Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 20 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:

‘Oh no, not the teachers,’ exclaimed Bloomberg UK as it reported on industrial action this week.

Its been one of the stories of the week and the government quickly followed it up with new guidance for schools and colleges on how to manage things in the event of disruption. Prioritisng vulnerable children and those taking exams were among the top propositions.

Its been another busy week of developments, so here’s a rundown of the top stories of the week starting with where we are on that industrial action. Sector specific stories and links follow further down.

  • Industrial action. The latest position is that doors remain open but as ASCL’s Geoff Barton put it after this week’s meeting with the ministers, ‘we’re no nearer a solution.’ The government has pointed here to the latest pay rise for teachers and its recent funding settlement for schools but the distance between the two sides remains as wide as ever. The NASUWT, after its failed ballot, remains in dispute, the NAHT and ASCL are considering their next steps while the NEU, which met the turnout threshold and voted for strike action, has listed a series of proposed strike dates for England Wales due to start on 1 February.
  • MPs’ questions. Its been education questions in the House of Commons this week. Questions to ministers ranged from school buildings, SEND and teacher retention and recruitment, to FE funding and student cost-of-living. There were standard responses in most cases.
  • Labour market data. The latest labour market figures, published this week by the ONS, saw a slight increase in the unemployment rate to 3.7% (Sept – Nov 2022,) a slight decrease in the economic inactivity rate to 21.5%, a drop in vacancies (Oct – Dec 2022,) and a drop (2.6%) in pay in real terms over the year. Many commentators suggested the UK economy was ‘cooling down’ while the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Employment Studies opting for the labour market being at a turning point. Particular worries include the dragging effect of inflation on wages, vacancies falling again, and a concerning rise in youth unemployment.
  • Meanwhile in Davos. Leading global figures have been meeting in person again at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this week where the vibe is that things are improving. ‘IMF signals upgrades to forecasts as optimism spreads at Davos,’ as one FT headline put in. Some are more cautious. The IMF for instance predicted that a third of the global economy would enter recession this year and there’s continuing talk of ‘polycrises.’ Education and skills have featured prominently with many speakers seeing them as the key to improve productivity and resilience. The Forum’s Reskilling Revolution is an obvious example. Yesterday delegates discussed the post-pandemic workplace, today it’s economics. Sir Keir Starmer, Boris Johnson and Grant Shapps, whose speech is here, have been among the UK reps attending. All the details can be found on the site here.
  • In the firing line. The HE regulator in England, the Office for Students (OfS,) reached its fifth birthday this week but there were few well-wishers. Concerns about its regulatory role, costs, and overall performance have been growing and leading mission bodies like the Russell Group have called on the Education Committee to undertake an Inquiry. “We believe,” they wrote in a letter to the Chair of the Committee, “it is the right time for an independent review of the organisation to give the sector and students confidence that it is working effectively and efficiently.”

  • Post-16 maths. Debate about the merits or otherwise of taking some kind of maths/numeracy beyond the age of 16 has been rumbling on. This week, the DfE did its own calculations on how many students might be affected. It looked at data for state-funded pupils at the end of KS4 in 2018/19 where it estimated that at that time, some 46.3% of the cohort was taking some form of maths beyond the age of 16. This could be an A level, Core Maths, GCSE resits or some other form. It means, if the maths is correct, that 53.7% of the cohort at that time were not therefore studying maths/numeracy beyond the age of 16, as the PM had called for.

  • Student cost-of-living. In a week in which Wales upped its maintenance loan rate for students, issues about the cost-of-living for students in England belatedly some would argue, received more attention with the OfS and APPG for Students both setting up inquiries. The Office for Students (OfS) has commissioned a poll and is looking to report back on the challenges and what would help most. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) equally has called for evidence and is hoping to report back on its findings.

The top headlines of the week

  • ‘Return of online lessons to tackle teachers’ strikes.’ (Monday).
  • ‘University staff join strikes on 1 February.’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Halfon orders universities to publish T level admissions statements.’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘One in ten pupils in England have missed school because they felt unsafe -survey.’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Heads call for end to ‘blunt’ Ofsted ratings in inspections overhaul.’ (Friday).


