Impetus Insights - February 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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The tenuous email introduction theme for February is Valentine’s Day, so here are some bits and pieces from the people and organisations Impetus loves or is in a relationship with.

We love our ever-busy board chair Hanneke Smits. This month, she gave an interview to the Telegraph as she took on the chairmanship of women in leadership campaign, the 30% club.

Our sister charity the EEF launched their spring grant round. My favourite of the three themes is supporting English and maths resits in post-16 settings, an area where Impetus would love to fund more charities, but we always struggle to find people working in this difficult space. Please do share this with your networks – closing date 3 April!

As a long-term funder of Resurgo, we love their impact, and were delighted when they agreed to be one of the first organisations to go through the new DWP Employment Datalab evaluation service – Resurgo reduces the chances of young people being out of work after a year by 20%. You can hear from them, and me, and the datalab team in this video of a recent ERSA webinar.

Those of you wishing I’d gone for pancakes as the theme rather than Valentines should be aware that I considered it, but I suspect pancake day content would have you unsubscribing in your shroves…

So much has happened over the last month this is a fatter issue than usual. I promise to give up exceeding my wordcount for Lent.

Enjoy reading,


In this issue

    • Our thoughts on the last month’s news and announcements, from tutoring to free school meals to young carers.
    • Some things we enjoyed reading on civil society and outcomes and adverse childhood experiences.
    • Some things to look forward to over the next month – including books, budgets, and birthdays.
    • If you get to the end, you can have something unexpected about building a better world.

    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 National Audit Office released a report on education recovery - there's a helpful summary of the key points in TES here. Having been involved in getting the National Tutoring Programme off the ground, I am always interested in NTP stats and one noteworthy one is that in 2021-22 just half of those having tutoring under the NTP were disadvantaged. This is frustratingly low – for context, our charity partners Action Tutoring and The Tutor Trust are both in the 65-70% range. Better is possible! And the NAO has a series of sensible recommendations on how to get to a world where tutoring is embedded in the school system.
    • Who should get free school meals? O vexed question! The LGA have made the very sensible points that a) the eligibility threshold is due a review (this is especially true given inflation) and b) once you have eligibility criteria, you should just automatically enrol people. We wholeheartedly agree with this plan which, as they put it would “ensure all children in poverty are entitled to at least one hot meal per day”. Less sensibly, the Mayor of London is funding free school meals for all primary pupils next year. As we pointed out to the BBC, there are also likely to be negative knock on effects in terms of school funding. I wish the Mayor had funded breakfast for disadvantaged pupils instead – it would have better targeted those most in need.
    • Unexpected chuckle at the DfE’s “Participation measures in higher education” stats release. In recent years this annual release had been regularly reported as showing that “more than half” of young people are going to university. The only problem with this story is that the data doesn’t actually show this. It’s misunderstood – or deliberately misused, if you’re cynical. Anyway, it looks like a civil servant has clearly got as annoyed as me at this, and changed to a new cohort methodology which doesn’t allow the same easy media story to be told. On this measure, the overall HE entry percentage by age 25 was 47% - up from 45.2% for the previous cohort. This is the highest in the series – but no howls of outrage.
    • Of course, entry to university is only part of the story, and it was neither unexpected nor chuckle worthy that the Sutton Trust found a quarter of university students are at risk of dropping out of university due to cost of living. Since the start of the autumn term 63% report having spent less on food and essentials, with 28% saying they had skipped meals to save on food costs. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to report skipping meals to save on food costs (33% for those from working class families, compared to 24% of middle class students), with lower proportions of working class students receiving additional support from their parents (38% vs 48%), or other family members (9% vs 12%). Student maintenance support, which was already not high enough, is going up by just 2.8% next year. Not good enough.
    • ​​​At Impetus, our focus is on young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. I often get asked about outcomes for young carers, and the answer is always “don’t know”. The latest census data though is a good starting point though and finds approximately 120,000 young unpaid carers (aged between 5 and 17 years) in England (1.4% of 5- to 17-year-olds). Good news for those of you who want to know more – DfE are starting to collect this detail now via schools, and I am hopeful we might see some data next year.

