Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 09 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:

Nearly there.

The last few days of term are never easy, particularly this year with so many health and wellbeing worries evident. Many are on alert.

Elsewhere, as the year draws to a close, thoughts are turning to what’s in store for education in the new year. It follows the appearance of the education secretary at the Education Committee this week where she laid out her latest thinking. More on that in a minute.

But first, as usual, a run through the top education-related stories of the week.

  • Power to the people. Labour’s Gordon Brown led Commission on constitutional and economic reform was launched by Keir Starmer this week. Described as ‘meaty’ and at 155 pages, classic Gordon Brown, it’s certainly wide-ranging with bits on education including a locally determined model of FE. The theme is ‘the biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people,’ a key message Labour hopes to take to the electorate in due course.
  • Strike action. Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary was asked about possible industrial action in schools when she appeared before the Education Committee this week. Teachers have already begun strike action in Scotland and unions are balloting for potential strike action in England in the new year. She said she hoped this wouldn’t happen but the dept was planning for contingencies just in case.
  • Schools Bill. Also at the Education Committee, the Education Secretary confirmed that the Schools Bill would be scrapped. The Bill, published in May this year, contained some popular measures such as requiring local authorities to maintain registers for children not in school and giving Ofsted powers to tackle illegal schools but other aspects had been heavily criticised. The Head Teachers Association reckoned: “From the moment the Schools Bill was published it was clear it wasn’t going to be workable.” And so it proved.
  • Public sector creep. Following last week’s decision by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to reclassify FE colleges in England under the public sector, former universities minister David Willetts warned that universities could be next. ‘Their decision is due at the end of next year,’ he said in an article on the conservativehome
  • According to Sam Freedman, one of the authors of a new report on childcare this week from the think tank IPPR, ‘the early years system is broken.’ Many parents know that only too well. The report proposes a comprehensive, funded childcare system covering children up to the age of 11, claiming that the hefty cost involved – ultimately £17.8bn pa would be offset by increased parental earning contributions to the Treasury and rationalisation of the current piecemeal and expensive system.
  • Energy costs. ‘Welcome but won’t pay the costs in the future.’ That was the verdict from ASCL’s Geoff Barton as the government announced a chunk of money this week (£500m) to help state schools and colleges become more energy efficient. It works out on average at £16,000 for a primary school, £42,000 for a secondary school and £290,000 for a college. Measures that could be taken include “installing better heating controls, insulation to reduce heat loss from pipes or switching to energy efficient lighting.” But as Geoff Barton alluded, there’s still no certainty about what happens when the Energy Bill Relief Scheme ends in March 2023.

Links to these and other stories below as usual.

But back to education policy and how things are looking for the start of a new year.

The PM is said to be keen to portray education as a government success story but the reality may be more about steady and sound than radical and revolutionary. The ditching of much of the Schools Bill is evidence of that.

To set things in context, it may help top look at what Rishi Sunak had to say about education during the summer leadership debate. It was hardly radical. More grammar and Free Schools, the use of AI to reduce teacher workloads, ‘world class technical colleges,’ no more ‘low value’ degrees and ‘expediting’ the HE Freedom of Speech Bill. A standard menu to appeal to particular appetites.

On becoming PM, Rishi Sunak diverted to the Party’s 2019 manifesto, pledging to deliver on that. “I will deliver on its manifesto” he promised, “it’s a mandate that belongs to and unites all of us.”

It may be therefore as the Party seeks to show that it’s delivering on pledges, that the 2019 manifesto proves to be the baseline for education policy.

So what did it have to say about education?

It had a number of specifics. Starting salaries of £30,000 for teachers, an extra £14bn for schools, more ‘great’ schools including for SEND pupils and improved standards in the classrooms with £1m for Behaviour Hubs. On FE and skills it promised a new £3bn National Skills Fund and a look at ‘improving the apprenticeship levy.’ It also promised to create 20 Institutes of Technology and put £2bn in to upgrade the FE estate. On HE, it was notably thin, perhaps because it was waiting for the results of the Augar review but it did promise to tackle grade inflation and free speech.

The government may well claim that its delivering on much of this already. The National Skills Fund was launched last year, funding for schools was confirmed in the Autmn Statement while the HE Freedom of Speech Bill reaches its Third Reading next Tuesday.

So to return to the question, where does that leave education policy as we look to a new year? Here’s six things to look out for.