  • Levelling up. The government announced the list of the 100+ projects, including some from education, set to receive funding from Round 2 of the Levelling Up Fund, intended to support communities and help spread economic growth, with a further round of bids set to follow in due course.
  • Scaling Up. The Business Secretary argued that Britain had a unique opportunity to reset and reinvigorate its growth agenda in a presentation at Davos where he announced a Scale-up Summit ‘to bring together key frontier tech, development and finance figures who have accelerated tech businesses from start-ups to scale-ups.”
  • Reducing parental conflict. The government invited bids from local authorities, and public, private and community bodies from its Challenge Fund to run projects that could work with, and provide digital support for, families where children are exposed to conflict. 
  • Online Safety Bill. The government published a batch of supporting documentation to accompany its Online Safety Bill, including a useful Factsheet on what could/could not constitute communications offences and a full Impact Assessment as the Bill neared completion.
  • Labour market picture. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest set of labour market estimates showing little change to the overall employment rate which remains 1pp below pre-pandemic levels, with vacancy rates falling although still high, and where wages continue to be hit by inflation.
  • Labour market analysis. The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) published its regular analysis of the latest labour market figures suggesting that despite a fall in economic inactivity, the overall picture was ‘worrying’ with ‘signs of a slowdown and potential weakening in the labour market in coming months.’
  • Deeper in debt. PwC and TotallyMoney reported that nearly 9m adults in the UK were deemed ‘financially fragile’ with UK households on average owing just over £16,000 in unsecured debt as it published the results of a recent survey into household finances.
  • Health and social care. The Times kicked off its new Health and Social Care Commission which, like the Education Commission before it, will bring together leading experts and take evidence from a wide range of opinion “to identify problems in the (health and social care) system and work out pragmatic, practical solutions,” with a report due next January.    
  • Education funding. UNICEF called for a better spread of global education funding, particularly to poorer nations, as it published a new report showing that some third of countries globally spend less than 15% of their education budget on poorer families and children from such households currently benefit the least from national public education funding.

More specifically ...


  • Strike action. The NEU announced seven planned days of industrial action across February and March in England and Wales following a ballot among members that met the required thresholds and resulted in a resounding ‘yes to action’ vote.
  • Strike talks. ASCL’s Geoff Barton reported on the latest round of talks this week with the Education Secretary on industrial action, pointing to three unresolved issues: this year’s pay award; next year’s pay award; and workloads.
  • Handling strike action. The government published updated guidance for schools on managing provision in the event of strike action, underlining the key role of the headteacher in determining how far to keep a school open and the option of using agency staff and volunteers, as well as how best to manage provision, remote or otherwise, and for schools to prioritise vulnerable children, those taking exams and those of key workers.
  • Exam contingency planning. The government also added further guidance on what schools and colleges should do if there is disruption to exams highlighting the importance of contingency planning and good communications and stressing that in the event of any strike, ‘schools should prioritise the running of exams.’
  • Business Support. Business in the Community (BITC) listed four ‘calls for action’ for employers who want to help address problems of inequality in education, suggesting creating education partnerships, developing essential skills, addressing staff/student wellbeing, and reaching out to the most disadvantaged as priorities for business support. 
  • Teacher supply. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) reported on its programme of research into teacher supply in England suggesting that recruitment and retention remain issues exacerbated by heavy workloads, high-stakes accountability and poor pay levels, and calling on the government to develop a long-term pay strategy along with flexible working options.
  • Teacher wellbeing. The charity Education Support with the help of Wesleyan examined the mental health and wellbeing of ethnic minority teachers in relation to the wider population, finding many facing the same sort of pressures such as workload and accountability as others in the profession, but often coupled with other race related challenges.
  • Inspections. Ofsted published data on school inspections up to the end of last year pointing to ‘an increasingly positive picture’ with a notable increase in the number of schools improving after a poor grading previously and a slight increase in the number of top-rated schools.
  • Chief Inspector’s address. Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector gave the annual lecture to Oxford’s dept of education where she outlined Ofsted’s role (gathering and aggregating evidence on performance,) how it operated, (through inspections, research and disseminations,) the basis of inspections (established frameworks and handbooks,) and current areas of work (including post-pandemic recovery and children in care.)
  • Future of inspections. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) published a discussion paper setting out a number of proposals, some immediate such as scrapping overall grades, and some more long-term such as using a balanced scorecard, for reforming the inspection system.
  • Holocaust resources. UCL’s Centre for Holocaust Education along with two leading Academy Groups announced new resources and training for teachers to help further the understanding of the Holocaust and its implications.


