Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 22 October 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:

A subdued week in many ways following last week’s tragedy, but with continued build-up to the two big forthcoming events: the Budget and the Climate Conference. 

In Westminster, the government responded to the Education Committee’s June 2021 report on white working-class pupils. The Education Committee took evidence on Children’s Homes; MPs debated AI; the Lords continued the Report Stage of the Skills Bill; and the Women and Equalities Committee held a pre-appointment hearing with Katharine Birbalsingh, the government’s preferred candidate for the post of Chair of the Social Mobility Commission. 

Elsewhere, in an important report, the Education Policy Institute examined the long-term earnings impact of learning loss under the pandemic. Its modelling suggested a potential loss of lifetime earnings of between 1% to 3% (£8,000 - £23,000 in money terms) with those in disadvantaged areas hardest hit – and that’s without the wider individual, social, economic and productivity costs. 

The Resolution Foundation published its latest landmark Intergenerational Audit for the UK, its third in the series and reflecting factors such as jobs, skills, housing, taxes and wealth. Broadly, a mixed picture emerges with, for example, unemployment remaining below expectations for younger people – albeit fuelled by a rise in full-time study – but more challenging for older workers. In summary, as the report says, 'some pre-existing intergenerational wedges have been aggravated' – an increasingly unattainable housing ladder for young people for instance, and the spectre of rising living costs looms.

More immediately, the i newspaper reported schools having to cancel school assemblies in the wake of rising Covid infections as headteachers raised concerns about the impact of growing numbers of staff and students currently off. Some 209,000 students were off school for Covid related reasons in the latest mid-October data, up from 204,000 at the last count at the end of September. It left the Health Secretary confirming plans to boost vaccinations among teenagers over the forthcoming half term week. “To make the most of half term next week, we will now be opening up the national booking service to all 12 to 15-year-olds to have their Covid vaccinations in existing vaccination centres, which will offer families more flexibility.”

Colleges have been celebrating the latest annual ‘Love Our Colleges Week’ where the Association of Colleges (AoC) took the occasion to launch a new landmark Research Unit. Childcare provision and funding also hit many headlines this week with nursery providers marching on Downing Street and the Nuffield Foundation publishing a report saying that the system was in need of wholesale review. 

And the music industry pointed to a ‘catastrophic year’ but one in which music seems to have played an important part in helping people get through the ups and downs. According to the industry’s latest report 'over 5 million songs and compositions were registered in 2020 with PRS for Music, nearly one third more than in 2019'. Apparently ‘Blinding Lights’ by The Weekend was the most played song of the year.

But back to the two top stories of the week, the build-up to the Budget and the Climate Conference respectively.

Taking the Budget and Spending Review first, both of which will be announced next Wednesday (and where the Chancellor as ever has not been short of advice!).  This week’s batch has included the Education Policy institute; the Joseph Rowntree Foundation; the NUS; universities and colleges climate groups; nursery providers; and the music industry. Each has been making a special case (links below).

In addition, the Resolution Foundation followed up last week’s Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) assessment of the Chancellor’s options by adding their own take. Where the IfS saw the Chancellor facing a difficult balancing act, the Resolution Foundation pointed to continuing economic uncertainty. It even called its report ‘The Uncertainty Principle.’ Its view is that although latest data shows things improving, 'the economy is around 4 per cent larger than expected'... 'slowing consumer spending and supply bottlenecks have weakened the recovery' and inflation remains a potential heavy drag. A potential 2% fall in household incomes for instance. The argument is that the uncertainty should be factored in in two ways: going cautious now, but being prepared for more difficult decisions in the mid-term. 

On to the Climate Conference, which this week saw the government set the scene by publishing its ‘Build Back Greener: Net Zero Strategy.’ The Strategy builds on last year’s 10-point Strategy for a Green Industrial Revolution, setting out four principles and a wave of subsequent policies that it hopes will allow Britain to take a lead in heading to net zero by 2050 as painlessly as possible. As the Prime Minister put it: “we can build back greener, without so much as a hair shirt in sight.” The Strategy was accompanied by ‘a dry but important’ Heat and Buildings Strategy’ and an analysis paper by The Treasury. 

