Sure Start had positive health benefits for children in poorer neighbourhoods

A new evaluation conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies considers the overall impacts on children’s health of the Sure Start programme as a whole between its inception in 1999 and its peak in the late 2000s. Sure Start is an early intervention programme targeted at parents and children under the age of four living in the most disadvantaged areas. Sure Start projects deliver a wide variety of services, which are designed to support children’s learning skills, health and well-being, and social and emotional development. They include preschool education; medical, dental, and mental health care; nutrition services; and efforts to help parents encourage their child’s development.

The study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, followed children who had access to Sure Start right through to the end of primary school, and found that Sure Start had major health benefits for children living in disadvantaged areas. The main findings of the study include:

  • Sure Start reduced hospitalisations among children by the time they finished primary school, and these effects built over time. By age 11, greater Sure Start coverage (one more centre per thousand children ages 0–4) prevented around 5,500 hospitalisations per year (18% of the pre-Sure Start baseline).
  • Sure Start benefited children living in disadvantaged areas most. While the probability of any hospitalisation fell by 11% at age 10 and 19% at age 11 for children in the poorest 30% of areas; those in more affluent areas saw smaller benefits, and those in the richest 30% of areas saw practically no impact at all.
  • At every age in primary school, Sure Start reduced hospital admissions for injuries. At younger ages, injury-related hospitalisations fell by around 17% of their pre-Sure Start (1998) baseline; at ages 10 and 11 they fell by 30%. 

The authors suggest that a reason greater benefits were seen in the poorest neighbourhoods could be because disadvantaged children were more able to benefit from Sure Start as the types of services the programme offered in poorer areas were more helpful, or because children in disadvantaged areas were more likely to attend a centre.

In 2012 the Department for Education published a report on the impact of Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) on seven-year-olds and their families, which found no impact on children’s outcomes.

Source: The health effects of Sure Start (June 2019), The Institute for Fiscal Studies

Improving times table fluency

The Institute for Effective Education (IEE) has published a new report from a project funded by their Innovation Evaluation Grants. The IEE Innovation evaluations are small-scale and test the kinds of innovations that schools are interested in.

Thirty-four Year 4 classes took part in the evaluation of Improving times table fluency, which was conducted by Underwood West Academy. A total of 876 children were included in the study.

Five groups of four or five classes were created by matching the pre-test scores on a 25-item tables test and the percentage of children in receipt of pupil premium. All groups had similar pre-test scores and similar percentages of children in receipt of pupil premium. Each class used a different balance of conceptual and procedural activities during times tables lessons. Conceptual activities were games that focused on the connections and patterns in tables facts, while procedural activities were games in which pupils practiced multiplication facts.

Pupils had four 15-minute times tables lessons each week, and the intervention lasted for 12 weeks. Before the intervention started, all participating pupils carried out a simple times tables test comprising 25 spoken multiplication questions. The same test was repeated as a post-test.

The results of the trial showed that no one balance of practice activities was more effective than another. The report concludes that times tables may be best taught by using a balanced approach – teaching both the concepts behind them and practising them in a range of ways with low-stakes testing.

Source: Increasing times table fluency (May 2019), Institute for Effective Education

Do expert teachers look at their class differently?

Teachers’ gaze patterns could reveal the different priorities expert teachers and novice teachers have in their classrooms, according to a recent study published in Learning and Instruction.

Using eye-tracking glasses, Nora McIntyre and colleagues investigated how gaze proportions might be different for teachers of different expertise and culture, indicating differences in teachers’ priorities. Twenty secondary school teachers from Hong Kong and twenty secondary school teachers from the UK participated in this study. Teachers were considered as expert teachers if they had six years’ or more experience, were selected by their school leadership as experts in teaching, had professional membership within the field of teaching, and scored highly in performance ratings.

Teachers’ gaze proportions were measured during questioning (information seeking) and lecturing (information giving) in normal timetabled lessons, for their gaze frequencies on the pupils, pupil materials, teacher materials, and non-instructional areas (such as door, windows). The findings were as follows:

  • Regardless of culture, expert teachers prioritised their gaze to pupils during both questioning and lecturing, while beginning teachers prioritised non-instructional classroom areas.
  • HK teachers prioritised their gazes to teacher materials, while UK teachers prioritised it to non-instructional areas during lecturing.
  • HK expert teachers also used more teacher materials gaze than the UK expert teachers.

The authors suggest that the finding of prioritisation of gaze to pupils by expert teachers was consistent with other research since prioritisation of pupils deepens pupils’ understanding of the subject, emotional security, security with peers, and their interest in subject materials.