  • T levels. Rob Halfon, the skills and universities minister, called on universities to set out on their websites what their entry requirements were for T level applicants this year so that such students had a better idea of their options..
  • Apprenticeships. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) launched its promised ‘exceptional funding band reviews’ which will see apprenticeships in 20 skills-shortage sectors prioritised for a funding review (by April 2023) so that decisions on funding at a time of rising costs could be made quickly.
  • Impact Report. Youth Employment UK published its Impact Report for the last year pointing to its wide reach among young people and employers, and range of work undertaken particularly around its Good Youth Employment Charter, as well as listing key milestones in youth employment for over the next 3 years.
  • New partnership. The Learning and Work Institute and UfI VocTech Trust launched a new partnership aimed at exploring through a new VocTech Challenge how technology can best be used to help adults gain the skills they and the economy needs, with a series of workshops, projects and activities planned for the future.


  • OfS review. Leading HE mission organisations wrote an open letter to the Chair of the Education Committee calling on him to undertake an inquiry into the Office for Students, citing perceived concerns about its performance, independence, costs, and the general lack of confidence in it from across the sector.
  • Cost-of-living. Paul Blomfield MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for students announced a new inquiry for the Group into the impact of the cost-of-living on students and the extent of any support provided, calling for evidence to be submitted by 27 Feb.
  • More on the cost-of-living. John Blake, Director for Access and Participation at the Office for Students (OfS) also raised the issue of the cost-of-living and the impact this was having particularly on vulnerable groups of students, confirming that the OfS would be hosting a series of roundtables to understand the issues better, particularly in relation to equality of opportunity, with a view to publishing further information and guidance in the coming months.
  • Cost-of-living support. The Student Loans Company published the latest version of its guidance for students on understanding living costs while studying at university and college, how much a student might expect in terms of loans for the coming year and what support is available.
  • University admissions. Rob Halfon, the skills and universities minister, called on universities to set out their offer to T level applicants this year as well as consider offering more degree apprenticeships, as he set out his priorities for for the sector the coming months.
  • Student stats. HESA published its dataset on UKHE students 2021/22 showing a 4% increase in the total number of students on the previous year with a continuing slight (57%) female majority, business and management as the most popular subject and a slight (4pp) drop in the number of first-class hons awarded.
  • Staffing matters. HESA published data on academic staff employed in UKHE in 2021/22 showing 20% were from ethnic minority backgrounds, 35% were on teaching only contracts, the number on p/t contracts had increased by 9%, and the overall numbers of staff employed had increased by 4%.  
  • University matters. Nick Hillman, director at the HE Policy Institute (HEPI) addressed the Sixth Form Colleges Association Winter Conference where he tackled such issues as how well-prepared young people were for HE with managing costs and mental health both highlighted, admission trends and the need for open access, the current policy climate and some of the debate around HE.
  • International students. LSE Consulting published the findings from its work, commissioned by the OfS, looking into how international students had found the process of integration and their experiences of areas like student support and coping with the pandemic, calling for an integrated framework that could better accommodate students’ different needs and concerns.
  • International returns. The Times Higher reported on the financial returns made by a number of Russell Group institutions from international students following the end of Covid travelling restrictions and the opportunity post-Brexit to charge higher fees to EU students with London providers doing particularly well.
  • IHEC Commissioners. The International HE Commission considered ‘the true value of international students’ in its session this week announcing at the same time eight Commissioners that included two previous universities ministers and four current vice-chancellors.
  • Maintenance support. The House of Commons Library Service published a briefing on maintenance grants/loans, outlining the changes over the years, along with current support levels and key issues.
  • London diversity. The London Higher Group published a series of case studies illustrating the extent of equality, diversity and inclusion happening in London HE institutions, highlighting both the challenges and the successes and committing to further work in this area in the future.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “When I was a kid, I thought the #UniversityChallenge teams were actually positioned one on top of the other, like bunk beds. Ridiculous. But I still can't unsee” - @zoconnor.
  • “I thought it might be nice to go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves, including a fun fact… You thought wrong” - @IntrovertProbss.
  • Just landed in Davos and got right to work ordering a Caesar salad and Coke Zero for $60” - @dgelles.
  • “Bringing cake into the office should be seen as being as socially unacceptable as inflicting passive smoking, Britain’s top food regulator has told @thetimes health commission” - @TOMEPPayne.
  • “I told my friend I liked Beyoncé… He said whatever floats your boat. I said, “no, that’s buoyancy” - @The PunnyWorld.

