Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 10 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:

A week which has managed to pack a lot in.

It has seen the Prime Minister rearrange some government departments; the DfE publish its latest State of the Nation report on children; a Commons Committee announce an Inquiry into digital exclusion; the Social Mobility Commission examine potential earnings returns on FE and HE qualifications; and UCAS publish an update on HE applications so far this year.

And running throughout the week has been a hectic burst of activities in support of National Apprenticeship Week and Children’s Mental Health Week, let alone, the latest and 20th edition of Safer Internet Day. 

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

  • Do the shuffle. 100+ days in and Rishi Sunak went for a government reset this week. A ‘Rishi Reset’ as many in the media labelled it. Much of it centred on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) depatment which has never been a particularly comfortable fit given its lack of a formal Industrial Strategy and new energy challenges. Hence the dismantling of the department and the recreation of three new departments: DBAT (Business and Trade), DSIT (Science, Innovation and Technology) and (avoiding all acronyms) Energy Security and Net Zero. Thankfully, the Department for Education avoided further upheaval, but at least two of the revamped departments will be of particular interest to it: DSIT, for obvious reasons around science and technology, and the slightly shorn, CMS department (Culture, Media and Sports) for its role in sport and creative arts. How they all work together to deliver the PM’s five priorities is now the challenge. 
  • There’s been lots to celebrate this week as the annual National Apprenticeship Week, now in its sixteenth year, got underway. In among the celebrations two stories have stood out. First, the announcement that applicants for apprenticeships will be brought within the UCAS system, to look at options this year and then to apply alongside undergraduate degrees from next year. This has been under consideration for some time, will help streamline things, and has been widely welcomed. Second, and less welcome, the Levy remains a bugbear for many employers: restrictive, expensive, poorly matched to need, and so on. Employers continue to call for it to be replaced by a more flexible Skills Levy, as this week’s open letter (see below) signifies.
  • Children’s Mental Health. It has also been Children’s Mental Health Week where the theme has been ‘Let’s Connect’. Latest figures quoted by the Children’s Commissioner suggest that ‘one in six children and young people have a diagnosable mental health problem, up from one in nine in 2017’. The problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic putting great pressure on support services and leaving many children short of support. The NAO reported this week that many groups are ‘facing lengthy waits for treatment’. Barnardo’s has been one of many organisations this week calling for better support, while the government’s latest State of the Nation report on children pointed to 'an inconsistent recovery of children and young people’s mental and physical health towards pre-pandemic levels'. The charity Place2Be and others have put out lots of free resources to help schools this week, but as the government’s report suggests, it’s a mixed picture, 'with some groups and some families finding it very difficult'.
  • Tuition fees. Recent weeks have seen childcare and the older workforce emerge as key policy issues with potential for electoral damage, but is the question of tuition fees likely to join them? It's been an issue in the last three general elections, most notably in 2017 when Jeremy Corbyn pledged to scrap them within a year. Concerns about the impact of the cost of living on student numbers and the failure to ramp up the value of maintenance loans, plus Treasury worries about the growing cost of outstanding loans – estimated at some £182bn last year – mean the issue is unlikely to go away. Sir Keir Starmer has said he doesn’t think the loan system is working, but has downplayed any immediate action. ‘We need to be realistic’ is the line. Now Labour Students have committed to getting rid of the fees and including this in the next Labour manifesto. 
  • University applications. There’s been a mixed response to the latest figures from UCAS this week on applications to UKHE this year. A slight 2.3% fall in the total number of applications compared to last year, including among UK 18-year-olds and for nursing and teaching places, but an increase in interest in apprenticeships, and notable growth among some international markets. The figures refer to the mid-January Equal Consideration Deadline. When the figures are compared with two years ago, however, they appear more favourable. Things are perhaps readjusting post-pandemic, but there are other factors as the chief executive of UCAS explained. “This is another complex cycle with a myriad of global and national factors impacting demand, all within the context of an increasing demographic and high employment rates”. Among those ‘myriad of factors’ is the impact of the cost-of-living, as HE is only too well aware. 

