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

Effective reading programmes for secondary students

In recent years, major initiatives in the US and UK have added greatly to the amount and quality of research on the effectiveness of secondary reading programmes, especially targeted programmes for struggling readers. As a result, the Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education was able to complete an updated review of the research on secondary reading programmes using tougher standards than would have been possible in earlier reviews, and assembling data from a much larger pool of programmes and studies. The authors were Ariane Baye, Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns, and Robert Slavin.

The current review focuses on 64 studies that used random assignment (n=55) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=9) to evaluate outcomes of 49 programmes on widely accepted measures of reading. Programmes using one-to-one and small-group tutoring (ES=+0.23) and co-operative learning programmes (mean ES=+0.16) showed positive outcomes, on average. Among technology programmes, metacognitive approaches, mixed-model programmes, and programmes for English learners, there were individual examples of promising approaches. Except for tutoring, targeted extra-time programmes were no more effective than programmes provided to entire classes and schools without adding instructional time.

The findings suggest that secondary readers benefit more from engaging and personalised instruction than from remedial services.

Source: Effective reading programs for secondary students (2016, December). Best Evidence Encyclopedia, Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education.

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

Positive progress for maths, but not reading, for a thinking-skills intervention

The Education Endowment Foundation evaluated the impact of the ReflectED programme using a randomised controlled trial involving 1,858 pupils across 30 schools in five areas throughout England over the academic year 2014/15. The evaluation examined the impact on the maths and reading achievement of Year 5 pupils, and also their attitudes toward reading and maths.

The ReflectED programme was developed by Rosendale Primary School to improve pupils’ metacognition — their ability to think about and manage their own learning. This includes the skills of setting and monitoring goals, assessing progress, and identifying personal strengths and challenges.

Year 5 pupils who took part in the trial made an average of four months’ additional progress in maths (ES = +0.30) compared to those in the control groups. The evaluators also found evidence that pupils in the programme developed a more positive attitude toward maths. However, in reading they made two fewer months’ progress than the control group (ES = -0.16) and developed a slightly less positive attitude toward the subject.

The evaluation also found that most schools were already teaching metacognitive and reflective skills similar to those taught in the ReflectED programme, which are likely to have continued in the control group classes. This might have limited the impact that ReflectED had on teachers’ practice and pupils’ outcomes.

Source: ReflectED: Evaluation report and executive summary (2016), Education Endowment Foundation

How UK students’ writing has changed since 1980

Research published by Cambridge Assessment shows how 16-year-old students’ writing in exams has changed since 1980.

Aspects of Writing has been published by Cambridge Assessment approximately every 10 years, initially using a sample from 1980. This latest phase of the study focuses on writing samples from 2014. Key findings include:

  • The percentage of spelling errors at the lowest level of achievement is higher in 2014 than in most years. The incidence of spelling errors has changed very little among the mid- and higher-achieving students.
  • There is some evidence that use of “other” punctuation marks such as semi-colons has increased among higher-achieving students but decreased sharply among the lowest-achieving students.
  • There is a cautious indication of a general improvement in the use of commas.
  • There is an increase in the use of simple sentences among higher-achieving students. The researchers observed that these students tended to use simple sentences for literary effect.
  • Students of all abilities are using less-complex sentence structures.
  • Students at most levels of achievement are using more paragraphs than their predecessors.
  • There was almost no evidence of candidates using “text-speak” abbreviations in their work.

Source: Variations in aspects of writing in 16+ English examinations between 1980 and 2014. Research Matters Special Issue 4 (2016), Cambridge Assessment