Author Archives: Laura Barrett

Untangling Government funding – Mapping employment & skills provision for local authorities

Government funding and support for employment and skills – sounds straightforward enough right?  Not if you’re a local authority.  Research Matters worked with the Local Government Association earlier this year to map this provision and build a data-rich tool to help local authorities know and access what was available in their area. The tool is live for LGA members, launched today (November 18th 2021),

Click here for our final report: Mapping National Employment and Skills Provision.

Local authorities want to maximise available employment and skills provision to help residents progress in work and learning and support local businesses with their recruitment needs.  As we emerge from the COVID crisis, creating good jobs alongside education and training opportunities is ever more essential to local recovery efforts.  But support in this area of Government funding is complex, fragmented and repackaged all the time.  

Research problem

Employment and skills provision is funded and commissioned by different Government departments and agencies and delivered by a range of providers, who are contracted to work according to different spatial areas. As much of this is designed nationally, this can make it difficult to know what national provision and services are available on the ground locally. Local authorities want to make sure that any provision locally is maximised and is joined up to support residents and businesses

To give an example, the London Borough of Bexley sits in six differently defined regions (London, Home Counties, London and the Home Counties 2, South and East London, East Local London, and Local Enterprise Partnership for London) with some provision devolved to the Greater London Authority.  The borough must deal with at least 15 suppliers as well as multiple training providers.  As contracts end, new suppliers come on board.  For local government employment and skills teams (or similar), this can make it challenging to know across their local authority area, what support is available and when.

Research solution

Research Matters was commissioned by the Local Government Association to map the geographic footprint of all current (Spring 2021) nationally commissioned employment and skills programmes and identify which providers are delivering what and where, and in the near future.

We focused on identifying and detailing employment and skills programmes that are nationally contracted to external providers, on a national level or sub-nationally.  We also looked at other employment and skills programmes, including direct Government provision of employment support, allocated funding to education and training providers and relevant grants that are available now and in the near future.

We delivered a report that describes how employment and skills provision is commissioned and delivered, including highlighting both the geographic boundaries and the landscape of employment support providers.  We also provided a dataset that categorised and described programmes in detail and showed what providers were delivering across the myriad of geographic areas.  This has been developed into a tool which local authorities can use to look-up programmes and the relevant providers that are active in their area. Clearly this is a an every changing and evolving landscape, and so information needs to be updated regularly.

Research impact

The work by Research Matters is now helping local authorities by:

  • Providing a roadmap of current employment and skills provision;
  • Providing local authorities with a clear picture of what provision is available in their local authority area, including who provides it (where information is available) in their area;
  • Helping local authorities understand the spatial footprints that shape this provision and how this is changing;
  • Highlighting an evolving provider landscape of key national and local providers which might offer new opportunities for partnership and development;
  • Supporting local government to collaborate with central government to shape provision and maximise opportunities that arise.


At Research Matters, we love a good mapping project.  Whether its policies, interventions, funding opportunities, products or competitors, we have developed a pragmatic and productive methodology for building a usable resource for clients.  Always tailored to the specific needs of our clients and accompanied by clear and insightful analysis that give clients the understanding they need.  Get in touch if you have a project in mind and we will be happy to talk it through.

Shining light on health inequalities – RM commissioned by The Health Foundation

Last month the Health Foundation launched the COVID-19 impact inquiry, exploring the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for health and health inequalities in the UK. The inquiry will explore how people’s experience of the pandemic was influenced by their health and existing inequalities and the impact of the pandemic on people’s health and future health inequalities. 

Research Matters is thrilled to have been commissioned to conduct an evidence review as one of the strands of the inquiry, looking at how the public has experienced the pandemic.  We are trawling through qualitative and polling data, as well as other types of relevant evidence, that reflects the myriad of different feelings, experiences and reactions to the pandemic across different segments of the public.  

Alongside our work, the Health Foundation has also issued a call for evidence to gather evidence from a range of sources across the UK about how experiences of the pandemic have been influenced by people’s existing health conditions and inequalities.  

We can all see and feel how the pandemic and the response have exposed and exacerbated inequalities across our society.  And some of us are lucky enough to have felt some positive impacts too.   Research Matters is humbled and proud to be supporting the Health Foundation in shining a light on these important issues.

Taxonomy of health care policy interventions for the NHS in England

Research Matters has published a working paper setting out the structure of the NHS taxonomy that was developed as part of the Quality Impact Evidence Summaries (QIES) project. (see link Taxonomy of health care policy interventions for the NHS in England; A working paper for Quality Impact Evidence Summaries (QIES) project)

QIES present measurable evidence of the impact of policy interventions within the NHS. Distinctively, impact is viewed through the lens of quality, using the Institute of Medicine (IOM) domains of quality as a framework.

