Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 21 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:

Half-term beckons for many next week, but the headlines don’t make for relaxing reading.

The Chancellor’s Statement at the start of the week may have calmed things initially, but families and schools are struggling, the cost-of-living is increasing and a state of unease persists. As the consultancy firm PwC put it in its reaction to the latest inflation figures: 'the concern for consumers will be that the worst is yet to come'.

As for education, these have been the main headlines from the week.

  • Financial Statement. The Chancellor’s Financial Statement was a big talking point this week. But for education, the main reaction was ‘no good news’. All eyes are now on the medium-term fiscal plan, due to be presented on 31 October, along with “credible and transparent costings”. 
  • Strike action. Strike action among school staff moved a step closer this week, with three unions (the NEU, NASUWT and NAHT) all announcing ballots of members. Any action is likely to take place early next term.
  • New Skills Body. Three big beasts came together this week to create what they called a Future Skills Coalition. The aim is to provide a strong voice on the importance, and of course the funding, of skills. The three bodies are the Association of Colleges (AoC), the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), and City and Guilds. Other partners are expected to join. 
  • Qualification reform. The skills minister this week confirmed developments around L3 and L2 and below qualifications in two statements to MPs. On Monday she set out details of the latest T level overlap list, and a day later, outlined government reforms to post-16 qualifications at L2 and below. Not everyone in the education world is convinced. The AELP, for instance, described the L2 and below plans as “flawed”.
  • Future learning. A couple of interesting reports have been published this week on future learning. The Office for Students examined blended learning in HE, much of it developed in response to the pandemic, finding both good and bad features. One key message appeared to be that ‘blended provision should be informed by sound pedagogic principles’ rather than student numbers. The Federation of Awarding Bodies meanwhile looked at futuristic learning with a commissioned report suggesting, among other things, that ‘gaming should be a core part of the curriculum’. “It’s the gateway to a future mode of learning”, according to the author. 
  • In Conference. The TUC held its postponed Annual Congress this week with workers’ rights and wages/poverty levels among the big talking points. In a widely-quoted valedictory speech, Frances O’Grady, who stands down as general-secretary at the end of the year, highlighted the risk of "heading towards Victorian levels of poverty".

Links to these and other stories below as usual.

But first, a few words on one of those big news items this week, namely the prospect on industrial action in schools.

The government has a lot on its plate at present of course, but the prospect of industrial action in schools needs to be taken seriously for three important reasons.

First, because anger and frustration has been building up in the sector for some time and needs properly addressing. As the general-secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) put it: “I have never heard more anger and despair. School leaders across the country are telling me that they cannot continue to run their schools in the current circumstances”. The pandemic, the energy crisis, inflation, and teacher recruitment have all added to the pressures. 

Pitch in having to dig into the budgets to find money for teachers’ pay, and worries about the extent of school meals and pupil support, and the ‘anger and despair’ becomes clear. It was only two months ago that the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) spelt out what it called ‘the coming crunch’ for schools, as costs increase at a faster rate than money coming in. it’s a combustible mix.

Second, it’s not just one vocal union expressing frustration, this is virtually all education unions expressing their frustration in various ways, including – notably for the first time – the NAHT.

In addition, it’s coming as other parts of education, FE and HE, are facing industrial action too, as well as other areas of the public sector. This week, for instance, according to the University and College Union (UCU), staff at 22 colleges have been undertaking three days of action, while balloting on future action is going on across universities.

And third, and importantly, any further disruption to schools would come as a major blow to pupils, families, and schools, after all they’ve been through in recent years. The NASUWT suggested that many parents (56%) would support teachers taking industrial action if they received a pay rise below inflation, while the NEU said its members ’were reluctant to strike … they wanted to be in school teaching’. Either way, anger would soon be directed towards a government presiding over such a situation. 

Balloting over industrial action looks set to continue over the coming months. It will then be down to the Prime Minister of the day to consider.

