A review of the evidence on early language development

A new review of the evidence on early language development, commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation in partnership with Public Health England, has examined the most effective ways to support young children with delays in their early language development between birth and five years old.

James Law and colleagues looked at the existing evidence to find out which interventions have the greatest potential for boosting young children’s language skills and reducing inequalities in outcomes. They identified 44 intervention studies which focused on language and related skills in pre-school. All the studies were randomised controlled trials or quasi-experimental, matched study designs. Positive effect sizes were found in relation to receptive language in 29 studies. They found one of the best ways to improve early language development for this group is by training teachers in early years settings so that they can deliver cost-effective and evidence-based interventions to those children who have fallen behind.

In addition to high-quality early years provision, the researchers identified interactions with parents as key, highlighting the need to promote positive interaction between parents and their children before they start pre-school.

The report also stresses the need for better monitoring of children’s progress at different stages of their development, to catch those children falling behind and to identify those who need targeted, specialised support.

Source: Early Language Development: Needs, provision and intervention for preschool children from socio-economically disadvantage backgrounds (October 2017), Public Health England and Education Endowment Foundation

Poor literacy skills hold poorer pupils back in science

A report, published by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Royal Society, has reviewed existing studies to identify interventions and teaching approaches that have a positive impact on pupil learning in science, particularly for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The researchers from the University of Oxford analysed data in the National Pupil Database in England to measure the extent of the gap in the performance between economically disadvantaged pupils and pupils from higher socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds on national science tests. This analysis confirmed that disadvantaged pupils (pupils who have been entitled to free school meals at least once in the last six years) had much lower scores and made poorer progress in science, at every stage of their school career, than pupils from higher SES backgrounds. The gap, they suggest, first becomes apparent at Key Stage 1 (ages 5–7) and only gets wider throughout primary and secondary school. The gap for science is as wide as it is in English and maths, and grows particularly strongly between the ages of 5–7 and 11–16.

The study also found that the strongest factor affecting pupils’ science scores was how well they understood written texts. According to the report, poor literacy skills affect how well a pupil is able to understand scientific vocabulary and to prepare scientific reports. This suggests that strategies to boost disadvantaged pupils’ reading comprehension could have a positive impact on their achievement in science too. The authors write: “In correlational studies of science learning, the strongest and most consistent predictor of pupils’ scientific attainment has undoubtedly been how literate they are”. They add that there is a “strong relationship” between pupils’ socioeconomic status and their literacy.

A study, which we covered in a previous edition of Best Evidence in Brief, found a similar relationship between literacy and science achievement gaps for pupils in US elementary and middle schools.

Source: Review of SES and science learning in formal educational settings: A report prepared for the EEF and the Royal Society (September 2017), Education Endowment Foundation and Royal Society

Evaluation of Success for All

The Education Endowment Foundation recently published a report on the effectiveness trial of the Success for All (SFA) programme to evaluate its impact on the literacy outcomes of Reception pupils. SFA is a whole-school approach to improving literacy in primary schools. All teachers and senior leaders are involved, with the school receiving a total of 16 training and support days. Teachers receive pedagogical training – for example on effective phonics teaching – and teaching materials such as structured lesson plans. For the school leadership team, there is support in areas such as data management, ability grouping and parental engagement.

Fifty-four schools took part in this effectiveness trial, which was evaluated by Sarah Miller and colleagues from Queen’s University Belfast. Although the intervention was delivered on a whole-school basis, the evaluation focused only on the outcomes of 1,767 pupils starting in Reception, and followed them through to the end of Year 1.

The main analysis found that Reception pupils in SFA schools made more progress than pupils in control schools after two years (effect size = +0.07). The effect was slightly larger for pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM), compared to FSM pupils in control schools after two years (effect size = +0.12). In both cases, the effect was smaller than those found in previous evaluations (this is the third RCT of SFA to be conducted, and the first independent trial of the programme in England). Trials in the US reported effect sizes between +0.15 and +0.30. The report suggests that one possible reason for this was that some schools struggled to implement the programme as intended.

The project delivery team was from the University of York. Robert Slavin, director of the US Center for Research and Reform in Education, is Co-founder and Chairman of the Board of the Success for All Foundation.

Source: Success for All: Evaluation report and executive summary (July 2017), Education Endowment Foundation

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

Talking in class boosts progress in maths, science and English

An intervention that trained teachers to improve and monitor the quality of classroom talk had a positive impact on primary pupils’ test scores in English, maths and science, a report published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) reveals.

Seventy-six primary schools with higher-than-average proportions of disadvantaged pupils took part in a randomised control trial of the Dialogic Teaching intervention, which is designed to improve the quality of classroom talk as a means of increasing pupils’ engagement, learning and achievement. Year 5 teachers in 38 schools (2,493 pupils), and a teacher mentor from each school, received resources and training from the delivery team and then implemented the intervention over the course of the autumn and spring terms in the 2015/16 school year. A control group of 38 schools (2,466 pupils) continued with business as usual. Following the intervention, pupils were tested in English, maths and science.

The results showed that pupils in the intervention schools did better in the main outcome measures of English (effect size = +0.16), science (+0.12), and maths (+0.09) when compared with pupils in the control schools who didn’t receive the intervention. For pupils who received free school meals, the intervention had a higher impact on maths (+0.16), but around the same for English (+0.12) and science (+0.11). Teachers reported positive effects on pupil engagement and confidence, and on the whole the intervention was highly regarded by participating schools. However, some teachers felt that it would take longer than two terms to fully embed a Dialogic Teaching approach in their classrooms.

The Dialogic Teaching intervention was developed by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust and the University of York. This University of York news story has more.

Source: Dialogic teaching: evaluation report and executive summary (July 2017), Education Endowment Foundation

Scale-up evaluation of Switch-on disappoints

An independent evaluation for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) of the Switch-on intervention has found no evidence that it improves the reading outcomes of pupils struggling with literacy at Key Stage 1 (ages 5–7 years) compared to schools’ usual practices.

Switch-on is an intensive, targeted literacy intervention that aims to improve the reading skills of pupils who are struggling with literacy. There are two versions of the intervention: Switch-on Reading and Switch-on Reading and Writing. Both involve specially trained Teaching Assistants (TAs) delivering a tailored programme of literacy support in daily 20-minute sessions over a ten-week period.

Schools selected pupils in Year 3 who were working below age-related expectations at the end of Key Stage 1 and who did not have a high level of special needs. Each of the 184 participating schools was then randomly assigned to receive either Switch-on Reading, Switch-on Reading and Writing, or to continue their usual practices of supporting pupils with reading difficulties. In total, 999 pupils were involved in the trial.

Estimated effect sizes were zero and not statistically significant. The intervention also showed no effect on pupils eligible for free school meals. These findings contradict a previous, smaller EEF-funded evaluation of Switch-on which had shown signs of promise in raising reading outcomes for Year 7 pupils.

Source: Switch-on – effectiveness trial (May 2017), Education Endowment Foundation