QIES began as a series of structured reviews featured in A Clear Road Ahead, a 2016 Health Foundation project delivered in collaboration with Professor Sheila Leatherman, to shape a quality strategy for the NHS.  The Health Foundation re-commissioned Research Matters in 2017-18 to develop the structured reviews further, with the aim of exploring the potential to develop a sustainable tool or service to support and promote evidence-based policy and decision making across the NHS in England.  

This paper explores the NHS taxonomy used, which focuses on health care policy levers at a national level.  It provides a framework to enable the comparison of policy interventions that have similar underlying modes of action, in order to highlight ‘what works’.  Crucially, the taxonomy can be used to underpin a systematic approach to the production of evidence reviews and potentially to influence decisions about where to commission policy research and evaluations


Rapid Evidence Review: NHS workforce retention

Retention is a current and complex workforce issue facing the NHS, with Health Education England (HEE) CEO, Ian Cumming, citing retention as the biggest single challenge in tackling NHS workforce shortages.[1]   But whilst the narrative about retention is clear and punctuated with headline-grabbing figures about retention levels, the impact of variations in retention, particularly on NHS performance and patient outcomes is less well understood.

A recent call for applications (now closed) from the Health Foundation focused on new research which would advance understanding of workforce retention in health and social care.  As part of this, Research Matters was commissioned by the Health Foundation to conduct a Rapid Evidence Review to understand the existing literature exploring retention in the health and social care workforces.  The aim of the work was to provide a broad overview of the current evidence base and identify areas where evidence is sparse or lacking.

Using a time-limited and pragmatic approach, we were able to deliver a high-level profile of the current evidence base on retention (2008 onwards), including the different approaches and study methodologies and where studies are focused in terms of sectors, staff groups and geography.  We summarised the main findings about retention and highlighted gaps and areas for further research.   Finally, we outlined high-level conclusions to frame ongoing research about retention in the health and social care workforce.

You can download the rapid evidence review here:  Understanding the current evidence base on workforce retention in Health and Social Care, A rapid evidence review for The Health Foundation, Laura Barrett, Elaine Robinson, Research Matters, September 2018

The report was for internal use by the Health Foundation and is published by Research Matters with the permission of the Health Foundation.

[1] Speech to NHS Confederation conference, June 2017

Case Study: Bespoke market segment analysis for specialist health care provider

We have recently finished working on a really interesting project with a not-for-profit provider of specialist health care.  We were able to produce a single, consistent and qualified view of market and competitive dynamics for four target segments.  These were niche areas that are not usually covered by published ‘off the shelf’ market research.  By deep diving and focusing on what matters for our client we produced work that was tailored to meet their specific requirements.  The case study describes our approach and the impact we had for our client. You can download our case study here: Case Study: bespoke market research


Measuring performance of schools: progress or attainment?

Should a child’s PROGRESS or ATTAINMENT level be the main measure of a school’s success?  With UK Government policy increasing focus on progress (albeit secondary to attainment for now) and debate growing about a more wholesale shift, you can see why assessment of progress is one of the key new product areas showcased at BETT 2015 this year (along with robots – but more about these in another post!).

BETT2015 Arena Wall

Closing the gap and leading the way

In the US, No Child Left Behind (2001) has placed the emphasis on accountability for under-achievement and has led to the development of the Common Core State Standards. In both, measuring progress is a marker for the schools themselves and for the learners, and both are driving the interest in, and uptake of, progress testing more broadly.  But progress testing for subject areas, most notably, literacy and maths, has also been growing in the UK and New Zealand.

Progress testing increasing in UK schools

With the removal of National Curriculum levels, OFSTED now is also beginning to focus more on different types of assessment, including measuring progress.  But there is a more significant shift ahead.

Under Government plans announced last year, from 2016 primary schools will be held to account by two measures.  Firstly schools should ensure that 85% of 11 year olds attain level 4 in their SATs (currently the threshold is 65%).  If schools don’t meet this standard, they must report against an alternate measure tracking pupils’ progress.

A new report from CentreForum takes this further – Progress matters in Primary too, supported by Pearson UK, argues that the pupil progress should be the main measure reported in primary school league tables. The report argues that a progress measure encourages schools to focus on all children and that it also means the focus is on pupil performance in the context of their individual baseline, rather than benchmarking them against a single standard.

