Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 14 October 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:
More fraught headlines this week, both economic and political.
They’ve ranged from a series of blunt reports on the UK economy, to what were seen as ‘some pretty worrying’ figures in the latest labour market outlook, to political concerns about the future generally.
Collectively, they continue to create a difficult context for the public sector in general and for education in particular. They also of course add to the tension as the Chancellor prepares to draw up his medium-term fiscal plan, now set for the end of the month.
Some details to follow, but first a rundown of the main education-related headlines of the week.
- The economy. The UK economy has continued to receive worrying health bulletins this week. The IMF, IfS, CBI, and British Chambers of Commerce have been among the bodies setting out their thoughts. Despite some straws in the IMF report about forecast growth this year, the general tone of this and other reports has been downbeat. In the words of the IfS: 'The UK faces a difficult economic outlook with few easy policy answers'.
- Labour market. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest batch of data on the UK labour market this week. It covered the summer period. The unemployment rate remains low but there’s been another big rise in economic inactivity. The Institute for Employment Studies saw it as ‘an inauspicious backdrop for the economy’ and called for greater transition to work support.
- Skills of the future. 'Higher skilled, education and healthcare roles'. These are likely to be the jobs of the future according to the latest set of reports published this week by the NFER/IER and Cambridge Econometrics who are leading a major 5-year Nuffield funded project on the matter. The next report will look at employment skills of the future.
- Pandemic effect. More evidence this week of the impact of the pandemic on learning and skills. The NAO published a second report on the furlough and self-employed support schemes suggesting they broadly did the job but remained liable to fraud. And the Sutton Trust/UCL published the first set of findings from their ‘COSMO’ cohort study of the pandemic’s impact on young people suggesting that “a staggering” 80% of young people reckoned their academic progress had suffered.
- Cost-of-living. There’s been a lot recently on the impact of the rising cost-of-living on students. Two reports this week have further highlighted the challenges many face. Universities have been lining up to offer support with London and Durham among them.
- T levels. It's been National T Levels Week, where – despite a slight blemish with the regulator reporting at the same time about set papers issues in the summer – the DfE and many other bodies have been keen to mark the moment by promoting their benefits to both learners and employers. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education called them ‘game changers’.
Links to these and other stories below as usual.
A few details first on three of the top stories of the week: the economy; the labour market; and the return of MPs to Parliament.
On the economy: this week the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) published its latest ‘Green Budget’ assessment of the challenges facing the Chancellor, ahead of his statement on the 31st of this month.
For those in education, three in particular stand out:
First, if as the IfS suggest, the Chancellor needs to find £62bn to help balance the books and pay for pledges made, are more cuts looming for a sector like education? Here’s the IfS on that prospect. 'If the NHS and defence budgets were exempt from any cuts (and instead frozen in real terms after 2025), the required cuts to everything else would rise to more than a quarter (27%)'. 'Cuts on that scale' they suggested, 'would pose severe challenges, to put it mildly'. Current thinking is that the government will stick with current department budgets set at last year’s spending review, but may not uprate them in line with inflation.
Second, inflation itself, which continues to undermine the worth of most things, such as teacher salaries. Here the IfS suggest that 'Inflation is forecast to peak at just under 12% over the coming months, and fall back only gradually'. Expert figures vary, but the broad trend appears clear and challenging.
And third, the overall worry, as recent weeks have shown, is of a continuing lack of confidence, making planning and delivery difficult. Some headteachers were saying last week that this is the time of year when they draw up annual budgets, and yet current uncertainty is making it impossible.
To finish on a more positive note, the IfS did acknowledge that forecasting was difficult at present, so these are only projections. And the International Monetary Fund (IMF) did suggest that the UK could see higher growth than other G7 countries this year, albeit at the cost of higher inflation. That said, the latest reported fall in UK GDP for August has hardly helped.
Next, the labour market, where the Office for National Statistics this week published the latest June – August, set of data on the labour market.
The headline message was of a further fall in the employment rate. Down to 3.5%, and in the words of Tony Wilson of the Institute for Employment Studies: "The last time unemployment was this low was Christmas 1973, and Slade had just reached Number 1”.
But, the less positive news was of a further hike in so-called economic inactivity – people unavailable for work, unable to work, or not looking for work. According to the ONS, this latest quarterly increase was ‘driven largely by those aged 50-64 and 16-24.’ This at a time when vacancies remain high and the government is chasing growth.
As the IES indicated, this (also) makes for a difficult scenario for the Chancellor. They listed four priorities that could help.