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “When I was a child, I never dreamed of being prime minister” -Sir Keir Starmer on his ambition.
  • “Space is part of our critical national infrastructure. It is essential for communications – we would not have the modern trinity of Positioning, Navigation and Timing without it” – former universities minister David Willetts on the significance of space exploration.
  • “So what I want to create is a Silicon Valley with a British edge” – the Business Secretary tells delegates at Davos that he has plans.
  • “Labour market may be cooling down but it’s still hot to the touch” – the HR professional body CIPD reflects on the latest labour market figures.
  • “Weakening consensus” – former universities minister Jo Johnson suggests the UK is becoming less convinced about the benefits of international students.
  • “Frankly bizarre” – the chief executive of the Russell Group reacts to proposals for a big increase in OfS membership fees while tuition and maintenance loans are kept low.
  • “We have to conclude that our democratic process has been compromised by factors outside of our control” – the NAHT fails to meet the required turnout threshold in its ballot for industrial action.
  • “I think we operate to a fairly standard model” – Ofsted’s Chief inspector on how Ofsted operates.
  • “Bosses forced to contact staff by Instagram as Gen Z ditch email” – the Telegraph on ‘new’ ways of working.
  • “Don’t expect your kids to move out at 18 like they used to” – Money Box presenter Paul Lewis reviews current economic trends managing to strike alarm in some households.

Important numbers

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

  • 10.5%. The CPI inflation figure for December, down slightly from the 10.7% rate of the previous month but not for food prices, according to the latest data from the ONS.
  • 9.8%. The unemployment figure for young (18 – 24) yr olds, up from 7.5% previously according to the latest labour market figures from the ONS.
  • £870.7m. The amount that last year’s (Birmingham) Commonwealth Games contributed top the UK economy, according to a new evaluation report.
  • £308,000. The median vice-chancellor’s pay package in 2021/22, according to a survey by the Times Higher.
  • 239,390. The number of (academic) staff employed in UKHE in 2021/2, according to the latest data from HESA.
  • 32%. The number of first-class honours awarded in 2021/22 down from 36% from the year before, according to latest stats from HESA.
  • £19,520. The average starting salary for a school/college leaver, according to the Institute of Student Employers.
  • 89%. The number of schools judged good or outstanding at their most recent inspection, up 1% from last year according to latest data from Ofsted.
  • 90.44%. The size of the yes vote in a ballot among teachers in England by the NEU for industrial action, according to the union body.
  • $23,000. The cost of a large neon sign depicting the blue Twitter bird logo being sold off as part of an auction of equipment at Twitter offices in San Francisco, according to The Washington Post.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Education Committee evidence session on careers guidance. (Tuesday 24 January).
  • Equal consideration deadline for many undergraduate UCAS applications. (Wednesday 25 January).
  • IES webinar and report on ‘Making young people a vital part of every workforce.’ (Wednesday 25 January).

Other stories

Are you in the right job? LinkedIn’s ‘Jobs on the Rise’ report published this week included a list of the ’25 fastest-growing job titles of the past five years.’ It’s a fascinating picture of the changing job market and fortunately comes with simple explanations of what each job entails. They’re not always immediately clear. At the top of the list is ‘Customer Success Consultant,’ followed by ‘Sustainability Manager’ and ‘Product Operations Manager.’ Each comes with a helpful little list of skills involved, current gender distribution and especially relevant these days, the remote job availability. A link to it all is here.

60:40 work pattern at the DfE. Talking of remote job availability, there was an interesting response this week to a ministerial question about working arrangements for staff in the DfE. It fell to Nick Gibb to respond. This was what he said.  “Since March 2020, the Department has adapted to more agile ways of working to continue delivering business priorities. With the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the Department has adopted a hybrid working model, with staff expected to work from the office or other face to face work setting for at least 60% of their week. The actual number of days will vary depending on individual working patterns.

Who has the toughest job?  Lots of people are happy to say what they would do if they were Prime Minister for a day but how hard would it be to do the job fulltime? Last week, YouGov ran a survey of which jobs were tougher than being a PM. Top of the list was surgeons followed by nurses, doctors, firefighters and soldiers. Opinions were more divided when it came to comparing the job of a teacher with that of PM. 50% reckoned being a teacher might be easier. The list 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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