Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 30 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:

A lot of attention on the economy this week.

It (the economy) was the first of Liz Truss’s three-pronged policy priorities and it’s providing a sharp backcloth to this year’s annual Party Conferences where future policy lines are being drawn up. 

Labour has been in session this week, it’s the turn of the Conservatives next week. A rundown of the key education announcements from the Labour Conference to follow, but first some of the top education-related stories of the week.

  • Labour on education. Childcare; school improvement; the apprenticeship levy; skills; the minimum wage; and an industrial strategy were among the education-related promises made by shadow ministers at the Labour Conference this week. Details below.
  • Ministerial roles. Responsibilities for the new ministers in the DfE have finally been confirmed. HE appears squeezed in as part of the brief for Andrea Jenkyns, the skills minister, Baroness Barran picks up college governance and funding, while Kelly Tolhurst picks up exams and potentially grammar schools.
  • Exams 2023. The government and Ofqual confirmed GCSE and AS/A level exam arrangements for next summer, returning ‘broadly’ to pre-pandemic arrangements with grading ‘protected’ by the use of prior attainment data. Ofqual’s Chief Regulator called it ‘a soft landing’ approach.
  • Digital childhoods. 45% of children aged 8-17 have seen inappropriate content or content that made them worried or upset. Many don’t report it. These were some of the findings from a survey from the Children’s Commissioner released this week. Both parents and children think there should be more protection. 
  • Cost-of-living. The start of the university year has prompted growing concerns about how students will be able to cope with the rising cost-of-living. Last week Universities UK published its survey evidence, this week it was the turn of the NUS. A major concern raised by both is that with families equally struggling, students may no longer be able to rely on the Bank of Mum and Dad.

Links to these and other stories all below as usual.

Back to the Labour Party Conference and a roundup of what it had to say about education and skills.

Keir Starmer made few direct references to the sector in his Leader’s Speech, but there were plenty of other announcements during the Conference.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, for instance, pledged to expand places in medical schools (“we will implement the biggest expansion of medical school places in British history,”) set the minimum wage “at a level that reflects the real cost of living,” create a national wealth fund to support investment in business, and support green skills. Her speech is here.

Deputy PM Angela Rayner in her speech pointed to the Party’s National Procurement Plan with its “opportunities for new jobs and skills” before unveiling Labour’s Fair Work Standard. “It will underpin a new Fair Work Code for the public sector, guaranteeing fair conditions, job security, wellbeing, proper training, rights at work, and union access,” she explained. 

Shadow Business Secretary Jonthan Reynolds outlined Labour’s Industrial Strategy, “a real industrial strategy” as he called it. He listed three features: delivering clean power by 2030, harnessing data for the public good, and supporting the care sector. “Good work, good wages, a fairer, greener future. That is what we can deliver.”

More specifically on education and skills, we’re still waiting to hear about Labour plans for funding higher education, although this may be coming soon. 

We did, however, hear more about Labour thinking on skills, although again, more details on this are expected shortly. Current thinking emanating from the Party’s group of skills advisors is for further long-awaited reform of the apprenticeships levy, extending it to ‘a Growth and Skills Levy’ with half of the funding being available to employers for wider skills training. Also the creation of a new expert body, Skills England, to oversee skills developments including approved qualifications, and the devolving of adult skills budgets to combined authorities. Keir Starmer claimed “We will see the biggest partnership between government, business and communities this country has ever seen.”

As for schools, Bridget Phillipson, the Shadow Education Secretary confirmed Labour plans to “build a modern childcare system… right through to the end of primary school.” This would include breakfast clubs for every primary school child in England, paid for by restoring the higher tax rate. This has been broadly welcomed by teacher unions. “If properly funded and resourced this entitlement is something school leaders would support,” the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said.

She also talked about skills “a curriculum that prizes skills, as well as knowledge,” a ‘modern’ careers service, recruiting more teachers, and noticeably ending the tax breaks for private schools and using the money to “deliver the most ambitious school improvement programme for a generation.” Meanwhile, the Shadow Schools Minister pledged ‘not to meddle with structures’ and to introduce ‘an ambitious education bill.’ 

Plenty therefore to get pulses quickening, all under the banner of putting children and learners first. As ASCL’s Geoff Barton put it: “we are pleased with Labour’s general direction of travel.”

