Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 18 March 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:

Economic news has been making much of the running this week with a series of reports raising the odds ahead of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement next week.

Other education-related developments this week have included learning loss in primary schools; digital maturity in schools; college finances; post-16 policies and levelling up; international higher education; and blended learning.

Here’s a quick run through.

On learning loss, two reports provided further data on the impact of the pandemic on primary pupils in England. 

One, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) looked at the growing body of research on this topic, concluding that while the attainment gap had improved, there was still a long way to go. The other, from Juniper Education, examined primary pupil data from over 6,000 schools and concluded that at the time of the report, autumn 2021, 'the number of primary age children working at or above age-related expectations had not returned to 2019 levels.' Collectively, they reinforce many of the messages in the Education Committee’s report last week. 

Elsewhere, the government published a commissioned report into digital maturity among schools in England and how far this affected pupil attainment. Not greatly, seemed to be the conclusion here, albeit from a limited sample. 

As for college finances, this came in the form of a useful primer from the AoC’s deputy chief executive Julian Gravatt, complete with an accompanying slide pack. And post-16 skills policies in the context of levelling up were examined in a collection of comment pieces by leading experts, put together and published by the Campaign for Learning. 

As for international education, this formed the core of a speech by the skills minister reflecting on future strategies and opportunities while the Office for Students announced a consultation on blended learning as the closing date was reached on three other consultations. 

But, back to the big theme of the week: the economy, or more particularly, living standards.

Next week, all eyes will be on the Chancellor as he presents his Spring Statement. It was meant to be a validation of the economic strategy adopted during the pandemic, ‘a victory roll’ even according to the Sunday Times, but it’s shaping up to be a very different occasion to the one originally planned. 

Growing concerns about the effects of energy hikes, global crises, and general cost of living have seen to that.  A series of reports over the last few weeks have highlighted the impact on households, let alone public services like education. The British Chambers of Commerce, the Resolution Foundation, the Living Wage Foundation and the New Economics Foundation have been among those publishing revealing reports this week. The New Economics Foundation, for instance, suggested that over a third of households would 'be unable to afford the cost of living by £8,600 on average by April 2022.' The BCC called for a delay to the NI rise.

Experts suggest that the Chancellor has little room for manoeuvre. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) in their recent assessment reckoned that the Chancellor had 'a huge judgement call' to make on matters like household budgets, public sector pay, and the defence budget. The Resolution Foundation, in a presentation this week labelled ‘Catch 22,’ pointed to similar conundrums facing the Chancellor.” Either way, both agree that next Wednesday’s Statement will be a bigger occasion than the Chancellor had originally intended. As the CIPD put it 'we are at the foothills of the 2022 living standards squeeze.' Some way to go therefore.

The latest labour market figures out this week offer little respite to the Chancellor. Unemployment is continuing to fall and things are continuing to improve for many young people but labour force participation is still on a downward trend and economic inactivity is rising. It is, as the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) said in its regular analysis, ‘a wearily familiar story.’

There are perhaps two features of note for the world of education and training. First, and more positively, a continuing improving picture for young people with growing numbers taking up f/t education and training as well as driving up the jobs recovery. Second, for many older people it’s a less positive picture, with large numbers of 55+ year-olds having left the workforce and not returning. According to The Spectator, 'Your typical Neet is now a professional aged 50 to 70 who has decided to throw in the towel prematurely.' Not all the labels are helpful and the ONS had some interesting research on the topic this week. As the IES suggested, a Plan for Participation is now needed from government.

As for what’s been happening around education in Westminster this week, the government published its response to last year’s Commission report on Race and Ethnic Disparities. The report remains a source of debate and the government has launched a detailed Action Plan in response, with recommendations targeting all parts of the education system. Recommendations include those for schools, apprenticeships and HE providers.

