Policy eye - highlights of the week ending 27 July

Policy Eye

Welcome to Policy Eye, a weekly service from Policy Watch offering a regular round up of UK education headlines and stories from over the previous 7 days.

The week summed up

Bit of a deluge to report this week, not of rain but of education developments.

A lot of it has come from the DfE in what has become a familiar end of term blast. It includes the long-awaited announcement on teachers’ pay, along with news on schools’ revenue and high needs funding for 2019/20. Also released have been an interesting Snapshot Survey into how schools are coping with recent policy developments, guidance on operating devolved adult education budgets, important reports from the Education Committee on alternative provision and from the government on mental health provision, the latest Annual Report and Accounts from the DfE, and last but not least, nearly 30 bits and bobs on reducing teacher workload, many posted ironically over last weekend just as many school gates were being closed.

In fairness, it hasn’t all come from the DfE. UCAS has published a report on unconditional offers, the Treasury has issued an important future funding guarantee on some EU projects and there’ve been two interesting reports from leading think tanks. One from the Education Policy Institute on how the school system is performing especially for disadvantaged pupils. And the other, wider in remit but providing an important context for many families, the annual audit on living standards from the Resolution Foundation.

All are listed below but here are three headlines.

First a worrying statistic from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) on closing the gap for disadvantaged pupils. According to their latest report and based on an analysis of GCSE English and maths, closing the gap would take ‘well over 100 years.’ The issue is that the pace has slowed and as EPI chair David Laws indicated, the issues like this run the risk of being overshadowed by Brexit and associated issues.

Second, if you want to know what’s been happening in education over the last year, the DfE’s latest Annual Report and Accounts may help. In his introduction, the Permanent Secretary highlights 13 achievements. Not everyone may agree but they include: the schools funding formula, the apprenticeship levy, work on T levels and primary assessment, and of course that stat about more children being in good or outstanding schools. An interesting corollary comes from the Schools Snapshot Survey which provides an insight into how schools are tackling such issues as phonics, the EBacc, mental health and careers provision.

Third, and as this is the final Policy Watch for a couple of weeks, some upbeat pointers from this week’s news. They include news of a pay increase for many classroom teachers, some helpful guidance on devolved adult budgets, a funding guarantee from the Treasury on some EU programmes and, believe it or not, sightings of the first Father Christmases of the year. Positive news for some.

Top headlines this week

  • 'DfE presses ahead with T levels procurement.’ (Monday)
  • ‘Teachers to receive up to 3.5% pay rise.’ (Tuesday
  • ‘Closing disadvantage gap will take over a century.’ (Wednesday)
  •  ‘Exam boards police social media in cheating crackdown.’ (Thursday)
  • 'Academy Trusts’ growing debt brings total deficit to £65m.’ (Friday)


People/organisations in the news this week

General Policy

  • End of year report. The DfE published its annual report and accounts for 2017/18 spelling out what progress it made against its departmental objectives over the last financial year and listing the introduction of the schools funding formula and apprenticeship levy, the sale of the student loan book, and the reforms to primary assessment, among its key achievements of the year
  • Government response on mental health. The government issued its response to the consultation on young people’s mental health indicating that it hopes to have mental health teams in place by the end of next year although full roll out and designated school leads may take longer
  • More economic statistics. The Resolution Foundation published its latest annual audit of living standards in the UK looking in particular at how household incomes performed over the last year and indicating that for the typical household, these grew by just a disappointing 1.4%
  • Connected up. The Dept for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published its Future Telecomms Infrastructure Review promised as part of the Industrial Strategy, pledging to prioritise full fibre broadband for new build homes and rural areas and to have full fibre broadband in place across the UK by 2033 
  • Funding guarantees. The Treasury confirmed that it will guarantee funding for any EU funded projects signed up to by businesses or universities through until the end of 2020, deal or no deal 
  • EU workers. The Home Office launched a new toolkit to help employers support EU citizen employees who may need to apply for Settled Status beyond Brexit day


  • Unconditional offers. UCAS published a new report on the use of unconditional offers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland showing a continuing increase in offers over recent years and prompting considerable debate about how or whether this needs further investigation
  • Calm before the storm? Clare Marchant, Chief Exec of UCAS, outlined her vision of a more digitally enabled and broader service, as part of an interview one year on from taking up the role and just weeks away from the busy summer results and clearing period 
  • Sub-degree provision. Dr Greg Walker, Chief Exec of the Million Plus group argued for a refresh of Foundation degrees funded through the apprenticeship levy, as a way of addressing gaps around sub-degree provision, in a new blog on the HE Policy Institute website


  • Council for the North. Eleven Chairs of Local Enterprise Partnerships in the North of England confirmed that they have come together to create a powerful new voice in the North to advise government on such issues as productivity, regional growth and the closing the gap
  • Strengthened LEPs. The government published the results of its policy review into Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) promising a bit more money to help them develop and support Local Industrial Strategies as part of increased accountability and expectations
  • Devolved budgets. The DfE encouraged Combined Authorities to operate fairly and transparently when they take over responsibility for adult education functions from next year 
  • Apprenticeship Vision. The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) carried an interview with Euan Blair, co-founder of WhiteHat, a company dedicated to supporting those looking for an alternative to university, about his vision for apprenticeships
  • EPA checks. Ofqual followed up recent guidance by issuing Conditions and Guidance for End Point Assessments (EPAs) in apprenticeships as part of an extensive piece of work to assure quality standards and assessment  


