Disadvantaged pupils hit hardest by maths teacher shortages

In England there is currently a shortage of maths teachers; among the factors that might be influencing this shortage are that departments lose 40% of teachers during their first six years in the profession, and there are higher private sector wages for maths graduates. At the same time, demand for maths teachers has increased due to policy measures to increase participation in maths for 16 to 18 year olds. To examine what impact this has had, the Nuffield Foundation commissioned researchers from FFT Education Datalab to look at how secondary schools have responded to the shortage.

Rebecca Allen and Sam Sims used data from England’s School Workforce Census and found that schools are using their most experienced and well-qualified maths teachers for year groups taking high-stakes exams (GCSEs, A-levels, and GCSE retakes), and using inexperienced maths teachers and  teachers who trained in other subjects to fill staffing gaps elsewhere.

In the most disadvantaged schools (those with more pupils eligible for free school meals), pupils across all year groups are more likely to be taught by an inexperienced teacher. At Key Stage 5 (age 16-18) pupils in the most disadvantaged schools are almost twice as likely to have an inexperienced teacher as in the least disadvantaged schools (9.5% versus 5.3%).

Source: How do shortages of maths teachers affect the within-school allocation of maths teachers to pupils? (June 2018), Nuffield Foundation

New evidence on maths teaching

A new review of evidence, commissioned by the EEF and the Nuffield Foundation, analyses the best available international research on teaching maths to children aged 9–14 to find out what the evidence says about effective maths teaching. It highlights some areas of maths teaching – like feedback, collaborative learning and different types of textbooks – and considers what the evidence says, and how much evidence there is.

One area where there is strong evidence is using calculators to support learning. The report suggests that pupils’ maths skills may not be harmed by using calculators as previously thought. In fact, using them in maths lessons can boost puipils’ calculation and problem-solving skills if they are used in a thoughtful and considered way.

Other findings include:

  • Maths homework tends to benefit older pupils, but not those in primary school
  • Teacher subject knowledge is crucial for realising the potential of maths resources and interventions to raise attainment
  • High-quality feedback tends to have a large effect on learning, but it should be used sparingly and mainly for more complex tasks

Source: Evidence for review of mathematics teaching: Improving mathematics in Key Stages two and three: Evidence review (March 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Why do so few low- and middle-income children attend a grammar school?

A new study led by John Jerrim at UCL Institute of Education suggests that private tutoring may be one reason that children from high-income families are more likely to get into grammar schools than children from low-income families.

The research, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, uses data from the Millennium Cohort Study for more than 1,800 children from grammar school areas in England and Northern Ireland. It considers how factors such as family income, prior academic achievement, private tutoring and parental attitudes and aspirations are linked with children’s chances of attending a grammar school.

The study finds that children from families in the bottom quarter of household incomes in England have less than a 10% chance of attending a grammar school. This compares to around a 40% chance for children in the top quarter of household incomes. Results also show that children who receive tutoring to prepare for grammar school entrance exams are more likely to get in. Overall, around 70% of those who receive tutoring get into a grammar school, compared to just 14% of those who do not. However, less than 10% of children from families with below average income receive tutoring for the grammar school entrance test, compared with around 30% of children from households in the top quarter of family incomes.

Source: Why do so few low and middle-income children attend a grammar school?  New evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study (March 2018), UCL Institute of Education

Children with reading difficulties may have undiagnosed hearing problems

A report published by the Nuffield Foundation, which compared a group of children with dyslexia to children with a history of repeated ear infections (otitis media with effusion, OME) to see if there were any similarities in their phonological and literacy difficulties, has found that their difficulties may be due in part to undiagnosed hearing problems.

Julia Carroll and Helen Breadmore compared a group of 36 children with dyslexia to 29 children with OME, and also to control groups of typically developing children of the same age and groups of younger children at the same reading level. This made a total sample size of 195 children, ages 8 to 10, from 20 schools in the UK. All of the children completed a series of tests to establish their reading and writing skills and also their phonological skills (ability to manipulate speech sounds) and morphological skills (knowledge of grammatical word structure). Eighteen months later, the children’s reading, spelling and phonological awareness was re-tested, and a hearing screening conducted.

The results showed that the children with dyslexia had different patterns of literacy difficulties than children with OME, although there were some overlaps. The children with dyslexia showed difficulties with both phonological and morphological skills, whereas children with OME had difficulties only on phonological tasks. Both dyslexic children and children with OME had lower levels of reading than the age-matched control children.

The results from the hearing screening eighteen months later found that 9 of the 36 children with dyslexia had mild or moderate hearing impairments, of which their parents and teachers were unaware. The researchers suggest, therefore, that children with reading difficulties should be screened for hearing problems so that they are able to receive more structured support that could help them improve their literacy skills.

Source: Morphological processing in children with phonological difficulties (October 2017), Coventry University and University of Warwick Briefing Paper for The Nuffield Foundation

Out-of-school time study programmes improve results for poorer students

A project funded by the Nuffield Foundation looked at the effect of out-of-school-time (OST) study programmes on GCSE performance in England.

Using data from the Next Steps longitudinal study of young people, Francis Green and Nicola Pensiero from the Institute of Education recorded the results of those who undertook their GCSEs in 2006. They found that teacher-led OST study groups were moderately effective in improving overall GCSE performance, particularly for children from disadvantaged and lower socioeconomic backgrounds. For children whose parents were unemployed or in routine occupations, an improvement equivalent to approximately two grades was shown on their overall GCSE score.

While OST study programmes are available to children from all backgrounds in the vast majority of secondary schools in the UK, the research showed that 42% of children whose parents are unemployed take part compared to 46% of children from a professional background.

The research found no statistical benefit from programmes that were self-directed by students.

Source: Are out-of-school-time (OST) study programmes an effective way to improve the academic performance of socially disadvantaged children? (2016), UCL Institute of Education

Preschool helps counter language disadvantages

Recent research funded by the Nuffield Foundation looks at why children from poorer areas had “stark deficits in the most basic language abilities” compared with age-matched children in more affluent areas.

The study by City University London looked at the language skills of 208 children between three-and-a-half and five years old in a disadvantaged area of east London. A comparison group was comprised of 168 preschool children from more socioeconomically advantaged areas of north and south London. All the children spoke English as their first language.

The disadvantaged group scored lower than children from more affluent areas and from the general population on core language functions such as accurately repeating words and simple sentences and capacity to learn new words. More than one in ten children in the disadvantaged group had clinically significant language problems.

At an 18-month follow-up, when the children’s average age was five years, the deficit gap in core language skills had narrowed. This improvement suggested that the problem was not due to impairment and could be countered by education.

A key finding was that language problems were mitigated by regular attendance at preschool. The authors said that their results emphasised the need for access to high-quality preschool care from qualified staff trained to recognise and respond to language problems.

Source: Language and Socioeconomic Disadvantage: From Research to Practice (2015), City University London