Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 01April 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:

A big week for education, especially schools.

In rapid succession, the government published a schools’ white paper; a special needs green paper; detailed a care review; and unleashed a battery of reports.

The Education Secretary claimed it was a case of knitting the system together, emphasising the point in the conclusion to the schools’ white paper. The chair of the Education Committee, Rob Halfon, suggested that “the Government have begun to provide a washing line for all the clothes pegs of different educational initiatives.” Many would argue it would need to be a pretty long line for all the initiatives from recent years to be included. 

Long washing line or not, this week’s papers have added plenty more initiatives, although not all of them were new. 

There was, for instance, a familiar ring to many of the proposals in the schools’ white paper with proposals such as those on teacher starting salaries and training; the new arms-length curriculum body; and funding for the Education Endowment Foundation, all having been announced in recent weeks. As Branwen Jeffreys, the BBC’s education correspondent, put it, "it felt a bit like a document tying up work underway/loose ends." Sam Freedman, former education adviser, was a bit more pointed. "Gimmicks and old news" he tweeted in reaction to the white paper.

Labour argued that the paper was ‘a missed opportunity’ but there were some new dimensions. 

There was the big focus on literacy and numeracy, with the levelling up ‘ambition’ of 90% of primary school children reaching expected standards in reading, writing and maths by 2030, along with the increase in the national GCSE average grade in English and maths. This was all coupled with a rather uncertain Parent Pledge of enhanced dialogue with parents on English and maths. There was also the promise of a new annual behaviour survey; the adoption of Education Investment Areas; a strengthened academy trust system; and a push for all schools to be, or planning to be, in strong multi-academy trusts by 2030. Not forgetting new intervention powers; a new careers programme for primary schools; and of course, that promise of a national uniform average standard school week.

How far this all amounts to "the great education and right support for every child" that the Education Secretary so vigorously promised as he launched the paper in an outstanding primary school in Newham – and later in a Statement to MPs – remains to be seen. 

For many, it’s not just the lack of funding to go with it all that rankles, it’s the lack of any excitement or vision to accompany it. Where’s the sort of frontier thinking that’s been emerging from various independent Commission reports in recent weeks?  As ASCL’s Geoff Barton put it “While there are a number of promising and helpful measures outlined in the white paper, we cannot escape the feeling that overall, it is mechanistic and lacking in ambition.”

The special educational needs (SEND) green paper continued the theme of ‘the right support in the right place at the right time,’ but with a bit more bite. 

The paper, which has been a long time coming and remains open for consultation until the first of July, put forward what it called 'a new national plan' with the aim of creating a single national SEND and alternative provision (AP) system 'that will introduce new standards in the quality of support given to children across education, health and care'.  

The aim is to smooth out many of the problems in the system that have left parents and others so frustrated. The paper points to three in particular: a postcode lottery in services; an unsustainable financial system; and consistently poor outcomes for such children. So, councils will be required to introduce local inclusion plans and these will be backed up by local inclusion dashboards, supported by national standards – including on tariffs, further workforce training and some government money.

“I want to make sure everyone knows what to expect, when to expect it and where the support should come from,” the Education Secretary said in introducing the paper. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) gave it a cautious welcome. “At first glance there are some sensible ideas contained within the green paper.” But as ASCL put it, there is a need now to show some urgency: “The frustration is that the government’s SEND review began in September 2019, it has taken nearly three years to reach this point, and full implementation of the green paper is some way off.”

The government is promising a national delivery plan later in the year. The Education Secretary has written to children and young people inviting them to offer their views.

To round things off, here’s a quick run through some of the other notable papers and reports also out this week.

UNICEF published a bleak report highlighting the numbers of school children globally missing out on education as schools remain closed because of the pandemic. Even when some schools have re-opened, many children, it says, haven’t returned. The report points to education becoming ‘the great divider’ rather than ‘the great equaliser’ across societies.

Back home, the Key’s GovernorHub highlighted a lack of awareness among the general public about the importance of the role of school governors. It urged more younger people and those from diverse backgrounds to step up.

And the government kept up tradition by dispatching a flurry of papers and reports as MPs – let alone schools, colleges and universities – headed off for an Easter break.

