Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 12 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:

Four headline stories this week.

  • The impending exam results. Scotland’s were out this week; the rest of the UK follows next week with GCSEs the week after. ‘Jeez, I’d hate to go through that again’ one commentator tweeted.
  • That old favourite ‘parity of esteem’ was resurrected as the two Tory leadership contenders added further details about their education policies. 
  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) assessed the impact of rising inflation on public services and it wasn’t pretty. ‘For the Department for Education (DfE), the planned growth rate falls from 2.2% to 0.7%.’
  • Student loans. The government claimed it was ‘reassuring anxious students’ by capping the loan interest rate. The IfS said it may help high-earning graduates but 'does nothing at all to protect current students from the rising cost of living'.

Links to these and other stories are all listed below as usual.

But first a bit more detail on the top two of these stories, starting with the build-up to next week’s exam results.

These are of course the first exams to be sat formally since 2019 and there’s considerable interest in how they will play out. 

In Scotland where National 5 and Advanced Higher results were released this week, the headline message was of pass rates that were higher than 2019 but lower than 2021 when teacher assessed grades were used. The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) stressed that ‘the significantly different circumstances and awarding processes of 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 do not allow for meaningful comparison or for conclusions to be drawn’ and went on to point out that learners had achieved a strong set of results, “one of the strongest ever sets of results overall in an exam year.”

Will it be a similar picture when the advanced level results for the rest of the UK are released next week? The Times Ed and HE Policy Institute (HEPI,) along with much of the mainstream media have been putting forward their thoughts this week. 

Broadly three issues stand out this year.

First what impact the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns may have had on those taking exams this year. Surveys such as those recently from the Sutton Trust and the Student Room have revealed just how concerned many students are about having missed out on learning during lockdown and how this might affect their results.  

Ofqual and the boards have worked hard to ensure the results will be as fair and substantive as possible. Grade boundaries as Ofqual explained last autumn when confirming arrangements for this summer ‘will be based on a profile that reflects a midpoint between 2021 and pre-pandemic grading. It means, as Ofqual went on to say, that “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.” 

That takes us to the second issue being highlighted this year, namely an expected fall in top grades awarded. It was one of the eight points suggested by the Times Ed to look out for this year amid fears that it was not widely understood and could provoke unhelpful headlines. In fairness both government and Ofqual have sought to reassure all concerned about how grading will operate this year. This, for instance, was the schools minister just this week. “I think it’s important to stress that grades this year will still be higher than 2019, so pre-pandemic.” 

Third, and an issue raised by Gabriel Roberts in an HEPI article this week, what about the pressure on university places given as he noted “many universities accepted unusually high numbers of applicants in 2020 and 2021.”

Here too the government has been keen to stress that universities will be sympathetic when it comes to confirming places and as Clare Marchant, CEO of UCAS highlighted in an important blog on the matter in June, “universities have responded (to high demand) by adapting their offer-making.’ 

Inevitably however, there will be some disappointments, but as Clare Marchant went on to point out, “Clearing will undoubtedly offer an abundance of choice, with more than 30,000 courses likely to be available for those considering higher education." Equally, as the communications experts PLMR explained in their report this week, apprenticeships and vocational routes provide excellent alternatives as well.  

All in all, as we await the publication of results, it’s perhaps no wonder that as FT columnist turned teacher Lucy Kellaway highlighted in an insightful article last weekend, this is such an anxious time for many students. “It’s far worse for these teenagers,” she wrote, comparing those taking exams this year with when she took them 45 years ago, “because the pressure has been amplified.” She called them ‘the anxious generation’. Many teachers, families and others would attest to this.

On to the Tory leadership contenders. Each has added a bit more detail to their education policies this week. ‘Sugar-rush policy making’ according to one critic quoted in The Guardian.

Liz Truss confirmed her interest in looking at university admissions, including adopting a post-qualification admissions system (PQA,) starting the university year in January rather than September and more specifically, entitling high-performing A level candidates to an Oxbridge interview. 

This proposal was roundly criticised initially, but has received more positive vibes this week. Education Policy expert Jonathan Simons, for instance, suggested it could help more high-performing young people who often don’t consider applying to do just that. 

Even so, as the Times Higher reported, not all university vice-chancellors are enamoured. “Admissions decisions, including who we interview, must be for us,” the pro vice-chancellor for education at Cambridge stressed.

It was Rishi Sunak though who seized on parity of esteem as he set out his ideas for a Russell Group of technical colleges and an end to ‘low-value’ degrees. 

