Education Policies 2015-2023 Section Two

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

This document is divided into Three Sections and Fourteen Parts as indicated below

Section One

  • Part One: Introduction and Summary Conclusions.
  • Part Two Examination Results
  • Part Three: Trends in Total Government Spending on Education
  • Part Four:  Academies
  • Part Five: Free Schools


Section Two

  • Part Six: Grammar schools
  • Part Seven: Private schools
  • Part Eight: The Schools Admission Code
  • Part Nine: OFSTED Inspections
  • Part Ten: Higher Education


Section Three

  • Part Eleven: Poverty and Free School Meal Eligibility
  • Part Twelve: The effects of COVID 19 and the Education Recovery Programme
  • Part Thirteen: The 2022 Education White Paper
  • Part Fourteen:  Conclusions:  Education Policies and Social Mobility


Part Six: Grammar schools

This section on Grammar Schools was originally written in 2016 at a time when Theresa May was intending to increase the number of Grammar Schools. A government consultation paper was published which provoked widespread discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of grammar schools and I summarise some of the main points of this discussion here. In the event Theresa May was heavily preoccupied with the Brexit negotiations which meant that she was unable to pursue her objective of increasing the number of grammar schools. As of May 2022, the current Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi has indicated his support for grammar schools which is shared by several Conservative MPs although there are as yet no government proposals to increase the number of grammar schools.

Following The UK EU Referendum and the resignation of David Cameron the Conservatives elected Theresa May as new Conservative Prime Minister and Mrs May, supported by new Secretary of State Justine Greening indicated that she favoured an increase in the number of grammar schools, a policy which previous Prime Minister David Cameron had not supported. A Government consultation paper was quickly published in which the Government outlined its broad education plans and aimed to canvass opinion as to how these plans might best be implemented.

The publication of the Government consultation paper has understandably sparked intense interest and many articles, some of which are statistically complex have already been published and  the House Of Commons Select Committee on Education  convened a meeting of expert education policy analysts to discuss these issues in detail on November 8th 2016. Click here to access full video coverage of this meeting   [As of May 2022 this video is still available and certainly still worth a watch].

Here is a summary checklist of arguments which are currently [2016]  being made for and against increasing  the number of grammar schools.


Current arguments for and against introduction of more grammar schools: a summary

Please note that in the second session of the above mentioned Select Committee on Education video the Minister of State for Education Nick Gibb makes a strong concise statement in support of the new Government proposals. Scroll ahead in the video to about 10.55.

Arguments in Favour of More Grammar Schools

The overall quality of the state secondary education system has improved but further improvement is necessary and increasing the number of grammar schools will promote such improvement.

It is pointed out that the most successful comprehensive schools are highly socially selective as, for example, more affluent parents can afford the higher house prices which exist in the catchment areas of successful comprehensive schools and that academic selection would in fact be much fairer than this form of social selection.

Grammar School pupils achieve significantly better examination results than do comprehensive school pupils because of the particularly academic ethos of grammar schools, their more effective, rigorous teaching and greater competition among the brightest pupils. Click here for an item from the Daily Telegraph referring to official data suggesting that high ability pupils do better in Grammar schools than in Comprehensives. However, I do not have a link to this official report and will try to find it as soon as I can.

It is also the case that pupils eligible for free school meals achieve far better examination results in grammar schools than in comprehensive schools and that the attainment gap between pupils eligible and ineligible for free school meals is smaller in grammar schools than in comprehensive schools.

It is admitted that pupils eligible for free school meals are statistically underrepresented in grammar schools but claimed that this arises because grammar schools are located primarily in affluent areas where overall eligibility for free school meals in below the national average. This could be reversed if more grammar schools were opened in less affluent areas.

It is admitted that affluent pupils may well be at an advantage in selection tests because their parents are more likely to be able to afford private coaching but claimed that in principle it might be possible to devise entrance tests which accurately measure underlying ability and minimise the effects of private coaching on selection test results.

Arguments Against More Grammar Schools 

It is agreed that further improvement in the state secondary system is necessary but denied that increasing the number of grammar schools is the best way of effecting such improvement. Instead, it is noted that there has been significant improvement in the examination results of, for example, London comprehensive schools claimed that ongoing improvement in the comprehensive system is preferable to increasing the number of grammar schools.

It is argued that although some top performing comprehensive schools are very socially selective this is not true of the top performing 25% of comprehensive schools.

It is true that Grammar school pupils achieve better results than comprehensive school pupils, but this is inevitable given that Grammar schools have higher measured ability. The difference in examination performance of pupils of higher measured ability in grammar schools and comprehensive schools is close to zero although grammar school pupils may perform slightly better.

Many comprehensive schools have a strong academic ethos and rigorous effective teaching.

It is argued that increasing the number of grammar schools would lead to an even larger increase in the number of schools which are effectively [if not formally secondary modern schools with a range of increased disadvantages for pupils at these schools. For example, these schools might be less able to retain staff and financially unable to provide smaller classes for the increasing numbers of lower measured ability pupils at such schools.

