Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 18 November 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:
Now we know.
After weeks of speculation, the Chancellor this week set out the details of the government’s economic plans in an Autumn Statement. It followed the release a few days earlier of the latest UK unemployment and inflation figures.
There’s a lot to take in in terms of economic context, but what does it all mean for education?
Five observations to follow, but first a quick run through the top education-related headlines of the week.
- Autumn Statement. The Autumn Statement has been the big topic of the week. In a 50-minute Statement the Chancellor focused on three priorities – stability, growth, public services – and doled out money to schools, but the overall picture presented by the Office for Budget Responsibility looked grim. Paul Johnson of the IfS called it all "a sombre affair”.
- Economic pointers. There’s been a lot of important economic data to take in this week. Apart from all the Autumn Statement papers, the ONS published both the latest inflation figure and latest labour market picture. Neither made for gentle reading. ‘The cost-of- living crisis is getting worse by the day,’ the TUC noted. The Resolution Foundation’s latest Intergenerational Audit has an excellent assessment of how different age groups and generations are being affected.
- Education Committee Chair. Robin Walker MP was selected from the four candidates listed to be Chair of the House of Commons Education Committee after it went to a ballot. It’s an important Committee at an important time. In his pitch, Mr Walker claimed to be able ‘to hit the ground running’ and to carry on much of the important work of his predecessor, for example on skills and school attendance, as well as on childcare and cost pressures. His pitch is here.
- School stresses. FFT Education Datalab had an interesting blog this week about why schools can be stressful places to work in for many teachers. They cited two factors that can help: supportive, or rather more open and sensitive school leadership. And workload – not just the amount but how much it gets in the way of what teachers do best.
- Reading matters.1 in 7 state primary schools in the UK don’t have a designated library space where children can relax and read according to the Primary School Library Alliance. Their survey, published this week, revealed that it’s worse in some of the poorer parts of the country with the pandemic particularly hitting many school library services.
- In conference. Colleges have been in Conference this week at the annual AoC Conference. It’s always an important gathering of the FE clans and comes as the sector gears up to help deliver on the vital skills needs of the country. Both the Education Secretary and her Labour counterpart were among an array of speakers.
- Another Commission. A new Commission was launched in education this week. Chaired by the former Universities Minister Chris Skidmore, it aims to pull together a new ('more granular and sustainable') international education strategy as the UK seeks to retain its leading role in such provision.
Links to these and other stories below as usual.
But back to the Autumn Statement. There’s been no shortage of coverage of this over the last 24 hours, but by way of summary, here are five points from an education perspective.
First, what’s been the overall verdict from education? Two reactions stand out.
One – it could have been worse. Geoff Barton, for instance, of ASCL suggested the government ‘had listened’ about the need for more funding for schools although as he acknowledged ‘the devil tends to be in the detail’.
But two – and on the flip side, great chunks of the system seem to have been ignored. Early years, special needs, 16-18 year-old provision, adult learning, and university students’ cost-of-living, to name five. As David Hughes, the chief executive of the colleges sector highlighted, ‘colleges have been overlooked again’. The NUS, which put out a student survey this week may feel much the same, as might early years providers.
Second, and on schools specifically – “thank you for your brilliant work, we need it to continue” as the Chancellor put it – the government pledged an extra £2.3bn for each of the next two years, taking the core budget from £53.8bn currently to £58.8bn by 2024/5. Here too this leaves two issues.
First, it soaks up most of the extra money promised for the department, leaving little fat for other things. And second, in among the small print on public spending, is the fact that deptartments will have to make efficiencies to deal with inflation. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) suggest continuing high inflation will mean cuts of 5% for the public sector. As the headteachers body put it, ‘the money is welcome, but doesn’t mean schools are off the hook’.
Third, and on to FE, it’s a case of no extra money, but two more reviews.
One to be led by Sir Michael Barber on skills. The issue here is why aren’t we doing as well as competitor countries in raising the skill levels of our young people? The brief reads as though Sir Michael is being asked to bring together the current range of activities – T levels, skills boot camps, the Lifelong Learning Entitlement – rather than come up with anything new.
