Poor pupils more than two years behind in reading

New research published in a special issue of Fiscal Studies shows that the link between family background and high achievement is stronger in England than in most other developed countries.

The study uses data from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and analyses the reading test scores of 15-year-old pupils in 23 countries.

The results show that high-achieving pupils from the lowest socio-economic groups in England are, on average, two-and-a-half years behind their wealthier peers. This is more than twice the gap found in in some other developed countries. Only the US, New Zealand, and Scotland have a bigger socio-economic gap than England in the reading test scores of high-achieving pupils.

The Government is attempting to improve the performance of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing £10 million for projects to help those who fail to reach the expected level of English by the end of primary school (level 4 at Key Stage 2).The announcement comes as a response to last year’s Key Stage 2 results, which showed around 100,000 pupils in England failed to reach level 4 in English by the end of primary school.

Source: The socio-economic gradient in teenagers’ reading skills: How does England compare with other countries? (2012), Fiscal Studies, 33(2).

Qualifications are the key to better early years education

Providing staff with the right skills is essential for ensuring better quality early years education. Professor Cathy Nutbrown has published her final independent report on early education and childcare qualifications Foundations for Quality, which shows that high quality early years provision narrows the gap between disadvantaged children and others, and that staff qualifications improve quality.

A large-scale public consultation was conducted to gather evidence, and an interim report was released in March 2012. In this final report, Professor Nutbrown has set out 19 recommendations to improve the quality of education in the early years sector. These include, mentoring and support for newly-qualified staff, improving qualifications to make them more rigorous and with a stronger focus on child development, and that the government should not impose a licensing system for the sector at this stage.

The government will now consider Professor Nutbrown’s report in detail before responding later in the year.

Source: Foundations for quality: The independent review of early education and childcare qualifications – Final Report (2012), Nutbrown Review

Persistent poverty damages young children’s cognitive development

Persistent poverty has a greater effect on children’s cognitive development than intermittent poverty, according to the latest working paper from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) at the University of London’s Institute of Education. The study, which analyses data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, shows that children born into poverty have significantly lower cognitive development test scores at ages 3, 5, and 7, and that continually living in poverty in their early years has a cumulative negative impact on their cognitive development.

The researchers looked at whether the children were in poverty at ages 9 months, 3 years, 5 years, and 7 years and then estimated the effect of poverty on the children’s scores on cognitive tests taken at ages 3, 5, and 7, which included vocabulary, pattern construction, picture recognition, and reading. For children who had been poor at only one point since birth, it was being born into poverty that had the most detrimental effects on cognitive development, whereas recent episodes of poverty had the least impact.

Source: Persistent poverty and children’s cognitive development: Evidence from the UK Millennium Cohort Study (2012), Institute of Education University of London

Randomised controlled trial of the Teens and Toddlers programme

This report from the Department for Education presents findings of a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the impact of the Teens and Toddlers (T&T) programme, which aims to reduce teenage pregnancy by raising the aspirations and educational attainment of 13- to 17-year-old girls at most risk of leaving education early, social exclusion, and becoming pregnant.

The T&T programme, which consisted of weekly three-hour sessions over 18 to 20 weeks, combined group-based learning with work experience in a nursery. The RCT measured the impact of the programme on a specific set of outcomes while it was taking place, immediately afterwards, and one year later. Immediately after the intervention, there was no evidence of a positive impact on the three primary outcomes:

  • use of contraception;
  • expectation of teenage parenthood; and
  • general social and emotional development.

However, there was evidence of improved self-esteem and sexual-health knowledge, which were secondary outcomes. One year later, the only impact was that the teenagers were less likely to have low self-esteem.

Source: Randomised controlled trial of the ‘teens and toddlers’ programme (2012), Department for Education

Little incentive for rewarding teacher teams

In the last issue of Best Evidence in Brief, we included a PISA in Focus review on performance-based pay for teachers. This US study from the RAND Corporation also looks at performance pay, but specifically at the effects of rewarding teams of teachers. The study, which used a randomised design, included 159 teams of teachers teaching pupils in grades 6 to 8 (KS3) in nine schools. Teachers on selected teams had the opportunity to earn a bonus based on their pupil’s growth in achievement in mathematics, English language arts, science, and social studies.

The study showed that the intervention had no effect on pupil achievement, teacher practices, or teacher attitudes. Pupils taught by teacher teams who were offered incentives scored slightly better on some standardised tests, but the differences were small and not statistically significant.

Source: No evidence that incentive pay for teacher teams improves student outcomes (2012), RAND Corporation

Effective programmes for primary science

Which science programmes have been proven to help primary school pupils to succeed? To find out, the University of York’s Institute for Effective Education, Johns Hopkins University and Durham University completed a research review on the topic. The review summarises evidence on three types of programmes designed to improve the science achievement of primary school pupils: inquiry-orientated programmes without science kits, inquiry-orientated programmes with science kits, and technology programmes.

The review supported the use of inquiry-orientated programmes without science kits, such as science-reading integration approaches, but not those with kits. Limited research on technology approaches such as BrainPop also showed positive impacts. The evidence supports a view that improving outcomes in primary science depends on improving teachers’ skills in presenting lessons, engaging and motivating pupils, and integrating science and reading.

Source: Effective programmes for primary science: A best-evidence synthesis (2012), Best Evidence Encyclopedia