It is true that pupils eligible for free school meals attain better examination results in Grammar schools than in comprehensive schools but the grammar school pupils eligible for free school meals all have high measured ability and so the comparison of grammar school/fsm pupils and comprehensive school/fsm pupils is invalid. When the DfE recently publicised this line of argument in a tweet they were criticised by the UK Statistics Authority and felt obliged to withdraw the tweet.

Approximately 13% of state secondary pupils nationally are eligible for free school meals; 9% of secondary school pupils in selective local education authorities are eligible for free school meals and 2% of grammar school pupils are eligible for free school meals and so there is still considerable under-representation of free school meal pupils in selective local education authorities.

It is also the case that a significant proportion of grammar school pupils are recruited from independent primary schools which again points to the relative advantages of affluent pupils in securing grammar school places.

Consequently, it is very doubtful that increasing the number of grammar schools within the system as currently organised will contribute to increasing social mobility. In a longer term perspective detailed statistical research by Anthony Heath and Peter Clifford {Class Inequalities and Educational Reform in 20th Century Britain 1996} relating to students born between 1910 and 1969  suggests that neither the Tripartite System nor the Comprehensive system succeeded in reducing relative social class inequalities in educational achievement thereby perhaps giving some support to Bernstein's view expressed in the 1970s that "Education cannot compensate for society". Many would argue that increased economic and social equality is a prerequisite for increased social mobility

Selection tests are measures of particular types of ability at a particular time. They cannot in any way be said to measure long term potential and as has long been recognised do not take account of the fact that some pupils' abilities may develop a little later. The possibility of moving between sets/bands/streams within a comprehensive school system provides a more flexible response to the issue of later development than does the actual transfer between schools in a selective system.

It will be extremely difficult in practice to devise entrance tests which exclude the potential impact of private coaching. Click here for Guardian article covering this point.

Theresa May’s hopes of introducing more Grammar Schools were impeded by her necessary pre- occupations with Brexit legislation which eventually led to her enforced resignation. New Prime minister Boris Johnson is on record as a supporter of Grammar Schools, but the Conservative Government has not yet shown any intention to increase the number of Grammar Schools. Click here for useful additional information as of July 2020 from the Independent but click here for coverage of a recent interview with new Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi  in which he shows some support for selective education.  Click here for an extended Times Educational Supplement interview with Nadhim Zahawi

Click here for an interactive map of English Grammar Schools produced by Conservative Future

Click here for The Guardian view on selective 6th forms

Click here for Grammar Schools and Multi-Academy Trusts


Part Seven: Private schools

There are ongoing disputes between supporters and opponents of private schools as to their desirability. You may click here and scroll down for a list of the main arguments for and against the existence of private schools and it is desirable that you discuss this question with your teachers and devise strategies for answering examination questions on private schools. You will also find information in the above mentioned document on recent government policies regarding public schools.

Prime Minister Theresa May was apparently far from convinced  that the Independent Schools were  providing sufficient public benefits and launched a Consultation Pare on the Independent Schools in May 2016.The  2017 Conservative General Election manifesto stated that "We will work with the ISC  to ensure that at least 100 leading Independent Schools become involved in academy sponsorship or the funding of free schools in the state system keeping open  the option of changing the tax status of Independent schools if progress is not made." Click here for a recent BBC report on Private Education and University access. "Don't handicap private pupils," says leading headmaster and   click here for ISC response to Theresa May

However, in its response to its Consultation Paper in May 2018 the Government did not include any proposals relating to the charitable status of Independent Schools but it did refer to an agreed understanding between the DfE and the ISC regarding ways in which Independent Schools might generate public benefits.

In 2019 the Conservative Government stated that it had no plans to change the tax status of Independent Schools.

The Labour Party Conference 2019 voted in favour of a motion that the Labour Party should commit to "integrate all private schools into the state sector”, but this policy decision was watered down in Labour's 2019 General Election Manifesto and of course Labour was in any case defeated in the 2019 General Election.

In recent years Oxford, Cambridge and other Russell Group universities have signalled their intention to allocate more places to state school pupils and there is evidence that this has indeed occurred although there is continuing concern at the over-representation of private school pupils at these universities. This issue has attracted considerable publicity in May 2022 when the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University Professor Stephen Toope stated that the percentage of state school pupils at Cambridge University had increased from 68.7% in 2019 to 70.6% in 20220 to 72% in 2021 and that there would be further declines in the percentage of private schools studying at Cambridge in the future.

His statement has, unsurprisingly, attracted criticism from Mr Barnaby Lenon who is chairman of the Independent Schools Council and also from Emeritus Professor of History David Abulafia. This has been followed by an intervention by the current Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi who has argued that Britain should not “tilt the system” to increase the number of state school pupils at high status universities. However, critics of Mr Zahawi have pointed out that IFS data comparing trends in spending per state school pupil and tuition fees per private school pupils might suggest that the system is already “tilted” in favour of private school pupils. You may click here for trend data from the IFS on spending per pupil in the state and independent sectors 2003-04  -2020=21

Click here  and here and here for the comments of Professor Toope, Professor Abulafia and Mr Nadhim Zahawi respectively.

