Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 13 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:

Two main stories this week. 

  • First, the Queen’s Speech, and what it had to say about education and skills.
  • Second, exams, where present and future arrangements have been under discussion.

Let’s start with the Queen’s Speech, where the 38 Bills that will form the basis of this government’s legislative programme for the coming session, were studiously read out by Prince Charles.

The set Speech is an important occasion in the parliamentary calendar and the Prime Minister was keen to use this year’s to signal a reset for the government. In his words "get the country back on track",  lay the foundations for longer term growth", and "level up". But for many it was the lack of tangible action to deal with the cost-of-living crisis that stood out the most. ‘Conspicuous by its absence,’ according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Overall, the Speech was described by Sir Keir Starmer as "bereft of ideas and purpose".  Others were equally unenamoured. "Thin gruel", according to political commentator Sam Freedman, ‘doesn’t do enough to address long-term problems facing children and young people’ the verdict from Barnardo’s. The CBI welcomed the ambition in the Speech but said that what was needed now was ‘a relentless focus on delivery.’ The TUC, like many, lamented the absence of an Employment Bill – something that was promised three years ago – others pointed to a lack of industrial strategy. In short, as the New Statesman put it, ‘the government is running on empty.’ 

As for education and skills, the Speech contained a number of Bills of interest, such as the Draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill, but three Bills in particular stood out:

First, a Schools Bill, legislating for many of the features in the recent Schools White Paper and seen as part of the broader levelling up agenda. 

The main thrust of the Bill Is to provide for the government’s continued drive towards a fully academised school system. There would, therefore, be a new framework of set standards for academy trusts, and a new legal tool for local authorities to request that schools join a trust. The government’s claim is that this is about driving up standards, levelling up and helping meet the ambition of getting 90% of primary children in England up to the expected standards in reading, writing and maths by 2030. Not everyone appears convinced, as an LGA report this week indicated. 

That said, the Bill includes some important measures on tackling pupil school attendance and unregistered schools. Ofsted would be granted new powers to investigate the latter, while on the former, local authorities would be required to maintain registers for not-in-school children. These have been largely welcomed, although the NAHT maintained that 'a focus on policies and paperwork alone will not solve the problem of persistent absenteeism'. 

It’s not one of those great reforming Bills, more functional than visionary, but enables the government to lay claim to continuing to protect young people and drive-up standards.

Second, an HE Bill intended to provide for the introduction of the much-vaunted Lifelong Loan Entitlement, which will enable post-18-year-olds to access a loan entitlement equivalent to up to four years study. And, more contentiously, provide for student numbers control on so-called low-quality courses, potentially using minimum entrance requirements. 

More substantive than the Schools Bill, the HE Bill has the potential to be more transformative as well, partly because of the loan entitlemen, which could transform some aspects of provision, but also – partly, if the government decides goes ahead with plans – to control numbers on certain courses. Responses to the consultation on this have been largely negative and it will be interesting to see how these are negotiated.

Third, a Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. This may not be a Bill that immediately springs to mind when it comes to education, but as the earlier Levelling Up White Paper indicated, education and skills provide ‘the building blocks’ for so many of the concept’s ambitions. The Bill sets out to reinforce the 12 missions listed in the monster White Paper and also proposes using some of the infrastructure levy for rebuilding community providers such as schools and surgeries. 

On to exams and assessments, which have started to feature prominently in news stories as the latest exams season gets under way.

This is, as Ofqual reminded us in a blog, ‘the first summer exams for three years',  and Radio 4’s Today programme interviewed a number of young people earlier in the week to see how they were feeling about it all. Nervous, apprehensive, but in some ways relieved to be back to normal, seemed to be the general consensus.

To help them on their way, Ofqual, like many bodies, has been offering tips and advice for students, as well as for staff and parents. Ofqual’s guide on coping with exam pressure was published in February; the charity Young Minds offered its thoughts last week; exam board AQA added its suggestions this week; and Youth Employment listed its ‘7 common mistakes to avoid during exams'. Mistake number 1 is ‘trying to wing it’. 

