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

Out-of-school clubs linked with better outcomes

A new working paper from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies investigates whether taking part in out-of-school activities during primary school is linked with end-of-primary-school achievement and social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes for all children, and specifically for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The analysis is based on the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a national longitudinal study of more than 11,000 children born in the year 2000. This was linked with administrative data on the children’s attainment scores at ages 6-7 and 10-11. In addition to looking at achievement (total point score, English, and maths) at ages 10-11, researchers also investigated social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) total difficulties and prosocial skills scores.

Results showed that sports clubs and “other” (unspecified) club participation was positively associated with achievement outcomes at age 11, when controlling for prior achievement. Participating in organised sports or physical activity was also positively linked to social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes. Among disadvantaged children, after school clubs emerged as the only organised activity linked to child outcomes; participation was linked to both higher achievement  and prosocial skills at ages 10-11.

Source: Out of School Activities During Primary School and KS2 Attainment (2016) Centre for Longitudinal Studies

The long-term impact of phonics instruction

A discussion paper from the Centre for Economic Performance considers the impact of the introduction of synthetic phonics in English schools.

In the wake of a major report in 2006 (the Rose review), 172 schools in 18 local authorities introduced training in synthetic phonics as part of a pilot programme. The following year, a further 32 local authorities joined a similar scheme. Another 50 local authorities joined 18 months later, and the final 50 a year after that. For each scheme, the model was very similar – a literacy consultant would provide coaching support for at least ten schools in their area. The consultant worked mainly in the Reception year (age 4-5) and Year 1 (age 6-7), but also in Year 2 and nursery.

In this new working paper, using data from the National Pupil Database, researchers have been able to assess the impact of this phased introduction. It shows a substantial leap (an effect size of more than +0.2) in children’s “communication, language and literacy” scores at age 5 when the training is introduced. This effect is maintained even after the initial year of training.

The researchers were also able to follow cohorts as they progressed through primary school to see if any initial effects lasted until age 11 (phonics teaching stopped at age 7). There were no average effects at this age for reading, a broader measure of English attainment, or maths. However, there was a persistent effect (an effect size of more than 0.1) for those classified as non-native English speakers and economically disadvantaged (as measured by free school meal status).

Source: “Teaching to Teach” Literacy (2016), Centre for Economic Performance.

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).