Have GCSE reforms in England led to a widening of the achievement gap?

A report published by the Sutton Trust suggests that recent changes to GCSEs – including tougher exams and a new grading system – have led to a slight widening of the achievement gap in England, but the overall impact is small.

Making the Grade uses Key Stage 4 data from the National Pupil Database from before and after the GCSE reforms were introduced. Simon Burgess and Dave Thomson looked at the results and entry rates for disadvantaged pupils (pupils eligible for free school meals at any point in the six years up to and including the year in which they reached the end of Key Stage 4) and non-disadvantaged pupils to explore the impact on disadvantaged pupils and the achievement gap.

Their findings suggest that during the period that the reforms were introduced, test scores for disadvantaged pupils fell slightly compared to their classmates. Under the previous system, 2% of disadvantaged pupils achieved the top grade of A*, whereas just 1% now achieve a 9 (the re-designated top grade). The drop is less for non-disadvantaged pupils, falling from 8% achieving A* to 5% achieving a 9.

Source: Making the grade: The impact of GCSE reforms on the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers (December 2019), the Sutton Trust

How do teachers choose to give feedback?

While the impacts of feedback on pupils’ learning are well-established, it is less clear what factors influence the ways teachers provide feedback. To help rectify this, an article published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology examines how teachers’ perceptions of task difficulty and views of intelligence influence whether and how they give feedback.

The study was conducted with 169 English teachers from Chinese primary schools attending an English summer school for enhancing teacher skills. Teachers were given six scenarios to read, each of which described a lesson where the teacher asked a designated pupil to complete a task. In three of the scenarios, the pupil succeeded, while in the other three scenarios, the pupil failed. After reading each scenario, teachers were asked to rate their perception of task difficulty, the likelihood of giving feedback, and the likelihood of giving both person and process forms of feedback. Moreover, teachers completed a measure assessing their views on whether intelligence is malleable. The results showed that:

  • teachers were more likely to provide feedback following success than failure
  • following pupils’ failure, teachers were more likely to provide process feedback rather than person feedback
  • when the tasks were perceived to be challenging, teachers were more likely to provide feedback
  • teachers who believed more in the view that intelligence was fixed reported that they would give more person and process praise, but following failure gave more process feedback.

The authors recommend that future research could explore in detail what feedback teachers in other cultures provide and the underlying reasons, with the goal of enriching our understanding of the entire feedback mechanism in order to benefit pupils.

Source: Examining teachers’ ratings of feedback following success and failure: a study of Chinese English teachers (December 2019), British Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 89, Issue 4

Importance of pupil-teacher relationships for pupil engagement and behaviour

In an article published in School Psychology, Mylien Duong and colleagues examine how important the pupil-teacher relationship is for pupil engagement and behaviour.

The study examines the effects of the Establish-Maintain-Restore (EMR) approach – a professional development programme for middle school teachers aimed at enhancing their skills in building relationships with pupils. In this randomised controlled trial, 20 teachers and 190 pupils from a US middle school (Years 7–9) in the Pacific Northwest region were assigned to either EMR or control conditions. Teachers in the EMR condition received three hours of training and ongoing implementation support. Control teachers were given the same amount of professional development time.

Observers rated academically engaged time and disruptive behaviour. Teachers reported on relationship quality using a modified version of the Student-Teacher Relationship Scale, which used only the five items deemed most relevant for EMR of the 28 items usually measured. The results showed that pupils of EMR-trained teachers had improved behaviour in the classroom (effect size = +1.07). EMR also resulted in improvements in pupil-teacher relationships (effect size = +0.61) and academically engaged time – instances when a pupil was paying attention to the teacher or working on a lesson task (effect size = +0.81).

While these findings are promising, it is important to note that the study included only teachers and pupils from one middle school, so replication with larger samples is needed before conclusions about effectiveness can be drawn.

Source: Brief teacher training improves student behavior and student-teacher relationships in middle school (March 2019), School Psychology, Vol 14, 2

What is the impact of the New York City Community Schools initiative?