In another development Eton College has announced plans to open 3 free selective 6th form colleges in Oldham, Dudley and Middlesborough each of which are located within the Investment Areas announced in the March 2022 education white paper. This too has resulted in some controversy as is indicated here.


Part Eight: The School Admissions Code

Prior to the introduction of the Academies Programme, school admission policies were determined not by individual state schools but by Local Education Authorities which sought to provide for what they considered to be a fair allocation of places among the state schools within each local authority. Most local authorities provided comprehensive secondary school systems as the number of grammar schools gradually declined from the 1960s onwards. However, the 1988 Education Reform Act provided for far greater parental choice over primary and secondary schools for their children and effectively created a quasi-market in education whereby schools would compete to ensure that pupil numbers and hence school funding would be maintained.

It was pointed out, most notably perhaps by Ball. Bowe and Gerwitz, that the creation of a quasi-market in school education would enable middle class privileged to use their cultural, economic, and social capital to secure greater access to high -performing and that this was less likely for working class disconnected choosers with more limited cultural, economic, and social capital. Consequently, allegedly comprehensive secondary school systems were becoming increasingly socially selective as middle and working class students were disproportionately concentrated in high- performing and poorly performing schools respectively.

It was increasingly recognised that schools might use a range of mechanisms to encourage and discourage applications by middle class and working class parents respectively and to ensure that if schools were oversubscribed, they would be able to prioritise the entry of mainly middle class potentially high performing pupils. Consequently in 2007 in an attempt to ensure a fairer school admission process, the then Labour Government introduced the first Schools Admission Code designed to specify the criteria that schools could adopt to deal with over- subscription.

Essentially if schools were undersubscribed, they would be obliged to provide places for any applicant; if they were oversubscribed, they should prioritise applications of looked after children, of siblings, of pupils living close to the school and of pupils from particular catchment areas or feeder schools.  Faith schools also apply faith based criteria; grammar schools select based on entrance examination performance.; and some schools may select up to 10% of their intake based on aptitude for physical education/sport, the performing arts. the visual arts, modern foreign languages, design and technology and information technology.

Click here for School places in England: admissions and appeals pages 21-24

Also, an Office of the School Adjudicator was set up to manage any disputes arising when actual school admission procedures appeared to conflict with the provisions of the Schools Admission Code.

However, it was soon argued that the admissions process was still far from fair, and the problems intensified because of the expansion of the academies and free schools programmes because these schools operated independently of local education authorities and were responsible for their own admission criteria and were likely to use them to increase their intakes of mainly middle class pupils. Thus, in the first place, working class so-called disconnected choosers might be unlikely to opt for high- performing comprehensive schools but in the second place, even if they did these schools’ own admission criteria might discriminate further against working class applicants.

For example, if as was often the case, schools prioritised proximity to the school as a key admission criterion, schools located in affluent middle class areas would automatically attract more middle class students and more affluent parents seeking to secure their children’s entry to a high performing school would be better able to afford to purchase housing close to the school leading to further house price inflation which would  further restrict the opportunity for working class applicants. There were also occasional cases of fraudulent behaviour by middle class parents who lied about their home address in order to secure entry to a particular school for their children.

Other possibilities were that schools would define catchment areas or choose feeder schools to attract more middle class students or that faith schools [which were shown to be especially socially selective] would specify detailed criteria for religious observance that middle class parents might be more likely to meet or that banding schemes ostensibly designed to provide fair access  were in practice used to ensure the entry of disproportionate numbers of high achieving mainly middle class pupils.

In attempts to deal with these issues the Schools Admission Code has been periodically updated but various newspaper articles and in particular reports from the Sutton Trust have indicated that many ostensibly comprehensive schools remain socially selective. For a range of items dating from 2008- 2016 pointing to the existence of unfair access Click here [2008] and Click here [2011] and here [2015]and here [2015] and here  [2016] and here [2016] and Click here [2016],and here [2018] and click here for an item from 2022

These issues are considered in greater detail in the following Sutton Trust Reports. Click here for Parent Power [2018] and here for Selective Comprehensives: Great Britain [2019]   here for School Places: A Fair Choice? [2020] and Click here   for Fairer School Admissions [2020]

The Sutton Trust Reports suggest that the main factor driving social selectivity is the local residence criterion and they propose a range of possible mechanism for dealing with this.

[The reference to gap at the beginning of the following quote refers to the differences in access to high performing schools as between pupils eligible and ineligible for free school meals.  Notice also that there seems to be a slight difference of emphasis here by comparison with the Ball, Bowe and Gerwitz study.]

“While many see this gap arising from differences in engagement in the school choice system between middle class and less well-off parents, analysis of parental preferences shows that parents across the socio-economic spectrum pro-actively engage in school choice, making choices based on academic quality. Families eligible for free school meals, on average, make as many choices as richer families; are as (un)likely to choose the local school; and take account of school quality in their choices.

