Impetus Insights - December 2022

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Welcome to Impetus Insights... a place where we discuss ideas, articles and interesting reading about education and employment policy - and what we think it means for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We'll be sharing this every month alongside news and updates about our own policy work. We’d love to hear what you think of this edition, and what you’d like to see in future newsletters.

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Christmas and New Year is always a good a time of reflection. We’re now about 30% of the way through the decade and we’ve already had a once a century pandemic, a significant war on the European continent, and a bout of political instability that has rendered Michelle Donelan as a tricky quiz question answer (literally – at the Edge Christmas drinks very few people remembered she’d been Secretary of State for Education for a day and a half this summer).

Many people reflect over the break and decide they want a new job. If that’s you – maybe you should come and work with us! I need a policy advisor to join my team and lead our work on social and emotional learning and higher education. I promise as well as being super nerdy we’re also super fun (we played a LOT of Articulate at our team Christmas afternoon). Full job details here, and if you want a half hour chat with me before applying you can book one using this link.

Sadly, this vacancy is not because we’re expanding. After three wonderful years, Helena Vine is off to pastures new in January where she can get deeper into her passion, higher education. Helena has been the brains behind some of our coolest stuff, like our work with the Office for Students. She’s worth a follow on Twitter and a LinkedIn connection because she’s a superstar. Good luck HV – we’ll miss you.

Enjoy reading,


In this issue

  • Our thoughts on the last month’s news and announcements, from a new report on social and emotional learning to DWP’s employment data lab.
  • Some things we enjoyed reading (and listening to!) on education, employment, and purpose.
  • Some things to look forward to over the next month (but fewer than usual because Christmas 🎄🎄🎄).
  • If you get to the end, we’ll recommend our favourite mince pie options.

    News and views

    Our focus here, as at Impetus, is on the outcomes that we know work to improve the life chances of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds – educational attainment, access to higher education and sustainable employment.

    • We launched a State of the Nation report with the Centre for Education and Youth on social and emotional learning, which sets out what’s happening in practice and where we could go next. This is going to be an increasing focus of our work in the next few years, following some recent charity investments. This topic is always a bit controversial, and we’re excited to try and build consensus about what would be helpful to schools and pupils – and what wouldn’t. If you have thoughts on the potential or the pitfalls here, please do let me know.
    • We’ve been delighted to be part of the expert advisory group for DWP’s Employment Data Lab, which recently released its pilot results. This new service will benchmark different employment support interventions, measuring their success and driving up quality while plugging important ‘what works’ evidence gaps. Our longstanding charity partner Resurgo were the Data Lab’s guinea pigs: it turns out their Spear programme reduces the chances of being NEET after a year by 20%, and reduces economic inactivity by 25%. There’s so much that excites me about this! Our senior policy advisor Phoebe captured all the main points in a piece for Conservative Home.
    • UCAS end of cycle data found record numbers of 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas have been accepted onto a course. Meanwhile the IFS finds that England's poorest students will receive £1000 less support with living costs in real-terms this academic year than they would have in 2020/21. With university access improving this is actually much more important to young people's prospects than wider debates about repayment thresholds and debt levels. We support an increase in maintenance support for students - ideally as a grant rather than a loan, as recommended by the Augar review.
    • Worth reading this sentence twice to understand it, but Nesta analysis of the early years data finds children eligible for free school meals have poorer educational outcomes in affluent areas compared with their peers in more deprived local authorities. My hunch is this partly reflects the greater focus on poorer areas; and partly reflects variations in ethnic makeup between areas. But it’s a useful reminder that disadvantaged groups are not homogenous.
    • We’re proud to be one of 250 members of the Fair Education Alliance, all working towards a fairer education system. The FEA’s 2022 report card has many interesting findings (like those who have been in poverty the longest are falling further behind) and worthy recommendations (like targeting spending toward those schools and pupils who need it most).
    • Nerdier, but we always love DfE reports based on the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes dataset we used for our Youth Jobs Gap work. On this new dashboard you can see outcomes by FSM status or ethnicity – but not both. That’s something we’ll do next year in the next phase of our work. Both the dashboard and the graduate LEO report also focus on earnings, but I am very cautious about using wages as a success measure – it means becoming a teacher is less of a success than becoming a banker.