Next week, it will be the turn of the Conservatives and an opportunity for the new ministerial team at the DfE to start setting out its thoughts. 

Current worries here include the lack of reference to higher education among the reshuffled responsibilities, how the economic crises may impact on education, whether grammar schools really are a runner and, as was hinted last week, how high a priority education is being seen by the new administration. 

The point was emphasised by the financial editor of The Times this week. He wrote: ‘two important words were missing from last week’s 1400-word Growth Plan – education and training.’ The new Education Secretary has a chance to remedy this when he addresses the Conservative Party Conference on Tuesday. 

Finally a human story to round off the week. 

This week Gwyneth Paltrow has been doing what many parents over here have been doing in recent days, namely dropping off a son or daughter for their first term at college/university. In characteristic fashion she described it as “I know this sounds nuts, but it feels almost as profound as giving birth." It’s not known how many mothers have felt the same.

The top headlines of the week

  • ‘Secondary teacher recruits fall a third short’ (Monday).
  • ‘Labour pledges to widen the apprenticeship levy’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘School leaders split on supporting strike over pay’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Most students think UK universities protect free speech, survey finds’ (Thursday).


  • Growth Plan. The government confirmed in an updated statement that it was sticking with its spending plans but would equally announce further growth measures during the next two months and hold another fiscal event with Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) projections on 23 November.
  • Stress tests. The Bank of England outlined the tests, such as a peaking of inflation and a doubling of unemployment, that it will be using for its 2022 annual cyclical scenario stress testing of the UK banking system.
  • Starmer speech. Sir Keir Starmer promised a New Deal for Working People, a new target on home ownership (70%,) a Green Prosperity Plan encompassing a publicly owned Great British Energy Company, and revitalised public services as he used his Leader’s Speech at the Party Conference to set out his stall for an incoming Labour government. 
  • Labour Industrial Strategy. Jonathan Reynolds, Shadow Business Secretary, outlined Labour’s Industrial Strategy in a speech to the Labour Party Conference highlighting three features: green energy, the use of data, and support for the care sector.
  • 2NDJobs. The pensions and investment company Royal London reported that increasing numbers of people were either taking up or looking to take up second jobs to cope with the cost-of-living crisis, with 5.2m people already having taken the plunge.
  • Net zero. The government announced the launch of a review into the delivery of its net zero climate commitments which will be led by Chris Skidmore MP, report before the end of the year and look at how best to deliver the target in a way that can support business and growth. 
  • Social mobility. The Social Mobility Commission published an Employer’s Guide to improving social mobility in the workplace covering such aspects as culture and leadership, and staff progression.
  • Resourcing and Talent Planning. CIPD and Omni indicated in a new survey report that employers need to look beyond just offering high salary carrots when trying to tackle shortages, arguing this would not be sustainable for many firms, calling instead for employers to offer better flexi working and development opportunities.

More specifically ...


