Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 9 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:

This briefing was prepared before the sad announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. It remains posted only on the website for continuity purposes as a mark of respect.

Nearly a week in, how are things looking?

Politically, the new administration is in place. The incoming Prime Minister has outlined her three immediate priorities (the economy, energy, and the NHS) and her new ministers have headed off to their various departments, including eventually education. The key word at the moment appears to be ‘delivery.’ According to the Independent’s John Rentoul, the word was used ten times by the new PM in her short victory speech,

As for education, where the new term has been getting underway for many, a number of stories stand out from this week. Here’s a selection.

  • Education Secretary. Kit Malthouse became the fourth Education Secretary this year. He tweeted that ‘it was a daunting prospect and a singular honour.’ Critics pointed to a continuous ‘carousel of education secretaries.’
  • What school did you go to? The Sutton Trust reported that 68% of the new cabinet were privately educated, higher than in recent years. Liz Truss was criticised during the leadership campaign for speaking unfavourably about her comprehensive school experience.
  • Back to school. The new school year started with a big push by government and others on getting all pupils back into school. The children’s commissioner was among many offering support. “I have put together some resources for children and young people to help to start that journey from worried to excited.”
  • Key Stage 2 results. The government published the provisional results for this summer’s Key Stage 2 assessments and as former adviser Tom Richmond put it ‘they’re not pretty.’ The disadvantage gap has widened for the first time in over a decade.
  • Parliamentary Committees sprang into action this week. The Education Committee held two sessions, on careers guidance and freedom of speech respectively. The Lords Science and Technology Committee began its Inquiry into UK STEM.

But back to the new administration and the response from education..

The nearest we got to anything on education in Liz Truss’s acceptance speech on the steps of Number 10 was a reference to building schools. “We will get spades in the ground to make sure people are not facing unaffordable energy bills and we will also make sure, that we are building hospitals, schools, roads, and broadband.”

For education leaders, concerns at the moment are a little less about spades in the ground and more about the impact of energy prices on provider budgets. It’s been the big talking point of the week.

For schools, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) pointed out that in some cases, energy bills have shot up 300%. The Confederation of School Trusts voiced similar concerns. “Doing nothing is not an option,” they argued. The extension of the energy price guarantee may help in the short-term but as ASCL’s Geoff Barton put it, there are ‘many pressing issues facing education’ at the moment including looming teacher shortages and concerns about a growing attainment gap. In the words of the NAHT, the new education secretary is taking the reins at ‘a critical time.’

Universities too have concerns about the impact of the cost-of-living, particularly on students. Universities UK in conference this week pointed to recent commissioned research suggesting that financial hardship among UK students was ‘building to a boiling point.’ Among the concerns raised as a result were high drop-out rates and growing mental health issues. They called for ‘immediate and targeted help,’ with the reinstatement of the maintenance grant for those most in need.

Elsewhere as the Times Higher reported this week, higher education is keen to keen to see the government tackle the ongoing issue with the EU about the Horizon programme as well as push for UK science and research. As the new chief executive of Universities UK put it in her conference address: “we’re facing a wall of challenges.”

There have been similar concerns from colleges. Talk here has been of energy bills quadrupling. College leaders have resorted to writing an open letter to the new Chancellor highlighting their concerns. “There are very serious risks to college solvency and in turn UK skills development if nothing is done.” They called for action on three fronts, including a review of funding rates, a new workforce fund to help with recruitment and retention of staff, and an opportunity for removing the VAT liability on colleges.

The worry about energy price rises has been coupled with calls for a plan for growth. The CBI argued “if we’re serious about getting the UK growing again, ensuring any slowdown is short and shallow, we need a serious plan for growth.” This was echoed by the Learning and Work Institute who urged that ‘a proper plan for growth should include investment in skills and apprenticeships.’ “We should invest an extra £1.1 billion in adult skills and education, to reverse cuts since 2010 and incentivise employers to invest more too.”

So where does this all leave the latest Education Secretary?

As indicated, there’s been plenty of listing of priorities for the new Education Secretary.

The i newspaper, for instance, offered its top five as reform, energy bills, child hunger, teacher retention, and education inequality. Others have added their voices calling for change. According to Paul Goodman, editor of conservativehome, “he (Kit Malthouse) has sat around the Cabinet table for long enough to know that money isn’t everything and radicalism is overdue.”

Unsurprisingly that’s not the view from the professional bodies and many others in education, many of whom seek a period of stability and clarity of purpose to go with the increased investment variously proposed. As ASCL’s Geoff Barton put it. “We urge the new Education Secretary to focus on what really matters rather than the policy gimmicks and political posturing which often emanate from the government.”

Back to delivery.