Among the 33 listed, two stand out. One was latest guidance for schools and colleges on the plan for living with Covid, just hours before it's due to take effect. And the other was a letter to the Office for Students (OfS) with a new set of priorities for the year, a week after the OfS launched their own. 

Other missives from the department covered the national tutoring programme; summer schools; apprenticeship statistics; digital functional skills; and a couple of omnibus surveys. Most are listed below.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Schools White Paper includes higher maths and English targets’ (Monday).
  • ‘Government sets out plans to overhaul special educational needs system’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Covid closures still affecting 400m pupils -UNICEF’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Revised 2019/20 apprenticeship rates reveal huge drop’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Schools battle to stay open amid Covid surge.’ (Friday).


  • Council elections. Labour launched its campaign for next month’s local elections focusing on the government’s failure to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and promising to be ‘on your side.’
  • Cutting waste. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury outlined in a speech to the Institute of Economic Affairs how the Treasury was leading ‘a quiet revolution’ of efficiency savings, value for money projects and Arm’s Length Body Reviews to ensure cost savings in government.
  • Cyber security. The government published its latest Cyber Security Breaches Survey completed over the last few months, indicating that 39% of UK businesses have experienced a cyber attack over the last year with phishing the most common issue but emphasising that a lack of technical knowhow and prioritisation was hampering security in some businesses.
  • Learning loss. UNICEF issued a new report highlighting the continuing impact of the pandemic on school children around the world, indicating that in many countries schools have yet to reopen suggesting some '2 trillion hours of lost in-person learning globally' with vulnerable and marginalised children most at risk.
  • Supporting Ukraine education. UNESCO reported on the global events being mobilised to support teachers and learners in and from Ukraine, where it’s estimated some 730+educational institutions have been damaged or destroyed.

More specifically ...


  • Living with Covid. The government confirmed that routine testing will no longer be expected in all education and children’s social care settings as of today (1 April,) but that preventative measures such as good hygiene and access to vaccines remain, as well as staying at home for 3 days for 18 yr olds and under who test positive.
  • White paper. The government published its white paper for schools with a range of proposals, some old, some new and focused on raising levels of English and maths, supporting and developing teachers, extending tutoring and curriculum resource support, strengthening the school system and ensuring a national average length of school week.
  • Intervention powers. The government launched a brief consultation on granting discretionary powers for Regional Directors to intervene, and potentially issue, an Academy Order where schools have had consecutive inspection judgements of ‘requiring improvement’ and ‘below good,’ with the measure planned for use from this Sept.
  • Learning loss. The Education Policy Institute and Renaissance published new research for the department on pupil learning loss in England as of last autumn half-term, indicating some recovery among primary pupils but gaps at secondary level and among the more disadvantaged groups and in regional areas. 
  • Length of the School Week. The government published an accompanying briefing paper on its new requirements about the length of the school week confirming that all state-funded schools should publish from this Sept their opening times on their website, should include such data in their school census returns from next spring and ensure that by Sept 2023, they meet the minimum school week requirements of 32.5 hours a week. 
  • The White paper’s GCSE target. FFT Education Datalab examined the inclusion of a new ‘average’ GCSE English/ maths grade target in the white paper, a measure that had not been used before suggesting that the government was seeking to improve attainment across the distribution while allowing for outcomes to stabilise after two years without externally set exams. 
  • SEND review. The government published its long-awaited special educational needs review proposing the creation of a single national SEND and alternative provision system with clearer roles and responsibilities, national delivery and tariff standards and quality outcomes all round, subject to consultation until 1 July. 
  • National Tutoring Programme. The government announced that from next academic year, funding for the national tutoring programme would be directed straight to schools and a procurement process launched in April to find a new agency to manage the contract. 
  • National Funding Formula. The government issued its response to last year’s consultation on moving towards a national funding formula for all mainstream primary and secondary schools, confirming in light of positive responses that it would legislate to enable transition in 2023/24 but that it would also consult further on such factors as approaches to split sites, growth and exceptional factors. 
  • Capital funding. The government issued latest information on provisional school condition funding allocations for 20222/23 alongside eligibility, guidance and grant determination for the 2022/23 financial year.
  • Pupil premium. The government issued updated guidance on managing the use of the pupil premium along with the menu of approaches that need to be observed in using the premium and reporting requirements.
  • Remote education. The government published non-statutory guidance for schools on providing remote education, offering a checklist of scenarios and good practice but underlining that remote provision should only be seen as a last resort. 
  • Home education. The House of Commons Library Service published a briefing paper on Home Education in England, highlighting some of the issue and outlining current roles and responsibilities, as the government prepares to legislate to create a register for children not in school. 
  • Joint inspections. Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and the Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services announced the restart of their joint targeted area inspection programme, looking in particular at multi-agency responses to child protection and criminal exploitation of children.
  • School governors. The Key’s GovernorHub highlighted a lack of wider awareness and appreciation of the role of school governors emerging from its survey conducted earlier this year, calling for a big push to raise the profile and understanding of the role particularly among younger and minority groups who are poorly represented currently.
  • Summer schools. The government published a commissioned report into last year’s summer schools, set up to help with education recovery following lockdown, with most participating schools adopting a 5-day programme of activities, often focused on pupils transitioning to Yr 7 and using school staff, and which despite some glitches about funding notice, appear to have helped with pupil wellbeing generally.
  • Free schools. The New Schools Network confirmed it would continue to support access and opportunities in the school system for all children as its contract with the government drew to a close and a new partner, Premier Advisory Group, prepared to take over.