    Top reads

    Here’s our roundup of some of the most useful and thought-provoking reads across a range of interesting areas...

    • Slightly tangential but Polly Mackenzie has blogged about what she’s trying to achieve as the Chief Social Purpose Officer at the University of the Arts London. It’s full of big thoughts about what it means to have a purpose. Much to mull over.
    • A depressing new EEF report shows there is still a 3 month covid gap in reading at age 7 (though the maths gap has now closed, as have gaps at age 8). In particular, there's an increased number of very low attainers - who will likely need more intensive support. The disadvantage gap, which had widened for this group has stayed wider-than-expected (though not worsened, fortunately).
    • With thanks to the Centre for Youth Impact for flagging it, there’s an interesting international study on factors associated with NEET rates. GDP and social spending were uniquely associated with the NEET rate after controlling for the effects of other factors. Social inequality, poverty, and education spending showed borderline significant associations with the NEET rate. So to address NEET rates, try to be a wealthy country that spends money on the issue!
    • If you enjoyed Dan Corry's speech from the November edition then you will likely also enjoy his appearance on the Do One Better podcast where he expands on similar themes including how does the impact agenda relate to trust-based philanthropy? Is impact measurement too top-down? Are randomised control trials (RCTs) preferable to quicker, more iterative alternatives?
    • Data from Norway shows low stakes tests don’t improve later performance, but screening tests do benefit low-performing students and neither has a negative impact on welfare. Always an open question about whether that would replicate in a different system, but reassuring with Nick Gibb back at DfE that things like the phonics screening and multiplication check might be net positive.
    • Big Change have launched the Big Education Challenge, with a £1m prize fund for people with ideas that could transform education. Do share it with people you know with brilliant ideas!
    • I know we have a fair few US based readers – I really enjoyed this piece on The Pudding about social mobility in America. It’s a perfect mix of robust data, explored through a personal story, and as always with The Pudding it’s a beautiful thing to look at.

    Look ahead

    It’s quiet!

    Between Christmas and New Year (I never remember exactly when) we should get the New Year’s honours list.

    Saturday 14 January
    is a big date for the alternative provision community as it’s the IncludEd conference – more details here. Our Phoebe will be there, do drop her a line if you are too so that she can bump into you over coffee.

    On Thursday 19 January Bright Blue has an event on “An agenda for action on race equality” with a keynote speech from Nadhim Zahawi. The Impetus Connect Fund focusses on the employment opportunities element of this structural challenge.

    And finally...

    Our comms team insisted that this edition have a festive twist. I insisted that we try to provide readers with helpful content. We settled on some mince pie recommendations as a compromise. Here are three tips from the team:

    • Phoebe recommends Greggs. “Though a little pale looking, these humble but generously proportioned pies contain a gently-spiced citrusy filling and just happen to be vegan and alcohol-free!”
    • Our head of comms Nicola makes sure the references in this newsletter aren’t a little too niche. She’s a fan of Sainsburys bakery mince pies. “They're bigger and fresher than the ones in the boxes on the shelf, the pastry is more buttery and the filling is simple and unfancy. A proper nice mince pie”.
    • Our senior comms manager Robin is a digital guru and ensures this newsletter looks good whether you’re reading on your computer or your phone. He says “I think every mince pie I've ever eaten has been brilliant, so the true answer to 'which mince pie is your favourite?' would be ‘the one I'm currently eating’. But, if pushed, I'd go for the ones from Aldi - I like that there's loads of lemon peel in them.”

    We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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    Ben Gadsby is Head of Policy and Research at Impetus.

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