Impetus Insights - June 2024

Ayesha Insights

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.

This month may look slightly different. When I say different, I mean it features a Ben Gadsby-shaped hole.* Although Ben has left large shoes to fill - both metaphorically and physically - I’m delighted to have this opportunity.

It’s t-7 days until the General Election, we’re up to our ears in policy, and I only have 1500 words for this newsletter. Things are heating up, and it isn’t the 28 degree weather. So, without further ado, let’s dive into this month’s insights.

I hope you enjoy reading,


*For loyal and concerned readers, Ben is well, safe and healthy - just on annual leave!

Sign up to get Impetus Insights direct to your inbox every month.

In this issue

  • The home run of the election means all parties have released their manifestos. We’ll dive into what each of the big three (Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat - apologies to regional, smaller and… other parties) have pledged in order to improve the lives of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Things to look forward to including the Learning and Work Institute’s Employment and Skills Convention, the Festival of Learning, and for those who are partial to exercising their democratic right to vote, the General Election.
  • Some interesting reads ranging from an IFS report on the state of the education system, to a WonkHE article on how we can use LEO data most usefully.
  • Our thoughts on non-manifesto news, including Ben’s appearance on the EDSK podcast and some grim labour market and alternative provision figures.

Manifestos Galore! 

The looming General Election means that a good chunk of this newsletter will be dedicated to party manifestos and what they’ve said on educational attainment, access to higher education and sustainable employment.

  • We were thoroughly encouraged to see the Labour Party’s commitment to a “youth guarantee” of access to training, an apprenticeship, or support to find work for all 18- to 21-year-olds. Ideally, this would extend from 16-24 year olds, particularly as we know early intervention is key to a successful strategy. Considering its close resemblance to the Young Person’s Guarantee, we’re happy to take the win.
  • A promised review of the curriculum presents an opportunity for essential speaking skills to be embedded into the system. We know young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to have worse speaking skills, that students with higher language ability are more likely to achieve a higher grade in crucial English and maths GCSEs and that oral language interventions provide up to 6 months’ additional progress. Seems terribly straightforward to us...
  • Pledges on higher education were particularly thin, with the prospect of universities going bust casting a long shadow over the next government. Notably, the Conservatives have become the first major party in three generations to pledge a reduction in access to higher education, by cutting so-called “mickey mouse” degrees. Far from being “low-value”, these courses are often how the young people we care about can access higher education and it will be these young people who are hit worst by such a policy.
  • To our delight, the Robbins Principle – that anyone who has the desire and ability to progress into higher education can do so - features in Labour’s manifesto. We also welcomed the commitment to improve access to universities, though further detail on this would have been good. Maintenance grants, anybody?
  • We were pleased to see the Liberal Democrat’s commitment to a tutoring guarantee, building on the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), of which Impetus was a founding partner. We know tutoring is a highly proven intervention, particularly for closing the attainment gap.
  • The Conservative manifesto promised 100,000 apprenticeships, opportunities which could be part of delivering the Young Person's Guarantee. Meanwhile, the Advanced British Standard is an intriguing opportunity to broaden the curriculum and recommit to the importance of English and maths for every young person. 

The Conservatives’ hotly-contested National Service policy aims to equip young people with valuable “life skills”. Here at Impetus we are big fans of Skills Builder Partnership’s Essential Skills, which have been linked to better life satisfaction and a higher probability of being in work or education. Happily, they also have a brilliant framework for measuring and evaluating these skills - two things we love.

