Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 11 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:

MPs, schools and colleges returned this week after the Whitsun break to face what looks like a difficult second half of term with some important issues to confront.

These include: the continued fallout from last week’s education plans; the build-up to this summer’s exams with the deadline for the submission of teacher-assessed grades looming; an important report from Ofsted on sexual harassment in schools and colleges; and growing debate about university student financing. 

All are listed below, but here’s a bit of detail behind the first two of those stories, along with some of the other education news this week.

Gavin Williamson did his best to defend the latest education recovery plan proposals in a Q/A session in the House of Commons on Monday, but it was not an easy ride and Opposition MPs were particularly critical about what one MP called ‘a woeful lack of funding.’ The Education Secretary stuck with his defence that “there is going to be more (money) coming down the track.” Not everyone was convinced, and a further Opposition Day debate on the matter a couple of days later was given added edge by a briefing from the Education Policy Institute that morning pointing out that what was on offer funding-wise next year was not much more than what was provided for the one month of last year’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme. Subsequent headlines wrote themselves.

Former adviser, Sam Freedman, has rightly pointed out that without a clear sense of vision from the DfE about how it sees learning recovery as part of a coherent education plan, the government’s piecemeal ambitions will be easily rebuffed by the Treasury. There has been some support for the government’s line from other commentators. Ryan Bourne from the Cato Institute argued for instance in the ConservativeHome pages that ‘We should be looking to isolate where remediation actually has benefits, as opposed to just trying to “make up for” the past year. 

Perhaps the most useful perspective came in a Times article by Paul Johnson, director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS.) He acknowledged that the exercise had been poorly handled, but suggested four reasons as to why the Treasury was not, at this stage at least, prepared to play ball. These were: that the money was likely to become a regular demand rather than a one-off; that there was a range of other competing demands; that it might have been foolhardy to commit vast sums ahead of a wider spending review; and that, well, it’s the Treasury’s job to question costs and value for money and perhaps they weren’t convinced yet. As he concluded: "Perhaps more spending in education should be treated like capital spending, as an investment". 

Next, many schools and colleges have been busy ensuring their teacher assessed grades (TAGs) for this summer’s exams are submitted by next Friday, 18 June. Provisional results have already been dished out in some schools in Wales, but the official release date of formal results here is August 10th for A’ levels and 12th for GCSEs. 

The process has been proving stressful, not least, as The Guardian reported this week, for teachers – many of whom feel they’re in the firing line and the TES has a disturbing survey out this week about teacher pressure. Commentaries continue to come in highlighting potential pitfalls. This week for instance, UCL’s Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities raised the issue of what it called ‘the graduate parent’ advantage in teacher-assessed grades, while Dennis Sherwood continued his series of challenging articles on the whole process with another blog on the HEPI website. 

Among the many concerns is a potential surge of appeals this year and this week the Joint Council for Qualifications published guidance on the processes to be used this year involving a mix of centre and awarding body reviews. The hope is that by being open and transparent about the procedures, schools may be able to minimise the number of appeals, but it remains another worry for schools to consider. Inevitably considerable nervousness remains.

Over in Westminster this week, the Professional Qualifications Bill reached the Committee stage of the House of Lords. The Education Committee took evidence on Prison Education, and the Youth Employment Committee continued its inquiry into youth unemployment, hearing from regional and local government, including Mayors and LEPs about some of the issues. 

In other education news this week, private training providers and much of HE have been in conference at the AELP National Conference and WonkFest respectively. Ofsted published the latest in its series of subject reports, looking on this occasion at foreign language provision. ’Languages are in a pressured, yet pivotal, position,’ it concluded before looking at ways to help the subject flourish. 

Among the reports out this week, TechUK and CITB banged the drum for digital and construction skills respectively. The Education and Training Foundation and WorkSkills UK both published impact reports and the Office for Students released its latest annual Report and Accounts covering what the CEO described as ‘an extraordinary and disruptive year.’ Strategic clarity, the changing environment and provider financial sustainability were among the risks listed for the year ahead by the Office for Students, for what may be another challenging year, with the Skills Bill and Augar Response still to come amid threatening noises from government. 