First, extending the Restart scheme to those who wanted to work – often older workers or those who’ve had health problems. Second, and a corollary, providing better health and welfare at work support. Third, ensuring a decent wage settlement. And fourth – and of particular interest to the FE sector – scaling up skills training and support by, for example, flexing up the apprenticeship levy, increasing the number of Skills Bootcamps, and creating a coherent adult training programme.
Finally, MPs returned to Westminster this week after the Conference season and a gap over the summer.
For education, much of the significant activity has been happening in Select Committees rather than in the Chamber.
The Education Committee investigated this year’s exams, what went well and what didn’t – Schools Week has a useful summary here. The Women and Equalities Committee took evidence as part of its Inquiry into ‘Attitudes towards women and girls in educational settings’; and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee held a second session as part of its inquiry into UK STEM skills.
Next week, MPs generally get to discuss a petition calling for an early general election.
The top headlines of the week
- ‘Thousands of UK students face financial hardship as costs rise’ (Monday).
- ‘Jamie Oliver calls for more children to receive free school meals’ (Tuesday).
- ‘School building space should be used for childcare, says commissioner’ (Wednesday).
- ‘Four out of five pupils in England say progress suffered due to Covid’ (Thursday).
- ‘Keeping their heads? School leaders turnover rises by a third’ (Friday).
- Medium-Term Fiscal Plan. The Chancellor confirmed that the promised medium-term fiscal plan along with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) economic forecast would now be published on 31 October rather than 23 November as had been originally planned.
- Green Budget 2022. The Institute for Fiscal Studies and Citi set out the context for the UK economy ahead of the Chancellor’s medium-term fiscal plan, outlining the challenges he faces with borrowing up, the debt interest increased, and huge sums needed to stabilise the public finances.
- Global growth. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) published its latest World Economic Outlook projecting global growth to slow for 2022 to 3.2%, inflation to rise to 8.8% and the overall outlook for countries remaining weak, but for the UK a more promising forecast of 3.6% growth next year, falling to 0.3% the year after, albeit with some concerns about higher levels of borrowing.
- Science and Technology Council. The government announced the creation of a new National Science and Technology Council, to be chaired by the Chancellor, and with a brief to “deliver a plan to harness science and technology to support economic growth and the UK’s position on the geopolitical stage.”
- Employment Support. The National Audit Office (NAO) published a further report on the employment support schemes, such as the furlough and self-employed support scheme, set up in response to the pandemic, concluding that the schemes which cost around £100bn broadly delivered on the support needed for businesses but remained liable to fraud given the speed with which they were set up.
- Labour market overview. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest set of data on the labour market for the period June – August, indicating a continuing tight market with more people unable or unavailable for work, total pay down and vacancies ‘at historically high levels.’
- Labour market analysis. The Institute for Employment Studies published its regular valuable analysis of the latest labour market figures acknowledging that although the unemployment rate remained low, economic inactivity was spiking, real pay was continuing to fall and the job market remained tight.
- Employment Trends. The CBI reported on its latest Employment trends Survey with Pertemps Network Group showing businesses ‘pulling all they can to support staff and recruit’ but increasingly concerned about access to labour and skills.
- Ten ideas for growth. Former minister David Willetts set out ten proposals for growth in a blog on the conservativehome site, listing among others the need to prioritise science and technology, the need to generate collective endeavour and the need to have a coherent plan.
- Mental health support. The government announced as part of World Mental Health Day, an additional £122m to provide employment and mental health support for those who need it to stay in or return to work.
- Vision for childcare. The Children’s Commissioner for England set out her thinking on childcare following earlier survey research, suggesting using underused spaces in schools, plus a simplified funding system, an improved childminder system, and a progress measure for early years.
More specifically ...
- Covid Impact. The Sutton Trust and UCL published the first set of findings from their important COSMO (Covid Social Mobility and Opportunity) study looking into the short, medium and long-term impact of Covid on young people’s learning and wellbeing, indicating that some 80% of young people in the cohort study felt that their academic progress has suffered as a result of the pandemic.
- Teacher recruitment. School Dash examined recent data on teacher recruitment pointing to high levels of staff movement in the system including at headteacher level and unfilled vacancies for both teachers and technicians.
- ITT funding 2023/24. The government outlined funding provision for initial teacher training (ITT) 2023/24 with ‘generous’ bursaries and scholarships available, particularly in STEM subjects, computing and modern foreign languages.
SATs. The Standards and Testing Agency published details on SATs arrangements for 2022/23 with statutory assessments for KS1 due to take place for this one more year, KS2 school level assessment performance data due to be published, and the multiplication tables check dates taking place slightly later.