Elsewhere, Education ministers faced questions from MPs. Topics included home-schooling, school buildings, political impartiality in schools with one MP lambasting the NEU as the Not Education Union, BTECs, access to higher ed, and strikes in the sector. Earlier, the Schools Standards Minister confirmed in a Statement to MPs, the recently announced changes to the National Tutoring Programme and the repositioning of the Oak National Academy.

The minister also appeared before the Education Committee answering questions about the education challenges facing young people from traveller backgrounds. The Committee also took the opportunity to ask about the government’s catch-up programme, the National Tutoring Programme and this year’s exams. The Apprenticeship All-Party Parliamentary Group held a session on how to make the system work better for SMEs while the All-Party Parliamentary Group held its Annual General Meeting. And MPs discussed the status of LEPs in a Westminster Hall debate with the Levelling Up Under Secretary confirming that a lot of work was going on around regional roles and responsibilities post the White Paper, but that LEPs would remain.

Finally, the chair of the Education Committee, Rob Halfon, was accorded ten minutes yesterday to run through for MPs his Committee’s report, released last week, on education catch-up. It, and the four key findings, were well received.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘England’s teaching workforce among least experienced’ (Monday).
  • ‘Most schools not making best use of technology, DfE study finds’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Ofsted: The schools most likely to be rated good’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘UK student drop out rates hit record low in pandemic' (Thursday).
  • ‘Covid: Ex-teacher calls to arms falls flat as 1 in 3 make it to the classroom’ (Friday).


  • Inclusive Britain. The government published its response to last year’s report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, agreeing with much of what proved to be a contentious report, and setting out a detailed Action Plan covering most aspects of public life, including education, policing, health and labelling. 
  • Online Safety. The Online Safety Bill formally began its process through Parliament following draft proposals last year, with the government claiming it as ‘a landmark moment’ in terms of protecting children and public safety, with new requirements on social media companies and new powers for the regulator. 
  • DfE matters. The Dept for Education confirmed that it was bringing together post-16 skills policy and delivery into a new Skills Group as recommended by the recent review of the Education and Skills Funding Agency and later this year would be creating a new Regional Group to dovetail with the nine English regions.
  • R/D. The government set out how the extended R/D budget would be allocated over the next three years with a focus on delivering the ambitions in the Innovation Strategy, with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI,) the Space Agency and Horizon Europe among those likely to benefit.
  • Good news, bad news. The Resolution Foundation cast its collective eye over the finances head of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, pointing to some good news on the public finances including increased tax receipts and an improving economy but some bad news on family finances including higher inflation and food and energy price rises.
  • Living below the threshold. The New Economics Foundation published new research indicating that by next month nearly a quarter of households would be living below the minimum income standards threshold, calling for an uplift in benefits as a result. 
  • Work insecurity. The Living Wage Foundation highlighted the issue of an ‘insecurity premium’ where low paid shift workers are given under a week’s notice about shifts, leaving them facing higher travel and childcare costs and with nearly a third again having to rely on debt.
  • Labour market. The government published the latest Labour Force Survey estimates for the period Nov 2021–Jan 2022 showing the employment rate and job vacancies up but wage growth low and economic inactivity rising among older groups.
  • Labour market figures. The Institute for Employment Studies published its regular analysis of the latest labour market figures pointing to a continuing fall in unemployment and an improving picture for young people but a continuing fall in labour force participation by older workers leading to rising levels of economic inactivity. 

More specifically ...