As Ofqual re-iterated, ‘it’s normal to be anxious during the exam period and in the run up to it’ and perhaps more so for this year’s exams cohort who have had to keep calm and carry on during various lockdowns. This was a point stressed by ASCL’s latest research among school leaders which reported that 'stress and anxiety among students taking their exams this summer is higher than in pre-pandemic year'. 

Also, on exams, Ofqual and the government have started looking ahead to next summer’s exams and issued guidance this week about a return to normal exam arrangements for next year. 'For 2023, the Department for Education confirms the return to full subject content coverage for those GCSE subjects'. Grading will be looked at in the light of outcomes this year. Ofqual is also gathering views from students about some of these year’s adaptations.

As for primary school pupils, they’ve been tackling SATs week. These haven’t taken place since 2019 and there’s been considerable debate in recent months about whether they should happen this year at all. According to the parents’ organisation which conducted a poll in March, 'the clear message we hear from parents is that they don't think now is the right time to reintroduce these primary assessments'. The government’s view is that the SATs provide a useful rain check on how pupils are coping post-pandemic. 'The data will provide vital information to parents about their child’s attainment, support the transition to secondary schools, and identify where additional support is best targeted to individuals'. 

Coincidentally, researchers at the Institute for Education this week announced a new review into the role of assessment in primary schools in England, with initial findings due this summer. The House of Commons Library Service also had a useful primer out this week on SATs and the whole assessment regime in primary schools in England.

Exams and assessment – and in particular the pluses and minuses of the current system – featured heavily in The Education Summit hosted by The Times this week. The newspaper has been hosting an Inquiry into the future of education through its Education Commission for nearly a year now, and is due to publish a major final report next month. Its interim report, published in January, was fairly scathing about the exam system, especially GCSEs.

Elsewhere this week, its been a hugely important week for higher education, with the results of the latest research assessment exercise published. Much of it was deemed world-leading or internally excellent, leading to the Chair of the exercise to declare that ‘they reinforce the UK’s position as a world leader in research’. The Times Higher, HEPI and WONKHE all have excellent summaries.

In other news, the government announced an important review into the future of work, including skill development and automation, to help identify what’s need ‘to build a high-productivity, high-wage economy.’ The National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) published its latest, rather bleak, Economic Outlook, pointing to a rising number of households struggling to pay bills. The government published the list of L3 vocational qualifications liable to have their funding removed in two years’ time because they overlap with respective T levels. And the Office for Students reported on the growing number of graduates gaining top degree over the last decade.

Finally, its been mental health awareness week, and the DfE has added its bit in the form of additional funding to support mental health lead training, with further work going on to develop a 10-year mental health plan.

And Boris Johnson opened a Tik Tok account with predictable results. It’s here.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Universities oppose plan for student cap and loans in England’ (Monday).
  • ‘Ofqual reveals how exams in 2023 will look’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Schools brace for Covid exams disruption as pupil anxiety rises’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Exams 2022: What you need to know’ (Thursday).
  • ‘£3K teachers retention bonuses: How will they work?’ (Friday).


  • Queen’s Speech. The government set out in the Queen’s Speech and accompanying documents, its proposed legislative programme for the coming session of Parliament with Bills for Schools and HE among the 38 listed.
  • Work Review. The PM appointed Matt Warman MP to lead a review of the labour market and the future of work generally, building on the Taylor Review, and to consider how best to support employer needs and skills, create a productive workforce and examine the impact of automation.
  • Flexi working. The government widened its ban on exclusivity clauses making it easier for those on low incomes to take on extra work where and when they want.
  • Green Jobs. The government hosted the first meeting of the Green Jobs Delivery Group, bringing together reps from across government, energy firms and public bodies, tasked with creating and supporting 480,000 green jobs by 2030.
  • New Deal. The Labour Party set out its plans for a New Deal for Working People based around ‘five principles of good work,’ including quality jobs, opportunity for all, work that pays, a fairer economy, and security at work.
  • Working together. The think tank Demos published the latest in its series on ‘relational’ public services, looking on this occasion at employment support services and calling for a new Universal Work Service that could combine employment support, skills and careers advice at a local level.
  • Emergency Budget. The British Chambers of Commerce called for an ‘immediate emergency budget’ putting forward three measures to help ease the cost-of-living crisis including postponing the NI increase, cutting VAT on business energy bills, and reinstating free Covid tests for businesses.
  • Economic Outlook. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) published its latest Economic Outlook for the UK pointing to a ‘significant squeeze’ on household finances as a result of rising prices and higher taxes, concluding that 1.5m households face the prospect of their bills being higher than their disposable income.
  • Mental health support. The government announced an additional £7m for schools, colleges and universities to train extra mental health leads as part of its contribution to Mental Health Awareness Week, with further money also going to charities to tackle bullying and develop respect.
  • Education Commission. The Times hosted an Education Summit as part of the build-up to the launch of its Commission’s Final Report, looking at the exam system and future needs, and highlighting employer evidence about the need to provide young people with the basic skills needed for future employment. 
  • Cyber security. The National Cyber Security Centre reported that it had removed more than 2.7m scams from the internet last year as it revealed ahead of the CYBERUK Conference, a range of new services and defences to tackle the growing menace of cyber breaches.

