Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 03 February 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:

Strikes of course but plenty more to report from education this week.

This included the publication of the government’s ‘long-term strategy to fix children’s social care’; a further report from the National Audit Office (NAO) on education recovery in schools post-pandemic; some thoughts from Ofsted on science in schools; a fascinating dip into public perceptions of higher education; and two major new economic reports.

Links to all these below, but first a run through these and other top education-related stories of the week.  

  • Strike action. Around half-a-million public sector workers took part in Wednesday’s day of action. ‘Walkout Wednesday’ as it came to be known, included many teachers. The government suggested just over half of schools in England (51.7%) faced partial or full closures. The NEU reckoned 85% of schools in England and Wales were affected by strike action. ASCL, which described it as ‘a day of sadness that we’ve reached this point’ said the majority of affected schools were providing work for students to do at home and/or ensuring onsite provision for vulnerable students. The sides don’t seem any closer at the moment, with the government considering legal action so that teachers confirm whether they’ll be on strike or not. The next strike day for England is set for 28 February. 
  • Policy by numbers. Rishi Sunak started it with his five pledges – halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing national debt, cutting waiting lists, stopping small boats. Then Jeremy Hunt carried it on last week with four ‘pillars for growth’ – Enterprise, Education, Employment, Everywhere. Finally, the Education Secretary listed in a speech last week her three guiding principles for life – looking for what works, visionary leadership, working together. Experts reckon if you want to get points across effectively either in a speech or briefing, then stick to three. That’s the general rule. But then they also reckon much hinges on an ‘emotional connection’ with an audience. Either way, expect more policy listings in future.
  • Economic Outlook. This week the Treasury has been mulling over economic data ahead of next month’s Budget. The task has been sharpened by two new reports. In the first, the IMF captured the headlines by predicting that the UK would be the only leading economy to see its economy shrink this year. The IMF doesn’t have a great forecasting record, as many pointed out, though it did predict some growth (0.9%) for the UK next year. The Bank of England also reported this week, suggesting a shorter, but shallower recession for the UK. Perhaps the best summary of the UK economy came from Paul Johnson, director of the IfS. ‘We're not going to get much in the way of growth, but we're not going to have a deep recession either’.
  • Education recovery. More this week on the emerging picture around education catch-up post-pandemic. A new briefing from COSMO (Covid Social Mobility and Opportunities Study) highlighted the impact of long Covid, particularly on those from poorer backgrounds, leaving them achieving lower grades than their peers in their teacher assessed GCSEs. The National Audit Office (NAO) in its report on education recovery in schools, also pointed to the plight of disadvantaged pupils: 'Research indicates that pupils’ learning loss is generally reducing, but disadvantaged pupils remain further behind the expected level of achievement than other pupils'. Monitoring the impact of the funding and of the National Tutoring Programme are among its recommendations.
  • Early years. A lot on childhood and the early years this week suggesting it’s fast becoming a key area of policy interest. A high-profile moment this week was the launch by the Princess of Wales of a new campaign to raise awareness of the importance of the early years. “These are the most preventative years,” she explained, describing the work as ‘a long-term project’. The campaign came as the children’s charity, Coram, published survey results showing how hard the cost-of-living was hitting the childcare sector. Rishi Sunak has promised to look at childcare. “We’re in the process of considering – about some reforms”, he said in January.
  • Older workers. ‘Britain needs you’, the Chancellor declared in his Bloomberg speech last week. He was referring to older workers, many of whom retired early post-pandemic or face difficulties returning to work. As with early years, older workers, and helping those able back into work, are equally emerging as a policy priority. Yet as the Chartered Management Institute reported this week, many companies prefer to hire younger people. The government and the Bank of England are among the bodies looking at the problem, and we may see more about it in the Budget. Last year, the Institute for Employment Studies launched a Commission looking into the whole area of employment support, and it’s an area that continues to attract debate. This week’s article in FE News by the Director of Research at the Learning and Work Institute is a useful scene setter.
  • L3 routes. As FE Week reported this week, tensions continue to overshadow the government’s L3 reform programme. At stake are so-called applied general qualifications, taken by many young people as alternatives to A levels, or sometimes in combination with. Many, like BTECs, are well established and renowned, and provide a valued route into further study, higher education and employment. The government has sought to simplify the number of these qualifications in part as preparation for T levels and is preparing to remove funding from those that have low take-up or overlap with T levels. Critics fear that this will see swathes of young people denied the opportunity to select qualifications best suited to them, let alone to the country’s skill needs. The campaign group, Protect Student Choice, were joined this week by some members of the House of Lords, including two previous Education Secretaries, arguing the case for many applied general qualifications to remain. 

