Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 04 June 2021

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:

‘Is that it?’

Reactions to the government’s latest education recovery plan this week have not been favourable. ‘It’s a damp squib,’ said the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), ‘depressingly, but predictably, lacking in ambition’ was the view from Geoff Barton at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), ‘a stunningly inadequate package,’ in the words of the Chair of the Education Policy Institute, David Laws, and ‘I do not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size.’ This last from the government’s appointed Education Recovery Commissioner, who duly tendered his resignation. Expectations may have been raised but the daily reality remains for many.

In response, as the Education Secretary put it, it’s part of a longer-term package, it adds further to existing money, and more should be forthcoming as part of the Spending Review later this year.  

But, and it’s a big but, if as appears the Treasury has baulked once at coughing up a lot more money without clearer evidence of what works – and by most reckoning the £1.4bn promised under this latest announcement works out at only about £50 a pupil – what are the chances that it’ll be more generous later? Interestingly, as Public First point out this week in their survey for the Centre for Policy Studies, most parents were ‘unaware of how much the government has already committed to tutoring.’ It suggested the DfE needs to ramp up its communication strategy a bit.  

A failure to recognise the amount of investment needed for extensive catch-up is one of the main criticisms of this latest education recovery plan, but the other is a lack of ambition – it’s a phrase that crops up, for instance, in both union comments mentioned, as well as the Recovery Commissioner’s resignation letter. Most of the £1.4bn will go on what the government calls ‘a radically expanded tuition’ programme, partly managed by a new agency from this September. Half of the rest of the money, £253m, will go on professional development for teachers, and the rest will go on supporting practitioners in the early stages of their careers, on Year 13 students, typically 17/18-year-olds who may need to repeat a year, and on extending the 16-19 tutoring programme with a focus on English and maths. 

Whether this all amounts to ‘an ambitious, long-term education recovery plan’ as the government has promised, remains to be seen. It will argue that it’s putting funding into summer schools which may include some extra-curricular activities and of course it’s examining the case for extending the school day, potentially by about half-an-hour, and will present that evidence at the Spending Review. 

So, a long-term plan may be taking shape, and it may be delivering on its 3 Ts of tutoring, teacher quality, and time, but where’s the ambition around closing attainment gaps; where’s the excitement around enrichment activities, ‘the rich range of activities that define a great education’ as the departing Sir Kevan Collins described them; what about the burgeoning issue of mental health; and where, as the Public Accounts Committee put it recently, is the long-term sense of purpose from the DfE? These are the questions many are asking. 

Elsewhere, it’s been half-term week for many, and MPs have been off on the Whitsun break, so news has been a bit sparse, but here’s a quick run through some of the other stories that have been making the education news this week.

The Education Secretary has raised the issue of exam classes finishing the term early and Ofsted is said to be raising eyebrows too. The government launched its latest incentive scheme, announced in the Budget, for employers to take on apprentices.  London Economics did some modelling for LSE and Sheffield University on the costs of reimbursing students this year for some of their tuition fees in light of the pandemic, with student voices calling for a 30% discount. A useful blog on the HE Policy Institute website went through all of the Augar Report recommendations on post-18 provision and mapped out what progress was/was not being made in each case. At least half of the 53 recommendations it seems have been acted on in some form. And The Guardian ran an interesting – if at times bleak – piece on how Europe’s Gen Z viewed their future. ‘At least we won’t have to wait until mid-life to have a crisis,’ as one contributor put it, spotting a silver lining.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Students in England call for 30% Covid discount on tuition fees.’ (Monday)
  • ‘School day to be extended in England, leaked catch-up plan suggests.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Covid catch-up plan for England pupils ‘pitiful’ compared with other countries.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Schools should not send exam-year pupils home early, says Ofsted head. (Thursday)
  • ‘UK hiring hits fastest rate in 23 years as services boost growth hopes.’ (Friday)