  • Inclusive curriculum. The government included a number of proposals for developing a more inclusive curriculum, including developing a Model History curriculum by 2024, improving careers guidance, and incorporating more training for teachers as part of its Inclusive Britain report, 
  • School digital maturity. The government published a commissioned report on its work monitoring digital maturity in schools and of any relationship between this and pupil attainment, concluding that the majority of schools were ‘somewhere in the middle in terms of their digital maturity journey’ and that there was no obvious relationship between a school’s level of digital maturity and pupil attainment.
  • Learning loss. The education company, Juniper Education, published a follow-up report on the impact of the pandemic on primary children’s learning, using attainment data for up to last autumn indicating that performance has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels with current Yr3 and disadvantaged children the hardest hit.
  • Covid impact. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) examined further data evidence from over the last couple of years on the impact of Covid on pupil attainment indicating that reading and maths across KS1/2 had been badly affected and equally finding disadvantaged groups the hardest hit.
  • Mending the education divide. The OECD examined the issue of the education divide in a new report using evidence from its 2018 TALIS survey to highlight the fact that the ‘best’ teachers and ‘best’ resources are often not located in the schools that need them most, calling for policies that help improve recruitment, funding and support for such schools.
  • Neurodiversity. The children and families minister, Will Quince, reiterated government support for children with special needs ahead of Neurodiversity Celebration Week, adding that the Green Paper on the review of SEND will be published before the end of the month.
  • 30 years on. FFT Education Datalab reviewed the nature of inspections and the impact of Ofsted 30 years on from its inception noting the changing nature of inspection frameworks over the years and affirming that ‘schools with the least disadvantaged intakes tend to be more likely to have always been judged good or better.’ 
  • Tackling pupil absences. The Education Endowment Foundation looked into recent evidence from approaches to improving pupil attendance suggesting that personal letters or texts to parents can help but that ultimately practical evidence remains weak with the Foundation partnering up with the Youth Endowment Fund to sponsor further research.
  • Online safety. The Children’s Commissioner set out her thinking on online safety as part of the Online Safety Bill highlighting some of the dangers that children face and which survey evidence has reported, calling among other things for effective age verification for pornographic sites, stronger reporting and enforcement, and closer working with schools and parents.
  • Teachers as mental health support. Researchers from UCL and the Chartered College among others highlighted the dual role of teachers as they increasingly take on the role of mental health support, calling for more investment and training to help perform this role and a better managed health care system generally.
  • Testing materials. The Standards and Testing Agency sent out its latest guidance for schools on keeping key stage and phonics test materials secure, including how they should be stored and who should have access.
  • 5 priorities. The National Association of Headteachers set out its five campaigning priorities for 2022, issued in response to calls from members and covering pay, school funding, forced academisation, child poverty, and the underfunding of family services.


  • Skills Bill. The House of Commons Library Service published a helpful summary of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill as it reached its final stages, outlining the purpose the Bill, amendments suggested and much of the debate around it.
  • MPs discussed the status of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) following the Levelling Up White Paper with many asking for clarity on their status in the future and the minister reassuring them that LEPs would be here to stay.
  • Youth employment. The All-Party Parliamentary Group or Youth Employment published its report into the impact of vocational qualifications on young people’s employability, acknowledging support for government plans on raising the profile of voc quals but raising concerns about the defunding of some, such as BTECs, and calling for a carefully managed roll out of T levels, a review of careers provision, and a variety of provision at L2. 
  • Levelling Up Everyone, Everywhere. The Campaign for Learning published a new series of comment pieces by leading commentators on post-16 skills and levelling up covering aspects affecting young people, lifelong learners, training and local provision, and concluding with 15 recommendations addressing many of the White Paper missions. 
  • College finances. Julian Gravatt provided a useful summary on the current state of college finances pointing to a continuing difficult time for colleges despite the relief for 16-18 yr olds announced under the spending review, listing concerns about staffing, recruitment, and inflation but suggesting that demand for skills, technical courses and levelling up may yet offer some respite.
  • Green skills. LinkedIn published a new report on Green Skills, bringing together its range of data and market intelligence on the matter, pointing to noticeable gaps in green skill development in the UK and calling for a better alignment between supply and demand of such skills.
  • 2024 T levels. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) set out guidance for new providers who wish to register their intent to offer T levels for 2024/5 on.
  • Online learning platform. The Education and Training Foundation confirmed that from the start of next month its Foundation Online Learning platform will be replaced by FutureLearn as the home for its online learning for the sector.


