Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 25 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:

The Chancellor’s Spring Statement has dominated much of the news this week.

Variously described as 'A Budget but not a Budget' and 'Rishi’s Judgment Day', the general view was that the Chancellor was facing ‘a moment of truth’ as he sought to balance out securing public finances with demands to ease the cost of living for hard pressed families. It seems that he hasn’t convinced everybody. 

There has been, as usual, a lot of expert analysis from bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS,) the Resolution Foundation, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation among others. But for those with an eye on education, here are three summary points.

First, global crises, notably Ukraine, have added a new and more difficult dimension to economic planning. The Chancellor began his Statement referring to Ukraine and acknowledged that any response was not cost free. It meant, as the Office for Budget Responsibility highlighted, ‘high uncertainty about the outlook.’ Growth forecasts were accordingly lowered from previous estimates, both for this year and next, to 3.8% and 1.8% respectively, before rising from 2024. Inflation, which came in at 6.2% this week, is likely to average 7.4% this year. It had been forecast at 4%. It will all have an impact on education provider planning and provision.

Second, and the biggest area of disappointment for many, was the fact that there was little in the Statement to help either hard-pressed public services like education, or hard-pressed families. On the latter, the Chancellor announced three measures, including a cut on fuel duty, VAT relief on energy efficiency devices and a doubling of the Household Support Fund. ‘Is that it?’ one MP asked. On the former, very little. No change to those spending plans set out last October, despite the ravages of inflation. As Robert Peston blogged: “In other words, hospitals and schools should brace to reduce their ambitions to catch up with treating sick people and correcting the schooling gaps caused by Covid-19.”

Third, and most significantly for those in adult training, the Chancellor announced he would look at ways of improving employer investment in adult training. This would include looking at the operation of the apprenticeship levy – 'very good news' according to the CBI – as well as at R/D tax relief. Details on this will be worked on over the summer and are likely to be followed up in the Autumn Budget. 

Key lines from the Treasury document included 'UK employers spend just half the European average on training for their employees' and 'The UK lags behind its international peers in adult technical skills.' The mantra, as the Chancellor laid out in his recent lecture, and repeated here, was ‘People, Capital, Ideas’. Funded, it would seem, through greater employer investment. 

Away from Treasury matters, it’s been another busy week for education. 

Among the activities listed below, has been the release of another batch of leading reports; a new strategy for the Office for Students; and the onset of the traditional Easter Conference season.

Here are some details. 

On reports, topics this week have included teacher supply, 14-19 qualifications and assessment, and prison education.

The report on teacher supply came from the NFER, with its latest annual report on the teacher labour market. The report’s conclusion, based on postgraduate initial teacher training applications and other data, was that ‘supply challenges are returning.’ 

As it explained, teacher supply challenges eased during the pandemic, but, currently, a number of secondary subjects are 'at high risk of not meeting their recruitment targets.' These include: English, biology, and RE, subjects that have traditionally recruited well in the past. The government has been directing its efforts at building a robust early career structure, but the traditional issues of pay, workloads and life satisfaction clearly remain as factors in the recruitment market. 

The report came as the Education Policy Institute took a deep dive into design and technology provision in schools, which has shown a worrying dip in recent years. Much of this, they suggest, is due to failing to meet teacher recruitment targets in D/T. 

The report on 14-19 qualifications and assessment followed a major piece of work by Pearson, looking, like many commissions set up in the wake of the pandemic, at how best to enhance provision for future learners. 

14-19 learning is a critical learning stage for so many young people and Pearson undertook an extensive programme of research and consultation with both learners and leading figures in education, including three previous Education Secretaries, before producing this final report. It came up with seven recommendations, including a more balanced and responsive curriculum; more flexible assessment models; and options for alternative post-16 GCSE resits. Taken alongside the recent Times Education Commission interim report, which touched on many similar issues, a strong case for aspects of reform is building.

On prison education, Ofsted and HM Prison Inspectorate highlighted concerns about reading skills among prisoners, pointing to a lack of access and support generally inside. As they remarked, 'you can’t teach phonics through a cell door.' Failure to teach prisoners to read or extend their literacy, as the Chief Prison Inspector acknowledged, ‘is a huge missed opportunity’ The report called for ‘an ambitious strategy’ to improve things. 

Moving on to the new strategy for the Office for Students (OfS). This comes at an important time for higher education, with new leadership for the OfS; the publication of the recent response from the government on financing; and a fast-moving national and international policy climate. 

It left the OfS acknowledging in the document that 'these plans may be subject to change.' The plans focus on three areas – quality and standards; equality of opportunity; and enabling regulation – all expressed through eleven goals. These include ‘taking a more robust approach to quality’ including intervention to ensure student outcomes are met; offering flexible provision and working with schools to ensure access; and minimising regulatory burdens where appropriate. Wonkhe summarises it all here.

