Impetus Insights - July 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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One of our Impetus values is “brave and open”. In that spirit, I wish to admit an error in last month’s Impetus Insights. I mistakenly referred to Steve and Sophie as the Impetus Bristol contingent. It turns out Rosemary is from Bristol too, and felt somewhat left out. I apologise for the oversight and hope it won’t deter you from reading this month’s summary of eye-catching things.

If you’d like to work for an organisation with “brave and open” as a value – we’re looking for a new Director of Philanthropy and Partnerships. Come help us raise the money and build the partnerships to transform lives! More here.

The next month is likely to be pretty quiet, but don’t worry, I’ve saved a few non time sensitive things to include in the August edition.

Enjoy reading,


In this issue

  • Our thoughts on the last month’s news and announcements, from Keir Starmer’s opportunity mission, our new tutoring report, and “rip off” degrees
  • Some things we enjoyed reading on the graduate premium, employment support, and post-16 education
  • Some things to look forward to over the next month if you don’t get to spend the whole month on a beach/looking after your children/covering for colleagues in the previous categories
  • If you get to the end, there’s something on trust in charities

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.

  • The big news this month is that Keir Starmer launched the fifth of Labour's missions for government - ‘Opportunity’. The line “the earnings of our children should not be determined by those of their parents” is an interesting way of framing everything. We were particularly pleased to see a commitment to oracy and speaking skills, explicitly picking up on our charity partner Voice21's work. But that’s just one of many interesting signs of direction of travel under Labour: explicitly acknowledging that more people should go to university as well as boosting technical alternatives is great to see; and no universal free school meals is also good because as we've pointed out, it's not targeted at the people who would need this support the most. Schools Week has a good summary of Labour’s long document.
  • We launched our new tutoring report with Action Tutoring, The Tutor Trust, and Get Further. We got Public First to speak to teachers, pupils and parents to report on how people feel about tutoring over the last few years. Teachers report that tutoring led to increased confidence, better pupil engagement in the classroom and reduced anxiety. This is backed up by 85% of parents who said tutoring had positively impacted their child’s confidence. As the National Tutoring Programme enters its final year, it’s time for the government to decide what it wants to happen next on tutoring – we think a continued targeted subsidy is vital to get tutoring embedded in the education system. This builds on NFER’s report on tutoring sustainability which found the reducing subsidy to be the main reason teachers were dropping out of NTP. There’s something related in the next section!
  • The government is determined to crack down on “rip off degrees”. Nobody wants young people to be “ripped off”, which is why the regulators already have powers to intervene, but we’re worried that judging the value of a degree largely by graduate salaries is a blunt instrument. Hopefully there is a sensible landing zone behind politically charged rhetoric, but given we know degree outcomes are worse for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, this policy risks becoming a disincentive to universities to offer them places. You can share our comment on Twitter (or X or whatever we’re calling it by the time you read this). Again, there’s something related in the next section!
  • A double dose of stats. On higher education, the widening participation stats show not only a record level of access to higher education for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, but also a record gap between young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and their better-off peers. To try and put these two conflicting records in context, access rates for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are over 20 years behind better off groups. Meanwhile in key stage 2 stats, disadvantaged groups are again much less likely to achieve the expected standards than their better-off peers, and the gap has grown compared to before the pandemic.

    Top reads

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

    • From Torsten Bell at the Resolution Foundation, a recent US study shows that the graduate wage premium increases significantly over time: graduates earn 27 percent more than non-graduates at 25, but that skyrockets to 60 percent by age 55. Why? Because a degree isn’t just about raising your human capital immediately (ie teaching you things) – it sorts you early in your career into jobs where you’ll keep learning. Grads move jobs lots immediately after uni (and then not very much), sorting into professional (‘non-routine’) jobs where wages rise with experience (wages stop growing after just 4 years’ experience for highly routine jobs). I draw a slightly different conclusion to Torsten though – this underlines the folly of using wages at a relatively early stage post-graduation as your major metric of the value of a degree. Useful context if you are trying to find “rip off” degrees to crack down on…
    • Select Committee reports are often a hidden goldmine of obvious good sense, and the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s employment support report meets this bar. I hope government listens to the Committee’s call to expand eligibility requirements of employment support programmes to include people who are not in receipt of benefits. This is a flaw in the current Youth Hub set up, as the report also highlights – our blueprint for Youth Hubs would be even better if Hubs were able to serve young people who are NEET but not claiming benefits. Also, it’s hard yes from our team to “DWP should undertake an analysis to understand the long-term employment outcomes of each of its programmes”. As I say, a goldmine!
    • One of the consequences of the political and media focus on schools is that colleges often get overlooked (including by me at times – another mea culpa moment). To that end, I was encouraged by the EEF review of post-16 settings. Sensible, pragmatic suggestions on how we can move towards better GCSE resit outcomes. Those of you still looking for summer holiday reading material might also enjoy the Sixth Form Colleges Association’s essays and case studies on sixth forms. 192 pages is just about right for the beach, and it has many contributors who I admire from Twitter and the education blogosphere.
    • Education Datalab’s blog on the link between teacher autonomy and outcomes is interesting. Basically, there probably isn’t one, though ultra-low autonomy is bad for job satisfaction, which is probably bad for retention. The conclusion explicitly picked up on “programmes which constrain autonomy but have been shown in rigorous evaluations to improve pupil outcomes”. One big frustration with the National Tutoring Programme rollout has been the (understandable) desire to give schools maximum flexibility in its implementation. Sadly, some of this flexibility moves the programme away from the evidence base, which sort of defeats the point. We need a more nuanced debate about teacher autonomy, and we need to hold the line in places for some limits on it.
    • It’s been a super interesting month in the education blogosphere more widely. Daisy Christodoulou has written about the attainment gap. There are more low attaining young people than before the pandemic - but also more high attainers. I suspect this doesn't show up much in a headline threshold attainment measure like a pass rate, but this it does affect schools who have to try and address these raised levels of lower attainment. Unrelated, but Education Datalab have been on fine form – they've published the only data on attendance at school on teacher strike days, plus a blog on the link between attendance and outcomes.
    • Our Youth Jobs Gap research found significant and important regional variation in NEET rates both within and between regions, so it’s great to see the APPG on Youth Employment investigating place-based approaches. There’s an interesting tension between how we can adapt interventions to local context, while ensuring we don’t move away from what’s been proven to work.

      Look ahead

      • Scotland – 8 August
      • A levels and equivalents – 17 August
      • GCSE and equivalents – 24 August

      It’s also the NEET stats on 24 August

      And in charity

      We’re a charity and a grant maker that builds high trust partnerships, so we also have an interest in things like Charity Commission’s research on trust in charities. A key take away is that the public are much less inclined to trust larger, international, professionalised charities than smaller, local, volunteer-run concerns. This is because the latter are often easier to identify with and “can demonstrate a more straightforward link between donations and impact”. A charity whose work is more readily understood and supported is also one which is more likely to be trusted. This is food for thought, not least because our view would be that professionalised charities are more likely to have an impact as they can bring in the skills they need to do so. Interesting stuff.

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      Ben Gadsby is Head of Policy and Research at Impetus.

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