The top headlines of the week:

  • ‘Gamechanger:’ UCAS to begin advertising apprenticeships’ (Monday).
  • ‘Rishi Sunak’s ‘maths until 18 plan’ questioned by experts’ (Tuesday).
  • ‘Prevent review: Schools need ‘independent’ monitoring and better training’ (Wednesday). 
  • ‘Teachers’ strikes: Wales action postponed after pay offer’ (Thursday).
  • ‘Fresh pay talks agreed as UK university strikes continue’ (Friday).


  • Department changes. The PM carried out a reshuffle of government machinery to help sharpen the focus on his five core priorities, refocusing the DCMS around its original focus of Culture, Media and Sports, and recasting the BEIS dept into three focused separate deptartments covering Energy Security and Net Zero, Science, Innovation and Technology, and Business and Trade.
  • Children and Families Act 2014. The government published its response to recommendations made in a recent House of Lords Committee report into the Children and Families Act 2014, acknowledging some of the concerns, but pointing to the work currently being undertaken in areas like childcare, adoption and family justice. 
  • Children and young people. The government published its latest annual ‘State of the Nation’ report into children and young people, covering 2021/22 and looking in particular at trends in mental health and wellbeing over the year, finding a mixed picture with wellbeing improving, but levels of anxiety increasing and schools, families and society generally all seen as important in establishing stability and happiness in young people’s lives. 
  • Start for Life. The government reported on progress in its Family Hubs and Start for Life programme as it reaches its second anniversary, pointing to the funding and trailblazers previously announced and confirming additional funding for workforce pilots and support for family hub trailblazers.
  • School health and nutrition. UNESCO examined the global issue of children’s health and nutrition, arguing in a new report that while these help improve children’s attendance and learning, investment in them varies from region to region with something like a lack of access to clean drinking water an obvious example leading to deprivation.
  • Child Poverty. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) published its submission ahead of the forthcoming Budget calling among other things for an increase in social security benefits including child benefit and a rollout of universal free school meals across England.
  • Mental health. The National Audit Office (NAO) reported on progress in improving mental health services in England, finding a growing demand for services but workforce and funding shortages making access difficult for many, with little progress in achieving ‘full parity of esteem between mental and physical services’.
  • Economic Outlook. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) became the latest body to report on the economic outlook for the UK, suggesting it will just avoid recession this year though with growth remaining close to zero and the cost-of-living crisis continuing, ‘it will feel like recession’ for many households.
  • Budget submission.The CBI published its proposals for the UK economy ahead of the forthcoming Budget, calling for measures to help businesses invest, encourage green growth, support families with childcare and transform the Apprenticeship Levy into a Skills Challenge Fund.
  • Missing workers. James Kirkup, director of the Social Market Foundation, examined why so many older (50+) workers have disappeared from the workforce, pointing to health issues, especially mental health, caring responsibilities, money security and unhappiness in work as possible factors, but concluding that a better understanding of their needs was essential if the missing workers were to return.
  • Safer Internet. Better Internet for Kids welcomed this year’s Safer Internet Day by publishing its latest annual report, outlining achievements over the last year such as a new European Strategy and Digital Services Act, and listing some of the next steps for this year including a new Code of Conduct for the age-appropriate design of digital products and services.
  • Digital currency. The Bank of England launched a consultation on ‘a new form of digital currency (a digital pound) that would sit alongside not replace cash’ and which could be used by businesses and households alike but which an accompanying technical paper suggested, could take some years to develop.
  • Digital exclusion. The House of Commons Communications and Digital Committee announced a new Inquiry into the digital gap, looking particularly at the digitally excluded and how far this was contributing to any cost-of-living pressures.
  • Prevent. William Shawcross published his independent Review into the Prevent programme, acknowledging the importance of the scheme but making a number of recommendations including improving the understanding of the different ideologies, left and right, improving training for public sector staff such as those in schools, and monitoring compliance where necessary.

More specifically ...