More than parental preferences, it is the school allocation system that is the source of socioeconomic gaps. When children are allocated to schools that are over-subscribed, the criteria they use often favour the wealthy. We have a system in which whoever can afford to live near to the good school has a much higher chance of getting in. • Schools currently operate a very wide range of priorities and criteria vary across the country, but “distance from the school”, is predominant, either in terms of straight-line distance, or catchment-based criteria. Balancing the trade-off between prioritising a sense of community in schools by accepting those who live closest, and ensuring fair access is difficult, but the current system is skewed entirely towards the former. “

The authors of the reports also discuss a range of possible solutions to this problem including random ballots, pupil premium prioritisation, banding, and simplified faith criteria.  Click here   for Fairer School Admissions [2020] and scroll to Page 8 for Options for Reform.

The most recent School Admissions Code [updated in September 2021]does address several of the factors contributing to school social selectivity such as issues around catchment areas, organisation of banding systems and the levels of evidence required to prove religious  affiliation but it would appear that some problems of school social selectivity are likely to continue ibn the foreseeable future. Click here for the latest version of the School Admission C The Sutton Trust Reports suggest that the main factor driving social selectivity is the local residence criterion and they propose a range of possible mechanism for dealing with this.


Part Nine: Ofsted

Click here for School Inspections in England: Ofsted [House of Commons Library 2021]

Click here for an official summary of Ofsted Activities

Ofsted was set up in 1992 to conduct regular school investigations but its remit has expanded to include a wide range of “services providing education and services that care for children and young people.” Thus, Ofsted Inspection cover:

“Maintained schools and academies, some independent schools, colleges, apprenticeship providers, prison education and many other educational institutions and programmes outside of higher education

childcare, local authorities, adoption and fostering agencies, initial teacher training and teacher development.”

Ofsted provides schools with detailed information both on the criteria which the inspectors will use to evaluate schools and also on  a wide range of educational issues which should enable schools and individual teachers to reflect on their practice and to prepare for Ofsted inspection. In recent years Ofsted have also emphasised that schools should focus on improving the educational prospects of disabled, SEND and socially disadvantaged students. You may Click here  for Ofsted annual reports and here for the Ofsted Blog. Although Ofsted report on the quality  of education they do not provide advice on strategies for improvement where improvement s deemed necessary.

It is hoped that Ofsted School Inspection reports will act as an incentive to school improvement because schools will be encouraged to develop strategies which enable them to secure a favourable Ofsted judgement and because it is well recognised that future enrolment numbers are likely to rise or fall depending upon parental responses to Ofsted judgements.

Ofsted  statistics in recent years indicate that the proportions of schools judged outstanding or good in recent years have increased significantly and this is often taken by government spokespersons to demonstrate the effectiveness of  overall government education policies  and taken by Ofsted spokespersons as an indication that Ofsted’s inspection regime has itself contributed to improvements in school quality. Click here for key Ofsted data on school inspections.

The data do indeed show that the proportions of schools rated outstanding and good respectively have risen from !8% outstanding and 50% good in 2010 to 20% outstanding and 66% good in 2019. However, it should also be noted that the main improvements in the statistics came in years following modifications to the inspection frameworks which may have meant that it was the changes in inspection framework rather than improvements in school quality which explained the favourable in section trend. Also it was decided in 2012  that schools rated outstanding would no longer be inspected for several years but when inspection of outstanding schools was restarted several such schools were no longer rated outstanding.

Ofsted spokespersons believe that their inspection processes have contributed to increased school effectiveness and in her study

Teaching and the Role of Ofsted: An investigation [2020] Helena McVeigh concludes that this is indeed the case, but she also notes that since school effectiveness depend upon a range of factors it is difficult to separate out the significance of Ofsted inspections as a factor influencing school effectiveness. She also accepts that several of the criticisms of Ofsted [see below] have some force but that on balance Ofsted has been a force for good although some reforms of Ofsted are necessary.


Schools with large percentages of pupils eligible for free school meals have been more likely than schools with more affluent intakes to receive negative Ofsted judgements leading to criticisms that Ofsted take insufficient account of the disadvantaged social circumstances of some schools. Click here for Ofsted inspections and social disadvantage from education fft datalab.


Partly in response to this issue,  the Education Policy Institute and University College London have recently produced a report entitled “Stuck Schools” which are schools which have continued to receive adverse Ofsted judgements over a period of several years. The report notes that these schools are likely to face a variety of challenging circumstances which inhibit their progress, and it has been argued that Ofsted inspectors are sometimes insufficiently aware of these difficulties.  However, the summary conclusions of the report indicate that attitudes to Ofsted were variable. For example:


“A less than good inspection judgement is a modest contributing factor of ‘stuck’ schools’ lack of improvement or decline over time.

Monitoring inspections and full inspections received by ‘stuck’ case study schools were arguably too frequent, variable and inconsistent.

