Impetus Insights - March 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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A couple of quick parish notices this month, before we dive into another eclectic mix of interesting things.

Firstly, I am delighted to introduce our new policy advisor Ayesha Baloch. Ayesha joins us with experience from the worlds of think tanks, campaigns and Parliament and has already established herself as what one colleague described to me as an energetic hire. Ayesha will be looking after our work on higher education and on social and emotional learning. Please do drop her a line if you want to chat about these topics.

We’ve obviously been onboarding recently, which got me thinking about useful resources for onboarding in policy roles. A lot of it obviously is organisation or role specific, but this blog on researching a new topic probably takes it a bit far, but is a useful starting point for an organisation like ours that leans towards developing a deep understanding of topics.

We also announced £600k in grants to four new charity partners supporting young people from ethnic minority backgrounds into employment - Babbasa, Generation UK, IMO Charity and Sister System. You can read more about what they’re up to and why we like them on our website.

Finally, less of a parish notice and more of a public service announcement. If you’re in the UK remember those clocks spring forward an hour this coming Sunday morning (26 March). Any readers in the US can safely ignore this message as you were supposed to put yours forward two weeks ago. We hope you’re enjoying living in an hour in the future.

Enjoy reading,


In this issue

  • Our thoughts on the last month’s news and announcements, from the budget, to the alternative provision improvement plan, to House of Lords inquiries.
  • Some things we enjoyed reading on a potential Labour government, tutoring, and finding out “what works” for policy.
  • Some things to look forward to over the next month – including government stats releases, the FEA awards, and (we think) an announcement on higher education reforms.
  • If you get to the end, you can have something unexpected about teeth.

    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.

    • You can’t possibly have missed the Chancellor’s Budget – the first thing that comes to mind is probably the massive expansion of childcare, which is very much being pitched as a win for parents (to cut costs and/or help them work). But an ambitious approach would be to devise schemes that tick the childcare box while also being a big win for children – for example, our former charity partner Magic Breakfast runs clubs that offer both childcare AND food for hungry children AND there’s a proven boost to attainment. Let’s hope the Government’s pathfinder process identifies more win-win-wins.
    • Political focus on the labour market remains concentrated on those aged 50+, with disabilities, or with children. But the annual NEET statistics for 2022 showed that the number of 18 to 24 year olds who are NEET has increased to 14.5%, an increase of 2 percentage points since 2021. That means NEET rates for this age group are at their highest for nearly decade. As think tanks like the CPS have pointed out, young people have seen the biggest increases in economic inactivity. This is not a problem that has been solved, by any means, even as it seems to move away from being top of the list.
    • The SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan is big news, even if it didn’t make the front pages. There was lots to welcome – a push towards more stable funding in alternative provision; a clearer performance framework based on meaningful outcomes like post-16 destinations; and greater transparency on pupil movements. The real question is how much of this will actually be delivered as the current Parliament begins to run out of time, with the possibility of a new government in 18 months’ time. You can read more about Impetus’ work in Alternative Provision through our Engage Fund on our website.
    • The latest Skills Builder Essential Skills Tracker was launched. I always enjoy Skills Builder’s innovative research and their thoughtfully curated launch events. Highlights from this year included: continued evidence of a wage premium for having better Essential Skills, as strong a link between these skills and job satisfaction as the income link (obviously heavy interaction here), and a first effort to estimate the economic impact of low skills levels. It seems clear to me the Essential Skills Framework is measuring something meaningful, and we would all do well to coalesce around it.
    • We got more details on the Government’s Lifelong Learning Entitlement. Lots of positives, especially that maintenance support will be expanded to be offered across all eligible technical and part-time courses. This is the big barrier for lots of people getting back into education. Also, it’s a win that the rule previously preventing you from returning to study at the same level as your previous qualifications has been removed – as I often point out to people, I have a level 4 qualification in accountancy but if I was going to retrain as an engineer, I wouldn’t be ready to start at level 5! Less positively, the funding is still loans, which is a problem for Muslim students for whom paying interest is forbidden. Everyone agrees that this needs solving but the announcement says it won’t be sorted by 2025/26. Sigh.
    • The House of Lords has annoyed me a bit. The Industry and Regulators Committee isn’t one I had come across before, but it makes sense for them to have an inquiry into the work of the Office for Students. Less explicably, none of the 12 questions on the call for evidence covers access and participation, which is definitely a big part of what OfS regulates. We’re writing to them to point out the oversight! The new Lords Education for 11-16 Year Olds Committee also came across my desk, but it turns out they are explicitly looking at skills for the digital and green economy. Is that really the biggest issue in 11-16 education right now?! My reaction to these developments is what I call angry Pingu.

