Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 25 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:

How are we going to cope? 

That’s a question many people have been pondering after last week’s Budget. 

It’s also a question looming over large parts of the education system. 

A week which has seen strikes across parts of the system, reports highlighting the impact of the cost-of-living on students, and concerns about teacher recruitment in schools, suggests that, whatever the question, there are no easy answers. 

Rishi Sunak told business leaders this week that “there is no responsibility as Prime Minister that I feel more deeply, than how we develop a truly world-class education system”. He’s keen for it to be seen as one of the positives of his government, but has the Autumn Statement provided a platform for this or not? 

More on that below, but first some of the top education-related stories of the week.

  • Let me introduce myself? The new Education Secretary introduced herself and her team in a blog on the DfE website. As is now customary, she declared a passion for education and ran through some of the things she’s hoping to achieve in the coming months. These included: cost-effective childcare; catchup in schools through tutoring; teacher CPD; a response to the SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper; post-16 technical education; degree apprenticeships; and the Lifelong Loan Entitlement.
  • Business leaders. The CBI held its Annual Conference this week, where it was addressed by both the PM and Leader of the Opposition. Skills, immigration and growth plans were among the topics discussed.
  • School inspections. Ofsted pointed to the importance of regular school inspections in a report out this week, looking at what happened when schools, previously exempt from inspections for being outstanding, were inspected again. Although many had seen leadership changes, and many other schools had become outstanding in the interim, some 1,900 schools ceased to be outstanding. According to the Chief Inspector “these outcomes show that removing a school from scrutiny does not make it better”.
  • Pandemic effect. The full effects of the pandemic/lockdown on children and young people may take some time to be realised, but three research reports out this week have given us some strong pointers. The reports come from the Education Endowment Foundation, the Sutton Trust/UCL, and SchoolDash/Hodder/Nottingham Trent. Three themes stand out: the emerging disadvantage gap; high levels of mental health and wellbeing issues; and the importance of school support – whether in catch-up or pupil support generally. 
  • Personal statements. ‘Don’t open with predictable or corny statements such as ‘ever since I was a child I’ve always wanted to be a nuclear physicist, brain surgeon, award winning author…whatever.’ That’s what one advice website suggests when it comes to writing a Personal Statement for a UCAS university application. In truth, the Personal Statement has been a source of debate for some time – how it’s crafted, whether it favours certain types of applicant, and so on. This week, a paper from the HE Policy Institute (HEPI) suggested that instead of a blank page, the Personal Statement should consist of short-response questions.
  • Strike action. Industrial action has hit both schools (in Scotland) and UK universities this week. Pay, and for universities pensions and workloads, are the chief issues. They come as workers in other public sectors either take or are planning to take action, with teacher unions in England awaiting ballot results for action early next year. In the words of the UCU, 'Staff are burnt out, but they are fighting back, and they will bring the whole sector to a standstill'.
  • Data dump. The DfE has headed to the end of the month this week with a traditional burst of data and statistics. For reference purposes, these have included early years foundation stage profile results; multiplication tables check results; pupil attendance in schools; pupil exclusions and suspensions; apprenticeship and traineeship figures for the year; adult learning and participation rates for the year; and outcomes data for graduates and postgrads. These and more are all on the DfE website.

Links to these and other stories below as usual.

Now back to the impact of last week’s Autumn Statement, where it’s been a week of reality kicking in. 

Seven days after the Chancellor sat down, how do things seem across the education sector? Here’s a brief summary:

For schools, there’s obviously been some relief about the extra money promised, although it’s not all plain sailing. 'Less than half of teachers think that the budget increase in schools is good enough', Teacher Tapp reported this week, while the NASUWT went so far as to claim that 'this Autumn Statement leaves a multi-billion pound real-terms funding gap in school and college budgets'. 

Schools still have plenty of funding concerns and some key questions remain. What about future energy costs? How are we going to manage teacher pay and recruitment? Will the tutoring programme cover catch-up costs? And how far generally can we make the money stretch? There’s still a lot of careful planning to be done.

For FE –  left out when money was doled out last week – ‘criminal’ according to those in the sector, it feels once again a case of having to trim and cut where possible. 

In her ‘hi and welcome’ message as Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan pointed to the extra £3.8bn being put into skills provision in England, but the issues of reform of the apprenticeship levy; the impact of re-aligning L2 and 3 provision to provide for T level and technical education; the role of employers and employer investment; and staff pay all remain. 

