Better schools for all?

The Better Schools for All? report, published by the Nuffield Foundation, examines the role that schools play in pupils’ education and suggests that the school reforms in the UK in the past two decades have failed to bridge the gap in pupil achievement.

Researchers from University College London and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research looked at data from around 3,000 secondary schools in England between 2003 and 2016 and compared pupil outcomes and teachers’ experiences with those of employees elsewhere.

They found that:

  1. Attending a “good” secondary school adds only a small amount more value than attending a “bad” secondary school. Overall, schools were found to contribute around 10% of variance in pupil achievement.
  2. State schools are better at managing staff than private schools. Using Workplace Employment Relations Survey data, the study shows that state schools were more likely to have rigorous hiring practices and employee participation programmes than private schools, and the link between human resource management and effective and high-performing schools was only apparent in the state sector.
  3. Performance-related pay and performance monitoring, which were found to improve workplace performance elsewhere, were ineffective for teachers.
  4. Schools with more middle leaders tended to be rated more highly by Ofsted in terms of leadership and management. However, in schools which formed part of a multi-academy trust, no significant relationship was apparent.

Source: Better schools for all? (June 2019), Nuffield Foundation

Sure Start had positive health benefits for children in poorer neighbourhoods

A new evaluation conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies considers the overall impacts on children’s health of the Sure Start programme as a whole between its inception in 1999 and its peak in the late 2000s. Sure Start is an early intervention programme targeted at parents and children under the age of four living in the most disadvantaged areas. Sure Start projects deliver a wide variety of services, which are designed to support children’s learning skills, health and well-being, and social and emotional development. They include preschool education; medical, dental, and mental health care; nutrition services; and efforts to help parents encourage their child’s development.

The study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, followed children who had access to Sure Start right through to the end of primary school, and found that Sure Start had major health benefits for children living in disadvantaged areas. The main findings of the study include:

  • Sure Start reduced hospitalisations among children by the time they finished primary school, and these effects built over time. By age 11, greater Sure Start coverage (one more centre per thousand children ages 0–4) prevented around 5,500 hospitalisations per year (18% of the pre-Sure Start baseline).
  • Sure Start benefited children living in disadvantaged areas most. While the probability of any hospitalisation fell by 11% at age 10 and 19% at age 11 for children in the poorest 30% of areas; those in more affluent areas saw smaller benefits, and those in the richest 30% of areas saw practically no impact at all.
  • At every age in primary school, Sure Start reduced hospital admissions for injuries. At younger ages, injury-related hospitalisations fell by around 17% of their pre-Sure Start (1998) baseline; at ages 10 and 11 they fell by 30%. 

The authors suggest that a reason greater benefits were seen in the poorest neighbourhoods could be because disadvantaged children were more able to benefit from Sure Start as the types of services the programme offered in poorer areas were more helpful, or because children in disadvantaged areas were more likely to attend a centre.

In 2012 the Department for Education published a report on the impact of Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) on seven-year-olds and their families, which found no impact on children’s outcomes.

Source: The health effects of Sure Start (June 2019), The Institute for Fiscal Studies

Study shows teacher qualifications positively impact pupil performance

Despite the achievement gap that has historically existed between pupils from different racial backgrounds and poverty levels, at-risk pupils in some California school districts are outperforming pupils of similar backgrounds in other districts. Why? What are these districts doing to make their pupils so successful?

Anne Podolsky and colleagues at the Learning Policy Institute recently released a report first identifying the 156 California school districts performing better than expected, referred to as “positive outliers”, and then compared their characteristics to other districts in the state who have similar populations but are not performing as well.

Results show that schools in the successful districts were comprised of more experienced, well-qualified teachers than the less successful districts. After controlling for pupil social and economic status (SES) and district characteristics, teacher qualification emerged as the primary variable affecting achievement for all pupils, as measured by California’s English and maths assessments. In addition, years’ experience in a district was positively associated with achievement for African-American and Hispanic pupils.

The report notes that in the 2017–18 school year, California authorised more than 12,000 substandard permits and credentials, more than half of the entering workforce that year, many of whom were disproportionately assigned to schools serving the largest percentages of pupils of colour or from low SES backgrounds. The findings highlight how the state’s shortage of qualified teachers is negatively impacting pupil achievement.

