, development and reporting procedures, along with the responsibilities of key players involved. 
  • Can’t get the staff. The FT reported on concerns around staff recruitment and retention in FE colleges in England, pointing to research from the AoC indicating that some three-quarters of colleges were struggling to recruit staff in important skill areas, with poor pay seen as a factor.
  • Exams 2022. Eddie Playfair, Senior Policy Manager at the AoC, set out in a blog on the AoC website how assessment and grading arrangements are expected to apply for this year’s exam candidates. 
  • Skills requirements.The CIPD published new research showing that employers often miss out on skilled recruits by over relying on degrees or post-graduate qualifications when recruiting rather than those with vocational skills, suggesting that investing in vocational training often brings its own rewards.


  • University entry 2022. Universities UK confirmed ahead of the forthcoming results days for this year, that universities were ‘gearing up’ and ready to help the expected high number of students applying this year including those who may have just missed out securing the grades needed.
  • Science and technology. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a report following its Inquiry into UK science and technology, welcoming the high policy interest in this area but pointing equally to too much short-termism around science policy, the lack of a clear implementation plan and the need for improved investment in R/D. 
  • Embedding data skills. The Office for Students (OfS) reported on its pilot programme of teaching foundational data skills on non-data science undergraduate programmes, with many favouring an embedded approach albeit with some concerns about the lack of definition of such skills.
  • Decasualisation deal. The OU announced a new deal for its Associate Lecturers which would see them benefit from enhanced job security and a pay uplift, claiming it to be ‘the biggest decasualisation programme in the HE sector.’
  • Planning for the cost of living. Policy Managers at Public First reflected in a comment piece on Wonkhe on how universities should tackle the cost-of-living crisis suggesting that this should include setting up a dedicated webpage listing support for students and taking a stronger line with government.

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Boss: How good are you at Power Point? Me: I Excel at it Boss: Was that a Microsoft Office pun? Me: Word” | @ThePunnyWorld
  • “How do you console an English teacher? There, their, they’re” | @The Punny World
  • “Considering choreographing an interpretive dance to the DfE press office hold music. I've heard it that much this year” | @samanthajbooth
  • “Listen Teachers, I don’t care what your display is. Just don’t staple it into the wall and don’t use blutac either. The staples cut my hands and damage the wall and Blutac makes oily marks in the paint!” | @ThatSiteManager
  • “Remember how you used to get offered drugs at a gig? Tonight at the Fatboy Slim gig I was approached and asked if I had any Gaviscon” | @Trishie_D

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “I got an A in English which was a massive surprise actually, an A in maths, a B in German, and a C in further maths” – Liz Truss on her A level results.
  • “The United Kingdom is now projected to enter recession from the fourth quarter of this year” – the Bank of England’s latest Monetary Policy Report.
  • “It is often unclear who is accountable for individual policies, and critically, for delivery” – the Lords Science and Technology Committee reports on a lack of focus to government science policies.
  • “We want to create real change in this country and we are asking you, if you were to become prime minister on 5 September, to help us achieve that change” – the Lionesses call on the Tory leadership candidates to support girls’ football in schools.
  • “The priorities should look up to three years ahead” – the government publishes statutory guidance on local skills planning.
  • “But at the end of the day, I am more and more convinced that you can hire for will and train for skill” – McKinsey on modern apprenticeships.
  • “Death by spreadsheet” – what teachers in Scotland are facing with excess political demands according to a committee.
  • “We have said that there is a real risk that we are about to face another full-scale school funding crisis and this report supports that analysis” – the NAHT responds to the latest report from the IfS on school funding.
  • “The scale of the problem is growing, rocket-boosted by the pandemic and the system is buckling under pressure and unable to cope with the explosion in demand for help” – the former Children’s Commissioner on a growing mental health crisis among young people.

Important numbers

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

  • 13%. The projected UK CPI inflation rate for the final months of this year, according to the Bank of England.
  • 46%. The number of employers who have heard of T levels, according to a survey from the CIPD.
  • 20%. The potential increase in costs facing schools between 2019/20 and 2024/25, according to the IfS.
  • 57%. The number of teachers who agree with Ofqual’s approach to exam grade boundaries this year, according to a survey from the Sutton Trust.
  • 31%. The number of teachers paying over £200 a month in travel costs, according to a survey from Teacher Tapp.
  • 1.5m. The number of days lost by teachers in England and Wales last year as a result of stress and mental health, according to figures quoted by the Lib-Dems.
  • 40%. The number of schools in a position to offer identical football opportunities for boys and girls during out of school hours including holidays, according to The Guardian.
  • £58. The hourly rate for work done at home for Schools Adjudicators, according to the job spec. 

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • SQA results day (Tuesday 9 August).
  • Parliament on its summer break (Friday 22 July – Monday 5 September).

Other stories

  • Cutting down on meetings. “Meetings are literally toxic: gathering a group of people into a room can raise carbon dioxide to far above the outdoor level.” Workplace meetings have long been a bone of contention but according to new research quoted in The New Statesman this week, they can also be damaging to health. It quotes a 2016 Harvard study that found that a crowded meeting room can raise CO2 levels to such an extent that higher-level cognitive function is impaired. The research recommends one free-meeting day a week or restricting meetings to two days a week where possible. A link to the article is here
  • Lost and found. Each year, the US Uber Lost and Found Index provides an interesting snapshot of social life in American cities. Unsurprisingly perhaps the most commonly left behind items are a phone/camera, wallet and keys in that order but there’s also some unusual items on the list. They include ‘my grandma’s teeth,’ 500g of caviar, a bucket of slime, and a windmill. Apparently 5pm is the most forgetful time of the day and phones tend to be left more on a Sunday. Full listings, courtesy of The Knowledge, 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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