Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 27 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:

Plenty of different stories this week but one familiar theme – money, or rather the lack of it. 

It’s a factor in most stories of the week – from teacher’s strikes, to the cost-of-living for students, to levelling up, to a major new report on UK poverty.

Details can be found in the links below, but first a rundown of this week’s top education-related stories.

  • Strike action. The first of the teachers’ strikes, organised by the NEU for England and Wales, is due to take place next Wednesday, with a follow-up planned for February 14. The NEU claimed this week that large numbers of teachers – figures ranged from 18,000 to 20,000+ – were switching union so they could join in the strikes. Meanwhile, the government was said to be looking into the legality of the ballot announcement, a move dismissed by the NEU as ‘desperate’. In further developments this week – as the NAHT and NEU issued guidelines for next week’s action – both committed to a re-ballot. And Ofsted said it would maintain its inspection schedule, but not on strike days. 
  • Poverty 2023. Three things stand out from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest comprehensive study of poverty in the UK, published this week. First, that the combination of the pandemic, inflation and cost-of-living crisis, has hammered many families. To take one statistic, ‘more than 7 in 10 families in poorer households are going without essentials’. Second, since much of the data was collected in autumn 2021, ‘living standards are likely to have fallen further’. And third, although there has been a reduction in poverty levels among some groups, there’s wide variation across the country and across different social groups. Education remains a vital lifeline for so many.
  • UCAS forms. This week saw another milestone reached in this year’s university application cycle, with the equal consideration deadline. It also saw debate continue about proposed changes to the UCAS form, with both the Times Higher and HEPI carrying reaction pieces. Most of the comments home in on potential changes to the Personal Statement and possible ways of tidying up and improving the proposed tigger questions, including the awkwardly phrased Q.6. Sarra Jenkins, a secondary teacher who wrote the latest comment piece on the HEPI website, called the proposals ‘a step in the right direction’, but added a number of interesting observations. Her piece can be read here
  • Tertiary education. Is a redesign of FE/HE up for grabs again? Sir Keir Starmer set the ball rolling with his recent speech promising devolved local budgets, including for skills. Labour’s FE minister, Toby Perkins, followed it up this week calling for ‘a new approach to FE under Labour’, involving devolved budgets. Both have built on work by Labour grandees Gordon Brown and David Blunkett. Ultimately, it all tends to come down to money. Would a single, unified tertiary system, perhaps post-Augar style, work better and more efficiently? We’ve been here before. But, as Professor Andy Westwood outlined in a comment piece on Wonkhe this week, perhaps now is the time to consider it. All eyes on a future Labour manifesto.
  • Debate about the merits or otherwise of homework has raged for years. ‘Colour in a poster of the Great Fire of London for history homework’, was one of the more inane examples, cited by Tom Bennett in an article written a few years back in support of Spanish parents who, at the time, were gathering in force to outlaw homework. This week another voice was added to the anti-brigade. It came from the President of Ireland who argued that ‘time in school should get finished in school’, and that time at home should be used for ‘other creative things’. He wasn’t the only one. ‘Daily unhappiness to no good end’ tweeted Kirstie Allsopp. HuffPost went in search of other views and found quite a mix, with many parents saying it should be optional. Their article can be found here
  • Careers guidance. The Education Committee held an interesting witness session this week as part of its ongoing Inquiry into careers guidance. Witnesses included an employer, an academy leader, a primary headteacher and Robert Peston, in his capacity as founder of Speakers for Schools. Topics covered included: work experience, real and/or remote, and some of the hurdles involved; working with employers; primary school careers guidance; future work skills; and the Gatsby benchmarks. For anyone interested, the Committee has now released a full transcript of the session here
  • Marking the day. The UN marked International Day of Education this week by highlighting the importance of education to developing nations. It noted that some 244m children and young people globally are not in school, and 771m adults are illiterate. It dedicated the day of activities to girls and women in Afghanistan, calling for ‘an immediate lifting of the ban restricting their access to education’.

