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

Is mathematics education in England working for everyone?

A new report published by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) analyses data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) to look at the impact of disadvantage on children’s performance in England.

Focusing on children’s performance in maths, researchers Rebecca Wheater and colleagues find that:

  • The gap between the most and least disadvantaged is equivalent to over three years’ of schooling. This is close to the OECD average.
  • The impact of socio-economic background on maths performance in England can be seen from the most to least disadvantaged. Its effects are even greater when comparing differences in achievement between children of high and average socio-economic background than between children of average and low socio-economic background.
  • Disadvantaged children who perform better than average, given their socio-economic background, tend to be born in the autumn, are more confident in their abilities and are less likely to play truant.
  • The patterns of performance in England have changed little over the years and examination of other countries’ data suggests that they too have found it very difficult to reduce the impact of socio-economic background on performance.
  • Many factors other than socio-economic background also affect performance such as student characteristics and the impact of individual schools. These other factors are more important to student performance in England than in other countries.

Source: Is mathematics education in England working for everyone? NFER analysis of the PISA performance of disadvantaged pupils (2016) National Foundation for Educational Research

Saturday school doesn’t orchestrate success

A recent study from the Education Endowment Foundation found disappointing results for a Saturday school designed to improve the reading and maths attainment of underachieving and disadvantaged pupils in Key Stage 2.

Developed by the SHINE Trust and Hallé Orchestra, the intervention provided additional school-based literacy and numeracy lessons, based on musical themes, as well as visits to Hallé rehearsals, performances and other theme-based activities. Twenty-five Saturday sessions, each lasting five hours, were planned for the intervention over the course of an academic year, delivered by qualified teachers, teaching assistants, peer mentors, and professional musicians.

The evaluation, by Victoria White and colleagues from Durham University, consisted of two randomised controlled trials (RCTs)—a pilot trial and a main trial—and a process evaluation. The pilot trial involved 361 Year 5 and 6 pupils in 18 schools; the main trial involved 2,306 Year 4, 5 and 6 pupils in 38 schools.

There was no evidence that the programme had an impact on the reading or mathematics attainment, or attitudes to reading, maths, music, and school, of the children in the trial.

Attendance of eligible pupils was often low and considered as a barrier to successful implementation. Reasons for low attendance included pupils’ lack of availability to attend the Saturday sessions, variable parental engagement with the programme, and limited time at the beginning of the programme for schools to engage children and parents.

The process evaluation revealed a positive picture of involvement and engagement for those pupils who attended the Saturday school activities. Evaluators observed good working relationships between the teachers and pupils, and positive and purposeful learning environments in lessons. All stakeholders felt pupils were making noticeable improvements in behaviour, confidence, and development of social skills.

Source: SHINE on Manchester (2016), Education Endowment Foundation

Out-of-school time study programmes improve results for poorer students

A project funded by the Nuffield Foundation looked at the effect of out-of-school-time (OST) study programmes on GCSE performance in England.

Using data from the Next Steps longitudinal study of young people, Francis Green and Nicola Pensiero from the Institute of Education recorded the results of those who undertook their GCSEs in 2006. They found that teacher-led OST study groups were moderately effective in improving overall GCSE performance, particularly for children from disadvantaged and lower socioeconomic backgrounds. For children whose parents were unemployed or in routine occupations, an improvement equivalent to approximately two grades was shown on their overall GCSE score.

While OST study programmes are available to children from all backgrounds in the vast majority of secondary schools in the UK, the research showed that 42% of children whose parents are unemployed take part compared to 46% of children from a professional background.

The research found no statistical benefit from programmes that were self-directed by students.

Source: Are out-of-school-time (OST) study programmes an effective way to improve the academic performance of socially disadvantaged children? (2016), UCL Institute of Education