  • Pupil attendance and mental health. The government published guidelines for schools, parents and local authorities on their responsibilities for when a child has social and mental health issues that affect their school attendance, covering such questions as how to facilitate support, when to intervene and how to deal with non-compliance.
  • Attendance figures. FFT Education Datalab looked into pupil attendance figures for last Wednesday’s strike day, reporting that the highest attendance figures were for Years 11 and 7 and the lowest for Year 9, with London having the lowest attendance rate and the Midlands and North East the highest, and disadvantaged pupils showing the lowest rate generally.
  • Early years inspections. Ofsted published further data and details from its recent round of inspections of early years and childcare providers showing that as of the end of last year, 18,400 had been inspected with 400 judged inadequate largely because of failings in leadership and management and in personal development.
  • Early years toolkit. The Education Endowment Foundation launched an updated version of its Early Years Toolkit along with a new Evidence Store, with a range of resources and strategies around key areas such as ‘communication and language’ designed to help close the gap in these early years.


  • Apprenticeship applications. The government announced that from this year young people will be able to use the UCAS Hub to search for options such as apprenticeships, and from next year will be able to apply through the Hub for an apprenticeship alongside an undergraduate degree.
  • Skills Levy. Four leading industry bodies (British Retail Consortium, UK Hospitality, Tech UK, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation) called in an open letter to the government for the Apprenticeship Levy to be widened out into a more flexible Skills Levy, arguing it would not only save money but meet industry needs better as well.
  • Qualification returns. The Social Mobility Commission reported on its recent work looking into the earnings potential for young people taking qualifications in FE and HE, finding positives in both cases with L4/5 qualifications generating the highest returns along with subjects such as engineering for men and business admin/law for women, calling for earnings information to be made more widely available to students.
  • IfATE Framework. The government set out the governance and working arrangements for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) listing specific responsibilities and duties in relationship to government within an agreed framework.
  • T level placements. The government announced a ‘one-year employer support fund’ to help employers with equipment and setup costs for placements for T level students this year.
  • World Skills. Worldskills UK announced its squad of 94 people across 27 different skills who will undertake 18 months of preparation and training ahead of the WorldSkills International ‘Skills Olympics’ due to take place in Lyon, France in September 2024.


  • Latest applications data. UCAS published data on this year’s applications to UKHE as of the mid-January deadline, showing a mixed picture with a fall in applications for nursing (-18.6%) and teaching (-15.6%) and from UK mature applicants (-14%,) a slight fall in applications from UK 18-year-olds, but an increase in apprenticeship interest, international demand and applications from 19-year-olds.
  • Improving access. The Office for Students (OfS) reported that most providers had adopted their access and participation plans this year to accommodate new priorities, with different variations being made to meet each of the four new ambitions.
  • Our view. The Student Room, which takes the pulse of UK students on key issues, published its latest monthly report covering views on changes to the personal statement (not popular,) apprenticeships (growing interest,) university choices (location and rankings the top criteria) and teacher strikes (supportive but worried about a loss of learning time.) 
  • QAA de-designation. The government published a brief consultation paper to mark the formal de-designation of the QAA as the designated quality body under current legislation, with the OfS taking on the responsibilities from 1 April 2023 on an interim basis.
  • Engaging with autocracies. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee launched a call for evidence on how UK universities engage with autocratic regimes, looking for example at the financial reliance on Chinese students.
  • Qualification returns. The Social Mobility Commission reported on its recent work looking into the earnings potential for young people taking qualifications in FE and HE, finding positives in both cases particularly when progressing up the qualification ladder, albeit with some variation in university type and in subject type with STEM subjects notably valuable, calling for earnings information to be made more widely available to students. 
  • MoU. The QAA and Ofqual agreed a Memorandum of Understanding covering their working relationship and mutual areas of interest particularly around the integrity of qualifications and the higher qualification system generally
  • Consultation. The QAA launched consultation on its latest Subject Benchmark Statement for English following a review of its context and purposes and the introduction of some cross-Cutting themes. 

