Steve Besley's Education Eye: week ending 05 June 2020

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?

“I’m excited to see my friends and see everyone but not excited for the work.” 

School re-opening has been one of the big education stories of the week and been further embellished by the announcement during the week that Wales will follow suit at the end of the month. For England, the opening has been accompanied by considerable media coverage and some prominent surveys – notably from YouGov, the NFER, and the NEU. As the Chief Medical Officer acknowledged at one of this week’s daily news briefing, whether you’re a parent or a politician, weighing up the risks about school opening is a difficult balancing act. 

Many of these surveys underlined that. The YouGov poll for instance reported that 27% of respondents ‘somewhat supported’ reopening schools, while 26% were ‘somewhat opposed.’ We won’t know exactly how many eligible pupils have turned up this week until the weekly figures are reported next week. Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, reckoned the early picture indicated anything between 40% and 70% of eligible pupils. However, a couple of days later, the Guardian suggested many schools had ‘snubbed’ the government’s call. The next few weeks will tell us more. 

Elsewhere for schools this week, the Education Committee held two witness sessions as part of its continuing inquiry into the impact of the pandemic on education. Much of the discussion centred on the effect of school closures on disadvantaged pupils, who in turn were the subject of an important new assessment published this week. The report concluded that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, which had been narrowing, could widen by an average 36% as a result of being away from school. Summer schools, premium funding, dedicated tutoring, have all been discussed in recent weeks as remedies, and this week saw an important step forward with the piloting of a new online tutoring service. 

For higher education, managing a student market at a time of great uncertainty continues to prove challenging. The government has been keen to lock in some stability by instigating temporary controls on student recruitment and this week it added further details on this including the potential for financial penalties for over recruitment. The Minister explained that it was all in ‘the best interests’ of students and of the sector as a whole, although the Times Higher and Wonkhe, both of which had helpful summaries of it all, pointed to a number of concerns as well.

As for wider planning, the government and universities both issued guidelines for universities this week, covering anything from premises management, to studying conditions, to virtual freshers’ weeks. The notion of groups of students operating in ‘protective bubbles’ for the foreseeable future attracted a lot of attention. It’s a difficult balancing act for universities as research this week indicated, with many students saying they would prefer to start term late if it meant they could have more face-to-face provision. 

The provision of online teaching and learning has also continued to attract comment, the quality rather than the width, with an interesting blog on the HE Policy Institute website (HEPI) this week by the Director of the EdTech Lab at Imperial looking at how they have tackled it and Ofsted announcing a review of provision for those on the receiving end in FE. 

Over in FE this week, there has been a string of updates with the government updating its guidance on apprenticeship arrangements, the Education and Training Foundation publishing its latest survey report on the FE workforce, and the Construction Sector outlining a three-stage plan for recovery. And talking of recovery, next week the college sector is due to publish its plans for future training and skills, and this week the AoC chief executive David Hughes whetted the palate with some headline appetizers including a September Promise of a funded place for young people, bringing forward the National Skills Fund to support adult learning and accessing some of the promised capital funding to support online learning.

This all comes of course at a critical time in terms of economic and social recovery. The Prime Minister is due to make a major ‘economic recovery’ speech in a few weeks’ time, with education – along with technology and infrastructure – listed as one of the government’s ‘three pillars of renewal. It will be followed a week or so later by the Chancellor, who will set out more of the funding detail, which, according to the FT,is likely to take the form of ‘an economic stimulus package.’ 

It looks like a busy summer. Just as well holidays are off the cards.

The main headlines

The top headlines from the week:

  • ‘Coronavirus: primary schools reopen but parents remain wary.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Ofsted to review online teaching and learning in FE.’ (Tuesday)
  • ‘UK universities plan to create ‘social bubbles’ when campuses reopen.’ (Wednesday)
  • ‘Universities braced for a wave of deferrals this September because of coronavirus.’ (Thursday)
  • ‘Coronavirus: heads struggle to keep up with DfE guidance updates. (Friday)


  • The view from here: The FT asked six leading economists for their thoughts on how the global economy might shape up post pandemic with views ranging from stagnation, to a V- shaped let alone a W- shaped recovery, but all dependent on how current uncertainties, such as the search for a vaccine, pan out.
  • Child Poverty: The IPPR think tank raised the issue of child poverty in a new analysis of the impact of the pandemic on family lives, suggesting that over 1m people including 200,000 children could end up in poverty, calling as a result for the lifting of benefit restrictions. 
  • Renew Normal: The think tank Demos set out plans to hold a ‘national conversation’ about recovery planning for after the pandemic looking at what people have learned and experienced during the lockdown and what positives could be taken to help rebuild society. 
  • Ageing needs: The Nuffield Foundation announced its was commissioning Liverpool University to undertake a 2-year project into the different resourcing, service and support needs of an ageing workforce In England in which people aged 50 and over will make up half the population within 20 years.
  • Childcare concerns: The TUC reported on the childcare sector and the challenges facing working parents which have been exacerbated by the pandemic calling for more flexible working arrangements and an extension of the furlough scheme for parents.
  • Supporting the low paid: The Resolution Foundation called for a new deal for low paid workers, many of whom are being hard hit under the current economic climate, proposing they be given more control over their hours and work through the creation of new wage boards beginning in social care.