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Academics sue Oxford University over ‘Uberisation’ of teaching contracts’ (Monday).
  • ‘Essay-writing AI Chatbot faces ban by universities fearful of cheating’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Teacher strikes: NAHT will re-ballot members, Whiteman pledges’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Good early years teaching may boost earnings of children in England – study’ (Thursday).
  • ‘School strike: Thousands of pupils told to stay home' (Friday).


  • Stuck in a rut. Tony Danker, Director-General of the CBI, outlined in a major speech ‘four big solutions’ for growth, including ‘upping the game’ on green growth and being bolder on labour market reform, notably in areas like childcare and skills training.
  • Mental health. The government announced a new package of support for mental health, with £150m to be made available over the next two years to provide specialist ambulances, new crisis centres, and dedicated services in the community.
  • UK Poverty 2023. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published its latest major report into poverty in the UK, pointing to 20% of the population living in poverty in 2020/21, and – despite reductions among some groups, continuing concerns within some regions, ethnic groups, and those families with three or more children – calling for a rest of basis benefit rates accordingly.
  • Cost-of-living. The consultancy PwC reported on the results of its regular, fortnightly online survey tracking cost-of-living trends, showing as of this week 41% of Brits are concerned about their finances, a slight improvement from 45% previously, but with energy remaining a concern, and increasing numbers cutting back on non-essentials.
  • Levelling Up. The think tank IPPR North called for ‘an empowered North’ as it released a report highlighting the challenges facing that part of the country. It cited case study evidence of how competitor countries have tackled regional inequality, and pointing to four lessons that could be learnt from such evidence, including: public investment; a clearer economic tie between people and place; and ‘a deep and irreversible power shift to local tiers of government’.
  • Levelling down. The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) examined levelling up in the context of the latest funding announcement, suggesting that inflation-adjusted wages growth was creating significant regional disparity, with Northern Ireland, Wales, and Yorkshire and the Humber among the biggest sufferers.
  • Good Work. The Institute for the Future of Work, in partnership with Imperial College, reported on their series looking into what constitutes ‘Good Work’ and how to access it, mapping current trends across local authorities in the context of levelling up, and recommending Good Work pledges and measures of work quality as part of the process. 
  • Workers in social care. The Resolution Foundation examined the experience of social care workers, noting that while their work is often rewarding and hugely valued, social care work tends to be poorly paid and in stressful conditions. It called for a sector wide minimum wage £2 higher than the national minimum wage, along with clearer regulations on travel time.
  • Ukraine. UNICEF reported on the disruptive and damaging effects of the current conflict on the education of Ukrainian children, potentially some 5m+ of them, calling for resources and support to help those in the country, and help for Ukrainian children currently settled in other parts of the world.

More specifically ...


