Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 24 July 2020

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 week:

MPs headed off for their summer break on Wednesday, but not before firing off another round of reports and announcements.

The biggest of these is the future Spending Review, which the Chancellor announced this week. The Spending Review constitutes the third tranche of the government’s economic recovery plan and will arguably be the most difficult of all. Spending Reviews spell out how much money public spending departments like education can expect for the next few years and already words like ‘tough’ and ‘tight’ are appearing. We already know that there’ll be a lot on levelling up, but it’s good to see an early marker down on prioritising jobs and skills and also references to science and technology – along with the familiar promise of ‘a superb education for every young person’.  

Still on the money, the latest pay settlements for public sector workers, including teachers, were announced this week and the second down payment on the promised increased funding settlement for schools was confirmed. On pay, the government has followed much of the advice from the Pay Review Board, itself a useful read, but two points stand out. First, that long-standing teachers will get below the average figure – Geoff Barton called it ‘a bit of a kick in the teeth’ for them – and second, schools will have to find the money out of existing budgets. The TES has a good summary of the issues here

On the funding settlement – which comes as the government continues its glacial move towards the promised full National Funding Formula for schools – the second instalment (£2.6bn in this case) from the settlement promised in the heady days of last September, was announced this week. In announcing it to MPs, Nick Gibb made much of the fact that it was bringing certainty to school funding at a difficult time. Professional associations argued that it’s all spread a bit thin, but the added bonus this year is the addition of £1bn catch-up funding to help support pupils who have fallen behind during the lockdown. This does now at least include a chunk for 16-19-year-olds who had been left out of the original calculations. 

And before we leave government pronouncements, two other quick items. First, higher education watchers would have noted perhaps a slightly more accommodating tone: ‘you have risen to the challenge’, when the Universities Minister gave the concluding address to the Festival of Higher Education this week, although no great change to the current direction of government policy was signalled. Social mobility and flexible provision were once again the twin horns, but there was no specific reference to pricing policy.  

And second, the Skills Minister issued her to-do list for the coming year to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, a body likely to have an important role in helping develop the skills qualifications needed to cope with economic recovery. Unsurprisingly, T levels, higher-tech qualifications and L3 and below qualifications all feature prominently on the list of priorities for 2020/21 as well as support for the new Skills and Productivity Board.  

Finally, three other notable stories to round off the week.

First Ofqual reported on where we are now with exam grades following its latest annual Symposium on awarding arrangements for this summer. It has obviously been, and remains, a hugely difficult time for all involved, with schools and colleges having to submit centre-assessed grades and rank order, and Ofqual applying a standardisation model. A lot of work has been done on the model and Ofqual will be providing more information on it later, but for the moment, in Ofqual’s words, while: ‘A substantial number of students will receive at least one grade that has been adjusted as a result of the standardisation process,’ again to quote: ‘Overall, students’ results will be no worse and indeed slightly better.’ The ‘slightly better’ refers to an expected 1% increase at GCSE results on last year and a 2% increase at A’ level. We will obviously be hearing a lot more on all this in the run-up to results days next month and Ofqual has provided a fact sheet for those who want to know more. As the National Association of Head Teachers said: ‘whilst not a perfect solution, this the fairest and most pragmatic alternative to sitting exams.’

Second, the Independent Commission on the College of the Future which has spent much of the last year gathering evidence and holding discussions as it crafts a future ‘bold and radical’ forward strategy for UK colleges. This week it launched a new vision for colleges, backed up by a collection of essays from leading players. The vision is built around ‘the three Ps’ of people, productivity and place, each essential cornerstones of college activity. The Commission will publish its final report on a future model for Colleges during what is already a crowded autumn. Lined up so far, and occupying a similar space, are a new FE White Paper; a government response to the earlier Augar report; a Spending Review; a Local Recovery White Paper; a National Infrastructure Strategy; and a new Digital Strategy. But at least we now have a potential vision for Colleges.  