  • Exams 2023. The government and Ofqual confirmed that assessment arrangements for GCSE/AS and A level exams next summer will ‘largely’ return to pre-pandemic normal, albeit with the continued use of formulae and equation sheets in GCSE maths and sciences and with grading aligned with pre-attainment data. 
  • And if exams couldn’t take place. The government and Ofqual launched consultation on what would happen in the very unlikely event that exams could not take place next summer, proposing the use of Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) as previously but with clearer guidance on the gathering, marking and storing of assessment evidence to limit concerns and burdens where possible.
  • Shadow Education Secretary’s speech. Bridget Phillipson, the Shadow Education Secretary, confirmed Labour plans to extend breakfast clubs for primary schools in England as well as fund a major school improvement programme in her speech to the Labour Party Conference.
  • Fringe events. Three leading teacher unions (ASCL, NAHT, NEU) published a joint paper on the impact of the current funding squeeze on schools and in particular teacher recruitment that they are highlighting at this year’s Conservative and Labour Party Conferences.
  • Digital childhoods. The Children’s Commissioner reported on the findings from a survey of children and parents about online safety showing that children were often exposed to harmful content with those on Free School Meals noticeably more vulnerable, and both parents and children supporting platform minimum age requirements.
  • School governance. The government published its latest update for trustees and school governors with details included about the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, and the latest risk protection arrangements along with a survey request on school food standards.
  • Governors’ survey. The National Governance Association reported on its recent survey among governors and trustees which listed balancing the budget, the attainment of disadvantaged children, and staff workloads as the top three challenges facing schools currently with safeguarding and teaching recruitment as growing concerns. 
  • Ed Tech. The government published a commissioned report into the implementation Ed Tech in schools and colleges following the pandemic, finding training and development, institutional culture and technology infrastructure all key factors and pointing to some tentative evidence of a positive impact on primary maths, science and reading.
  • Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund. The government published a commissioned report into a range of different activities run as part of its Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund, looking at what had worked well (structured in-school support) and not so well (competing priorities) and at some of the outcomes (personal teaching practice) achieved.
  • Family learning. Former DfE adviser Sam Freedman called for a Children and Families Strategy as part of a more cohesive approach to family learning in a new report for the Campaign for Learning, arguing that the Strategy, building on such features as the Pledge and Family Hubs, could help ‘unify parental engagement and family learning policy in England.’
  • CyberFirst Girls Competition. The National Cyber Security Centre invited applications from schools for its 2023 CyberFirst Girls Competition which aims to introduce more girls aged 12/13 to the cyber security industry with the preliminary rounds set for this November.


  • Labour on skills.The Labour leadership confirmed plans to reform the apprenticeship levy, devolve adult skills spending and set up a new expert body as part of its skills plans, with details to follow in a report expected in the coming weeks. 
  • Towards full employment.The Learning and Work Institute called in a new report for a big push on increasing the employment rate in the UK, aiming to take it from 75% to 80% over the next decade or so by helping those currently inactive as well as others into work, arguing that this could boost the economy by £23bn. 


  • Cost-of-living. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) offered guidance to providers on managing issues that may arise from the cost-of-living crisis, encouraging for example student unions and institutions generally to publicise sources of help, recognising that some students may need to work p/time, and generally being prepared to respond to student needs sensitively.
  • Student cost-of-living. The NUS reported on its research into the cost-of-living challenges facing students this year with case study evidence on where and what students were cutting back on and what effect this was having, calling for a new deal for students with practical measures, such as dedicated hardship funds and accommodation support, from both government and providers.
  • Free speech. King’s College Policy Institute reported on its research into the state of free speech in UK universities suggesting that few students have heard of the Freedom of Speech Bill and most (65%) feel that free speech is protected in their university, although a growing minority (34%) do feel it’s under threat.
  • Specialist contributions. GuildHE, which represents smaller and specialised institutions, published a new report highlighting through a string of case studies the key role and specific research that many of them play in local communities and among business groups.
  • Civic leadership. Research England announced a £3.7m grant to Sheffield Hallam University and partners to gather evidence and develop a framework for a Civic Impact Framework as part of a three-year National Civic Impact Accelerator programme. 
  • Social mobility. John Blake, OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation outlined in a speech to the Social Mobility Foundation the approach the OfS was taking towards progressing social mobility, moving from national targets to institutional missions and risk analysis, reinforced by ‘an equality of opportunity risk register, backed up by transparent accountability.
  • Working class barriers. The University and College Union (UCU) highlighted the challenges facing staff working in post-16 institutions and coming from a working-class background with, for instance, over half surveyed suggesting it can be a barrier to progression, calling as a result for better understanding and support.
  • Working together. JISC and UCISA, the body that represents digital practitioners, signed a new three-year memorandum of understanding which will see the tertiary sector’s two leading IT bodies working together on such core issues as cyber security, and licensing and procurement over the coming years.
  • Fossil free. Senior Climate Campaigns Coordinator at People and Planet, Fergus Green, reported in a blog on the HEPI site that Birkbeck had become the first HE institution to end fossil fuel industry recruitment on campus as part of its Ethical Careers Policy, meaning that oil, gas and mining industries would be excluded from future recruitment events on site.
  • New V.C. Cambridge University announced that Professor Deborah Prentice, Provost of Princeton University, had been nominated as the next Vice-Chancellor of the University.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “After her first few weeks in reception my 4-year-old daughter announced today that "home is boring" which is both a huge commendation of her school and teacher and a savage indictment of my weekend parenting” | @C_Hendrick
  • “Spotting a teacher in the real world is easy. They’re the ones whose other halves are telling them not to talk to them like they are someone in their class” | @secretHT1
  • “Universities pay staggering salaries to Presidents, Chancellors, VPs and provosts by the dozens, etc and in every administrative office there is a 57-year-old woman named Peggy with a title like "Admin Assistant II" and that's the person who actually runs the university” | @edburmila
  • “Hi all, There was yet another error in this week’s The Academy Newsletter. The Year 10 athletics squad, who recently won the County Championship should have been described as “fastidious” and not “fast idiots”. Apologies to all concerned.” | @NewbieSlt
  • “3yo came home thrilled to get a sticker from nursery today. It was a 3 and a half pounds weight loss star sticker from Slimming World… pretty sure he just picked it up somewhere” | @TJGriffiths
  • “My main takeaway from Labour Conference this year was a bread roll with bacon and sausage on it for seven quid and felt robbed” | @jim_dickinson
  • “My 6-year-old daughter just lost her first tooth. Given inflation is where it is, what's the going rate for the tooth fairy these days? | @MStothard

