Science clubs may boost socially disadvantaged pupils’ scientific aspirations

Extracurricular activities in science, such as after school clubs, may help to increase scientific aspirations of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to new research published in the International Journal of Science Education.

Tamjid Mujtaba and colleagues looked at survey responses of 4,780 pupils in Year 7 and Year 8 from schools in England with high proportions of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Their responses showed that pupils’ aspirations to study science beyond age 16 were strongly associated with their basic interest in the subject, how useful they thought science was for future careers and their engagement in extracurricular activities, such as science clubs. In addition, pupils’ confidence in their own abilities in science and encouragement from teachers and family to continue studying science after age 16 had smaller but still relevant associations.

Overall, the researchers suggest that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds would benefit from support and encouragement to continue with science and having access to science-related extracurricular activities.

Source: Students’ science attitudes, beliefs, and context: associations with science and chemistry aspirations (March 2018), International Journal of Science Education, Volume 40, Issue 6

Why do so few low- and middle-income children attend a grammar school?

A new study led by John Jerrim at UCL Institute of Education suggests that private tutoring may be one reason that children from high-income families are more likely to get into grammar schools than children from low-income families.

The research, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, uses data from the Millennium Cohort Study for more than 1,800 children from grammar school areas in England and Northern Ireland. It considers how factors such as family income, prior academic achievement, private tutoring and parental attitudes and aspirations are linked with children’s chances of attending a grammar school.

The study finds that children from families in the bottom quarter of household incomes in England have less than a 10% chance of attending a grammar school. This compares to around a 40% chance for children in the top quarter of household incomes. Results also show that children who receive tutoring to prepare for grammar school entrance exams are more likely to get in. Overall, around 70% of those who receive tutoring get into a grammar school, compared to just 14% of those who do not. However, less than 10% of children from families with below average income receive tutoring for the grammar school entrance test, compared with around 30% of children from households in the top quarter of family incomes.

Source: Why do so few low and middle-income children attend a grammar school?  New evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study (March 2018), UCL Institute of Education

Examining the evidence on out-of-school-time programmes

Out-of-school-time (OST) programmes typically provide children with additional academic lessons outside of school hours and/or recreational and enrichment activities. To examine the evidence base on OST programmes, Jennifer McCombs and colleagues from the RAND Corporation reviewed meta-analyses and large-scale, rigorous experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations of after-school and summer programmes. Their review included specialty programmes (eg, sports or arts programmes); multipurpose programmes (eg, Boys and Girls clubs); and academic programmes (eg, summer learning programmes).

After reviewing the research, the authors compiled the following conclusions:

  • OST programmes provide measurable benefits to children and families on outcomes directly related to programme content.
  • Academic OST programmes with sufficient “dosage” (measured by the hours of content provided) can demonstrably improve pupil achievement.
  • Programme quality and intentionality influence outcomes.
  • Children need to attend regularly to measurably benefit from programming.

The authors provide a complete list of studies reviewed and their key findings.

A previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief included a study by the Nuffield Foundation, which examines the effect of OST study programmes on GCSE performance in England.

Source: The value of out-of-school-time programmes (2017), PE-267-WF, RAND Corporation

Montessori preschool boosts academic results and reduces income achievement gap

A longitudinal study published in Frontiers in Psychology examined how children in Montessori schools changed over three years compared with children in other pre-school settings.

The Montessori model involves both child-directed, freely-chosen activity and academic content. Angeline Lillard and colleagues compared educational outcomes for children allocated places by a random lottery to either Montessori pre-schools (n=70) or non-Montessori pre-school settings (n=71) in Connecticut, US. The research team carried out a variety of assessments with the children over a three-year period, from when the children were three until they were six.

The researchers found that over time children in Montessori pre-schools performed better on measures of academic achievement (Woodcock–Johnson IIIR Tests of Achievement effect size = +0.41) and social understanding, while enjoying their school work more, than those in conventional pre-school settings. They also found that in Montessori classrooms, children from low-income families, who typically don’t perform as well in school, showed similar academic performance as children from higher-income families. Children with low executive function similarly performed as well as those with high executive function.

The findings, they suggest, indicate that well-implemented Montessori education could be a way to help disadvantaged children to achieve their academic potential.

Source: Montessori Preschool Elevates and Equalizes Child Outcomes: A Longitudinal Study (October 2017), Frontiers in Psychology

Slow progress in closing the attainment gap

A new report from the Education Policy Institute has examined the progress made in closing the gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils in the UK (those eligible for Pupil Premium) and their peers. The analysis considers how that gap varies across the country and how it has changed since 2007.

While the report does find that the gap has closed slightly, progress is slow. Between 2007 and 2016, the gap by the end of primary school only narrowed by 2.8 months. Over the same period, the gap by the end of secondary school narrowed by 3 months. However, last year, disadvantaged pupils were still 19 months behind their peers by the time they took their GCSEs, meaning that on average a disadvantaged pupil falls two months behind their peers for each year of secondary school. The situation is worse for the most persistently disadvantaged pupils (those who have been eligible for free school meals for at least 80 per cent of their time in school). Over the last decade, the attainment gap for this group has actually widened slightly by 0.3 months. In 2016 the most disadvantaged pupils were on average over two full years of learning behind their peers by the end of secondary school.

The report also finds that some regions of the UK are doing worse than others when it comes to closing the gap. The disadvantage gap is generally smaller in London, the south and the east of England, at around 16 to 18 months. Successful areas in London include Hackney, Islington, Newham and Barnet, where disadvantaged pupils are around eight months behind. The Isle of Wight has the largest gap – pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are on average 29 months behind their peers by the end of secondary school.

Source: Closing the gap? Trends in educational attainment and disadvantage (August 2017), Education Policy Institute

Evaluation of Challenge the Gap

An evaluation of the Challenge the Gap (CtG) programme for the Education Endowment Foundation found no evidence that the programme increased average achievement for either primary or secondary pupils overall.

Challenge the Gap is a two-year school improvement programme that aims to help schools improve the achievement of their disadvantaged pupils through a professional development programme for staff. The evaluation conducted by The University of Manchester, involved 21,041 pupils from 104 schools (64 primary schools and 39 secondary schools). Around 24% of pupils in the primary schools and 16% in the secondary schools were eligible for free school meals. The evaluation assessed the impact on all participating schools using 2015 Key Stage 2 or Key Stage 4 results. CtG schools were compared to schools with a similar socio-demographic profile.

No evidence was found that CtG increased the average achievement for either primary or secondary school pupils, overall. For children eligible for free school meals (FSM), those in CtG primary schools made two months’ additional progress (average effect size = +0.10) compared to similar children in non-CtG schools. In CtG secondary schools, FSM-eligible pupils made two months’ less progress compared to similar pupils in non-CtG secondary schools (average effect size = -0.10). The smaller number of FSM-eligible pupils in the trial means that these results are less secure than the overall findings.

Source: Challenge the Gap: Evaluation report and executive summary (July 2017), Education Endowment Foundation