Grouping pupils by achievement

The Education Endowment Foundation has published an evaluation of two trials of programmes developed by the University College-London (UCL) Institute of Education investigating approaches to grouping pupils: Best Practice in Setting and Best Practice in Mixed Attainment Grouping.

The main trial, “Best Practice in Setting”, tested an intervention that aimed to get schools to improve their setting practice (grouping pupils in classes by their current achievement levels). A total of 127 schools took part in the trial, which ran over the course of two academic years. Teachers were randomly allocated to sets to prevent “lower” sets from being disproportionately assigned less-experienced teachers, while pupils in Years 7 and 8 were assigned to sets based on independent measures of achievement, rather than more subjective judgements such as behaviour and peer interactions. There were opportunities throughout the year to re-assign pupils to different sets based on their current level of achievement.

The evaluation found no evidence that the intervention improves outcomes in maths (effect size = -0.01) or English (effect size = -0.08). The process evaluation revealed mixed views from participants, and many interviewees thought that what they were being asked to do represented little change from what they already do.

The researchers noted that because school and teacher buy-in was low and attrition rates for follow-up testing were high, half of the schools in the math trial and more than half of the schools in the English trial stopped the intervention before follow-up, and this makes it difficult to conclude anything certain about the impact of Best Practice in Setting.

Source: Best practice in grouping students. Intervention A: Best practice in setting evaluation report and executive summary, (September 2018). Education Endowment Foundation

Best practice in grouping students. Intervention B: Mixed attainment grouping. Pilot report and executive summary, (September 2018). Education Endowment Foundation

Numeracy intervention for pupils struggling with maths

The Education Endowment Foundation has published an evaluation of 1stClass@Number, a 10-week numeracy intervention, delivered by teaching assistants, that provides intensive support for pupils struggling with maths.

A randomised controlled trial was conducted in 133 schools in south and west Yorkshire. Schools each nominated four children in Year 2 to participate, and the schools were then randomly assigned to either receive the intervention or to continue with normal teaching. A team from the University of Oxford evaluated the programme, which was delivered three times a week for 10 weeks in addition to normal mathematics instruction. A process evaluation collected additional data through observations, questionnaires and phone interviews.

Results showed that the intervention had a positive effect on Quantitative Reasoning Tests (effect size = +0.18) compared to pupils in the control group. Among pupils eligible for free school meals, those in the intervention group did not make any additional progress in the Quantitative Reasoning Test compared to control group pupils.

1stClass@Number seemed to have no impact on performance in end of Key Stage 1 maths tests compared to pupils in the control group. However, there was some evidence that the intervention widened the gap in Key Stage 1 maths results between pupils eligible for free school meals and their peers.

Source: 1stClass@Number: Evaluation report and executive summary (July 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Good behaviour is no game

An evaluation conducted for the Education Endowment Foundation looked at whether the Good Behaviour Game (GBG) improved pupils’ reading skills and behaviour.

The GBG intervention is a classroom management approach designed to improve pupil behaviour and build confidence and resilience. The game is played in groups and rewards pupils for good behaviour. More than 3,000 Year 3 pupils from 77 UK schools took part in a randomised controlled trial of GBG over two years. Around a quarter of the pupils in the schools were eligible for free school meals, around a fifth were pupils with special educational needs, and 23% had English as an additional language.

The analysis indicated that, on average, GBG had no significant impact on pupils’ reading skills (effect size = +0.03) or their behaviour (concentration, disruptive behaviour and pro-social behaviour) when compared to the control group pupils. However, there was some tentative evidence that boys at risk of developing conduct problems showed improvements in behaviour.

Source: Good Behaviour Game: Evaluation report and executive summary (July 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Disadvantaged pupils hit hardest by maths teacher shortages

In England there is currently a shortage of maths teachers; among the factors that might be influencing this shortage are that departments lose 40% of teachers during their first six years in the profession, and there are higher private sector wages for maths graduates. At the same time, demand for maths teachers has increased due to policy measures to increase participation in maths for 16 to 18 year olds. To examine what impact this has had, the Nuffield Foundation commissioned researchers from FFT Education Datalab to look at how secondary schools have responded to the shortage.

Rebecca Allen and Sam Sims used data from England’s School Workforce Census and found that schools are using their most experienced and well-qualified maths teachers for year groups taking high-stakes exams (GCSEs, A-levels, and GCSE retakes), and using inexperienced maths teachers and  teachers who trained in other subjects to fill staffing gaps elsewhere.

In the most disadvantaged schools (those with more pupils eligible for free school meals), pupils across all year groups are more likely to be taught by an inexperienced teacher. At Key Stage 5 (age 16-18) pupils in the most disadvantaged schools are almost twice as likely to have an inexperienced teacher as in the least disadvantaged schools (9.5% versus 5.3%).

Source: How do shortages of maths teachers affect the within-school allocation of maths teachers to pupils? (June 2018), Nuffield Foundation

New guidance on preparing for literacy

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published its latest guidance report, Preparing for Literacy, which reviews the best available research to offer early years professionals practical “do’s and don’ts” to make sure all children start school with the foundations they need to read and write well.

The report considers how a wide range of different activities – like singing, storytelling and nursery rhymes – can help to develop children’s early reading. It offers seven recommendations designed to support early years professionals to improve the communication, language and early literacy skills of all their pupils – particularly those from disadvantaged homes. Previous analysis by the EEF found there was already a 4.3 month gap between poorer pupils and their classmates before school starts.

One of the recommendations focuses on parental engagement and the importance of supporting parents to understand how they can help in their child’s learning. It suggests that shared reading should be a central component for helping children to learn new words. The report also highlights the importance of high-quality interactions between adults and children to develop their communication and language skills. For example, early years professionals should make sure they talk with children – not just to them.

Source: Preparing for literacy: improving communication, language and literacy in the early years (June 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

The impact of wearing glasses on early literacy

In the previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief, we reported on a study  that showed how wearing glasses improved children’s reading. A similar study by Alison Bruce and colleagues (including the IEE’s Bette Chambers) looks at the impact of wearing glasses on children’s eyesight and early literacy in the UK.

Born in Bradford is a longitudinal study looking at the progress of a multi-ethnic birth cohort in the city of Bradford. From this cohort, 2,930 children underwent a vision screening test in their Reception year. The 432 children who failed the test were referred for follow-up (usually being prescribed glasses) and comprised the treatment group. A further 512 children who passed the sight test were chosen at random to make up the control group. All the children completed tests of literacy (Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests-Revised) and vocabulary (British Vocabulary Picture Scale) at school entry (Year 1) and after 12 months and 24 months. At the same time, researchers checked that the children were wearing their glasses.

The visual acuity of all children improved during the study, but those children who wore their glasses improved most and almost closed the gap on the control children. Letter identification scores declined by 1.5% for every one line reduction (on the LogMar sight chart) in visual acuity. The effect size of wearing glasses was +0.11. The results suggest that failure to wear glasses has implications for young children’s vision and education. Wearing glasses improves both visual acuity and has the potential to improve literacy.

Source: The effect of adherence to spectacle wear on early developing literacy: a longitudinal study based in a large multiethnic city, Bradford, UK (June 2018), BMJ Open