Elsewhere, recruiters have been expressing concerns that expectations about hybrid working options from potential job recruits may well drive a wedge between the more privileged who can work from home and those who can’t. ‘Flexibility is the big deal now,’ according to an article in the FT. And with Euro 2020 about to start, England manager Gareth Southgate’s letter to the country has been a must-read for many. “I understand that on this island, we have a desire to protect our values and traditions – as we should – but that shouldn’t come at the expense of introspection and progress.”

Finally, former Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has headed back to the school corridors, taking up the post of interim head of a comprehensive school in London. As he said, he’s been a teacher for over 40 years so you don’t lose it, it’s a bit like riding a bike. A number of teachers took to social media to offer him advice. ‘Be prepared to ‘eat al desko,’ as one put it.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Williamson: Too many schools restricting lunch hours.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Schools closed after hackers steal data.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘Recovery funding ‘little more’ than was spent on ‘Eat Out to Help Out.’ (Wed)
  • ‘Increasing England student loan repayments would save government £4bn a year.’ (Thursday
  • ‘GCSE 2021: Most teachers lose at least a week grading.’ (Friday)


  • Workers’ watchdog. The government announced the creation of a new body to oversee the rights of UK workers, which will act as a single port of call on matters like protecting agency workers, modern slavery, and enforcement of the minimum wage, as well as providing guidance and good practice under the Good Work plan.
  • Employment Support. The National Audit Office (NAO) reported on the work of the Dept for Work and Pensions (DWP) in responding to the pandemic and in providing employment support, some of which had to be set up at speed and at some cost, listing matters like matching support to demand, assessing impact and identifying longer-term priorities among the challenges that lie ahead. 
  • Low Pay Britain. The Resolution Foundation examined the impact of Covid-19 on low-paid workers many of whom have been badly hit by the pandemic facing health worries, lost hours and low pay, calling as a result for any ‘build back’ to help with better regulation and job security for such workers.
  • Job Quality. The CIPD published its latest Good Work Index showing that although issues about job quality, workloads, and work-life balance remain, the pandemic has so far only had a marginal impact although it varies by job.
  • Flexible Jobs. The flexible working consultancy, Timewise, also highlighted issues facing part-time employees in a new report indicating that the pandemic had left many of them ‘clinging on to work,’ calling as a result for greater protections and incentives for part-time employees and the embedding of fair, flexible work in employment policies. 
  • Post-Covid economy. The Social Market Foundation called, in a new briefing, for a pro-business/pro-enterprise approach to help ‘fire up’ the economy post-Covid, with an emphasis on innovation and investment, public service quality and skill levels. 
  • Small businesses. The British Chambers of Commerce and Funding Circle reported on their latest survey of small businesses showing increased levels of confidence with over 60% confident about their growth prospects over the next year although with worries about the impact of continuing restrictions.
  • A Youth Manifesto. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme in collaboration with young people put forward its own Covid Recovery Manifesto built around six themes including education, where it called for school ratings to include student wellbeing and university students to get compensation for this Covid disrupted year, as well as compulsory careers and financial planning and more work experience opportunities.
  • Dear England. England football boss, Gareth Southgate, wrote a powerful ‘letter to England’ ahead of the Euro championships that has been praised by many for setting out a positive, and at times personal, message about important values, principles and attitudes for society today.

More specifically ...