The Strategy has had a mixed reaction. According to The Guardian, experts point to ‘a lack of ambition and funds,’ others including the UN want to see a bit more detail and PwC called for ‘collaboration with a sense of urgency.’ 

As ever, a lot will come down to the money, and as the Treasury’s analysis puts it: 'Seeking to pass the costs onto future taxpayers through borrowing would deviate from the polluter pays principle, would not be consistent with intergenerational fairness nor fiscal sustainability, and could blunt incentives'.

Many issues around climate change are already widely discussed in education and next week, for example, MPs will discuss including some of them formally in the national curriculum. UK universities and colleges are also heavily involved in providing research and skills for a green economy. Both have thrown their weight behind the challenges and each has put out significant statements this week (see links below).

The Climate Change Conference is set to take place in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November. But first next week, it’s the Chancellor’s big moment. 

The top headlines of the week:

  • ’Further strikes threatened at universities this term’ (Monday).
  • ‘School assemblies cancelled across England as Covid cases rise and vaccines for 12-15 year-olds stalls’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Netflix Squid Game schools warning sent to parents’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Covid disruption could cost pupils in England up to £46,000, report’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Deprived schools getting less money after funding overhaul.’ (Friday).


  • Net Zero Strategy. The government launched a comprehensive ‘Build Back Greener’ report setting out a UK Strategy for Net Zero by 2050 by cutting back on fossil fuels, lowering emissions and phasing out gas boilers which the government hopes will see the UK emerge as a world leader, create thousands of jobs and be largely funded through business and private investment. 
  • Going green. The government suggested that some 30,000 jobs would be created in the UK thanks to nearly £10bn of foreign investment pledged at the Global Investment Summit in London, with potentially more to come following the launch of the new Investment Atlas platform.
  • Understanding AI commercialisation. The government announced new research into how AI R/D could be successfully brought to market with Oxford Insights and Cambridge Econometrics commissioned to lead the project.
  • Intergenerational Audit. The Resolution Foundation published its latest Intergenerational Audit for the UK for 2021 embracing factors like jobs, skills and pay, housing, tax and wealth and pointing to a varied picture with employment prospects improving for young people but not for older workers, house prices up but household wealth increasing, and a long-term worry about rising living costs.
  • Living with uncertainty. The Resolution Foundation published their take on the economic climate facing the Chancellor ahead of his Budget and Spending Review next week, suggesting that while the latest data indicates an improving picture, inflation remains a concern with economic uncertainty likely to remain for some time.
  • Addressing skills and labour shortages. The professional body, the CIPD, published a new report based on survey evidence and looking at how best to address the transition to ‘a high wage, high skills economy,’ suggesting the introduction of a temporary job mobility scheme for young EU nationals, the creation of a more flexible training levy, and support for business improvement consultancy.
  • Good Jobs Economy. The Institute for the Future of Work reinforced the principles behind the creation of a ‘Good Jobs Economy’ ahead of next week’s Budget, calling among other things for a Good Jobs Audit, a Good Work First pledge, and better incentives. 
  • Social mobility. The departing Social Mobility Commissioners published a farewell letter to the Prime Minister, pointing to the work undertaken so far including a revised framework for assessing social mobility but saying that a lot more needs to be done particularly in an area like educational recovery. 
  • Early childhood education and care. The Nuffield Foundation published a report on early education and childcare indicating that despite significant growth in recent years, the system and funding were confusing for parents, access was variable, and the workforce both underpaid and undervalued, calling for a major system rethink.
  • The year music suffered. UK Music published its annual report pointing to 2020 as being ‘a catastrophic year’ with falls in exports, activity and employment yet with music still being highly valued by the public at large and the industry itself being a major net contributor to the UK economy. 

More specifically ...


