Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 06 January 2023

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:

Here we go again. New year, new hopes, and some new vision.

The new vision has come from Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer, both of whom made new year set-piece speeches this week. More on these below.

The new hopes have come in the form of the rash of predictions that mark the start of a new year. A mix of calm and critical seem to be the main themes, as discussed below, with education erring on the side of calm, not least because, as commentator Sam Freedman pointed out, there’s no extra money to do anything else.

Either way, that familiar sense of anticipation hangs in the air as schools and colleges begin the new year, and MPs gear up for a return on Monday. 

For the moment, these are the main education-related headlines of the week:

  • More maths. Encouraging more young people to continue with “some form of maths to age 18” as the PM described it this week, has attracted predictable comment. One tweeter described it as ‘my idea of a living nightmare’. Others, like Ofsted’s chief inspector, saw it as good news. That said, as mentioned below, it’s not a new idea, and the PM provided no commitment in his speech as to when and how the move might happen. An aspiration perhaps.
  • Take back control. Sir Keir Starmer adopted a new slogan in his keynote speech this week. ‘Take back control’ was seen by many commentators as a neat inversion of the Brexit winning slogan and we may hear more of it. Sir Keir promised that a Labour government would devolve power for things like childcare and housing to local communities and establish ‘take back control’ legislation for communities who wanted extended powers.
  • Raring to go. In her new year message, the Education Secretary hoped that everyone in education was, like her ministers, ‘raring to go.’ Maybe. Either way, she listed work on children’s social care and SEN, the National Tutoring Programme, and apprenticeships, as big priorities for the coming months.
  • Rumours that the PM was looking to drop the so-called ‘big bang’ childcare reforms of his predecessor have provoked considerable comment this week. Cost and quality remain big issues, with the government looking for a more scaled-down approach. The Early Years Alliance is calling for more investment, while the Education Committee has launched a new Inquiry. The story looks set to run throughout much of the year.
  • When I grow up, I want to …The government this week announced a new project to provide careers information for pupils in primary school in England, particularly those in disadvantaged areas. The aim is to inspire children with ideas and aspirations for the future, and it’s something that many, including, notably, the current skills minister, have been urging for some time.

Links to these and other stories below as usual.

On to the two big stories of the week: the two agenda setting speeches by the PM and Leader of the Opposition respectively and some of the predictions for the year ahead.          

Rishi Sunak’s speech first, a landmark moment in defining his Premiership after a difficult few months and some rather pointed ‘Where’s Rishi?’ headlines. 

The speech attempted to set out a reassuring vision for the future, “a vision that restores optimism, hope and pride in Britain”. 

It was built around five priorities – ‘five pledges to deliver peace of mind’ – on which he and his government should be judged. ‘Rishi’s resolutions’ as The Spectator dubbed them, were given fairly sniffy treatment by many in the media, given only the first one; on halving inflation, carried a timescale – this year; the next two – on growing the economy, and reducing debt – had already been factored in; while the last two – on cutting waiting lists, and stopping small boats – contained no details on how or when.

Education did however feature prominently, ‘the single most important reason why I came into politics’, adding further credence to the theory that the PM intends to position education as one of the positives of both his Party and his Premiership. Thus there were glowing references to past reforms and ‘hardworking teachers’, but also that call for more young people to continue with some form of numeracy up to the age of 18. 

As indicated, views on this have been mixed. Negatives pointed to concerns over where the teachers were to come from; how and what sort of maths/numeracy we’re talking about; and the current issue of maths resits. As for the positives – other countries do it, young people shouldn’t be denied such skills, and the modern economy demands it. The trouble is, we’ve already had two previous reports (Vorderman 2011 and Smith 2017) calling for something similar, and nothing much happened. The DfE has put it into context here, while Tom Richmond has a good twitter thread on it all here.

On to Sir Keir Starmer, who delivered his keynote speech a day later. It provided an interesting opportunity to compare Sunak’s zing with Starmer’s zang – with the zang coming out on top according to most commentators. It also underlined how much the party leaders were now on election manoeuvres.

There was less in the Starmer speech about education and skills. Rather it was about taking back control, and filtering this out of Westminster to local communities. “The decisions which create wealth in our communities should be taken by local people with skin in the game”. These decisions could include childcare, energy, housing, employment, and housing. The theme, let alone the slogan, was seen as a shrewd move by many commentators. “Very smart of @Keir_Starmer to seize the ‘take back control’ slogan and give the term some substance”, tweeted the political commentator Steve Richards.

So what about those predictions for 2023? Some good news would be nice. 

On the political front, most forecasters hoped for what one called ‘a sedate year’, but most feared occasional lapses into more drama. The Partygate Trial, local elections, and a Boris comeback, could be triggers here, according to The Daily Telegraph. 

On the economy, the big worry is the R word. A 70% chance of recession according to Bloomberg. Many think we’re already in recession, with the Bank of England predicting it will last the year ‘with only gradual recovery thereafter’. Inflation will remain higher for longer compared to competitor countries, according to the FT’s annual trawl of UK economists. Labour shortages, working patterns (home or office), mental health, and cyber security, are also likely to feature according to many commentators.