First, education catchup following the pandemic. The National Audit Office is due to present a report on this shortly. The jury is still out on the full impact of the pandemic but there remain concerns about the growing attainment gap, the rise in associated mental health issues and the wider impact on different groups of pupils. It will be interesting to see if the NAO see funding as an issue. Either way, the government may need to come up with a strategy on closing the attainment gap that goes beyond the current Key Stage 2 levelling up target.

Second, school system reform. The education secretary suggested we can forget about more grammar schools but some changes may come from the response on SEND and Alternative Provision promised in the new year. Equally the dropping of the Schools Bill suggests changes to Academy Trust accountability may be more light touch, something the PM had suggested in the summer. Either way, it’s hard to see any great shift from current policy here.

Third, on exams, arrangements are in place for as near to normal operations next summer as possible. Ofqual has this week sent out letters to students and teachers about the arrangements and will be publishing a student guide in the spring. Online testing remains the elephant in the room, a lot of work is going on in this area and we may well see further developments next year. The hope is for a ‘normal’ year.

Fourth curriculum reform. The case for a revamped curriculum, ‘less analogue and more digital’ to precis the Times Education Commission which has been a big voice in this continues. Rishi Sunak had talked in the summer about a Bacc model for 18 yr olds. Rather than overhaul the whole curriculum, it looks likely that the focus will be on English and maths to age 18, certificated perhaps by a Bacc format.

Fifth, skills, skills, skills. This remains the mantra for the FE sector which may have to wait for the Barber proposals before we see things like ‘Russell Group’ technical colleges as the PM had suggested during the summer. The current thrust is devolved ownership delivered through local skills partnerships. The key question here is what sort of local/regional body is needed for such a system to work. Not all local managing bodies are made in heaven. FE knows that. The Gordon Brown led Commission edged back to Regional Development Agencies. We shall see.

Sixth, higher education. The drive here is likely to come from the minister, Rob Halfon, and will be towards degree apprenticeships and higher technical skills. This may presage a battle over ‘low-value’ degrees while the battle with the Home Office over international students dies down. The civic university model, networked to local schools and colleges as well local employers while driving forward local economies through research and innovation is a model supported by many.

The top headlines of the week

  • ‘Labour should bring colleges under local control, Gordon Brown suggests.’ (Monday).
  • ‘MPs and peers do worse than 10-year-olds in maths and English SATs.’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Schools Bill scrapped, education secretary says.’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Jump in reserves leaves maintained schools sitting on £2.2bn.’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Tutoring scheme missed disadvantage target.’ (Friday).


  • Flexi work. The government issued a response to its 2021 consultation on flexible working, confirming that it intends to grant workers the right to request flexible working from the Day 1 of employment, support the current related legislation going through parliament and launch a further call for evidence to understand how informal arrangements might work in practice.
  • Children and Families Act 2014. The House of Lords Committee which has been looking at the implementation of this so-called ‘landmark’ Act eight years on, criticised a number of subsequent missed opportunities to help families with vulnerable children, proposing recommendations around adoption, mental health and family support as a result.
  • A new framework for Britain. Keir Starmer hosted the launch of a new democratic model for Britain, drawn up by a Commission led by Gordon Brown with proposals for devolving power to towns and cities, reforming the centre of government by for instance reforming the House of Lords and ‘reinvigorating democracy’ generally.
  • Economic outlook. The CBI called for ‘a joined-up plan on upskilling and automation’ as it argued that the UK has already fallen into a recession that’s likely to last until the end of next year with growth forecast to be down in 2023 to minus 0.4% and inflation falling but remaining high next year at 3.9%.
  • Mental health. The IPPR think tank reported on health inequalities as part of the work for its commission on health and prosperity, highlighting the UK’s poor record on preventable deaths and adult social care provision along with a growing volume of mental health disorders among young adults that often prevent them from returning to the workforce.
  • Childcare. IPPR and Save the Children called for ‘a universal childcare guarantee’ for children up to the age of eleven, acknowledging that while this could cost ultimately over £17bn a year, it would be offset by boosting parents’ earnings in turn feeding some £8bn a year back into the Treasury, save on the current patchwork of schemes and help raise attainment.
  • Education advice. The British Council launched a new, free advice hub to help agents and counsellors around the world advise international students about the UK education system, such as where to study, where to get English language support, and importantly, visa and post-study options.