  • Economic recovery. Union, youth and civil group leaders wrote to the PM calling on the government to support ‘decent jobs at the heart of economic recovery’ in discussions with world leaders at next week’s G7 conference.
  • Economic Outlook. The OECD published its latest update on world economies showing an improving scenario since its last set of forecasts in December 2020, with economic growth both globally as well as for the UK higher, driven largely by vaccination programmes but with concerns about uneven patterns of recovery.
  • Global labour market. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) highlighted the continuing impact of Covid on the global labour market in its latest report, suggesting that although things will pick up in the second half of this year, global unemployment is expected to reach 205m in 2022 with Latin America, Central Asia and parts of Europe suffering most and young people particularly vulnerable.
  • Flexi working. The British Chambers of Commerce reported on its recent survey among employers on flexi working, finding two-thirds offering remote working albeit varying by employer type, and nearly three-quarters expecting to have a number of employees working remotely over the next year. 
  • Good work. The RSA and Autodesk Foundation reported on their research into future ‘good work,’ pointing to three broad themes emerging out of latest innovation: lifelong learning, economic security, and worker voice, highlighting global developments in each case. 
  • ‘Right to disconnect.’ The Prospect trade union highlighted the fact that working from home had meant that many workers were constantly on call, proposing as a result a ‘right to disconnect’ or not take calls or deal with messages outside set times. 

More specifically ...


  • Recovery plan. The government published the latest details of its education recovery plan, promising a further £1.4bn to help with school tutoring, teacher development, the 16-19 tuition fund and the option of a repeat year for some Yr 13 students, but leaving many underwhelmed about the lack of funding and ambition involved.
  • EPI response to recovery plan. The Education Policy Institute gave its response to the government’s education recovery plans, giving it a thumbs down for a lack of confirmed funding, pointing instead to its own recent costed proposals of a 3-year £13.5bn package.
  • More research on lost learning. The Centre for Policy Studies published new polling conducted by Public First before the recent government announcement, suggesting that over two-thirds of parents in England were concerned about the impact of the lockdown on their children, especially learning loss in core subjects, and were supportive of such measures as tutoring and extending the school term.
  • Mental health support. The government set out its programme to help schools and colleges develop their approach to mental health and wellbeing with £1,000+ grants available from Sept for a senior member of staff to undertake a 2-day training programme to help them establish institutional teams and support in the future.
  • Covid testing costs. The government confirmed that funding for eligible providers to cover the costs of additional Covid testing requirements, would be paid by the end of August 2021.
  • School closures effect. Researchers funded by the Nuffield Foundation examined the impact of school closures last year on the mental health of parents, finding a detrimental effect on mothers in families with a number of children between the ages of 4 and 12 and where there was little prospect of a return to school but less effect on fathers. 


  • Recovery plan. The government published the latest details of its education recovery plan, promising a further £1.4bn to help with school tutoring, teacher development, the 16-19 tuition fund and the option of a repeat year for some Yr 13 students, but leaving many underwhelmed about the lack of funding and ambition involved.
  • Apprenticeship incentivisation. The government launched its updated (from 1 April 2021) apprenticeship incentive scheme with employers able to claim £3000 for each new apprentice taken on between 1 April 2021 and 30 Sept 2021.
  • 16-19 Tuition Fund. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) confirmed that the funding used to support 16–19-year-olds in English and maths could, where necessary, be carried over for a further year but no further. 
  • London calling. The Learning and Work Institute with Trust for London reported on job quality in London suggesting nearly half are dissatisfied with their salary level, many (40%+) low-income workers don’t have secure contracts and over a third are stressed, setting out a clear agenda for progress towards more ‘good work’ needed from the London Mayor.


  • Payback time. London Economics reported on its modelling, commissioned by the LSE and Sheffield University, for any tuition fee refunds this year for students affected by the pandemic, which based on a 30% notional fee rebate could amount to £1.39bn with a range of £2000+ -£5,000+ per student depending on interest rates, repayment methods and student types. 
  • Graduate opportunities. The Office for Students presented experimental data showing how far labour market differences experienced by graduates varied across the country, suggesting the importance of geographical context. 
  • Equality in HE. The House of Commons Library Service published a new briefing on equality in higher ed in England looking into why and which groups for instance are more likely to go into higher ed and what impact government policy and agencies have in this area.
  • Augar update.Rich Pickford, Knowledge Exchange Officer at Nottingham Trent University, published on the HE Policy Institute website a useful progress report on the Augar Report, suggesting that just over half (27) of the 53 recommendations had been acted on in some form so far and providing a grid mapping out the state of play in each case.
  • UCU Annual Congress. Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) highlighted the work the union had been doing over the year to safeguard employees and protect jobs, in an online address to its annual congress.
  • President’s address. Alice Gast, President of Imperial College, outlined four major challenges facing universities as she gave the President’s Annual Address listing the need for diversity, the impact of technology, using space differently, and collaborating in research, and setting out a programme of challenges for the university to overcome in each case.

