Student allocation to maths sets not always based on previous achievement

Research into grouping by achievement, by academics from Queen’s University Belfast and University College London, has found that nearly a third of students in England were allocated to higher or lower maths sets than their previous test performance implied.

The study, published in the British Educational Research Journal, analysed data from 9,301 Year 7 students at 46 secondary schools in England. The researchers compared which maths set the students would have been put in – based on Key Stage 2 maths test scores – with the sets they were actually placed in. Overall, they found that 31.1% of students were misallocated – placed in sets that were either higher or lower than their results at the end of primary school would have indicated.

Boys were slightly more likely to be misallocated to higher sets in maths (16.7%) than lower sets (13.0%), whereas girls were more likely to be misallocated to lower sets (17.9%) than higher sets (14.7%). Other findings showed that:

  • Black students were 2.4 times more likely than white students to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • Asian students were 1.7 times more likely than white students to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • Female students were 1.53 times more likely than males to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • White students were 2.09 times more likely than black students to be misallocated to a higher maths set.
  • White students were 1.72 times more likely than Asian students to be misallocated to a higher maths set.
  • Male students were 1.32 times more likely than females to be misallocated to a higher maths set.

Source: The misallocation of students to academic sets in maths: A study of secondary schools in England (June 2019) British Educational Research Journal

Bookworms benefit

New research published in the British Educational Research Journal has found that reading for pleasure is more strongly linked to cognitive progress in adolescence than parents’ education.

Data on 3,583 16-year-olds was taken from the 1970 British Cohort Study. This study follows the lives of people born in England, Scotland, and Wales in a single week of 1970, collecting information on health, physical, educational, and social development, and economic circumstances among other factors.

The authors set out to explore the relative importance of economic and cultural resources in determining class differentials in educational outcomes. They found that the home reading culture (including reading to the child and parents reading books and newspapers) was linked to children’s test scores, and this had a role in mediating the influence of parents’ education and also to some extent in mediating parents’ social class.

Childhood reading was linked to substantial cognitive progress between the ages of 10 and 16. Reading was most strongly linked to progress in vocabulary, with a weaker, but still substantial link to progress in mathematics.

The research also found that parental education was much more strongly linked than parental social class to both vocabulary and mathematics scores, broadly supporting the idea that cultural resources matter more to cognitive outcomes than economic resources.

Source: Reading for Pleasure and Progress in Vocabulary and Mathematics (2015), British Educational Research Journal, 41(6).

Family instability increases drop-out rates

A new study has shown that young people who experienced instability in family structure were 33% less likely to stay in education than those who lived in stable married biological families.

The research, published in the British Educational Research Journal, used data from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE), which has tracked the progress of 10,783 young people and their parents. This was combined with information from the National Pupil Database (NPD), which contains longitudinal student achievement data.

Students who had experienced a change in family structure between 2004 and 2007 were significantly less likely to stay in school after the age of 16 than those who did not. In other findings, the study found no discernible difference between children living in cohabiting biological families and those living in married biological families. However, children living in a cohabiting family that included one biological parent were less likely to stay in school than those from two-biological-parent married families.

After accounting for covariates such as family socioeconomic status, the analysis revealed that children from stable lone-parent households were as likely to remain in education after the age of 16 as were children in stable married biological families.

In terms of informing policy, the study shows the importance of identifying the multiple risk factors that children may face. Much research has focused on the importance of poverty, but other factors independent of income can also have an influence.

Source: Family structure instability and the educational persistence of young people in England (2015), British Educational Research Journal

School ethos important for social-emotional learning

A new article published in the British Educational Research Journal describes a study of Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL), a multi-component social-emotional learning programme that is widely used in schools in the UK. Estimates in 2010 suggest that 90% of primary schools and 70% of secondary schools had engaged with SEAL resources, at least to some extent.

For the study, a team of school advisors used a semi-structured observation and interview protocol to rate various aspects of the implementation of SEAL in 49 primary and secondary schools. A total of 2,242 pupils in 29 of these schools completed measures of social experiences and school ethos. School-level achievement and attendance statistics were also collated for all participating schools.
The authors raise the issue of implementation as the programme is built on the premise that each school or setting should find its own way into, and use for, SEAL materials. They note that perceived tensions could be identified between SEAL and other initiatives that may have made competing demands on staff time, effort, and resources. They say these factors may explain the mixed results of previous evaluations.

This evaluation found that the ratings indicative of a whole-school universal approach to SEAL were significantly correlated with school ethos, which in turn mediated associations with pupils’ social experiences, overall achievement, and persistent absence.

Source: Working with ‘Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning’ (SEAL): Associations with School Ethos, Pupil Social Experiences, Attendance, and Attainment (2014), British Educational Research Journal, 40(4).

Family literacy programmes should help children and parents

A new study has found that children living in poverty and whose mothers have no educational qualifications do less well in language, literacy and social development than their peers. Frequent home learning alone does not compensate for this disadvantage.

It suggests that family literacy programmes should have a wider remit in terms of supporting families (for example, encouraging parents to take part in educational activities themselves) rather than solely focusing on supporting parents to give specific literacy or numeracy skills to their children.

Source: Families’ social backgrounds matter: socio-economic factors, home learning and young children’s language, literacy and social outcomes (2011), British Educational Research Journal 37(6)