  • School Funding. Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee published its report into school funding suggesting that the DfE had not got a grip on a number of issues including SEND provision, starting salaries for new teachers and cross subsidies, calling in particular for a delay on implanting the new formula so that the mismatch of allocations to more deprived schools can be addressed.
  • Government response. The government responded to the Education Committee’s earlier report into white working-class pupils, acknowledging many of the issues raised and accepting many of the recommendations but pointing to the work already in progress such as the Early Career Framework for teachers that’s dealing with many of these issues.
  • Careers experience. The government published its commissioned report into how young people felt about their experiences of IAG (Information, advice and guidance,) using cohort evidence to suggest that students were ‘broadly’ satisfied yet equally noting most turned to friends and relatives and teachers when they were aged 18/19, before careers advisers.
  • Destination data. The government published destination stats for KS4 leavers in 2019/20, some of which was affected by the pandemic but pointing to things remaining pretty stable with 93.7% in education, apprenticeship or employment.
  • Learning loss. The Education Policy Institute indicated in a new report that the loss of learning by pupils during the pandemic could have significant long-term earnings implications with those from more disadvantaged areas that have missed out more potentially losing the most, calling for a strengthening of the national tutoring programme and a commitment from government for future recovery funding.
  • Teacher recruitment. Teacher Tapp and School Dash published a new report supported by Gatsby on how teaching trends were playing out during the pandemic, indicating little movement in the market with teachers tending to stay put and thereby bringing welcome stability in some areas but equally facing high levels of burnout.
  • Schooling during lockdown. The OECD reported on how schooling had gone for pupils and families during the first lockdown last year using evidence from a group of countries including the UK, indicating that pupils had typically missed 4-9 weeks of face-to-face teaching which had placed considerable pressures on many families but that children had remained often remarkably resilient.
  • What worked in online learning. The International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO) reported on its research into Covid triggered remote learning approaches, taking evidence from 38 countries and looking at what had worked well (assessment tools especially quizzes,) what less well (formative feedback in live lessons,) and what might be retained (live hybrid online lessons).
  • Get help with technology.The government announced extra help and support including extra laptops and devices for children with social workers and recent refugees ahead of next week’s Care Leavers’ Week.


  • Love Our Colleges. Colleges and supporters up and down the country hosted the latest annual Love Our Colleges Week showcasing the key role they play for both individuals and communities.
  • Bring back maintenance funding. The National Union of Students (NUS) urged the government to use Love Our Colleges Week to commit to a new funded support package for students, including maintenance allowances, putting forward a template that could be used to write to MPs accordingly. 
  • Research Unit. The AoC announced the launch of a new landmark Research Unit for FE that will fund, bring together and promote FE-centred research and which will kick off with a joint project between the AoC and NCFE sponsoring practitioners to research key areas where evidence is currently lacking.
  • Green College Commitment. College leaders published a Green College Commitment outlining ways in which the college sector could help the government deliver its net zero ambitions but calling as part of this for a national drive to make climate change an integral part of study programmes and an additional £1.5bn over three years to help transform college estates.
  • 16-19 Premium. The Sutton Trust published a new report with the Centre for Vocational Education Research (CEVR) highlighting the role colleges play in enhancing social mobility for young people with the different options they provide and calling on the government to extend the pupil premium to 16-19s. 
  • Apprenticeships Update. The government updated the guidance on permitted flexibilities made available for apprenticeship training and assessment during the pandemic, removing some such as the use of email confirmation of evidence of achievement where necessary, but providing for other permitted flexibilities where other Covid related disruptions occur.
  • Meeting the motor industry. The Prime Minister held a roundtable with representatives from the motor industry where they agreed to work together on phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, supporting battery technology and reskilling the workforce.
  • Evaluating Skills Bootcamps. The government published a commissioned report into the first wave of Skills Bootcamps finding broad support for them from users who valued their flexibility, alignment to need and employer involvement.
  • Skills survey. WorldSkills UK launched a call for evidence to help inform its Skills for Global Britain Taskforce with questions posed around five key themes including inward investment, responsiveness, and international attraction. 
  • Performance data. WorldSkills UK launched new tables of performance data culled from recent international skills competitions to provide organisations with granular detail that would allow them to benchmark training against wider standards of excellence.
  • Jobs and skills for young people in the future.The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and IPPR reported on their commissioned work looking into the future jobs market for young people, pointing to things being very hard particularly for the low-skilled with the market contracting and polarising, calling as a result for a ‘New Deal’ for young people with an extended Kickstart programme, green jobs and an Opportunity Guarantee.
  • Skills shortages. The Edge Foundation published its latest Skills Bulletin, the ninth in a series looking at skills shortages and bringing together a range of recent research and reports into the matter.
  • Delivering hybrid learning. The Learning and Work Institute published a commissioned report looking into how to make hybrid learning programmes effective on employability programmes for young people, suggesting a sequence of stages that might improve the experience for them.
  • The BTEC debate. Dean Machin, Head of Policy at the University of Portsmouth, considered last week’s Lords debate about the Skills Bill and the importance of BTECs in a comment piece on the HE Policy institute (HEPI) site, concluding that “BTECs have become a symbol of competing visions of education.”
  • Edge response. The Edge Foundation called for a better mix of qualifications and ‘multi-modal’ assessment options as part of its response to the consultation which closed last Friday on developing a National Bacc in England.


