Research published by the Sutton Trust shows that for schools in the UK, the achievement gap in maths, science and reading between the top-performing pupils from low and high socio-economic backgrounds is around two years and eight months.
Global Gaps by Dr John Jerrim of the UCL Institute of Education analyses the 2015 test scores from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) PISA tests to assess how well the top 10% of pupils in the UK’s schools are doing. In England, the highest-achieving pupils score above the median score for OECD countries in maths, science and reading. However, in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, high-achieving pupils perform, on average, below the OECD median scores.
For girls in England, the achievement gap in science and reading is even greater. High-achieving girls from low socio-economic backgrounds are around three years behind their more advantaged, high-achieving peers. This is around eight months greater than the equivalent gap for boys for science, and nine months greater for reading. There is no significant gender difference in maths, with an achievement gap of around two years and nine months for both girls and boys.
Source: Global Gaps: Comparing socio-economic gaps in the performance of highly able UK pupils internationally (February 2017), The Sutton Trust
A longitudinal study published in Child Development evaluates an early maths trajectories model for 517 low-income US children from ages 4- to 11-years-old to determine whether children’s maths skills at 4- and 5-years-old predicted their maths achievement at age 11.
Children were tested on six maths skills (patterning, counting objects, comparing quantities, understanding written numbers, calculating and understanding shapes) during their last year of pre-school and near the end of the first grade (Year 2). At the end of the fifth grade (Year 6), they were tested on a range of maths knowledge, including knowledge about numbers, algebra, and geometry.
Bethany Rittle‐Johnson and colleagues found that children’s skills in patterning, comparing quantities and counting objects in pre-school were strong predictors of their maths achievement at age 11. By the end of the first grade (Year2), understanding written numbers and calculating were the strongest predictors of later maths knowledge. Patterning skills remained a predictor, however, shape knowledge was never a unique predictor of later maths achievement.
These results suggest that children’s maths knowledge in pre-school is related to their later achievement; however, not all early achievement is a useful predictor of future performance.
Source: Early math trajectories: low-income children’s mathematics knowledge from ages 4 to 11 (2016) Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12662
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
A working paper from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research finds evidence that teaching assistants can have positive effects on pupil outcomes.
Charles T. Clotfelter and colleagues examined the role of teaching assistants and other non-teaching staff in elementary (primary) schools in North Carolina to identify causal effects on pupils’ test scores in maths and reading.
Positive effects were identified on test scores in reading, but for maths, positive effects were only found for minority pupils’ test scores. For both reading and maths, the effects on minority pupils’ test scores were larger than the effects on the test scores for white pupils.
The report also found that more teachers (and therefore smaller class sizes) had a number of positive effects on test scores, particularly for minority pupils, and were also associated with lower absentee rates and a lower probability of high rates of in-school suspension.
Source: Teaching assistants and nonteaching staff: Do they improve student outcomes? (2016) National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER)
The Education Endowment Foundation evaluated the impact of the ReflectED programme using a randomised controlled trial involving 1,858 pupils across 30 schools in five areas throughout England over the academic year 2014/15. The evaluation examined the impact on the maths and reading achievement of Year 5 pupils, and also their attitudes toward reading and maths.
The ReflectED programme was developed by Rosendale Primary School to improve pupils’ metacognition — their ability to think about and manage their own learning. This includes the skills of setting and monitoring goals, assessing progress, and identifying personal strengths and challenges.
Year 5 pupils who took part in the trial made an average of four months’ additional progress in maths (ES = +0.30) compared to those in the control groups. The evaluators also found evidence that pupils in the programme developed a more positive attitude toward maths. However, in reading they made two fewer months’ progress than the control group (ES = -0.16) and developed a slightly less positive attitude toward the subject.
The evaluation also found that most schools were already teaching metacognitive and reflective skills similar to those taught in the ReflectED programme, which are likely to have continued in the control group classes. This might have limited the impact that ReflectED had on teachers’ practice and pupils’ outcomes.
Source: ReflectED: Evaluation report and executive summary (2016), Education Endowment Foundation
Breakfast clubs that offer pupils in primary schools a free and nutritious meal before school can boost their reading, writing and maths results, according to the results of a randomised controlled trial published by the Education Endowment Foundation.
Over the course of an academic year parents of around 8,600 pupils from 106 primary schools in England with higher than average numbers of disadvantaged pupils were encouraged to send their child to free breakfast clubs. The independent evaluation by researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Children’s Bureau found that for Year 2 children the provision of a breakfast club led to a significant improvement in the main outcome measures of mathematics (Effect Size = +0.15) and reading (+0.10) when compared with schools running “business as usual”. For Year 6 children, the impact on assessments were positive but slightly smaller in reading (+0.10) and mathematics (+0.08). Surprisingly, there were larger improvements for pupils not eligible for free school meals than for those eligible.
The evaluators also reported that pupils’ behaviour and concentration improved. Attendance at school also improved for pupils in breakfast club schools, resulting in about 26 fewer half-days of absence per year for a class of 30. The findings suggest that it is not just eating breakfast that delivers improvements, but attending a breakfast club. This could be due to the content of the breakfast itself, or to other social or educational benefits of the club.
Source: Magic Breakfast: Evaluating school breakfast provision. Evaluation report and executive summary (2016), Education Endowment Foundation