      Top reads

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

      • Labour leader Keir Starmer wrote a 3,000-word piece for the New Statesman all about his “mission-driven politics,” - Labour's approach will be ambitious goals rather than promises and pledges. He writes: “Missions have the potential to galvanize all parts of government and civil society and provide focus. That means the missions need to be real and rooted in people’s lives — in each case a North Star to keep our eyes on the prize, to prevent the demands of the day-to-day from taking over, or the endless dramas of Westminster politics from distracting us." We spend a lot of time helping charities with their missions, but young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are always at the centre. Our main reflection would be that at the heart of every mission should be clear understanding of the people that will be impacted through your mission, and what it is you ultimately want to achieve.
      • Nerdy but interesting NFER discussion paper on how to measure pupil disadvantage. I think we probably agree with the thrust of this, not least because some the points about how benefit reform risk making it harder to tell if the attainment gap between young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and their better off peers is closing, echo points we made in some of the first things I worked on for Impetus five years ago.
      • Here's a pair of interesting essays (one, two) published on the same day that look at the quality of the evidence about the link between social media and teenage mental health. Like me, the authors are sceptical about causal links. But a review of the evidence leads to a revised conclusion. I feel like I don't know enough about this to really comment, but based on my wider sense of twitter, blogs, reports etc I am definitely becoming less sceptical over time about the idea that social media is bad for teenagers.
      • Cool new research from Bristol University on the underexplored topic of school admissions processes. They've looked at all the secondary school admissions policies to produce the best summary of what schools do we've ever seen. 40% of secondary schools give some priority to children of staff... 5% use pupil premium. Not sure if this is a surprise or not.
      • Two useful tutoring things. I always like to keep in touch with what’s happening in the US, and this summary from Hechinger Report is useful on the evidence base – both the relatively longstanding stuff and what’s been learned in the pandemic and post-pandemic era. In the UK, the Sutton Trust have a new paper on access to tutoring. It looks like the National Tutoring Programme is bringing something nearer parity - a gap of almost 15 percentage points in private tutoring narrows to one of less than 3 percentage points in all tutoring.
      • Stian Westlake’s Guardian article on using randomised control trials to get a better idea of “what works” in policy gets a thumbs up from me 👍👍. Impetus spends a lot of time building high impact organisations to get them ready to prove their impact; and almost as much time supporting proven interventions to expand. If anyone wants to partner on bringing this kind of rigour to policymaking, please do get in touch.

      Look ahead

      The week commencing 27 March is an exciting one as UCAS will be sharing their enhanced guidance and accompanying exemplars on changes to personal statements and references. More speculative than our usual entries - but we’re also expecting the Office for Students to announce their reforms to Access and Participation Plans early in the week.

      Thursday 30 March sees the release of the latest batch of 16 to 18 attainment statistics.

      Tuesday 18 April is the next batch of labour market stats in the morning, and then the Fair Education Alliance awards in the evening – register here, and do say hi if you are coming!

      Thursday 20 April is the next batch of government statistics on the National Tutoring Programme.

      Friday 28 April is the Voice21 conference.

      And finally...

      I am not sure what percentage of readers spotted the "Hospital tooth extractions in 0 to 19 year olds 2022" dataset – it’s certainly worth chewing over. The most interesting finding to me was that tooth extraction is three times more common in the poorest areas as the richest – see figure 4. I suggest we refer to this as the “dental gaps gap”. Puns aside, it’s a reminder of the many ways that growing up in poverty is linked to worse outcomes for young people.

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      Ben Gadsby is Head of Policy and Research at Impetus.

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