For the moment, the sector awaits the outcomes from the Barber review to see whether a more efficient (for which read cost-effective) skills system can be delivered. 

Higher education did get a commitment on R/D funding and the promise of potential opportunities around future ‘knowledge intensive growth clusters’ (new fangled investment zones) but, like FE, there was no grand promise of future funding. And Augar proposals on fees for example, seem a distant memory.  

For HE, student welfare and hardship remains an issue, as this week’s ONS stats on student cost-of-living highlighted. And there’s the little matter of the strikes at the moment. But perhaps this a statement, put out by the Open University earlier in the week, captures the mood for many: 'Given the weak economic outlook and in anticipation of our student population falling back to the levels we had prior to the pandemic, it is necessary to adjust our spending in line with our expected income'. It went on to explain that it hoped to avoid redundancies, while acknowledging that difficult decisions lie ahead.

Finally, to try and end on a positive, the extra money (for schools) and the government’s current enthusiasm for education and skills, could signal a more hopeful period for education following the doom and difficulties of the last few years. That’s certainly the view of Mark Lehain, former DfE adviser and current Head of Education for the Centre for Policy Studies. He wrote this week: 

'Given time and space, schools and kids will recover from the impacts of Covid and get even better still. Amidst the economic gloom, they can be a source of hope and pride. Ministers should keep their heads down, focus on delivering and sing from the rooftops about their successes'.

The top headlines of the week

  • ‘Gender pay gap widening for school leaders, analysis shows’ (Monday).
  • .‘Hundreds of schools in England lose outstanding status after reinspection’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Cost-of-living: Half of students in financial difficulty as prices soar’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘University strikes: Students face disruption as walkout begins’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Back up ‘warm words’ with funds to lift UK’s skills levels, colleges demand’ (Friday).


  • PM’s address. Rishi Sunak highlighted the importance of innovation, how this can be used to support economic growth and transform public services, and how government was supporting the development of the skills needed for innovation, as he addressed business leaders at the CBI Annual Conference 
  • DG’s address. Tony Danker, Director-General at the CBI outlined three priorities as the basis for growth (greater business ingenuity, more private sector investment, government provision of pro-growth rules) in an opening address to the organisation’s Annual Conference.
  • Me and my team. The Education Secretary explained her priorities which included responding to the SEND and AP Green Paper, supporting tutoring catchup in schools, skills reform and technical qualifications, and the introduction of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, as she introduced herself and her team via a DfE blog. 
  • Economic Outlook. The OECD published its latest Economic Outlook pointing like other forecasts to continuing high inflation in 2023 (6.6%) and economic slowdown (2.2%) across OECD countries but with the UK facing the slowest growth (0.4%) among the G7 countries.
  • Older Workers. The government confirmed as part of this week’s National Older Workers Week that it was arranging for 50Plus Champions to work with Work Coaches and Job Centres helping those aged 50 and over back into work where possible. 
  • Online safety. The children’s commissioner reflected on some of the continuing issues around online safety for children as the Online Safety Bill picked up its progress through Parliament, pointing to how many young people are now able to access platforms and how far social media is shaping their lives.
  • Digital poverty. The British Academy reported on its work looking into digital poverty in the UK, finding ’huge disparities in digital access and skills,’ and setting out six policy proposals including the importance of local support, to improve things. 

More specifically ...