As for technology, according to The Guardian’s John Naughton, ‘Elon Musk will continue to try to save Twitter by destroying it’, Facebook will trundle on, but 2023 will be the year of ChatGPT. “Students will love it. Their teachers will be less keen”. The FT agreed, making Elon Musk ‘the techie to watch’ in 2023’, although not always for the right reasons.

And to round off the forecasts for 2023, what about some lifestyle predictions for the year ahead? 

The innovation foundation NESTA listed kitchen robotics among its six pointers for 2023. Not quite dinner prepared by a robot, but potentially a form of kitchen automation for the future. Elsewhere, the i newspaper also listed a number of lifestyle trends we may need to get used to in 2023. They included: ‘sittervising’ (supervising kids from a seated position or alternatively giving them space to develop while you scroll down your messages); clothes rental (self-explanatory); and IRL dating (in real life dating).

The top headlines of the week

  • ‘Rishi Sunak shelves ‘big bang’ childcare’ reforms (Monday).
  • ‘Children told to stay home from school if sick amid flu, Covid and scarlet fever’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Rishi Sunak wants all pupils to study maths to age 18’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Children as young as five in England target of new careers programme (Thursday).
  • ‘Nearly a third of university courses still have hybrid teaching’ (Friday).


  • Priorities for 2023. The PM kicked off the new year with a set piece speech, setting out five priorities for the coming months (halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, cutting waiting lists, and stopping small boats), emphasising the importance of innovation, levelling up, family and community values, and numeracy for young people. 
  • Labour vision. Sir Keir Starmer also made a keynote speech at the start of the year, promising an end to ‘sticking-plaster’ politics, and in its place ‘a decade of national renewal’ based around modernising central government and devolving power over key delivery areas to local communities. 
  • Economic Outlook. The Resolution Foundation reflected on how things stood economically for households at the start of a new year, acknowledging that 2022 had been ‘a truly horrendous year’; that 2023 may bring some relief with a fall in inflation; but that with falling wages and higher tax, mortgage and energy bills, it would be ‘groundhog day’ for many families. 
  • Future Education. The World Economic Forum highlighted the importance of education and skills ahead of its forthcoming Annual Summit at Davos, pointing to three skills – problem-solving, collaboration, adaptability – that should form part of what it’s calling ‘a re-imagined education system’ for the future, labelled Education 4.0.

More specifically ...


  • Careers guidance. The government followed up its recent consultation on careers guidance by issuing new statutory guidance designed to boost to careers provision in schools, with strengthened work-related careers sessions in secondary schools, and the launch of a programme for primary schools in disadvantaged areas intended ‘to open children’s eyes’ to future opportunities.
  • School buildings. In a new report, the House of Commons Library Service examined school capital funding, and, in particular, the schools building programme, noting that the latest departmental annual report had listed ‘the condition of school buildings' as one of six significant risks, with concerns remaining about the planned levels of capital funding in the future.
  • Disadvantage. FFT Education Datalab published a useful summary of its recent report into the long-term impact of disadvantage at school (submitted to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership), highlighting how by the time of employment, those currently on free school meals tended to end up with ‘less positive’ outcomes – with the long-term disadvantaged facing the poorest outcomes, and with the North East being one of the regions suffering the most.


  • Maths ambition. In a set piece speech outlining government priorities for the year ahead, the PM highlighted the importance of maths and the need for young people to continue developing their numeracy skills until at least the age of 18. 
  • Learning another language. The British Council reported on its poll re learning another language, carried out at the end of last year. It found that more than a quarter of adults, particularly those aged 18 – 24, regretted never learning another language fluently. Spanish, French and Chinese were seen as the top languages likely to improve UK skills and productivity. 


  • Student numbers. The House of Commons Library Service published a useful briefing paper on UKHE student numbers – taking in the key trends over recent years, including the latest application round, but noting that while things may appear positive on f/t undergraduate numbers, they are less healthy for other groups such as /t students, EU students, and some mature learners.
  • Graduate route. Ahead of a webinar on the matter, the HE Policy Institute (HEPI), published a briefing note on issues around the Graduate Route – including a lack of transparency and take-up, and with broader concerns from employers about the visa system generally. 
  • The year ahead. Sarah Stevens, Policy Director at the Russell Group, reflected in a blog on the HEPI website on the state of UKHE at the start of a new year, suggesting it was broadly ‘in good health’, but that funding and regulation, the Augar reforms, and global positioning were among the issues needing resolution.
  • Edtech. The Times Higher examined the future for Edtech in a commentary piece at the start of the year, suggesting the much-heralded MOOCS had failed to fulfil their initial hype, and that Edtech’s future lay in professional education, partnerships and skills alignment..
  • Graduate Scheme. Santander announced that as of this month it was dropping its requirement for applicants for its Graduate Scheme to have a level of degree 2:1 or above, arguing that this would enable it to attract from a wider pool of talent and help boost its credentials as a top Social Mobility Employer.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Be honest. How many times have you written '2022' this week?” | @TeachFirst
  • “Today a spider was hanging from the ceiling, and my students noticed it but continued to take notes and pay attention to my presentation. That is how amazing I am at classroom management. I’m kidding. It was absolute chaos. Students screamed, until I caught it” | @NicholasFerroni
  • “i am going to put Coughing on my CV. I'm really good at it now” | @katie_martin_fx
  • “Teachers STOP creating lesson booklets from scratch. I asked ChatGPT to write a lesson booklet for a Y8 Geog class on the DMT. I specified the content & types of questions & hit 'send'. Over an hour worth of work done in less than 2 mins” | @DanFitzTweets
  • “School break over Christmas. I’d much rather teaching right up to Christmas Eve and returning a week after New Year’s Day. Some would say two weeks is two weeks but having experienced both I’d say leaving a week after new year feels much longer” | @ShakinthatChalk
  • “Got an email today that ended with "Have the day you deserve" and I haven't stopped thinking about it” | @GeorgePointon