More specifically ...


  • Reopening schools’ statement: The Education Secretary outlined arrangements for the reopening of schools in a Written Statement for MPs.
  • Mixed picture: The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) published the results of its survey on the reopening of schools showing many parents wary about their children returning, some schools operating below staffing levels and those that were opening, managing social distancing via group rota systems.
  • Dear Secretary of State: The School Governors Association wrote to the Education Secretary expressing concern about schools reopening and urging him to drop plans to have all primary children in England back before the end of the summer term.
  • Opening survey: The National Education Union (NEU) surveyed members about the reopening of schools suggesting little immediate change to the current pattern of pupil attendees and with some regions, notably coronavirus ‘hotspots,’ more wary than others.
  • And schools in Wales: The Welsh government announced a phased return for schools from 29 June with the term extended by a week to 27 July to accommodate split groups and staggered starts.
  • Coronavirus impact: The Education Committee held a couple of roundtable sessions as part of its inquiry into the impact of the coronavirus on education with summer schools, the role of inspections, standards for home learning and the attainment gap, all leading discussion items.
  • Online tuition: Leading organisations including the Education Endowment Foundation, Sutton Trust, Impetus and Nesta announced the launch of a pilot online tuition package with a range of schemes intended to help disadvantaged pupils from Years 5 – 12. 
  • Impact of school closures: The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) published a new study raising concerns about school closures leading to a further widening of the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.
  • Support for the most vulnerable: The government announced a one-off £7m package to support vulnerable teenagers as they consider their options post-16.


  • What about the workers? The Education and Training Foundation published its latest commissioned analysis of the FE workforce in this case for 2018/19, showing that it remained largely female with a slight drop in part-time staff and in median pay levels but with an increase in support staff and in age profile.
  • Online experience: Ofsted announced it was it would conduct a review of the experience of online learning for FE learners and apprentices so far to help with any future provision from September. 
  • Recovery plans: David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) called on the government to support a guaranteed place for 16-19 -year olds, additional funding for adult learning and initial capital investment as the college sector prepared to draw up a recovery plan around future skills training.
  • Building plans: The Construction Leadership Council outlined an industrial recovery plan for the UK Construction Sector based on a 2-year Restart, Rest, Reinvent, model with most of the recovery expected to occur in 2021.
  • Apprenticeship arrangements: The government issued further guidance on apprenticeship arrangements including some face-to-face provision for 16-19 apprentices and discretion for some end point assessments.
  • Apprenticeship survey: The Institute for Apprenticeships launched a brief online survey of apprenticeship take-up and associate issues arising out of the pandemic for employers.
  • Edge Bulletin: The Edge Foundation published the latest in its series of Skills Bulletins looking at skills shortages before the pandemic but also highlighting how these have now been exacerbated with continuing concerns about the impact on young people and on skills mismatches.
  • The importance of enrichment: NCFE announced it was working with the Association of Colleges and the University of Derby to undertake a major review of enrichment learning in FE with an initial report due out next summer.


  • Student number controls: The government published its proposals for ‘temporary’ student number controls this year based on 2019/20 numbers plus 5% growth with options to bid for extra places in some defined subject areas but financial penalties for over recruitment.
  • The Minister explains: The Universities Minister explained the government’s temporary student number controls arrangements in a Statement for MPs.
  • Number controls explainer: Wonkhe provided a useful analysis of the government’s number control proposals highlighting issues in the clawback system, the differences in approach for different parts of the UK and the lack of clarity over the bidding process for extra places.
  • The view from the THES: The Times Higher offered its assessment of the government’s student number control plans with concerns raised about government encroachment particularly over so-called low-value courses. 
  • Campus guidance: The government published guidelines for the university sector on campus and accommodation arrangements largely referencing existing guidance and standard procedures.
  • Emerging from lockdown: Universities UK set out a framework of nine principles to guide universities as they emerge from lockdown and continue planning for the future with the emphasis on providing confidence in the provision of services, support and facilities for students and staff alike.
  • In the red: The University and College Union (UCU) published new survey figures from Youthsight showing many students surveyed concerned about the economic hit to universities from Covid-19 and nearly three-quarters preferring a later start to the term if it meant more face-to-face teaching.
  • Feel the quality: Dr David LeFevre, Director of the EdTech Lab at Imperial College reported in a blog on the HEPI website on the question of how to ensure the quality of online learning as called for by government, outlining a 3-stage approach of ‘stabilise, enhance and innovate’ being applied by Imperial.
  • Sticking with quality: The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) set out a range of principles, based on recent dialogue with providers, on how best to structure learning and assessment at a time of great uncertainty post-pandemic.
  • Career advice: The BBC interviewed some of those who had graduated during the 2008 economic crisis to hear what advice they had on job seeking during a difficult time for this year’s graduates with many able to offer positive stories.

