Impetus Insights - August 2023

Impetus Insights Ben 1

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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This email is arriving on GCSE results day, so let me start by taking the opportunity to send best wishes to all those of you whose relatives have been receiving results today or in recent weeks. If results more closely match the World Cup experience of the USA than Spain, you don’t have to wait four years to try again and you almost certainly still have good options, even if they aren’t your first choice.

We don’t get figures on how the results have varied for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds for a few more months. Still, it could be worse – if you’re a Muslim student waiting for a student finance product that’s shariah compliant, you’ll be waiting until at least 2025. Policy change always takes time, and obviously it’s important to get it right – but this has been in the works since 2014. Can we do no better?

August is also peak holiday season of course – whether you’ve had a break or have one coming up, I hope you get some time to recharge before the autumn kicks in.

Enjoy reading,


In this issue

  • Our thoughts on the last month’s news and announcements, from exam results to the labour market to small towns
  • Some things we “enjoyed” reading on exclusions, the national student survey, and absence
  • Some things to look forward to over the next month, including an invite to our Parliamentary event on Employment Data Lab
  • If you get to the end, there’s something on how the early years matter

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.

  • As it’s results season, let’s recap some headlines. The major trend has been the fall in top grades as we return to 2019 levels of grading. SchoolsWeek has loads of coverage of the 26% fall in top grades, including seven trends from the data. There are similar stories in Scotland, though they have opted for a less dramatic drop compared to last year and so results are above 2019 levels. We also got results for new vocational T levels, where I was most interested in the dropout rate - one in three apparently didn’t complete the two year course. It is not uncommon for vocational courses to have very high dropout rates, but that will need to improve if T levels are to become a permanent fixture of the qualifications landscape.
  • This is also the time of year when people start asking if we really need exams anyway. This from CfEY is a good primer on some of the trade-offs. But it’s worth remembering that at the core of this debate is the problem that subjective measures are the ones that slant most towards advantaged groups – see for example this from the US, or what happened here with teacher assessed grades during the pandemic.
  • We are proud to be a founding partner of the National Tutoring Programme and always watch its progress with interest. The stats for the last academic year show 76% of schools using NTP, with the programme approaching 4 million courses of tutoring started, which is very cool. Around 48% of pupils accessing tutoring are from disadvantaged backgrounds which is good, but could be better. We are officially entering the last year of the programme – so surely government will extend such a high profile and well used scheme? I hope they hurry up so schools can get planning!
  • Tying together the last three items is the evaluation of the 16 to 19 tuition fund. 16 to 19 is so often overlooked and while the scheme is slightly different to the NTP for schools, it most certainly needs extending too. One interesting point was colleges reporting “some students had teacher-assessed grades that did not appear to be an accurate or true representation of the students’ current learning level”. This probably shouldn’t be a huge surprise, and it’s a good reminder that the knock-on implications of the pandemic are still very live for the education system.
  • Away from the schools system, the monthly labour market statistics are troubling. Economic inactivity due to long-term sickness is at record highs (2.5m), with over 800,000 people reporting five or more health conditions and depression a very common condition (over 1m). Though the data doesn’t specifically give us much detail about the experiences of young people, we do know the headline levels of long-term sickness among young people are growing. We also know that growth in longer-term unemployment is being driven in particular by younger people.
  • I loved loved loved this ONS analysis of educational outcomes in different sized towns. It finds results are better in small towns BUT when I look at the underlying data, I found this seems to be due to deprivation – children generally do worse in smaller towns than similarly deprived medium sized towns. I wrote about what it all means for CapX

    Top reads

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

    • Last month, we talked about “rip off degrees” (lack thereof). This month, the official national student survey finds 75%+ satisfaction on a range of measures around teaching, resources, and student support. This makes university slightly more popular among students than Barack Obama is among Brits, and about as popular as the UK’s most popular event Christmas. You can see NSS results here, and compare them with various YouGov ratings here.
    • The first set of post-pandemic exclusion statistics has been released. (As a rule at Impetus, we are mostly ignoring 2020 and 2021 data on education matters given how different things were in schools). Rates of permanent exclusions are lower than in the period before the pandemic, but fixed term exclusions are up at new highs. Given that a fixed term exclusion is a step towards receiving a permanent exclusion for many young people, this could be a sign of trouble ahead. We’ll have more to say on exclusions going forward, starting next month.
    • Ahead of the new academic year, research suggests young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to live at home while studying at university next year, due to the cost of living. As well as being much less likely to apply for university at all, young people from families using foodbanks who did apply for university were much more likely to plan on living at home (31% vs 19%).
    • The Institute for Fiscal Studies has released a report detailing the impact of the pandemic and resulting labour market instability, on the social and emotional development of young people. It’s based on a parent survey, and shows half of all children suffered a setback to their emotional and social development during the first year of the pandemic with those aged 4-7 more likely to have experienced a deterioration in their skills than 12- to 15-year-olds. We’re funding some charities focussing on social and emotional learning to try and address some of these issues.
    • The Youth Futures Foundation have released the Youth Employment Toolkit. This is the first iteration of the summary of evidence on interventions that are used to help young people who are out of work get jobs. Worth bookmarking if you are interested in funding or implementing a youth employment intervention.
    • An opportunity to use the meme about comms vs policy. The CSJ’s school absence tracker is a vital resource, with the most severe types of absence basically twice as common as before the pandemic. We’ll have a report out on absences next month. The very sober (crime-free) policy report is accompanied by a press release suggesting this risks a tidal wave of youth crime – “9,000 extra young offenders by 2027”. I think this is a bit of a stretch, but there are certainly a lot of risks of people missing out on education.

      Look ahead

      Tuesday 12 September is both Labour market stats day AND the provisional statistics on key stage 2 tests.

      We’re also hosting a breakfast event in Parliament on Tuesday 12 September, to talk about the DWP’s Employment Data Lab (I’m on the advisory board) and data-driven policy-making. The Employment Data Lab is a new government service to measure the impact of employment interventions, and we are hosting the event with our charity partner Resurgo who were the first organisation to go through it (unsurprisingly and impressively, Resurgo’s intervention reduces the chances of being NEET after a year by 20%). We have a few spaces left, so if you want to come let me know by reply.

        And finally...early years matters

        At Impetus we don’t work on Early Years projects – there’s plenty of people who know far more about very young children than us. But we also know they are massively important to the issues we care about. From January, longitudinal research shows association between early regulatory problems (eg excessive crying beyond 3 months) and cognitive and behavioural problems as adults.

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        Ben Gadsby is Head of Policy and Research at Impetus.

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