2016 – not all bad!

Young People Collage 2017

What’s the first word you think of when you look back on 2016? I can hazard a guess – ‘uncertain’, ‘tumultuous’, maybe ‘historic’, maybe something less polite! But for me the word is ‘inspiring’. Because 2016 was my first year at Impetus-PEF and it has left me full of optimism and fired up for the year ahead.

Inspiring young people

The biggest source of that optimism has been all the young people I’ve had the chance to meet this year. It’s easy to slip into defining young people from disadvantaged backgrounds by what they lack. But, travelling around the country meeting children and young adults from all sorts of backgrounds (check out our video for a few examples), the thing that stands out is how much they have to offer; their strength, their resilience.

Many of these young people are grappling with circumstances most of us can barely imagine. But they’re doing it with grit, good humour, and intelligence. That’s inspiring to me. And I know with a bit of support and a bit of belief, they’ll get where they need to be.

Inspiring impact

That support comes from my second source of 2016 inspiration; our charity partners. Because we, and they, know that behind every inspiring story of a life transformed, is a ton of hard, sometimes uninspiring work. The coaches, tutors, and mentors’ day-to-day work with the young people. The unsung toil of data and impact managers who make sure that success is predictable, not pot-luck. And the charity leaders who have the courage to ask ‘does this really work?’ and ‘how can we do it better?’. Real impact takes hard heads to go with caring hearts and we’re proud to be working with some of the leading organisations in the sector, the people with a relentless, rigorous approach to doing the best for the young people they serve.

So a big thank you to all of our charity partners. I was particularly pleased to welcome Dixons Academies Charitable Trust and Dallaglio Foundation to the fold last year. We’re proud to have taken two existing partnerships up a notch in 2016 too, to the next step of our partnership with City Gateway and Teens and Toddlers. And a bitter-sweet farewell to ThinkForward, who we helped incubate and who shared our office until they gained their independence in 2016, but who remain a charity partner.

And we’ve taken that impact message wider in 2016. That’s why we wrote our Driving Impact paper last year – a collection of all that we’ve learned along our journey to focusing on impact. It’s packed full of the lessons we’ve gathered over time and we hope it will help anyone who is as passionate as us about delivering effective programmes for young people, not just those we’re partnered with.

We’re sharing this with charities and social enterprises face-to-face too. Our newest Driving Impact venture gets us out delivering training through the Impact Management Programme. Funded by Access – The Foundation for Social Investment and Power to Change, we’re pleased to have been chosen to deliver a series of impact management workshops for charities and social enterprises in 2017.

From inspiration to influence

If we, and our charity partners, are going to succeed in getting all young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the support they need to succeed in school and work, we can’t do it alone, we need to take others with us, including the government who are, of course, the main funder and provider of education and employment support to young people.

In 2016 we made sure that the young people we serve stayed on the policy agenda. We highlighted the shameful situation where young people are now required to resit their maths and English GCSEs but with very little chance of passing second time round in our Life After School campaign. And we showed in our Youth Jobs Index that the headlines of falling youth unemployment hide a deeper problem – over 1.3 million young people in this country are spending six months or more out of employment, education or training.

And we continued in our wider mission to get the money to go where the evidence says. Our partnership with Education Endowment Foundation which we established with the Sutton Trust gives us ongoing access to the world’s best evidence on what works (and what doesn’t) in education, and we look forward to working with them to help the best ideas through the tricky journey to impact at scale. And we’re building partnerships with funders to make sure that the great organisations in our portfolio can get more and more diverse support.

Inspiring support

Of course, we’ve only been able to do this thanks to our incredible supporters. That includes our donors, whose faith in us and our model is truly humbling. We were overwhelmed to see over £2m of pro bono value given last year across 140 projects by 50 firms and individuals.

And we had fun with our supporters too – our biggest ever private equity triathlon, seeing 500 committed racers compete for our cause in September made for a promising end to the year.

An inspiring future

We’ve had an inspiring 2016 so I’m optimistic for the year ahead. But optimism without evidence is just blind hope. And I think, sometimes, when we take on deep, old social problems like the gap in education and work between disadvantaged young people and the rest, we do so more in hope than expectation. I think many of us believe that we should try but don’t really believe, in our heart of hearts, that we can succeed.

But I think the evidence says we should believe. Imagine we all came together and said we wanted young people from poorer families to do as well at school as everyone else. That sounds like one of those nice but unrealistic goals. So, let’s start with something more manageable – halving the gap in GCSE attainment. To do that would mean getting roughly 20,000 more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds their GCSEs every year. Just putting a number on it makes it feel more achievable. And then add in that our portfolio charities are already working with thousands of young people helping them get better and better results, and that we know the best schools get 95% pass rates for young people from the toughest backgrounds. I really believe if we all came together and focused on halving that gap we could get there in five years. Of course Impetus-PEF won’t do all of it – the quality of schools, teachers, and head teachers for our young people are a huge part of it. We’re clear that we’re focusing not just on those young people who need a nudge to get a pass, we’re focusing on all the young people who are failed by the current system and need intensive support. But it’s do-able. And exactly the same approach would work for access to university and access to decent jobs too.

By entering the New Year not just fired up, but fired up with facts, I know we’re going to have an incredible 2017 and I look forward to sharing more of our evidence with you soon and working with all of you along the way to act on what we find.

Andy Ratcliffe is the former CEO of Impetus.

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