- Cyber security. The government issued new guidance for schools on cyber security, covering data and device protection along with training and reporting requirements.
- Literacy evaluation. The Education Endowment Foundation reported on its independent evaluation of two programmes designed to teach children to read and write through a systematic approach, finding some progress made by children on the reception age programme but not on the Fresh Start catch-up programme for children aged 9 – 13.
- SEN picture. FFT Education Datalab reported on the picture around special needs since the introduction of a new Code of Practice eight years ago, suggesting that for the cohort examined the most common reported need was for speech, language and communication needs but that overall, reported numbers had fallen.
- Digital assessment. The director-general of the International Baccalaureate confirmed that they were working on plans to shift to online assessment for the future, with the precise timing dependent on system development but with schools to be given time to adapt as need be.
- GCSE English resource. The Bank of England announced a further addition to its financial literacy resources for schools with the launch of a six-lesson pack of slides and worksheets which will be sent to every secondary school in the UK to help with developing critical evaluation and writing tasks in GCSE English Language.
- Future skills. The NFER, IER and partners published the latest set of reports from their major Nuffield funded project looking into the employment skills people will need by 2035, suggesting a fairly straight swap between old jobs going and new jobs coming in, particularly in technology-based and professional occupations, with the health sector seen as the fastest growing sector for new jobs in the future.
- APPG for Youth Employment. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Youth Employment announced the launch of a new inquiry looking into the impact of mental health on young people moving into education, employment or training, with evidence gathering over the autumn and a report promised for January 2023.
- Sixth Form Colleges. The NEU announced it was launching a ballot on industrial action for members working in sixth form colleges to vote on the latest pay offer, with the ballot due to run from 18 October – 11 November.
- FE cuts. Martin Doel, Visiting Professor at the Institute for Education, reflected in a blog on the Campaign for Learning site about the prospect of further cuts to FE funding, concluding on balance this was unlikely given the current political “priority around skills.
- T levels. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) heralded National T Levels Week with series of promotional activities and case studies highlighting the potential of T levels.
- Cost-of-living. MillionPlus published a new report highlighting the challenges for many students, notably many already high-risk, from the rising cost-of-living crisis, calling for ‘immediate’ increase in hardship funds and maintenance grants along with local action on things like discounted food and rent caps.
- Helping with costs in London. London Higher, the body that promotes and supports HE in London, published a briefing note setting out ways in which students in London could be helped to cope with the cost-of-living, ranging from reduced travel costs to supermarket vouchers.
- Tackling harassment and sexual misconduct. The Office for Students (OfS) confirmed that it was working on further research into the extent of sexual misconduct affecting HE students in England with a report due this autumn and consultation on incorporating the issue as a proposed condition of registration likely to follow next spring.
- Mental Health Challenge. The OfS published an independent evaluation report of its Mental Health Challenge Competition which ran from summer 2019 – summer 2022 and which funded a series of projects and partnerships designed to generate a step change in student mental health support, concluding that this had largely been achieved.
- QAA DQB activity. The QAA set out the activity it intends to undertake, including agreed Quality and Standards Reviews, Standards Assessments and some Degree Awarding Power Assessments, as it completes its remit as the HE Designated Quality Body (DQB) in England by the end of next March.
- International students. Dame Janet Beer followed up the challenging comments made about international students at last week’s Conservative Conference by highlighting the net contribution they make to the UK economy (£25.9bn pa) and their importance to the country’s growth agenda and to communities generally.
- International education. London Higher set out the case for London to have an International Education Strategy in its own right given its attractions and diversity, calling among other things for a dedicated Education Champion and special kitemark for London provision.
- World Universities. The Times Higher reported on the latest version of the world university rankings with the UK having three in the top ten (Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial) but with suggestions of an increase in research performance by Chinese institutions at the expense of US universities.
- No platforming. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) published a new report looking at freedom of speech in universities and in particular the role of union debating societies, where the concept of pre-emptive cancelling of events for fear of causing offence appears to have been growing, with speakers from Tony Blair to Harry Enfield among those ‘quietly’ cancelled.
Tweets and posts of note:
- “We're now spending more on paying off debt interest than on education (for all age groups) | @Samfr
- “You’re not officially a teacher until you’ve made a class sit in silence for at least one minute to practice sitting quietly” | @secretHT1
- “Shocking revelation in my class today that I do in fact have a mum and dad and crazily, they have the same surname as me. Even more wild, they did not call me “Miss S” as a baby, and called me by my first name. This was all my class could talk about this afternoon” | @londonteacher
- “Nobody catfishes like the science department at open evening” | @MrsVRE
- “You can’t use “beef stew” as a password…it’s not stroganoff” | @hankchizljaw
A selection of quotes that merit attention:
- “I'm committed to ensuring people get the support they need to thrive, expanding mental health support for children and people getting back into work” – the PM welcomes National Mental Health Day.