As Nick Hillman, who cast his eye over the Sunak policies for the New Statesman this week, said, "parity of esteem is as old as houses." And it won’t happen, “until wealthy people in power — like Rishi Sunak — are as content for their own children to go to the local further education (FE) college as they are for them to enrol at a university”. 

More favourable was Sunak’s proposal for a post-16 Baccalaureate, one that would include English and maths. Like Cinderella’s taxi, the Bacc idea has been hanging around for some time; a group is currently looking at developing a model at the moment for instance. It may yet get to the Ball.

The top headlines of the week

  • ‘Universities will adjust to lower exam results in England, says minister’ (Monday).
  • ‘Scottish exam pass rate drops from pandemic high’ (Tuesday). 
  • ‘Student loan interest rate capped at 6.3%’ (Wednesday). 
  • ‘Cost of living crisis means children will arrive at school too hungry to learn’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Warning poorer pupils will fall further behind now exams are back’ (Friday).


  • Commonwealth Games legacy. The Sports Minister spelt out how the government was helping ensure the legacy from the Commonwealth Games was supported through new infrastructure, new skills development and business, tourism and youth engagement.
  • Equalities and rights. Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, tackled a number of issues around equalities and rights in a major speech to the thinktank Policy Exchange, looking at where the law stands on such matters and where more clarity is needed, including on many notable gender issues facing schools today. 
  • Public services squeeze. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) highlighted the effects of higher inflation on public services suggesting it was likely “to wipe out more than 40% of the planned real-terms increases,” leaving the government having to decide whether to cut or compensate depts like health and education.
  • August action. The CBI set out four actions that it felt the government should take now to avoid ‘a summer of drift,’ including confronting the cost-of-living, prepping for an emergency budget, promoting growth and examining options to support the most vulnerable.
  • Better Childcare. The Policy Exchange thinktank published a new report on childcare in the UK and in particular the rising costs, calling among other things for the creation of childminder agencies and hubs, a more flexible approach to early years and changes to Child Benefit.

More specifically ...


  • Exams 2020 -2022. The House of Commons Library Service published a useful briefing paper ahead of this summer’s exams results in the UK, looking at the arrangements this year as well as those for the previous two years and how they had played out. 
  • Exams 2022. The Times Ed listed eight features to look out for from this year’s set of exam results including a likely fall in top A level grades, the first set of T level results and a potential increase in the disadvantage gap.
  • Exams 2022 issues. School teacher Gabriel Roberts examined in a blog on the HE Policy Institute (HEPI) website some of the issues likely to arise from this year’s A level exam results including grade trends, attainment gaps and the pressure on university places.
  • High needs funding. The government published updated guidance on high needs funding 2023/24, incorporating a number of limited changes to current guidance around responsibilities and accountability and proposed developments following the Green Paper, and pointing to a 6.3% overall increase in allocations generally.
  • Future options. PLMR Communications called for apprenticeship options to be included on UCAS systems as it published research, based on Teacher Tapp evidence, showing that teachers feel less confident advising students about apprenticeship opportunities than they do about higher education.
  • SATs 2022. Schools Week reported that the government was looking into lessons that could be learned about the delivery of this year’s SATs in May when teachers were left hanging on the phone by Capita contractors and some schools were unable to access their results when needed.


  • Local skills. The government published a prototype dashboard of local employment and skills rates along with local FE activity volumes and comparative data on job vacancies that could be used for local skills planning, with a further developed version set for release later this year. 
  • LEP call. Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) leaders called on the two Tory leadership contenders to prioritise working with local businesses to promote local growth, setting out five principles for this in a new paper covering clearer rules of engagement and the provision of multi-year funding settlements.
  • Green skills. Consultancy company PwC argued that the UK faces ‘a large green skills gap’ as it seeks to decarbonise, suggesting increasing demand both for skills training and in new job opportunities.
  • Getting a job in tech. The Institute of Coding spelt out options, opportunities and skill expectations for getting a job in the tech industry in a new update on its site.


  • Student loans. The government announced it was capping the loan interest rate at 6.3% for undergraduate and postgraduate borrowers from this September with further balancing set for September 2023.
  • Oxbridge interviews. Policy expert Jonathan Simons argued in a new blog that Liz Truss’s recent proposal for all 3 A* A level candidates being granted an Oxbridge interview shouldn’t be dismissed outright, largely because it tackles the core issue of top candidates not even considering applying. 