As for those big conferences: the WorldEd Summit; FE Week’s Annual Apprenticeship Conference; the Youth Employability Conference – and not forgetting of course – the return for BETT, have all been in session this week. There have been some important presentations. Many are listed below, including the Education Secretary’s rallying cry at BETT for a digital technology revolution in schools. “I want to create an ecosystem where good tools can spread quickly across and between families of schools and colleges.” It has attracted a lot of attention. 

Finally, in Westminster this week the Public Accounts Committee began its Inquiry into the financial sustainability of the higher ed sector in England, taking evidence from the DfE and OfS. The Education Committee also took evidence from witnesses on universities and higher education. The Skills Bill returned to the Lords for consideration of Commons amendments, and MPs debated the role of PE as a core subject in schools.

And to round things off this week, a reminder of a fateful milestone. Thursday saw the second anniversary of the country’s first lockdown, when pupils and students faced learning from home or online. For those who can access the site, Sam Freedman has an excellent summary on the TES website of the impact on school pupils.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Covid: Councils warn remote learning could return’ (Monday).
  • ‘UK parents locked out of work due to rising childcare fees, survey’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Zahawi ‘considering’ potential of more online exams’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘DfE: 1 in 5 secondary schools full or over capacity' (Thursday).
  • ‘Treasury plays down apprenticeship levy review’ (Friday).


  • Spring Statement. The Treasury published the complete set of documents to accompany the Chancellor’s Spring Statement including the full report, the Tax Plan and accompanying costings. 
  • Spring Statement speech. The Chancellor outlined the current forecasts for the UK economy and set out proposals to secure both the economy and for working families as he delivered his Spring Statement which included announcements on fuel duty, the National Insurance threshold, and on incentivising employer investment in adult training in the future. 
  • Economic Outlook. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) set out the economic and fiscal outlook for the UK economy as a scene setter for the Spring Statement, pointing to lower than forecast growth, higher inflation and more borrowing.
  • IfS verdict. The Institute for Fiscal Studies offered its verdict on the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, acknowledging the difficult circumstances within which he was offering but labelling the Chancellor ‘a fiscal illusionist’ for some of the decisions announced.
  • Inflation Nation. The Resolution Foundation published its assessment of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement concluding among other things that low- and middle-income households would continue to struggle with the cost of living, “with 1.3 million people, including half a million children, set to fall below the poverty line this coming year.”
  • Value for money. The government announced it was setting up a new Efficiency and Value for Money Committee, to be chaired by the Chancellor and tasked with cutting £5.5bn of waste from across government depts to be re-directed to public services. 
  • Levelling up. The Dept for Levelling up launched its Round 2 Prospectus inviting bids for Levelling Up funding from around the country on three investment themes: local transport, town centre and high street regeneration, and cultural and heritage assets.
  • Productivity Puzzle. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced seven projects, including investment, diversity, the labour market and education to work, that will start next month, run for three years and variously examine issues around UK’s low productivity performance.
  • Financial wellbeing. The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) reported on financial wellbeing and productivity in the workplace suggesting that 10% of full and p/t employees missed days at work recently with financial worries, leading to losses in productivity and absentee costs for employers.
  • Childcare costs. Coram Family and Childcare published its latest annual report into the costs and sufficiency of childcare calling for the 30-hour free entitlement system to be extended, gaps in provision to be tackled and for long-term review of childcare funding, as it revealed the increasing burden of costs facing many families. 
  • Prison education. Ofsted and HM Prison Inspectorate published a report into reading education in prisons following concerns about reading levels among prisoners, suggesting that in many cases prisoners are not getting the support they need to develop their reading and calling for a greater focus to be given to it.

More specifically ...


  • Digital developments. The Education Secretary welcomed a return to an in-person BETT Conference with an opening presentation setting out a number of ambitious plans around digital development in schools including new standards around technology application, upgrading Wifi connections, and exploring the potential of technology in school data returns and future forms of assessment.
  • Academy accountability. The Public Accounts Committee raised concerns in a new inquiry report about financial transparency in the Academy system pointing to issues about financial variability, salary levels, and pupil access to resources, calling for the dept to come up with a clear plan for future Academy development. 
  • Teacher recruitment. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) reported on teacher recruitment in England pointing to emerging concerns about teacher shortages especially in secondary subjects such as English, maths and science, calling for improvements around pay, conditions and workloads to help with recruitment. 
  • D/T trends. The Education Policy Institute examined the decline in design and technology in schools in recent years, acknowledging some regional variation but arguing that accountability measures, GCSE reforms and a drop in teacher numbers had compounded a significant decline in take-up over the last decade. 
  • Inspection Update. Ofsted published its latest update for inspectors for schools and early years with information on updates to section 5 of the handbook, use of the inspection data summary report and a new page on early years inspections.
  • Multiplication Tables check. The Standards and Testing Agency published the guidance for multiplication tables check (MTC) due to be taken by Yr 4 pupils in state schools in England between the 6thand 24th of June this year, with the service now open for DfE Sign In.
  • Future SATs dates. The Standards and Testing Agency published the dates for SATs for the years 2022/23 and 2023/24. 
  • MFL consultation. Ofqual launched a brief consultation on the proposed regulatory requirements for new French, German and Spanish GCSEs which become available for first teaching from Sept 2024 and which following earlier consultation adopt new content and more flexible assessment arrangements.