And, the other, to be led by Mel Stride MP, the Work and Pensions Secretary, to tackle the issue of economic inactivity, getting more people back into work. The issue was highlighted in this week’s labour market report and is already the subject of a Commission from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES).
But, overall, the sector appears to have been overlooked (again) and none of the four priorities listed recently – and including increasing funding rates to cover inflation and helping with the cost-of-living – has been addressed. As AoC chief executive David Hughes concluded: “we urgently need a long-term strategy to help colleges stay financially viable”.
Fourth, higher education, where universities were relieved that the Chancellor reaffirmed the commitment to increase the R/D budget to £20m by 2024. It’s what the Russell Group had called for this week and was, they said, 'a clear signal of intent'.
Two other announcements, and one non-announcement, stand out for HE. The non-announcement, as indicated above, was the failure to recognise the cost-of-living pressures on students. Universities UK had called for the reinstatement of maintenance grants, among other things, recently.
The two actual announcements were, first, the grouping of investment zones around universities – ‘building clusters for new growth industries’ – and second, the setting up of another review, this time under Sir Patrick Vallance, to look at using regulatory freedoms to support such growth industries as life sciences, advanced manufacturing and green industries,
And, the fifth and final observation is what now? Where does this all leave education, how does it plough on? Three pointers perhaps:
First, energy and inflation look likely to create continued pressures right across education. The government is appointing an Energy Efficient Taskforce and is limiting the costs to households, but many education providers remain concerned about energy price rises beyond next April. Equally inflation, which the Chancellor forecast will be ‘9.1% this year and 7.4% next year’. The Chancellor talked a lot about balance in his Statement, and for many managing education institutions, it will be a very difficult balancing act in the coming months. ‘Heating on or off’ as one headteacher tweeted this week.
Second, two reviews around skills and employment, and no upfront money, suggests that the government is unclear how to proceed in this area. Most Education Secretaries, this year and previously, claim to be great supporters of raising the profile and levels of skills, but leave us instead with a patchwork of initiatives. Sir Michael may well be able to bring a sense of vision and purpose to skills implementation, but may need a hammer as well as a ladder to achieve this.
And third, briefly, for many in education, the biggest challenge remains uncertainty. With spending cuts targeted for after April 2025, ‘back-loaded' as the IfS put it, and projections on inflation, unemployment and so on remaining just that, what and how to plan become increasingly difficult.
The top headlines of the week
- ‘Tory MPs call on Jeremy Hunt to spare schools from spending cuts’ (Monday).
- ‘Pandemic still affecting students’ mental health, says helpline’ (Tuesday).
- ‘Teacher pay rises must not drive inflation, Keegan warns review body’ (Wednesday).
- ‘Autmn Statement: £2.3bn extra for schools’ (Thursday).
- ‘Universities step in to cover student bills with one-off payments’ (Friday).
- Autumn Statement. The Treasury published the range of documents to accompany the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement which saw additional money go into the NHS and schools but recognise that we were already in a recession and likely to remain so for at least a year.
- Economic Outlook. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) published its economic and fiscal outlook accompanying the Autumn Statement, highlighting the shocks and risks that the UK economy was facing and pointing notably to the huge rise in borrowing costs and increase in tax burden as a result.
- IfS reaction. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) set out its initial reaction to the Autumn Statement pointing to the worries around borrowing, the tightening of household budgets and the challenges around public finances.
- 5-point action plan. Rishi Sunak outlined a 5-point economic action plan in a speech to G20 leaders at their Summit in Indonesia, calling for targeting support where it’s most needed such as Ukraine, tackling the weaponizing of food systems, strengthening energy security, opening up global trade and supporting sustainable development.
- Going for Growth. The CBI reinforced its call to transform the apprenticeship levy, flex the immigration system and extend targeted visas as part of a range of cost-free measures, published ahead of the Autumn Statement, that could help promote growth.
- Labour market overview. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest sets of figures on the UK labour market for the period July – September showing little change to the employment rate but a further increase in economic inactivity and a growing wage gap between the private and public sector.
- Labour market analysis. The Institute for Employment Studies published its regular analysis of the latest labour market figures arguing that although the figures looked pretty similar to those of the previous month, three concerns were evident including the rise in economic inactivity, the growing gap between public and private sector pay, and the employment gap facing disabled and older people.
