Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 16 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:

At last.

The end of term arrived for many this week. For others and for MPs it’ll be next week.

It’s not been an easy end of term for many reasons but as Ofsted noted in its annual report this week, education and child care providers continue to provide hope for so many people of all ages. 'Our inspections (this year) told a broadly positive story' the chief inspector intimated in her introduction to the report.

That said, its been difficult to find much positivity among the barrage of data and reports released this week. It could be worse. Sky News reported for instance that a company has been left with 18,000 England ‘World Cup Winners’ T-shirts after England’s defeat this week. Keep for next time perhaps?

As for education, these have been the top headlines of the week.

  • Education spending. This week the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) published its annual report on education spending in England. It was pretty damning. The government spends 10% of its total budget on education. That’s a drop of 2% on 50 years ago and, according to the IfS, it represents ‘a historical low point’. The government did put more money into schools in the recent Autumn Statement, but that will only see them catch up to 2010 levels. Meanwhile, other sectors in education, from early years to higher ed, are all facing difficult funding pressures ‘with colleges and sixth forms in a particularly difficult position’.
  • Economic picture. Latest economic and labour market figures were released this week, and they don’t make for very festive reading either. CPI inflation fell last month, although with the prices of food and drink still high, the Resolution Foundation reckoned ‘the fall will be of more comfort to policy makers than families’. As for the labour market, the good news was a fall in economic inactivity among the featured 55+ age group. But a fall in vacancies and a rise in economic inactivity among the young, led the Institute for Employment Studies to suggest that 'it does look like we are at the start of a wider slowdown in the economy and labour market'.
  • What we want from our schools? If Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer need any tips on what parents are looking for from their local (primary) schools, they could do a lot worse than consult the focus group evidence published by Public First this week. Good, local schools, that offer a wide curriculum and are open in terms of communication, seem to be top of the list. No great surprises perhaps, and no great excitement either about academisation or techie classrooms.
  • Ofsted report. Ofsted published its annual report this week. In its words 'Our inspections show an improving picture in schools and further education. But the lasting impact of lost education will take time to reveal itself fully'. Schools and colleges were commended for their work in education recovery for learners of all ages post-pandemic, but teacher recruitment, learners with high needs, unregistered provision and missing pupils were among the areas of concern listed. 
  • Data dump. In its customary way the government released a mass of data in these closing days of term. They include stats on the National Tutoring Programme for 2021/22 (estimated 2,144,992 courses delivered) revisions to KS2 attainment (59% attainment in reading, writing, maths down from 65% in 2019) penalty notices for pupil absences (218,235, but below pre-pandemic days) and details on childcare/early years providers (60,000). 
  • Summer 2022 exams. The government haven’t been the only ones putting out a mass of data this week. Ofqual published its report in this summer’s exams, along with data on malpractice (43% of penalties issued to students concerned communication devices such as mobile phones), special considerations and requests for reviews of marking and admin error reviews. There’s a lot of useful stats in all this and it shows what a massive and important operation the exams and assessment business is. Work is already well underway for next summer’s series with new commitments from some of the awarding bodies.

Links to these and other stories below as usual.

Finally, this rounds up Education Eye for another year. Thanks to all those who have followed or supported it over another hectic year. Education Eye will be back in the new year providing weekly updates from the EdCentral website. You can sign up to receive these via email here. Best wishes and a happy festive season all round. 

The top headlines of the week

  • ‘Traineeships scrapped amid years of low starts’ (Monday).
  • ‘Staff crisis hampering children’s pandemic recovery, says Ofsted’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Public Accounts Committee warns skills system is failing to deliver’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Higher education regulator to make freedom of speech priority next year’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Pupil premium rates to rise by 5% from April’ (Friday).