  • International education. The skills minister, Alex Burghart, set out the government’s thinking on the UK International Education Strategy in a speech to the International Education Forum, praising the sector for meeting the international recruitment target early, confirming the focus around 5 countries including India and Saudi Arabia, and highlighting the importance of TNE.
  • Call for evidence. The Office for Students (OfS) launched a Call for Evidence from higher ed providers and organisations on the experiences of international students in UK education and how they might best be supported as the government and sector seek to strengthen their international education strategy for the future.
  • Setting the context. The Office for Students (OfS) published a briefing on international students and the current status of the government’s international education strategy showing the importance of international students to UKHE and the contribution they make while looking at options for further development in a post-pandemic, post-Brexit world. 
  • In response. Universities UK published its responses to three consultations (on student outcomes, the TEF, and the construction of indicators) launched by the Office for Students (OfS) earlier this year, listing a series of ‘five main asks’ in each case, including the need to contextualise published data and for regulation to be proportionate.
  • Blended learning. The Office for Students (OfS) announced it was launching a review of blended learning following concerns raised about the experiences of some students, with Professor Suan Orr leading the review that will report back this summer.
  • Drop-out rates. The HE Statistics Agency published non-continuation rates for UK universities for 2019/20, taking in the first months of lockdown, and showing drop-out rates actually falling, with over 90% now projected to complete their qualification.
  • Research and Innovation. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) published a 5-year strategy, building on 4 principles (diversity, connectivity, resilience, engagement) and setting out 6 objectives around people, places, ideas, innovation, impacts and organisation. 
  • Defining quality. Vicki Stott, chief executive of the QAA, heralded the silver anniversary of the organisation by launching with the HE Policy Institute (HEPI) a sector-wide conversation on the concept of quality, kicking things off with a blog on the HEPI site outlining some initial thoughts about the different facets of quality in HE.
  • More reactions to Augar. Dr Matt Dickson from the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath offered his reflections on the government’s recent response to the Augar review focusing in particular on the issue of widening successful participation suggesting that the failure to tackle student support, especially maintenance grants, was a big weakness in the response.
  • A return to Polys? The Times Higher provided an interesting leader piece on the case for a return to polytechnics in light of the current developments in the sector but concluded that opinions were not convinced.

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “There was an LA advisor in Margaret's school today. He'd come to carry out a 'mock deep dive' in English. Margaret understands monitoring but she doesn't like the water metaphor or the pressure. She thinks the advisor should have worn sub-aqua gear rather than a sharp suit” | @Retirement Tales
  • “My middle daughter had a spelling test and had to think of a word that ended ‘ound’. She told me everyone in her class struggled to think of one, but she came up with ‘greyhound’. “That’s good!’ I tell her. ‘How did you think of that?” “The Greyhound pub in the village!” | @heymrshallahan
  • “So short staffed at the moment. Today I taught all morning, sorted supply in Y4, phoned 3 parents, restarted the boiler, have done both lunch and gate duty and after school reset the server as we lost Internet access. Not bad really” | @learnmesummat
  • “Delivery man asked me to hold the item out while he took a photo of the box as proof of delivery. He then went “3,2,1…” and took the photo. He needs a pay rise” | @eljonesuk
  • “We’re holding a blue sky strategic planning session because we couldn’t think of a better way to thoroughly demoralize the staff” | @nonprofitssay
  • “Funny Quote of the Day: 'Ask five economists and you'll get five different answers – six if one went to Harvard.' Edgar Fiedler” | @SydesJokes