  • Spring Statement reaction. The Association of Colleges (AoC) issued a response to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, welcoming in particular an opportunity to reset apprenticeship funding through the proposed review of the apprenticeship levy.
  • Ofsted on apprenticeships. Ofsted Chief inspector Amanda Spielman addressed the Annual Apprenticeship Conference where she acknowledged the difficulties faced by many arising from the pandemic, reassured members over achievement rates, and pointed to some of the positive messages emerging from inspections. 
  • Ofqual on apprenticeships. Catherine Large, Ofqual Director for vocational and technical qualifications addressed the Annual Apprenticeship Conference where she reported on some of the findings coming out of the review of end-point assessments, outlined the progress made in recognising end-point assessment organisations, and looked at further developments in regulating assessment.
  • 14-19 Provision. Pearson published the Final Report from its major review into developing a high-quality qualification and assessment system for 14-19 yr olds in England, building on its interim report published last summer and emerging with seven recommendations on curriculum reform, GCSEs, assessment and digital strategy, promising a series of deep dives into core policy areas to follow. 


  • 3-year strategy. The Office for Students (OfS) launched its strategy for 2022-2025, identifying two main priorities: quality and standards, and equality of opportunity, along with potential changes to minimise the burden of regulation, with eleven goals listed for the future.
  • Entry requirements. The government published a Q/A on its latest reform proposals for minimum entry requirements and student number controls, explaining the thinking behind both and pointing to current consultations while stressing the aim of ensuring fair access and affordability.
  • Staffing matters. The University and College Union (UCU) published the results of a new survey suggesting that some two-thirds of university staff were considering leaving over the next five years due to poor pay, pensions and working conditions, with 88% of respondents pessimistic about the future of UKHE generally.
  • Personal statements. The i-newspaper reported that UCAS was looking at reforming the nature of the personal statement used in UCAS applications, moving away from an open box approach said to favour more advantaged applicants, to using a list of structured questions.
  • Bridging the Gap. Universities UK called on the government to help bridge the funding gap incurred by the transition from the European Structural Fund to a new UK Shared Prosperity Fund which is currently threating many important collaborative research and innovation and skills projects.
  • Social mobility. Professor David Phoenix, V.C. at South Bank, blogged on the HEPI website about the latest version of the Social Mobility Index now with new graduate outcomes data, and providing a fascinating ranking of which universities contribute the most to social mobility. 
  • University entry. The Times Higher reported warnings from moneysavingexpert Martin Lewis that following the recent changes to student fees announced by the government and due to come in from 2023, students may well drop any thoughts of deferring entry this year to avoid incurring incoming the new charges later.
  • Coronavirus and HE. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its latest set of experimental statistics on coronavirus and HE students, covering the period late Feb to early March, and showing that most students (92) reported having been vaccinated at least once but many also (36%) reported poor levels of well-being.

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Looking for a challenge to test your strategy, leadership, influence & negotiation skills while finding technics to manage your stress & retain your sense of humour? Take my reluctant 4-year-old to nursery”|  @_C_J_B
  • “Finally finished marking Year 11 mocks. On the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ question, one student has referred to ‘Friar Lasagne’ all the way through” | @Mr_D_W_R
  • “I’m glad to report that last night’s Physics Evening was attended by almost all of year 11 and even some parents. It was, however, wrongly advertised as a “Psychic Evening” and most of them asked for their money back. No refunds were given. Obvs” | @NewbieSlt
  • “Considering teaching is supposed to be a developmental profession, the only things I’ve developed over 12 years is sarcasm and a nervous twitch” | @ScottPughsley
  • “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but just because your year 7s thought you were 10yrs younger, it doesn’t mean you actually look 10yrs younger” | @UnofficialOA
  • “Just remembered that last week I was on the phone for bank stuff and got asked how I would describe my marital status and I was like “good! We’re really good yeah. Having another baby next month sooooo” and he replied “yeah I just meant are you married, cohabiting or single” | @jessbowy
  • “the shift key is the most useless key on the keyboard. it doesn’t do anything. don’t 2 me” | @jon_bois

