Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 22 April 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:

Back to work for many this week, including MPs, with a mix of emotions evident.

For schools, continuing concerns about the impact of Covid have been voiced. Unions have warned of ‘difficult times ahead’ with Covid absences for both staff and students remaining high and the exams season looming. As ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton put it: “it is very clear that Covid is continuing to wreak havoc and it is hard for schools to operate under these conditions.” 

The latest attendance figures, released this week and capturing the picture up to the end of last term, pointed to a fall in absence rates. 

But, what is particularly concerning school leaders is that the government has removed the need for reporting the reason behind school absences, so it’s hard to tell if they’re Covid related or not. According to Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, the change “seems symptomatic of the government’s wider attempts to try to just pretend that the pandemic is over.” The government briefing now simply points to a series of website links for those seeking data on Covid related absences.

In other education news this week ...

  • Families with primary school children have been receiving their offers of places for this year.
  • A new report arrived on young people’s mental health concerns.
  • The government published its climate change strategy for education and children’s services.
  • And the Tony Blair Institute stirred up debate by calling for a big increase in the numbers of young people going to university. 

Here are a few details behind these headlines:

Primary School Offer Day, when places are confirmed for this year, is always an important occasion in households. Offers were dispatched this week. Last year, according to government figures, 98% of families received an offer from one of their top three choices. The figures for this year will be published once local authority data has been collated, but some have already been tweeting high first-choice offer rates. 

Moving on to young people’s mental health, this has again been in the spotlight with the Reform thinktank this week publishing a report on the matter. The report looked at 11–19-year-olds suggesting that the impact of the pandemic had been particularly severe for many of them. In a Foreword to the report, former Education Secretary Baroness Morgan highlighted the extent of the problem and reinforced many of the report’s recommendations. “Expanding the role of PSHE and the need for teachers to receive training on mental health, wellbeing and resilience are key suggestions here which I’m delighted to support,” she wrote. 

On to university students and the headline buster from the Tony Blair Institute that more young people should be going to university, 70% by 2040 to be precise.  According to the Institute’s report, this would 'put the UK on a trajectory to catch up with the most highly skilled workforces in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.' 

The core issue, as the report acknowledged, is how best to meet the needs of the labour market and the changing, largely higher, skills needs required in the future. Its firm view is that, 'HE (level 4 and above) is the ideal way to provide such a breadth of skills.' The problem is that this often portrayed as ‘more kids should be going to university’ when as critics argue, not every young person benefits and there are other equally valuable options available. 

The issue about numbers and who should go has been a source of debate ever since as PM Tony Blair first set a 50% target for young people in 1999 and it continues to pose questions about the nature of the system for 18-year-olds and above. As Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, argued in a letter to The Times this week in response to the Blair Institute report: “Britain’s major weakness is its uninformed snobbery of the “earn-while you learn” routes, and its poor links between schools/colleges and the workplace.” 

The government appears to recognise this. In its recent strategic priorities letter to the Office for Students, it talked about HE playing an important role in levelling up, partnering with FE colleges, working closely with employers on skills needs, with more schools on attainment gaps, and generally building ‘a high-quality technical education’ system. It’s why some are calling for a Mark 2 Augar report to set out more clearly the components and roles of such a system.   

The Blair Institute report arrived as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) published its government commissioned report into financial returns on degree grades. This used outcomes data to look at those who had taken GCSEs in 2002 to estimate degree class premiums up to age 30.’  It found that 'Degree class seems to matter most for those attending the most selective universities and studying subjects where future earnings are highest.' But intriguingly, 'many graduates who get a 2.2 from a highly selective university might have got a higher-paying job had they attended a slightly less selective university and got a 2.1.' It adds further context to the debate.

Over in Westminster this week, the DfE published a ‘Sustainability and climate change strategy’ for education and children’s services. The strategy responds to recent major climate reports and offers an ‘ambitious plan’ for the UK to be 'the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030.' As such,it sets out an action plan around five main themes embracing all sectors of education – from revamping parts of the curriculum and a new Natural History GCSE, to developing green skills, greening school and college buildings and partnering with a wide range of environmental bodies both here and abroad. It’s a comprehensive list.

Elsewhere, the Education Secretary appeared before the Education Committee answering questions – particularly on the recent Schools White Paper and SEND Green Paper and, interestingly, promising to publish a timeline for reform delivery. Other issues covered in the session included council MATs; forthcoming legislative proposals including the long-awaited children’s register; local skills improvement plans; and getting officials back into the office.    

