Low social mobility and the lack of educational opportunity are some of the biggest challenges in Britain today. The difference in life outcomes between those from wealthier and poorer backgrounds remains stark, with just 38% of disadvantaged children achieving 5 good GCSEs, including in English and mathematics, compared to 65% of all other pupils.
Charities and social enterprises help address this challenge by providing young people with support to improve their outcomes in school. This can include direct support in the classroom or youth activities that improve the social and emotional capabilities of young people. In order to do this effectively—and to support funding decision that go beyond instinct or anecdote—charities need to evidence their impact and build an understanding of which approaches are most successful.
To build this evidence base, charities need access to data.
Two important trends over the past few years have only emphasised this need. The introduction of pupil premium funding to schools for disadvantaged pupils and the explosion in the number of schools with academy school status means that schools play an increasingly more prominent role in the commissioning of extra-school activities which many charities deliver. As head teachers (and local authorities) strive to maximise the quality of school support and find their spending decision under increasing scrutiny, charities will inevitably face much greater pressure to demonstrate their impact too.
Unfortunately, the capacity of charities to support this need is severely limited. Currently charities struggle to access data on what happens to young people after an intervention, so they don’t know if their work has had an impact on attainment or attendance. For charities, this information could help improve the quality of provision and strengthen funding proposals. For young people, this information could transform their life outcomes. The data does exist, but many charities don’t meet the conditions for accessing it or don’t have the skills or capacity to analyse and interpret the results. This means most charitable organisations in education are unable to provide the evidence that is demanded of them or even understand the characteristics of the beneficiaries that they work with.
Criminal justice charities faced a similar problem. This is why we first made the case for, and supported the development of, the Justice Data Lab—a Ministry of Justice service that enables not-for-profit organisations to compare the reoffending rates (and more nuanced outcomes such as the severity and frequency of crime) of cohorts of service users with those of a matched comparison group. With this first Data Lab, we have already seen some charities use the results to improve the quality of their provision and begin to consider access to alternative funding such as payment by results and social investment.
We believe that a similar model could work for organisations that deliver outcomes in education. But, to inform whether and how a service for educational outcomes is developed, we need to hear the views of as many organisations that are interested in measuring education outcomes as possible. We have developed a survey to do this, but of course the results are only useful if we can get a decent number of responses!
So please, if you have 10 minutes spare, share you views with us so we can better make the case for a data lab service for education outcomes. Please also send this survey to other organisations in your network, so that we get a wide range of opinions. Thank you in advance and watch this space for updates on our progress.