- Labour market. The HR professionals body, CIPD, published its latest quarterly Labour Market Outlook reporting that while pay awards are expected to be among the highest in recent years it won’t feel it because of inflation, while the jobs boom has ‘yet to reach its peak’ with many employers are still struggling to fill vacancies.
- Cost-of-living. The Resolution Foundation examined the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on different age groups as part of its annual Intergenerational Audit, suggesting that while all age groups may struggle, younger people with fewer assets and less to fall back on are likely to suffer the most when it comes to housing, wages, job security and price rises.
- Ethnic inequalities. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) reported on ethnic inequalities as part of its major Inequalities Review noting that when it came to education, great strides had been made in closing the gap at GCSE but it was often a different picture when it came to employment where opportunity and wage gaps remained.
More specifically ...
- Teachers’ pay. The Education Secretary called on the Pay Review Body ‘to strike a careful balance’ over pay increases, value for money, affordability, and economic conditions, as she invited them to consider the pay award for teachers next year along with views on career reform.
- Language teaching. The government announced a new push on language teaching as it pledged a small pot of money (£14.9m over 3 years) for the creation of a Centre of Excellence to major on the teaching of German with support from a string of Language Hubs.
- Ofsted inspections. Parentkind, the parent/teacher body, published a set of responses from Ofsted following its recent Q/A with them covering a range of questions on such matters as how schools should prepare for an inspection and what Ofsted looks for in provision for more able pupils, that hadn’t been answered because of a lack of time.
- Library space. The Primary School Library Alliance highlighted the lack of library space in primary schools in England with schools in the N.E. and N.W. the worst off, as it published a report on its work since its launch last year.
- Workplace stress. FFT Education Datalab reported on some of its current work on teacher wellbeing, looking in particular here at how far schools can become less stressful places with workload and supportive leadership emerging as key factors.
- Fair education. The Fair Education Alliance published its Report Card for 2022 showing progress stalling around its impact goals of closing disadvantage gaps, calling as a result for better funded and joined up services for young people and an education system focused on poverty, place and power.
- Early years. Ofsted published a report into its recent research into early years provision, covering the pre-school years of 0 – 4, looking into the different settings and expectations from this stage and concluding with a list of features of high-quality provision such as the importance of play and open learning activities.
- SEND reform. The Children’s Commissioner set out her proposals for a transformed SEND system in England based around three principles of getting timely support, getting support that matches a young person’s ambitions and ensuring a quality experience overall with a funding system that supports this.
- TAs. The Chartered College announced the launch of a new Associate Membership for Teaching Assistants (TAs) offering support and professional development and what they called ‘a professional home’ for them.
- Workforce management. The Education Policy Institute launched a consultation and published a new report on workforce management as part of its series looking into what makes for an effective school grouping, focusing here on potential new metrics, such as annual and cumulative, for teacher turnover.
- Out of school activities. The Onward think tank highlighted the differences in out of school activities offered to better-off compared to poorer pupils, proposing four things to help close the gap including creating an enrichment premium to help with the costs and building in time (2 hours a week) in the school week to allow for such activities.
- Youth violence. The Youth Endowment Fund, a charity working with the Home office to prevent children being drawn into violence, published a new report showing how much it was affecting young people’s lives with 39% reporting they’d been directly affected by it over the last year and 14% missing school out of fear.
- Governors. The National Governance Association (NGA) published its Annual Report highlighting its work over the year in supporting and championing those involved in school and trust governance, pointing in particular to its GOLDline advice service, its e-learning and professional development services.
- Future strategy. The Association of Colleges (AoC) published a commissioned report into how the college system should operate in the future, building on previous work to propose a more collaborative tertiary model with a clear mandate, simplified mechanics and a focus on ‘serving society, the economy and individuals.’
- Ballot result. The NEU reported that staff who work in sixth form colleges in England have rejected the latest pay offer of a broad 5% plus with 8% plus for those on pay points 1 and 2, voting instead for strike action.
- ESOL. Ofqual reported on its research into ESOL Skills for Life qualifications finding many valuing the qualifications but with mixed views about the multiplicity of purpose and assessment quality in some cases, calling for greater clarity on their range, purpose and approach.