While in the House of Commons, the Online Safety Bill was considered with many MPs armed with a briefing from the Children’s Commissioner. The briefing, based on views from 15 leading children’s rights organisations and safety experts, highlighted the importance of ensuring children were protected better in future with safe spaces online and effective accountability systems in place. 'Ofcom’s powers to require transparency reports will be key for reassuring children, parents, and policymakers that the Bill is creating a safer world for children.' The government has published a useful factsheet on the Bill here.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Deloitte scales back London office space in stark sign of shift to remote working’ (Monday).
  • ‘Headteachers accuse government of ignoring Covid by ending publication of school coronavirus attendance figures’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Degree grade matters more than university reputation, report finds’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Nearly 50,000 tutors to be trained under new £18m National Tutoring Programme’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Heads plan Covid isolation rooms so symptomatic kids can take exams (Friday).


  • World Economic Outlook. The IMF published its latest World Economic Outlook pointing to a slowdown in economic growth, from last year’s estimated 6.1% to this year’s 3.6%, largely due to damage from the Ukraine conflict and wider cost of living issues, and with the UK predicted to have the slowest growth among G7 countries next year at 1.2%.
  • Climate Change Strategy for education. The government set out its ‘sustainability and Climate Change Strategy’ for education and children’s services, first drafted at COP26 and now complete with a detailed list of five action areas and range of targets and partnerships embracing the entire education sector.
  • Jobs Outlook. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation and Savanta ComRes published their latest survey among employers about jobs, indicating that while employers were concerned about the economy and N.I. rise, hiring intentions for permanent staff in the short-term at least remained positive.
  • Impact of Coronavirus on the labour market. The House of Commons Library Service examined the impact of Coronavirus on the labour market showing that some groups, such as the low paid and some ethnic minority groups appear to have been hit hardest economically, but singling out two age groups, workers aged 18-25 and those aged 65+, most likely to have left employment as a result.
  • Young people’s mental health. The Reform thinktank published a new report on young people’s (11-19 yrs old) mental health indicating that while this had already been a concern before Covid, it had been exacerbated by it, calling among other things for a national survey to establish the real extent along with more support for teachers, dedicated PSHE time, and wider use of support services.
  • What makes a good city? The British Academy announced the latest successful applicants for its BEIS funded research work looking into what makes for a good city, with the latest set of nine projects covering everything from food systems to climate change across the globe.

More specifically ...


  • Primary School Offer Day. The government published information for parents to accompany the release of the confirmation of primary school places for this year, including the appeals process for those families unhappy with their offer.
  • Induction funding. The government announced additional funding for newly qualified teachers completing induction between summer 2021 and spring 2022 with eligible schools entitled to payments of £1,200 - £1,500 per inductee.
  • School funding. The Sutton Trust published the results of its latest poll on school funding carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) pointing among other things to concerns about a lack of catch-up funding, funding worries in primary schools, and cost pressures on the use of teaching assistants and IT resources.
  • Exam appeals. Ofqual published data on exam appeals for GCSE and A levels last year showing figures for the numbers of appeals as 0.35 of all grades certified and the number upheld as 36%, but which are non-comparable with previous years given the different nature of exams and appeals in 2020/21.
  • Paying shortage teachers more. The Gatsby Foundation looked in a new report at the impact of retention payments for early career maths and physics teachers, pointing as in previous reports to positive returns, with more teachers retained and the costs of training of additional teachers reduced accordingly. 
  • On notice. Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT put government ministers on notice as he called for a better deal for teachers that included a pay rise and clearer contractual working time, in his address to the Union’s Annual Conference.


  • T levels. The government updated its T level guidance with further links and information on the rollout timeline, transition programme and professional development.
  • Apprenticeship Levy reform. The 5% Club called on members to put forward their own ideas for Apprenticeship Levy reform, citing a number of issues it had identified through recent discussions such as funding, apprenticeship levels and ages, as it prepared to submit a response to the Chancellor.
  • Collab Group session. The Collab Group reported on its recent session with employers and trade bodies about working more closely with colleges, with employers calling for greater clarity on routes available and more direct pipelines of talent where possible, and with both sides recognising the need to work together amid changing economic conditions. 


  • Expanding student numbers. The Tony Blair Institute called in a new report for an increase in the numbers of young people going to university, arguing that increased skill needs meant at least 60% should be going by the end of 2030 and 70% by 2040.
  • Degree returns. The Institute for Fiscal Studies examined the financial returns on degrees in a report commissioned by the government indicating that degree grade remains key in many professions, although it varies by subject, but that graduates with a lower grade from a more selective university might have benefited by going to a less renowned institute and gaining a higher grade. 
  • Living Black at University. The Unite Commission followed up its earlier report into the experiences faced by many Black students in UK student accommodation by launching a year-long commission to seek further information and embed good practice. 

