Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 06 May 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:

Local elections week, but plenty of education headlines all the same. They include:

  • A notable rise in the number of reported complaints by university students last year.
  • Government plans to report on the take-up of the national tutoring programme by schools.
  • Arrangements for local skills planning
  • The release of another skills report, the second in as many weeks to raise the question of investment. 

In other education news this week, Ofqual followed Ofsted by setting out its corporate plan for the next few years. It also released its response to the government’s consultation on L2 qualifications, raising some issues about the proposed defining of qualification groups and the timescale for any implementation. 

Elsewhere, Universities UK published its response to the government’s consultation on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE), broadly welcoming it – 'Universities are ready to deliver greater choice and flexibility for learners'- but calling for it to be open to all. The University Alliance Group also put forward their own ‘Blueprint for Success’ for the LLE.

The Joint Council for Qualifications published school and college arrangements for this summer’s exam series with some flexing of the regulations on invigilators. 'For the June 2022 series only, where no other suitable invigilators are available, subject teachers may invigilate an examination in their own subject.' And schools busily prepared for KS2 SATs which take place next week.

Here are a few details behind some of these top stories. 

Student complaints first, details of which can be found in the latest report from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, the body that deals with these things. 

The report covers 2021, a year punctuated by pandemic issues and industrial disputes, both of which have played their part in the increase in complaints registered: 2,763, 'our highest number ever.' The majority were from undergraduate home students and covered what is termed service issues ‘teaching, supervision and course-related facilities.’ Business and management courses received the highest number of complaints, and perhaps unsurprisingly given pandemic restrictions, a number of practical courses, from medicine to creative subjects, also saw an increase. 

In all, 27% of cases were justified, resulting in a compensation bill of £1.3m, up from £742,000+ the year before. 

Clearly, the pandemic made things very difficult for many students last year and as the Student Futures Commission argued in its Final Report recently, ‘we need to rebuild the student experience based on a true partnership between universities and their students. prioritising what students really want, not what we think they want.’

On to the National Tutoring Programme, an important feature of the government’s education recovery proposals, but one that has faced considerable criticism over its outsourcing to Randstad and subsequent delivery.

At the end of March, the government stripped Randstad of its contract and promised that the funding would be channelled directly to schools. In less welcome news this week, the Education Secretary announced that: “I am planning to publish data on each school’s tutoring delivery at the end of the year alongside the funding allocations and numbers of pupils eligible for the pupil premium. I will also share this information with Ofsted.” 

He argued this was to ensure transparency, "to help parents understand how and whether schools are doing it" but school leaders remained unimpressed with what felt like a heavy and ill-informed hand. As ASCL’s Geoff Barton put it: “this feels very much like an attempt to shift the focus away from its manifest failings and on to schools.” They, along with the NAHT, have called for an urgent meeting with the Education Secretary.

Next, skills: that new report and arrangements for local skills planning. 

The report came from the Learning and Work Institute, with support from NOCN, and highlighted the issue of employer investment in training, which continues to drop. Timed to coincide with the 5-year anniversary of the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, the report argues that we need a much more ambitious approach if levelling up, skills renewal and so on are to be tackled.

The problem is that 'policy isn’t working as it should.' Much of this is down to a constant stream of short-term initiatives and restrictive funding, and the report, like many, calls for a wider Skills Levy, Skills Tax Credits and new working partnerships. 

Talking of partnerships, the government hopes that the new Local Skills Improvement Plans as set out in the recent Skills Bill, will, in its words, ‘put employers at the heart of the system.’ These have been piloted in eight Trailblazer areas over the past year, and this week the government invited wider expressions of interest. The guidance document spells out four selection criteria, including working with existing stakeholders – a continuing challenge, given a crowded field of skills bodies.   

On to Ofqual’s Corporate Plan, which runs to 2025. As the Chair pointed out in his foreword, broadly three themes dominate at present: ensuring a successful exam/assessment programme this summer; centralising the needs of learners and apprentices; and creating an 'effective and efficient’ qualifications market. These translate into the four priorities listed, which remain fairly familiar. 

The one that is perhaps of most interest concerns the plans Ofqual has for the future. There’s plenty of talk here of ‘new approaches to qualification design, assessment and regulation,’ including for a new GCSE British Sign Language qualification, and assessment arrangements for GCSE modern languages. 

On the move towards innovative assessment, including the use of technology, cautious optimism appears to be the order of the day. 'We plan to engage with awarding organisations to support the use of innovative practice and technology and remove regulatory barriers where innovation promotes valid and efficient assessment.'  

Many, Pearson being just one example, are already moving ahead in this area, but as Ofqual’s own Perceptions survey revealed last week, it’s still an area where views are finely balanced. This suggests a desire to keep things moving.  