The top headlines of the week

  • ‘No good news for schools as Hunt warns of cuts’ (Monday).
  • ‘NEU pencils in teachers and support staff strikes for early 2023’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Teachers join Jamie Oliver free school meals call’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Secondary school disadvantage gap widens to largest in ten years’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Universities in England and Wales double or triple student hardship funds’ (Friday).


  • Chancellor’s Statement. The new Chancellor announced a reset of the recent mini budget in a statement to MPs, revising many of the proposed tax measures as well as scaling back the Energy Price Guarantee, while confirming that a costed medium-term fiscal plan would be published on 31 October.
  • Expert body. The government announced the creation of a new expert body, the Economic Advisory Council, made up of leading economic experts who would meet regularly to advise the government on ‘international economies and financial markets.’
  • Recession fears. The EY Item Club pointed in its latest forecast to a slight improvement in the UK economy following the Energy Price Guarantee but suggested that the UK would remain in recession until next summer, with inflation peaking at 11% this autumn.
  • Recruitment problems. The British Chambers of Commerce published its latest Quarterly Recruitment Outlook showing that 76% of businesses were still having problems finding staff, with manufacturing facing the biggest problems, followed by hospitality, logistics and construction/engineering.
  • Rising poverty levels. The TUC called for benefits to be increased in line with inflation and for the minimum wage to be increased to £15 an hour as it published survey evidence at its annual Congress showing that I in 7 people across the UK were having to skip meals to make ends meet.
  • Cost-of-living. Barnardo’s highlighted the impact of the cost-of-living as it published a new report and YouGov survey showing that increasing numbers of families were struggling to cope, with just over half cutting back on food spending over the last year.
  • Early moments matter. UNICEF called on the UK government to commit to a ‘Baby and Toddler Guarantee’ of basic standards and support as it published a report into early years provision in England, suggesting that many families are struggling financially and finding it difficult to get professional support. 

More specifically ...


  • GCSE performance. The government released provisional data on GCSE KS4 performance this summer showing that 49.6% of pupils achieved a 5 or above in English and maths, down on last year but up on the pre-pandemic year, but also a further widening of the overall disadvantage gap.
  • 16-18 destinations. The government published data on the destinations of 16-18-year-olds last year showing an increase in the proportion staying on into education, either FE or HE, and fewer heading into apprenticeships or employment accordingly, with the pandemic seen as a determining factor.
  • Summer results. The House of Commons Library Service published a summary report on this summer’s exams and university applications as well as looking at how things have been panning out in this area generally since the start of the pandemic two years ago.
  • School meals. Leading education organisations wrote to ministers urging them to extend free school meals, particularly to all families on benefit, given the current cost-of-living crisis.
  • Early years. The government set out further details on its recovery package of training and support for early years provision, built around five features including language development, mentoring, special needs support and professional development.
  • Industrial action. Paul Whiteman, general-secretary of the NAHT, confirmed that following a national consultation of school leaders across England and Wales, the union would now move to a formal ballot for strike action.
  • Teachers strikes. The NEU announced it was balloting its members for possible strike action, potentially from next January.
  • National Tutoring Programme. The NFER reported on its commissioned evaluation of the first year of the National Tutoring Programme where two ‘pillars,’ one on tuition support and one on mentoring, were offered especially to pupils most in need, finding some evidence of improved scores in English and maths in the former but less evidence of positive impact from the latter, pointing generally to the need for greater clarity around design and approach in future. 
  • Progress 8 .FFT Education Datalab reported on its research into the merits or otherwise of Progress 8 as a performance measure, suggesting that it had helped shift the previous focus on borderline candidates to a wider group of pupils often with lower prior attainment. 
  • Violence towards TAs. Researchers at Roehampton University reported on disturbing levels of verbal abuse and violence towards teaching assistants (TAs) and support staff among some schools in parts of the UK with many of those interviewed experiencing this at regular intervals, calling as a result for stronger support and clearer back-up procedures.