  • Pay recommendations. The government announced that it will use a new teachers’ pay grant to cover part of the costs of the latest pay award for school teachers which ranges from 1.5% for school leaders to 3.5% for those on the main pay scale
  • National funding formulae for 2019/20. The DfE published the guidelines for schools and high needs for 2019/20 with a number of small changes to minimum per-pupil funding levels, the funding floor and underfunded schools
  • Watching the gap. The Education Policy Institute published its latest annual report using attainment data from last year to show how the school system is performing noting that while this is improving, the disadvantage gap remains as evident as before
  • Easing the load. The DfE ushered in the summer holidays by releasing a toolkit, video, case study materials and other resources to help schools further reduce teacher workloads
  • Alternative Provision. The Commons Education Committee published its report into the system for school exclusions highlighting that there were too many unregulated practices and provision and calling for a clear Bill of Rights for both pupils and parents concerned
  • School snapshot survey. The DfE reported on its new schools snapshot survey, taken last winter and with interesting revelations on how schools were tackling synthetic phonics, the EBacc and career education among other things
  • Curriculum resources. The DfE published the results of a commissioned survey into the sorts of curriculum support resources most valued by teachers pointing to areas such as at KS3 and in differential materials where there are most resource gaps
  • Lesson planning. The DfE announced the first round of bidding for funding as a curriculum pilot intended that can help schools share resources and save teachers time with lesson planning
  • Exam malpractice. The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) announced that it was setting up an independent Commission that will start work in the autumn, report early next year and look particularly at how far changes in technology were creating new opportunities for cheating
  • BBC Bitesize. The BBC Education Team announced that along with updating its well established Bitesize series, it was working on a number of new areas including supporting literacy, championing social mobility and helping with school to work transition
  • Early Years workforce. The Education Policy Institute announced it was undertaking a major new, 2-year research project, funded by Nuffield, into the early years workforce and the link between qualifications and outcomes 
  • Special needs in London. The London Assembly Education Panel outlined what it called ‘a special needs time bomb’ of growing numbers of young people with disabilities and high needs, calling on the Mayor to press government for funds and to support a specialist training centre for co-ordinators

Tweet(s) of the week

  • •“Students WOULD be well advised to take T levels – and @educationgovuk has a duty to press on in spite of legal action, insists skills minister” - @tes
  • “Another leavers’ montage under my belt ready for the final assembly. Always find the last day somewhat melancholic and find myself remembering old classes lost particularly all my Yr 7 lots. Funny how attached we become” - @MichaelT1979
  • “Walking, cooking and watching @NCIS_CBS. PM Theresa May on the things that help her cope with a stressful job” - @BBCNews
  • “Amazon should replace local libraries to save taxpayers money via @forbes” - @PMourdoukoutas

Other stories of the week

  • Summer worries. Teachers may be about to embark on a well-earned break but apparently many find it hard to switch off, many carry worries with them and many are carrying on working over the holidays. The figures come from a survey conducted for the charity Education Support Partnership and carried out by YouGov. The survey showed 43% of teachers questioned found it hard to switch off, 68% said they were worried about impending exam results and senior teachers at least were expecting to work eleven days over the summer. 
  • It’s in the Beano. Along with the Girl Guides, the Beano is getting serious about supporting young people’s wellbeing. The TES recently reported that it was working with the mental health charity YoungMinds on tackling some current issues. A recent edition looks at how the character Mandi copes with her new mobile phone.

Quotes of the week

  • “Teachers don’t choose to teach because they want to do endless hours of data entry or deep marking” – the Education Secretary looks to understand teachers as he launches the latest workload strategies
  • “This next phase may require targeted pay awards and further uniform uplifts to pay and allowance ranges may not be appropriate in the future”- the School Teachers’ (Pay) Review Body signals differential pay scales especially in shortage subjects for the future
  • “But the constant cry of ‘something must be done’ risks distracting the regulator from things that could actually benefit students” – Wonkhe’s Ant Bagshaw responds to the latest debate on the use of unconditional offers in uni admissions systems 
  • “Based on current trends, the (attainment) gap at the end of secondary school would take over 100 years to close” – the Education Policy Institute offers a rather bleak prognosis on closing the gap
  • “The Department cannot wash its hands of the issue just as schools cannot wash their hands of their pupils” – the Education Committee adds its voice to concerns about the ‘off-rolling’ of pupils

Number(s) of the week

  • 4%. The extent of full fibre connection in the UK as against 71% in Spain and 28%+ in France, according to the government’s latest report on Telecomms
  • 0.9%. The amount by which typical incomes (after housing costs) grew over the last year, according to latest data from the Resolution Foundation
  • 23%. How many of this year’s uni applicants have received at least one unconditional offer, a rise of 29%, according to latest figures from UCAS
  • £803 - £1,004. The increase in starting salaries for classroom teachers following the latest pay award, according to figures quoted by the Education Secretary 
  • 94%. The number of postgrad trainee teachers granted Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) employed in teaching within 6 months of qualifying in 2016/17 according to latest DfE figures 
  • £4,800. The minimum per-pupil funding level for secondary schools in England for 2019/20, according to the latest statement from the School Standards Minister
  • £3,500. The minimum per-pupil funding level for primary schools in England for 2019/20, according to the latest statement from the School Standards Minister
  • 73%. How many schools have taken action to reduce unnecessary teacher workload according to the latest claims by the DfE
  • 35%. How many secondary schools plan to start teaching KS4 to all its Yr 9 pupils according to the latest snapshot survey by the DfE 
  • 18 months. The attainment gap in GCSE English and maths last year, an improvement of a mere 0.1 month on the year before, according to research from the Education Policy Institute
  • 14.6%. The number of pupils in England with special educational needs as of the start of this year, up 0.2% from the previous year, according to latest figures from the DfE
  • 7pm. The time at which most people start considering ordering a takeaway followed by 2.00 am, according to research on ‘foraging’ patterns reported by the BBC

What to look out for next week

  • Parliament in summer recess