How much does it cost a country to engage employers in education? One assessment

It is an unusual industry, employer engagement in education.  It depends on hundreds of thousands of individual employers and employees taking time out of working days to provide help to schools and colleges, teachers and young people.  They offer work experience placements, provide careers talks, participate in mentoring, enterprise activities and reading and numeracy programmes, a great array of different endeavours and all without money changing hands.  Employers and employee volunteers rarely even have their expenses paid.

Employer engagement in education represents then one of modern society’s most significant voluntary undertakings, but it doesn’t just happen all by itself.   It happens because individuals – in schools/colleges, in workplaces, in an intermediary organisation and often in all three – have decided to do something to make it happen. They design programmes of activity, find people in the community willing to volunteer, arrange to get volunteers into schools. While much activity can be effectively arranged for little or no money, as when teachers ask their friends to come into the classroom to speak to students, historically there have been very real resource implications in addressing the core transactional cost of employee volunteering in education: finding willing and appropriate volunteers and workplaces and connecting them with schools – and this is a cost that can and does vary, often significantly.  There are fixed costs too related to specific forms of employer engagement: health and safety checks in work experiences, important child safeguarding checks in mentoring.

While it has long been theoretically possible to calculate the cost of employer engagement in education and volume of placements and interactions which result from the investment, there is a paucity of studies available in part due to the complexity of delivery.  In England, for example, during this century it has not just been the Department for Education and its agencies which have had an interest in funding people to do things, but an array of other Whitehall Departments as well as 150 different local authorities. These are public organisations which have at times covered the costs of making activity happen as have individual schools and employers occasionally making use of resource which was donated philanthropically.

Over a 15 month period a team based at the Taskforce undertook what is arguably the most ambitious, most comprehensive analysis of the costs of employer engagement in education yet undertaken.  We focused on employer engagement taking place in education in England over the academic year 2009/10.  We were fortunate to have access to considerable data from the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) on funding provided by the (then titled) Department for Children, Schools and Families.  These were funds which were distributed to (and routinely topped up by) local authorities to support a national network of Education Business Partnership Organisations which in turn returned to the YPLA details of activities which they had enabled over the academic year.  Data was gathered relating to funding provided by other Whitehall departments and from national and other local intermediary organisations.  Many organisations responded to a call for evidence and further data was sourced from annual accounts, published reports and evaluations.  It should be noted that given changes in government policy and funding, the national delivery infrastructure in place in 2009/10 is no longer operational.  Schools and employers still connect in England, of course, but do so through different structures and mechanisms.

The review sought to identify expenditure which enabled employer involvement in activities to support the learning and progression of pupils, aged 5-19, specifically relating to careers provision, enterprise activities (involving employers), business mentoring, literacy and numeracy support, work experience, workplace visits and subject specific activities (Modern Foreign Languages and STEM subjects).  Also in scope was employer engagement to support the institutional performance of schools and colleges through provision of employee governors and teacher CPD.  Excluded were sponsorships and philanthropic donations to education.

The review calculated that:

  • Government (national and local) invested £83m in enabling employer engagement in education (of which £54m came from central government departments) with the greater part of funding being directed to national and locally based intermediary organisations;
  • Third sector organisations (typically education charities) invested £4m, and
  • Schools invested £34m (largely covering the costs of their staff)

Analysis of employer contributions drew heavily on published assessments including the City of London Corporation’s important study Volunteering: the business case.  Recognising a greater need for informed estimation, the review calculated both direct employer costs (notably staff costs for schools liaison staff employed by larger enterprises) and the assessed value of the time of employee volunteering to allow a total investment figure to be calculated.

  • The total amount of direct employer contributions enabling employer engagement in education was assessed at £108m in direct costs with further fees and donations to national and local intermediary organisations enabling employer engagement in the region of £6m.

Estimating the value of employee time represented the most significant challenge within the review.  The review team drew on available data to calculate the volume of employer engagement by staff hours against a range of different activities and then considered five different models for calculating hourly cash equivalencies. It was ultimately agreed to average the five models and the figure represents an assessment of what it would cost schools if they had to pay for the time for the individual volunteers.

  • The total value of employee volunteering time was assessed at £264m.

The assessment gave a total investment figure of £500m.  Following detailed analysis of five local authority areas, it became clear that the methodologies applied had failed to capture all activity being undertaken to enable employer engagement in education and that prudence demanded that 20% be added to the total figures to reflect risk of undercounting.  The final calculation resulted in a final assessment of the investment in employer engagement in education in England in 2009/10 at £600m.

If calculations focus solely on the cost of enabling employer engagement in education in 2009/10, rather than the value of it and so exclude our estimation of the value of employee volunteering time, then it can be calculated that investment from national and local government, third sector organisations, employers (in direct costs) and schools amounted to £236m.  Assuming a comparable 20% underestimation, full costs can be reasonably estimated at £282m.

What this investment secured

Analysis of available data showed that a minimum of 750,000 employers and employees engaged with schools and colleges to support specific employer engagement activities in England during 2009/10.  This figure acknowledges some, if modest, double counting relating to a single employer or employee supporting multiple activities. Between them, the three-quarter million employers and employees provided some 10,500,000 hours of support to schools with the greatest part of volunteering time relating to work experience and governance activities. Some 1,525,000 young people, mostly teenagers, (again assuming some modest double counting of young people undertaking multiple activities) were estimated to have taken part in activities with employers.

We are deeply grateful to the very many people in the YPLA, Department for Education, other national government departments, local government, intermediaries, employers and schools who helped in our calculations and engaged in discussions to settle on reasonable approaches to complex analyses.  The Taskforce team included Elnaz Kashefpakdel, Dave Bevan, Christian Percy and Harry Williams.

Anthony Mann is Director of Policy and Research at Education and Employers.