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “As the MPC has made clear, it will make a full assessment at its next scheduled meeting of the impact on demand and inflation from the Government’s announcements, and the fall in sterling, and act accordingly” – the Bank of England confirms its keeping an eye on the economy.
  • “This is a Labour moment” – Keir Starmer heralds an incoming Labour government as he sets out his stall at the Labour Conference
  • “I’m kicking off a 3-month review today to find the best ways of making this happen” – Chris Skidmore MP heads up the government’s independent review into net zero.
  • “Greater Manchester had better life expectancy than expected after devolution” – the Health Foundation points to benefits from devolution.
  • “Some providers or their student representative bodies may have, or be able to develop, a relationship with community resources, such as foodbanks or community supermarkets, clothing banks, or charities that help people with reducing energy costs” – the OIA offers advice to universities managing the cost-of-living crisis.
  • “And early indications are that many schools and trusts will have no choice but to make significant budgetary cuts which will impact on educational provision and job security” – teacher unions point out the funding challenges currently facing schools.
  • “Our approach to grading in 2023 will provide a soft landing for students as we continue the process of taking the exam system back to normal” – Ofqual Chief Regulator Jo Saxton on GCSE and AS/A level exam arrangements next summer.
  • “By that point I will have been in post for seven years, and I believe it will be the right time for our Association to have a new leader with a fresh approach” ASCL’s Geoff Barton tells Schools Week he’ll step down in April 2024.

Important numbers

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

  • 54%. The number of organisations offering greater work flexibility to address recruitment problems, according to CIPD/Omni.
  • 3.6%. The number of apprentices in the civil service in England as of 31 March 2022, according to latest government figures.
  • £797m. The amount of money paid into 372k student accounts on Monday 26 September, the biggest payment day of the academic year to date according to the Student Loans Company.
  • 69%. The number of 18-34-year-olds surveyed who are cutting back on eating out, according to a survey from PwC.
  • £54BN. Planned net expenditure by local authorities in England on schools in 2022/23, up £2.3bn on the previous year according to latest government figures.
  • 50:50. Surveyed members views on whether there should be strike action over teachers’ pay, according to ASCL.
  • 94.6%. The attendance rate across schools in England for the w/beginning 12 September, according to latest ‘experimental official’ government figures.
  • 1.9m. The number of pupils eligible for free school meals as of the start of this year, according to a briefing from the House of Commons Library Service.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Conservative Party Annual Conference (Sunday 2 October – Wednesday 5 October).
  • The OECD release ‘Education at a Glance 2022’ (Monday 3 October).

Other stories

  • Cutting back. An interesting report from PwC this week about what steps young people are having to take to cope with the cost-of-living crisis. Over half of Gen Z’s and Millennials apparently are cutting back on holidays, eating out and streaming services. 69% for example reported cutting back on eating out. Given this sample was taken before the latest Kwarteng budget, the figure may well now be higher. Interestingly also, many 18-34 yr olds are also planning to be savvier about finance and to develop financial resilience. Just over half for instance reckon they’d take a job that paid more over one that offered job security. Details of the survey 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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