Many headteachers, teachers, and governors of ‘stuck’ and ‘un-stuck’ schools valued the role of Ofsted and other support received to improve.

Some stakeholders raised concerns about the validity, reliability and fairness of inspections.”

Thus, the Report is measured in its assessments of Ofsted, but Ofsted itself had produced a report on Stuck Schools in 2020 which provided a more positive view of the effects of Ofsted inspection. For example:

Overall, school leaders spoke of the benefits of independent inspection to their school’s journey. Some commented on the fresh thinking and impetus this had given them to make changes in their school. Others valued the expertise of HMI and the experience of our Ofsted Inspectors (OIs), who are serving practitioners in schools. Leaders said that they wished to commission advice from them more regularly:

‘It was very difficult, but the recommendations were precise and clear, and we acted on these… I definitely think the outcomes of the inspection were helpful and reshaped our thinking.’ (Senior leader, School 8a)

On the other hand, forceful criticisms of Ofsted Inspections have often been made.

It is suggested that the quality of Ofsted inspectors has been variable and that some inspectors have been inspecting subjects of which they have little knowledge. Also there have been inconsistencies in inspections as between different inspection teams so that the judgements on individual schools are dependent upon which team inspects them.

Some schools and some individual teachers may be more adept than others at presenting themselves in a positive light so that inspectors fail to make accurate assessments in some cases.

It has been noted that Ofsted judgements have been heavily influenced by school examination results but that examination results are an inadequate measure of the overall quality of the education. Schools may adopt procedures which boost examination results at the expense of broader educational objectives. For example, they may concentrate teaching resources on marginal candidates rather than on pupils who they believe are either certain to gain good grades or certain to gain bad grades and in some cases they may “off roll” pupils who they believe are certain to perform badly.

Since the introduction of Ofsted’s new education inspection framework in 2019 Ofsted has given greater attention to school curricula and this has generally been welcomed within the teaching profession but critics have argued that Ofsted evaluations of the quality of school curricula may not have been accurate.  Schools which in the past have received favourable judgements based on examination results followed by less favourable judgements based on school curriculum have not been best pleased.

Critics argue that Ofsted’s inspection reports focus excessively on their final summary judgement as outstanding, good, requiring improvement or inadequate. This is seen as counterproductive because it is likely to exacerbate inequalities of provision between schools judged outstanding and schools judged inadequate. An “inadequate” judgement is likely to impact adversely on pupils’ confidence in their teachers and on their own self-confidence and on the school’s local reputation which is likely to affect future student numbers adversely.

If a maintained [i.e., local authority- controlled] school is deemed inadequate[ click here and see pages 13-14]  it is compelled to become an academy even when this is against parents’ wishes while academies and free schools, if declared inadequate, they may be subject to intervention by the Regional Schools Commissioner who has responsibility for the organisation of academies.

It is reported here that between 2016 and 2019 314 primary schools were forced to become academies  and this article indicates that controversies over forced academisation continue. It has sometimes been argued by critics of government policy that Ofsted has been subject to pressures from government to judge more schools inadequate as a means of furthering the government’s academisation agenda, a charge which Ofsted denies.

It is argued that Ofsted should discontinue the final judgement categories and that their reports should instead emphasise both the strengths and weaknesses of each school with suggestions as to how future progress might be made [which they already do] but without allocation of the current judgement categories. Do you agree?

It has been suggested that the Ofsted regime discourages educational innovation because schools retain the policies which have generated positive Ofsted judgements in the past rather than experimenting with new approaches which might significantly improve education al provision in the future.

Ofsted has been criticised because of its failure in nearly 30 years of inspection to uncover the extent of sexual harassment in schools and colleges but Ofsted claims that since 2019 these issues are being investigated more carefully.

As a result of these criticisms, teachers’ unions have regularly called for the abolition and in the 2019 General Election the Labour Party’s General Election manifesto called for the abolition of Ofsted.

However, Ofsted leaders themselves believe that Ofsted has been a force for good, that some of the above criticisms made of Ofsted are overstated and that they are continually trying to improve their inspections process. Labour, Coalition, and current Conservative Governments have supported the continued existence of Ofsted [as does the current Labour Opposition] while recognising the need for continuous review of Ofsted policy.


For Ofsted involvement with the Bourdieusian concept of Cultural Capital click here  and here and here

Click here for NAO report on Ofsted

Click here for The Secret Teacher: The Ofsted Inspection

Click here for Ofsted and the school curriculum

Click here for Ofsted and inquiry into schools’ response to sexual abuse

Click here  for BBC coverage of restart of full Ofsted inspections September 2021

Click here for Ofsted plans for the future and here for the case for abolition of Ofsted

Click here for long interview with Amanda Spielman

Click here for Guardian coverage of Ofsted [1600+ articles as of May 2022]

Further Reading

About Our Schools: Improving on Previous Best Tim Brighouse and Mick Waters 2021 [Chapter 11]

Teaching and the Role of Ofsted: An investigation Helena McVeigh 2020


Ofsted inspections: Update: January 2024

In November 2022 Caversham Primary School  was downgraded from “outstanding”  to “inadequate” because of Ofsted’s concerns that safeguarding issues were not being adequately addressed.  The tragic death of headteacher Ruth Perry in January 2023 following the Ofsted judgement  was accompanied by increased criticism of the Ofsted regime. Teachers complained of the mental and physical stress  imposed on them by Ofsted inspections; the competence of Ofsted inspectors was called into question; the use of one or two word summary judgements was deemed inappropriate; and teachers unions called for the outright abolition of Ofsted.