More specifically ...


  • Energy efficiency. The government announced £447m from its overall capital budget to help improve energy efficiency in eligible schools and sixth form colleges over the coming year.
  • Exams 2023. Ofqual wrote to students and to school/college leaders confirming the arrangements for next summer’s exams covering GCSEs, A/As levels and vocational/technical qualifications and including details on grading and specified student support as previously consulted on.
  • Assessments in primary school. The House of Commons Library Service published a useful explainer on the testing and assessment regime for primary school children in England covering the background to the tests, the disruption caused by the pandemic, the latest provisional results and current arrangements.
  • Teacher recruitment and retention. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) announced the creation, with funding support from the Nuffield Foundation, of a new data dashboard able to provide more granular detail on teacher supply trends and implications including for specific subjects at a local level.
  • Education research. The Economic and Social Research Council listed the nine projects that will receive Council funding to undertake further research into topics such as recruiting STEM teachers, improving foreign language teachers knowledge and skills, and enhancing the use of technology in schools.
  • Governors. The National Governance Association launched its new career pathway for governance professionals, offering resources, training and career support for those undertaking governor roles.
  • School science. UCL reported on the views of young people on science in schools in England as part of its ASPIRES research study with four main conclusions emerging including the wish for a more practical and relevant curriculum, better support for teachers and different forms of assessment.
  • Attainment gap. The Economics Observatory pointed to growing inequality across the education system leading to a widening education gap, suggesting that despite the levelling up policies such as that at KS2, more funded support was needed to improve things.
  • Children’s Board. The children’s commissioner for England announced the launch of an inaugural Children’s Advisory Board, which would be a small pilot across ten schools in the first instance but in time would provide an outlet for children’s views to be heard.
  • Pupil attendance. FFT Education Datalab pulled together data on pupil attendance for 2021/22 to see what trends emerged, pointing to Fridays being the day with the highest absences and Wednesdays the lowest but with rates varying between schools and even between year groups.


  • Apprenticeships. The Sutton Trust highlighted the recent fall in apprenticeship take-up showing that much of this was concentrated on young people from deprived backgrounds, calling on the government to consider such measures as a widening participation criterion for the apprenticeship levy to help redress the balance.
  • Green skills. The Association of Colleges (AoC) with support from JMorgan   Chase launched a new programme aimed at helping young people, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, develop the green skills needed to help make London a greener, cleaner city.
  • Energy efficiency. The government announced £53m tor eligible colleges from its overall £500m capital funding budget to help improve energy efficiency in 2022/23.
  • Skills and training. The Resolution Foundation in partnership with the Centre for Economic Performance published a further briefing as part of its Economy 2030 Inquiry highlighting the increase in importance of ‘social and abstract skills in the workplace’ yet finding this coupled with a decline in current training volumes particularly from those who might benefit the most from such skill training.


  • Capital funding. The Office for Students (OfS) confirmed, following a recent bidding process, the distribution of £432m in capital funding to 100 English universities and colleges to help transform facilities and equipment, along with dedicated funding for ‘world class specialist providers.’
  • University entry. UCAS published a first batch of ‘End of Cycle’ data for university entry 2022 showing record numbers of UK 18 yr olds from disadvantaged areas accepted on to courses this year and with 92% of all applicants (all ages, all domiciles) receiving an offer – the same as last year.
  • Career guidance. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) and Handshake reported on their online survey through the NUS of student views on careers guidance and employment showing nearly a half confident that they’d find their desired job on graduation and in many cases keen to see courses designed with employment in mind but less keen on government restricting access to courses with poorer job prospects.
  • ITT losses. The Times Higher examined which universities had suffered the most from the fall in numbers of recruits for initial teacher training (ITT) this year with London Met and Canterbury Christchuch among the biggest losers.
  • Staying local. The MillionPlus Group highlighted through a series of case studies, the important role that modern universities play in local communities “acting as key anchor institutions, generating economic value as employers, procurers and providers of services in the local economy,” calling on the government to help spread the geographic reach of such institutions.
  • Personal Statements. The Student Room published its latest regular update of student views and opinions on current issues including thoughts on writing personal statements where the three top concerns were not being convincing enough, not having enough experience and not knowing where to start, and where views appeared pretty divided over potential reform.
  • Shared Projects. The QAA listed the 16 new ‘Collaborative Enhancement Projects’ that had been approved for funding from January 2023 and include topics such as ‘student choice in assessment,’ ‘measuring educational gain,’ and ‘developing a pilot peer evaluation system.’
  • Complaints and appeals. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator updated its Good Practice Framework for handling complaints and academic appeals, to include details about the concept of bias, revisions to the language of principles, and an expansion of the guidance when more than one process might apply.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Standard day in KS1. Child is sick, brought in to me, awaiting collection by mum. I'm eating my soup & roll. Child is sick some more...comfort, clean up, wipe down. Resume eating soup & roll” -@blondebonce.
  • “Even the supply is sick this morning. Happy days…” -@llewelyn20.
  • “Utterly baffled to encounter a student very confidently walking around the school dressed as a fairy. Was about to challenge their lack of uniform when I remembered our Winter production is A Midsummer Night's Dream” - @MBDscience.
  • “The correct secret santa budget is £5 and it always will be” -@monzo.
  • “I’ve got a Premier Inn advent calendar – I can’t open any of the windows” -@OFalafel.