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “The public finances have emerged from the pandemic in better shape than expected. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will push inflation to a 40-year high of almost 9 per cent, and living standards are set for a historic fall over the next 12 months” – the Office for Budget Responsibility sets out the context for the Spring Statement.
  • “We lag international peers in adult technical skills” – the Chancellor promises to look at employer investment in adult training including the apprenticeship levy.
  • “Today’s Statement was steeped in calculated cruelness” – the NUS responds to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement.
  • “We have to fix this” – the skills minister acknowledges that the apprenticeship recruitment process needs simplifying.
  • “It is part of an ideological, regressive and immoral pack of measures, which amount to an attack on opportunity” – the NUS responds to the government’s latest higher ed proposals.
  • “If everything else is equal, then taking a year out could be a very, very expensive deal” – consumer finance expert Martin Lewis warns against deferring uni entry for new entrants this year following the government’s recent fee announcements.
  • “Every school has to have a decent broadband connection and we are going to upgrade networks as a priority” – The Education Secretary excites about the potential of technology in an address to BETT. 
  • ‘A measured report that recommends shifts rather than radical reform” – Mary Curnock Cook welcomes Pearson’s new report on reform of 14-19 qualifications and assessment.
  • “The improvement in the picture we saw in the national data in early March has proved to be a false dawn unfortunately” – ASCL responds to the latest estimated figures on Covid related school absences.
  • “I think the subject is intrinsically beautiful, but if I try to show people the beauty of prime numbers, they might need a bit of persuading” – Bobby Seagull on the joy of maths.
  • “I am very worried about campaigns that encourage a Stasi culture in Wales where people - and children - are encouraged to shop parents, who discipline their children in what they deem a proportionate manner, to the police” – critics condemn the banning of smacking children policy adopted in Wales.

Important numbers

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

  • 69%. The number of people who reckon that the Chancellor’s Spring Statement announcements didn’t do enough to help with the cost of living, according to YouGov.
  • 6.2%. The consumer price index (CPI) inflation figure for February, up from 5.5% from the previous month, and a new 30-year high according to latest figures. 
  • 66.75%. The number of UK households and businesses with access to ‘lightning-fast gigabit broadband,’ according to latest government figures.
  • 10.5m. The number of suspicious emails reported to GCHQ’s Suspicious Email reporting Service since it was launched two years ago, according to the National Cyber Security Centre. 
  • 27%. The number of HE students reporting zero hours in-person teaching in the previous week in early March 2022, according to latest data from the ONS.
  • 5%. The number of students using foodbanks, according to a survey from the NUS.
  • 202,000. The number of pupils in state-funded schools in England out of school last Thursday due to Covid related reasons, up from 58,000 two weeks previously according to latest government estimates.
  • 4.6%. The overall pupil absence rate for schools in England for the year 2020/21, according to latest official figures.
  • 3%. The percentage of Yr 7-13 teachers in schools in England in 2020 that are D/T teachers, half that of a decade ago according to the Education Policy Institute.
  • £7,210. The average annual cost for a part-time (25 hours a week) childcare place for a child under two in a nursery in Great Britain, according to Coram Family and Childcare.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Expected launch of the Schools White Paper (Monday 28 March).
  • Final consideration of the Skills and Post-16 Bill (Monday 28 March).
  • Launch of the Pissarides Review into the Future of Work and Wellbeing (Tuesday 29 March).
  • Res Publica Lifelong Learning Commission 1-year Anniversary Conference (Tuesday 29 March).
  • Start of the Parliamentary Easter Recess (Friday 1 April).

Other stories

  • No to Uni Challenge. This year’s University Challenge competition reaches its final in a couple of weeks’ time but not everyone it seems has been enjoying the ride. Writing in the Mail on Sunday last weekend, columnist Peter Hitchens dismissed it as “a finger-wagging, politically correct bore, obsessed with far-from-general questions about specialised areas of science and mathematics.” He went on to deride the obsession with questions on Nobel Prize winners, the flags of different nations and Chinese provinces at the expense of questions on formal knowledge such as Shakespeare plays and rives in the UK. All of course before google. The article can be read here.
  • Inflation calculator. This week’s Spring Statement has sparked off further heated discussion about the effects of inflation on individual households. For those who would like to see just what it means for them, the Office for National Statistics has come up with an Inflation Calculator. You punch in your household spends on a range of categories including groceries, housing, transport and leisure, and the calculator will estimate how much your monthly spend has increased over the past year, how it compares with previous years and highlight the items displaying the biggest increases. A link to it all 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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