The top headlines of the week

  • ‘Schools could cut staff or courses to pay bills.’ (Monday).
  • ‘Primary school disadvantage gap widens to largest in 10 years.’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Discrimination fears as Cambridge admits record number of state school pupils.’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Schools Bill delayed as new PM Truss reviews reforms.’ (Thursday).
  • ‘School sector pays special tribute to Queen Elizabeth 11.’ (Friday).


  • New PM’s Statement. Liz Truss identified three immediate priorities in her acceptance speech as PM on the steps of Number 10, including ‘getting Britain working again,’ dealing with the energy crisis, and ‘putting the health service on a firm footing.’
  • Policy Unit. Public First’s Rachel Wolf reflected on the reworking of the Downing Street Policy Unit under Liz Truss suggesting that while its redesignation, youth and specialisms may require some trade-offs, it could work.
  • Cabinet backgrounds. The Sutton Trust provided its regular analysis of where new cabinet members had been educated showing 68% had been privately educated, up 4% on Boris Johnson’s first cabinet, and 35% who had been to Oxbridge.
  • Energy Price Guarantee. The government announced a new subsidised energy price guarantee for UK households to run for two years, along with a scheme offering equivalent support for businesses and public sector organisations like schools and colleges but currently only for six months.
  • Online Safety Bill. The media reported that the new PM was looking to ‘water down’ the Online Safety Bill which is currently on hold but which has faced criticism about being too restrictive and intrusive when it comes to free speech, looking instead to focus it more on child protection.
  • Protect workers. The TUC called on the new government to support rather than ‘slash’ workers’ rights and to protect those often working in the gig economy in insecure employment.
  • Economic Outlook. PwC published its latest Economic Outlook for the UK pointing to ‘an uncertain’ period with the UK likely to enter recession this year and with UK workers facing an average cut of £2000 to real wages but listing ten areas with potential for growth, including promoting a high-skilled economy through HE.

More specifically ...


  • Key Stage 2 results. The government published the provisional results from this summer’s KS2 assessments showing a drop in the number of pupils reaching the expected standard in reading, writing and maths compared to the last assessments in 2019, and a further widening of the disadvantage gap.
  • KS2 disadvantage gap. FFT Education Datalab reflected on the nature of the disadvantage gap evident in the latest KS2 results, noting that while it had widened in maths, it had not changed greatly for reading and that arguably, much depends on what measure is used.
  • Assessment panels. The Standards and Testing Agency invited applicants to join its various review panels looking into the suitability of and access to KS 1/2 and reception baseline assessment materials.
  • Student perspective. The exam board AQA launched a call for students who’ve recently taken exams to join its Student Advisory Group to help give important views on exams and assessment from a student’s perspective.
  • National Tutoring Programme. The government updated its guidance for schools on the National Tutoring Programme for the 2022/23 year to include further details on safeguarding and supporting pupils with SEND as well as confirmation of data collection arrangements.
  • Reading matters. Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman highlighted the importance of reading in a blog on the Ofsted website, urging parents and teachers to do what they could to support particularly those children entering secondary school this year who may have fallen behind in their reading skills.
  • What did you do in the holidays? The Children’s Commissioner for England launched a new survey for young people aged 7-17, asking them to share their experiences of the summer so as to build more evidence for her review of family life as well as perhaps provide an activity for the start of term.
  • Oak National Academy. The Oak National Academy set out its thinking as it began its first day as an independent public body providing lesson plans and curriculum resources for schools, and with plans to roll out new minted lesson materials in many subjects from next autumn.


  • Dear Chancellor. The Association of Colleges (AoC) and college leaders called on the new Chancellor to help tackle current funding concerns in FE listing three priorities for consideration: a review of the current funding rates, a workforce fund to tackle staffing issues and looking at the opportunity to remove VAT liabilities on colleges.
  • Estate management. The government published new guidance, along with case studies, for those planning for and delivering further education learning in the context of climate change and changing delivery demands.
  • Capacity Fund. The government launched the second round of bidding for the Post-16 Capacity Fund which provides funding for eligible post-16 institutions to help meet the needs of growing numbers of 16-19 yr olds 2023/24.
  • T level Health and Science. FE Week reported that students who took this years’ Health and Science T level will have the opportunity to seek a regrade or resit following complaints raised by students about mistakes in set questions and mark schemes.
  • The case for colleges. Ian Pretty, CEO of the Collab Group, argued in a blog on the Group’s website that colleges had a lead role in delivering the skills that the country needs and that the current obsession with university risked ‘stifling’ the delivery of such skills.
  • Youth employment support. The Decent Work and Research Centre at Manchester Met called for additional support for young people navigating the world of work post-pandemic in an event hosted by IPPO Cities, calling among other things for non-time limited youth employment programmes and better data monitoring.
  • 5% Club. The 5% Club, the employer group that supports earn and learn employees, welcomed the global services company, Accuracy UK, as a Patron Member of the Club


