Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 2 September 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 lull before the storm.

With schools and colleges opening their gates and MPs preparing to hasten back to Westminster, not least to discover who the next PM will be, it’s been a week of growing anticipation.

Most of the activity will kick off next week when arguably there’ll be five areas to look out for with regards to education. Details below but first, a quick run through some of the top education-related headlines for this week.

  • Living standards. The Resolution Foundation highlighted in a new report the extent of the crisis in living standards facing the country. “With high inflation likely to stay with us for much of next year,” it argued, “the outlook for living standards is frankly terrifying.”
  • Family life. The Children’s Commissioner for England published the first part of a review into family life in England commissioned by government. The report noted families are changing but ultimately provide ‘a protective effect.’
  • New research suggested that many of those failing to secure standard passes in GCSE English and maths were already judged to be falling behind at age five and in some cases age three. The authors described it as ‘a national scandal’ and called for high-quality early years support.
  • Student loans. YouGov polled people in England about the costs of higher education ahead of the start of a new year. 41% reckoned the costs would be offset by higher graduate earnings in the long run but 53% (higher among current graduates) didn’t think the current fee represented value for money.

But back to the onset of a new PM and a likely new look government from next week. What might it mean for education. Here’s five things to look out for.

First, who’ll be Education Secretary in the new government and how is education policy likely to shape up?

Assuming it’s Liz Truss that becomes Prime Minister next week as most people now do, the hot money’s on Kemi Badenoch getting the post as Education Secretary.

She’s had some experience as a minister for Children and Families and claims on her website to have ‘delivered a funding increase for all primary and secondary school pupils across (her) constituency.’ She also has a reputation for taking on ‘culture wars’ as the Daily Telegraph has been keen to point out. “Make Kemi Badenoch Education Secretary and allow her to fight the culture wars” they wrote at the end of July. How far this positions her as a future Education Secretary remains to be seen.

As for what happens to education policy, whoever is in charge, it’s hard to get too excited.

The consultancy company Public First has a valuable chart listing what each of the two leadership contenders has been saying about different policy areas during the campaign and when it comes to education, it’s pretty turgid stuff. More grammar schools, fewer ‘worthless’ degrees, and so on. Liz Truss did offer a five-point plan for education that included better support for childcare, commitment to primary literacy and numeracy targets and recognition of vocational training. She also memorably called for top A level students to be granted an Oxbridge interview.

The problem as many working in education have pointed out, is that none of this really gets to grips with the real issues facing education currently.

Which takes us on the second area to look out for, namely the pressure on finances.

The incoming PM’s in-tray has been variously described as a mix of bombshells and banana skins with the cost of living, energy costs and an impending recession heading the list. The danger for education is that it gets squeezed out by the ever-growing list of huge financial demands elsewhere. Each part of the sector - schools, colleges and universities - has been highlighting the pressures they ow face. This is just one grim example. “I was with a school leader yesterday, who was going around with his staff working out which lightbulbs were essential and which lightbulbs could be removed to try to save electricity. That’s how difficult it’s getting.” Similar stories can be found across the education spectrum.

Current thinking is that there may be some kind of fiscal event, an emergency budget perhaps, in the next few weeks. September 21 possibly. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has been doing some preparatory work although, “producing a forecast for mid-to-late September would necessarily require some reduction in the breadth and depth of the analysis and information that we would be able to provide.”

Education’s best bet, in that it pits all spending departments in together, would be a Spending Review but that requires more time. And, as Rachel Wolf argued in a comment piece on conservativehome this week, Spending Reviews tend to become time-consuming bun fights and there isn’t time for any of that. “Spending reviews absorb the attention of the entire government for months.” A short-term fix, with energy prices as a priority, looks like the obvious option at present.

Third, and with little more to add at this stage but worth keeping an eye on, the Party Conference season kicks off in a few weeks’ time. Not everyone’s cup of tea perhaps but important in setting both policy direction and tone. Both Party leaders know they’ll have to deliver. Keir Starmer is due to give his set speech on September 28 and the new Conservative leader on October 5.

Fourth, and equally briefly, there’s a legislative programme for a new set of ministers to see through.

For education, the Skills Act was passed earlier this year and many will be looking to see what effect this has on local skills planning. A Schools Bill was published in May with provisions for regulating Academies, implementing the national funding formula and establishing school attendance policies. It got badly mauled in the House of Lorrds and is due to have its Third Reading there shortly. It will be interesting to see what line MPs take when it reaches the House of Commons. Elsewhere, the contentious HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill is currently holed up in the Lords, while the Online Safety Bill and Levelling Up Bill respectively have some way to go yet.

