Three-year achievement gap between poor pupils and their better-off peers

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

Does background influence pupils’ subject choice?

A Centre for Longitudinal Studies working paper examined the roles of social class, parental education, income, gender  and ethnicity on pupils’ subject choice at GCSE.

Morag Henderson and colleagues examined information from more than 11,700 young people taking part in Next Steps (formerly the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE)), who were born in 1989-90 and attended state schools in England. They found that pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds were less likely than their peers from higher socio-economic backgrounds to choose GCSE subjects that would enable them to go on to college – regardless of whether or not they were academically able.

Pupils whose parents only had GCSE-level education were also less likely than those with more-educated parents to study three or more “facilitating” subjects from the Russell Group’s Informed Choices guide. They were also less likely to take three or more academically “selective”’ subjects, such as German and maths and statistics, and more likely to choose applied GCSEs, such as leisure and tourism or applied manufacturing and engineering. As the highest level of parental education decreases, the odds of the students studying applied GCSEs increases.

For pupils from lower-income backgrounds, the findings were similar. Poorer pupils were less likely to choose selective and facilitating subjects and more likely to take applied GCSEs than their wealthier peers. Additionally, girls were more likely than boys to study applied GCSEs, as were those with special education needs.

Source:  Social class, gender and ethnic differences in subjects taken at age 14 (2016), Centre for Longitudinal Studies Working paper 2016/6

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

Gender stereotypes follow primary school kids into adulthood

The National Bureau of Economic Research has published a paper that suggests teacher biases in favour of boys in primary school can have a positive effect on boys and a negative effect on girls and that these effects continue through middle and high school.

The study measured teachers’ gender bias in Tel Aviv, Israel, by comparing test scores marked by teachers in the classroom against scores from blind assessment by external markers. The results suggested an over-assessment of boys, which produced a significant positive effect on male academic achievement and had a significant negative effect on girls.

According to the study, the effects of such gender biases continue into middle and high school and affect subject choice – such as whether to enrol for advanced mathematics and science courses – that may have long-term implications for occupation choice and earnings.

The largest impact was on children from families where the father was more educated than the mother and on girls from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Source: On the Origins of Gender Human Capital Gaps: Short and Long Term Consequences of Teachers’ Stereotypical Biases (2015), National Bureau of Economic Research

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

PISA and homework

An OECD report on data from the PISA survey looked at homework among 15-year-olds and asked whether homework perpetuates inequalities in education.

According to the report, in 2012 students in the 38 countries covered by the survey spent an average of an hour less on their weekly homework than their predecessors did in 2002 (OECD average 5.9 hours). Socio-economically advantaged students and those who attended socio-economically advantaged schools tended to spend more time doing homework than other students. There was an association between the amount of mathematics homework supplied and the performance of both students and schools, but other factors had a greater effect on overall school performance.

The report concludes that homework provides an opportunity for learning but could reinforce socio-economic differences. Schools and teachers might be able to mitigate the problem by, for example, providing quiet places for study for students with no such facility at home.

Source: Does homework perpetuate inequities in education? (2014) PISA in Focus