Game over?

A new report from the National Children’s Bureau Northern Ireland (NCB NI) has shown a link between gaming and GCSE attainment. The authors found that only two-fifths (41%) of pupils who reported using a portable games player a couple of times a day achieved 5 A*-C grades compared to over three-quarters (77%) of those who reported rarely using one. However, no relationship was observed between social networking and GCSE attainment.

The two-year longitudinal study focused on a cohort of secondary pupils (n=978) from 13 schools in some of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland. The authors used data from surveys and focus groups, as well as GCSE results, with the aim of gaining a better picture of young people’s access to information technology, as well as their usage, attitudes toward it, and skills levels.

As well as the impact on GCSE results, headline findings included:

  • The vast majority (95%) of young people had access to a computer/laptop at home, but this still left around 1,000 young people without access and potentially at a significant disadvantage.
  • Young people were spending a significant amount of time online each day, with one third spending four hours or more online in Year 1 of the study rising to 40% in Year 2.
  • School staff were particularly concerned about the extent of gaming, reporting a number of issues relating to attendance, punctuality, and motivation. Particular issues were identified in relation to male pupils, with gaming addiction noted in some instances.

These findings reflect another recent report included in Best Evidence in Brief last month.

Source: ICT & Me: A Research Study Examining How Young People’s Use of ICT and the Amount of Screentime Impacts on GCSE Attainment (2015), National Children’s Bureau.

Trends in our schools

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has produced a new briefing on trends in compulsory education across the whole of the UK, as well as the factors shaping these trends.

Using a broad raft of data, combined with previous research, they identified five trends.

  1. Changes in the attainment gap between different pupil groups. Although comparing data from different nations within the UK is problematic, the authors conclude that the largest attainment gap is between pupils from different socio-economic backgrounds – bigger than both the largest ethnic minority gap and gender gap.
  2. Rising pupil numbers. Pupil numbers have increased across the UK as a whole in recent years, although they are falling in secondary schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  3. Decreasing numbers of people entering initial teacher training. The number of people entering training has been declining at secondary level in England, Scotland, and Wales since 2005/06 (data could not be identified for Northern Ireland). However, with the exception of Wales, the ratio of pupils to teachers has remained constant across the UK at all levels.
  4. The growing use of technology. Although technology is increasingly being adopted in classroom, research has shown that this does not in itself improve learning. The authors suggest one of the most promising ways in which technology could benefit teaching and learning is through changes to assessment.
  5. Changing levels of school autonomy and diversity. Schools in England have more autonomy from local authorities than in other UK nations, and there is a greater diversity of types of school.

The report also identified three key factors shaping these trends: population growth, inequality, and the changing labour market (particularly in terms of concerns about whether schools are providing children with the right knowledge and skills for the labour market of the future).

Source: Trends in Compulsory Education (2015), Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

What works for struggling readers?

A new report from the US National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance summarises evidence from 17 studies conducted under Striving Readers, a federal grant programme that aimed to raise middle and high school pupils’ literacy levels in deprived areas. As part of the programme, each Striving Readers grantee partnered with an independent evaluator to conduct a randomised controlled trial of the reading intervention being implemented.

For the current report, all of the Striving Reader evaluations were reviewed under What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards. Twelve studies met the standards without reservations, three studies met with reservations, and two studies did not meet the WWC evidence standards.

Based on findings from studies that met the standards with or without reservations, four of ten interventions had positive, potentially positive, or mixed effects on reading achievement. Specifically:

  • For READ 180, there was evidence of positive effects on reading achievement. Three studies found statistically significant positive effects.
  • For Xtreme Reading, there was evidence of potentially positive effects on reading achievement. One study found statistically significant positive effects and one study found no effects.
  • For Learning Strategies Curriculum, there was evidence of potentially positive effects on reading achievement. There was a single study of the intervention, and it found statistically significant positive effects.
  • For Voyager Passport Reading Journeys, there were mixed effects on reading achievement. One study found statistically significant positive effects and two studies found no effects.

Source: Summary of Research Generated by Striving Readers on the Effectiveness of Interventions for Struggling Adolescent Readers (2015), Institute of Education Sciences.