And third, the Social Mobility Commission reported on movers and stayers (in other words young people – and it tends to be young, more advantaged people) who move out of their community and head typically to London and the South East for opportunities and progression. According to the report, movers tend to end up earning 33% more than stayers, although stayers often reap the benefits of community living and wellbeing. The report recommends, among other things, that universities and colleges work together to ensure local opportunities and progression for young people; a further reminder of the growing importance of those civic bonds now driving much of education planning. 

The top headlines from the week:

  • ‘Colleges to receive £96m for coronavirus catch-up.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Ofqual lowers ‘optimistic GCSE grades’ at most schools.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Homeschooling: most British children struggling.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Where you can afford to move decides your job chances.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘Coronavirus: Lost school time will hurt the economy for 65 years.’ (Friday)


  • Pay packets. The government confirmed pay rises for public sector workers this year ranging from an average 3.1% for school teachers to 2% for civil servants. 
  • Launch of the Spending Review. The Chancellor launched the Comprehensive Spending Review which will be formally published in the autumn and will set departmental budgets for the next 2/3 years, constituting the vital third phase of the government’s economic recovery plan.
  • Living Standards Audit. The Resolution Foundation published its latest audit of household incomes where many households already struggling appear to have been hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis and where 6m+ households now face a potential 4.5% cut to income. 
  • Movers v stayers. The Social Mobility Commission published a new report looking into those who move from their home areas for jobs and promotion and those who stay, indicating that those who move tend to be young and advantaged who move to London and the South East where they enjoy financial returns and opportunities often denied those that stay.
  • Fake news. The Digital, Culture Media and Sport Committee published the results of its inquiry into online misinformation during the pandemic, raising concerns that dangerous hoaxes and conspiracy theories had been allowed to proliferate, calling for a stronger duty of care on tech companies and for the appointment of an Online Harms Regulator.
  • Half-cock. The British Chambers of Commerce and job site Indeed published their Coronavirus Impact Tracker for the period up to early July, showing businesses on average operating at half their pre-Covid-19 capacity, with weak customer demand and fear of possible future lockdowns the big drags on performance.
  • Manufacturing worries. Make UK, the Manufacturers organisation, published its latest Monitoring Report showing that although 99% of manufacturers are back trading, half expect to make redundancies in the coming months, calling as a result for the government to extend its furlough scheme for the next six months.
  • Jobs market. The recruiter CV Library provided an interesting picture of the jobs market in its latest quarterly survey, listing the cities with the biggest drop in job adverts (Aberdeen, Bristol, Leeds,) the industries with the biggest fall in job adverts (catering, admin, sales,) and the most competitive industries for jobs currently (agriculture, design, sales).
  • Struggling for work. The BBC reported on the increase in the numbers of young people (18-24) on Universal Credit and struggling to find work pointing to 50 constituencies particularly in the North, where up to 18% of young people are having to rely on benefits.
  • Annual Report and Accounts. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) became the latest education body to publish its Annual Report and Accounts for the year to March 2020 highlighting performance achieved, risks managed and funding delivered over the last year and listing four objectives for the coming year including supportive funding and skills reform.

More specifically ...


