Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 16 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:

Only a brief summary this week with most policy activity on hold given the week of national mourning.

Education did gain a new minister with the appointment of Jonathan Gullis as Under-Secretary at the DfE, but other education-related news this week has largely concerned the economy. 

It has included the latest batch of data on the labour market and the economy generally, plus confirmation from the government that it intends to hold what it’s describing as ‘a fiscal event’ next Friday. This will see the new Chancellor set out details on the energy cap, tax cuts and other growth proposals. Education, like many other sectors, will be watching carefully for any positive signs.

Brief listings therefore for this week, offered largely for continuity purposes, starting with the week’s top headlines.

  • Labour market. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest set of figures on the labour market. The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) summarised them as ‘poor.’
  • CPI inflation eased slightly in August, the first time in a year according to latest figures from the ONS. The Resolution Foundation welcomed the news, but noted that things remain tough, especially for low-income households.
  • How HE changed. HEPI director Nick Hillman reflected on how UK higher education has changed during the long reign of the late Queen. From 18 universities at the start of her reign to 145 at the end, for example. This and more can all be found in a fascinating read on the HEPI website.

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

The top headlines of the week

  • ‘Secondary schools face 6,000 trainee teacher shortfall’ (Monday).
  • ‘England’s FE colleges face ‘unprecedented’ wave of strikes’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘School energy support may be backdated if necessary’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Secondary school teachers in Scotland reject 5% pay offer and back strike action (Thursday).
  • ‘College moves to 4-day week as energy support details stall’ (Friday).


  • Mourning guidance. The government published National Mourning guidance for those in education, encouraging different settings to adopt appropriate activities for during the week and noting that most will be expected to observe a Bank Holiday for the day of the State Funeral.
  • Phishing activity. The National Cyber Security Centre issued a warning about potential scamming activity with increased opportunities arising during a period of national mourning.
  • The economy. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest monthly estimate for the UK economy showing that after a flat few months, the economy grew 0.2% in July. 
  • Labour market data. The ONS published the latest set of figures on the UK labour market showing a further fall in unemployment but a marked rise in economic inactivity and a mixed picture on job vacancies and private/public sector wages. 
  • Labour market analysis. The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) published its regular analysis of the latest UK labour market figures, noting that while unemployment was down and pay (for some) was up, economic inactivity had risen ‘sharply,’ calling for more to be done both at a government and at an employer level to encourage people back into work.

More specifically ...


  • Maths problems. UNICEF reported on global concerns around maths education in a new report, looking in particular at gender differences, with girls lagging behind boys when it comes to developing maths skills, but also with many children, particularly in poorer countries, struggling to reach basic numeracy skills generally.


  • Lifelong learning. The RSA and partners called for a ‘scaling up’ of digital lifelong learning in a new report, as they highlighted a number of barriers facing such learners, proposing local digital inclusion strategies among the recommendations. 
  • Strike action. The University and College Union (UCU) signalled ten days of strike action on pay – starting on Monday 26 September across 26 colleges and due to last ten days – unless the current pay offer is improved.


  • HE in-tray.The Times Higher collated thoughts from leading figures in HE about what the new administration’s priorities for the sector should be, listing funding, science and research, and mutual respect among their hopes.
  • Changing face of HE. Nick Hillman examined some of the changes in higher education experienced during the long reign of Queen Elzabeth 11, pointing to three in particular including the rise in student/staff numbers, the growing demand for graduate jobs and the role of universities in civic communities, calling for a new university to be created in such a community bearing Queen Elizabeth’s name. 

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Big shout out to all the support staff helping teachers find their way this week and the forthcoming year. We’re well aware that although we may be subject smart… we have no common sense. Thank you for taking care of us!” | @ScottPughsley
  • “Striking statistic from @Wonkhe when Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952 there were only 18 universities in the UK” | @omaromalleykhan
  • “Very much liking one of my son's new teachers who seems to have explained the consequences of taking glue sticks from her class using part of Liam Neeson's speech from Taken” | @Samfr
  • “I told Yr 12 my favourite joke yesterday and now I'm sad because it feels like there's nothing to look forward to for the rest of the academic year” | @MrMounstevens
  • “Train into London today... I walked confidently along the platform and stopped so that it looked like I knew where the carriage doors would open. A few people moved and stood next to me. Some queued behind me. I didn't have a clue where the train would stop – as they found out” | @Doctob
  • “am at the airport which means my personality has changed. Ruthless, dead-eyed, full of quiet rage, poised like a panther at the door of the airport bus, relentless in my pursuit of overhead baggage space” | @DavidNWriter

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “Monitoring of staff occupancy will be through wi-fi and computer log-ins to help calculate the daily average number of staff heading into the office” – The Sun reports on government monitoring of civil service working from home arrangements.
  • “Employers simply cannot find the workers that they need to fill their jobs” – the IES reflects on the latest labour market figures.
  • “There aren’t so many areas of modern life where the UK is undeniably world class, but the provision of higher education remains one” – Nick Hillman reflects on the current status of UK higher education.
  • “The current HE funding system might just make it to the beginning [of the next Parliament], but it sure as hell isn’t going to be much use by the end” – Professor Andy Westwood considers university funding.
  • “Gordon Ramsay confessed to being so bereft he wore his son’s pants” – parents tell The Guardian about coping with ‘empty nest’ syndrome.
  • “There is no greater challenge to growth in the UK economy than in the areas of skills” – RSA chief executive Andy Haldane introduces a new report on digital lifelong learning.
  • “In May (the key time for recruitment), for example, one well-known south London academy was advertising 14 different posts – seven class teachers and seven Heads of Department. Such turnover is unsustainable, not to say damaging to a pupil’s education” – Tim Clark writes on the CAPX site about the challenge of teacher recruitment and retention facing the new Education Secretary.

Important numbers

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

  • 9.9%. The figure for CPI inflation last month, down from 10.1% previously but with food prices still high according to the ONS.
  • 0.2%. The growth in the UK economy for July, slightly lower than predicted according to latest ONS figures.
  • 3.0%. The fall in regular pay over the last month, according to latest figures from the ONS.
  • 4.2 points. The fall in UK household confidence last month, the largest fall for two years according to YouGov/CEBR.
  • 29%. The number of Britons who personally saw or met Queen Elizabeth 11, according to a poll from YouGov.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • UN ‘Transforming Education Summit’ (Friday/Sat 16/17 September with Leaders Day on Monday 19 September).
  • The Queen's State Funeral (Monday 19 September).
  • MPs return to Westminster (Wednesday 21 September).
  • UCAS release latest (Day 28) report on 2022 graduate applications (Thursday 22 September). 
  • Government ‘Fiscal Event’ (Friday 23 September).
  • Labour Party Annual Conference (Sunday 25 September – Wed 28 September).

Other stories

  • The Oxford comma. The controversial Oxford comma is in the news again this week. Controversial because some people see its use as a heinous crime, some can’t see what the fuss is all about, and nobody’s quite sure what the rules are for its use anyway. For those not sure what the fuss is about, the Oxford comma, which gets its name from usage in the Oxford University Press, is, according to the Oxford Dictionary “a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, before ‘and’ or ‘or’.” They give the example “today I went to lunch with my roommates, Tom, and Molly.” It’s that comma after ‘Tom’ that seems to so offend. It certainly seems to offend the new Health Secretary and Deputy PM who has issued a style guide to staff in her department which includes naming and shaming the said Oxford comma. The story 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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