  • Sexual harassment. Ofsted published its rapid report on sexual harassment in schools and colleges following concerns raised earlier in the year, pointing to concerns that it had become ‘normalised’ and proposing a number of recommendations around training, reporting, guidance and institutional cultures.
  • Government response. The government responded to the Ofsted review into sexual harassment by promising to strengthen safeguarding procedures, look at the RSHE curriculum, encourage INSET training for teachers, implement the Online Safety Bill, and more immediately, host a roundtable with key partners. 
  • Education Recovery plans. The Education Secretary defended the government’s latest education recovery plans including the level of funding promised, in a Statement to the House, responding to 30, mainly critical, questions from MPs while claiming that the government remained committed to ‘helping children catch-up.’
  • Education recovery proposals.The Fair Education Alliance, a cross-sector group focusing on the needs of disadvantaged children in particular, called in an open letter for the government to commit to the £13.5bn level of funding proposed by other groups, along with better support for enrichment activities, careers guidance and bridging the digital divide.
  • Mask-up.The National Education Union (NEU) and other unions representing workers in schools called on the government to reintroduce the wearing of facemasks in schools and to publish data on the number of cases of the Delta variant in education settings, as concerns grew about its transmissibility among the young.
  • End of term reports. The government reminded schools that they do not have to include information about attendance and national curriculum assessments in pupil end-of-term reports for this year but should include details on how they’re tackling learning loss.
  • Teacher development. The government set out in explanatory form its various reforms to teacher development highlighting the support, training and development available in each case as its aims to create ‘a world-class’ system.
  • Teacher feedback.The Education Endowment Foundation published new guidance on teacher feedback, using review evidence to put forward six recommendations including the need to lay the foundations and design a school policy.
  • AT assessment. Ofqual reported on its current work around the use of Assistive Technology (AT) for assessment, indicating that its use is growing although there’s still a fair amount of development work and understanding needed which Ofqual will continue to pursue. 
  • Exam appeals. The Joint Council for Qualification published guidance confirming the arrangements for exam appeals this year where a procedural, admin or judgment error has been identified and the stages of request, review and outcome that should then follow.
  • Resulting in an advantage. UCL’s Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities raised the issue of pupils with graduate parents receiving higher exam grades, suggesting this could be as much as 15 percentage points higher than their peers, following research into last summer’s centre-assessed grades model, although acknowledging that the link remains unproven. 
  • Languages learning. Ofsted published the latest in its series of subject reviews, in this case looking at foreign languages where take-up has been a concern for a while, suggesting features such as overall commitment, structured progression and the importance of the ‘3 pillars’ of phonics, vocabulary and grammar, as factors in delivering a high-quality curriculum.
  • Primary voices. The Education and Employers charity published video interviews of a number of primary-age children recounting their reflections of the pandemic year and how they felt about things now.
  • Diving into digital. Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD, blogged about digital learning ahead of an international conference on the matter, highlighting the importance of the teaching profession being integral to the rollout of technology use in schools.
  • Reflective Fostering Study. The Anna Freud Centre announced the launch of a major 2-year study funded by the National Institute for Health Research, looking into how to improve the lives of foster carers and their children.
  • Environmental packs. The government launched its ‘Together for Our Planet’ resource packs for schools which provide ideas, guidance and materials for pupils to learn about and discuss environmental issues ahead of the UK hosting of the COP26 Climate Change Conference in November.
  • Time capsule. Oak Academy, the children’s mental health charity Place2Be and BAFTA Kids joined forces to launch a Schools Time Capsule with celebrities encouraging schoolchildren to submit reflections, written, visual or otherwise, on their experiences during the pandemic for the capsule which will close on 10 Sept and be opened up in 25 years’ time.


  • High Tech. The government announced a new £18m Growth Fund, funded from out of the National Skills Fund, to support the provision of higher-level technical qualifications, typically L4/5 qualifications in sectors of employer demand such as Construction, Digital and Health and Science with more short, modular courses in key occupations to come developed and delivered through Institutes of Technology and offered as well in FE and HE.
  • Let them Learn. The Association of Colleges (AoC) called on the government to extend the Lifetime Skills Guarantee to include all those who need access to learning and to reform some of the current rules around claiming credit which prevent claimants from taking up opportunities to learn.
  • Vocational Qualifications update. Ofqual reported on the number of certificates in vocational and other related qualifications awarded in Q1 of this year indicating a downward trend largely due to the pandemic and mainly at L2.
  • Digital Skills.TechUK published the outcomes from its taskforce of technology leaders that has been looking into the training and skills needed to develop digital jobs and businesses, coming up with seven recommendations including more flexible and speedier retraining, extending the Lifetime Skills Guarantee to include sector certification, creating a Digital Skills Tax Credit, and supporting a national awareness campaign.
  • Building Back. The CITB published new data for the construction industry from the Construction Skills Network pointing to the need to recruit an extra 217,000 new workers, with the sector bouncing back strongly. driven by major infrastructure and housing demands, 
  • Racing to Net Zero. The Campaign for Learning published a collection of authored articles looking into the role that the post-16 sector can play in helping reach net zero, citing the importance of gathering accurate data on the green economy and providing the skills to match.
  • Impact report. The Education and Training Foundation released its first annual Impact Report undertaken by SQW consultants and covering the 2019/20 financial year, showing high levels of participation and satisfaction across its workforce development programmes and with recommendations to develop programme rationales and evaluation to help measure precise impact.
  • WorldSkills returns. WorldSkills UK published a report from Frontier Economics indicating high levels of economic returns to its work, in the region of £2.40 - £4.50 per £1 invested based on 2018/19 data, coming largely from the upskilling effect of its training and experience in skills competitions as well as from the investment in the Centre of Excellence.


