The long-lasting effect of pre-school experiences

A new research report published by the Department for Education explores the impact of the early home learning environment (HLE) and pre-school on entry patterns and overall achievement at ages 17 and 18.

The authors used data from the Effective Provision of Pre-school Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) study, a large-scale, longitudinal study which has tracked the progress and development of more than 3,000 UK children from pre-school to post-compulsory education. They merged this with achievement data from the National Pupil Database.

The report concludes that both the early HLE and pre-school continue to shape young people’s educational outcomes up to age 18. There were significant positive effects for both the early HLE and pre-school in terms of increasing the likelihood that a young person will enter AS- or A-levels.

In terms of achievement, those who experienced a good early HLE were more likely to have higher achievement in terms of Key Stage 5 point scores. Although for most pupils attending pre-school did not lead to effects in the grades they achieved at KS5, separate analysis for the Sutton Trust showed a lasting impact for disadvantaged young people classed as high achievers at the end of primary school.

Previous research using the EPPSE data found that when pupils were 16 years old both the early HLE and pre-school shaped their GCSE attainment. Positive parenting and a stimulating HLE at an early age predicted both a higher total GCSE score and better grades in English and maths, and achieving the GCSE benchmark measures of 5 A*-C and 5 A*-C including English and maths. The same was true for attending any pre-school compared to none.

The Best Evidence in Brief archive includes a number of previous reports based on the EPPSE project.

Source: Pre-school and early home learning: Effects on A level outcomes (2015), Department for Education.

Mind the gap

A new research report published by the Department for Education explores success and good practice in supporting the achievement of disadvantaged pupils, and concludes that schools have meaningful scope to make a difference.

In England, the performance gap between pupils from more- and less-advantaged backgrounds is one of the largest among OECD countries. This research used school-level data, surveys, and interviews to identify schools that have successfully narrowed the gap, common features across these schools, and what lessons can be learned from success stories.

The authors found that between one- and two-thirds of the variance between schools in terms of disadvantaged pupils’ achievement can be explained by school-level characteristics, suggesting that intake and circumstance are influential but do not totally determine outcomes.

  • Promote an ethos of achievement for all pupils, rather than stereotyping disadvantaged pupils as a group with less potential to succeed.
  • Have an individualised approach to addressing barriers to learning and emotional support at an early stage, rather than providing access to generic support and focusing on pupils nearing the end of key stages.
  • Focus on high-quality teaching first rather than add-on strategies and activities outside school hours.
  • Focus on outcomes for individual pupils rather than on providing strategies.
  • Deploy the best staff to support disadvantaged pupils; develop skills and roles of teachers and Teaching Assistants rather than using additional staff who do not know the pupils well.
  • Make decisions based on data and respond to evidence using frequent, rather than one-off, assessment and decision points.
  • Have clear, responsive leadership: setting ever-higher aspirations and devolving responsibility for raising achievement to all staff, rather than accepting low aspirations and variable performance.

The report also has an accompanying briefing for school leaders which summarises the findings, identifies school risk factors and how schools can address them, and provides a list of suggested next steps.

Source: Supporting the Attainment of Disadvantaged Pupils: Articulating Success and Good Practice: Research Report (2015), Department for Education.

No evidence of “gaming” in Reception Baseline trial

From 2016, when children start school in England they will be given an initial assessment, called the Reception Baseline assessment. This will be used as the starting point from which their progress through school will be measured. The Department for Education (DfE) has published new research, including a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT), which aimed to investigate schools’ behaviour changes in response to this accountability reform.

The RCT was carried out in autumn 2014, and explored whether schools’ perceptions of the purpose of the assessment led to differences in pupils’ early attainment, and in particular if there was any evidence of “gaming”. There might be a concern that schools would lower pupils’ results to show greater progress later on.

A sample of 153 schools (5,368 eligible pupils) were randomly allocated into two groups, with one group told that the assessment would be used for accountability purposes (the Accountability Group) and the other told it would only be used as a teaching and learning aid (the Teaching and Learning Group).

In the two treatment groups, the mean score within the Accountability Group was 2.7 marks (4.2%) less than those within the Teaching and Learning Group, and this reduction was seen in the two subject areas making up the test – maths and reading. However, once the correlation between pupils within schools was taken into account, the result was no longer statistically significant.