More specifically ...


  • Queen’s Speech and Schools. The government announced a new Schools Bill in the Queen’s Speech, intended to encourage more schools to join multi-academy trusts as well as tackle the issues of pupil attendance and unregistered schools.
  • Exams 2023. The government and Ofqual confirmed that for next year’s exams, special adaptations, such as a choice of topics at GCSE, would no longer apply and that matters like grading and timetabling would be considered ‘in the light of experience from this year.’ 
  • Exams 2022. Ofqual offered its tips and advice for students and exam officers in a blog published as this summer’s exams season got under way, pointing in particular to its guidance published in February this year.
  • Exam stress. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) reported on its survey of school leaders showing many concerned about Covid disruption, student stress and a lack of invigilators, ahead of the onslaught of this summer’s exam season.
  • Exam adaptations. Ofqual launched a student survey on three of the adaptations used for this year’s exams covering the use of advance information, formulae sheets in some science and maths subjects, and content choice in some GCSEs.
  • SEND Review. The government published more accessible versions of the Review and extended the consultation period to 22 July 2022.
  • SATs Review. Researchers from the Institute for Education, working with colleagues from Cambridge, Brighton and Westminster along with the Independent Commission on Assessment in Primary Education announced the launch of a new review into the role of assessment in primary schools in England with an interim report due in July and final report in October.
  • SATs in context. The House of Commons Library Service published a useful guide to the assessment regime in England including SATs, the current arrangements and policy developments over recent years.
  • Attendance consultation. The government reported on its recent consultation which had prosed four measures to help improve school attendance, noting that while there was good support for schools having an attendance policy there were mixed views on the other proposals such has having a national framework for legal intervention. 
  • Retention bonuses. The government announced a package of retention bonuses for STEM teachers in their first five years working in disadvantaged schools with the funding coming as part of the Levelling UP Premium.
  • Exclusions and suspensions. FFT Education Datalab examined the issue of school exclusions and suspensions looking at data for two state school cohorts -those who reached the end of Year 11 in 2019 or 2020 – indicating that 15% of such pupils experienced a suspension and 1% an exclusion, variable by ethnicity, and with repeat behaviour often a factor.
  • School attendance. The Children’s Commissioner for England outlined some of the initial findings from her Attendance Audit, launched after last year’s Big Ask to try to understand more about school absentees, with the full findings due to be published next month. 
  • School system. The Local Government Association published a commissioned report into school types using Ofsted inspection grading to compare performance, arguing that schools that stick with their local council are more likely to perform better than academies and that a one-size-fits-all approach is not a necessary guarantor of success