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Former education ministers slam DfE’s L3 qualifications cull’ (Monday).
  • ‘Tens of thousands of teachers sign up to union in last fortnight to join walkout’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Biggest strike in a decade as 100,000 teachers join walkout’ (Wednesday).
  • ‘Anti-university views becoming more entrenched, poll finds’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Students to sit digital mock exams in new trial' (Friday).


  • Economic Outlook. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) published its Global Economic Outlook for 2023, suggesting that “the balance of risks remains tilted to the downside” with global growth projected to slow this year to 2.9% but more pointedly, the UK to be the only major global economy to face a fall in growth this year before edging up slightly next year.
  • Bank’s view. The Bank of England reported that the UK economy would shrink slightly this year, with the country in recession into next spring but with unemployment ‘peaking at 5.3% rather than 6.4%’ and inflation falling to 3% by year end. 
  • Children’s Social Care. The government published its much anticipated strategy for children’s social care with a focus on early intervention, kinship care and improved family help support, backed up by £200m over two years, a ‘strengthened social care workforce and a National Framework and Dashboard.
  • Early Years. The Princess of Wales formally launched her Royal Foundation Centre for Childhood campaign to raise awareness of the importance of the early years of childhood under the banner ‘Shaping Us.’ 
  • Early Hours. The Sutton Trust reported on new research into the number of hours young children have in early years childcare and the impact of the home learning environment, reinforcing the disadvantages faced by many poorer families in both cases.
  • Childcare. Coram Family and Childcare highlighted concerns about the impact of the cost-of-living on childcare provision with a survey of local authorities showing many local providers having to reduce hours and nearly three-quarters struggling to recruit trained staff. 
  • Young children and pornography. The Children’s Commissioner published what she described as some ‘shocking’ research from her survey into pornography among young people, indicating that many had seen it, it was easily available and it often led to physically aggressive acts, calling among other things for social platforms to take action such as age verification ahead of the Online Safety Bill.
  • Cities Outlook. The Centre for Cities published its 2023 Outlook pointing to ‘a striking North – South divide’ over hidden unemployment, calling on the government to use this year to deliver on its levelling up promises with a focus on such features as city support, local transport and national skills funding.

More specifically ...


  • 2023 pay. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) called for ‘a 15% uplift to all salaries and allowances’ as part of its submission to the Teachers’ Pay Review Body for 2023, while suggesting three quick wins (removing performance related pay progression, limiting working time for school leaders and protecting leadership time) that could help support recruitment and retention generally.
  • School science. Ofsted published a first report in its subject series looking on this occasion at science in both primary and secondary schools, finding most able to offer ‘an ambitious’ and planned curriculum but with some gaps in provision in primary schools, too much focus on content coverage rather than concept development, and considerable variation in opportunities for practical work.
  • Education recovery. The National Audit Office (NAO) published its report into education recovery in schools following the pandemic, reporting on the funding and various interventions introduced by government to help, concluding that some progress had been made but the disadvantage gap had worsened. 
  • Covid impact. COSMO (the Covid Social Mobility and Opportunities Study) published its latest (Wave 5) briefing into the pandemic effect on cohorts of young people, looking on this occasion at their wider health and educational implications, noting that those who experienced long Covid or who were shielding ‘received lower grades in their teacher assessed GCSEs than their peers.’
  • Online accreditation. The government set out the non-statutory procedures for providers of full-time online education wishing to become accredited with the DfE under its Online Education Accreditation Scheme which involves meeting stated terms and conditions, such as notifying the DfE of any serious safeguarding incidents and being subject to Ofsted suitability and quality checks, and meeting online education standards.
  • Ofqual/STA MoU. Ofqual and the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) published a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) setting out their respective roles, responsibilities and working arrangements, committing for example to regular meetings and the sharing of information where appropriate.
  • Chief inspector’s speech. Amanda Spielman addressed the Big Conversation event where she acknowledged the impact of the pandemic on young children and the work being done to help with catch up, before stressing the importance of the early years and in particular language and communication as part of ‘a coherent curriculum.’
  • Children’s meals. The Early Years Alliance and LEYF Nurseries highlighted concerns about the rising costs of providing children’s meals, with a recent survey showing 62% of providers resorting to using cheaper ingredients.