A little help from your friends

A new article in the British Journal of Psychology describes research into whether, and how, a single close supportive friendship may improve psychological resilience in socio-economically vulnerable young people. The authors conclude that such friendships facilitate resilience, and that at least one close friendship helps adolescents’ strength and resilience against substantial adversity.

409 participants aged between 11 and 19 years were recruited through three comprehensive secondary schools and two colleges in Yorkshire with deprived catchment areas (n=394), and through an online mailing list for peer supporters (n=15). They completed self-report measures of close friendship quality, psychological resilience, social support, and other resources.

Findings revealed a significant positive association between perceived friendship quality and resilience. This was facilitated through inter-related mechanisms of developing a constructive coping style (comprised of support-seeking and active coping), effort, a supportive friendship network, and reduced disengaged and externalising coping. There were gender differences. Perceived friendship quality facilitated effort and friendship network support more strongly for boys than girls, and in contrast it promoted constructive coping more strongly for girls. Boys were more vulnerable to the harmful effects of disengaged and externalising coping than girls.

The authors suggest a number of implications for practice, including:

  • Practitioners might prioritise existing and emerging supportive adolescent friendships within resilience interventions;
  • Interventions might promote peer-based coping skills and self-efficacy; and
  • Supportive peer friendships might be regularly included within assessments of psychosocial resources by clinicians and educators.

Source: Best Friends and Better Coping: Facilitating Psychological Resilience Through Boys’ and Girls’ Closest Friendships (2015), British Journal of Psychology.

Do teachers show bias when gauging pupil ability?

New research from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands has analysed teachers’ opinions of the academic abilities of their pupils at the end of primary school to see whether these were accurate, inaccurate, or showed bias.

The research was based on a sample of 7,550 pupils in 500 classes in their final year of Dutch primary school (aged approximately 12 years). In the Netherlands, pupils are placed in various “tracks” when they start secondary school based on their scores on a standardised test at the end of primary school and their primary teacher’s track recommendation. This study explored whether teachers’ recommendations were fair reflections of pupils’ previous performance.

The authors found that for more than 70% of the teachers the average observed expectation did not differ significantly from the average expected expectation based on the performance records of the pupils in their classes. However, the differences among teachers in expectations for Turkish, Moroccan, and other ethnic minority pupils with low-educated parents were larger than the average teacher expectation bias for these groups in the sample. Teacher expectation bias for demographic groups was found to be independent of the class population.

The authors found that the teachers in the sample had higher expectations for pupils in high-performing classes or classes with only a small proportion of pupils from underprivileged families.

Similar bias was found among UK teachers in a study we featured in Best Evidence in Brief in June.

Source: Accurate, Inaccurate, or Biased Teacher Expectations: Do Dutch Teachers Differ in their Expectations at the End of Primary Education? (2015), British Journal of Educational Psychology.

It’s hard work to motivate students

The results of an experiment to use incentives to increase student effort have shown little evidence of a significant positive impact.

The trial was carried out in 63 relatively deprived schools in England in the first two terms of the 2012/13 academic year. The 7,730 Year 11 students who took part were allocated to one of three groups:

  • In the control group schools (n=33), students received no incentives for student effort, but student effort was monitored in the same way as in the two treatment groups.
  • Students at schools in one treatment group (n=15) received financial rewards twice a term (every eight weeks) depending on their effort.
  • Students at schools in the other treatment group (n=15) were able to attend an event at the end of each term (at Christmas and Easter) if their effort met a certain threshold.

The trial aimed to test loss aversion (the idea that individuals dislike losses more than they like gains of the same value), so, for example, the students were told they had £80 in incentives, but money was deducted if they did not reach the threshold in four measures of effort: attendance, behaviour, classwork, and homework.

The results showed no significant improvement in attainment, for either type of incentive, in maths and English standardised tests. For students with a lower level of prior attainment, there was a small but significant improvement in maths scores (effect size +0.13). For the financial incentive there was a positive and statistically significant increase in classwork for English, maths, and science, and a similar (but not significant) improvement with the event incentive. There was no improvement in any of the other measures of effort.

The report is one of seven studies recently published by the Education Endowment Foundation.

Source: Increasing Pupil Motivation (2014), Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).