  • Exam grades. Ofqual reported on its recent annual Summer Symposium for awarding exam grades, indicating that although many students may have to have at least one adjusted grade following standardisation this year, overall results are likely to be slightly up on last year.
  • Opening schools. The Royal Society examined the balance of risks around opening schools in a detailed report suggesting that the physical and mental consequences for children being out of school let alone loss of long-term earning potential could be devastating, outlining a number of steps to help government keep schools open. 
  • Teachers’ salaries. The government announced a 5.5% increase in starting salary for new starters from this September with 2.75% for existing teachers, as a further step towards a promised starting salary for new teachers of £30,000 by 2022.
  • Teachers’ pay. The School Teachers’ Review Body published its report into teachers’ pay commissioned last year indicating that recruitment and starting salaries remain low andproposing looking at upper pay structures next time.
  • School Funding. The government confirmed school funding levels for 2020/21 incorporating a further Increase as part of its original three-year settlement and with additional one-off support funding for catch-up provision.
  • Catch-up funding. The government published details about how its catch-up funding scheme is expected to operate with per pupil funding to be paid on a termly basis to help pupils catch-up and with the National Tutoring Programme to kick in from the second half of the autumn term. 
  • Mentoring support. Teach First announced that it was developing an Academic Monitoring Programme to provide trained mentors to work with schools as part of the National Tutoring Programme.
  • NFF progress. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) reported on the progress being made by local authorities to align school funding with the National Funding Formula (NFF) where 99 of the 151 English authorities are now virtually in line with the Formula. 
  • Financial transparency. The government confirmed some changes on financial transparency for schools following consultation last year with a number of measures used for academy trusts such as publishing the numbers of high earners and data on recovery plans now to be applied to maintained schools.
  • SEND response. The government issued its response to the Education Committee’s Inquiry into Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) acknowledging some of the concerns raised about investment and collaboration but pointing to its ongoing review and a promised a further value-for-money study. 
  • Special Free Schools. The government announced approval for a further batch of Free Schools to cater for children with special needs and disabilities (SEND) taking the current total of such schools to 128. 
  • Academies Annual Report. The government published the 2018/19 Annual Report and Accounts for Academies showing that over half of all pupils are now educated in an Academy setting, the percentage of KS4 pupils achieving benchmark GCSE English and Maths is at 66%, similar to maintained schools, and financial issues still remain prominent.
  • Exams 2020/21. Ofqual followed up its Annual Report by publishing its list of objectives and desired outcomes for the coming academic year for its budget of £23.1m, with the focus largely on ensuring a fair and efficient set of exam results for 2020/21.
  • Future of Teaching. The Chartered College of Teaching launched a year-long dialogue on the impact of the coronavirus crisis on teaching and what the profession might need to do to change, focusing on five areas in particular including online learning and professional learning.
  • What do teachers think? The Chartered College reported on its survey of teachers’ views on distance learning and school reopening plans with teachers indicating they were coping with online learning but in need of more support, and raising concerns about some of the guidelines on school reopening.
  • Child welfare. The Nuffield funded Child Inequalities Project published its Final Report pointing to the enormous scale of inequalities in child welfare often with lasting effects on children, calling as a result for a major rethink on the UK’s child social care policy.
  • Who’s at risk of exclusion? The not-for-profit organisation Social Finance examined the issue of school exclusions in a local case study, finding girls more likely to face informal exclusions which often don’t appear on statistics and vulnerable groups more at risk of exclusions generally, calling as a result for clearer definitions on exclusions and the use of data.


  • Catch-up funding. The government confirmed, that contrary to previous announcements, catch-up funding would be available in the coming year in the form of a one-off, ring-fenced grant of up to £96m for disadvantaged 16-19 year olds who had fallen behind.
  • Marching orders. The government issued the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) with its strategic guidance for the coming year with an emphasis on ensuring effective skills and training responses, including the provision of T levels, L3 and below, and higher-tech qualifications, to help meet the skill levels needed to support economic recovery.
  • The College of the Future. The independent Commission developing a future vision and model for colleges and due to report later this year, published a collection of essays from leading figures stressing the importance of colleges to local communities and their vital role within the learning and skills system. 
  • Apprenticeship recommendations. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships listed 16 recommendations in its Annual Report including further calls for greater flexibility on the levy and free travel for apprentices as well as ensuring a coherent response following the coronavirus crisis.
  • Local Industrial Strategies. The Industrial Strategy Council reported on the policymaking processes behind Local Industrial Strategies identifying through case studies both challenges and good practice, noting the importance of strong collaboration and clear data and stressing the need for clearer expectations and sustained investment. 
  • Building employability skills. The government published a commissioned research report looking into how much time young people (pre- and post-16) spend building up their employability skills with much depending on course structures and local availability.
  • T level numbers. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) reported on its recent webinar on the impact of the coronavirus crisis on T level recruitment this year indicating that while providers remained optimistic, industry placements, competing qualifications and brand awareness were among concerns likely to affect student numbers.