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Schools urged to adopt maligned National Tutoring Programme’ (Monday).
  • ‘Exams 2022: Invigilator rules relaxed over shortage fears’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Complaints over Covid disruption rose in 2021, student watchdog says’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Scores of safeguarding complaints at after-school clubs’ (Thursday).
  • ‘College to trial four-day week’ (Friday).


  • Project leadership. The government confirmed that the Oxford Saïd Business School had been awarded the contract to deliver the next phase of the Major Projects Leadership Academy, providing senior government officials with features like digital training to help deliver major projects more efficiently.
  • Life Sciences. The government invited companies to submit expressions of interest (by the end of the month) for Wave 3 of Phase 1 of its Life Sciences Innovative Manufacturing Fund where £60m has been made available to support the manufacture of human medicines, medical diagnostics and MedTech products.
  • National Manufacturing. The Minister for Industry addressed the Make UK National Manufacturing dinner where he outlined the government’s support for the sector, highlighted latest developments and announced the launch later this year of a new manufacturing investment prospectus.
  • Twitter developments. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee wrote to Elon Musk inviting him to appear before them and provide evidence about his plans for Twitter. 
  • Jubilee Volunteering Award. The government invited national charities that work with volunteers to apply for a special Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Volunteering Award, with applications due in by 17 June 2022 and winners to be announced in late October. 
  • Cost of living. The New Economics Foundation called for a revamped social security system with a minimum floor level as it published new analysis on the cost of living showing that an additional 900,000 households, many with working members and often with low incomes, will struggle to afford the increased costs this year.
  • Family Review. The Children’s Commissioner for England launched a Call for Action for children and families to have their say about families and family life, following a request from government for her to conduct an independent review into family lives and how best to support them. 
  • Lessons from a Landslide. Labour in Communications reflected on Tony Blair’s 1997 electoral victory 25 years on, outlining six recommendations such as ‘simplicity and consistency of message and style,’ that could help deliver future poll success. 

More specifically ...



  • Local Skills Improvement Plans. The government invited employer groups wishing to become lead players in drawing up local skills improvement plans to submit expressions of interest by 6 June 2022, listing four application criteria and promising statutory guidance and funding to follow. 
  • Adult numeracy. The government published the prospectus for mayoral and unitary authorities on funding for Multiply, (adult numeracy programmes) where £559m has been made available over the next three years to support local progress in improving adult functional numeracy skills.
  • In response. Ofqual published its response to the government’s consultation on L2 and below qualifications acknowledging the intentions behind the proposals that include refining and regrouping of such qualifications but calling for greater clarification about the proposed segmentation as well as extending the timetable for implementation to avoid provider overload. 
  • Investing in skills. The Learning and Work Institute with NOCN called in a new report for a much more ambitious approach to skills training, arguing that employer investment in training had fallen in recent years and calling for ‘a new long-term plan for skills and growth’ that would include a reformed apprenticeship levels and a new Skills Tax Credit.
  • Cyber skills. The government published its latest report into UK cyber skills gaps and shortages pointing to a continuing shortage of skilled staff and of training, with the workforce gap worsening over recent years. .
  • Professional standards. The Education and Training Foundation published the latest version of its professional standards for FE teachers and trainers, refreshed after a wide-ranging consultation, to include updates on sustainability, diversity and changed learning practices post-pandemic.
  • Grow with Google. Google announced it was offering free training in ‘data analytics, design and other tech skills’ for up to 500 workers at any US business through its Coursera Inc online education service.


  • Student complaints. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator published its annual report for 2021 showing a 6% rise on the previous year in the number of student complaints lodged, many related to the pandemic and involving service issues such as teaching and facilities. 
  • Value for money. The Russell Group published its response to the government’s consultation on HE financing and value for money, calling for the development of a new funding formula within the next 2/3 years, a rethink around minimum entry requirements, and further work around improving admissions arrangements.
  • In our view. Universities UK published its response to the government’s consultation on a Lifelong Loan Entitlement broadly welcoming its potential and the opportunity to create a strong modular system but stressing the need for it to be available for all learners through a range of routes. 
  • And another view. The University Alliance group published its response to the Lifelong Loan Entitlement consultation, putting forward a ‘blueprint for success’ based around a number of principles and three ‘key enablers’ including a digitalised learning portfolio for learners, a national student record system, and the development of regional education hubs.
  • UA92. The Times Higher reported on the University Academy 92, set up in Manchester by some of the former Man Utd ‘Class of ‘92’ footballers, which is seeing its first set of students graduate and which is looking to offer local digital skills and apprenticeships as it aims to grow and break even in the future.

