Impetus Insights - September 2022

Welcome to Impetus Insights... a place where we’ll 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 here in future newsletters.

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The first Impetus Insights comes to you at a time of reflection for many following the sad death of Her Majesty, the Queen.

It is astonishing to think about how much the country has changed in the last 70 years. My grandmother left school at 14 - the school leaving age only became 16 in 1972. The 70s was also a time when millions lived in condemned housing. We’re a charity that spends a lot of time thinking about education and poverty, and whilst there are still significant problems, I find comfort in remembering that the present is better than the past, and we have the power to make the future better still.

Such comfort is important in a month where we got the first official statistics on key stage 2 attainment post-pandemic. The percentage of young people achieving the expected standard has fallen, with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds hit hardest – the attainment gap has grown by 10%, and these young people are about one third less likely to reach the expected standard.

This is depressing and predictable, but it is not inevitable. This is why Impetus does what it does, from funding great charities to supporting our sister charity EEF to get the National Tutoring Programme off the ground. With the right support, all young people can succeed. Together, we have the power to make the future better than the past.

Enjoy reading,


In this month’s issue

  • Our thoughts on the last month’s news and announcements, from results day to some news from Impetus HQ
  • Some things we enjoyed reading (and listening to!) on education, employment, poverty and scalin
  • Some things to look forward to over the next month (mostly party conferences)
  • If you get to the end, there are dogs 🐶

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.

  • August is results day, a happy time for young people who get the grades – but we spent most of the month reminding people not to forget those young people who missed out. Passing English and maths GCSE is an essential first step on the road to a success and yet young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are about twice as likely to miss out than their better-off peers. My boss wrote about this for SchoolsWeek
  • Related news from Impetus HQ, as we announce we are funding some new charities focussed on young people’s social and emotional skills, which underpin attainment. We’re keen to bring our usual outcomes-focussed lens to a crucial but often neglected and occasionally nebulous topic. Do get in touch with Helena if you have thoughts on this!
  • Away from GCSEs, the summer was dominated by the Conservative Leadership election (more on this next month), but it didn’t stop the Johnson government making some decisions, with HE Minister Andrea Jenkyns capping of student loan interest rates at 6.3% from September 2022. This is one of those annoying policies that is pretty popular, but it doesn’t really help anyone – only top-earning graduates benefit (in a decade or two). Instead, government could look at providing more maintenance support to current students, to help them pay their bills in the here and now. This will no doubt be a topic of debate for the Fair Access Coalition, which we are part of.
  • Our 2019 Youth Jobs Gap research found young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely to be NEET as their better off peers. So, we enjoyed reading Teach First’s report on the destination gap, which backed up and reinforced that ground-breaking work. Our Youth Jobs Gap research, using the LEO data, found that only half of this gap can be explained by educational attainment. This is why we do explicit work on employment policy, and are founding members of the Youth Employment Group; it’s similar thinking that underpins Teach First’s focus on careers advice.
  • We were pleased our sister charity EEF got re-endowed by the government, congratulations to Becky and the team! This good news means we can look forward to many more years of better evidence, better policy, and better outcomes for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Recommended reading

Here’s our roundup of some of the most useful and interesting reads in the world of education...

  • The IFS report on educational inequality (full report, IFS twitter thread) is the kind of seminal piece we’re likely to reference for years. It sets out the point of what we do at Impetus in stark detail – outcomes at 26 are strongly related to GCSE results, which in turn are the culmination of years of learning. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds do worse across all measures. Worth digesting.
  • Equally seminal is this ONS analysis of the link between free school meals and earnings. The fact that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds earn less as adults, even if they get the same qualifications, won’t be a surprise to many people (anyone?), but it’s good to have numbers, in black and white, with an ONS label on top. “Years of experience” is a major driver, which again speaks to the broader point about helping young people get in the labour market sooner rather than later.
  • New working paper on “who benefits from effective high schools?” Answer: everyone! But especially students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Reinforces the point in the intro that attainment gaps aren’t inevitable.
  • Education Datalab have a good blog looking at the National Reference Test, and what it tells us about pandemic learning loss. Not disastrous, worse in maths than English. I found this reassuring!
  • Why do most ideas fail to scale? Interesting interview for Freakonomics podcast (transcript available) with economist John List was certainly food for thought.
  • DCMS have an interesting report on charities and public procurement. We could write an essay on this kind of thing, it’s great that government are trying to tackle it. But all a bit irrelevant if the government focusses too much on keeping costs down and not enough on providing enough funding for bidders to have an impact!

Looking at the month ahead

It’s party conference season! The team are at Labour and Conservative party conferences, you can email us on if you fancy a catch up over a drink. Bonus points if you want to get lunch somewhere that serves vegetables, which we never get enough of at conference.

UCL have an interesting if possibly nerdy conference on the future of LEO data. I will be there!

Official statistics: School attendance (29 Sep); Key Stage 1 and phonics (6 Oct); monthly labour market stats (11 Oct).

Team Impetus: exciting news on a project putting the third sector at the heart of the HE debate coming w/c 10 October. Watch this space!

And finally…

August was also International Dog Day, and we shared stories about the dogs of Impetus on twitter – well, we are ImPETus… No favouritism here, but our new Senior Policy Advisor Phoebe does have a particularly cute dog

Ben Gadsby is Head of Policy and Research at Impetus.

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