  • L3 qualifications. Campaigners, including former education ministers and members of the Lords, called on the Education Secretary to reconsider plans to remove funding from a swathe of applied general qualifications including a number of market proven BTECs, arguing that their removal would restrict student choice and mobility and was not what the dept had originally agreed.
  • New rules. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) published a series of ‘bite-sized guides’ covering matters such as special payments, senior pay controls and requirements for novel and contentious transactions, which colleges will be required to observe following their reclassification as government bodies. 
  • Language provision. The British Academy called for a Strategic Committee for Languages in FE among other things, as it published a report showing the bleak state of languages provision across UK FE following years of under investment and lack of positioning among other qualifications.


  • Lifelong Learning Bill. The government introduced the long-awaited Lifelong Learning Bill which will enable the funding system to provide for short course, module and other more flexible forms of learning that can support the implementation of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement as envisaged by the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022.
  • Wonkhe on the LLE. David Kernohan, Acting Editor of Wonkhe, provided a helpful briefing of the Lifelong Learning Bill as currently laid out, noting that it introduces for the first time the notion of a funded credit of learning in HE while acknowledging some of the uncertainties in the Bill such as who determines the number of credits for a given course, as well as other things to look out for. 
  • Perceptions of HE. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) and the UPP Foundation published their latest report into public attitudes towards HE, finding among other things concerns about the impact of the cost-of-living on student uptake, support for public investment in universities and their work but mixed views about the value of a degree, particularly one that doesn’t lead to a job.
  • Ladder of opportunity. The FE/HE minister, Rob Halfon, addressed the Universities UK Apprenticeships Conference where he ran through his favoured ‘ladder of opportunity’ metaphor with its various rungs that include apprenticeship opportunities, quality provision and lifelong learning.
  • Degree apprenticeships. Universities UK hosted a Conference on degree apprenticeships and higher technical education where it set out a 10-point plan to support universities delivering degree apprenticeships including re-opening the register of apprenticeship training providers and reviewing the regulatory burden involved in putting on such provision.
  • Healthcare workers. University Alliance outlined a 4-point plan for universities, government and NHS to work together to deliver healthcare training and help tackle the current workforce crisis, by for instance shifting the regulatory framework from one based on time serving to one based on competency and using more simulation in nursing training.
  • AI challenges. The QAA published a new briefing about the emerging use of artificial intelligence (AI) software and some of the challenges these bring for HE providers particularly in assessment and academic integrity, urging them to adopt student declarations when it comes to work submitted and to work closely with students on understanding the limits of such software.
  • Going digital. JISC reported on digital developments in higher ed looking at how universities are developing their digital strategies to support student learning, drawing out some of the common factors before reflecting on likely digital developments, such as the impact on campus space, that might shape HE longer term.
  • Professional Standards. Advance HE published the latest iteration of its Professional Standards Framework used for teaching and supporting learning in HE, building on the previous 2011 version by emphasising effectiveness and impact, inclusion and context as core features of good practice and by bringing greater clarification and refinement to aspects such as Dimensions and Descriptors.
  • HE in context. The HE Policy Institute (HEPI) published Nick Hillman’s recent speech to Lancaster University which provided a useful primer on how the sector had developed since the Thatcher days and an assessment of current issues including tuition fees (difficult but no better alternative,) international students (needs a cross-government approach,) and system reform (needs to be gradual and responsive.)
  • International students. Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, argued the case for international students and the benefits they bring in an article for the Times Higher as rumours continued to circulate that the Home Office was considering restricting the market through tighter visas.
  • Student loans. The SaveTheStudent Group launched a petition aimed at getting the government to reconsider its decision to increase loans by just 2.8% this year, suggesting that because of inflation this would leave students £1,500 a year worse off on their maintenance loans.

