Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Some nurses might not get jobs straight away, say Lib Dems

A hugely enjoyable story on the BBC today about nursing.

The Lib Dems appear to have discovered HESA's student destination information and have used it to find out that some people who study nursing don't actually become nurses straight away.

In 2005/06, 770 nursing and midwifery graduates did not have a NHS post compared with just over 400 in 2002/03, latest figures show.

As the article points out somewhat further down the page,

The figures were based on more than 11,000 graduates in 2005/06 up from around 9,000 in 2002/03

No, let's be properly accurate about this. In 2005/6, there were 11,225 nursing and midwifery graduates from the UK, of which 8,820 actually replied to the survey.

770 graduates not entering NHS nursing is 8.7% (I'm reporting rounded figures as I am a responsible data user).

In 2002/3, there were 8,640 (not 'around 9,000', as the article claims) nursing graduates from the UK, of whom 6,920 responded to the survey. 440 graduates not entering the NHS is 6.4% - so there's definitely a proportionate increase.

So let's take a look at what the nurses not doing nursing are actually doing.

Well, 1.9% were unemployed. That's not a lot, but it's more than 4 years ago, when 0.7% were unemployed six months after graduating.

Of those who weren't unemployed and were working, what were they doing? Well, actually, the most common job was management, which suggests that these nurses were not settling for second best. Other popular roles included positions in housing and welfare and in drug support. There wasn't a great deal of employment in things like supermarkets and call centres - you can be sure the Lib Dems would have mentioned it if there was.

It is not accurate, as the Lib Dems have done, to imply that all of those nurses who are not working in the NHS six months after graduating have been forced into that position.

There is also a regional pattern to both unemployment and non-NHS employment. Some regions see graduates rather more likely to be unemployed and not employed as NHS nurses. Unemployment rates by domicile range from 0.3% for nurses from Northern Ireland, to 3.7% for those from London. Nurses are more likely than most graduates to be female, to be mature, and to study and work in their home region. There are areas, as in teaching, where there are more positions available than others.

What's interesting about this story is the way the Lib Dems seem to be trying to suggest that they've uncovered some buried scandal. The BBC actually say, "Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats", as if they had to interrogate a mandarin.
Well, only as much as it would have taken 10 minutes with a publicly available dataset to produce the data, as I just did. Or they could have got most of it from here. This wasn't a hard piece of work to produce.

What does it actually tell us? Well, undeniably, proportionally more nurses than 4 years ago are not in the NHS six months after graduation (although, more actual nurses are). However, we are training a lot more. And should they all being going into the NHS?

Some of these nurses do want to go into the NHS and can't - we know that, it causes them distress and is something that should be tackled.

Some want to go into the NHS, there may be positions available but not where they want to work, or in the kind of nursing job they want to do. That's a murkier issue.

And some train as nurses and don't go into the NHS because they change their minds during their courses, or because they get another offer they prefer. That doesn't mean that they don't ever come back, or that their course was a waste of time.

The Lib Dems have not done anything to distinguish between these three cases and treated them all as equally bad. That's not helpful, and it's not useful. They would have been much better identifying those graduates for whom nursing courses have definitely not brought about the outcome they wanted and working out why. But that would have been hard and taken longer. 10 minutes with a spreadsheet has got them a BBC headline. Well done Norman Lamb.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

STEM education open forum

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has opened a new consultation for those interested in STEM education to share ideas and to contribute to the agenda.

It's also got a lot of useful links to allow readers to see what's going on in science education. It's obviously dominated by pre-HE information at the moment, but is designed to be for all levels. It's an interesting step - let's see how it works.

And let's start by guaranteeing the future of Jodrell Bank.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tracking the Future with Futuretrack

Has it really been that long? Back from a hell of sciatica and NDAs just as spring approaches.

Jessica Shepherd has written a piece in the Guardian about the Futuretrack research being run by the Institute of Employment Research at Warwick, as funded by HECSU.

Obviously, I have an interest, so let's get that out of the way.

Futuretrack is a hugely significant project. It is designed to examine the way that students make their decisions about their courses and careers, the factors that influence them and the way that they change as students progress. It's managed to get over 130,000 students to reply, which is huge for a qualitative survey and will have given rise to a staggeringly large dataset packed with fascinating information.

The first report is now out and Jessica's article draws on that to examine the motivations behind course choices. Many students - 38% of this large cohort - still do study their subject for the love of it, and it's easier to motivate yourself for a course you're interested in.

There is a wealth more information to come from this research, so keep an eye out.