Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 02 December 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:

Some challenging reports this week – on teacher wellbeing, apprenticeships, digital skills, language take-up, and college reclassification.

Seems it’s not the season to be jolly quite yet.

Summary details about college reclassification below. But first, a run through the top education-related stories of the week.

  • Questions to ministers. The (new) Education Secretary and her team faced questions from MPs at the start of the week. Topics covered school funding (ministers pointed to the latest increase); SEND (government response set for early next year); Labour proposals to end tax breaks for private schools (described as 'ill-thought through'); restrictions on international student visas (question not properly answered); and the cost-of-living crisis for students (‘we’re helping where we can’).
  • Last year’s Census. This week the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released the latest batch of data taken from last year’s National Census returns. It covered things like ethnic grouping, along with national identity, main language, and religion. The media picked up on different aspects – notably the fall in the number of people describing themselves as ‘Christian’ – but overall the data offers some useful facts and figures for those looking for resources on the makeup of modern Britain. 
  • Teacher wellbeing. The latest annual report into teacher wellbeing from the charity Education Support this week didn’t make for very happy reading. Stress levels have increased, nearly half of those surveyed reckoned they weren’t well supported at work, and 59% have considered leaving over the past 12 months. “Stress, depression and anxiety have all remained at an unsustainably high level”, the report concluded.
  • College reclassification. The ONS cited three factors that determined its decision this week to reclassify the FE sector in England as under public sector control. They included this year’s Skills Act, updated international guidance and the intervention powers of the Secretary of State. The decision has provoked phlegmatic reactions. College chief executive Ian Pryce called it ‘an own goal'. 
  • A report this week from the think tank EDSK spelled out a number of ‘uncomfortable truths’ about the apprenticeship system, ten years after a major report on the system was heralded by the then government for helping to build a programme 'which is sustainable, high-quality,and meets the changing needs of our economy in the decades to come'. Low skill roles rebadged as apprenticeships, apprentices denied required training, employers not fulfilling responsibilities, were all cited in the report, which made a number of recommendations. 
  • Student hardship. Poorest students could be £1,000 or more worse off this year according to a briefing this week from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS). The issue is maintenance loans – the value of which has been eroded by inflation. 
  • Power Skills. A lot has been written over the years about the sorts of personal skills or competencies regarded as important for the workforce of the future. An interesting piece of research this week saw Pearson come up with five. It described them as ‘power skills projected to be most in demand by 2026 and in need of the greatest improvement and investment’. The five are: achievement focus, collaboration, cultural and social intelligence, customer focus, and personal learning and mastery. 

Links to these and other stories below as usual.

Back to one of the important stories of the week, namely that reclassification decision from the Office for National Statistics (ONS.) 

The reclassification, which sees colleges in England return to the public sector, was prompted by a series of regulatory changes to the sector over recent years. 

According to Professor Matt Hamnett and Matt Atkinson, who have an excellent summary in FE News this week of what it all means, “What may at first seem to be a technical accounting change will have substantial implications for the way in which colleges are governed, financed, and operate”. 

It may not sound very gripping stuff and was largely expected, but the move raises a number of questions. Here are four.

First, will it distract colleges, give them a lot of extra work just at a time when they’re gearing up to help deliver the skills programmes that are such a priority at present? A concern raised for instance by Ian Pretty of the Collab Group of Colleges.

The government is talking about any change ‘being seamless’ and has promised both some money and time to allow for transition arrangements to be completed. A fair amount of financial rebalancing may be necessary, particularly as the ONS acknowledged that 'the impact on the balance sheet has not yet been assessed'. Current thinking is for work to begin on a new college financial handbook, which should be ready for consultation next autumn. Either way, as Messrs Hamnett and Atkinson indicate, colleges will need to consider some strategic implications quickly.

Second, will the move help colleges? Help in the sense of freeing them up to be able to respond to both local and national need, as envisaged for instance in the Local Skill Improvement Partnership (LSIP) guidance.

Neither the Association of Colleges nor the Sixth Form Colleges Association seemed convinced. 'There is very little in today’s response that will benefit students, but a great deal that will tie up college staff in bureaucracy and red tape', concluded the Sixth Form Colleges Association.

Third, given the two points just raised, is there a danger that colleges will find themselves shackled and restricted just at a time when a big push on raising skill levels and working entrepreneurially with employers is needed? 