Sir Martyn Oliver [who had also played a major role in the production of the Sewell Report on Race and Ethnic Disparities] replaced Amanda Spielman as Chief Ofsted Inspector in January 2024 and announced that Ofsted inspections would be paused for three weeks to enable inspectors to receive training on alleviation of stress  although it is questionable how much can be learned about stress -related issues in such a short time.  Meanwhile some headteachers have stated that they are considering refusing Ofsted inspectors entry to their schools to safeguard the health of their staff.

These recent items from the BBC and from ITV  address briefly some of the current concerns with Ofsted  and this BBC item reports on the aftermath of the sad death of Ruth Perry. More  detailed [and often critical] comment can be found via the Guardian Ofsted page.

Click here for ITV coverage of new Ofsted policy outlining the circumstances under which headteachers may stop an Ofsted inspection if school staff are showing signs of distress. Click here for a recent BBC item.

Click here for a podcast from the BBC’s The Briefing Room presented by David Aaronovitch:  What’s the point of Ofsted?


Part Ten: Higher Education

Increasing numbers of UK residents have obtained university first degrees in the last one hundred years. For example, in 1920 4,357 did so; in 1950 17,337 did so; in 1990 77,163 did so and in 2011 350, 800 did so. The following chart illustrates the long term trend from 1960 to 2001.

 From the 1980s  it was emphasised that globalisation has resulted in the expansion of international trade leading to the substantial relocation of manufacturing industry from advanced capitalist countries such as the UK to the Global South where labour costs are much lower and this, coupled with increased labour productivity in the advanced capitalist countries, has led to a process of de-industrialisation involving the decline of manufacturing employment especially in unskilled and semi-skilled occupations. Successive UK governments have therefore argued that if employment prospects and living standards are to be maintained more students must be educated and trained for future employment for the more highly skilled occupations within manufacturing and within the expanding service industries such as banking, insurance, and leisure industries.

Essentially it was being argued that both domestic and international economic trends have resulted in a shift from Fordism to Post-Fordism and that it is essential that the education system must be reformed to correspond to this new post-Fordist economic situation. This would necessitate changes in the organisation of the overall school system, increases in the industrial and commercial relevance of the school curriculum, increased opportunities for industrial training and increasing access to Higher Education.

Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair responded to this situation by announcing in 1999 as a target that 50% of 17-30 year olds should be able to access Higher Education and this target was actually achieved in 2019.  Click here for further information. However in recent years it has been argued that the growth of UK graduates has outstripped the growth of graduate employment leading to the growth of so-called GRINGOs [ graduates in non-graduate occupations] but most recently, as we shall see below, it has been claimed that the growth of graduate level jobs in the UK has accelerated again.


A rebalancing in government policy in relation to Further and Higher Education.

Following the General Election of 2017 as a result of which the Conservatives were returned as a Minority Government supported by the D.U.P. Prime Minister Theresa May announced the setting up of the Post 18 Education and Funding Higher Education under the chairmanship of Philip Augur and in its Report published in May 2019 the Committee recommended the reduction of university tuition fees to £7500 p.a.  but also emphasised the need for significant reforms and increased funding of Further Education which, the Report suggested, could contribute significantly to the reduction in the UK’s skills gap.

The reduction in university tuition fees was not implemented [although they were frozen at £9250 p.a. in January 2021] but as she left office Theresa May did emphasise the importance of the reform of Further Education as did Boris Johnson on taking up the role of Prime Minister. Damien Hinds was soon replaced as Education Secretary by Gavin Williamson who announced in July 2020 that the 50% target for the entrance of young people to Higher Education [ first announced by Tony Blair in1999] was to be abolished because in Williamson’s view too many graduates had been educated for jobs which were unavailable while non-entrants to university were being denied the opportunity to train for the technology- based occupations where more jobs were becoming available. Britain, he said, should seek to learn from the German education system which was far more effective in training technologically skilled workers. Click here and here  for the scrapping of the 50% HE target.  This was followed by a Whitepaper published in January 2021 and entitled   Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth.

The White Paper was long and complex but, long and complex and has attracted equally detailed analysis. I shall not pursue these technicalities here  but interested students may click here and here for further information. However, following a period of unprecedented political instability , it was in any case withdrawn in 2023 and we await further developments.