Source: Capturing teacher priorities: Using real-world eye-tracking to investigate expert teacher priorities across two cultures (April 2019), Learning and Instruction, volume 60

How engaged are teachers with research?

A research briefing published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) looks at what progress has been made in embedding evidence-informed practice within teaching in England.

As part of the brief, researchers from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) summarised findings from a nationally representative survey of 1,670 schools and teachers. The survey was conducted between September and November 2017, and investigated teachers’ research use. The results of the survey suggest that:

  1. Research evidence continues to play a relatively small role in influencing teachers’ decision-making. Eighty-four percent of those surveyed said that their continuing professional development was based on information other than academic research.
  2. Most teachers report that their schools offer supporting environments, which enables evidence-informed practice to flourish. Seventy-three percent ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that their school provided a positive culture for professional development and evidence use.
  3. Teachers report generally positive attitudes towards research evidence, despite the fact that research evidence had only a small influence on their decision-making.

Survey responses varied by school phase, by type of respondent, and by type of schools. Those who were more likely to report that their schools had a positive research culture, and that they used research to inform their selection of teaching approaches, were:

  • Senior leaders (as opposed to classroom teachers).
  • Primary school teachers (rather than secondary school teachers).
  • Schools with the lowest 25 percent of achievement (versus highest 25 percent achievement).

Source: Teachers’ engagement with research: what do we know? A research briefing (May 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

Evidence-informed school improvement

The Education Endowment Foundation has published an evaluation of Research Leads Improving Students’ Education (RISE). The programme, which was developed and delivered by Huntington School in York, aimed to improve the maths and English achievement of pupils in secondary school using a research-informed school improvement model.

Forty schools took part in the randomised controlled trial and were randomly allocated to either take part in RISE or to a control group which continued with business as usual. Schools participating in RISE appointed a senior teacher as a Research Lead who was responsible for promoting and supporting the use of research throughout the school. Support for Research Leads included an initial eight professional development sessions held over eight months, occasional follow-up meetings over two academic years, a customised email newsletter, a website with resources, a peer network, and school visits by the RISE team. The RISE team also provided a workshop for headteachers and annual workshops for English and maths subject leads. 

The evaluation examined the impact on pupils in two cohorts: in the first cohort (A) the school was only exposed to one year of RISE, while in the second cohort (B) the school experienced two years of the intervention. For both the one-year and two-year cohorts, children in RISE schools made a small amount of additional progress in maths (effect size = +0.09 for cohort A and +0.04 for cohort B) and English (effect size = +0.05 for cohort A and +0.03 for cohort B)  compared to children in the control-group schools. However, the differences were small and not significant, so the evaluation concludes that there is no evidence that participating in one or two years of the RISE programme has a positive impact on pupil achievement.

In addition, the evaluation highlights the importance of schools’ ability and motivation to make use of the Research Lead in shaping school improvement decisions and processes. For example, it suggests that implementation was stronger when headteachers gave clear and visible support for the project and Research Leads had additional dedicated time to undertake the role.

Source: The RISE project: Evidence-informed school improvement (May 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

Understanding maths anxiety

While mathematics is often considered a hard subject, not all difficulties with the subject result from cognitive difficulties. Many children and adults experience feelings of anxiety, apprehension, tension or discomfort when confronted by a maths problem. Research conducted by the Centre for Neuroscience in Education at the University of Cambridge examined the maths performance of more than 2,700 primary and secondary pupils in the UK and Italy who were screened for maths anxiety and general anxiety. Researchers then worked one-to-one with the children in order to gain deeper understanding of their cognitive abilities and feelings towards maths using a series of cognitive tasks, questionnaires, and interviews.

Emma Carey and colleagues found that a general feeling that maths was more difficult than other subjects often contributed to feelings of anxiety about the subject, and that teachers and parents may inadvertently play a role. Girls in both primary and secondary school were found to have higher levels of both maths anxiety and general anxiety.

Pupils indicated poor test results, or negative comparisons to peers or siblings, as reasons for feeling anxious. Secondary school pupils also indicated that the transition from primary to secondary school was a cause of maths anxiety, as the work seemed harder and there was greater pressure on tests and increased homework.

The report sets out a series of recommendations, including:

  • Teachers should be aware that maths anxiety can affect pupils’ maths performance.
  • Teachers and parents need to be aware that their own maths anxiety might influence pupils’ math anxiety.
  • Teachers and parents also need to be aware that gendered stereotypes about maths ability might contribute to the gender gap in maths performance.
  • Reducing classroom pressure and using methods like free writing about emotions before a test could help to alleviate maths anxiety.

Source: Understanding mathematics anxiety: Investigating the experiences of UK primary and secondary school students (March 2019), Centre for Neuroscience in Education, University of Cambridge