Impetus Insights - January 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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It’s never too late for a new year’s resolution, because you can choose to do things differently at any time, and new year is entirely arbitrary time to do so. But, in an effort to be vaguely topical (gong hei fat choy to those celebrating lunar new year), I thought I would let you know I have resolved to continue trying to offer you helpful and interesting content once a month.

From my folder marked “helpful”, if you know a charity that would like to have a funded intern, check out our charity partner Career Ready. They’re offering funding for charities to cover the cost of hosting a young person for a paid, summer internship.

From my folder marked “interesting”, this article from Works in Progress about university statistics courses. It argues there’s too big a gulf between the introductory courses many undergrads and postgrads get, and the level of professional statisticians. This leads to research findings that potentially reflect methodological choices or assumptions, not reality. As Impetus’ resident “man who knows enough to be able to talk to the researchers, right?” this resonated with me and brought back memories of nodding sagely when the Bonferroni correction comes up in meetings. Google helped. A bit.

I also resolve not to scare people off by mentioning the Bonferroni correction in the intro again.

Enjoy reading,


In this issue

  • Our thoughts on the last month’s news and announcements, from maths to jobcentres to alternative provision - and where you can hear me reveal what I was like at school
  • Some things we enjoyed reading on school spending and student retention – and something we didn’t enjoy reading on domestic violence
  • If you get to the end, you can have something random on obesity

    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 a maths grad, I always like it when maths makes the front page of the newspapers. (I am less happy when it doesn’t make the groovy social media graphic). But worth remembering that young people who don’t get GCSE maths by 16 already have to keep going – but they are unlikely to catch up. If I had maths policy firepower, this is where I’d aim it.
    • You may have missed it last month, but we launched our new State of the Nation report with the Centre for Education and Youth on social and emotional learning (SEL), which sets out what’s happening in practice and where we could go next. If you missed it, never fear! We had a joint article in TES this month. We’re interested in how SEL drives attainment – for interesting contrasts we have a new US randomised controlled trial which shows arts education improves behaviour but not test scores; and new academic research which shows mindfulness-based meditation practices improve students' mental health and non-cognitive skills AND grades in the long term - but actually decrease grades in the short term. Why is nothing ever straightforward?
    • UCAS have confirmed that they plan to remove the personal statement from 2025 entry onwards to be replaced by a series of questions. For the parents among you - this will affect the cohort currently in Year 11 (and younger). I worry that, like post-qualification admissions, this is one of those things that sounds good for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds on the surface, but the detail will really matter. If you have thoughts, let me know.
    • Really thoughtful piece from Aveek Bhattacharya at SMF about why Jobcentres may not be the best place to provide support to over 50s out of the labour market and not claiming universal credit. The same arguments could largely apply to young people too. This is one of our live internal debates – I think you probably can’t bypass JCP entirely, senior policy advisor Phoebe is very keen to build something new. Views welcome! And for a vision of what better could look like, check out our Youth Hubs blueprint (follow up coming soon!).
    • Do exclusions cause an increase in crime? The Behavioural Insights Team has done the research and say yes. But my sense is that BIT are right to be tentative in their conclusion; I’m worried about school quality as a confounding factor. There’s also been some interesting chat on social media about the limits of the methodological choices – my twitter replies are full of discussion on how to use instrumental variables properly and I can’t help but think back to that point about stats training… Anyway, it’s still the best evidence we’ve seen on something a lot of people are concerned about, so I don’t think it can be ignored.
    • I also did the qualified tutor podcast (transcript) where we talked about all things tutoring, I attempted to make research sound worthwhile and interesting, and I revealed what I was really like at school.

      Recommended reading

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

      • The guys at Education Datalab have looked at the LEO data again, reporting on long-term outcomes for the long-term disadvantaged. It reinforces their regular finding that the longer you’re disadvantaged, the worse your outcomes – in this case, looking at being NEET at 22. I guess the key question is – how much of this evidence do we need before policy starts explicitly focussing on this group?
      • Pro bono economics have found that young people with more risk factors for exclusion have worse wellbeing. Which one of those things causes the other (if either)? Second time that question has had an airing. Sticking with exclusions and coming back to Education Datalab’s (again), their blog on destinations of permanently excluded pupils is interesting. The appendix has the most detail, with breakdowns by year group.
      • Prepublication meta-analysis finds that increases in school spending drive an increase in outcomes, and average effects are much larger (and large effects more likely) for low-income populations. Will be bookmarking it for future spending reviews.
      • This research on "how to reduce early withdrawals by 16- to 19-year-olds from full-time courses" will doubtless have uses. You can probably use the data in it to benchmark dropout rates if you are so inclined, and the college case studies also draw out some strategies that may or may not be useful. I don't think there's any rocket science in it, but I think it's the first time I've seen the strategic and operational stuff laid out neatly in just a few sides.
      • Research on young people in the post pandemic labour market continues to be mostly positive (hence the reason the discourse has shifted to the over 50s). In the very here and now, the monthly IES briefing of the labour market stats points out that the number of young people outside of full-time education or employment has slightly increased – unclear if this is a return to pre-pandemic normality or the start of a trend foreshadowing tricky times. Meanwhile the IFS says the economic recovery and increase in job vacancies since 2021 has allowed newer entrants to the job market to recover ground (with the one exception being around disadvantaged groups, naturally). But will new factors like widespread home-working reduce the quality of on-the-job training in a way that has a long-term impact?
      • Grim reading, but I think it’s important to highlight articles that outline how (some) children live their lives. This piece explores domestic violence from the perspective of the children who witness it, who are effect victims too. Trigger warnings aplenty.

      Look ahead

      Tuesday 31 January we get a DfE data release on HE student data for 21-22. They promise “detailed open tables”.

      Thursday 2 February is a big one, with the revised GCSE statistics out – these are the ones that tell us how last year’s results breakdown rich vs poor. Keep an eye on Impetus twitter for our reaction on the morning.

      The week of 6 February is children’s mental health week.

      Thursday 23 February ONS release NEET data broken down by age and sex.

      And finally...does college selectivity reduce obesity?

      How else to follow our mince pie recommendations last month (under 10 months until they are on sale again!) but with a paper that looks at long term outcomes of university education…

      This paper uses US data to investigate whether the quality of university education, as measured by how selective a university is, causally affects obesity prevalence in the medium run (by age 24-34) and in the longer run (about 10 years later). The headline finding is that attending a more selective university does causally reduce obesity, both in the medium and in the longer run. The paper offers evidence that this happens through a variety of methods, including an increase in income, a reduction in physical inactivity and a reduction in the consumption of fast food and sweetened drinks. Add this to the list of reasons more young people should go to university, and why focussing on graduate wages as the measure of success is too narrow.

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      Ben Gadsby is Head of Policy and Research at Impetus.

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