  • Skills Bill. The Commons considered the latest amendments to the Skills Bill from the House of Lords, accepting the amendment on careers guidance that would ensure young people had a minimum number of sessions on technical education and apprenticeships but rejecting the proposal to delay the withdrawal of public funding for L3 options.
  • Adult education. The government issued the grant determination letters, including the L3 Free Courses for Jobs funding, for the devolved authorities for the 2022/23 financial year. 
  • UKStructural Fund. The House of Commons Library Service explained the design and development of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, intended to replace the ESF and other previous EU project funding but with a similar emphasis on community and skill development along with levelling up, albeit within tighter economic conditions. 
  • Apprenticeship stats. The government published the latest data on apprenticeships showing provisionally an increase in starts Aug 21-Jan 22 compared to last year but a decrease in achievements as well as a notable drop in achievement rates for 2019/20 in light of revised figures.
  • Funding changes. The Education and Training Foundation confirmed that a number of programmes including Basic Skills, Essential Digital Skills, Practitioner Research and Outstanding Teaching, Learning and Assessment would be affected by the withdrawal of funds from the government but that the Foundation would continue to provide support as appropriate in future.
  • Digital functional skills. The government and Ofqual set out guidelines for the design, provision and assessment of digital functional skills which become available for teaching from August 2023.


  • Government priorities. The government added its priorities for the Office for Students for the coming year highlighting the importance of HE’s role in helping levelling up, high-quality tech education and flexible provision, in ensuring quality provision and outcomes, and in continuing to monitor and support access and participation, admissions procedures and freedom of speech. 
  • Researchers at risk. The government announced it would not be funding collaborative research projects with Russia while confirming a £3m support package through its Researchers at Risk programme for Ukraine researchers. 
  • Designated Quality Body. QAA announced it was clarifying responsibilities between its regulatory work and its membership and other activities by setting up a separate Designated Quality Body to oversee its quality functions in England.
  • Subject Benchmarks. QAA published the first suite of revised Subject Benchmark Statements covering 14 disciplines and incorporating for the first time within the Statements wider social goals such as equality and enterprise. 
  • Turing. The Turing Scheme opened for applications for the second of its current three-year funded package with schools, colleges and universities invited to submit bids by 29 April.
  • Chinese studies. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) published a new report highlighting the lack of prioritisation attached to the teaching and research on China, especially at a time of needing to recognise the importance of China, calling for a new strategy and focus on Chinese Studies to help remedy the situation.