Apprenticeships. Apprenticeship providers, employers and others were invited to offer their thoughts on what training they might need under the next phase of the Apprenticeship Workforce Development (AWP) which will be delivered by the Education and Training Foundation in conjunction with leading FE bodies.
- Sales and marketing. The Institute for Apprenticeships launched a major review into future skills training requirements and standards for the sales, marketing and procurement sector.
- New minister’s speech. Rob Halfon made his first speech as HE minister when he addressed the Times Higher Ed Conference, setting out what he saw as the three core purposes of 21stc universities (skills, jobs, and social justice) laced with familiar references to degree apprenticeships, employability and value for money.
- International HE. Former Universities Minister Chris Skidmore launched a new International HE Commission which he will Chair and which will work across the sector to help develop a new ‘International Education Strategy Mark 2’ to be presented to the government as an attractive vision for the future.
- Consultation response. The Russell Group published its response to the Office for Students (OfS) consultation on regulating access and opportunity in HE which closed last week, acknowledging the importance of the issues, pointing to the work they’re already doing but calling for a proportionate and strategic approach for the long-term.
- Cost-of-living. The NUS published the results of its latest student survey on the impact of the cost-of-living with many worried about household costs such as rent, heating and food, and most finding that loans, bursaries and, where possible, family support were failing to cover rising costs.
- Employability events. The Institute of Student Employers reported on some recent research from Gradcore about what students were looking for from employability and careers events where participation has been down recently, finding that most wanted in-person events and a chance to meet an employers and get some tips about interviews and opportunities generally.
PolicyWISE. The OU announced it was to lead a new public policy initiative known as PolicyWISE with a brief to look at key policy challenges across the four nations of the UK post-devolution and post-Brexit.
- Hardship payments. Manchester University became the latest university to offer one-off cost-of-living payments to its registered students amounting to £170 for full time students and £85 for those who are part time.
Tweets and posts of note:
- “The best thing you can say to a child is that you’re proud of them. Watch their face when you say it and they know you mean it. Every child loves it, every child. We should say it more often” | @secretHT1
- “If I say I've done a supply day today, not been to that school before, Year 6, class TA covering elsewhere, wet play break and lunch, what gif would you say would match how I'm feeling this evening?” | @nourishworkplce
- “Are you even a parent of a teen if you’ve not had to make a morning dash to the supermarket for food tech ingredients they’ve told you they need on the day?” | @angeladunn6
- “I hate people putting 'urgent' on memos and emails. If there's one thing that will guarantee that I will not be replying to your email, it is that” | @PhilBeadle
- “The audacity of my husband not understanding exactly what I’m talking about when I start my sentence halfway through a thought” | @oneawkwardmom
- “I've just finished my degree in sandwich fillings… I do my final eggs ham tomorrow” | @DadJokeMan
A selection of quotes that merit attention:
- “We will face into the storm” – the Chancellor attempts to rally spirits in his Autumn Statement.
- “The medium-term fiscal outlook has materially worsened since our March forecast due to a weaker economy, higher interest rates, and higher inflation” – the OBR sets the UK economy in context.
- “There are now more than a million fewer people either in work or looking for work than would have been the case had the pre-pandemic trend continued” – the IES reflects on the latest labour market figures.
- “As well as showing the difference in how this crisis will hit different age groups and generations, this report shows the importance intergenerational relationships will play in managing this crisis” – the Resolution Foundation publishes its latest Intergenerational Audit.
- “At the same time, with other countries outpacing the U.K. with more attractive post study work VISAs, we need to wake up to the fact that international students are part of the solution, and not the problem, for future U.K. success” – Former Universities Minister Chris Skidmore launches a new International HE Commission.
- “My daughter thinks the staffroom is a better place from having a mixture of genders in it” – MPs debate the lack of male teachers in primary schools with one MP adding a personal contribution.
- “Look - I like old stone and dreaming spires as much as the next Tolkienist attending the Oxonmoot at St Anne’s College, as I try to do each year” – universities minister Rob Halfon on not getting obsessed by Oxbridge.
- “We all need to speak more German” – schools minister Nick Gibb.