  • President’s address. Steve West, President of Universities UK, outlined the challenges facing universities as he addressed the organisation’s annual conference highlighting such issues as energy price rises, academic freedom, fair admissions and global positioning but pointing equally to the importance of the sector to the country and the progress being made in areas such as closing the gap and student mental health support.
  • Chief executive’s address. Vivienne Stern, the new chief executive at Universities UK set out her priorities at the organisation’s annual conference listing growth, quality and value, financial sustainability, and climate change, as the organisation prepares to work up a new strategy.
  • Digital experience. JISC published the results of its latest survey into the digital experience of students completed between November 2021 and April 2022, showing the digital learning experience improving for many and considerable support for a blended learning approach but with access and support still issues for many.
  • Fraud. The Student Loans Company called on students and families to be aware of scams, listing some tips and advice that might help, as it prepares to pay out over £2m in the coming weeks in student loans and support.
  • Student Panel. The Office for Students (OfS) announced the names of the eight new members joining the current Student Panel, offering thoughts and a student perspective on approaches to regulation.

Tweets and posts of note:

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “I am now like one of those booster rockets that has fulfilled its function” – Boris Johnson departs Number 10.
  • “We will transform Britain into an aspiration nation…with high-paying jobs, safe streets and where everyone everywhere has the opportunities they deserve” – Liz Truss sets out her stall as she arrives at Number 10.
  • “We believe the country has already entered a recession and that inflation will hit at least 14% in the months ahead” – the British Chambers of Commerce calls for immediate action from the new PM.
  • “For the blink of an eye, we’re the temporary custodians of our university system. We’d better try to leave it in a better state than we found it” – the new chief executive of Universities UK addresses its annual conference.
  • “There is more than enough money in the sector to pay staff properly, restore retirement income and address rampant job insecurity and unmanageable workloads” – the UCU opens voting on the latest strike action in HE.
  • “While this may help to stop things getting worse, it won’t necessarily make things better either” – the NAHT responds to the government’s energy plan.
  • “I am worried about children who are still struggling to read when they start secondary school” – the chief inspector highlights the importance of reading skills.
  • “Without extra investment, there is not the remotest possibility of the government achieving its maths and English attainment targets” – ASCL reacts to the latest KS2 results.
  • “The National Curriculum “encourages” two hours of sport per week. This is nowhere near enough – and, in fact, I believe that physical exercise should be compulsory at both primary and secondary schools, except in particular personal circumstances” – the head of Rugby School on the case for more sport.
  • “As a country we seem mainly obsessed with history books about the Tudors and Hitler” – Esther Walker makes a case in the i newspaper for studying the English civil war.
  • “But six full weeks is a lot and it feels like we are crawling towards the day when we will be able to drop my son at school again” – newsreader Charlene White is relieved it’s the end of the school holidays.

Important numbers

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

  • 68%. The number of ministers in the new Cabinet who attended private school, compared to 7% of the population as a whole, according to the Sutton Trust.
  • 0.7%. Economic growth in the EU for the second quarter of this year, according to latest EU data.
  • 45%. The number of higher ed students in a survey who value a mix of online and on-site learning, according to the latest digital experience report from JISC.
  • 56. The birthday of Luton Sixth Form College, making it apparently the oldest Sixth Form College in the country.
  • 59%. The number of pupils reaching the expected standard in reading, writing and maths in their KS2 tests this summer, down from 65% in 2019 according to provisional figures from the DfE.
  • £137m. The new funding announced to support the continuing work of the Education Endowment Foundation, according to the DfE.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Pissarides Review into ‘The Future of Work and Wellbeing Conference.’ (Monday 12 Sept.)
  • Employment and Skills Convention 2022. (Tuesday 13 Sept.)
  • TUC Conference. (Sunday 11 Sept – Wed 14 Sept.)
  • Westminster Hall debate on Apprenticeships and Teacher Training. (Wed 14 Sept.)

Other stories

  • What did you get up to in the summer hols? Gone are the days when teachers were envied for their long summer holidays; different work patterns, particularly since lockdown have seen to that. On top of that, teachers hardly ever stop preparing, crafting and organising learning in some form. According to Teacher Tapp’s latest survey, 92% of teachers surveyed undertook some form of school work over the summer. For some it was replying to emails, for others it was going out and buying classroom materials. Of course many (76%) had a holiday while 62% binge watched a TV series but the survey proves the old adage about never stopping once you’re a teacher. A link to the survey 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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