And fifth, there’s a pile of other business awaiting the new team.

A key issue across the board is education catch-up and its impact on the attainment gap. The National Audit Office has a report on this due out later this autumn. The Office for Students is due a report on blended learning while issues of university costs, admissions arrangements and student support are likely to remain live over the next few weeks as universities open their doors for the new year. Interestingly, the Public Accounts Committee is currently awaiting a government response to its earlier Inquiry into the financial stability of the university sector.

Elsewhere, the Education Committee is set to continue its Inquiries into post-16 qualifications and careers education. And before the dust settles on this summer’s exam season, there’s a number of matters up for discussion. Should mitigations be extended to next year’s candidates? Should exams in their current form continue at all? Both have been hot topics over the summer. And what about adaptive assessment? Exam boards have been working on this over the summer and AQA, for one, is due to report its findings later this year.  

But issues of costs are never going to be far away.

The top headlines of the week

  • ‘Leading Tories call on new PM to tackle crisis facing schools over soaring costs.’ (Monday.)
  • ‘Campaigning to keep the lights on: the desperate plight of England’s schools and universities.’ (Tuesday.)
  • ‘England and Wales university fees bad value for money – survey.” (Wednesday.)
  • ‘Half of pupils who get low grades in GCSEs already judged to be behind at age 5, study finds.’ (Thursday.)
  • ‘Sharp rise in top degrees at three English universities investigated.’ (Friday.)


  • Cost of living. The Resolution Foundation published a stark report on the cost-of-living crisis currently facing the country, pointing to a likely sharp fall in household incomes, an increase in both child and absolute poverty, and little hope of improvement for some months to come.
  • Family lives. The Children’s Commissioner for England published the first part of a review, commissioned by government, into family life and its current issues and perspectives, highlighting the complexities but also the importance of family life and the need to improve services and support in many cases.
  • Paternity Leave. The HR professional body, CIPD, reported on its survey among employers into statutory paternity/partner leave, finding few new parents taking up options to share parental leave, calling as a result for extending paternity leave to help balance caring responsibilities.

More specifically ...


  • School attendance. The government launched a new drive on school attendance ahead of the new term with a new mentoring pilot, attendance dashboard and sharing of support mechanisms.
  • Careers guidance. The government published updated draft statutory guidance for schools on responsibilities and duties for careers guidance, covering such areas as ensuring Yr 8-13 students hear about technical and apprenticeship options as part of the ‘Baker Clause’ commitment and applying the ‘Gatsby benchmarks’ to determine quality careers provision.
  • The government published an updated (2022) version of its statutory guidance for schools and colleges on keeping children safe with some limited changes made to the management of safeguarding and information provided for staff, all listed in a final Annexe.
  • Cultural education. The government announced Baroness Bull as the Chair of the Expert Advisory Panel set up to devise a Plan for Cultural Education that would highlight and promote the importance of cultural education in schools and support career progression accordingly.
  • Learning languages. The Education Policy Institute examined language learning in schools in England in a new blog, noting the decline in take-up over recent years and questing whether the introduction of more ‘accessible GCSEs in 2024 will really help, concluding that more needs to be done including strengthening provision in primary years and encouraging more language teachers, before things will improve.
  • Early years gap. New research from Exeter University and UCL suggested that many of the pupils who fail to achieve standard GCSE passes in English and maths were already falling behind by age five and were often associated with disadvantaged backgrounds.


  • Devolution Deal. The government published details of a proposed devolution deal for the East Midlands which would see £38m pa available over 30 years to support locally determined priorities including transport, homes and local skills improvement plan led adult education and skills.
  • Supporting skills. The government outlined how it was aiming to support local skills development through the rollout this year of local skill improvement plans (LSIPs) and funding through the strategic development fund (SDF.)