  • Multiplication tables. The government published for the first-time data on the multiplication tables check taken by Yr 4 pupils this summer, showing that over a quarter of them achieved full marks although less so for disadvantaged pupils.
  • Exemption inspections. Ofsted published initial findings from its recent reinspections of schools previously exempt from inspection for being graded outstanding, reporting that of those reinspected last year, over 80% had not retained the outstanding grade.
  • Teacher supply. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) revealed in a new Nuffield funded report the extent of teacher recruitment and retention issues, with many non-specialist teachers having to be used in subjects like maths and sciences to cover for shortages. 
  • Covid study. The Sutton Trust and UCL highlighted the growing problems around young people’s mental health in their latest report as part of their COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities (COSMO) study, suggesting it had notably worsened among 16/17 yr olds surveyed and made many less motivated to study, calling as a result for targeted mental health support in schools.
  • More Covid Studies. The Education Endowment Foundation published the results of its research, undertaken by the NFER, into the lockdown effects on the attainment of KSI pupils and the social skills of Yr2 and 3 pupils, showing catch-up around maths but less so for Yr2 in reading, some worries about wellbeing and a widening disadvantage gap generally.
  • Another Covid study. Researchers from SchoolDash, Hodder and Nottingham Trent reported on their study of the impact of the pandemic on KS2 pupils in England finding that academic wellbeing had fallen, particularly for pupils in Yr 3 and particularly in the dimension of self-efficacy. 
  • EdTech. The government published a report into the EdTech market in England suggesting it’s a small element of the overall digital and education sectors, it tends to be dominated by larger companies with overlap between different segments such as revision materials or management resources, and with most schools using it for management admin, teaching and learning, and/or pastoral support.
  • EdTech and remote learning. The government published a further report on EdTech looking at the tools used to facilitate remote learning before, during and after the lockdown noting that the most commonly used applications were Microsoft Teams; Google Meet; Zoom; and Adobe Connect, that once the lockdown had started most schools used a blended approach trying to replicate a ‘normal’ school day as far as possible, and despite issues about system alignment, teacher skills and pupil reluctance in some cases, many felt remote learning still had a role to play in teaching and learning.
  • Face coverings. The government reported on some recent survey work on the wearing of face coverings in schools and colleges carried out earlier this year, finding that ‘it did present some challenges’ with some (generally older) pupils and parents not convinced, some lessons such as Dance and PE harder to teach and communication generally made more difficult.
  • Latin and Greek in primary school. The government published a commissioned review into the provision of Latin and Greek in primary schools suggesting that a lack of teacher training, timetabling constraints and perceptions about the languages all created barriers with more research needed to see how far these languages might help disadvantaged groups in particular. 
  • Breakfast Clubs. The government set out the guidelines for schools looking to apply for support for breakfast club provision which will see schools in disadvantaged areas that meet the criteria able to apply for subsidies.


  • T level funding. The government set out the guidance for Wave 5 of the T level Capital Fund which will see £150m+ available for estate and equipment needs for those delivering in 2024/5, with applications to be in by 3 Feb 2023. 
  • Apprenticeship data. The government published the final figures for apprenticeships and traineeships for the 2021/22 year showing an increase in uptake largely at higher and advanced levels but a further slowdown in traineeships.
  • VQ Update. Ofqual published latest quarterly data for vocational and other qualifications for the period July – Sept 2022 showing a drop in the overall number of certificates issued in this period, notably in some L2 and 3 areas.
  • Digital teaching partnership. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) and UfI announced a new strategic partnership to develop digital teaching practices, starting with a piece of national research to explore how independent training providers could make best use of technology in future delivery.
  • Lifelong learning. The OECD looked at some of the challenges as countries seek to extend lifelong learning, pointing to three priorities including the need to strengthen existing systems, support learners through the systems and ‘strengthen skills anticipation capacity.’


  • R/D. The government confirmed further investment in UK research and development including UK leadership of the fusion sector as talks continue about UK access to EU programmes such as Horizon and Euratom.
  • Industrial action expectations. The Office for Students (OfS) issued updated (from last year) guidance for what institutions are expected to provide during a time of industrial action to ensure that regulatory, including consumer protection, requirements are met and students not disadvantaged. 
  • Intervention costs. The Universities Minister announced that he was instigating action and costs where an institution had breached or was in danger of breaching regulatory quality conditions necessitating an investigation.
  • Regulatory Framework. The Office for Students (OfS) published the latest and full 200+ page version of its regulatory framework, incorporating amendments introduced during the year.
  • Personal Statement. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) published a briefing listing four options for improving the UCAS personal statement, which many have felt for some time can be both unfair and unhelpful to some candidates, proposing short-response questions as the best alternative. 
  • Hybrid teaching. The QAA reported on its findings into hybrid teaching reflecting case study evidence from two universities (Birmingham and Nottingham) as developed out of the pandemic, concluding that it can provide a valuable learning option but requires adequate resourcing and needs to avoid putting further burdens on teachers if it is to be adopted further.
  • Curriculum design. JISC examined current and future approaches to curriculum and learning design, looking particularly at any likely lessons to be learned from the recent shift to online, suggesting that if universities are to move to more flexible provision they need to tackle issues of workload, resources and reward structures.
  • Cost-of-living. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported on its recent sample survey about the impact of the cost-of-living on students with over 90% worried about it, pointing to increases in the costs of food, rent and energy in particular, and over three-quarters worried about the effect on their studies.
  • London calling. AccessHE published a useful guide on how to manage the cost-of-living for 17/18 yr olds considering studying in London, with advice on rents, travel and food among other things.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • @JulianGravatt shows, the net change in real terms funding since 2015 is now: HE +26%, FE -20%” | @eddieplayfair
  • “The real joy of marking mocks is seeing all the different ways in which students spell my surname” | @josephkinnaird
  • “Leaders, if you can’t be the reason someone smiles today at least don’t be the reason they cry” | @secretHT1
  • “Hi all, This week’s Uniform Focus is not wearing tinsel. Thanks x” | @NewbieSlt
  • “I put my hair in a bun yesterday. That’s why I no longer work at Greggs” | @DadJokeMan

