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

Inattentive students can fall behind

Students with attention problems can fall behind their peers, even if their problems are only mild, according to a new study in Learning and Individual Differences.

The researchers studied 46,369 children in 1,812 English primary schools. Children’s early reading and mathematics were assessed at the start of school. Rating scales were completed by class teachers at the end of their first year, with nine items related to inattention, six items to hyperactivity and three items to impulsivity. English and mathematics attainment was measured using the end of Key Stage 2 (Year 6) statutory tests.

There was a strong negative association between inattention and attainment. If a child met one additional criterion on the nine-point scale related to inattention, their progress toward mathematics and English attainment at age 11 was 0.1 standard deviations below that of their peers of similar deprivation and the same sex. A child meeting all nine inattention criteria was almost one standard deviation lower in English and mathematics than a child meeting no criteria.

Impulsivity was associated with an academic advantage, although the effect size was much smaller than for inattention. If all three impulsivity criteria were met, the advantage amounted to 0.15 and 0.12 standard deviations difference in mathematics and English respectively. Hyperactivity was weakly negatively related to attainment although the association was not statistically significant.

The findings suggest that children with quite modest levels of inattention are at risk of poor academic outcomes, which adds to current knowledge. Such children could be identified by class teachers and could benefit from appropriate school-based interventions.

Source: A longitudinal study of the association between inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity and children’s academic attainment at age 11 (2016), Learning and Individual Differences.

Sketchy findings for arts research

A new systematic review from researchers at Durham University explores the impact of arts education on the cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes of school-aged children aged 3-16, especially disadvantaged children.

The authors found 199 studies that met their inclusion criteria. They considered arts education to include a broad range of subjects, from traditional fine arts to modern dance and movement, hip hop, poetry and creative writing. The majority of studies were about music education or a combination of art forms.

The review found no convincing evidence that demonstrated a causal relationship between arts education and young people’s academic and other wider outcomes, although music (instrumental, music education and music integration) showed promise across all age groups.

The authors rated almost all the studies in the review as providing weak evidence because of serious design flaws, meaning it was difficult to state conclusively what the impact of arts activities in education might be. However, they point out that as a large number of the studies suggest positive effects more rigorous and robust evaluations would be justified.

The Education Endowment Foundation, who commissioned the research, argue that whether or not there is a causal link to attainment, schools should still find space in their day to ensure all children benefit from a stimulating arts education.

Source: Impact of Arts Education on the Cognitive and Non-cognitive Outcomes of School-aged Children: A Review of Evidence (2015), Education Endowment Foundation.

Philosophy for Children

A new report, published by the Education Endowment Foundation, has shown that children taking part in a trial of Philosophy for Children (P4C) made approximately two additional months’ progress in reading and maths.

The authors, from Durham University, conducted an evaluation of the programme from January to December 2013 in 48 English schools. A total of 3,159 pupils in Years 4 and 5 took part in the trial, of which 1,550 were in a treatment group and 1,609 in a control group. Teachers were trained in P4C and pupils received, on average, one period of P4C per week.

P4C is centred on nurturing philosophical enquiry. The aim is to help children to become more willing and able to question, reason, construct arguments, and collaborate with others. It is intended to lead to improved self-confidence, as well as cognitive improvement and academic attainment. Pupils participate in group dialogues focused on philosophical issues. These are prompted by a stimulus (eg, a story or video) and are based around a concept such as ‘truth’, ‘fairness’, or ‘bullying’.

The evaluation found evidence that P4C had a positive impact on pupils’ Key Stage 2 (KS2) progress in reading and maths. Gains in KS2 were greater in all subjects for pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM). However, results on the Cognitive Abilities Test (a different outcome measure not explicitly focused on attainment) showed mixed results. Pupils who started the programme in Year 5 showed a positive impact, but those who started in Year 4 showed no evidence of benefit.

This was one of eight new reports released by the EEF in July.

Source: Philosophy for Children: Evaluation Report and Executive Summary (2015), Education Endowment Foundation.

Monitoring inspections help head teachers to focus

A new report from Durham University forms part of a comparative study to measure the impact of school inspections on teaching and learning in eight European countries.

This report describes the results from three years of data collection in England, which ran from January 2011 to December 2013. Each year head teachers in primary and secondary schools were asked to complete an online survey. The survey included questions on educational quality and change capacity in schools, changes made in the quality and change capacity of the school, inspection activities in the school, the school’s acceptance and use of feedback, the extent to which inspection standards set expectations and promote self-evaluations, and choice/voice/exit of stakeholders in response to inspection reports. The survey results were used to create a number of scales, such as capacity building, school effectiveness, setting expectations, and accepting feedback.

The authors found that on all the scales used, in the first two years of data collection, schools that received their main inspection and an extra monitoring inspection scored higher on average than the schools that received only a main inspection. In the third year, this was also true on almost all scales. A number of these differences (particularly the scales where schools were commenting on their improvement activities compared to last year) were large and statistically significant in the first year of data collection.

Source: Years 1, 2 and 3 Principal Survey Data Analysis: England (2014), Centre for Evaluation & Monitoring, Durham University.

New York Times profiles evidence-based education

The New York Times has published an article on the work of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the rise of evidence-based education.

The institute (an office in the US Education Department), aims to get real data about what works in education, particularly from randomised controlled trials, and shares findings through its What Works Clearinghouse website. Among those interviewed are Robert Slavin, a professor in the IEE (and Director of the Centre for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins School of Education), Peter Tymms from Durham University, and Jon Baron, president of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy.

The article covers the history of the IES and considers the difficulties of translating the institute’s research into practical change. As Slavin explains in the article “It’s fascinating what a secret this is”. Instead, he says, educators are often “swayed by marketing or anecdotes or the latest fad.” However, he is hopeful of change. Despite little political drive in the US, the Obama administration has said its goal is to enable schools to use programmes that have been proven to work.