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “The edu-morning-after-walk-of-shame: Returning to work after two weeks off with the same stack of unmarked papers we left with. We've all done it. We've all felt the shame. We will all do it again” | @adamboxer1
  • “You know you’re a teacher when your family can see a difference between holiday-you and term-time you” | @KKNTeachLearn
  • “They should start doing a BA degree in 'Seating Plans' because it's just taken me 45 minutes, two coffees and a brain break to reach something that's semi-workable” |@MrJoshJonston
  • “Flashback to the last week of last term, where I wrote *very* impressed feedback on about 5 students books before I realised they were all suspiciously similar, and I was in fact making my own model paragraph” | @HughJRichards
  • “Always, always check the education of those who tell you not to go to university” | @nickhillman

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “Governments should look to harness positive structural change wherever possible, embracing the digital transformation and retooling and reskilling workers to meet its challenges” – the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its latest World Economic Outlook.
  • “The Mail's investigation found that on a typical Monday morning, in many public-sector offices, less than 10 per cent of staff were at their desks” – The Daily Mail wades in on the government call for officials to be back at their desks. 
  • “We will go back to pre-pandemic office use immediately” – the Education Secretary responds on DfE working arrangements.
  • “We are investing in domestic priorities and targeting funding where it is needed most: building pride in place; supporting high quality skills training; supporting pay, employment and productivity growth; and increasing life chances” – the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Levelling Up tells MPs about the new UK Shared prosperity Fund which replaces EU structural funds.
  • “Student loans were never meant to be a life sentence, but it’s certainly felt that way for borrowers locked out of debt relief they’re eligible for” – the President cancels student loans for thousands of Americans.
  • “But that being said, many graduates who get a 2.2 from a highly selective university might have got a higher-paying job had they attended a slightly less selective university and got a 2.1. Prospective students, parents and policymakers should take note’ – the IfS reports on financial returns to degrees.
  • “It is the last thing a bullied child reads at night before they sleep and the first thing they see when they wake in the morning” – the Culture Secretary highlights the need to protect children as she opens debate on the Online Safety Bill.
  • “The spectre of stagflation stalks the UK economy” – economists continue to reflect on last week’s economic figures for the UK.

Important numbers

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

  • 3.2%. The global growth forecast for the rest of the year, according to the World Bank, down from 4.1% previously.
  • 34%. The average pay increase last year for a sample of FTSE100 CEOs, according to a survey from PwC.
  • 45%. The number of responders in a poll who said rising fuel prices were behind the reason for needing to work from home, according to a survey from Randstad.
  • 70%. The number of young people who should be entering university in England by 2040, according to the Blair Institute.
  • 89.1%. Pupil attendance level in state schools in England as of 7 April, up from 88.6% previously, according to the latest published figures.
  • £3.96bn. The total cumulative surplus of Academy trusts with positive reserves in 2020/21, according to latest published figures.
  • Yrs 2 – 4. The Year Groups most appealing to primary school teachers, according to a survey from Teacher Tapp. 
  • 27%. The fall in Netflix shares over the last quarter, according to the latest trading figures. 

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • WorldSkills International Skills Summit (Wednesday 26 April).
  • HEPI University Partners’ Policy Briefing Day (Wedneday 26 May).
  • Institute for Government event ‘Should all schools be academies?’ (Thursday 28 April).
  • Institute for Employment Studies virtual Annual Conference. (Thursday 28 April).
  • Launch of IPPR Commission on Health and Prosperity. (Thursday 28 April).
  • Youth Employment employers’ webinar on ‘Utilising Your Apprenticeship Levy’ (Friday 29 April).

Other stories

  • The Big Jubilee Read. The list of books announced this week to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, has attracted considerable comment. The list of 70 books, one for each year of the Queen’s reign, was chosen by a panel of librarians, booksellers and leading literature figures, overseen by BBC Arts and the Reading Agency. Authors were selected from across the Commonwealth published during the reign of the Queen. The books range from E.R. Braithwaite’s ‘To Sir, With Love’ from the first decade of the reign (1952-1961) to Bernardine Evaristo’s ‘Girl. Woman, Other’ from the most recent decade (2012-2021.) The full list can be seen here
  • Doing the maths. National Numeracy and the FT have been among the bodies recently banging the drum for improving adult financial literacy. According to a survey this week from CEBR and Legal and General, their call for action has been vindicated. The survey shows that despite all the talk about inflation, people’s awareness of its impact appears pretty low. More than a quarter don’t know what impact it will have on their cash while 13% reckon it will leave them better off. A link to the story 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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