Impetus Insights - May 2024

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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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With the dust having settled on a set of local elections, politics has very much settled into "countdown to the General Election" mode. With politicians busy announcing their doorstep offers (in my native Purfleet, sometimes) making policy work retail friendly is very much the name of the game.

Or you can mostly ignore the stuff that gets political attention and do nerdy detailed things instead! On 25 June I am hosting a Fair Education Alliance event with the working title "Using data to build inclusive school cultures". It's not the kind of thing that's going to make a pledge card, but it is the kind of thing that probably makes a difference – and the latter is of course what we're focussed on here.

They say you campaign in poetry and govern in prose, so here's 1500 or so words of the latter. In next month's insights I hope to rhyme, if I can only find the time and inclination.

Enjoy reading,


PS lots about the upcoming general election in next month's edition.

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In this issue

  • Our thoughts on the last month's news and announcements including our evidence to the work and pensions select committee, maintenance support, and absence dashboards.
  • Some things we enjoyed reading on post-16 alternative provision, a £22 billion ask, and Carlie's notes from a public event where an official report seems weirdly lacking.
  • Some things to look forward to over the next month including a symposium on internal alternative provision, Employability Day, and that FEA event I keep banging on about.
  • If you get to the end, there's an interesting LinkedIn post on defining scale and systems change.

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.

  • Due to staff absence, I had to give evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee on devolution of employment support. The team here have turned my comments into a handy one minute recap video and seven tweet thread. I talked about the importance of benchmarking, hyper local focus, and the need to grow what works.
  • For a long time, we've been banging the drum for higher maintenance support for university students, reflecting a sense that current levels are too far below what students need to have a sustainable balance of work and study. One thing that has been on my research wishlist for a while is a thorough calculation of the costs of being a student. So I am delighted HEPI have tried to do a proper robust calculation. Well worth your time.
  • Everyone at Impetus HQ loves a dashboard, so we're enjoying the "Pupil absence distributions in schools in England" dashboard from DfE. It's more granular than the usual attendance data, enabling you to see things in 5% bands. For example, that only 28% of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have 95%+ attendance, compared to 47% of their better off peers. Useful for people who like to dig into data in depth.
  • For those who don't read Torsten Bell's weekly "Top of the Charts" newsletter (which has certainly inspired the tone and style of this newsletter!), he recently highlighted this study from Norway. It looked at schools' policies on mobile phones and concluded that limiting access to mobile phones in schools improved attendance and grades, with the biggest impact on disadvantaged groups. Phones and social media for children is a topic where my view has shifted a lot in the last five years or so, and this is another nudge for me in the direction of supporting stricter controls.
  • The most recent exclusion data showed an increase in 2022/23 compared to the year before – yes, the published data really is a year behind. Education datalab are lucky enough to have data from enough schools they can tell us what's happening in 2023/24. The conclusion? It's going up again. Expect this to be a headline in about a year's time when the "official" data is published. I'm not sure if our next piece of research on exclusions will be out for the June edition of Impetus Insights, but we definitely need to keep banging the drum on reducing exclusions.

Top reads

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

  • Teach First's "ending educational inequality report" is boldly titled. The pitch for "an ambitious roadmap… into a 44% increase in spending on schools or around £22 billion per year" is a bit out there given the wider context. While there are some sensible suggestions on what to spend it on (thank you for including tutoring) the number seems to come from the ether a bit which makes it feel a bit hollow. A shame, as I think there is space for a properly ambitious long-term plan.
  • Two specific things to flag on subsets of the alternative provision space. The DfE is consulting on national standards for unregistered alternative provision – views welcome until 5 July. Meanwhile the Children's Commissioner for England has a report on post-16 support for young people in alternative provision. Some good stats, many good quotes from young people, and my favourite non-Impetus policy recommendation of the year so far: a graduated stepdown programme of support for all Year 11 leavers, including a year 11 resit where needed. If there were to be an extra £22bn spend on education, this should get a slice.
  • We recently dispatched Carlie to Manchester for a day's worth of seminar on the snappily titled "Understanding School Attendance, Educational Attainment, and Labour Market Outcomes", a Nuffield funded project. Weirdly, there doesn't seem to be a summary report or any non-academic publication just yet, but since it was a public event we can share Carlie's notes. I was particularly struck that the group of pupils with strongly increasing authorised absence are 29%pts less likely to secure 5 good GCSEs.
  • Elsewhere in "things we've dispatched Carlie to" was the launch of the results of the OECD 2023 Survey on Social and Emotional Skills in Bulgaria (though we made her join online rather than in person). Fortunately this time there's a link to the actual work available! The links between attainment and social and emotional skills (SES) is difficult to tease apart, but I found the fact that places with stronger SES skills have had smaller declines in attainment post pandemic revealing. They also pulled out the importance of emotional regulation.
  • EPI have done some cool work looking at features of effective school groups (eg MATs). The thing that made me chuckle was that "there is considerably more variation within school group types compared to between school group type". Is there a name for the phenomenon whereby differences within groups are different than the differences between them? This is also what we see with "NEET rates in regions" and "subject level GCSE results in schools". The Variation Inside Categories Condition – VICC?

Look ahead

Friday 7 June is Football Beyond Borders' Annual Showcase at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. An opportunity to learn more about their work AND watch England vs Iceland men's football (on TV). More here

Tuesday 11 June is labour market stats day

Thursday 13 June is an Internal Alternative Provision Symposium hosted by The Difference. More here

Tuesday 25 June I am hosting an FEA event with the working title "Using data to build inclusive school cultures" – the best way to find out more is probably to wait for news via FEA twitter

Thursday 27 June is an event from the International Public Policy Observatory called "How data can be used best for smart policymaking". More here

Friday 28 June is Employability Day! This year's theme is "Employment Support for Every Citizen" and the hashtag is #EmpDay24

And finally...

I always love something that is a) quick to read and b) gives me a better framework for thinking about a sticky problem I am wrestling with. So this very short guide to thinking about scale and systems change was right up my street. Don't let the "18 page" attachment put you off, it's about 20 words per page so it's a three minute read. Useful for anyone thinking about how to have a big impact on the world.

Ben Gadsby is Head of Policy and Research at Impetus.

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