According to the government, colleges will still be able to operate ‘their trading subsidiaries’. This is where a lot of the commercial work for colleges is undertaken through different trading and business arms. That said 'Transactions by colleges or their subsidiaries that may be considered novel, contentious, or repercussive, must always be referred to DfE for prior approval'. Has this all made Sir Michael Barber’s job on skills reform a bit more difficult?

And fourth – and both college groups hinted at this – has the reclassification been seen as an opportunity by government to impose a particular model on the college sector? A school trust model perhaps, rather than one fit for a new skills age? After all, as David Hughes for the AoC put it “colleges are not simply big schools”. 

The top headlines of the week

  • ‘Warning apprentices quitting over quality of schemes’ (Monday).
  • ‘Colleges return to public sector, ONS announces’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Plan B guidance for 2023 exams confirmed’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Government misses teacher recruitment target by almost a third’ (Thursday).
  • ‘School leaders report rise in pupils not on free meals going hungry.’ (Friday)


  • Census 2021. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published further data sets for England and Wales from last year’s Census covering national identity, language, religion and ethnic group, and showing among other things that less than half of the population (46.2%) described themselves as Christian, 81.7% identified themselves as ‘white,’ and Polish, Romanian and Panjabi were the main languages spoken other than English. 
  • Social mobility. The Social Mobility Commission announced the membership of its new Employer Advisory Group intended to help drive social mobility in the workplace and guide the Commission’s work in this area generally.
  • 4-Day Week. The Independent reported that more companies were joining the campaign for a 4-day working week without loss of pay, suggesting it now had a hundred companies on board.
  • Flexi working. The TUC called for flexible working rights to be fully extended as it revealed ahead of further discussions in Parliament, that women were more likely to be in flexible working arrangements than men and often faced reduced hours and lower pay.
  • Mental disorder. NHS Digital published the results of its latest survey into the mental health of young people aged 7 – 24 in England, showing a small increase in the proportion of 7-16-year-olds with a probable mental disorder but a significant increase among the 17-19 age group, in turn impacting on their education, lifestyle and ability to cope generally.

More specifically ...


  • SEND and AP reform. The Education Secretary confirmed in a blog on the DfE website that she intended to publish a full response early in the new year to the SEND and Alternative Provision (AP) proposals consulted on earlier this year, while promising interim funding to train more teachers and educational psychologists.
  • Exams 2023. Ofqual confirmed that proposed measures to support students in GCSE maths, physics, combined science and modern foreign languages, such as providing formulae and equations sheets in maths and physics, should go ahead for summer 2023, following recent consultation.
  • Emergency measures. The government outlined guidance for schools and colleges on gathering evidence on student exam/assessment performance this year in the very unlikely event that exams had to be cancelled due to a further pandemic outbreak or similar emergency.
  • ITT. The government published the latest figures on initial teacher training (ITT) recruitment in England indicating a significant fall in the total number of entrants for the year, falling below target at both primary and secondary level with subjects like physics, D/T, computing modern foreign languages all well below par.
  • Cost-of-living. The Sutton Trust published from its research undertaken by Teacher Tapp and showing schools reporting increasing numbers of pupils, particularly in deprived areas, coming to school hungry and without warm clothing with worries that this could widen attainment gaps.
  • Teacher wellbeing. The charity Education Support, published the latest in its annual survey into the mental health and wellbeing of those working in education in the UK suggesting “record numbers (59%) have considered leaving the sector in the past year” citing workload as a key factor.
  • Pupil wellbeing. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) looked into further evidence of the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health and wellbeing suggesting that secondary-age girls and primary-age boys were likely to have been most affected and that disadvantaged young people were not necessarily more affected, rather they were already more vulnerable to wellbeing issues.
  • Early years qualifications. The government released a consultation on proposed changes to the criteria for L3 qualifications including around safeguarding, special needs and roles/responsibilities that staff delivering the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework are expected to have.
  • Area SEND inspections. Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission launched a new joint framework for inspecting provision for those children and young people with special needs and/or disabilities (SEND) in a local area following recent consultation, with the framework due to come in from next year and to focus particularly on the effectiveness of local area partnerships.
  • Judicial Review. Three leading organisations including publishers, authors and suppliers of education services announced they were launching judicial review proceedings against the DfE over its proposed setting up of the Oak National Academy as a designated curriculum resources body.