- “I’m really looking forward to working with her as we develop our new strategy” – The Chair of the Education and Training Foundation on the appointment of Katerina Kolyva as its new chief executive.
- “In the current economic context, it is particularly important that you have regard to the Government’s inflation target when forming recommendations” – the Education Secretary outlines the remit for this year’s pay review board.
- “The arguments put forward in this afternoon’s debate clearly showed there is simply no case to change ratios” – the Early Years Alliance responds to the MPs’ debate about relaxing ratios for two-year olds.
- “Let me be crystal clear. If people do not return to the office when they are able to return to the office, they cannot remain at the company. End of story” – Elon Musk lays down the line on remote working in a Q/A with Twitter employees.
Not-to-be-missed numbers of the week:
- 7.4%. The forecast inflation rate for next year, according to the Chancellor.
- 11.1%. The CPI inflation rate for October, the highest for 41 years according to the latest ONS figures.
- 2.5m. The number of people unable to work because of long-term illness, according to the latest labour market figures from the ONS.
- 4.4%. The gap between private and public sector pay July – September 2022, the largest recorded gap according to the ONS.
- £10.42. The hourly rate for those on the National Living Wage from next April, up by 9.7% according to the Chancellor.
- 6.3%. The capped loan interest rates for undergrad and postgrad loans from Sept 2022, as confirmed by the government.
- £2.3bn. The increase in the core schools budget for each of the next two years, according to the Chancellor.
- 37.5%. The percentage of school children in England provided with a free school meal, according to a response in Parliament from the Schools Minister.
- 82,170. The number of looked after children, including care leavers, those adopted and others, in England this year, up 2% on the previous year according to latest government figures.
- 18%. The percentage of primary schools in the North East of England without a dedicated library space, according to the Primary School Library Alliance.
- £1000. The amount of money lost on average per person last year over the festive shopping period due to online fraud, according to the Cyber Security and Fraud Intelligence bodies.
Everything else you need to know ...
What to look out for next week:
- CBI Annual Conference (Monday 21 – Tuesday 22 November).
- Education Committee witness session with the Ofsted Chief Inspector (Tuesday 22 November).
- Release of the 2022 multiplication tables check results (Thursday 24 November).
- Res Publica’s Lifelong Learning Commission in conversation with Sir Philip Augar (Thursday 24 November).
- University strike action set to begin (Thursday 24 November to Friday 25 November).
- How much? Last week, the Child Poverty Action Group published the latest in its annual assessment of how much it costs to raise a child in the UK. The costings draw on “minimum family income requirements based on the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) research” and have been used as a methodology for ten years. There’s lots of caveats about family size, income, single parent or not and so on with the rise in childcare costs an increasing factor. But (gulp) the final figure they reckon is: “over £150,000 for a couple and over £200,000 for a lone parent” As they say, ‘that’s a daunting prospect for many people.’ A link to the report is here.
- Facts and figures. The latest set of stats on education and training in the UK is a useful resource for those interested in education. It has datasets on schools, FE and HE including pupil-teacher ratios, qualification measures and, importantly at the moment, money going into the system. To quote: “Primary and secondary education saw an increase in spend of 4.2% and 8.0% respectively, while tertiary education saw a 3.9% decrease in spend.” Other headlines figures for 2022 include 563,831 (the number of f/t equivalent teachers,) 2,873,973 (number of HE students) and 47 (% of people with a L4 or above qualification.) A link to it all is here.
- World population. There’s been considerable interest this week in the latest milestone reached in terms of global population. According to the United Nations, Tuesday was the day when the world population tipped 8bn for the first time. Not that it’s growing as fast as it used to. Apparently it’s growing at 67m people a year but that’s half the annual growth rate of the late 1960’s when it was at its peak. It’s predicted to continue growing this century but according to the Worldometer website ‘at a much slower rate compared to the recent past.’ It’s not expected to reach 10bn for instance until 2058. A link to all the facts and figures on global population on the Worldometer site can be found here.
If you find my policy updates useful, please consider donating something, however small, to help support its publication. EdCentral is a not-for-profit social enterprise and relies on donations to continue its work.
You can sign up here to receive access to Education Eye straight from your inbox on publication.
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.