  • Education spending. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) published its 2021/22 annual report into education spending in England acknowledging the recent increases in schools funding which will see it return to 2010 levels but pointing to pressures across the rest of education with early years providers facing cost increases, HE facing a squeeze on resources and colleges struggling to balance a decade of cuts with increased student numbers.
  • Workforce skills. The Public Accounts Committee published its report into the government’s approach to developing workforce skills in England concluding that it’s failing to deliver and making a number of recommendations including reviewing the multiplicity of systems, encouraging greater employer investment, and tackling workforce shortages.
  • Labour market overview. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its latest data on the UK labour market showing a slight increase in the unemployment rate and a decrease in the economic inactivity rate (August – October) along with a fall in the vacancy level and a hit to wages from infllation.
  • Labour market analysis. The Institute for Employment Studies crunched the latest labour market data concluding that there was little good news, apart from a slight fall in economic inactivity among the 50+ age group, and reckoning that with vacancies falling and youth worklessness growing, there were signs of a wider slowdown in the economy. 
  • National Living Income. The New Economics Foundation published a report calling for a new system of working-age income protection built around four key principles including a minimum income guarantee and financial work incentives.
  • Green Jobs. PwC published the results of its latest Green Jobs Barometer suggesting that green jobs were growing at four times the rate of the overall employment market but that many of these were concentrated in London and the South East with some regions falling behind and gaps emerging in new green trade jobs and skills.
  • Manufacturing. Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, published its final outlook for the year pointing to a contraction of -4.4% for the year and with little better news for next year with manufacturing forecast to contract by -3.2% in 2023.
  • Plan of Work 2023/24. Ofcom outlined its work schedule 2023/24 pointing to four key areas around media and communications including completing its cloud market study, working on the Media Bill, and looking at video sharing platforms for user safety.
  • Family Review. The children’s commissioner for England published Part 2 of her Review into families and parenting, setting out four principles (open, high-quality, reliable, holistic) around which family support and service should operate with a family framework based around households rather than relationships.
  • Digital learning. UNICEF raised concerns in a new report that many of the digital global learning platforms developed during the pandemic to help children access learning were no longer functioning properly, calling for a holistic approach involving resources, training and national policies to overcome a digital divide.

More specifically ...


  • Funding. The government set out local authority funding allocations for next year pointing to extra money for SEND, Alternative Provision and mainstream schools along with further capital funding for school buildings.
  • Inspections. Ofsted published its annual report for 2021/22 highlighting the work undertaken by schools to catch up after the pandemic with a higher number of schools rated good or outstanding often due to ambitious curricula but pointing to issues for some previously exempt schools, and concerns about persistent pupil absentees, unregistered provision, SEND numbers/support, and teacher recruitment. 
  • Exams 2022. Ofqual published its summary report on the management of exams for this summer where in its words “six million GCSE, AS and A level results were issued on time to 1.2 million students in 373 different qualifications this year” and where, as exams returned to normal, the level of incidents was limited amd largely restricted to delivery failure and errors in assessment material.
  • Disadvantage gap. The Education Policy Institute called for more targeted support for disadvantaged students along with a post-16 student premium as it revealed new evidence showing that the disadvantage gap worsened considerably last year notably for SEND and ‘persistently poor’ students following the pandemic.
  • Careers guidance. Rob Halfon, the skills minister, acknowledged the letter from the careers guidance adviser Sir John Holman submitted in the summer and setting out nine principles for a future publicly funded careers guidance system in England, adding that the dept would publish fuller details on its plans in due course.
  • Red Wall schools. The consultancy Public First in conjunction with the NAHT and Unison, reported on what parents in ‘red wall’ areas were looking for from primary school provision with focus group evidence showing how much value they place on local community schools and the work teachers do in ensuring pupils learn the basics and feel supported.
  • SATs. The Standards and Testing Agency set out the changed dates and expectations around primary assessments for the coming year along with the test dates for 2024/25.
  • The future of assessment. Assessment specialist, Daisy Christodoulou, argued in an article for the TES that exams and assessment remained important but that there was a case for further reform, looking at the potential in three areas in particular: onscreen assessment, using scales scores rather than grades, and applying artificial intelligence to mark essays. 
  • Anchor institutions. The Confederation of School Trusts and the Reach Foundation laid out the case for School Trusts to become anchor institutions in their own communities, playing a wider role in the community and providing opportunities for all. 
  • Free school meals. Zarah Sultana MP presented her Bill to extend free school melas to all children in state primary schools with a Second Reading of the Bill set for 20 January 2023. 