  • Minister’s address. The Universities Minister focused on social mobility and innovation in an address to round off the Higher Education Festival calling on universities to work with schools to improve the former and to seize opportunities to adopt more modular provision as part of the latter.
  • 7 steps to recovery. Shadow Universities Minister Emma Hardy launched a new campaign to safeguard UK universities and students listing seven recovery ‘tests’ including not allowing a university to go bust, providing support for current and graduating students, and enhancing research. 
  • Degree Algorithms. Leading university bodies outlined a set of common guiding principles to be used when determining undergraduate degree outcomes and avoid grade inflation including regular review of standards, differential awareness and clear national reference points.
  • Forward strategy. The QAA set out a new 3-pronged corporate strategy as the sector responds to a post-COVID-19 world, built around enhancing quality and standards, providing expert advice, and supporting UK global reputation.
  • Horizon Europe. The Russell Group put forward a number of proposals for helping secure UK participation in future Horizon Europe major programmes of research. 
  • Unconditional offers. The Office for Students published updated data on the impact of unconditional offers on acceptances and staying on rates indicating that the practice continues to suggest that such students remain less likely to continue studying for a second year.
  • Over reliant on overseas. The centre-right group ‘Onward’ looked into the growth of overseas students in UK universities arguing that numbers have soared since the mid-1990s, raising concerns about the impact on the domestic market and an over reliance of such income, notably from China, and calling among other things for a cap on the proportion of income generated from a single country’
  • Ranking university engagement. A group of leading global universities including Kings College London reported on their work to develop an engagement index for universities incorporating indicators such as community engagement, student access and social impact that could be included in global league tables in future’
  • The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) published a new authored report on issues around decolonisation for higher education, based on testimony evidence and making a number of recommendations including developing departmental structures to work specifically on this area’
  • Pricing mechanisms. The Times Higher took soundings on reported moves by the government to consider different pricing mechanisms for different courses leaving many people alarmed at the prospect. 
  • Intervention plans. The Times Higher considered the government’s recent Reconstructuring Regime proposals sensing that these now reflected the direction of government HE policy leaving many raising concerns about the impact on future university autonomy.
  • Aiming Higher. UCL’s Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO) examined data to try and understand what drives some young people in England to apply to ‘top’ universities more than others, finding that it was largely a gender matter with boys planning to apply in larger numbers than girls.
  • Foreign investment. The FT reported on a survey from Creator Fund, a student-led venture capital organisation, which showed that over half of student start-ups coming out from British universities had at least one overseas founder with Chinese students prominent.

 Stand-out tweets

Memorable tweets and posts this week:

  • “65% of the British public are feeling anxious about a return to work” |@Telegraph
  • “The pay gap between school teachers and FE lecturers is set to rise to over £9,000 per year, @tesfenews analysis finds” | @tesfenews
  • “Teachers asking their class to print out work from the online lesson so it can be stuck into books when they return to school” | @_kevinmcl
  • “Overheard my Year 3 check-in online with his teacher. The class is doing measurement. She asks, "What can't you measure with a ruler?" The answers come back rapidly: "liquid", "speed", and then, "How much someone loves you." Teacher struggles to go on, her voice faltering” | @Twitchathon
  • “My teachers made me learn parrot fashion. And yet NOT ONCE in my adult life have I EVER needed to dress a parrot” | @govindajeggy
  • “Waving goodbye: a thing I now find myself doing at the end of virtual meetings that I never did in person” | @annatreth