The report concludes that the trial found no strong evidence that framing the Reception Baseline assessment as an accountability measure as opposed to a teaching and learning aid resulted in a reduction in test results.

Source: Reception Baseline Research: Results of a Randomised Controlled Trial. Research Brief (2015), Department for Education.

More time needed for multiplicative reasoning trial?

The Department for Education has published a new report describing a randomised controlled trial of a pilot of the Multiplicative Reasoning Project (MRP). MRP focuses on developing teachers’ understanding and capacity to teach topics that involve multiplicative reasoning to Key Stage 3 (KS3) pupils.

The pilot was delivered by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM). Approximately 60 teachers in 30 schools engaged in three regional professional development networks led by professional development leaders and supported by university researchers. At school level, the programme was implemented by two core teachers in each school. Approximately 36-54 hours’ worth of high quality research-informed curriculum materials were also created.

The trial ran between October 2013 and June 2014 and involved 8,777 pupils clustered into 418 KS3 mathematics classes. Approximately half the schools, teachers, and pupils participated in the intervention and half formed a control group.

The authors found that the programme did not have any statistically significant impacts on general mathematical attainment or on items on the tests specifically associated with multiplicative reasoning, but suggest that the lack of impact could be due to the timescale of the project. There were a number of positives: The programme was considered effective as a curriculum design project and pilot project for teacher professional development, it had a positive impact on pupils’ relationship with mathematics as reported by teachers in surveys and interviews, and it led to a number of positive changes in teacher beliefs and practices.

Source: Multiplicative Reasoning Professional Development Programme: Evaluation (2015), Department for Education.

KS4 achievement key to HE success

What role do schools play in encouraging more young people to continue into higher education and achieve at university? New research published by the Department for Education suggests that pupils’ Key Stage 4 (KS4) attainment is central.

Using data from schools and universities, the authors found evidence of sizable differences between pupils from different types of schools. For example, pupils who attended selective state schools were more than 40 percentage points more likely to go to university and more than 30 points more likely to go to a high-status institution than pupils attending non-selective state schools. In contrast, students who attended one of the 20% of secondary schools with the highest proportions of free school meal (FSM)-eligible pupils were, on average, 5.4 percentage points more likely to drop out, 11.0 points less likely to complete their degree, and 21.8 percentage points less likely to graduate with a first or a 2:1 than those who attended one of the 20% of secondary schools with the lowest proportions of FSM-eligible pupils.

However, when comparing pupils with similar background characteristics and KS2 scores, most of the remaining gaps in higher education participation could be explained by accounting for the qualifications, subjects, and grades that pupils achieved at KS4.

The authors conclude that amongst pupils with a given set of characteristics and prior attainment, those from non-selective or low-value-added state schools could be regarded as having higher “potential” than those from selective or high-value-added state schools or independent schools. Therefore, they suggest that university entry requirements could be lowered for such pupils. They also recommend that widening participation efforts should focus on ensuring that pupils make the right choices of subjects and qualifications they take at KS4 to maximise their chances of getting good grades at this level.

Source: The Link Between Secondary School Characteristics and University Participation and Outcomes: CAYT Research Report (2014), Department for Education.

Achievement gap narrowing for looked-after children

A new statistical release, published by the Department for Education, explores a range of outcome measures at national and local authority level in England for children continuously looked after for at least 12 months. The release shows there has been modest progress.

At Key Stage 1 (age 6-7), achievement in mathematics, reading and writing has improved gradually between 2009 and 2013. The achievement gaps between looked-after children and their peers have also fallen slightly during that time.

At Key Stage 2 (age 10-11), the picture is similar, with the achievement gap falling between 2009 and 2013, although it is still substantial. In reading, the gap fell from 27% to 23%, while in mathematics it fell from 32% to 26%.

At Key Stage 4 (age 15-16), 15.3% of looked-after children achieved 5 or more A* to C GCSEs or equivalent including English and mathematics (up from 11% in 2009). Changes to the attainment gap are less clear, but this compares with 58% of non-looked-after children who achieved 5 or more A* to C GCSEs or equivalent including English and mathematics in 2013. Although it is important to note that a high proportion of looked-after children (67.8%) have special educational needs, the achievement gap is substantial and influenced by a broad range of factors.

Source: Outcomes for Children Looked After by Local Authorities (2014), Department for Education.