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Get massively annoyed with son's Y2 homework which requires a printer at home. I am proudly printer-free. There is no technology as frustrating and non-functioning as home printing. Either provide worksheets or make the whole thing digital and able to be done on a computer” | @gabrielmilland
  • “My son just came home from his first a-level mock. He didn’t take GCSE exams because of covid. His first words. Well, that was a bit of a step up from GCSEs” | @MrsSmanwar
  • “Hi all, Because our displays are looking a bit shabby and students’ work is poor, we have decided to outsource our display work to a local company. Each week email them the topic you’re teaching and they’ll create good quality “student work” until Ofsted visit us next. Thanks x” | @NewbieSlt
  • “People don’t have experiences anymore. They have ‘lived experience’ | @JamesTheo
  • “Just cost me £1. Yes, One English Pound, to put air in my tyres. Used to be 20p. Suppose that's inflation for you” | @history_CMc

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • My Committee has noted your proposed acquisition of Twitter and we are interested in the developments you propose” – the Chair of the DCMS Committee invites Elon Musk to give evidence.
  • “Applications can take around six to eight weeks to process and for the vast majority, the whole experience will be online” – the Student Loans Company encourages students attending college or university this autumn to apply early for student finance.
  • “A stubborn minority” – the universities minister points to some university lecturers not teaching in person
  • “Put simply, we are sleepwalking to stagnation in skills” – the Learning and Work Institute reports on a fall in investment in skills training.
  • “We would be delivering a National Excellence Programme for schools, paid for by ending the tax exemptions for private schools” – Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary spells out Labour’s approach in a speech to the NAHT.
  • “School type is not of itself a proxy for background or an indicator of socio-economic advantage or disadvantage” – Independent Schools Council Chair Barnaby Lenon responds to comments from the V.C. at Cambridge about fewer independent school students gaining access to Oxbridge in future. 
  • “It is our first priority to do all we can to enable the delivery of exams and formal assessments in 2022” – Ofqual launches its latest Corporate Plan.
  • “This announcement smacks of political grandstanding designed to distract from the mess the government has made of the National Tutoring Programme” – ASCL responds to government plans to publish data on school take-up of the NTP.

Important numbers

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

  • 10%. The projected rate for UK inflation by year end, according to the Bank of England.
  • £2,300. The increase in the cost of living this year for many UK families, according to new analysis from the New Economics Foundation. 
  • 6.2%. The unemployment rate in the EU for March 2022, down from 6.3% from the previous month according to latest figures from Eurostat.
  • £4,000. The amount universities stand to lose per taught undergraduate by 2024/25, up from £1,750 currently according to the Russell Group.
  • 2,763. The number of HE student complaints received last year by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, up 6% on the previous year, according to its latest report.
  • 51%. The number of businesses surveyed lacking staff with appropriate skills for dealing with cyber security breaches, according to a new government cyber skills report. 
  • 28%. The fall in real terms spending on skills training per employee since 2005, according to a new report from the Learning and Work institute.
  • 205. The number of awarding organisations regulated by Ofqual, according to its latest Corporate Plan.
  • 76%. The number of respondents not convinced that a fully trust-led school system would help, according to a survey by the NAHT.
  • 92.3%. The attendance rate by pupils, apart from YRs 11-13, in state schools in England last Thursday, according to latest government estimates.
  • 70%. The number of teachers surveyed who said it was difficult to find time to visit the loo during the school day, down 7% from 2019 according to Teacher Tapp.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • KS2 SATs Week. (Monday 9 May – Thursday 12 May).
  • Mental Health Awareness Week. (Monday 9 May – Sunday 15 May).
  • Learning and Work Institute online event ‘The Apprenticeship Levy 5 years on’ (Monday 9 May).
  • State Opening of Parliament (Tuesday 10 May).
  • Wonkhe in-person event: ‘Access and Participation’ (Tuesday 10 May). 
  • QAA virtual Annual Conference (Wed 11 May – Thursday 12 May). 

Other stories

  • Books to read in a day. For many people, lockdown generated a renewed interest in reading, some reaching for the big classics that they hadn’t had time to read yet, others seeking quick reads that they could power through within a day. The deputy editor of Five Books recently examined what other books, classic or modern, might lend themselves to being read in a day. Her list of so-called quick reads ranged from Albert Camus in the classic mould to the more modern Ian McEwan. Her list can be found here
  • Speaking at Conferences. An interesting set of 10 rules for Conference presenters this week. They came from Simon Kuper in an article in the FT about how to avoid boring the whatsits off an audience. Here’s three from the list that from experience ring true. One, ‘know that your audience is bored even before you open your mouth.’ And of course, as he reminded us, you have to compete today with everybody’s mobiles so a strong and confident opening is important. Two, ‘most of us are boring to look at’ so keep things lively. And three, ‘don’t use a Marcus Aurelius quote’ because everyone will know you’ve been scouring the internet for quotable ideas. A list to the full ten can be found here.

If you find my policy updates useful, please consider donating something, however small, to help support its publication. EdCentral is a not-for-profit social enterprise company and relies on donations to continue its work.

You can sign up here to receive access to Education Eye straight to your inbox on publication.

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.



EdCentral Logo