Tweets and posts of note:

  • “Would love to get one of these 9-3 teaching jobs the media keeps banging on about as I seem to have been properly stitched with working 7.30-5.30!” | @_missmac1
  • “Every morning I announce to my family that I’m going jogging, but then I don’t go. It’s a running joke” | @ThePunnyWorld
  • “Not everyone thinks Cleopatra is beautiful... But that's how Julius Caesar” | @Dadsajokes

Memorable quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • “The way that government works must never stand still” – the PM introduces the latest government changes.
  • “At this exciting time of change in money and payments, this consultation is a vital step in positioning the UK to act decisively by introducing a digital pound, should we choose to do so” – the Bank of England launches consultation on a digital currency.
  • “Alien abduction is one of the few theories that hasn’t been advanced to explain the abrupt absence from offices and factories of a group roughly equal to the population of Cardiff” – James Kirkup on the missing older workers.
  • “Over the past five years, the number of UK 18-year-old applicants has risen by 17.4% and we anticipate this upward trajectory will continue over the remainder of the decade” – UCAS comments on the latest university application data.
  • Global research collaboration will also be high on their list of priorities and we hope they will continue to push for the UK’s association to Horizon Europe and work with the sector to ensure the funding set aside for this or alternative schemes delivers the biggest impact for the UK – The Russell Group responds to the creation of a new Science, Innovation and Technology department.
  • “While the data cannot tell us about the causes, there are indications that a range of emerging or continuing national and global issues may be causing worries and challenges for children and young people” – the government publishes its State of the Nation report on children and young people.
  • “Prevent has a noble ambition: stopping people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism” – William Shawcross introduces his Review of the Prevent programme.

Important numbers

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

  • 67,000. The number of jobs lost in global tech companies since the start of the year, according to Bloomberg.
  • 7m. The number of UK households that will struggle to pay their bills this year, according to the NIESR.
  • 14.7%. The increase since 2011 in the number of adult children living with their parents, according to the ONS. 
  • 4.5m. The number of people in England in contact with NHS-funded mental health services during 2021/22, according to an NAO report.
  • 314,660. The number of applications for UKHE from UK 18 yr olds as of mid-January, down slightly on last year but up on the year before, according to UCAS. 
  • 56%. The number of students in a survey against changing the current ‘open’ personal statement for a set of questions, according to a survey from The Student Room.
  • 92.9%. The attendance rate in state schools in England for the last week in January, according to latest government estimates.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for next week:

  • Parliament in recess (9 February – 20 February).

Other stories

  • Which group are you? The cost-of-living crisis is affecting most people but some more than others. To help understand this better, YouGov has done some intensive modelling using survey evidence and statistical analysis and come up with five ‘distinct groups’ each affected by the crisis in different ways. The groups are: ‘worried and suffering’ (1 in 5 of the British public, generally with a low household income and the hardest hit); ‘cautiously hopeful strugglers’ (1 in 7 of the public, often students, finding it tough but hopeful); ‘squeezed, but coping’ (1 in 4 of the public, middle-aged, home owners, cutting back but coping); ‘unsettled withstanders’ (1 in 5 of the public, generally professionals with savings, making only a few cutbacks); ‘calm and comfortable’ (1 in 5 of the public, often retired with assets, hardly hit). YouGov intends to do further research around these groups. A link to it all can be found here.
  • Modern manners. Modern social rules are always a good source of debate and the list of 140 ‘rules of modern etiquette’ published recently by the New York magazine is no exception. Here’s three by way of example taken from the list. ‘If someone starts telling you a story you’ve heard before, you have two seconds to tell them or you’ll just have to listen to it again’. ‘Don’t describe TikToks. It’s more boring than describing dreams’.‘And there are three things you should never gossip about at work: someone crying, someone getting yelled at, a private phone call you overheard’. Here’s a link to the full list for those that want to be in the know.

Please note there will be no Education Eye next week during half-term. The next edition is scheduled for Friday February 24.

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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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