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “Not every measure we take will be popular. But I can promise that they will all be made with one goal in mind: to build a country that our children and grandchildren will be proud of” – Rishi Sunak with a new year’s message in The Sun.
  • “We’re going to roll up our sleeves, fix the problems and improve our country. We can’t keep expecting the British people to just suck it up. Not without the hope – the possibility – of something better” -Keir Starmer gets stuck in in a new year speech.
  • “University tuition fees are not working well, they burden young people going forward. Obviously we have got a number of propositions in relation to those fees that we will put forward as we go into the election” – Keir Starmer when questioned on university tuition fees following his latest speech.
  • “We cannot fix the staffing crisis in our schools, hospitals and elsewhere if we do not fix the underlying causes” – the TUC calls for a meeting with the PM to discuss the current wave of strikes.
  • “I don’t think we are going to see another Mooc moment for a long time” – the Times Higher considers the future of Edtech.
  • “I am now making numeracy a central objective of the education system” – Rishi Sunak outlines plans to encourage more young people to continue numeracy to age 18.
  • “It is right that the PM is taking an interest in education for 16 to 18-year-olds but speeches are the easy part” – the AoC responds to the PM’s plans for continued maths for 16+ year-olds.
  • “We have used the consultation responses to refine the statutory guidance on ‘access to schools for education and training providers’ and ensure that it is easy to understand” – the government updates its statutory guidance around careers provision.
  • “The fact is that we currently have a system in this country where parents pay some of the highest prices in the world, while early years professionals remain undervalued and underpaid and are leaving the sector in their droves” – The Early Years Alliance responds to rumours that plans to overhaul the sector have been ditched.
  • “We certainly believe there are going to be fewer people in offices for the longer term and we are planning accordingly" – office property managers respond to the latest data showing changing working patterns with big cities empty on Mondays and Fridays.

Important numbers

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

  • 1%. The predicted fall in UK GDP this year according to a survey of UK economists.
  • 13.3%. Food price inflation over Christmas, a record high according to a report in The Independent.
  • 32.9%. The number of cars sold last month that were fully electric, a monthly record according to latest trade figures.
  • £880. The projected fall in household incomes on average this year, according to the Resolution Foundation.
  • 57%. The number of students in a poll who would prefer to stick with university personal statements as they are rather than for example shift to a short response format, according to The Student Room.
  • 10.03°C. The average temperatures for the UK last year, making it the hottest on record according to the Met Office.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Parliament returns (Monday 9 January 2023).
  • Education Committee witness session on careers education (Tuesday 10 January).
  • The think tank Onward hosts an event with the minister on the UK’s Global Science Strategy beyond Horizon Europe (Wednesday 11 January).
  • Westminster Hall debate on skills and labour shortages. (Thursday 12 January).
  • Further End of Cycle data from UCAS on 2022/3 applications. (Thursday 12 January). 

Other stories

  • For those who struggle with new year resolutions, and according to The Independent 75% of us do, ‘manifesting’ is apparently what it’s all about now. For those of us less familiar with the concept it’s “the practice of thinking aspirational thoughts with the purpose of making them real.” It’s claimed to be the new ‘internet wellness’ sensation and as Cosmopolitan magazine described it, ‘your internal beliefs become your reality.’ It’s not quite ‘think something and it’ll happen,’ many practitioners for example describe a number of ‘spiritual’ steps needed but it seems to work for some. “I’ve manifested everything from a scholarship to a partner,” one happy traveller explained here.
  • Free learning. For those who like to start the new year with a list of challenges/must do things, moneysavingexpert this week has a list of ’14 FREE ways to learn something new.’ They range from learning a new language to brushing up on hair and beauty techniques, to learning how to crack coding. There are lots of links to website that might prove helpful. Details here.
  • The 1p savings challenge. The new year has brought with it a range of handy savings tips for what may be another difficult year for many households. Among those listed in the i newspaper is the 1p challenge. It means saving 1p on day 1, 2p on day 2, 3p on day 3 and so on. If you manage it for a full year you can save £667.95. A link to this and other savings tips, 23 in all, can be found 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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