  • ONS decision on classification. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced the result of its review into the reclassification of FE, sixth form colleges and designated institutions in England, confirming that changed circumstances including the recent Skills Act, meant that they should now come under public sector control. 
  • College reclassification. The government set out the procedure for the reclassification of colleges into the public sector, following the review by the Office for National Statistics (ONS,) promising financial support to help with funding flows ahead of a new financial handbook set for spring 2024.
  • AoC response. The Association of Colleges (AoC) issued a response to the ONS reclassification of colleges move, pointing to five further steps such as adopting the same VAT changes as for schools, that would now help.
  • Digital skills. The Education Policy Institute called on the government to revise its digital strategy as it published a new report pointing to growing employer demand for technical skills but a fall in the number of young people, especially women, taking digital skill qualifications and to colleges struggling to recruit digital teachers.
  • Power skills. Pearson launched a new series of Skills Outlooks, looking at the needs of the modern workforce with vital insights for employees and employers globally, focusing on this occasion on the importance of ‘Power Skills’ or personal capabilities needed in the future.
  • Apprenticeships. The EDSK think tank published a further important report on apprenticeships, highlighting continuing concerns around the quality of training and nature of some schemes ten years after the landmark Richard Review, calling among other things for clear ‘training curricula’ in future with minimum hours of face-to-face training along with a dedicated apprenticeship inspectorate.
  • Working in FE. The Education and Training Foundation reported on its survey of people working in the FE and training sector, finding that most (81%) enjoyed working with students and seeing them develop but saw funding, constant changes and lack of time and resources as big challenges.
  • Housing opportunity. The Learning and Work Institute along with the Institute for Employment Studies argued in a new report for more support for communities especially those in social housing to help residents develop skills and access opportunities.


  • Ukraine partnership. Research England announced it was committing £5m to help develop a new UK-Ukraine University Twinning Initiative that would support future UK – Ukraine collaborative work around research and innovation.
  • Language Learning. The British Academy and University Council of Modern Languages pointed in a new report to ‘a significant decline’ in the numbers of undergraduates specialising in languages with courses based around the most commonly taught European languages such as French and German suffering the most, calling accordingly for a National Languages Strategy to help meet future needs.
  • Digital learning. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) and Kortext reported on students’ experiences of digitally enhanced learning outlined in research undertaken by UCAS with digital recording of lectures the most in-demand resource and students generally looking for a single digital learning platform that’s easy to use.
  • Cost-of-living. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) argued in a new briefing that the inflation-driven fall in the value of maintenance loan entitlements will see many poorer students worse off, calling for government to look again at hardship measures including uprating such loans as well as parental earnings thresholds which govern eligibility for support.
  • Moving for work. The HE Statistics Agency highlighted the work of its new graduate mobility marker as it examined the movement of graduates in and out of their local region in the pursuit of work, showing just under half of those studied stayed in the same region where they lived for both study and work.
  • Birmingham effect. The economics consultancy, London Economics, reported on its work looking into the economic and social impact of activities undertaken by University College Birmingham for the year 2020/21, pointing to a total impact of £358m against operating costs of £53m, ‘a benefit to cost ratio of 6.7:1.’

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “One positive of an Ofsted inspection - I’ve lost 3lbs without even trying!” | @MrsKiwiVP
  • “Kid actually made me laugh with their joke in class today. How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh? Tentacles. Not bad that one” | @brassoteach
  • “Raising the state pension age means nothing to teachers. Getting to July can be a massive struggle, let alone getting to 69” | @secretHT1
  • “As the term goes on, I'm waking earlier and earlier. At this rate, by the end of term I'm going to be getting up before I've gone to bed” | @llewelyn20
  • “I would pay someone to attend meetings for me and then just summarise them” | @lessoncopy
  • “Top of my 3.5 y/o daughter's Christmas list is "tooth", which, on gentle enquiry, she describes as "a ball of teeth". Let me know if you have any idea what that might actually mean or if you think I should call the police” | @steishere
  • “The lengths I have to go to to buy my kids advent calendars with just pictures” | @susiemesure
  • “French man wins right to not be ‘fun’ at work” | @washingtonpost