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “My teacher friend has the first day back tomorrow. Instead of “what did you do this summer? ”they are doing, “What’s the same as last year, what’s different?” Great way to include students who didn’t go anywhere/spend money” | @MrVaudrey
  • “For new teachers feeling nervous this summer, I’ve been teaching 15 years - five minutes before the children come in every single morning I still wonder if I can do it. My tips - be organised & prepared, have firm boundaries & structure… and make the children laugh!” | @keith_campion
  • “Today I asked a 10-year-old girl if she wanted to be a writer. She answered: "I want to do the thinking part but not the writing part." So she's already a writer” | @davidowenauthor
  • “Day five of the holiday and the kids have just admitted they figured out how to charge things to the hotel room and they thought it was all free. Check out should be fun” | @PaulLawBlacks
  • “I went to Poole on holiday" "In Dorset?" "Yes I can thoroughly recommend it…” | @DadJokeMan
  • “Singing in the shower is all fun and games until you get shampoo in your mouth... Then it just becomes a soap opera” | @ThePunnyWorld

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “The UK economy is under the cosh” – the IFS assesses the effects of high inflation on public services.
  • “I am really concerned about difficult bits of global history being airbrushed out. We can’t just turn life into a Disneyland sanitised version of reality” – the Education Secretary responds to reports of university libraries removing ‘trigger’ books.
  • “We want to fund research proposals which provide new insight into how to respond to the cost of living crisis, across our three domains: EducationJustice and Welfare” – the Nuffield Foundation invites research bids.
  • “But anyone who thinks a low graduate salary indicates a worthless course should chat to a nurse” – HEPI’s Nick Hillman responds to Tory leadership debates about scrapping degree courses that don’t lead to high salaries. 
  • “Being a learner in a flexible learning environment, we might argue, would help them transition into employment in a hybrid environment. But we don’t want to presume any of this” – The Times Higher interviews the UK’s first professor of hybrid learning.
  • “An updated dashboard will be released in Autumn 2022” – the government publishes a prototype local skills dashboard.
  • “Actually, what young people and universities and employers are telling us [is] that exams are the best and fairest method for assessment” – the schools minister ahead of this year’s exam results.
  • “You must tell Ofsted about any serious childcare incidents while you are looking after a child. You should do this as soon as possible but within 14 days” – Ofsted sets out requirements for its registered nannies.
  • “Schools that only offer “gender neutral” lavatories are acting unlawfully” – Attorney-General Suella Braverman tackles equalities legislation.
  • “You cannot fool children. They will see through you. They’re like sniffer dogs for insincerity” – CBeebies plans to work with the Globe Theatre on a production of Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ for children.

Important numbers

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

  • £26bn. The hit to public services funding caused by higher inflation, according to the IfS.
  • 2 points. The increase in the consumer confidence index last month, the first increase since last November according to YouGov/CEBR. 
  • 15. The number of consultations awaiting a government response, according to The Guardian.
  • 26%. The number of teachers confident about advising students on apprenticeship opportunities (compared to 79% who claim confidence in advising on HE places,) according to a report from PLMR Communications.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Proposed major speech on the economy by Keir Starmer (Monday 15 August).
  • Institute for Fiscal Studies online seminar on Educational Inequalities (Tuesday 16 August).
  • Advanced level results day (Thursday 18 August).
  • Parliament on its summer break (Friday 22 July – Monday 5 September).

Other stories

  • Who do you trust? Teachers remain among the most trustworthy professions along with doctors and scientists, according to the latest Global Trustworthiness Index published recently by Ipsos Mori. The rating for all three professions has fallen slightly globally and for teachers in particular in Japan, South Korea and Poland. In Britain, teachers continue to rank third after doctors and scientists in terms of trustworthiness, with government ministers and politicians generally still seen as untrustworthy. A ink to the survey is here.
  • Cool weather clothes The hot weather has brought on another topical debate: whether it’s OK to wear shorts in the office or not. According to the latest YouGov RealTime survey, attitudes are changing. 66% of Brits reckon it’s OK for men to haul up in them, up from 37% six years ago. It’s the same figure for women although the question wasn’t posed for them previously. There’s less support for men flaunting vest tops and flipflops and a big debate about whether women should be allowed to wear midriff exposing tops. What would Rees-Mogg say? A link to the survey is here.

If you find my policy updates useful, please consider donating something, however small, to help support its publication. EdCentral is a not-for-profit social enterprise and relies on donations to continue its work.

You can sign up here to receive access to Education Eye straight from your inbox on publication.

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.



EdCentral Logo