  • Tuition fees. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) published an important briefing on possible options for tackling student financing, using data modelled by London Economics to consider three scenarios: scrapping the real rate of interest, extending the repayment period to 35 years, and reducing the repayment threshold to £19,390, with the latter likely to provide the sort of savings that the government appears to be looking for. 
  • Annual Report. The Office for Students published its full Annual Report and Accounts for 2020/21 outlining the progress made by both the sector and the OfS over the last ‘extraordinary year’ against its five objectives as well as the work on regulation, quality, standards, admissions and free speech planned for the future and due to be set out in a new strategy early next year.
  • TEF arrangements. The Office for Students set out the arrangements for the Teaching and Excellence Framework (TEF) indicating that the current awards will be extended and applications for new provisional awards will shortly open while work goes on to develop the framework following the Pearce review. 
  • Harassment and sexual misconduct. The Office for Students called on providers to review and update their systems and procedures for dealing with harassment and sexual misconduct in line with the earlier published statement of expectations which the OfS intends to review during the coming academic year.
  • Graduate labour market. The government published latest (2020) data on the graduate labour market showing the employment rate for working-age graduates down slightly on 2019 at 86.4% but the median salary for working-age graduates up to £35,000. 
  • NSS data. The Office for Students (OfS) reported that this year’s National Student Survey (NSS) results, which will include student responses at a broad level about the impact of the pandemic, will be published on the OfS website on 15 July. 
  • Supporting those starting university. Universities UK published a collection of case studies highlighting ways in which universities including Cambridge, Sussex, Greenwich and others, were helping this year’s intake of students, many of whom have missed out on visits and other activities, with matters like study skills and university life.
  • Building back better for students. Meg Price, one of the Student Futures Commissioners and SU President at Worcester, set out in a blog on Wonkhe five areas needed to help things get back on track for students, including study skills, academic and assessment integrity, student professional development, wellbeing and student voice. 
  • Early Career Researchers. The British Academy announced it had joined forces with the Wolfson Foundation to run an Early Career Researchers pilot Network in the humanities and social sciences with the first network hubs due to be set up this autumn. 
  • Life as an Ex. Chris Skidmore reflected on life as an ex-minister and how he has been able to continue his passion of contributing to HE with four chairing roles including of the UPP Foundation, the HE Commission, the Lifelong Learning Commission and the All-Party Parliamentary Universities Group.
  • Essay mills. The Tab, a website that covers a lot of student issues, reported a growing number of private tutors being approached by students offering money for someone to write their assignment, suggesting it remains a continuing problem.

Stand-out tweets

Memorable tweets and posts this week:

  • “There's a good case for spending more on schools, an even stronger on for spending more on FE. But wanting to have a sensible debate on whether more spending should be financed from cuts elsewhere, or higher tax, or higher borrowing does not make you a deficit fetishist” | @nickmacpherson2
  • “Had a really nice and relaxing half term. What better way to top it off than with a stinking cold, a daughter with a slight temperature, a night with limited sleep, a Sunday morning PCR with a 4y/o, a son who woke up at 5am and TAG fun if I make it into school tomorrow?” | @adamboxer1
  • “University students with morning lectures tend to have lower grades” | @newscientist
  • “A deer ran into the sports hall interrupting Y10’s first mock exam today. A deer” | @elucymay
  • “Child A went off in obligatory 2 layers of boiling thick black nylon. IMHO not allowing a summer uniform in lighter fabrics is really mean” | @greenmiranda
  • “Designer creates a 'third eye' to stop people looking at their phones from walking into obstacles” by @ReutersTech” | @Reuters