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “The UK will be affected by strikes every day in the run up to Christmas” – Bloomberg UK on the Christmas build up.
  • “It’s hard to imagine a policy more likely to harm UK ambitions to become a science superpower and to level up across the country than a mindless crackdown on international students” -Lord (Jo) Johnson in the Times Higher on government proposals to restrict recruitment of international students.
  • “I’m intrigued to see what he does next” -commentators question the future of Matt Hancock.
  • “I will bring a strengthened Online Safety Bill back to Parliament which will allow parents to see and act on the dangers sites pose to young people” – the Culture Secretary on the latest move for the Online Safety Bill.
  • “Online university lectures used for blended learning should last no longer than 18 minutes” – the World Bank’s former director of HE as reported in the THES.
  • “These changes on their own risk making colleges less fleet of foot in meeting the needs of their students, employers and communities” – the AoC responds to the reclassification of colleges into the public sector.
  • “In truth, the current system is beset by widespread and deep-routed quality issues” – the EDSK think tank reports on the apprenticeship system ten years after a landmark report.
  • “The Teacher Wellbeing Index 2022 presents another year of data on an exhausted workforce, with many scores flatlining” – the charity Education Support presents its latest Teacher Wellbeing Index.
  • “Nothing short of catastrophic” – ASCL’s Geoff Barton comments on the latest initial teacher training recruitment figures.
  • “If we are going to create a healthier and happier society for future generations, we must start by understanding and acknowledging the unique importance of the first five years of life” – the Princess of Wales.

Important numbers

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

  • 91.1%. The number of ‘usual residents’ who reported English (or Welsh in Wales) as their main language in last year’s census, down slightly from 92.3% at the previous census according to the ONS.
  • 83%. The percentage of people who think that social media companies should have a duty to protect children who are using their platforms, according to a survey from Ipsos.
  • 20%. The drop in the overall number of new entrants for initial teacher training in England this year compared to last year, according to latest government figures.
  • 75%. The percentage of the school workforce reporting that they’re stressed, according to a report into teacher wellbeing by the charity Education Support.
  • 25.7%. The proportion of 17-19-year-olds in England in 2022 with a probable mental disorder, up from 17.4% from the year before according to NHS Digital.
  • 1/3. The drop in the number of young people taking technical IT or computing qualifications over the last seven years, according to the Education Policy Institute.
  • 1,300. The number of independent schools in England registered as charities and so at risk from Labour policy to scrap charitable status, according to the Daily Telegraph. 
  • 68%. The number of young people who say that Bok Tok has inspired them to read a book they wouldn’t normally have considered, according to the Publishers Association.
  • 12.4%. The rise in food prices this month, up from 11.6% last month largely due to increases in meat, coffee and dairy products according to the British Retail Consortium.
  • £7.50. The average per head cost of Christmas dinner this year, which many will not be able to afford according to the Salvation Army. 

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Online Safety Bill: Remaining Stages (Monday 5 December).
  • Westminster Hall debate on the conduct of Ofsted school inspections (Tuesday 6 December).
  • Education Committee session with the Education Secretary (Wednesday 7 December).
  • UCAS publish End of Cycle data (Thursday 8 December).

Other stories

  • What’s worrying us. Each month the survey company Ipsos surveys a representative sample of just over a thousand adults across Britain to find out what’s concerning them most. Top of the ‘Issues Index’ for November, unsurprisingly, has been the economy and inflation. Both were at 45% although this was just before the Autumn Statement. Next (in order) came the NHS, immigration and lack of faith in politicians – the last two both up over the last month. Education was low down at fewer than 10% mentions. Age and political stance affect the polling in most cases. A link to the polling is here
  • Top words. More leading dictionaries have been listing their top words of the year recently. The American online dictionary Merriam-Webster pointed to ‘gaslighting’ as its most searched for word this year with ‘sentient,’ ‘omicron’ and ‘queen consort’ as other popular look-ups. Another interesting look-up was the word ‘loamy.’ Apparently it means “consisting of loam, a soil consisting of a friable mixture of varying proportions of clay, silt, and sand” and is useful as a five-letter word for Wordle. A link to the list is here
  • More words of the year. On a similar theme, the Australian dictionary Macquarie has a fascinating list of its words of the year. Here’s a few exhibits. ‘Bachelor’s handbag’ (a takeaway roast chicken in a bag for one,) ‘bossware’ (what the boss has installed in their computer to monitor employee activity,) and ‘skin hunger (physical contact.) A link to the list 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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