Impetus Insights - April 2023

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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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Since the last edition of Impetus Insights a new financial year has kicked off, so the tenuous theme for this email is “new beginnings”.

Internally, we’re looking for the next cohort of leaders for our Impetus Leadership Academy. The Impetus Leadership Academy is a leadership development programme to support talent from ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK youth sector to progress into senior leadership roles and contribute to the national conversation on issues facing young people from ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK. Check your eligibility, find out more, and apply by Friday 19 May on our website.

Externally, we are proud members of the Fair Education Alliance and send congratulations to all their 2023 award winners. We’re pleased to see our charity partner Khulisa awarded a scaling award, alongside former charity partners Magic Breakfast and Power 2. A shoutout also to Get Further, which was set up in part as a response to our 2017 report on the low pass rates for GCSE English and maths resits.

Belated Eid Mubarak to those of you who celebrated.

Enjoy reading,


In this issue

  • Our thoughts on the last month’s news and announcements, from maths, to exclusions, to Eeyore (not the donkey).
  • Some things we enjoyed reading on growing up today, better measures of poverty, and whether money makes you happy.
  • Some things to look forward to over the next month – including several bank holidays, the Youth Employment Group meeting, and exams and testing dates (though we appreciate people are more likely to be looking forward to them being over than anything else).
  • If you get to the end, there’s not a tall story for you.

    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 Office for Students released the Equality of Opportunity Risk Register, or EORR (pronounced Eeyore). It was launched in Parliament to an interested audience including our own Ayesha. The risk register draws together the key drivers of worse outcomes for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as applicants' perceptions of HE or the advice they get. These are the kinds of things our charity partners like IntoUniversity work on, and hopefully EORR will help the whole sector work to tackle these issues.
    • Our friends at our sister charity EEF have been running the Accelerator Fund for government, to develop and scale up evidence-informed programmes to boost attainment in English and maths. The recent evaluation shows the fund is working well, which is why it’s being expanded. CEO Becky Francis has an op-ed in SchoolsWeek outlining some of the key findings, my favourite was the quote from a staff member “The EEF team had limited previous experience in supporting capacity building. But this project has definitely developed our knowledge in this area”. This is super news, given the importance of capacity building to helping organisations scale well.
    • The latest set of National Tutoring Programme statistics are something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, there have been over 3.3 million course starts on tutoring, which I have to say I wouldn’t have believed when we first sat down with friends at EEF et al to try and plan how tutoring could be used as part of the pandemic response. On the other hand, there really isn’t very much data to tell you how the programme is going this year – certainly not enough to make decisions about how to improve the programme. Better data to drive programme improvement was one of our recommendations in last summer’s report on NTP’s Missing Middle.
    • Rishi Sunak’s “maths to 18” made the news again as he put some more flesh on the bones. It was particularly pleasing to see deep in the detail “intensive Maths Hubs support for the schools that need it most. They will also provide further support for teachers of 16–19 year olds who are resitting their maths GCSE or Functional Skills Qualifications.” This is the most underserved and disproportionately disadvantaged group and it’s great to see they haven’t been forgotten.
    • The UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO) had a fun report on Evidence-Based Policy Priorities. They have identified post-qualification admission to higher education as one, which we’re pretty sceptical about as it would be difficult to implement. To be fair to the CEPEO team though they have thought about this, and their solutions address one of our key issues by making sure applications happen when students are in school and can receive support. It does, however, require either a rejig of the school calendar or, less disruptively, all exams to take place in a 4 week window. Hmmm.
    • The latest exclusions statistics have been released. Persistent disruptive behaviour was, as is typical, the most common reason given for permanent (35%) and fixed term (43%) exclusions. Our Engage Fund charities work on these issues, and we plan to have some research out this summer exploring GCSE outcomes for pupils who experience fixed term exclusions, about which very little is known. Watch this space!

    Top reads

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

    • What does it mean to be a boy online in 2023? This is the question the FT Magazine covers in an enjoyable long read. A great insight into what it’s actually like growing up today and the perils of Andrew Tate, YouTube etc. “I feel like there’s more important stuff, or you want there to be more important stuff,” one 13-year-old boy who had stopped watching (YouTuber) MrBeast told me. Deep.
    • Does money make you happy? There has previously been some disagreement in the literature. Daniel Kahneman found that more money didn’t make people happier beyond about $100k/year (~£80k). Matthew Killingsworth found it did. They worked together and discovered that Kahneman was right for the least happy 20% of the population and Killingsworth was right for everyone else. As one blogger put it “this is a rare but welcome example of going from a failed replication to an actual understanding of what went wrong and what the truth is”. I am moving on from my usual cynical advice to people that money only matters up to a certain point to better reflect this finding. Turns out, for 80% of people, money can buy you happiness.
    • Praise for the government from us for restarting work on a better measure of poverty. This builds on the excellent Social Metrics Commission work of a few years ago that tries to move beyond relatively one size fits all income measures of poverty, towards a system that acknowledges different family structures and parts of the country have different costs. Hopefully there is enough political stability now to see this work to fruition.
    • Statistics on Outcomes for Children in Need (children referred to local authority social care services because their health or development is at risk in some way, e.g. child protection plans, in care etc). Nearly one in 10 pupils in 2021/22 have been a child in need in the last 6 years. Anyway, outcomes: children in need were roughly half as likely to achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics at Key Stage 2 compared to the overall pupil population. They also perform less well than their peers across all Key Stage 4 measures (with their overall average Attainment 8 score being broadly less than half of that of the overall pupil population).
    • The APPG for Students has published a report into the financial position of students amidst the cost-of-living crisis, building on previous reports from the OfS, the IFS, the ONS, and the Sutton Trust. Lots of sensible inflation-induced measures such as increasing student maintenance loans to restore the real value of support and increasing the lower household income threshold for the maximum student loan which has been frozen by successive governments since 2008. Day to day living costs are a bigger issue for students than tuition fees/”debt” discussions.
    • If the above APPG report is very much “answers”, then the “questions” are posed by the Office for Students (OfS) insight brief on the impact that increasing living costs are having on students. Lots of detail. But some choice findings include one in five students saying that they had considered dropping out and nearly half saying they have cut back on spending on food shopping over the last six months. There’s also an interesting list about what universities are doing about all this.

    Look ahead

    W/c 9 May is Key Stage 2 testing week, good luck to our 10- and 11-year-old readers.

    W/c 15 May is the start of GCSE exam season, good luck due here too.

    Tuesday 16 May is labour market stats day.

    Wednesday 24 May is next month’s Youth Employment Group meeting.

    And finally...

    ...not a tall story.

    We’re not making it up. New data shows that at age 11, boys from the most deprived neighbourhoods are, on average, 1.3cm shorter than boys from the richest neighbourhoods. For girls, it's 0.6cm. You can also break this down by ethnicity which is fascinating. The height gap in boys is biggest among white British boys (1.53cm), almost twice as wide as the next biggest group of boys (white and black African). The height gap for white British girls (0.84cm) is second to Asian Bangladeshi girls (0.96cm). Asian Bangladeshi is one of only two ethnicities where the gap is bigger between girls than boys (alongside black Africans). And I haven't even covered which ethnicities are taller... It reminds me a lot of our Youth Jobs Gap work (early plug for our next reports, out later this year) where the interaction between different characteristics is a complicated pattern.

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    Ben Gadsby is Head of Policy and Research at Impetus.

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