New WWC practice guide on preventing dropout in secondary schools

The What Works Clearinghouse has released a new practice guide, Preventing Dropout in Secondary Schools , that offers research-based recommendations for reducing dropout rates in middle and secondary schools. The goal is to help educators and administrators learn strategies for identifying at-risk pupils and addressing the challenges they face.

The WWC and an expert panel chaired by Russell Rumberger from the University of California, Santa Barbara synthesised existing research on the topic and combined it with insight from the panel to identify the following four recommendations, which include a rating of the strength of the research evidence supporting each recommendation:

  • Monitor the progress of all pupils, and proactively intervene when pupils show early signs of attendance, behaviour, or academic problems (minimal evidence).
  • Provide intensive, individualised support to pupils who have fallen off track and face significant challenges to success (moderate evidence).
  • Engage pupils by offering curricula and programmes that connect schoolwork with college and career success and that improve pupils’ capacity to manage challenges in and out of school (strong evidence).
  • For schools with many at-risk pupils, create small, personalised communities to facilitate monitoring and support (moderate evidence).

Each recommendation provides specific, actionable strategies; examples of how to implement the recommended practices in schools; advice on how to overcome potential obstacles; and a description of the supporting evidence.

Source: Preventing dropout in secondary schools U.S. (September 2017), What Works Clearing House, Institute of Education Sciences Practice Guide

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).

Best schools in England continue to be highly socially selective

A report published by the Sutton Trust reveals that 85% of England’s top comprehensive schools are more socially selective than the average state school. However, schools where pupils make the most progress are much less so.

The report looks at the social composition of England’s top 500 comprehensive schools, based on GCSE attainment, and finds that the top-performing schools take just 9.4% of pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM), which is just over half the rate of the average comprehensive (17.2%). About half of this gap is due to the location of high-attaining schools in catchment areas with lower numbers of disadvantaged pupils, but the rest is due to social selection in admissions occurring even within those neighbourhoods.

Among the best schools measured by the Department for Education’s new ‘Progress 8’ measure, which focuses on gains, Carl Cullinane and colleagues find that FSM rates are much closer to the national average (15.2%), and that they are less socially selective, with a third of these schools admitting more FSM pupils than their catchment area.

There are indications of improvement in the numbers of disadvantaged pupils attending top schools, with the average 9.4% FSM rate up from 7.6% in 2013. In that year, 57% of the best schools had FSM rates lower than six per cent, but the number below that mark has fallen to 39%.

Source:  Selective comprehensives 2017: Admissions to high-attaining non-selective schools for disadvantaged pupils (March 2017) The Sutton Trust