Impetus Insights - November 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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Thanks to everyone who filled in the survey last month – we’re analysing your feedback and will make some subtle tweaks in the New Year. Before that, the last edition of Impetus Insights of 2023 will be with you on 14 December rather than 21 December – covering, among other things, the Autumn Statement, which will have already happened by the time you read this but not in time for what I still insist on calling the “print” deadline.

The Government reshuffle probably won’t change too much in terms of policy, but it does mark the departure from Government of (former) Schools Minister Nick Gibb, who has been a Minister or Shadow Minister for most of the last 15 years. In an era of Ministerial churn, he has had noteworthy longevity. John Blake, the Director for Fair Access and Participation at the Office for Students, has always enjoyed satirising it on twitter.

As a former accountant, perhaps Nick Gibb will be open to joining the Impetus Resource and Audit Committee? This is probably a better fit than our Digital Advisory Group… If either of these sound like your cup of tea, we are looking for new non-Execs. Please do spread the word, alongside festive cheer, in your networks.

Enjoy reading,


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In this issue

  • Our thoughts on the last month’s news and announcements, from attendance to skills training to destitution
  • Some things we enjoyed reading on public sector performance, alternative provision quality, and Scotland
  • Some things to look forward to over the next month, from PISA to ERSA #acronyms
  • If you get to the end, there’s something on colonoscopies

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 interest in school attendance continues unabated. The Children’s Commissioner has a new report out. It is thorough, covers a wide range of issues, and has clearly been written by someone who read the report we commissioned from Public First from a few months ago. A particular highlight is the recommendation that “every school attendance policy should have to detail how schools will build and sustain positive relationships with all parents and carers” which feels like it’s essential if we’re to support young people to succeed.
  • Attempts to evaluate the National Tutoring Programme continue. Hot on the heels of last month’s evaluation of year 2 (2021-22) we have Ofsted’s research. This is in line with the existing research base that tutoring is most effective when it is well planned and aligned with the school curriculum. Interestingly, teachers report wider improvements to pupils’ confidence and resilience. Anecdotally this comes up a lot and is worth further investigation. We also have the formal evaluation of year 3 (2022-23) again senior leaders, perceived that the NTP had a positive impact on pupils’ attainment, progress and confidence but funding was seen as the biggest barrier to the sustainability of tutoring longer-term. We’ll have more to say on this in the new year.
  • A fascinating Resolution Foundation paper argues for extending the Robbins principle to skills training, i.e. qualified people wishing to progress further should expect to find a place. In principle I don’t think this is a good idea. There is a difference between the demands of students for training places (which the report proposes we aim to meet) and the demands of businesses for the skills. I don’t see the point of training a load of people in skills that are not then needed – either for the trainees, or from a value for money perspective. I guess it’s possible international business would move in to take advantage of any oversupply of skills but I am not convinced this would apply to eg construction skills. Of course, you can make the same criticism in theory of degrees. Should the Robbins principle apply uniquely to HE because often the skills are transferable, in a way that FE skills are usually more job or sector specific? Maybe I need to think further about this…
  • UCAS has published the first statistics from the 2024 undergraduate cycle, based on applications in time for the early October deadline which applies to highly selective courses in Medicine and Veterinary subjects, as well as at Oxbridge. The number of UK 18-year-old applicants from the most disadvantaged areas is at a record high, with 3,160 students having applied, up by 7% from the 2023 cycle (2,950). For context, there are 17,080 applicants from the most advantaged areas, up by 2% on last year. Progress, but not much.
  • With oracy on everyone’s radar following Keir Starmer’s opportunity mission speech this summer, it’s worth noting the increasing evidence base. A new evaluation of Voice21’s Voicing Vocabulary programme with 11 and 12 year olds shows it increased the number of above average readers by about 50%.
  • The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s research on destitution (extreme poverty) is always worth a read. They find a million children destitute last year, three times as many as 2017. This reflects a difficult couple of years. Given how important both depth and persistence of poverty are to later outcomes, this is not just a reflection of material need now, but a warning of the demands likely to be placed on schools in the medium term.

Top reads

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

  • The Institute for Government’s public services performance tracker is well worth a look. Not only does it have a decent “outsider” view on the challenges facing the schools system, it also puts schools in the context of wider public services – vital when we remember that different services are effectively competing for political attention and money. The big reflection for me is schools are one of six services judged not to have the funding to return to pre-pandemic performance, but may have enough funding to maintain performance in the years after. Policing and the criminal justice system look to be in a much worse place. If health has a higher public profile and justice is more likely to fall over, I think education inevitably ends up being near the back of the queue for any extra money.
  • Does anybody know whether employment is up or down? The first port of call should probably be the Office for National Statistics. They’ve recently blogged about how and why they are changing how they measure this – it all comes down to survey response rates. Our good friend Tony Wilson from the Institute for Employment Studies tweeted about his concerns with the current approach and the potential unreliability of the Labour Force Survey. Arguing about data reliability is undoubtedly a bit nerdy, but quality data is essential for making good decisions.
  • The IntegratEd report Alternative Provision Quality Metrics: Establishing a Baseline for Good Practice is worth a read. It’s pitched as “a comprehensive exploration of the landscape of Alternative Provision, shedding light on diverse strategies employed by providers to evaluate pupil progress, facilitate successful transitions, and assess program quality.” AP serves a super high needs population and it is great to see a real focus on quality provision.
  • The ONS also has some interesting analysis of the COSMO dataset, finding young people’s attitudes about their futures vary by household income, deprivation, and parental education level. While this won’t be a surprise as a headline, some of the specific facts are stark. I am not sure whether to be concerned that 25% of young people in families earning under £19,000 think that “people like me don’t have much of a chance in life” or reassured that 75% do.
  • Impetus has a UK wide mission, though our education policy work is exclusively based in England. But this Times longread on changes to the curriculum in Scotland might be of interest. I found it pretty balanced, though worth saying the success (or otherwise) of Scotland’s education system is very politically contentious in Caledonia.

Look ahead

Tuesday 28 November is the ERSA conference

Tuesday 5 December is the launch of the PISA results for England

    And’re invited to a colonoscopy

    Excuse the slightly gross subject matter, but this article about colonoscopies is actually really interesting. What it’s really about is evidence and evaluation, and how practitioners interpret and use it. It’s easy to default to thinking that what matters is “finding what works” and then doing more of it, but in practice there’s a huge amount of interpretation of evidence with very few studies ever offering the last word on “what works”. I often look to medicine as the gold standard of evidence informed practice, so it’s comforting to know they suffer from some of the same pitfalls as we do in the social change sector.

    Ben Gadsby is Head of Policy and Research at Impetus.

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