  • Remote education. In the light of potential school closures and pupil absences the government updated its non-statutory guidance for schools on providing remote education, stressing that it should only be used ‘as a last resort’ and that good practice – such as ensuring pupil security and sharing procedures with parents – should be observed.
  • Ahead of next week’s proposed strikes Ofsted announced that it would schedule inspection notices and visits of schools to avoid strike days and would treat requests for deferrals on a case-by-case basis. 
  • Alternative Provision. Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) set out the arrangements for this year’s thematic visits re local provision for children and young people with special needs and disabilities (SEND). The focus will be on seeing how far needs are being met, identifying challenges, and sharing good practice.
  • Academy Accounts. The government published the Annual Report and Accounts for Academies in England as of August 2021, showing a further increase in the number of schools becoming academies (9,628); a slight drop in the number of trusts (2,659); 57 new free schools opening, and current assets up by a billion to £4.9bn.
  • All MAT. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) suggested that the government’s ambition to create a fully-fledged multi-academy trust (MAT) was unattainable, with worries about schools being left behind and issues of trust and capability, let alone funding and regulation, needing to be resolved first.
  • Flexi work. The government published the results of a commissioned report into the pros and cons of introducing flexible working arrangements in schools, using evidence from schools that have tried it – concluding that on the plus side it can help with staff retention and recruitment, but on the downside it can come at a cost, both logistical and financial.
  • Learning Recovery. The government published Wave 2 of its commissioned work on learning recovery post-pandemic, using evidence taken during autumn 2021 to summer 2022, showing absences, both from staff and pupils, as one of the main barriers to recovery, but with schools making use of one-to-one support and tutoring, and putting on a range of recovery classes, as part of ongoing recovery.
  • Reception value. The government published the results of commissioned research undertaken by Durham University into the returns, both at GCSE and in employment, from high-quality reception teaching, with top performing classes ultimately potentially adding £2,000-£7,500 per pupil to the UK economy.
  • Ready for School. Kindred2 published the results of its commissioned survey into the readiness of young children to start schooling, with parents suggesting many (89%) were, but teachers less convinced (54%) pointing to examples of children unable to follow simple instructions, unable to eat independently, and not toilet trained 
  • School attendance. The House of Commons Library Service examined school attendance in England, including the current rules, data and policy proposals, as the Education Committee prepares to undertake a new Inquiry into the matter.
  • Partnerships.The School Partnerships Alliance examined the impact of different types of partnerships across schools in a new report, using case study evidence to reinforce the mutual benefits these can bring, and promising to develop a Partnering Toolkit to help future collaborative arrangements. 
  • Careers collaboration. The Careers and Enterprise Company announced a new scheme intended to bring teachers and employers closer together through visits and classroom activities, to help build a ‘deeper understanding’ of skill needs and learning and employment opportunities.
  • Early years.Professor Becky Francis, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, outlined work from the Foundation intended to support early years practice – promising new resources, funded trials, and support over the coming weeks.
  • Post-16 maths. FFT Education Datalab examined where the candidates might come from given any requirement to continue maths beyond the age of 16, suggesting that most would come from those achieving lower maths GCSE grades, meaning alternative maths options may be needed for the policy to succeed.
  • National Bacc. The National Baccalaureate Trust invited applications from schools and colleges for accreditation from this September, with schemes required to comprise three components – core, project, and personal development – and run over two years.


  • T levels. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) reported on its review into the three health and science T levels in the light of some concerns about results last year, concluding that the level of science expected in the health T level was too demanding, and proposing further review and separation of the core. 
  • L2 consultation. Ofqual launched a consultation on its proposed regulatory approach for L2 qualifications, supporting progression to T levels and requiring, for example, awarding organisations to provide an overall assessment strategy, use the common P/M/D grading scale, and show how they intend to maintain standards over time.
  • Apprenticeships. The House of Commons Library Service published a helpful briefing on apprenticeship policy since 2015, running through changes since then, including the introduction of the levy and other policy developments, and concluding with the current position as the government considers its promised ‘further improvements’.
  • Apprenticeships debate. MPs discussed apprenticeships in a Westminster Hall debate this week, where quality outcomes and progression, funding, levy underspends, degree apprenticeships, and careers guidance, were among the issues raised and tackled in the summing-up given by Rob Halfon, the skills minister.
  • Youth employment and mental health. In a new report, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Youth Employment highlighted the issues for young people with mental health concerns looking to access the labour market, noting that the pandemic had exacerbated things and left particular groups vulnerable, calling accordingly for ‘early and proactive intervention’ and targeted support as part of a long-term plan.
  • Adult learners. The Learning and Work Commission reported on its study of English and maths adult learners in London, looking, for example, at how best to publicise and recruit such learners (social media and word of mouth), how best to retain and motivate such learners (role of the tutor crucial), and how best to achieve success (understand different starting points).