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “I believe, in the very core of my being, that education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet in public policy” – the PM highlights the importance of education in an address to business leaders.
  • “Nick Gibb needs no introduction. He has been spearheading a knowledge-rich curriculum for more than a decade. Our schools will be in safe hands” – the (new) Education Secretary introduces members of her team.
  • “It does begin to look as if we are going to face what you might call a ‘bonfire of the humanities” – Dame Mary Beard at the Times Higher Awards voices concerns for the humanities.
  • “We are learning machines and I am still learning” – Ginger Spice, aka Geri Halliwell as she received an honorary degree at Sheffield Hallam. 
  • “Universities are well prepared to mitigate the impact of any industrial action on students’ learning, and we are all working hard to put in place a series of measures to ensure this” – Universities UK statement ahead of this week’s industrial action.
  • “Sufficient supply of science teachers appears to be an important factor for some schools deciding not to offer triple science to any pupils” – the NFER reports on the impact of teacher recruitment and retention issues.
  • “From this study, it appears that the students who benefit most from learning Latin are those with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), those who have English as an Additional Language (EAL) and those who qualify for the Pupil Premium” – the case for Latin and Greek in primary school.

Important numbers

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

  • £13.5bn. The figure for government borrowing in October, higher than for October 2021, but below economic forecasts, according to the ONS.
  • 25%. The percentage of students that have taken on new debt in response to the cost-of-living, according to the ONS.
  • 4.8%. The increase in adult government-funded FE and skills participation for the 2021/22 academic year, according to latest government figures. 
  • 80%. The percentage of previously outstanding schools that did not retain their outstanding inspection grade when re-inspected last year, according to Ofsted.
  • 62%. The percentage of schools struggling with teacher recruitment using non specialists in some maths classes, according to NFER.
  • 93.5%. The attendance rate across schools in England for w/commencing 7 November 2022.
  • 68%. The percentage of young people who had reported ‘high pandemic distress’ and were now less motivated to study, according to the COSMO survey.
  • 2,100. The number of permanent exclusions in the autumn term 2021/22 for pupils in schools in England, up 400 on the year before according to latest government figures.
  • 27%. The number of Yr 4 pupils who took this year’s multiplication tables check and who scored full marks, according to latest DfE figures.
  • £203. The amount left per week for the average household last month after all the bills were paid, according to a report from the CEBR for Asda.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Education Questions for MPs (Monday 28 November.)
  • Education Committee session on careers guidance (Tuesday 29 November).
  • Launch of Institute for Employment Studies Report and Commission on Future Employment Support (Friday 2 December).

Other stories

  • Words of the year. In 2020 and 2021, language was dominated by the pandemic with words and phrases like lockdown, social distancing and flattening the curve dominating our language. This year the language has had more of a military bent with the war in Ukraine heading much of the news. But what are the key words for 2023 likely to be? The Economist has come up with a list of 23, what it calls ‘vital words for 2023.’ They include: passkeys (“biometrically validated tokens that are automatically generated and cannot be guessed or forgotten,”)aridification (long dry spells,) productivity paranoia (virtues or otherwise of working from home,) and doughnut effect (the hollowing out of city centres as workers look to combine working from home with more green space.) A link to the list is here.
  • How are you watching the World Cup? Not everyone is keen on watching the World Cup of course but for those that are, Ofcom has come up with some interesting research on how viewing habits of the big event have changed. The first televised World Cup was in 1954 and apparently TV still remains the medium of choice for most people, notably those aged 55+. 28% of younger people (18 – 24) will keep up via social media and 38% of the same age group will watch it on pub or other big screens. Laptops and smartphones also feature prominently for younger views planning to follow the games. England’s progress (or not) might also be a factor. A link to the research is 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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