This has significant implications for early assessment, because if a school is to demonstrate that pupils are making progress, they need a baseline to measure against.  This will require an assessment of pupils soon after they arrive in reception classes.   We can expect some contention, as many feel the system is already bogged down with testing and assessment, and that this has the effect of narrowing the view of what successful teaching looks like.

Others however see the wider, positive benefits of progress testing which can feed into personalising learning, the formative teaching process and enhanced learner outcomes.

Progress tests proliferating at BETT 2015

UK primary schools will be encouraged to start using an approved assessment as early as September 2015.  Not surprisingly, the emergence of progress testing focusing on primary schools was very evident last week during our annual visit to BETT2015.  We saw more and more assessment products and courses offering in-built progress testing, and also school management systems that were placing greater emphasis on recording and communicating pupil progress in ways that teachers could easily interpret and act on.

CEMS’s Performance Indicators in Primary School baseline tests are well established formative assessments used to evaluate what a child knows and can do when they start school. This test informed the initial Government policy about introducing the formal baseline assessment.  One product that we liked at BETT was GL’s Reception Baseline Assessment, a tablet based face-to-face assessment carried out between a teachers and child with a real emphasis on fun and interaction.  ‏

Progress testing in subject areas is a little more established and we enjoyed looking at GL’s Progress in English; Hodder Education Assessment Plus, AQA’s Online Progress Tests.  Our favourite though are Renaissance Learning’s STAR Assessment products, especially the Accelerated Reader.  Combining computer-based testing with adaptive learning, measuring progress and linking this with genuinely developing a love of reading – what’s not to like?


We have helped clients think about how to incorporate the assessment of progress in their products, looking especially at innovations around the world and in parallel subjects.  It’s a great opportunity for the expanding assessment market, but is it a great opportunity for our schools?  We agree with CentreForum and are watching with interest to see developments in the UK.  What do others think about how take-up will pan out here?

Ten years, ten tips – launching researchchatter

RM Icon_5 200pxWe are marking an amazing ten years in business for Research Matters – a good time for a refresh (new branding, new website, new blog …) and a moment to reflect.

We’ve been thinking about what we’ve learnt after our first decade … Obviously, there is all that’s involved in running a business, especially in a technologically changing and enabling world, but more than that, here are some of our “so what’s” so far …


Research matters

Time and again, we have seen deep, thorough, objective, scrutinised research combined with client engagement, systematic thinking and intelligent insight help businesses and organisations make better decisions. We want our research to make a difference, sometimes small, sometimes more significant, so we work hard to make sure it hits the spot.  Research matters – this is what we love to do and it’s why we do it.

‘Start with why’

Knowing our clients is the first priority, personally where possible – we always try to meet people face to face. But more importantly, understanding what and especially why they are need to know something is the starting point. More about Start with Why to follow…

Working with integrity means saying no

Not as a rule, but when we know we can’t do work as well as we want to, we’ve learnt to say no. We’ve also found solutions much more quickly than expected, resulting in curtailed projects and reduced revenues.

McKinsey ethos is fundamental

We rely on our shared McKinsey ethos and experience. It has proved invaluable and transfers well enough from a global strategy consulting firm to our small business of two! The professionalism, ‘client first’ mantra, rigorous research, clarity of communication and relentless focus on ‘so what?’ are the cornerstones of our approach and enjoyment. It gave us a great network too!

Work comes

Not usually in a nice, even flow, quite the contrary, but it always comes. That doesn’t stop us getting anxious when times are leaner, but that is the nature of small business.

Good work is the best marketing

When the work speaks for itself, repeat business and recommendations follow. So it can be worth going that extra mile or just being.

Don’t apologise about price

Let the work do the speaking again!

Education and health are our favourite things

For Research Matters at least. So many interesting issues and sectors researched, but all our client work on education and health has been especially satisfying and fascinating. These have become ‘themes’ for Research Matters, as well as areas of expertise and from time to time we will post or retweet about these.

Girls matter too

We’re women in business, working with other women in business. And we’re Mum’s of girls. We’ve done lots of research into the impact of education for girls at one level, to issues around the glass ceiling for working women at the other end of the spectrum. Here’s another important ‘theme’ for us that we support and will raise from time to time.

Home is best

We love visiting clients around the country, especially in London, but it’s great coming back to York and Yorkshire!



So mostly, our learnings are about having confidence, knowing what we’re good at and loving what we do – it’s that increasingly hackneyed idea of working authentically (Why have we become so obsessed with the pursuit of authenticity?) What have other small businesses learnt about working in ways that feel right and work well (or authentically?!)?