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “I asked my boss for a raise because 3 companies are after me. He asked me which ones? I replied: gas, water and electric” | @Dadsaysjokes
  • "Every conversation with a child getting ready for school in winter ends with a parent yelling: 'FINE, THEN FREEZE” | @CarolineSB 
  • “An idea: don’t ban office cake but immediately imprison anyone who says “ooh I’m trying to be good!” or similar” | @ scousepie
  • "Good riddance January! Today drove to work in day light and (thanks to cheeky 5pm finish) set off home in day light! Hooray” | @paulhaigh

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “LEPs are already firing up the 'animal spirits' that will spur economic growth across the country – they just need to be supported” – the LEPs Network responds to the Chancellor’s Bloomberg speech.
  • “Of the ten places with the highest hidden unemployment rates, nine are in the North of England” – the Centre for Cities highlights a North – South divide.
  • “He has successfully navigated many challenges, positioning us as a unique and innovative contributor to the UK skills systems” – the Chair of WorldSkills UK acknowledges the work of Neil Bentley-Gockmann as he announces his departure from May as CEO of the organisation. 
  • “I have heard them (DataHE) compare the traditional degree route to the main Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and non-traditional routes to the Poetry Tent – worthy, important and life-affirming, but not to tastes of the majority of school leavers” – Nick Hillman on system reform in HE. 
  • “There is limited evidence on how extra direct funding for schools was spent and how far it was used to support disadvantaged pupils” – the NAO reports on education recovery in schools.
  • “After all, learning gets lost if you try to overcomplicate it. This applies just as much to young children as to older ones” – Ofsted’s chief inspector on the approach to learning.
  • “I left the profession in 2018. It had nothing to do with pay. You could double my pay to £80K and I still wouldn’t return to the classroom in the current climate” – one of many comments about the teacher’s strike on Mumsnet.
  • “Truly this is a paradigm moment” – the head of Alleyn’s School on how AI is shifting moves away from homework to preparing questions and research instead.

Important numbers

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

  • -0.6%. The decline in the UK economy this year, down from a previous forecast of +0.3% for the year according to the IMF.
  • 42%. The number of UK managers in a survey ‘open to hiring’ older (50 – 64) people but with 74% preferring younger people (18 – 34,) according to the CMI. 
  • 63%. The number of respondents in a survey who believe students should undertake some part-time work to cover their living costs while at university, according to research from HEPI and the UPP Foundation.
  • 75. The number of applied general qualifications (out of 134) facing having their funding withdrawn, thereby ‘damaging student choice’ according to the Protect Student Choice campaign.
  • 36%. The number of adults surveyed who indicated that they knew very little about how young children develop during their early years, according to the Princess of Wales’s new ‘Shaping Us’ campaign.
  • 71%. The number of local authorities surveyed reporting that childcare providers are struggling to recruit trained staff, according to a survey from Coram.
  • 14. The number of recommendations in Ofsted’s subject review of school science, according to its latest briefing.
  • 13. The average age at which children first see pornography, according to a report from the Children’s Commissioner. 
  • £815M. The amount of money spent by Premier League football clubs in the latest transfer window, mainly by the top 6 clubs, a record and against £25m by English League clubs according to Deloitte.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • National Apprenticeship Week (Monday 6 February – Sunday 12 February).
  • Children’s Mental Health Week (Monday 6 February – Sunday 12 February).
  • Education Committee witness session on compulsory maths to age 18 (Tuesday 7 February).
  • Summary analysis of UCAS undergraduate applications at the January equal consideration deadline (Thursday 9 February).

Other stories

  • Coffee shots. If you need your High St caffeine fix, it seems that “Costa and Pret have some of the highest caffeine contents, while Starbucks has the lowest.” That at least was the verdict from Which?, the consumer body that carried out a survey into caffeine levels in High St coffee outlets and reported back this week. ‘This confirms that Pret filter is my rocket fuel,’ tweeted one, presumably happy, caffeine-fired respondent on hearing the news. According to the report, 300 – 400mg a day is reckoned to be safe for most people but obviously a lot depends on the individual, with pregnant women needing to be especially careful. A lot also depends on the type of bean used, Arabica having a lower caffeine level, apparently. For those wanting to pick up a Flat White and read the report, here’s the link.
  • Fighting fit. Some intriguing tips this week in The Guardian’s Lifestyle section for staying fit and healthy. They include ‘rubbing your palms vigorously before getting out of bed (it helps with mobility and energy levels,) having dinner at breakfast (builds up the protein and energy levels early on,) and regarding 10 as the magic number (if you can get to 10 fitness sessions, you’ve made a breakthrough or commitment that will last.) A link to all 33 tips for those keeping up the schedule 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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