Stand-out quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “We will work together to tackle the world’s biggest problems, reducing carbon emissions, fighting the loss of biodiversity and getting another 40 million girls into school by 2025” – the PM sets out some of the challenges ahead of the G7 world leaders meeting.
  • “Once the recovery is firmly established, we need to ensure the long-term sustainability of public finances to enable us to respond to future crises and address longer-term structural challenges, including for the benefit of future generations” -G7 Finance Ministers plan for the future.
  • “It’s the number one thing they ask as a requirement” – recruiters report job interview candidates prioritise hybrid working.
  • “I’m delighted that the regulator, having looked very carefully at the data, with typical rigour and independence, has come forward and said the jab is safe and effective for those who are over the age of 12” -the government considers the case for vaccinating teenagers.
  • “I have asked Executive colleagues to currently consider the advice and we have agreed an increase in face-to-face teaching and extra-curricular and student support activities, all to be resumed” – Northern Ireland starts a move to face-to-face teaching for university students.
  • “The coming year will, I hope, allow a return to some degree of normality” – the CEO of the Office for Students introduces its Annual Report and Accounts. 
  • “A school lunch hour has become increasingly restricted and is increasingly a school lunch half-hour as against an hour” – the Education Secretary claims lunch hours are getting shorter.
  • “It is concerning that for some children, incidents are so commonplace that they see no point in reporting them” -Ofsted reports on sexual harassment in schools and colleges.
  • “This has not been an easy decision for us” – the OUP announces the closing of its printing arm.
  • “We are anticipating we will need up to 20,000 additional drivers for the growth we need in the UK” – Uber picks up speed in the UK following the pandemic.
  • “Regardless of your upbringing and politics, what is clear is that we are an incredible nation — relative to our size and population — that has contributed so much to the arts, science and sport” – England football manager Gareth Southgate stirs the emotions ahead of Euro 2020.

Stand-out numbers

The important numbers of the week:

  • 2.3%. How much the economy grew in April, the fastest rate since last July according to latest government figures.
  • 6.8%. The forecast for growth in the UK economy this year, the strongest since official records began according to the British Chambers of Commerce.
  • £35,000. The median salary for (working-age) graduates in 2020, according to latest government figures.
  • £3.8bn. How much might be saved per cohort if the repayment threshold for student loans was reduced to pre-loan levels (£19,390,) according to research from the HEPI.
  • 110+. The number of Youth Hubs operating around the country according to the government, offering training, guidance and support for young people seeking employment and individual help.
  • 600,000. The number of vocational and related certificates awarded in the first quarter of this year, a downward trend largely due to the pandemic according to Ofqual.
  • £7M. The amount the government is making available for local authorities under its Wellbeing for Education Recovery Grant, according to latest details.
  • 3hours, 37 minutes. How much time on average UK adults spent online each day last year, the highest in Europe according to Ofcom.
  • £143m. How much Euro football 2020 is likely to bring in for the UK economy by way of drinks, snacks and tickets according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR.)

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for:

  • Second Reading of the Skills and post-16 Education Bill. (Tues 15 June)
  • Westminster Hall debate on ‘The Levelling Up Agenda.’ (Tues 15 June)
  • CIPD Festival of Work. (Tues 15 June – Thurs 17 June)
  • British Council ‘Going Global 2021’ virtual conference. (Tues 15 – Thurs 17 June)
  • Education Policy Institute webinar ‘Embedding digital learning beyond Covid.’ (Tues 15 June)
  • Annual Festival of Education. (Wed 16 June – 30 June)
  • The Tortoise Education Summit. (Thursday 17 June)
  • Deadline for submission of teacher assessed grades. (Friday 18 June)

Other stories

  • Time online. According to a new report from Ofcom, we Brits, UK adults to be precise, spent more time online during the pandemic last year than our compatriots in Europe. An hour a day longer than those in France and Germany for instance. Much of this was to do with a shift to online shopping but also to entertainment, social media, dating and adult sites. In all, UK adults spent £2.45bn on and in mobile apps last year with Tinder, Disney+, Youtube and Netflix the most popular and with TikTok emerging as a growing force largely among younger adults. The figures are in Ofcom’s Online Nation 2021 report, which contains a mass of details and data and can be found here.
  • Culture wars. From football fields to Oxford common rooms, it’s been another week of so-called culture wars. This week, Kings College and Ipsos Mori published the latest in a series of survey reports examining attitudes on the matter from the public. They found that generally, people are content to share views on sensitive subjects with colleagues and friends. Many think political correctness has gone too far and people can be too easily offended, although views vary by age and political belief. In terms of free speech and universities, while many recognise that students are, well students with different opinions, there’s no great support for no-platforming or denying students the opportunity to hear from different viewpoints. A link to the research can be found 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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