  • Grade inflation. The Times Higher reported that the Office for Students (OfS) was looking into ‘sharp increases’ in top degrees at three unnamed HE providers.
  • Universities UK published a ‘practice note,’ drawn up with support of a DfE Working Group and released ahead of the start of a new academic year, on the issue of spiking and how best universities can manage, support and work with others in dealing with such incidents.
  • Horizon Europe. The government announced an extension to the Horizon Europe guarantee scheme to cover calls that close up to the end of the year as discussions continue about agreeing future arrangements.
  • Student fees. The polling company YouGov published the results of its survey into student loans as new changes, such as extending the repayment period from 30 to 40 years, come in for those starting this September, finding support for the changes and for the benefits of attending university but little support for seeing the current fee as representing value for money.
  • No rooms. Media outlets reported that, with rental and other costs rising sharply, some universities were struggling to provide accommodation for students this year, with first-years on lengthy waiting lists.
  • Multiverse degrees. Multiverse, the tech start-up founded by Euan Blair that works with apprenticeships, announced it had been granted Degree Awarding Powers with an initial group of 170 apprentices due to be enrolled this autumn and applications for all 16-24 yr olds, especially the disadvantaged, opening later this year.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “It's great when you can write a whole tweet without making a Freudian slip, isn't tit” -@Pandamoanimum.
  • “Over the summer holidays the DFE updated 31 pieces of their guidance. Sigh” -@secretHT1.
  • “After 30 years of teaching, I still find myself compelled to buy stationery, notebooks and pens during the last week of August. Does anyone else do this? -@Headteacherchat.
  • “Back to school tomorrow. Anyone else trying to squeeze in 6 weeks’ worth of jobs into the next 3 hours?” -@MissJLud.
  • “Shout out to everyone whose been back into their classrooms to set up this week, given a big sigh and scolded their July selves for putting those jobs off until September” -@SecretHT1.
  • “My daughter (4) starts school next week and I don't think I've ever been as anxious about anything in my entire life” -@C_Hendrick.
  • “I’m so proud of myself, all my hard work and commitment has paid off! My tie and lanyard still fit” -@ScottPughsley.
  • “Calling all teachers. We want you to be fitter and healthier than ever this year so we’re giving you all 3 months on the Body Coach App absolutely FREE” -@thebodycoach.

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “And yet I have never been more certain that we will come through this well – and that Britain will emerge stronger and more prosperous the other side” - Boris Johnson embarks on a farewell tour.
  • “Real earnings, which are already falling at their fastest rate since the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, are forecast to continue falling until at least mid-2023, by which time all real pay growth since 2003 will have been wiped out” – the Resolution Foundation publishes a grim report on living standards in Britain.
  • “When we go on strike every member in higher education will be on strike, there will be no dwindling number of branches taking action; it will be all of us together” – the UCU tells the Times Higher it’s preparing for an autumn of action.
  • “Of the apprentices we currently place, more than a third meet one or more indicators of socio-economic disadvantage” – Euan Blair’s Metaverse company gains degree awarding powers for its apprenticeship programmes.
  • “We’re heading into a really ghastly two-year period and it’s going to require remarkable leadership to come out of this smiling”- Lord Baker on the funding crisis facing schools.
  • “Perhaps the most powerful way to reduce the disadvantage gap would be to simply reduce disadvantage?” – Russell Hobby, CEO of Teach First on tackling the disadvantage gap.

Important numbers

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

  • 3m. The projected increase in the number of people living in absolute poverty over the next 18 months, according to the Resolution Foundation.
  • 18%. The number of graduates in a survey who think the current fees represent value for money, according to a poll from YouGov.
  • 90%. The number of teachers surveyed who think that the pandemic has exacerbated the attainment gap in schools, especially for the most deprived, according to Teacher Tapp.
  • 244m. The number of children and young people aged 6-18 globally who won’t be starting school this month, according to UNESCO.
  • 23%. The number of single parent families in the UK, compared to a European average of 13% according to a new report from the Children’s Commissioner.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Parliament returns. (Monday 5 Sept.)
  • Conservative leadership election result. (Monday 5 Sept.)
  • Release of provisional Key Stage 2 results. (Tues 6 Sept.)
  • Education Committee evidence session on careers education. (Tues 6 Sept.)
  • Institute for Government briefing on ‘What’s at the top of the new PM’s in-tray?’ (Tues 6 Sept.)
  • Adjournment debate in the Commons on Free School Meals. (Thurs 8 Sept.)

Other stories

  • University Challenge. The latest series of University Challenge began this week with Jeremy Paxman due to complete his stint in the Chair and with a wave of nostalgia as the programme celebrated its 60th For those who like to shout out the answers each week, even when wrong, the MailOnline recently listed 30 of the ‘trickiest’ questions from the last three decades…thankfully with answers. For example: ‘Named after a mother-daughter team, what type of indicator is based on the theories of Carl Jung?’ (Answer: Myers-Briggs.) A link to the full set 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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