  • Higher level learning numbers. The government published a picture of higher-level participation in universities and colleges in England for 2018/19 for English-domiciled learners showing that of the 1.7m learners 9% were at L4, 10% at L5, 54% at L6, 25% at L7 and 2% at L8.
  • Freedom of Speech Bill. The House of Commons Library Service reported on the HE Freedom of Speech Bill which attracted 85 amendments and 13 new clauses, a number of which were accepted including extending the scope of the Bill to individual Oxbridge colleges.
  • Free speech. The Universities UK Board underlined its commitment to free speech and academic freedom highlighting the important role universities play in this in a published statement. 
  • Backing climate action. Universities UK committed UK universities to working with the government on tackling climate concerns, outlining ‘pioneering’ research, skills development and other activities that UKHE has been undertaking and pointing to the introduction of COP26 scholarships as further proof.
  • 2025 strategy. The UPP Foundation launched a new 2025 Strategy built around the three goals of supporting students to succeed, supporting HE’s value to society and developing green and sustainable civic universities, with the Foundation promising to continue funding initiatives that support these aims.
  • Local activity. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) published a new report about developing regional economies using case study evidence to call for changes to the ways in which R/D funding is allocated and local players involved so as to encourage greater collaboration between universities and regional partners.
  • Specialist providers. The Office for Students (OfS) launched consultation on the approach to be used for funding specialist providers from 2022/23 with a bit of money available for 2021/22, listing 14 questions around eligibility, targeting, and proposed criteria.
  • Medical and dental places cap. The Russell Group of Universities expressed concern that the government was not preparing to lift the cap on medical and dental places for 2022 so that those who deferred in 2021 could be included, calling for the Spending Review to look at the matter.
  • Cutting and running. Deputy news editor at the Times Higher, John Morgan, reflected on the case for university expansion, noting that despite a growing demographic and increased capacity abroad, the government appeared to be considering cutting back on numbers which if adopted would close off opportunities and skills capacity just when both were in great need. 
  • New committee members. The QAA listed the eleven new members of its Student Strategic Advisory Committee that will work closely with the QAA offering the student voice.
  • Improving the online experience. McKinsey reported on its recent research into best practice in online learning provision in higher ed, concluding that the best providers focus on ‘eight dimensions of the learning experience’ which it argues boil down to three principles: creating a seamless journey for students; adopting an engaging approach to teaching; and building a caring network.

Stand-out tweets

Memorable tweets and posts this week:

  • “University students may be offered Deliveroo vouchers and cash bonuses by schools to work as tutors in the government’s education catch-up scheme” | @Mango_Marketing
  • “Facial recognition cameras arrive in UK school canteens” |
  • “Children learn best when an adult stands over them saying, 'come on, you've got to do it,' says @Miss_Snuffyand that this can only happen in a school. In the pandemic we were 'kidding ourselves' that pupils could learn via Zoom, she says” | @tes
  • “Looking through the books for a group I've taken over this term, I wrote two reassuring notes to students in response to them writing "panic" in their books, until I discovered that their previous teacher had taught them PANIC meant positive anode, negative cathode” | @agittner
  • “My kids wanted to know what it was like for me growing up. So I took their phones away, shut off the internet, gave them a sherbet dib dab and told them to go outside and play until the street lights came on…” | @deelomas
  • “Interesting how the commuter trains now seem busier on Tuesdays than Mondays. Shape of a new hybrid-working week?” | @seanjcoughlan
  • “I’d like to thank predictive text for changing “biogs” to “boobs” in the subject line on my last email” | @flamingnora
  • “Just put the fear of god into my bifolds man. He’d messaged to say he’d be arriving around 11.30, I was at the shops and hurriedly texted him “that’s great - my husband should be gone”. I meant to write “should be home” | @radioheadjen