Stand-out tweets

Memorable tweets and posts this week:

  • “An average sized primary school will get an extra £10k or so once the stealth pupil premium cut is taken into account. It would take an unreasonable level of optimism to think that will solve any problems” | @Samfr
  • “The longer school day thing won't happen. It is logistically and contractually too difficult unless you completely change the way kids choose schools and get to school and also hire a load more staff and pay them more. You don't get more toothpaste by squeezing the tube harder” | @SchoolDuggery
  • “Speaking to a taxi driver who was saying his daughter finished secondary school on Fri, and as there was no debs, pubs shut, the school turned a blind eye to them all turning up later on with bags of cans and just relaxing in the school for the evening. Well done that school” | @MichaelMDowling
  • “75% of thank you cards given to English teachers: "I couldn't of passed english without you" | @JamesTheo
  • “My student Chapel Assistant has just texted to inform me of a candle spillage in Chapel, which he describes as ‘a waxident’” | @revhannaha

Stand-out quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “The package will not just go a long way to boost children’s learning in the wake of the disruption caused by the pandemic but also help bring back down the attainment gap that we’ve been working to eradicate” – the Education Secretary on the government’s latest education recovery plans.
  • “Maybe this is being a Yorkshireman, but I always thought £1.4 billion was a pretty hefty amount” – the Education Secretary responds to criticisms that the £1.4bn promised as part of the latest recovery plan is small beer.
  • “Rarely has so much been promised and so little delivered” – the joint secretary of the NEU reacts to the latest recovery plan funding.
  • “They seem to want some calming continuity, not the thunder flashes of big ideas and extra initiatives” – BBC Education Correspondent Sean Coughlan talks to sixth formers about what they want from education recovery plans.
  • “So, we expect employers to have to face an increasing shortage of workers and particularly those with digital skills as migration slows down and the boost to the economy from increasing numbers of older workers ends and is possibly reversed”– the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) on future labour market prospects.
  • “It does look as though they are spatchcocking a good idea – lifelong learning – onto a Tory obsession – loans – and doing it through lifting a system [the loans system] designed for another purpose” – the Times Higher reports concerns about the costs of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement.
  • “The best and brightest students will not accept an education fashioned around dull lectures in a crowded auditorium” – the President of Imperial College reflects on one of the lessons learned from the pandemic.
  • “We will want to know how schools are using the remainder of the summer term for these year groups” – the Chief Inspector raises the issue of exam classes finishing the term early.
  • “We will be publishing the headline results of the survey shortly, alongside our interim Childhood Commission report, but for now I wanted to just say thank you” – the Children’s Commissioner thanks contributors to the Big Ask survey.

Stand-out numbers

The important numbers of the week:

  • 7.2%. The growth prediction for the UK economy this year, according to the OECD, up from its 5.1% forecast in March. 
  • 3.4m. The number of people currently relying on the furlough scheme, the lowest number so far this year according to the Treasury.
  • 250,683. The number of study visas granted up to March 2021 for foreign students to study in the UK, an improving trend though not for EU students, according to the Times Higher.
  • £1.4bn. How much the government is offering as part of its latest education recovery plan, well short of the £15bn suggested was needed by the Recovery Commissioner earlier this year.
  • 6,546. The predicted drop in the number of children in London starting primary school this autumn, according to the FT as concerns emerge about a national decline in the number of primary-age pupils in England.
  • 150. How many days most people have had to work this year before they actually start earning, according to the Adam Smith Institute.
  • 5,000. The number of job vacancies being advertised by Domino’s Pizza chain.
  • 3.2m. How many households in the UK acquired a pet during lockdown with 16-35 year-olds mainly responsible, according to figures from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for:

  • AELP National Conference online. (Monday 7 June- Thursday 10 June)
  • Wonkhe’s WonkFest. (Wed 9 June – Thursday 10 June)
  • Gatsby host online discussion on T levels in the public sector. (Thursday 10 June)
  • UK hosts G7 world leaders (Friday 11 June -Sunday 13 June)

Other stories

  • School report. Last week The Times formally launched its Commission into education, promising to examine the state of education in England and come up with recommendations for the future. To kickstart its work, it called on YouGov to carry out research among parents to gather their views. This week it published the full results of that survey, showing that 35% of parents think the school system is worse than it was ten years ago although over half acknowledged that there’s much greater pressure on children these days – and no doubt on teachers and parents as well. Perhaps the standout message from the survey was how many people think children aren’t being prepared well for work (58%) or for adult life (63%). But on a more reassuring note, 70% of parents reckon their children are receiving a good standard of education. A link to the survey data 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. And if you'd also like to receive a copy straight to your inbox on publication, leave your details here. If there's enough interest in an email version, we'll get it organised.

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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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