Source: California’s positive outliers: Districts beating the odds (May 2019), Learning Policy Institute

Improving times table fluency

The Institute for Effective Education (IEE) has published a new report from a project funded by their Innovation Evaluation Grants. The IEE Innovation evaluations are small-scale and test the kinds of innovations that schools are interested in.

Thirty-four Year 4 classes took part in the evaluation of Improving times table fluency, which was conducted by Underwood West Academy. A total of 876 children were included in the study.

Five groups of four or five classes were created by matching the pre-test scores on a 25-item tables test and the percentage of children in receipt of pupil premium. All groups had similar pre-test scores and similar percentages of children in receipt of pupil premium. Each class used a different balance of conceptual and procedural activities during times tables lessons. Conceptual activities were games that focused on the connections and patterns in tables facts, while procedural activities were games in which pupils practiced multiplication facts.

Pupils had four 15-minute times tables lessons each week, and the intervention lasted for 12 weeks. Before the intervention started, all participating pupils carried out a simple times tables test comprising 25 spoken multiplication questions. The same test was repeated as a post-test.

The results of the trial showed that no one balance of practice activities was more effective than another. The report concludes that times tables may be best taught by using a balanced approach – teaching both the concepts behind them and practising them in a range of ways with low-stakes testing.

Source: Increasing times table fluency (May 2019), Institute for Effective Education

Do expert teachers look at their class differently?

Teachers’ gaze patterns could reveal the different priorities expert teachers and novice teachers have in their classrooms, according to a recent study published in Learning and Instruction.

Using eye-tracking glasses, Nora McIntyre and colleagues investigated how gaze proportions might be different for teachers of different expertise and culture, indicating differences in teachers’ priorities. Twenty secondary school teachers from Hong Kong and twenty secondary school teachers from the UK participated in this study. Teachers were considered as expert teachers if they had six years’ or more experience, were selected by their school leadership as experts in teaching, had professional membership within the field of teaching, and scored highly in performance ratings.

Teachers’ gaze proportions were measured during questioning (information seeking) and lecturing (information giving) in normal timetabled lessons, for their gaze frequencies on the pupils, pupil materials, teacher materials, and non-instructional areas (such as door, windows). The findings were as follows:

  • Regardless of culture, expert teachers prioritised their gaze to pupils during both questioning and lecturing, while beginning teachers prioritised non-instructional classroom areas.
  • HK teachers prioritised their gazes to teacher materials, while UK teachers prioritised it to non-instructional areas during lecturing.
  • HK expert teachers also used more teacher materials gaze than the UK expert teachers.

The authors suggest that the finding of prioritisation of gaze to pupils by expert teachers was consistent with other research since prioritisation of pupils deepens pupils’ understanding of the subject, emotional security, security with peers, and their interest in subject materials.

Source: Capturing teacher priorities: Using real-world eye-tracking to investigate expert teacher priorities across two cultures (April 2019), Learning and Instruction, volume 60

Providing free glasses to secondary age pupils

Jingchun Nie and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial to examine the effects of providing free glasses to pupils in a poor rural area of Western China. 

In this study, screening and vision testing were provided to 1,974 grade seven and eight (Year 8 and 9) pupils from 31 schools located in northern Shaanxi province in China before they were divided into treatment and control groups. Free glasses were distributed in treatment schools to pupils found to need them, regardless of whether they had a pair of glasses already. In contrast, pupils in the control group solely received a prescription for glasses. The glasses usage of the treatment group increased from 31% at baseline at the start of the school year to 72% at the end of the school year, while that of the control group increased from 28% to 50%.

The study questioned pupils about their academic aspirations, administered a standardised exam using items drawn from a bank of questions developed by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and measured the dropout rate to evaluate the intervention. Findings were as follows:

  • Among the pupils without glasses at baseline, the provision of glasses increased their maths achievement (effect size = +0.196), while there was no effect on pupils who already had glasses at baseline.
  • Providing glasses also increased pupils’ aspiration for attending academic high schools (instead of vocational schools) by 9% on average.
  • Providing glasses reduced the rate of dropout by 44% among the pupils who did not own glasses at baseline.

Source: Seeing is believing: Experimental evidence on the impact of eyeglasses on academic performance, aspirations and dropout among junior high school students in rural China (May 2019), Economic Development and Cultural Change DOI: 101086700631