News, Views and Recommended Reading

  • Along with Susannah Hardyman, CEO of Action Tutoring, Ben recently featured on an EDSK podcast, talking all things tutoring. Particularly as this isn’t my policy area, it was fascinating to look back on the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), its successes and its errors. The NTP really highlighted the importance of sustained, targeted interventions, which we love here at Impetus. The success of the programme was scuppered by privileging “headline reach” over “headline impact”, as Ben so eloquently put. Lots of lessons to be learned.
  • Labour Market Statistics continue to paint a grim picture, with the unemployment rate for young people aged between 16-24 up by 2.3% on the year. Worryingly, the 16- to 24-year-old unemployment rate (including students) made up 13.6% of the economically active in the February to April 2024 quarter, compared with 3.3% for 25 to 49-year-olds. Two caveats here: (1) Quality assurance issues with the Labour Force Survey over the past year mean quarterly figures must still be taken with a pinch of salt and (2) unemployment figures are partly informed by more young people being in full-time education. Still, some recent IES analysis suggests levels of youth unemployment are actually rising, while the number of 16 to 24-year-olds who are neither earning nor learning has surpassed a million. Yikes.
  • The pupil characteristics stats release saw the number of pupils in alternative provision (AP) surge by 20% over the past year, returning to pre-Covid levels. The increase can be attributed not only to exclusions, but also a rise in the amount of pupils entering AP for both mental health needs and suspensions. (As this helpful FFT Education Datalab explainer reminds us, not all pupils who end up in AP have been excluded). Even so, not a particularly rosy picture. As Ben said in the last edition of Insights, we definitely need to “keep banging the drum on reducing exclusions”.
  • We mentioned “mickey mouse” degrees earlier, which the longitudinal educational outcomes (LEO) data is often weaponised against. This WonkHE article does a great job of showing how LEO can be deployed more usefully - though the outcome is bleak. Using the data, David Kernohan shows how POLAR (the place-based measure of disadvantage and not the large mammal), can impact your salary, even ten years on. Ten years on, graduates from POLAR4 quintile 5 earn a median £39,800, whereas their less advantaged (POLAR4 quintile 1) peers earn £31,000 – just 77 per cent of what those from a more traditional graduate background earn. Worryingly, this gap has grown – for those who graduated 7 years earlier, POLAR4 quintile 1 earned 85 per cent of what their quintile 5 peers got.
  • A new Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report has examined the current state of the education system and considers what the next government will inherit. While England ranks among the top performers globally in school achievement, significant inequalities persist. These disparities include the persistent gap in GCSE attainment between children from disadvantaged and more affluent backgrounds over the past 20 years, and a two-thirds rise in absenteeism since the pandemic, with nearly 40% of disadvantaged students now being 'persistently absent.' We know from our research that 71% of pupils who had 99% attendance or above achieved expected standard in reading, writing and maths, compared with only 42% of children with 85% attendance. We also know that every step up the qualifications ladder halves a young person’s chances of being not in employment, education or training (NEET) by age 18. Attainment is great, but young people need to be in school in the first place.

Look ahead

Tuesday 2 July The Nuffield Foundation hosts The Impact of School Absence, School Closure and Learning Loss. More here.

Thursday 4 to Friday 5 July is the 14th Festival of Education, where our Senior Policy Advisor on school engagement, Carlie, will be speaking on panels organised by Public First and the Who’s Losing Learning Coalition.

Thursday 4 July is the General Election!

Monday 8 July ImpactEd launch their report “Understanding Attendance”, which digs into the drivers of pupil absence, and is the largest research project of its kind.

Wednesday 10 July The Learning and Work Institute host their Employment and Skills Convention in Birmingham.

Thursday 18 July sees the release of the DfE’s annual exclusions data.

Thursday 25 July ERSA hold their Youth Employment Conference.

And finally...

If you got this far, thank you for sticking with me through my Insights debut. We’ll see you next month, with the return of Ben, and all the joy - and trepidation - a new parliament brings.

Find out more

Impetus Insights - May 2024

Welcome to Impetus Insights, a place where we discuss ideas, articles and interesting reading about education and employment policy.
Read More

Impetus Insights - April 2024

Welcome to Impetus Insights, a place where we discuss ideas, articles and interesting reading about education and employment policy.
Read More

Impetus Insights - March 2024

Welcome to Impetus Insights, a place where we discuss ideas, articles and interesting reading about education and employment policy.
Read More