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).

The long-lasting effect of pre-school experiences

A new research report published by the Department for Education explores the impact of the early home learning environment (HLE) and pre-school on entry patterns and overall achievement at ages 17 and 18.

The authors used data from the Effective Provision of Pre-school Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) study, a large-scale, longitudinal study which has tracked the progress and development of more than 3,000 UK children from pre-school to post-compulsory education. They merged this with achievement data from the National Pupil Database.

The report concludes that both the early HLE and pre-school continue to shape young people’s educational outcomes up to age 18. There were significant positive effects for both the early HLE and pre-school in terms of increasing the likelihood that a young person will enter AS- or A-levels.

In terms of achievement, those who experienced a good early HLE were more likely to have higher achievement in terms of Key Stage 5 point scores. Although for most pupils attending pre-school did not lead to effects in the grades they achieved at KS5, separate analysis for the Sutton Trust showed a lasting impact for disadvantaged young people classed as high achievers at the end of primary school.

Previous research using the EPPSE data found that when pupils were 16 years old both the early HLE and pre-school shaped their GCSE attainment. Positive parenting and a stimulating HLE at an early age predicted both a higher total GCSE score and better grades in English and maths, and achieving the GCSE benchmark measures of 5 A*-C and 5 A*-C including English and maths. The same was true for attending any pre-school compared to none.

The Best Evidence in Brief archive includes a number of previous reports based on the EPPSE project.

Source: Pre-school and early home learning: Effects on A level outcomes (2015), Department for Education.

What influences attainment at age 16?

The Department for Education has published a new report analysing the attainment and behavioural outcomes at age 16 of children in the Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) study.

EPPSE is a large-scale, longitudinal study of the progress and development of children from preschool to post-compulsory education. The study ran from 1997 to 2014, following nearly 2,600 children in six local authorities from early childhood to age 16.

The report is substantial. Focusing on academic attainment as measured by GCSE results, the key findings include:

There is an enduring effect of preschool. Attendance, quality, and duration at preschool all show long-term effects on academic outcomes.

  • The early years home learning environment has a long-term impact, and a stronger impact on all measures of GCSE results than free school meal eligibility.
  • Family income, measured in KS1 (age 5-7), showed large effects on the likelihood of achieving 5 A*-C grades at GCSE.
  • Parents’ highest qualification level (compared to no qualifications) was the strongest predictor of better attainment in GCSE English and achieving 5 A*-C including English and maths.
  • Ethnicity was a relatively strong predictor of total GCSE score and maths grades.
  • Pupils who had attended a more academically effective primary school for maths went on to gain better GCSE maths grades.
  • Secondary school quality and pupils’ experiences of school also influenced outcomes.
  • After taking into account other influences, girls and Autumn-born children generally scored higher at GCSE.

Source: Students’ Educational and Developmental Outcomes at Age 16 (2014), Department for Education.

Good schools make a difference

A new article, published online in Urban Education, looks at the impact of family, school, and neighbourhood contextual characteristics on the outcomes of children growing up in poverty. Using data on 424 children from seven schools in deprived areas of Chicago, the authors examined four school performance outcomes including children’s maths and reading levels, grades repeated, and behavioural problems. They conclude that the study validates the impact of poverty and other adversities on a child’s school achievement and behaviours.

They found negative associations at the family level; for example, household size and household adversity were significantly associated with the increased probability of repeating a grade, and children not living with their fathers were more likely to repeat a grade or have behavioural problems. There were also negative associations at a community level; for example, low neighbourhood education levels were negatively associated with children’s maths and reading scores.

However, children enrolled in high-performing schools had higher reading scores and higher maths scores compared with those from mid/low-performing schools. The authors suggest that interventions aiming to improve the quality of schools may mediate the negative effects of individual and neighbourhood disadvantages on children’s school performance.

Source: School and Behavioral Outcomes Among Inner City Children: Five-Year Follow-Up (2013), Urban Education.

What works in education around the world?

This report from the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement and the TIMSS PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College presents data from 9-10 year-old pupils in 34 countries who took both the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) assessments in 2011. Home environment information was also available because the PIRLS assessment includes a parent questionnaire. In total over 180,000 children, 170,000 parents, 14,000 teachers, and 6,000 school leaders participated in these two studies worldwide.

According to the authors, their analyses of the data suggest that, across countries, there are a number of school and home factors that can positively affect achievement in reading, mathematics, and science at the Year 5 level. For example, they say that when parents engage children in early literacy activities, it can help children develop both literacy and numeracy skills. The early literacy activities they mention include reading books, telling stories, singing songs, playing with alphabet toys, talking about things you’ve done or have read, playing word games, writing letters or words, and reading aloud signs and labels.

Source: TIMSS and PIRLS 2011: Relationships Among Reading, Mathematics, and Science Achievement at the Fourth Grade—Implications for Early Learning (2013), TIMSS PIRLS International Study Center.