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.
Sign up to get Impetus Insights direct to your inbox every month here.
It is the “holiday season”, with different people marking Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hannukah or the solstice either recently or in the weeks ahead. Whatever your traditions and schedule, I hope you are able to get something of a break to recharge.
This time of year is often sparse in terms of research and policy developments, but not always. The King’s New Year’s honours will doubtless reward the hard work of some of education’s leading lights. One year, the government used New Year’s Day to announce new board members at the Office for Students. We’ll obviously be back in January with whatever news, views and reads come up this time around.
One thing that definitely is happening on the morning of 18 January is our event with the Office for Students on Increasing equality of opportunity in English higher education through collaboration. There’s a keynote speech by John Blake, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, and a panel discussion and Q&A session. You can attend virtually or in person (central London) with the usual coffee, pastries and networking opportunities. Sign up here.
See you in 2024.
Sign up to get Impetus Insights direct to your inbox every month.
In this issue
- Our thoughts on the last month’s news and announcements including our forthcoming event with OfS, Employment Data Lab, and some research on AI
- Some things we enjoyed reading on Economy 2030, ethnic attainment gaps and PISA outcomes
- Some things to look forward to over the next month such as the King’s New Year’s Honours
- If you get to the end, there’s something on third sector leadership
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.
- John Blake, the Director for Fair Access and Participation blogged about the Office for Student’s latest regulatory guidance. We’re pleased to see him call for "more evidence of collaboration between universities and colleges and third sector organisations, schools, and employers to address the risks to equality of opportunity that current and prospective students may face". WonkHE also has a write up on what it all means, which highlights our collaboration and partnerships event on the 18 January, as trailed in the intro.
- The Merseyside Youth Association has become the second organisation to have a programme evaluated by the DWP Employment Data Lab, and the results are not pretty. The MYA’s Talent Match Plus programme had no statistically significant impact on employment, except a small one for participants in Liverpool, who were more likely to be in work two years after the programme (not the case in any of the other local authority groups that were looked at). The programme was shown to significantly increase in the number of people passing training courses, but mostly below level 2, which have limited if any value to employers. In short, the MYA’s Talent Match Plus programme is a classic example of an employment programme that achieves some nice things, but not the thing that matters – jobs. I hope people stop funding it and put their money into proven programmes like Resurgo Spear instead.
- I’m always sceptical of attempts to predict the future, but the sheer rate of development of AI gives me pause. The potential scale of change is also very high, though to be fair many people cleverer than me also think this makes it even more impossible than usual to predict where we will end up. Anyway, caveat emptor, but the DfE has an interesting look at the impact of AI on the labour market and skills. The finance and insurance sector is more exposed to AI than any other sector and employees with FE qualifications in accounting and finance or degrees in economics or mathematics are typically in jobs more exposed to AI. If anyone has a view on what we should do with that information, do let me know.
- The DfE also continues to churn out stats on the here and now. Entries for November resits in GCSE English and maths are massively up on last year. This is because results this summer were significantly down on last year, reflecting the return to pre-pandemic grading… The latest early years data finds free school meal eligible young people slightly less far behind in “good level of development” at age five compared to last year… Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds still average two fewer correct answers on the multiplication check after everyone’s scores went up by around 0.4 correct answers… Exclusion stats keep going in the wrong direction with many more exclusions and the risk of exclusion for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds more than four times that for non-FSM eligible pupils – we’ll have more to say on this in January.
- We’ve covered improved approaches to understand poverty before in the guise of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (minimum income standard/destitution) and the Social Metrics Commission. We can now add Action for Children/NatCen to the list with their work on material deprivation. The headline is 2.6 million children in the UK (18%) growing up in material deprivation – meaning their families can’t afford the items and activities considered. But the detail is fascinating, giving a sense of the precarity of some people’s lives (4.2m children in families that can’t save at least £10 a month) and also the scale of deeper poverty with 100,000 children whose parents can’t afford a warm winter coat for them. The research also identifies the types of family facing material deprivation with the usual factors (single parents, disability, larger families and economic inactivity) associated with worse circumstances.
Here’s our roundup of some of the most useful and thought-provoking reads across a range of interesting areas...
- Every few years, we get an international comparison of education outcomes in different countries thanks to the PISA study. It’s one of the few things that fires education to the top of the political agenda for a day or two, and as always it’s a curate’s egg with findings to suit all tastes. We moved up a few slots in the rankings and continue to have an above average education system; actual results were a bit worse as everywhere (pandemic); differences due to socioeconomic factors were slightly better than average; young people’s wellbeing is low compared to other countries; England did better than other home nations.
- The Resolution Foundation’s Economy 2030 work has reached its final mammoth report. The mere 290 pages acknowledges the UK’s high employment rate, noting that two-thirds of the jobs growth experienced in the ten years after the 2007 recession took place in the poorest half of households and argues targeted labour market policies are needed to improve further. The report name checks those who are inactive because of ill health as prime target groups for such intervention. It’s worth remembering that this issue doesn’t just affect older people – over a quarter of young people who are NEET aged 18-24 say they aren’t in work because of a health problem. An ideas and information rich report well worth a read.
- More data from the snappily titled COSMO research from UCL and The Sutton Trust (Covid Social Mobility and Opportunities, in case you wondered). University remains a top choice for young people – 68% of year 13s said they plan on studying at university and 94% of those said they were very confident about their prospects of securing a place. Only 6% of young people reported being on an apprenticeship scheme, but there was evidence of positive attitudes towards apprenticeships – the majority of young people said that apprentice pay is ‘good’ or ‘very good’. Both university and apprenticeships can offer young people routes into good work so these are reassuring findings.
- Fascinating “preliminary investigation” from DfE on “How trusts and schools narrow attainment gaps between ethnic groups”. The key finding to me was that the practical lessons about how to narrow and close attainment gaps are not specific to different ethnic groups, but relate to the “basics” of effective school improvement. In addition, while broad labels can be helpful when looking at national level disparities, schools use a more nuanced approach to identify and overcome pupils’ barriers to learning.
- The OECD has another working paper on social and emotional skills looking at evidence on teachability and impact on life outcomes. It’s very dense but I think the main takeaway for me is that self-control, locus of control and self-efficacy, assertiveness and cooperation were among the skills identified as having the highest level of evidence of both teachability and predictive value, with the first two particularly linked to academic or labour market outcomes. There’s loads more detail and nuance in the paper. Useful!
- At Impetus, we care about education outcomes because the evidence shows us that getting crucial maths and English GCSEs and a positive post-16 destination sets young people up for success. We wish politicians cared about this as much as us. This fascinating report from the SMF think tank by ultimate politics nerd Rob Ford might grab their attention. He finds that education status is also the “strongest predictor of voters’ social values”. The increased vote share enjoyed by the Tory party in the last two General Elections was driven by a tremendous rise in support among school leavers, even though until very recently, school leavers were more likely to vote Labour.
- Between Christmas and New Year: the King’s New Year’s honours
- 18 January: Impetus and the Office for Students event on Increasing equality of opportunity in English higher education through collaboration. Sign up here.
And finally...third sector leadership
One thing I missed in November was this speech at the NPC Ignites conference by Mike Adamson, the Chief Executive of the British Red Cross. I was really struck by the line “it struck me that the Red Cross might be perceived as a large organisation, but we are small in relation to the scale of the needs we aspire to meet”. I’m someone who does perceive the Red Cross as a large organisation, and who aspires to meet large scale needs. For me this comment underlined the importance of government and policy work in addressing big challenges – but then again, I would say that.