  • Queen’s Speech. The government outlined in the Queen’s Speech a number of ways in which was providing training and employment support including doubling the number of Work Coaches, setting up the Restart Scheme, extending the Youth Offer and developingthe Job Entry Targeted Support Scheme.
  • Defunding qualifications. The government published the list of L3 qualifications, including 38 BTECs, that overlap with the first T levels for which it proposes to withdraw funding for new starters from August 2024, with appeals allowed up to 8 July 2022.
  • Defunding analysis.The Association of Colleges (AoC) provide a helpful analysis of the impact, by sector and latest college enrolments, of the proposed defunding of certain L3 qualifications.
  • Call for Evidence. The Skills Commission called for evidence for its Inquiry into Higher Technical Qualifications ahead of a series of inquiry sessions due to be held over the next few weeks.
  • Pandemic effect. The government published a commissioned report into how the pandemic had affected 16-19 learners, concluding that many had found it difficult with online learning increasingly becoming demotivating, and anxiety and mental health issues growing.
  • Creative careers. The Dept for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) invited applications for funds for the next phase of its Creative Careers Programme which provides young people across England with specialist information and guidance about creative careers. 
  • Digital Skills Training. Google launched a further wave of digital skills training with its Digital Garage scheme which will deliver free in-person digital skills training for individuals and businesses at locations around the country.
  • WorldSkills 2022. WorldSkills UK announced the list of 29 young people who will represent the country in the 2022 WorldSklills competition in China.


  • Queen’s Speech and HE. WONKHE provided a useful run down of Bills proposed in the Queen’s Speech that could affect higher education including the rollover HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill and Online Safety Bill but also an HE Bill covering recent funding proposals, a Levelling Up Bill, Renters Reform and Social Housing Bills, and a Public Order Bill.
  • REF results. The results of the 2021 assessment of UK university research, carried out through the extensive Research Excellence Framework and signalling an important moment for UK research and university ambitions, were published, with 41% of submissions deemed world leading and 43% judged internationally excellent.
  • Research review. Nick Hillman, director of the HE Policy Institute (HEPI,) rounded off a week of blogs about the latest research assessment exercise by listing seven takeaway thoughts including issues of costing, selectivity, bureaucracy and future developments. 
  • On reflection. The Times Higher reflected on the REF results the day after and in particular the additional weighting for impact and it effects.
  • REF in detail. David Kernohan at WONKHE provided a detailed breakdown of the latest REF results by region, sector, institution and subject, with some concluding thoughts about the overall impact.
  • Degree trends. The Office for Students published a new report looking at graduate attainment rates over the last decade and showing a doubling of the proportion awarded a 1stclass honours with nearly 60% unexplained in terms of background factors leaving the OfS pointing to plans to investigate in more detail.

Stand-out tweets

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “How do you stop your PE cupboard looking as though a bomb was detonated in it? Asking for a mate” | @mr_hyams1
  • “I was greeted this morning by extreme giggles “You are still wearing your jammies!” So much for my new summer floral trousers… Reception tell it how it is” | @HeyMissSmith
  • “Best thing about stepping down from being a Department Head? I’ve barely replied to an email in months. And nobody minds” | @TauofJames
  • “Hard to express just how much harm is caused in schools by rumours of 'what Ofsted want' | @MrMountstevens
  • “Hi all, Tomorrow sees the start of the Spanish GCSE Speaking Exams. It’s also the day we start cutting the grass, resurfacing the tennis court, building the Art Block Extension, there’ll be a fire alarm and the music department will be holding Mariachi Band auditions. Thanks x” | @NewbieSlt
  • “I got told off by a Yr 5 today for saying ‘dinner’ instead of ‘lunch’. How’s your day been? | @rlrossie64
  • “Today I almost rage emailed my son’s school over their pole dancing lessons for kids, and then shortly afterwards I learned that there’s a thing called May Day pole dancing and it’s very not the same thing as stripper pole dancing. Glad I saved myself the embarrassment lol” | @preta_6