Stand-out quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “We are astonished by the government’s failure to consider in advance how it might deal with the economic impacts of a pandemic” – the Public Accounts Committee expresses its feelings as it reports on government pandemic planning.
  • “The double whammy has become a triple whammy” – the Resolution Foundation reports on living standards in light of the coronavirus crisis.
  • “I'm just getting no response. It makes me feel kind of hopeless at the moment” – young people report on the soul-destroying process of applying for jobs at the moment.
  • “For some FE will support their goals more or an apprenticeship will catapult their ambitions whilst for others HE will be transformative” – the Universities Minister sees higher ed as one of a number of options for young people. 
  • “Any institution with an ounce of political ‘nous’ will be assessing itself against the priorities laid out here” – Sir David Bell, V.C. at Sunderland University reflects on the government’s recent reconstructing regime proposals.
  • “The only impact the amount of debt has is whether you clear it or not within the 30 years before it is wiped” – Moneysavingexpert Martin Lewis calls for greater clarity on student loan debt from the Student Loans Company.
  • “A welcome step” – the Association of Colleges welcomes the government’s eventual acknowledgement of the need for catch-up funding for 16-19-year-olds.
  • “The Government will, later this year, put forward its proposals to move to a ‘hard’ NFF in future” – Schools Minister Nick Gibb confirms plans to progress the transition to the National Funding Formula (NFF) for schools.
  • “We can see merit in moving towards a pay structure with higher starting pay and a somewhat flatter pay progression profile” – The Teachers’ Pay Body makes the case for reform of teacher’s pay.
  • “National results this summer may be slightly higher than last year’s, approaching an increase of 1% GCSE and around 2% for A level” – Ofqual reports on the standardisation process for this summer’s exams.
  • “If a student misses a third of a school year, and each school year brings roughly a 10% return, earnings potential is likely to be permanently lower by around 3% a year” – the Royal Society calculates the potential loss of earnings from loss of school time.

Stand-out numbers

The important numbers of the week:

  • £35.5bn – The estimated public sector borrowing figure for the month of June, the third-highest in any month since records began, according to the latest official figures. 
  • £50m – How much the Welsh government is providing for its universities and colleges to help with student support, teaching and research, according to the Education Minister for Wales.
  • £1.4bn – The amount of income from Chinese students that went into Russell Group universities last year, according to a report from the Onward group.
  • £56.7bn – How much money the ESFA allocated to education and skills providers for delivery over the last year, according to the Agency’s latest Annual Report.
  • £5150 and £4000 – Minimum per-pupil funding levels for secondary and primary pupils respectively from 2021, according to latest government figures.
  • 37 – The number of special (needs) Free Schools recently approved, according to an update by the government.
  • 71% – How many teachers on average were satisfied with their jobs according to the latest (Winter 2019) School Snapshot Survey.
  • 5 hours – How long lessons will last at a secondary school in Leicestershire with each subject being taught for a whole day at a time to limit pupil movement, according to a report in The Times. 
  • £24m and 19m – How much more was spent on tea and coffee and on biscuits in the four weeks to July 12 compared to this time last year as home working continued to kick in, according to latest retail figures.
  • 9% – How much of the UK is still without good mobile coverage, according to the latest Annual Report from Ofcom.

Everything else you need to know ...

Other stories

  • The realities of homeschooling. The stories around homeschooling in Britain are legion, from the inspirational to the downright despairing. Now, as part of its lifestyle survey of life under the lockdown, the Office for National Statistics has added some details for April and May. According to the evidence collected, over half of households reckoned at least one school-age child during this time was struggling with learning, with motivation, presumably lack of, being a key factor. Nor was it just the children who were struggling, 34% of women said it negatively affected their wellbeing. And yes, women seemed to have borne the brunt. These and other details can be found in the ONS report here 
  • Spending habits during lockdown. A fascinating picture of spending habits during lockdown can be seen in a new survey out from Barclaycard. Apparently each of us spent £771.34 during this period often in a search for something to raise the spirits. Men spent more than women, with takeaway food and drink the most popular item followed by a summer wardrobe and stuff for the garden. A World War 11 mask, a Christmas Tree and a Mr Bean cardboard cut-out were among the more bizarre purchases recorded. A link to the survey can be found here

That's it for this week. Watch this space and/or check-in with my Twitter stream @stevebesley to make sure you don't miss out on the next issue of Education Eye.

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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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