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “Looking through the twin crises of Covid and war, Sunak is preoccupied with the ‘Great Slowdown’: productivity, living standards and innovation are not growing rapidly enough” – the CEBR looks ahead to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement.
  • “But now you’ve burst through the sky-where next?” the skills minister praises higher ed for meeting international student recruitment targets early.
  • “I think the middle-class appetite for apprenticeships is a good problem to have” the SMF’s James Kirkup reports in The Spectator on ‘the march of the middle-class apprentices.
  • “Working out how to bring pupils up to speed after 2 disrupted years shouldn’t be rushed” – Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman addresses the ASCL conference last weekend.
  • “Our ‘Goldilocks’ duty then, is to make sure that there are neither too many qualifications, nor too few” – Ofqual chief regulator Dr Jo Saxton talks regulation and qualifications at the ASCL conference last weekend.
  • “Those special early years, our rich and joyful primary education, a secondary Key Stage 3 that builds confident knowledge – none of this should be a long and tedious runway leading to distant exams” – general secretary Geoff Barton talks of a curriculum for the future in his address to the ASCL conference.
  • “The results of this report suggest that effective teachers do not necessarily work in the schools that need them most” – the OECD reports on closing the educational divide.
  • “The National Tutoring Programme had (and still has) enormous potential, which makes it all the more galling to watch its potential dissipate” – former government adviser Tom Richmond on the National Tutoring Programme.
  • “Two years ago, who would have thought that a term such as ‘flattening the curve’ would become part of the public lexicon?” – one of the comments from this year’s International Mathematics Day held at the start of the week.
  • “In addition to increased use of seating plans, we’ve also found that desks set up in rows are now far more common than they were pre-pandemic” – Teacher Tapp reports on its survey of school seating plans.
  • “‘Front-load’ titles by putting the words people are most likely to search for at the front and use colons as connectors” – the government issues style guidance for anyone writing government reports.

Important numbers

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

  • 1,318,000. UK job vacancies for the period Dec 2021-Feb 2022, a new record according to the latest ONS figures.
  • £555. Average weekly regular earnings in January 2022, according to latest figures from the ONS.
  • 32%. The number of working parents with pre-school children who spend more than a third of their wages on childcare, according to research from the TUC.
  • 23.4m. The number of people in the UK projected to be living below the minimum income standard by next month, according to the New Economics Foundation.
  • 60%. The number of schools in a survey that were “moderately digitally mature” with 31% seen as not very digitally mature and 9% as highly digitally mature, according to a commissioned report from government.
  • 55%. The number of teachers in a survey who say they haven’t used a textbook in teaching this year, preferring powerpoint or other resources according to Teacher Tapp.
  • 92%. The number of people who have never responded to a local government consultation, according to the think tank Demos.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Annual Apprenticeship Conference (Monday 21 March – Tuesday 22 March).
  • AoC ‘Safe Students, Safe Colleges’ Conference (Tuesday March 22).
  • Education Committee witness session on universities and HE (Tuesday 22 March).
  • Westminster Hall debate on the rollout of the School Rebuilding Programme (Tuesday 22 March).
  • The Chancellor’s Spring Statement (Wednesday 23 March).
  • Youth Employability Conference (Wednesday 23 March).
  • BETT Conference (Wednesday 23 March – Friday 25 March).
  • Westminster Hall debate on PE as a core subject in schools (Wednesday 23 March).
  • Westminster Hall debate on LEPs (Wednesday 16 March).

Other stories

  • Returning to normal? The Office for National Statistics’ latest Opinion and Lifestyles Survey, completed in the last couple of weeks in February this year, provides an interesting mirror on society as Covid restrictions were eased. 81% of people reported that they continued to sanitise, and 76% said they’d stick with face coverings. Older people were avoiding crowded places, younger people not so much. And just over 30% 0f people reckoned it would take more than a year for things to return to normal, 9% felt it already had, while disturbingly, disabled people felt it never would for them. A link to the survey results can be found here.
  • Basket of measures. Inflation is a hot topic at present but it’s also worth looking at the ‘shopping basket’ of goods used to measure inflation. Why? Because it throws a fascinating light on how society is changing. This year for instance 19 items have been added and 15 removed. A big talking point has been the dropping of men’s suits from the list in favour of jackets or blazers. As Bloomberg reported suits have been in the basket since 1947 and have seen off the hippie but then, even many M/S stores aren’t selling the full set nowadays. Also off the list are donuts, reference books and refuse sacks. And in for 2022 are sports bras, canned pulses and of course, anti-bacterial surface wipes. All a sign of the times. A link to the listings 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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