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

Does school entry age matter?

In the UK, children usually start primary school in the academic year in which they turn five. However, because entry rules vary across local authorities, some schools may defer entry for children born later in the year until the second or third term.

A new study at University College London looks at what impact an earlier versus later entry into Reception has on pupils’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills up until age 11 (their final year of primary school).

Christian Dustmann and Thomas Cornelissen analysed information on more than 400,000 children born in 2000-01 who attended state schools in England and whose records are included in the National Pupil Database. This was combined with information on more than 7,000 children born in 2000-01 who took part in the Millennium Cohort study.

The researchers found that receiving an extra month of schooling before age five increases test scores in language and numeracy at ages five and seven by about 6–11%. But by age 11, the effects on test scores have largely disappeared. For boys from low socioeconomic backgrounds, the benefits of an earlier school entry are even greater. An additional term of schooling before age five reduces the achievement gap between boys from low and high socioeconomic backgrounds at age seven by 60-80%.

Source: Early school exposure, test scores, and noncognitive outcomes (March 2019), CReAM Discussion Paper Series CDP 03/19, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration

Ethnic minority pupils disproportionately identified with special educational needs

Pupils from ethnic minority groups are over-represented for some types of special educational needs (SEN) and under-represented for other types compared to white British pupils, according to new research led by Steve Strand and Ariel Lindorff at the University of Oxford.

Using data from the England National Pupil Database from 2005–2016, the report looks at all children age five to 16 in England who have been identified with different types of SEN. As well as identifying ethnic disproportionality, the report also considered whether socio-economic factors, such as poverty and neighbourhood deprivation, or children’s early attainment, had any impact on pupils being identified as having SEN.

The key findings of the report suggest:

  • Black Caribbean and mixed white and black Caribbean pupils are twice as likely to be identified with social, emotional and mental health needs as white British pupils.
  • Asian pupils are half as likely to be identified with autistic spectrum disorders as white British pupils.
  • Indian and Chinese pupils are half as likely to be identified with moderate learning difficulties as white British pupils.

While similar research has been done in the US, it is the first time a study with this detail has been conducted in the UK.

Source: Ethnic disproportionality in the identification of special educational needs (SEN) in England: Extent, causes and consequences (December 2018), University of Oxford

Positive results for early years maths apps

A randomised controlled trial of two new maths apps to support young children’s early maths development has shown positive results. The apps, “Maths 3–5” and “Maths 4–6”, are based on core mathematical concepts in number and shape, and space and measure, which are covered in the Early Years Foundation Stage, and also start to introduce children to topics covered in Key Stage 1.

Laura Outhwaite and colleagues conducted the randomised controlled trial of the apps with 389 children aged 4–5 years from 12 schools in the UK. The trial took place over 12 weeks in the last weeks of their Reception school year before pupils moved to Key Stage 1. Pupils were randomised to either use the apps in addition to standard maths teaching activities (treatment); use the apps instead of a regular small group-based maths activity (time-equivalent treatment), or continue with usual maths teaching activities (control).

The results showed that pupils in the treatment group made more progress on standardised assessments of maths performance over 12 weeks than pupils in the control group (effect size = +0.31). Similarly, pupils in the time-equivalent treatment made more progress in maths performance than pupils in the control group (effect size = +0.21). There was no significant difference in maths performance between pupils in the two treatment groups (effect size = +0.08).

A randomised controlled trial of apps developed for primary children in Malawi, which we covered in a previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief, also showed positive results for maths achievement.

Source: Raising early achievement in math with interactive apps: A randomized control trial (February 2019), Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(2)