  • Skills Coalition. The AoC, AELP and City and Guilds announced they had joined forces to create a ‘Future Skills Coalition,’ that would campaign on and promote the importance of technical and vocational education and seek to see it as a fully funded priority for the country.
  • L2 and below qualifications. The government issued its response to the March 2022 consultation on post-16 qualifications at level 2 and below, confirming that it will proceed with the main proposals which will see a number of qualifications defunded although it will now fund vocational taster courses at Entry 1 and 2, allow for more flexibility for employment qualifications at L2 and move the first teaching of reformed qualifications to 2025 rather than 2024.
  • Returns to L2 and below qualifications. The AELP examined the importance of L2 and below qualifications in a new report suggesting they provide valuable returns to both learners and employers and arguing that the government’s current L2 reforms may well leave some learners poorly served as a result.
  • Evidence call. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation published its response to the Public Accounts Committee Inquiry into the future workforce, proposing among other things incentivising private investment through a Tax Credit Scheme, redesigning the apprenticeship levy, and supporting 55+ yr olds back into work.
  • Recruiting professionals. Ian Pretty, chief executive of the Collab Group, urged HR professionals to look more closely at FE colleges when seeking to recruit staff with higher-level skills, arguing that this is where many of these in-demand skills are nurtured and developed.
  • Improving skills. Rob Halfon, Chair of the Education Committee outlined in a comment piece on comservativehome four ways in which skill levels could be improved despite the current economic difficulties, listing introducing a Skills Tax Credit, reforming the apprenticeship levy, building on the apprenticeship programme and focusing on careers guidance. 
  • LSIPs. The government clarified the roles and responsibilities of employer bodies in developing, implementing and reviewing Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs,) pointing in particular to the importance of prioritising local needs and aligning them with skill requirements. 
  • The Future of Learning. The Federation of Awarding Bodies published a commissioned report looking into the future of learning and assessment in a digital age and calling for a framework for digital innovation as the new technology enabled generations increasingly drive developments.
  • Good for ME, Good for FE. The Association of Colleges (AoC) announced as part of Colleges’ Week that it was formally partnering with the ‘Good for ME, Good for FE’ national campaign which helps drive and support local community action and which has so far raised over £2m in good works.


  • Blended learning. The Office for Students (OfS) published its commissioned report into blended learning, finding a mixed bag of good and poor practice and highlighting in particular the importance of quality feedback and being clear about the purpose of such provision. 
  • International students. Universities UK highlighted the vital economic and social contribution that international students make to the UK, following concerns that the government is considering limiting their numbers.
  • R/D. The Russell Group called on the government to prioritise science, and research and development as it prepares to publish its medium-term fiscal plan, calling in particular for simpler bureaucracy when it comes to funding along with targeted support for spinouts and start-ups and innovation hubs focused around research-intensive universities.
  • TNE.The British Council published its commissioned report into transnational education (TNE,) highlighting many of the positives both to partners, such as strengthening international capacity and talent pools, as well as to the UK, such as research, global reputation and revenue diversification. 
  • Building belonging. Wonkhe and Pearson reported on their work on helping students develop a sense of belonging particularly given recent challenges, highlighting some of the barriers to this, such as poor mental health, and pointing to four foundations (connections, inclusion, support and autonomy) that can help build a feeling of belonging.
  • Work and wellbeing. The Institute of Student Employers reported on research being undertaken by HESA and others into the correlation between the nature of work and worker wellbeing, with the latest evidence suggesting a strong relationship between the two especially among Gen Z employees.
  • Unethical divestment. Cardiff Metropolitan University announced that it would not invest in companies that profited from border violence, acknowledging what it described as ‘the unique injustices faced by migrating people,’ making it the first UK university to adopt the student-led Divest Borders campaign.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “The Government are currently finding out what it has been like to run a school budget for the last few years” | @secretHT1
  • “Hi all, There was, yet another, error in this week’s Academy Newsletter. Mr Johnson is starting an Acoustic Guitar Club, not an Autistic Guitar Club. Apologies. He assures us that everyone is welcome” | @NewbieSlt
  • “Went to see a psychic and he was in a bad mood, then I saw a clairvoyant who was rather grumpy... I’m just trying to find a happy medium?” | @DadJokeMan