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Sometimes when I’m writing a to do list I begin with things I’ve already done so I can tick them off. Lots of the white paper remind me of this” | @heymrshallan
  • “Excited to only work 32.5 hours a week next year!” | @MrHoadMaths
  • “At lunchtime today, there was a conversation about grammar in the staff room. The Literacy Leader asked Margaret if she knew what a fronted adverbial was! Margaret was affronted herself. "Before you were even born, I was using adverbials left, right and centre!" Margaret replied” | @RetirementTales
  • “I get the need for security on IT systems, but trying to get access is increasingly like a Crystal Maze challenge, password, Multi-factor authentication, VPN, have you completed the mandatory training, sorry it's time to change your password...” | @AnnaMGrey
  • “Petrol is now so expensive that I've been forced to run my car on fish oil. It's now turbot charged” | @Markgsparrow

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “I have been the ‘disruptive influence’ who needed help to learn how to manage my energy” – the Education Secretary introduces the Schools White Paper.
  • “The 32.5-hour minimum expectation includes the time in each day from the official start of the school day (i.e. morning registration) to the official end to the compulsory school day (i.e. official home time)” – the government explains what it means by a school day.
  • “Disappointingly, this white paper lacks any big ideas for the future of the education system” – the Association of School and College Leaders reacts to the schools’ white paper.
  • “So I wouldn’t write its obituary yet,” – HEPI director Nick Hillman on the languishing HE Freedom of Speech Bill.
  • “I am immensely proud and humbled to have been elected NUS National President” – Shaima Dallali, elected this week as incoming NUS National President.
  • “There is no point in building a bridge three-quarters of the way across a river, if you want to properly help people to get to their next destination” – the Association of Colleges believes he special needs green paper leaves out a lot of college students with particular needs. 
  • “Bullying when I was a kid was face to face but when people hide behind computers the impact can be even worse” – Peter Andre adds his support to the government’s Online Safety Bill.

Important numbers

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

  • 28%. The number of employees in a survey saying that money worries is affecting their job performance, according to a survey from the CIPD/YouGov.
  • 5.1%. The increase in adult government funded FE and skills participation for the first two quarters of this year compared to last year, according to latest provisional government figures.
  • 405m. The number of schoolchildren around the world missing out on education as schools remain closed due to Covid, according to UNICEF.
  • 4.2%. The percentage of state schools in England considered to be coasting/’not making necessary improvements’ and liable to new intervention powers, according to the government. 
  • 87%. The percentage of teachers in secondary schools (61% in primary) who said they’d be expected to set work if they were off sick, unless really ill, according to survey evidence from Teacher Tapp.
  • 2.4 months. How far behind secondary school pupils in England were in their reading ability last autumn compared to pre-pandemic (0.8 months for primary,) according to new research from the Education Policy Institute and Renaissance.
  • 59.9%. The number of state schools in England estimated to have participated in the National Tutoring Programme so far this year, according to latest government figures.
  • 74%. The number of school governors in a survey who think the public don’t appreciate the work they do, according to a survey from GovernorHub.
  • 15.4. The number of visits to the supermarket made by households on average last month, slightly down on a year ago according to the retail analyst Kantar.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Parliament is in Easter Recess from 1 April until 19 April.

Other stories

  • I don’t believe it. According to evidence taken from the World Economic Forum, every minute some 500 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube, 5,000 videos are viewed on TikTok and 695,000 stories are shared on Instagram. And yet, according to the latest research from Ofcom which quotes these figures, 30+% of online users are unaware that the content might be false or biased. In addition, a further 6% of internet users believe everything they see online. The importance of being able to spot misinformation is one of the key messages coming out of this latest report. In fairness, the report also contains plenty of positive messages about the use of social media. It highlights for instance, the emergence of social Samaritans – young people who use social media to help themselves and others with ‘growing up’ issues. A link to the report is here.
  • Going cashless. Some interesting facts and figures in a new report out this week on where we are in moving to a cashless society. The report comes from the RSA in conjunction with LINK, the organisation that operates cash machines. Apparently two thirds of us withdraw cash at least once a month and when we do, we take out £72.60 on average. Over 80% of us have cash either on us or at home and although cash withdrawals fell during the pandemic,19% of the population say they’d struggle to cope in a cashless society, 29% say they could cope but it would be inconvenient, and 29% say they find it easier to use cash when budgeting. This last point has been raised in connection with schools and colleges. The argument is that the use of hard cash helps young people understand money and budgeting better. A link to the report 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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