  • Strike days. The University and College Union (UCU) listed planned strike days across UK universities in February and March, suggesting it could be ‘the biggest series of strikes ever to hit UK university campuses’ and pointing to further action if the latest round of talks failed to generate solutions.
  • Cost-of-living. The Sutton Trust reported on recent polling among UK students showing that nearly a quarter were at risk of dropping out because of the cost-of-living, with many, notably from poorer backgrounds, skipping on food and essentials, and others taking up jobs or turning to families for support.
  • Hardship funding. The Office for Students published details of how the recent government allocation of £15m for student hardship should be distributed, namely split pro rata on headcount between full and part-time students, with a sum also for disabled students and the money allocated by the end of July 2023.
  • Budget submission. The Russell Group set out its hopes for the forthcoming Spring Budget, prioritising three areas in particular: the cost-of-living (uprate and adjust maintenance loans in line with inflation); Horizon Europe (extend the guarantee and launch alternative schemes); and innovation clusters (need more long-term investment).
  • Funding in Scotland. The Institute for Fiscal Studies outlined the current and future funding scenario for Scotland, suggesting that while medium term projections looked favourable, the longer-term projection look more worrying, meaning that free university education might come under scrutiny.
  • The view from here. The Office for Students (OfS) published the results of its commissioned research into how it communicated with providers and their perceptions of the Office, finding this varied among different types of provider, with many valuing a personal contact and keen on a more tailored, collaborative form of communication. 
  • Quality standards. The Office for Students (OfS) outlined the statutory framework for assessing quality and standards as part of the context for future arrangements undertaken by the OfS or other designated body, while current dissensions are resolved.
  • Complaints. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) published details of its work last year, which saw it dealing with a record number of student complaints, and listed four key priorities, including reviewing student complaints and sharing learning, as part of its operating plan for this year.
  • Oxbridge partnership. The government confirmed funding and support for a new ‘pan regional partnership’ for the Oxford and Cambridge region, intended to enhance the local economy, position the area as a hub for innovation and growth, and help it become a globally recognised centre for technology and enterprise. 
  • Spiking. Universities UK reported on how some universities have been taking action to tackle spiking in light of their guidance issued last year.
  • Net Zero. The Royal Anniversary Trust reported on the work of its FE/HE Jubilee winners as they tackled the challenge of Net Zero, highlighting the ‘challenges’ across three main areas – buildings, travel and supply chains – and coming up with a list of recommendations for the sector for the future. 

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Tomorrow, I'll be joining my 4 year old's reception class on their first ever school trip to the local library. The trip will last 1 hour but I've blocked out the rest of the day to recover” | @AdrianBethune
  • “Being a teacher is like having 30 phones ringing, all at the same time. Unless you've done it, you'll never really understand how difficult it can be” | @DavidNautilus1
  • “School drop off this morning. My 6 year old “daddy don’t give me a kiss and a cuddle anymore when you drop me…just stay in the car.” Tough game. Back to reality” |@andy_murray
  • “In celebration of making it (almost) through 2 days of teaching (TWO DAYS) I got my nails done. Was aiming at café au lait, but result is more milk chocolate buttons” | @Amanda_Vickery
  • “My class think I'm 'old' because until today I had no idea what Prime drinks were. What hype am I missing?” | @MissStanleyYr6
  • “ChatGPT passes MBA exam” | @BobHarrisonEdu
  • “I wish I knew the number of chocolate biscuits I need on average to produce 500 words of text. And not to forget the cups of #coffee...” | @ TheHistoryWoman
  • “I'm sorry, but you can't *always* be experiencing a higher volume of calls than average. That's not how averages work” | @Kit_Yates_Maths
  • “I took my 8-year-old daughter to the office on 'Take Your Kid To Work Day' But when we walked in the office she started to cry. As concerned staff gathered round I asked her what was wrong and she said: "Daddy where are all the clowns you said you work with” | @Dadsaysjokes
  • ” I phoned my work this morning and said, “Sorry boss, I can’t come in today, I have a wee cough. He said: “You have a wee cough?” Me: ok boss I'll take a week off”. | @The PunnyWorld