 Stand-out tweets

Memorable tweets and posts this week:

  • “About 30% of degrees are not worth it for the student and taxpayer. Let's cut back low value HE courses and use the money to boost technical education & fight youth unemployment” | @NeilDotO’brien
  • “Glad to hear that the recent news that 'Joe Wicks would lead a review of the PE curriculum' was not true. Still waiting for confirmation that the Count from Sesame Street will be looking at Key Stage 4 maths” | @tombennett71
  • “Thousands queue as IKEA opens for first time since lockdown” | @Independent
  • “By 2041, approximately 26% of the UK population will be aged 65 & over” | @NuffieldFound

Stand-out quotes

A selection of quotes that merit attention:

  • We continue to follow the best scientific advice and believe that this cautious, phased return is the most sensible course of action to take” – the Education Secretary makes a Statement to Parliament about the reopening of schools.
  • “In short, whatever path you have chosen will carry the support of NAHT, and the government should not criticise it” – the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) offers its support to head teachers considering whether to open up their school or not.
  • “Caution is the watchword, and everybody is approaching this task with the safety of pupils and staff as their absolute priority” – Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL reports on the reopening of schools.
  • “I think it is going to be vital that we guarantee apprenticeships for young people” – the PM supports the case for apprenticeships at the daily news briefing.
  • “Universities will provide as much in-person learning, teaching, support services and extra-curricular activities as public health advice and government guidance will support” – Universities UK provides guiding principles for future services.
  • “There’s a huge chunk of students coming out of university with no idea what’s going to happen” – the Class of 2020 worry about their future in the light of the pandemic.
  • “The government appreciates the importance of adult education to improving people’s life chances and is looking carefully at all elements of further education funding, in preparation for the forthcoming Spending Review” the Minister responds to a question in Parliament on FE funding.
  • “Getting the country back to work will be like trying to wake up a sleeping teenager at 7am” – an article in The Times on getting the country moving again.
  • “There are tears before bedtime. Mostly mine” – a parent blogs about home schooling. 

Stand-out numbers

The important numbers of the week:

  • €130 bn: The size of Germany’s proposed post-pandemic economic stimulus package which includes a €300 payment for each child, according to a report in The Guardian.
  • £60bn: The projected gross cost of the government’s furlough scheme, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility. 
  • 13%: The number of people who ‘strongly support’ the re-opening of schools as opposed to 24% who ‘strongly oppose’ according to a YouGov poll taken on the first morning back for many pupils.
  • 46%: How many families on average are likely to keep their children off school when it reopens, according to a survey from the NFER conducted in the first 2 weeks of May.
  • 71%: The number of students who said they’d be happy to start their university term later if it meant they would have more face-to-face teaching, according to a survey from the UCU.
  • 70%: The increase in the number of teaching applications from adults during the lockdown, according to evidence from the charity Teach Now and quoted in the TES.
  • £32,300: The median pay for staff in the FE sector, slightly down on the previous year but variable by region, according to the latest report from the Education and Training Foundation.
  • 36%: The potential increase in the pupil attainment gap as a result of school closures, according to a report from the Education Endowment Foundation.
  • 300m: The number of people attending a Zoom meeting at its height on a day in April, up from 10m four months earlier, according to the FT Business News.

Everything else you need to know ...

What to look out for:

  • Wonkhe/Public First event on ‘University influence in a crisis’ (Monday).
  • Next Education Committee witness session (Wednesday).

Other stories

  • Drinking more, sleeping less? Lots of studies are being carried out at the moment on the impact of the lockdown on people’s lives with mental health and wellbeing among the top concerns. According to Kings College London, which has been leading a lot of the research, two effects have been that people have been drinking more and sleeping less. Their latest survey conducted with Ipsos Mori is interesting. Among other things it points to many people (41%) not leaving their home for five of the previous seven days, 48% putting on weight, 29% drinking more, 40% having more vivid dreams and, sadly, 43% feeling lonelier. You can view the full survey here

That's it for this week. Watch this space and/or check in with my Twitter stream @stevebesley to make sure you don't miss out on the next issue of Education Eye.

And if you find Education Eye useful, please consider donating to help support its publication. EdCentral is a not-for-profit social enterprise company and relies on donations to continue its work.

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.



EdCentral Logo