- “Can I also take this opportunity to set out the government's intention to respond to your Committee's report on Jobs, growth and productivity after coronavirus following further growth measure announcements throughout October and the announcement of the Government’s Medium-Term Fiscal Plan” – the Chancellor lines up the diaries in a response to the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee.
- “Today’s data confirms that the UK is facing the tightest labour market in years” – The British Chambers of Commerce responds to the latest labour market figures.
- “Students with a household income of less than £27,500 will be entitled to a grant of £2200” – Durham University outlines extra grant support for students.
- “GCSE exam halls are ditching analogue clocks because children are struggling to read the time “ – the Mail Online’s latest revelation.
- “So we will be running the paper-based tests too, and we will also have time for schools to make that choice” – the IB confirms plans to switch over time to digital assessment.
- “The results of this study are deeply worrying, but sadly not unexpected” – the NAHT reacts to the Sutton Trust/UCL COSMO study on the impact of the pandemic on young people.
- “But I think we’d all agree that there’s a massive gap between the means test for free school lunches as it stands and universal credit” – Jamie Oliver on free school meals.
Not-to-be-missed numbers of the week:
- £62bn. The amount of money needed to stabilise finances over the medium-term, according to projections from the IfS.
- 8.8%. The forecast figure for global inflation this year, up from 4.7% last year and not due to climb down to 4% until 2024, according to the IMF.
- 0.3%. The fall in the UK economy in August, according to the ONS.
- £5,887. The average amount paid for each furlough job over the length of the scheme, according to a report from the NAO.
- 2.49m. The number of people in the UK no longer looking for work due to long-term sickness, according to the ONS.
- 2.6m. The number of new jobs projected to be needed in the UK by 2035,, broadly replacing the 2m+ jobs likely to be displaced by new technology according to the NFER/IER and research partners.
- 34%. The number of organisations in a survey who think a 4-day week will become a reality for most UK workers over the next decade, according to CIPD.
- 72%. The number of firms who saw skills shortages as a barrier to competitiveness, according to a survey from the CBI and Pertemps.
- 300,000. The number of undergraduates likely to struggle this year with the rising cost-of-living, according to MillionPlus.
- 347,900. The number of apprenticeship starts over the past year, up 9% on the previous year according to latest provisional figures from the government.
- 45% The number of young people in a cohort study reporting that they don’t believe they’ve been able to catch-up with lost learning following the pandemic, according to the Sutton Trust/UCL project study.
- 93.5%. The pupil attendance rate across schools in England for the last week of September, according to latest government figures.
- £24M. The funding the government has announced for children’s phonics and literacy skills with the development of the English Hubs Programme, according to a notice from the DfE.
- 30%. The number of children aged 8 – 17 with a social media profile who have an adult user age having signed up with a false date of birth, according to a survey from Ofcom.
Everything else you need to know ...
What to look out for next week:
- Colleges Week 2022 (Monday 17 October – Saturday 22 October).
- Public Accounts Committee evidence inquiry on ‘Developing workforce skills for a strong economy’ (Monday 17 October).
- Education Committee evidence inquiry on Post-16 qualifications (Tuesday 18 October).
- Launch event for Wonkhe/Pearson research into ‘Belonging at University’ (Wednesday 19 October).
- Federation of Awarding Bodies Annual Conference (Thursday 20 October – Friday 21 October).
- Boys’ and Girls’ names. The regular annual listing of top boys’ and girls’ names generally provokes interest and this year’s, published by the ONS last week, is no exception. It saw Noah replace Oliver as the top boys’ name but Olivia remain as the top girls’ name for the sixth year in a row. It also saw Henry replace Jack in the top ten of boys’ names but Freya, Florence and Willow take over from Isabella, Rosie and Sophia respectively in the girls’ top ten. According to Associate Professor of Sociology at Nottingham Trent, Jane Pilcher, the fact there is more movement among girls’ names than those of boys suggests that parents are less willing to take risks with boys’ names, preferring to stick with tradition and cultural value, and potentially status. A link to the article is here.
Mental health support. This week’s World Mental Health Day triggered a wealth of stories of help and hope being offered around the country. One that attracted particular attention was the launch of a Foundation aimed at promoting mental health wellbeing from England football captain, Harry Kane. The launch included animations of his struggles to get to where he is now. The Foundation aims to host activities and raise funds to help others to look after their mental health. A link to the story can be found here.
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