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “I’ve discovered a whole new world of possibilities which I am excited to explore” – Matt Hancock announces he won’t stand as an MP at the next general election.
  • “There’s nothing quite as ex as an ex-MP” – Vince Cable with a reminder for those MPs thinking of quitting for better jobs.
  • “So our proposals represent a radical rebalancing of power between the centre and those it serves” – Keir Starmer sets out a new model of power to the people.
  • “We’ve been calling for this change as it will help create fairer, more inclusive workplaces and improve access to flexible jobs for many people” – the CIPD responds to government proposals for a right to request flexible working from day one.
  • “I do wish our students were more resilient about not feeling undone by nasty remarks thrown at them” - Dame Louise Richardson in a valedictory interview with the FT as she steps down as V.C. at Oxford University.
  • “It has largely sat on the shelf, a piece of legislation which has languished as a result of a lack of implementation, inadequate scrutiny and incessant churn amongst Ministers and officials” – a Lords Committee passes judgement on the Children and Families Act 2014.
  • “Nine out of 10 inspections are regarded as a good experience by schools, but I do not want us to pretend for one moment that every single inspection will be a happy experience” – Nick Gibb offers thoughts on Ofsted inspections in a debate in parliament.
  • “If the strikes go ahead it will add up to one massive lose-lose-lose situation – for the country, for kids, and for the profession” – Mark Lehain.

Important numbers

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

  • 4.5% - 0.4%, 1.6%. Forecast figures for UK economic growth this year, next year and the year after according to the CBI.
  • 72%. The number of disabled workers who earn less than £15 an hour, according to a survey from the TUC.
  • 47%. The number of employers surveyed who don’t have an inclusion and diversity strategy or action plan in place, according to CIPD.
  • 563,175. The number of applicants through UCAS accepted on to university courses this year, up 0.2% on last year.
  • 16,120. The number of Skills Bootcamp starts for the period April 2021 to March 2022, according to latest government figures.
  • 91.2%. The attendance rate for schools across England for w/commencing 21 November, down due to flu and other seasonal illnesses according to the government.
  • 62%. The increase in the cost of cooking a turkey in an electric oven for 3 hours this Christmas, according to Bloomberg UK.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Education Committee meeting. (Tuesday 13 December).
  • Release of National Tutoring Programme performance stats. (Thursday 15 December).

Other stories

  • Festive spending. A lot has been written about how and where people are going to be cutting back on spending this Christmas due to the cost-of-living. According to the consultancy firm PwC which published its latest consumer survey last week, the average festive spend this year will be £393 per adult. That’s down 8% on last year with 45 – 54 yr olds the age group cutting back the most. Children and pets, ‘practical gifting’ and Christmas dinner appear to be the main priorities although family gatherings will be smaller. And yes, men are still the least organised, many planning for a late High St dash. A link to the story is here
  • Predictions for 2023. This is the time of year for predictions for the next 12 months. For those interested in technology, media and telecommunications, Deloitte has come up with five predictions. They include more accessible and cheaper smartphones, virtual reality going mainstream, and a 25% increase in global shopping through social media. A link to the list is here.
  • Christmas characters. Finally, on a lighter note, the student website The Tab lists ‘the nine student Christmas personas’ you’re likely to encounter over the festive season. The range from the Elf to the Kevin. A 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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