Maths learning app offers some promising results

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published the independent evaluation report of a trial of a maths-based learning app.

The “onebillion” programme consists of two maths learning apps, Maths 3–5 and Maths 4–6, that are designed to reinforce basic mathematical skills learned in the classroom. The apps are aimed at pupils aged 3–5 and 4–6 respectively and consist of mathematical activities organised around different topics such as counting, shape and measures. The trial, conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford, tested the impact of the apps on pupils in Year 2 who had been identified by their teachers as being in the bottom half of their class in maths at the start of the school year.

One hundred and thirteen schools from across England took part in the randomised controlled trial. Schools in the intervention group used the apps for half an hour, four days per week, for 12 weeks, in addition to regular maths lessons. All children started with the Maths 3–5 app and progressed to the Maths 4–6 app, once they had completed Maths 3–5. The children’s use of the apps was monitored by teaching assistants who were trained by a team from the University of Nottingham. Pupil achievement in maths was measured using the Progress Test in Maths 6.

Pupils who received the programme made significant additional progress in maths (effect size = +0.24) compared to the control group. However, the trial also suggested that there may have been a negative impact (effect size = -0.10) on pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) compared to those in the control group, though this finding was non-significant. The report advises that teachers or school leaders using onebillion should carefully monitor the impact on FSM pupils if implementing the approach.

Source: Onebillion: Evaluation report (July 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

Growing up digital

A report published by the Nuffield Foundation finds that computer use in schools does not on its own boost pupils’ digital literacy or prepare them for the workplace.

The report, written by Angela McFarlane, examines how digital technologies are used in schools to enhance learning, and identifies research questions to inform better practice and policy. It examines ten years of existing evidence on the effect the use of digital technology has on learning and finds that:

  • Putting computers into schools is no guarantee that there will be a positive impact on learning outcomes as measured in high-stakes assessments or on the development of digital literacy.
  • How digital technologies are used is as important as whether they are used.
  • There is no shared picture of what effective digital skills teaching looks like.
  • Teachers may not have opportunities to develop the skills they need to make effective use of technology.
  • The current use and knowledge of computer-based technology in schools and at home is leaving many young people unprepared for the world of work.

Source: Growing up digital: What do we really need to know about educating the digital generation? (July 2019), Nuffield Foundation

Changing mindsets

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published findings from a large trial of an approach to “growth mindsets”, which aims to encourage in pupils the belief that intelligence can be developed through effort and dedication.

A total of 5,018 pupils from 101 schools in the UK took part in the trial of Changing Mindsets, a programme designed to improve maths and literacy grades by teaching Year 6 pupils that their brain potential is not a fixed entity but can grow and change through effort exerted. 

Teachers received professional development training on approaches to developing a growth mindset, together with lesson plans, interactive resources and practical classroom tips, before then delivering sessions to pupils over eight weeks. Teachers were encouraged to embed aspects of the “growth mindsets” approach throughout their teaching – for example, when giving feedback outside the sessions.

The independent evaluation, by a team from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), found no evidence that the pupils who took part in the programme made any additional progress in literacy or numeracy – as measured by standardised tests in reading, grammar, punctuation and spelling, and maths – compared to pupils in the control group. 

The EEF commentary advises that teachers should be cautious about using the approach as a standalone method of improving pupil achievement.

Source: Changing Mindsets: Effectiveness trial. Evaluation report (July 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

Career education in secondary schools

Attending career talks with people in employment may change the attitudes of Key Stage 4 pupils regarding their education, according to new research published by the UK charity, Education and Employers.  

Year 11 pupils in five schools took part in the trial and were randomly assigned at class level into an intervention group (n=307) and a control group (n=347). Pupils in the intervention group received three extra career talks by employee volunteers on top of usual career activities organised by their schools. These talks took place either during tutor group time or private study time rather than during class.

The results of the study indicated that pupils who attended the career talks reported feeling more confident in their own abilities, feeling more positive about school, and having greater faith in their ability to fulfill their career aspirations. It also seemed to provide the incentive for increased study time. Pupils in the intervention group reported, on average, a 9% higher increase in the amount of time spent each week on individual study for GCSE exams than those in the control group.

The intervention programme also had a small positive effect on achievement, with pupils slightly more likely to exceed predicted GCSE grades relative to the control group. Lower achievers and less-engaged learners responded best to the career talks, with 74% reporting that they felt more motivated as a result of the talks. These pupils also exceeded their predicted GCSE grades compared with the control group (+0.14 of a grade effect size for English, +0.05 for maths, and +0.05 for science).

Source: Motivated to achieve: How encounters with the world of work can change attitudes and improve academic attainment (June 2019), Education and Employers Research

Better schools for all?

The Better Schools for All? report, published by the Nuffield Foundation, examines the role that schools play in pupils’ education and suggests that the school reforms in the UK in the past two decades have failed to bridge the gap in pupil achievement.

Researchers from University College London and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research looked at data from around 3,000 secondary schools in England between 2003 and 2016 and compared pupil outcomes and teachers’ experiences with those of employees elsewhere.

They found that:

  1. Attending a “good” secondary school adds only a small amount more value than attending a “bad” secondary school. Overall, schools were found to contribute around 10% of variance in pupil achievement.
  2. State schools are better at managing staff than private schools. Using Workplace Employment Relations Survey data, the study shows that state schools were more likely to have rigorous hiring practices and employee participation programmes than private schools, and the link between human resource management and effective and high-performing schools was only apparent in the state sector.
  3. Performance-related pay and performance monitoring, which were found to improve workplace performance elsewhere, were ineffective for teachers.
  4. Schools with more middle leaders tended to be rated more highly by Ofsted in terms of leadership and management. However, in schools which formed part of a multi-academy trust, no significant relationship was apparent.

Source: Better schools for all? (June 2019), Nuffield Foundation

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