Meanwhile, however, the view that graduate employment is unlikely to expand  has been called into question. A recent report has pointed to the growth of graduate employment in the UK and to a shortage of graduates while in another report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change  it is  suggested  that the demand for graduates is likely to accelerate and the  UK Government would be wise to adopt a new target of 80% access for  17-30 year olds to higher education. Click here for growth of graduate jobs and Click here  and here for further information on the publication from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change .

The emergence of the Coronavirus has presented profoundly serious problems for UK universities. Face to face teaching has been discontinued in many subjects and students are unhappy [see  here ] with paying high tuition fees for online tuition however hard lecturers try to provide top class resources. It has seemed that in the immediate future fewer domestic and foreign students would apply to UK universities leading to discontinuation of some courses, teacher redundancies and in extreme cases, possible closure of universities. The quasi-marketisation of Higher Education has made UK universities highly dependent on student numbers and in particular dependent on foreign students paying higher tuition fees. The process of globalisation has helped to finance Higher Education. but the Coronavirus has introduced considerable instability into the financing of Higher Education.

Click here for  a BBC item on Universities and Coronavirus , here for an article from the Times Higher Education Supplement and here for  BBC radio 4 programme on this issue.

However, in the event student enrolments for HE from UK 18 year olds increased in September 2021 and total HE student enrolments from UK and Foreign students combined declined only slightly. Click here for BBC information from September 2021, Thus, although the Coronavirus has generated significant problems for the HE sector, student enrolments have been more stable, for the time being, than was initially feared. You may also click here for a Parliament Research Briefing [December 2021] which provides more detailed data on HE applications and enrolments in 2020 and 2021

Higher Education and Social Mobility

As has been indicated, access to Higher Education in the UK has increased substantially and it is also the case that females are more likely than males to attend university and that the proportions of working class and ethnic minority students in Higher Education have also increased. However, there are significant gender differences in subject choice and although working class access to higher education has increased the social class gap in access to higher education remans substantial, especially in the case of high status universities. Regarding ethnicity a relatively large % of Chinese students secure access to higher education while  access is particularly low among  Gypsy Roma students and Traveller of Irish Heritage students.

Recent data on access to Higher Education is published annually in the DFE document Widening Participation in Higher Education.

This source distinguishes between 18 ethnic categories, between males and females, between students eligible and in eligible for free school meals and between progression to Higher Education and progression to high tariff Higher Education. I have extracted and reorganised some data from the above source here.

Progression to HE by Age 19 By FSM Status, Gender, and Ethnic Group 2019/20

Note that progression rates can be volatile over time due to the very small number of pupils in some categories. This is particularly the case for Gypsy/Roma and Traveller of Irish Heritage pupils

Source: Matched data from the DfE National Pupil Database, HESA Student Record and ESFA ILR

Progression to high tariff HE by age 19 by FSM Status, Gender and Ethnic Group - 2019/20

Note that progression rates can be volatile over time due to the very small number of pupils in some categories. This is particularly the case for Gypsy/Roma and Traveller of Irish Heritage pupils.

Source: Matched data from the DfE National Pupil Database, HESA Student Record and ESFA ILR

In almost all categories female students outperform male students.

Very unfortunately students from the Gypsy Roma and Traveller of Irish Heritage groups have very low access to HE.

Chinese students top the rankings in all categories.

Indian and Bangladeshi students are fairly  high in all categories and Black African s are fairly high in all categories other than the NFSM High Tariff HE category.

Black Caribbean students’ rankings vary from 10th in the FSM/HE category to 16th in the NSFM /High tariff HE category.

White British students’ rankings are lower than those of Black Caribbean students’ rankings in all except the NFSM/High tariff HE category.

Considerable mass media attention has been given to the low access to High tariff HE of White British and Black Caribbean students eligible for FSM. This applies especially to males but access among females is also low. Eligibility for Free School Meals has sometimes been taken unjustifiably as a proxy for membership of the working class.

Data  from Widening Participation in Higher Education indicates that access to HE among students eligible for free school meals has increased in recent years although the increase is greater for females than for males and applies less to access to High Tariff HE institutions. Further information can be found in this Guardian article [January 2022]which reports UCAS data for HE Entries in 2021. 21% of students eligible for free school meals were accepted on college or university courses which was the highest on record but “The number of applicants from the wealthiest backgrounds increased by 15% while those from poorer areas rose more slowly, by 10%.”

Data from the Office for Students indicate that unsurprisingly the main factor determining access to HE is School examination results and that among students gaining very good school examination results there is little difference in HE Access rates between students eligible and ineligible for free school meals. However, it seems likely that high performing students eligible for free school meals are less likely than high performing students ineligible for free school meals to apply to High tariff HE institutions and that although universities are involved in various ways in schemes to widen university access, more might be done to encourage high performing students eligible for to apply to High tariff HE institutions

Click here for an item from the Office for students which shows the relationships between school examination results and access to HE and Click here  for BBC coverage [ November 2021]of recent research on relationships between access to Higher Education and social mobility and  new government imposed  targets for universities to improve the social mobility rates of their students.