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • We will deliver a stronger and more highly performing education system that provides young people with the skills and knowledge they need to fulfil their potential, no matter where they live” – the government highlights education in the Queen’s Speech.
  • “A massive shock to the system for a generation” – former Bank of England economist Andy Haldane on inflation.
  • “We must not drop our guard, underestimate the threat or take our eye off the ball when it comes to our cyber defences across society” – the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster addresses the CYBERUK Conference.
  • “The commission is the broadest inquiry into education ever held in Britain and the first to look at the system from early years through to lifelong learning – the editor of The Times introduces this week’s Times Education Commission Summit.
  • “These proposals are classist, ableist and racist” – The NUS condemns government proposals on minimum entry requirements for some university courses.
  • “I doubt whether anyone knows more about the University and all its aspects than today’s Warden of Merton” – Chris Patten, Oxford Lord Chancellor announces the comprehensive-educated Irene Tracey, current Warden of Merton College, as the University’s next Vice Chancellor. 
  • “The qualifications on the list will be retired from August 2024 giving providers 2 years’ notice to prepare” – the government lists L3 qualifications that could have their future funding removed because they overlap with T levels.
  • “We won’t generally respond to media and social media comments about exams during the exam period, because we don’t want to distract students or teachers from the exams themselves” – Ofqual sets its stall as the exam season get underway. 
  • “Many of the things we dislike about exams are actually methods of reducing the biases and inconsistencies of human judgement” – education ‘expert’ Daisy Christodoulou on the case for retaining formal exams.
  • “Work is no longer a place” – senior civil servants respond to government demands for being at their desks.
  • “It appeared that the camera was mounted on the ledge or ridge on the wall just above the back of the toilet," – the Canadian Parliament criticises an MP for participating from the loo.

Important numbers

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

  • 38. The number of Bills listed in this year’s Queen’s Speech.
  • 0.1%. The fall in the UK economy in March, according to latest figures from the ONS.
  • 8.3%. The prediction for UK inflation by the end of the year, according to the NIESR.
  • 57%. The rise in the number of households in the last three months cutting back on food or missing meals, according to figures from The Food Foundation. 
  • 204,000. The number of apprenticeships starts for the period August 2021-Jan 2022, up against the same period last year but still down (4.8%) on the pre-pandemic equivalent according to latest government figures.
  • 89%. The number of employers in a survey who agreed that an assessment system should consider wider abilities beyond the academic, according to a survey by PwC and The Times Education Commission.
  • 160. The number of L3 vocational courses that the government deems overlap with initial T levels and which thereby face the chop in two years’ time, according to the latest government pronouncement. 
  • 89%. The number of parents in a survey who disagreed that SATs help to improve school standards, according to a poll from Parentkind. 
  • 473,255. The number of children and young people with Education and Health Care Plans, up 9.9% on last year according to latest government figures.
  • 399. The number of Mental Health Support Teams due to be in place in education settings by next year, according to latest government figures.
  • 51%. The number of schools surveyed that provide free tea and coffee in the staffroom, according to a poll from Teacher Tapp.
  • 31%, The number of first-time house buyers who had parental help in paying for the deposit, up from 13% at the start of the millennium according to YouGov.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Learning at Work Week (Monday 16 May – Sunday 22 May).
  • MPs debate on the Queen’s Speech including the proposed Education Bills (Monday 16 May).
  • Education Committee evidence session on post-16 qualifications (Tuesday 17 May).
  • Skills Commission 2ndEvidence Session into Higher Technical Qualifications (Tuesday 17 May).
  • National Numeracy Day (Wednesday 18 May).
  • UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education (Wednesday 18 May – Friday 20 May).
  • Education Policy Institute and Teach First event on ‘Closing the Gap to Level Up’ (Thursday 19 May).

Other stories

  • Divided by woke. A new report out this week from King’s College Policy Institute and Ipsos Mori suggests that the UK is becoming increasingly divided by culture wars. The study is a follow-up to a report from two years ago and finds that across the country 54% of us feel that we’re becoming divided by culture wars, up from 46% in 2020. Increasingly it appears that being regarded as ‘woke’ is an insult rather than a compliment. Much of all this seems to be being driven by the media which a few years ago hardly mentioned culture wars but nowadays increasingly does. Nearly 1,500 such articles last year mentioned it compared to 178 in 2019. The Daily Mail apparently leads the way in using terms such as cancel culture. A link to the report is here.
  • Best Beach Reads of 2022. It’s the time of year when publishers and booksellers start listing books to take away on holiday. They usually come crafted with an image of a sun lounger, a long drink and an engrossing book. This week’s list from redbook is of 20 new titles that may well offer what they call ‘consummate warm weather vibes.’ The list 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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