      Recommended reading

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

      • The latest set of research on the labour market value of higher and further education qualifications is interesting. It’s great to see a move towards trying to control for student and university characteristics to measure “value add” in outcomes. Attending HE is associated with 19% higher earnings for men and for women, this figure is 24%. For FE the picture is more complicated which makes it harder to summarise earnings outcomes. Yet more evidence to suggest that going to HE is probably a Good Thing for young people.
      • Semi relatedly, and much to my surprise… better outcomes at 11 have now been shown to boost labour market outcomes. A one standard deviation improvement in KS2 test scores is estimated to be associated with a boost to earnings of around 24% in the early thirties, equivalent to almost £7,000 at age 33. The equivalent improvement in maths has a three-times larger effect on earnings. Obviously, this is mostly because it is associated with better qualifications at older ages. When controlling for this, improved attainment in maths remains significant, suggesting the skills acquired hold intrinsic value in the labour market. This is simultaneously feasible... but also nuts?! Anyway, disadvantaged pupils have a 5-percentage point larger boost to their likelihood of employment through their late twenties and early thirties, compared to their more well-off peers, from the same improvement in KS2 attainment. School matters, people!
      • The final report from the Law Family Commission on the role of civil society is out. Among other things they conclude that, a radical shift in approach from funders is needed, away from short-term funding, restrictive grants and contracts, and towards support for core costs; and investment in people, processes and organisational development. Secondly, they propose funders should encourage and support charities to collect, use and share high quality data. Thirdly, they say that as part of a radical shift in their funding, more grant-makers should offer long-term, flexible funding, invest in building charities’ capabilities, and streamline their application and management processes. All things we can happily endorse. Some, like unrestricted funding, are core to how Impetus operates. Others, like more streamlined management processes, are a bit more of a work in progress.
      • The DfE’s state of the nation report on young people’s mental health and wellbeing is worth a bookmark. Once again, secondary-age boys reported better wellbeing than girls throughout the 2021/22 academic year on all measures. And yet, once again, they got worse GCSE results! Wellbeing matters, but it seems unlikely to be a big driver of attainment.
      • This is a good time to remind readers that we like to share things we don’t necessarily agree with. Impetus is unashamedly outcomes focussed, so I felt somewhat provoked by this blog which effectively argues that a focus on outcomes is in conflict with a focus on diversity considerations. Killer line: "what was supposed to be the means of delivering the desired outcome becomes, in the absence of the outcome, the purported end of the policy". While I may be biased, my critique would be that this is not inevitable, and part of the reason we’re unashamed about our impact and outcomes focus is to avoid this sort of accidental drift.
      • I am always interested in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which I wish we had administrative data on as I wager it would be a better predictor of poor life outcomes that current proxies like free school meal eligibility. This research review is a good starting point if you’d like to know more about them (h/t The Difference fortnightly newsletter)

      Look ahead

      Wednesday 1 March is National Secondary Offer Day. Good luck to all those awaiting news of their tween’s school from September, including my boss Steve.

      Thursday 2 March is World Book Day. Part of our service to you is to give more notice of this than your costume-needing children will… It’s also the annual NEET statistics that day.

      Tuesday 7 March is the launch of the Skillsbuilder Essential Skills Tracker. If you are at the launch, come say hi; if you are not, don’t worry, we’ll update you next month.

      Wednesday 15 March is Budget Day.

      Saturday 18 March is the date we celebrate the official birthday of the Youth Employment Group. Please feel free to send cake.

      And finally...

      Scientists study the world that is. Engineers create the world that has never been... In a nutshell, I’ve been on a quest to find the right institutional home for the work to create the world that has never been. 

      I am sure many readers will identify with the idea of trying to create the world that has never been – I know I did. But which kinds of institutions are best placed to do this, and deliver what we might call “meaningful change”? This article concluded (in the actual engineering space) that the right institutional home does not exist and so needs to be created. I see some parallels with the social impact space and so my question is – what institutions are we missing? Answers on a postcard – or by reply if you prefer.

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      Ben Gadsby is Head of Policy and Research at Impetus.

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