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “Recent glimmers of good economic news have yet to feed into the public finances” – the Resolution Foundation responds to the latest record government borrowing figures.
  • “Just 24% of the UK’s public education spending goes to post-secondary education and vocational training and skills compared to the OECD average of 66%” – The CBI’s Tony Danker calls for skills reform.
  • “Early this year” – the minister responds to a question in Parliament about when the government intends to publish its response to the SEND Review.
  • “The average salary for a classroom teacher is £39,500, with an employer pension contribution of 23.6% in addition, which equates to almost £10,000 per year” – Nick Gibb answers a question in Parliament about teacher’s salaries.
  • “Teachers are not natural strikers” – John Bald, Vice-President of the Conservative Education Society.
  • “We want to maintain school inspection activity as far as possible in February and March, while responding sensitively to local circumstances” – Ofsted will try to maintain its inspection schedule during strike action but will not call on strike days.
  • “It is our view that there should be no inspections at all during strike weeks” – ASCL’s reaction to Ofsted’s announcement about operating during strike periods.
  • “The current safeguards in place to stop children from getting caught up in such exploitative situations are extremely limited” – Barnardo’s responds to news stories of asylum children in the UK being kidnapped from their temporary accommodation.

Important numbers

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

  • 2035. The date being considered by government for raising the official retirement age to 68, down from the originally planned date of 2046 according to the i newspaper.
  • £17.3bn. The central government debt interest payable last month, the highest since records began in 1993 according to the ONS.
  • 600. The number of staff likely to be laid off by Spotify, as it became the latest Tech company to announce redundancies according to the BBC.
  • +0.6%. The increase in consumer confidence for the final quarter of last year, albeit still at -19.6% according to Deloitte’s Consumer Tracker.
  • 2,850. The number of student complaints received by the Adjudicator’s Office, a record number according to the latest report from the OIA. 
  • 24%. The number of university students at risk of dropping out because of the cost-of-living crisis, according to new research from the Sutton Trust.
  • 6.1%. The fall in the number of apprenticeships starts in the first quarter of the 2022/23 year, according to the latest provisional data from the government.
  • 93.9%. The pupil attendance rate across all schools for the week commencing 9 January 2023, according to latest figures from the government. 
  • £7,220. Funding per pupil in England for 2023/24, according to the latest figures from government.
  • 15%. The number of teachers in a survey in favour of paying teachers of shortage subjects more, according to a poll by Teacher Tapp. 
  • 18,000+. The number of teachers switching union and joining the NEU so that they can join in next week’s strike action, according to the i newspaper.
  • £14,000. The average price for a f/t nursery place for a child under the age of two, according to figures quoted by PoliticsHome.
  • 20%. The number of professionals who changed their mind during the recent cold snap and decided to go into the office to keep warm, according to research from CV-Library.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Education Committee witness session on childcare and early years (Tuesday 31 January).
  • Proposed day of strike action by the NEU (Wednesday 1 February).

Other stories

  • What’s worrying us? The polling company Ipsos, published its first ‘Issues Index’ of the new year this week. The Index provides a regular polling profile of what people think are the most important issues facing the country today. Unsurprisingly one issue has soared to the top and that’s the NHS. It’s up 15 percentage points since last month, albeit largely among older more affluent voters. The cost-of-living still features, with the economy and inflation coming in at second and third respectively. Education/schools comes in at tenth in the list. Full details here
  • Generous listening. Among the new workplace skills listed at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Conference last week was the concept of ‘generous listening.’ Not just listening but specifically generous listening, defined as ‘hearing beyond just words and engaging with both the heart and the mind.’ It ranks apparently, alongside other new trends in hybrid working such as ‘quiet quitting’ and requires a manager to be fully present, empathetic, and to not interrupt.’ A link to it all for those managers keen to try it 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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