Evaluation of “Code Clubs”

The National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) has published the results of a randomised controlled trial and process evaluation of Code Clubs – a UK network of after-school clubs where children aged 9–11 learn to program by making games, animations, websites and applications. Code Club UK produces material and projects that support the teaching of Scratch, HTML/CSS and Python. The clubs, which are supported by volunteers, usually run for one hour a week after school during term time.

The evaluation, conducted by Suzanne Straw and colleagues, assessed the impact of Code Clubs on Year 5 pupils’ computational thinking, programming skills and attitudes towards computers and coding. Twenty-one schools in the UK took part in the trial which used a pupil-randomised design to compare pupil outcomes in the intervention and control groups. Intervention group pupils attended Code Club during the 2015/16 academic year, while control group pupils continued as they would do normally.

The results of the evaluation showed that attending Code Club for a year did not impact on pupils’ computational thinking any more than might have occurred anyway, but did significantly improve their coding skills in Scratch, HTML/CSS and Python. This was true even when control children learned Scratch as part of the computing curriculum in school. Code Club pupils reported increased usage of all three programming languages – and of computers more generally. However, the evaluation data suggests that attending Code Club for a year does not affect how pupils view their abilities in a range of transferable skills, such as following instructions, problem solving, learning about new things and working with others.

Source: Randomised controlled trial and process evaluation of code clubs (March 2017), National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER)

Selective schools not necessarily better

New analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) shows there is no academic benefit to attending partially selective schools. Partially selective schools admit a proportion of pupils by academic ability and/or subject aptitude and a proportion by commonly used non-selective criteria. The NFER identified 38 partially selective schools in England that select more than 10% of pupils on the basis of ability or aptitude, but are not wholly selective grammar schools. Of these 38 schools, 20 selected pupils on academic ability alone. The next most common criterion was academic ability and musical aptitude (10 schools). Four schools selected by aptitude for music alone. The remaining schools selected pupils using a mixture of academic ability and different aptitudes.

The findings of the analysis by Karen Wespieser and colleagues revealed that pupils with high prior achievement make less progress in maths at partially selective schools than their peers at non-selective schools (up to five percentage points). Pupils with low prior achievement are less likely to achieve five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths, than pupils at non-selective schools (up to eight percentage points). In addition, they find that admissions policies at some partially selective schools may act as a barrier to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Source: The performance of partially selective schools in England (March 2017), National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

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

Employer engagement in schools

The National Foundation for Educational Research has released this report that explores the best available evidence on ways employers engage with schools, the features and principles of successful employer involvement, and the impact of employers’ involvement on young peoples’ progression. Overall, the involvement of employers with schools is considered to be beneficial to all involved; however, there is a lack of evidence on the impact employer involvement has on pupils’ achievement and progression.

  • There are ten key features to successful employer involvement, which include good communication, commitment, flexibility, and a focus on the curriculum.
  • There is some evidence of a positive impact on pupils’ vocational skills, knowledge, and understanding; academic and learning outcomes; health and well-being; and enjoyment and engagement, but a lack of robust evidence on the impact on harder outcomes such as achievement and continuing education.
  • There is little evidence of the impact on specific groups of young people who might be at risk of becoming “NEET” (not in education, employment, or training).

Source: Employer involvement in schools: A rapid review of UK and international evidence (2012), National Foundation for Educational Research

What leads to positive change in teaching practice?

This report presents findings of a National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) study that looks at the research evidence about what leads to positive change in teaching practice in schools.

A literature review, which focused primarily on literature published in English since 2006, identified four factors that affect teaching practice: leadership, planning and preparation, practice development, and monitoring and evaluation. The report also highlights gaps in the evidence that may benefit from further research.

Source: What leads to positive change in teaching practice? (2012), National Foundation for Educational Research

Invest early, but use evidence

Researchers from the NFER have been looking at early intervention, that is, approaches delivered “early in the life of a problem, or when children are younger”. This study, which is the fourth in a series for the Local Government Association, found that such approaches can have greater benefits in the long term and therefore be more cost effective.

But it highlighted the need for programmes to be evidence-based, and for these to be delivered with fidelity to the programme’s design. The authors emphasise that more work is needed to improve the evidence that is available, especially information about cost-effectiveness. Meanwhile, the Department for Education has announced the next steps in the creation of the Early Intervention Foundation, which will provide advice and support on issues relating to early intervention.

Source: Early intervention: informing local practise (2012), National Foundation for Educational Research