  • Inspections. Ofsted published its annual report for 2021/22 pointing to an increase in the number of providers judged good or outstanding at their most recent full inspection and a lot of work being done to help with pandemic recovery but also issues around some provision for apprenticeships, T levels, Bootcamps, prison education, and learners with high needs.
  • Summer assessments. Ofqual published its summary report on the management of assessments for the 2021/22 autumn and summer vocational and technical qualifications which saw a 6% increase in the number of certificates issued but which also resulted in two issues (missing or incorrect results where a new results deadline is being discussed and assessment problems in the Health and Science T levels) that needed resolving. 
  • Intervention powers. The government set out details about the use of the Secretary of State’s intervention powers in light of the Skills Act, listing possible circumstances that might see them provoked and the evidence that would be considered in each case. 
  • Traineeships. Rob Halfon the skills minister, confirmed in a Statement to MPs that the national traineeship programme would be integrated into mainstream provision from 1 August 2023 and no longer funded as a sperate programme from that date.
  • Barber review. The skills minister responded to a question in Parliament about the Barber review and whether this included a look at FE funding by simply adding that Sir Michael had been called on ‘to provide private advice to the Chancellor and Education Secretary on the implementation of the dept’s current skills reforms programme.’ 
  • Annual report. Sheila Legrave, the FE Commissioner, issued her annual report incorporating a range of visits and work from over the past year, highlighting challenges over staffing and the cost-of-living in particular and pointing to three areas of concern: subcontracting, cyber security and long-stay governors. 
  • Apprenticeship consultation. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) launched a consultation on some proposed changes to the criteria for mandatory qualifications in apprenticeships, clarifying for instance which should mandated and why. 
  • Higher tech skills. The OU listed the first colleges that will receive government funded support from the OU to provide courses at L4/5 that develop the skills employers and local people need, with applications still open for a further round of bids.
  • Awarding Body acquisition. AQA announced that it had acquired Training Qualifications UK (TQUK) in a move intended to extend its vocational qualifications and assessment portfolio.


  • Annual Review. The Office for Students (OfS) published its Annual Review for the year running through the list of challenges faced and the work undertaken around key issues of quality, standards and equality, and signalling quality course outcomes, engagement with schools and freedom of speech as the three big priorities for 2023.
  • Freedom of speech. The Office for Students (OfS) set out its approach to freedom of speech as the HE Freedom of Speech Bill reached its concluding stages in Parliament, setting out a definition, the wider context and expected regulations that may follow the completion of the Bill.
  • Fees and funding. London Economics published their report, commissioned by the University of the Arts London, into alternative progressive funding options for HE, modelling two in detail including a stepped repayment system and a graduate tax of 3% on mid/lower earnings and 5% on higher, with both having the virtue of being fiscally neutral. 
  • Funding conversation. Universities UK launched a national conversation on the future of university funding, aiming to get as wide a range of opinions as possible and come up with a range of creative solutions. 
  • Export revenue. The government published estimated UK revenue from education-related exports and transnational education activity in 2020 showing a slight increase to £25.6bn from the year before.
  • UCAS Impact. UCAS highlighted the impact of its work in a new report showing that among other things, it helps half a million students find a course that matches their aspirations thereby adding some £3.3bn a year in terms of economic value.
  • Quality Code. The QAA outlined its work on reviewing the UK Quality Code with a series of conversations under way and online roundtable events pencilled in for January, February and March 2023.
  • Challenger providers. Sir Malcolm Grant and Mary Curnock Cook reflected in a blog on the HEPI website about the difficulties faced by new and ‘challenger’ providers in getting up and running, pointing especially to disproportionate regulatory expectations, calling as a result for the current changes around quality management to be used as an opportunity to review things.
  • Our year. Advance HE published a chronological review of its work this year listing a range of reports and reviews undertaken including the regular landmark Student Academic Experience Survey with HEPI in the summer. 
  • How to respond to a student suicide. Universities UK in conjunction with PAPYRUS (Prevention of Young Suicide and Samaritans) published a helpful guide for those working in HE who may have to respond to a case of student suicide or help prevent one, setting out a range of principles and resources intended to help in such circumstances.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “A parent at my sons' school wears shorts and flip-flops on school run even in winter. Today was so cold he upgraded to shorts and trainers” | @Adrian Bethune
  • “Could there be a more disappointing sentence in the English language? "I write to confirm the School will be open as usual today" | @susiemesure
  • “Seeing that some schools put on a staff panto for the children is a whole new level of fear I’d never thought about” | @MrB_abc
  • “Daughter has just finished her PowerPoint presentation ready for school tomorrow. Every page has swishing curtains, dissolving checkerboards, origami birds or rotating honeycomb. Her class are in for a visual treat. There's about three lines of information among the effects too” | @jonnybid
  • “Today - yet another day in which I cook the kids their dinner - fresh and hot - and they refuse to eat any of it. At this point I may as well make the food from the oven and shovel it straight into the bin and cut out the middle-man” | @imranmahmood777