Click here for Guardian coverage of recent IFS/Sutton Trust research on Higher Education and here and  here and  here for detailed presentations of these research findings


In recent times, several issues have arisen that might be expected to influence patterns of access to Higher Education in the future.

In early 2022,  the UK government announced a consultation on proposals to impose minimum entry requirements for access to Higher Education whereby students who fail to gain GCSE Grade 4/C passes in English and Mathematics or two E Grades or above GCE Advanced Level passes [or equivalent] would be denied access to student loans.

“The two specific proposals being consulted on are to set this minimum eligibility requirement at having at least a 4/C grade in English and maths GCSEs, or to set this at two A levels (or equivalents) at grade E or above. Students who do not achieve these qualifications would not be eligible for student loans. “    However, “Certain groups of students would be exempt from these proposals, such as those who fail the GCSE requirement but who go on to obtain ‘good’ A levels (i.e., at least three grade Cs), students above the age of 25, part-time students and students who have obtained Level 4 or Level 5 qualifications.” [IFS Report].


Government spokespersons claim that this will stop universities recruiting students into courses for which they may be unsuited and/or may not improve their employment prospects significantly. Instead, students without these required qualifications could advance their careers more effectively via apprenticeships and other non-graduate qualifications.

Click here and here for coverage of these proposals anhere for a detailed analysis of the proposals from the IFS  and here for a press release from the IFS providing a very useful summary of the full IFS report.

Click here   for further Guardian coverage and  Click here   for BBC coverage.

Click here for a critical assessment of these plans by Michael Rosen


T Levels

The Introduction of T levels was announced in   for first teaching in September 2020 with plans to increase the number of T Levels between 2020 and 2023.The T Level Qualification has been presented as a high- quality technical qualification designed with the help of industry representatives which is the equivalent of three GCE Advanced Levels and will prepare students for the transition to skilled employment, Higher Education or Advanced Apprenticeships. The expansion of T Level courses is to be combined with the scrapping of 4000-5000 post-GCSE vocational qualifications in a   move designed to simplify the overall provision of vocational education. The following links provide information on the nature of these courses.

Click here  for BBC explanation of T levels.

Click here for a useful video from the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education

Click here  for DFE information on T Levels

Click here for BBC coverage of announcement: Education Ministers to pull plug on 5000 post GCSE qualifications.

However, from the outset concerns have been raised that some of the qualifications which have been scrapped are  in reality courses which help students with low GCSE grades to transition to higher level courses and that the Transition Course which is to replace them may be less suitable than the courses which are being scrapped. It was s also suggested, although this remains uncertain, that T Levels would  replace existing BTEC and OCR National Courses but critics  have argued  against this on the grounds  that although it is reasonable to scrap some poorly subscribed courses  most of these courses remain useful in their own right [although there have been criticisms of grade inflation]  and useful also to students who wish to combine BTEC/ OCR courses and GCE Advanced Level courses.

Click here  for some further discussion of these criticisms  which, as reported  here by the Guardian, have recently been reiterated by former Conservative Secretary of State for Education Lord Baker in 2021. However these concerns  .continue as indicated in this item from the BBC [October 2023] which indicate that , despite considerable opposition,  more than 200 qualifications including BTECs and other post GCSE courses are to be scrapped as part of the roll out of T Levels and that this has provoked criticism  from within the Further Education Sector and anxiety from students currently enrolled on BTEC courses.

Yet further problems arise because the quality of T Level courses has been called into question by Ofsted inspectors  as is indicated here and because Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced that he hopes to see the development of an Advanced British Standard Qualification which will amalgamate elements of GCE Advanced Level and T Level qualifications which suggests that the current T Level qualifications which are to replace BTEC qualifications are themselves likely to be modified in the not too distant future although it is far from certain when [or indeed if] this development will take place..

As the role of science and technology  in modern societies increases, it is understandable that politicians are keen to emphasise the importance of mathematical skills as influences on economic development and on future employment prospects and in the course of 2023 Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has emphasised his wish for British students to continue studying Mathematics until the age of 18. However, although the objective may be praiseworthy , it will not appeal to all students who are much keener to study Arts and Humanities subjects and may present problems for students who have found it difficult to gain good GCSE passes in Mathematics. Also , of course, the policy objective will require an influx of well qualified Mathematics teachers who might not , be forthcoming bearing in mind the much higher salaries which may be available to them outside of the teaching profession.


Click here for a BBC item on  GCSE Mathematics resits.

Click here and here  and here and here for T Levels

Click here and here and here and here for and here Mathematics for 18 year olds

Click here  and here and here and here and here and here and here Advanced British Standard


Higher Education: Student loans

There have also been changes to the interest rate payable on student loans.

Click here for BBC on student loans.

Click here and here and here and here  and here  and here and here for student loans.


Higher Education: Some Further Issues

Click here  for Universities and sexual assault and here for universities and  free speech  and here Oxford and LGBT students  and here and here for universities and institutional racism.

Click here for a detailed paper on Higher education student numbers [ Paul Bolton House of Commons Library February 2022]