Research published by the RAND Corporation assesses the impact of the New York City Community Schools initiative (NYC-CS) on outcomes related to attendance, achievement, pupil behaviour, and school climate and culture.

Launched in 2014, the NYC-CS is a strategy to organise resources in schools and provide various services to address the comprehensive needs of pupils, families, and communities through collaboration with community agencies and local government. As part of the study, William R Johnston and colleagues assessed the effects of NYC-CS during the 2017–2018 school year to determine whether pupils were performing better than they would be had their schools not been designated as Community Schools, using average pupil outcomes in each school.

Among the key findings, the results indicate that NYC-CS had positive effects on most of the outcomes examined. In particular, NYC-CS had a positive impact on attendance for pupils in all grades, and these effects appeared to be increasing over time. There was also evidence that NYC-CS led to a reduction in disciplinary incidents for elementary and middle school pupils (Years 1–9) but not for high school students (Years 10–13).

Source: Illustrating the promise of Community Schools: An assessment of the impact of the New York City Community Schools initiative (January 2020), Rand Corporation, RR-3245-NYCCEO

Evaluation of Maths Counts

A paper published in Educational Research and Evaluation presents the findings of a one-year efficacy trial of Maths Counts – an intensive, individualised programme to support children who struggle with basic maths skills at Key Stage 2 (age 7 to 11).

The participants were 291 pupils in Years 3 to 6 from 35 primary schools in England. Pupils were randomised within school and allocated to an intervention (Maths Counts) or control (business-as-usual) group. The programme was delivered to intervention pupils by specially trained teaching assistants three times per week, for 10 weeks, during curriculum time but outside the regular classroom. The first ten minutes of each session focused on revision of prior learning, and the next 20 minutes introduced new knowledge and skills.

The results of the trial suggest that Maths Counts is effective for pupils who struggle with basic maths skills (effect size = +0.12 for general maths skills, and +0.18 for maths attitude). However, there was no evidence that it was effective for pupils eligible for free school meals (effect size = -0.14 for general maths skills, and +0.07 for maths attitude).

Source: Evaluation of the impact of Maths Counts delivered by teaching assistants on primary school pupils’ attainment in maths (November 2019), Educational Research and Evaluation, 25:3-4

Examining the effects of the CW-FIT intervention

Class-Wide Function-Related Intervention Teams (CW-FIT) is a classroom programme designed to increase academic, social and behavioural success for pupils. The programme emphasises group contingencies and self-management. It teaches positive social skills, uses teacher praise and group points for good behaviour, incorporates goal setting and provides rewards.

In order to build CW-FIT’s research base, a randomised controlled trial was carried out over four years, designed to replicate one site’s original study by adding two more research groups and to include investigators who were not the developers of the programme.

Seven elementary (primary) schools in three US states participated. Pupils were in grades K–6 (Years 1–7), 55% were of minority ethnicities, and 69% received free- or reduced-price school meals. Within each school were experimental and control classes – 83 experimental and 74 control in total. Baseline data collection included measures of pupil time on-task and teacher use of reinforcement during business-as-usual conditions for two to three weeks. At baseline, no teacher was observed using token rewards or group rewards. During the study, control group teachers received a two-hour training in general classroom management and were referred to district protocol when pupil behaviour problems occurred. Experimental group teachers implemented CW-FIT during one targeted period three to five times per week from October to March. During CW-FIT sessions, after teaching pupils the appropriate way to get attention, follow directions, and ignore inappropriate behaviour, the teacher set a timer at two to five minute intervals, awarding a point to teams with all members behaving at that moment. At the end of class, awards were given to all team members who met specific goals.

At the end of the study, results favoured the CW-FIT group. On-task behaviour for CW-FIT pupils increased from 55% to 80%, while the control group remained close to baseline at 58%. Teacher classroom management behaviours increased from 52% to 86% for the CW-FIT group, but remained at 55% for the control group. These results are reflective of earlier studies’ findings.

Source: Class-wide Function-Related Intervention Teams (CW-FIT): student and teacher outcomes from a multisite randomized replication trial (September 2018), The Elementary School Journal 119, no. 1