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “It’ll get worse before it gets better” – the Chancellor responds to the latest economic figures.
  • “Household finances are being stretched by increased living costs and rising mortgage payments” – the Bank of England publishes its latest Financial Stability Report.
  • “Since 2010, most areas of education spending have seen real-terms cuts in some form or another” – the IfS publishes its latest annual report on education spending in England.
  • “I have over 25 years of experience of independent decision making in complaints and promoting good practice and improved services through learning from complaints” – Helen Megarry on being appointed as the new Independent Adjudicator at the OIA from next May.
  • “The student loan system is like an overextended house. Like successive architects, in our attempts to rebuild it, we have only added more features” – James Purnell, V.C. at UAL introduces a new report on the student loan system “This is the principle that academic staff are free within the law to question and test received wisdom, and put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or the privileges they may have at their university” – the OfS defines academic freedom.
  • “Within six months, DfE should provide us with an update on how it is helping colleges deal with the challenges relating to workforce shortages and funding arrangements” – the Public Accounts Committee makes a number of recommendations in a new report on workforce skill development.
  • “However, the 17,400 starts achieved in the 2020/21 academic year and the 15,500 starts in 2021/22 remains a small number of starts for a nationally administered programme” – Rob Halfon the skills minister signals the end of the national traineeship programme.
  • “To announce this decision, without any form of consultation- and right before Christmas- is incredibly poor form” – the association of training providers reacts to the decision to end the national traineeship programme.
  • “It has been a difficult year and the lasting impact of the pandemic on children and learners will take time to emerge fully” – Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman introduces this year’s annual report.

Important numbers

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

  • 0.5%. The amount the UK economy grew in October, according to latest figures from the ONS.
  • 10.7%. The CPI inflation rate for November, better than predicted but with the cost of consumables especially food and drinks still high according to latest ONS figures.
  • £76 a month. The amount that working people have lost on average this year in wages because of inflation, according to research from the TUC.
  • £116bn. Total spending on UK education last year, 4.6% of national income but lower than 50 years ago according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  • 1%. The increase in the percentage of student withdrawal notifications currently this year, according to figures from the Student Loans Company.
  • 2. The number of formal college interventions undertaken by the FE Commissioner and her team during the 2021/22 year, triggered in both cases by financial issues according to the annual report by the FE Commissioner. 
  • 88%. The number of state – funded schools judged good or outstanding, according to Ofsted’s latest annual report.
  • 15.7m. The number of individual exam scripts presented for this summer’s A/AS/GCSE exams in England, according to Ofqual’s exams report.
  • 25%. The number of A/AS grades changed this summer having been challenged, up 5% on the pre-pandemic 2019 series, according to Ofqual’s summer exams report.
  • 588,170. The number of special considerations requests for this summer’s exams, similar in number to 2019, according to Ofqual’s summer exams report.
  • 87%. The number of schools that participated in the National Tutoring Programme 2021/22, according to latest government figures.
  • 218,235. The number of penalty notices issued to parents for pupil absences (largely unauthorised holidays) last year, according to latest government figures.
  • £5.60. The mean hourly fee charged by providers for children aged 3 – 4, according to latest government figures.
  • 90%. The number of schools holding in-person Christmas events, (many had had to be scrapped over the last couple of years because of the pandemic,) according to a survey from Teacher Tapp.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Parliamentary Christmas recess (Wednesday 21 December – Monday 9 January 2023).

Other stories

  • Not a new story, but a new word perhaps in an article in the Independent this week. ‘Sharenting’ apparently refers to the current trend of parents posting and sharing phots of their children as they display their latest skill or trait. The view is that the trend is being driven by Gen Z generation parents, the first generation to grow up attached to the technology. Apparently 1.1m UK parents post photos of their kids on line at least nine times a month. The research comes from the image protection platform Pixsy whose sharenting tips can be found here
  • All I want for Christmas. More socks and shower stuff? According to a survey from YouGov this week, those old, and sometimes often maligned favourites like socks and shower gel, actually go down quite well as presents at Christmas. Top of the tree in terms of favourites is the woolly jumper -perhaps not home knitted – followed by socks, a scarf and shower stuff. Bottom of the pile is the humble handkerchief. And beware novelty mugs. They don’t go down too well either. They don’t go down too well either. A link to the survey is here
  • Christmas Challenge. If 2=GROWTH and 6=EXIST, then 9= what seven letter word which describes what you'll be doing with your presents on Christmas Day? One of the six puzzles set by GCHQ as part of its annual Christmas Challenge. The other puzzles and in due course the answers can be found on the GCHQ website 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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