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “The pie is there–it’s just a case of how you cut it up” – Ministers reflect on next week’s spending announcements.
  • “In 2050, we will still be driving cars, flying planes and heating our homes, but our cars will be electric gliding silently around our cities, our planes will be zero emission allowing us to fly guilt-free, and our homes will be heated by cheap reliable power drawn from the winds of the North Sea” – the PM introduces the government’s Zero Net Strategy.
  • “We have taken the decision to only invite people without degrees to apply - pass grades for A levels will be more than sufficient” – the Institute for Apprenticeships looks to recruit an apprentice solicitor for its inhouse legal team. 
  • “If you work at a college shout about what you do, and be proud of what you do, because that's what #Colleges Week is all about” – AoC chief exec David Hughes lines up this year’s Colleges Week.
  • “The Research Unit will produce outstanding research based on data provided by the FE sector, but also showcase work carried out in partnership with leading research institutions” – the AoC seizes the moment to launch a new Research Unit.
  • “Leaders are therefore deciding to cancel activity that isn’t crucial to the school day, such as leading assemblies, as many of them are having to step up to frontline teaching to cover staff absence” – ASCL leader Geoff Barton highlights the pressures schools are under as Covid numbers rise.
  • “It is hugely frustrating that two years on from starting the review, the government seems no nearer to publishing its findings” – the NAHT calls on the government to publish the findings from its SEND Review.
  • “We need a wholesale review of the purpose and provision of early childhood education and care that provides clarity on who and what it is for and how it can make a difference to disadvantaged children in particular” – the Nuffield Foundation calls for ‘a radical rethink’ of childcare provision.

Important numbers

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

  • 3.1%. The CPS inflation rate for September 2021, down slightly but with concerns that fuel, food and energy costs will push the rate up in coming months according to latest figures.
  • £1,000. The likely fall in average household incomes by the end of next year, according to Bank of England forecasts.
  • 6%. The number of adults reporting that they felt lonely often/always, similar to last year according to the government’s latest Community Life Survey.
  • 40%. The number of universities in a survey that give only a telephone number for prospective to make contact, according to research from Youth Employment’s ‘Get Ahead’ bulletin. 
  • £16,000. The potential lifetime earnings loss by pupils due to missed learning under the pandemic, rising to a possible £46,000 for some pupils according to modelling from the Education Policy Institute.
  • 2.6%. The number of pupils in state funded schools in England absent for Covid related reasons as of 14 October, up from 2.5% from the last figures at the end of September according to the latest official figures.
  • 12.5m. The number of school days missed by pupils in England during the spring term this year, according to latest government figures.
  • 60%. The number of schools hosting parents’ evenings online, according to research from Teacher Tapp.
  • 1m. The number of people who took up a musical instrument during lockdown, according to research from Public First.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • MPs debate the e petition on reducing university tuition fees (Monday 25 October).
  • Autumn Budget and Spending Review (Wednesday 27 October).
  • Westminster Hall debate on including climate issues in the national curriculum (Wednesday 27 October).

Other stories

  • In the mood for a party? Denied opportunities for festivals and celebrations over the last year, the government is going full monty and inviting us to a year of celebrations next year as we (hopefully) come out of the pandemic. Timed to coincide with the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the government is preparing to unleash a year-long festival with a series of cultural, scientific and technology events under the title Unboxed. ‘Unboxed: Creativity in the UK’ to give it its full title will, in the words of the publicity blurb, feature “ten spectacular projects across the UK that people will be able to visit in person or experience through traditional broadcast and digital media.” Full details can be found here.
  • What’s in a name? The Office for National Statistics’ latest listing of top baby names has, as ever, provoked considerable comment. Many people have commented for instance on the disappearance of the boys’ name Nigel and the emergence of Archie instead. As ever names appear to be driven by popular cultures and fashions with Arthur, Noah, Milo and Otis rising in popularity among boys’ names and Ivy, Rosie and Maeve among those for girls. That said, Oliver and Olivia have remained the most popular names for boys and girls respectively for five years now. Full listings can be seen 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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