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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I don’t know about you, but any concept of a Christmas break feels like a distant memory already. Partly because of the cold, partly because of the wind, and partly because we’ve already released a report (tutoring) and held a major event (with the Office for Students). More below.
2024 is shaping up to be a big year. You may have heard it’s likely to be one of the biggest election years ever with half the world having a chance to vote at some point including the UK (probably), US, EU and India. It’s also shaping up to a big year here too with the next phase of our Youth Jobs Gap research, three reports on alternative provision and some new data on social and emotional learning all in the pipeline.
If I believed in New Year’s Resolutions, I would say something naff like “mine is to keep bringing you interesting things from across the internet”. But I don’t, so I won’t. Anyway, here are some interesting things from across the internet that I’ve seen in the last month.
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In this issue
- Our thoughts on the last month’s news and announcements including John Blake’s announcements at our event, the economic impact of tutoring, and the consequences of difficult to pronounce surnames
- Some things we enjoyed reading on parents, social and emotional learning, and the Advanced British Standard
- Some things to look forward to over the next month such as stats and events
- If you get to the end, there’s a message to our COO (that does have wider relevance, I promise)
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.
- Last week we hosted the Office for Students’ Director for Fair Access and Participation, John Blake, at an event at the QEII centre to bring together charities working to improve access to higher education and universities themselves. John gave a keynote speech with many exciting updates. Going forward, OfS expects universities to build partnerships to address risks to equality of opportunity and for universities to take seriously their role in nurturing the third sector. As the regulator for higher education, they will publish guidance in the next academic year on building partnerships between providers and the third sector and provide a £2m fund for grants to test new ideas in this area and push the boundaries of this collective work. These are very exciting developments for access and participation work and we’re immensely grateful to John for partnering with us to make these announcements.
- Alongside Action Tutoring, Get Further, The Tutor Trust and others, we’ve funded some research on the economic impact of tutoring. It finds that NTP tutoring provided in 2021/22 and 2022/23 generated £4.3 billion of benefits, compared to funding of £660 million. This provides a benefit cost ratio of 6.58, well above the ratio of 4 which is generally considered “very high value for money”. This means that our ask for government to invest £385m a year into a tutoring guarantee would likely generate over £2.5bn a year in economic benefits. This underlines why investing in tutoring would be a long-term decision for a brighter future, to coin a phrase.
- More PISA analysis, covered in the Guardian, which suggests social and emotional learning is quite a small part of the overall attainment gap between rich and poor (<10%). To be honest, I am not sure anyone has ever claimed different? The evidence on social and emotional learning is complicated and massively depends on a) what you think you mean by “social and emotional learning” and b) what you measure its impact on. We will have a report out on this in the summer, and there’s a longer study in the next section as a counterpoint.
- We know young people from certain ethnic backgrounds are more likely to be unemployed than others – Impetus has a stream of work on this issue - but why? Well, one factor seems to be how easy your name is to pronounce. Recent research finds a significant effect on interview invitations for those with “less fluent” names, even looking within ethnic groups. Understanding potential causal mechanisms for the systemic racism we see in the data is vital to making change happen. Name blind recruiting, as always, seems like a straightforward way to tackle this bit of the problem.
- Two sets of tutoring statistics were released just before Christmas. The complete 2022/23 stats are out with 2 million NTP courses. Only 45% of pupils were eligible for free school meals. On the one hand, that’s less than charities like Action Tutoring achieve (c. 70%). On the other, it amounts to over 20% of all pupils. The 2023/24 stats only cover the first month of the new academic year and show NTP has reached 4.9m course starts since its inception. Big numbers that we’re proud to have played a part in creating.
- Teenage mental health is an issue of significant concern for many of us in education, but I do worry that we rush to try and address problems that really require a medical solution. A study in Australia assigned teenagers to a class that taught a version of ‘dialectical behaviour therapy’. After this intervention, the therapy group had worse outcomes compared to the control group. Not sure if this is a black mark against this particular type of therapy, against the idea of therapy classes, or simply against study design – the outcomes were measured after eight weeks, is it possibly something where things get worse before they get better? One clear lesson to politicians in election year is probably “don’t just rush into things assuming it will achieve the desired outcome”.
Here’s our roundup of some of the most useful and thought-provoking reads across a range of interesting areas...
- One of the things I am semi obsessed with is the role of parents – schools etc are only a relatively small part of a young person’s life. So I loved this new research on homework. Parents involvement in homework is considered one of two things: supportive (e.g., autonomy support, provision of structure) or intrusive (e.g., controlling, monitoring). A meta-analysis investigated the association between these involvement types and students’ mathematics achievement. A very small but significant positive effect was found for supportive parental involvement (r = +0.076) and a bigger negative association was found for intrusive parental involvement (r = -0.153). Parents matter! It is possible to be more hinderance than help!
- Doubling up on meta-analyses this month – this one on psychological factors behind academic underperformance is relevant to the ongoing social and emotional learning agenda (see above). Analysis of 125 studies showed that underperforming students, on average, exhibit lower levels of self-esteem as learners, assign less significance to their learning endeavours, struggle with inadequate learning regulation, and lack the motivation to enhance their academic proficiency, attributing the outcomes of their actions to external factors. The last point, on external locus of control, is one which comes up time and again.
- Since we’re doubling up, lets double up on parents too. A Nuffield-funded report from the Fatherhood Institute finds that teenagers who are close to their dads benefit from higher self-esteem and better mental health. This is a really short headline for a fascinatingly rich lit review. I did not know that fathers’ depression in the postnatal year is associated with poorer school performance at child-age 16 or that father involvement at age seven is associated with educational attainment at age 20 in both ‘intact’ and separated families. Worth bookmarking for all your Dad fact needs.
- The IFS have done their sixth annual report on education spending in England, charting the ups and downs of the different parts of the system. It’s interesting to see the (very) long term trend – we spend about the same share of national income on education as in the early 2000s, mid 1980s and late 1960s. “There has been no long-run increase in the share of national income devoted to public spending on education, despite large rises in education participation over the long run.” As always, worth flagging that how you spend money is as important as the total spending amount.
- The consultation on Rishi Sunak’s “Advanced British Standard” (bringing together A levels and T levels) is out. I’m at a consultation event on it next month so might have more views then, but at first reading I think it has lots of good analysis of the problem (eg the importance of English and maths, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds being much less likely to get good level 3 qualifications). I’m less clear on whether such a dramatic shake up is needed to address them.
- With so much focus on unemployment, reports expressly about economic inactivity always pique the interest. The LGA has looked at the patchwork of local and regional schemes supporting this group of people. Unsurprisingly, it finds a highly variable level of targeting and support. The three initiatives which were most focussed on specifically supporting on economic inactivity were also those most limited in their geographical scope. Highly variable patchworks are probably an inevitable consequence of the place-based approaches the LGA inevitably calls for.
Thursday 1 February sees a lot of revised education statistics released: key stage 4, school performance data, A levels and 16 to 18… There’s much less “new” in them these days, once upon a time they were the first statistics broken down by characteristics like disadvantage.
Monday 19 February sees the launch of NPC’s State of the Sector 2024.
And finally...third sector leadership
I missed the NPC reception, but I am pleased to read in civil society that a charity CEO pointed out that campaigning is cost-effective way to deliver charitable objects. I hope our COO makes a note of this as we enter budget season here at Impetus… Jokes aside, it’s true - the government spends billions of pounds a year on issues like employment and education, and can find hundreds of millions of pounds when it needs to for popular or important schemes, and sometimes changes are free (see this announcement on road signage and hedgehogs). So let’s approach this election filled year with an intention to make change happen!