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “That means decisions of eye-watering difficulty” – the Chancellor spells out the implications of the financial challenges ahead. 
  • “Policy makers need steady hand as storm clouds gather over the global economy” – the IMF puts things in perspective.
  • “We’re proud of elite football teams, why are we not proud of elite universities?” – some thoughts from the outgoing V.C at Oxford to the Times Higher. 
  • “The review panel found a relatively high degree of variation in approaches to blended learning across providers and subject areas” – the OfS reports on its review into blended learning.
  • “We still expect 27% of total qualifications to no longer fit in the future landscape for young people, and 24% for adults.” – the government considers the impact of its reforms to L2 and below qualifications. 
  • “Schools are already financially stretched to the bone. They have made all the easy savings. All that is left are very hard decisions with big consequences” – the NAHT responds to the Chancellor’s financial statement.
  • “Clearly defining who the programme is designed for is important” – the NFER reports on the first year of the National Tutoring Programme.
  • “Our members are reluctant to strike – they want to be in school teaching children – but they have been undervalued for too long” – the NEU draws up plans for possible strike action.
  • “We will not be able to investigate individual level trends until the autumn school census has been collected in January 2023. I would be happy to write to the Committee with the latest figures at that time” – the Children’s Commissioner writes to the Education Committee about trends in school absences.

Important numbers

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

  • 10.1%, The UK inflation figure for September, the highest rate for forty years driven largely by food prices according to the ONS.
  • 6%. The likely fall in the value of benefits next April as a result of below inflation increases this April, according to the IfS. 
  • £24,000. The amount that the average worker has lost in real earnings since the 2008 economic crash, according to the TUC.
  • 8m+. The number of Americans who have signed up to Joe Biden’s student debt relief scheme following its launch last week, according to The Independent.
  • 1,241. The number of students who enrolled on a T level in 2020 with ‘approximately’ 5,451 in 2021, according to an Answer in Parliament.
  • 3.84. The disadvantage gap at KS4 in England, the highest for ten years according to latest government figures.
  • 46%. The number of respondents opposed to scrapping GCSEs in England, with 19% strongly opposed and 18% who think we should, according to Teacher Tapp.
  • 53%. The number of teaching assistants questioned who had experienced physical violence in the previous year, according to research from Roehampton University.
  • 30%+. The number of parents with young children struggling to get the professional support they need, according to a report from UNICEF.
  • 4m. The number of children who have experienced food insecurity recently, according to the latest (Sept) survey from the Food Foundation.
  • 40%. The number of people who hold on to their old mobile phones when they buy a new one, according to Deloitte’s Digital Consumer Trends Survey.
  • 60%. The number of respondents who said they’d be cutting back on Christmas this year, according to a survey from the BBC.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Education Questions to ministers (Monday 24 October).
  • Education Committee evidence session on Careers Guidance (Tuesday 25 October).
  • UCAS undergraduate applicant statistics as of the October deadline (Thursday 27 October).
  • Next UK PM announced (Friday 28 October). 

Other stories

  • Working from home. More this week on working from home and in particular whether there should be any monitoring of those who work this way. It’s a fraught topic. The TUC among others have expressed concern about the dangers of such practices while talk of ‘Big Brother’ is never far away. New research this week from CIPD/HiBob suggests that around 40% of those surveyed don’t think it’s acceptable to monitor remote workers. As to what was considered acceptable, this tended to be influenced ’by an individual’s management level, a company’s percentage of hybrid workers, and whether similar monitoring practices already exist in an organisations.’ Least acceptable measures included “recording screenshots and randomly recording activities.” A link to the research 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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