Parenting app has positive impact on children’s development

A new randomised controlled trial of EasyPeasy, conducted by the University of Oxford’s Department of Education and published by the Sutton Trust, suggests that the EasyPeasy app had moderate positive effects on children’s concentration levels, determination and ability to make their own decisions, as well as parents’ sense of control.

EasyPeasy is a smartphone app for the parents and caregivers of children ages 2 – 6 that aims to improve school readiness by encouraging positive play and parent–child interaction. A total of 302 families with children ages 3 – 4 were recruited from eight children’s centres in the London borough of Newham. The eight centres were randomly assigned to either the intervention group or comparison group. All families in the intervention centres were given access to the EasyPeasy app, and games were sent via the app once a week over the three-month duration of the intervention.

Families in the intervention group scored higher than those in the comparison group on two parent-reported outcomes: children’s cognitive self-regulation (effect size = +0.35) and parents’ sense of control (effect size = +0.26). Parents reported that they felt more able to get their child to behave well and respond to boundaries, as well as feeling more able to stay calm when facing difficulties.

However, because of the self-report measures used in the evaluation, the researchers note that caution must be exercised when interpreting the results from the study.

These findings build on similar results from an earlier evaluation of EasyPeasy, which showed some positive benefits for children’s cognitive self-regulation and parents’ sense of control.

Source: EasyPeasy: Evaluation in Newham findings from the Sutton Trust Parental Engagement Fund (PEF) project (April 2018), The Sutton Trust

Better parenting for school readiness – there’s an app for that

A randomised controlled trial carried out by the University of Oxford’s Department of Education and published by the Sutton Trust tested EasyPeasy, a smartphone app for the parents and carers of two- to six-year-old children. EasyPeasy aims to improve school readiness by encouraging positive play and interaction with young children.

The trial, which lasted 18 weeks, was carried out in eight children’s centres in Bournemouth with 144 families taking part. Games were sent directly to parents’ mobiles via an app once a week along with tailored prompts, encouragement, reminders, and information on child development.

The study reported significant findings for two out of seven outcome measures. Parents who took part in the intervention reported improvements in their children’s persistence and concentration (cognitive self-regulation). Parental consistency with discipline and boundaries also increased in the intervention group with parents feeling more comfortable setting limits for behaviour and following through on expectations. Both showed positive effect sizes; 0.51 and 0.44 respectively.

Source: EasyPeasy parenting app: Findings from an e­fficacy trial on parent engagement and school readiness skills (2016), The Sutton Trust

The evidence for marking

The Education Endowment Foundation has published a new review of the evidence on written marking. Researchers from Oxford University found that there were very few robust studies – too few to conduct a formal systematic review or to make definitive recommendations. Based on the limited evidence, the review makes the following tentative suggestions:

  • Careless mistakes should be marked differently to errors resulting from misunderstanding. The latter may be best addressed by providing hints or questions which lead pupils to underlying principles; the former by simply marking the mistake as incorrect, without giving the right answer.
  • Awarding grades for every piece of work may reduce the impact of marking, particularly if pupils become preoccupied with grades at the expense of a consideration of teachers’ formative comments.
  • The use of targets to make marking as specific and actionable as possible is likely to increase pupil progress.
  • Pupils are unlikely to benefit from marking unless some time is set aside to enable pupils to consider and respond to marking.
  • Some forms of marking, including acknowledgement marking, are unlikely to enhance pupil progress. Schools should mark less in terms of the number of pieces of work marked, but mark better. 
The researchers argue that there is an urgent need for more studies so that teachers have better information about the most effective marking approaches.

Source: A Marked Improvement? (2016), Education Endowment Foundation.

Being in care is not the problem

A new systematic review from the University of Oxford has shown that although children in foster care lag behind their peers in a number of educational outcomes, this is not simply the result of being in care.

The authors considered all studies undertaken in English and published since 1990, with 28 studies meeting their inclusion criteria. These showed that children in foster or kinship care had poorer outcomes than their peers on a number of measures of educational attainment, including grades, literacy and numeracy test scores, attendance, and exclusions.

However, the studies reviewed suggest that the relationship between being in such care and low educational outcomes is partly explained by pre-care experiences, such as mistreatment and neglect. Also, the strength of the relationship between being in care and educational outcomes was also reduced when other individual characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, and special educational needs, known to be linked to attainment, were taken into consideration.

The authors conclude that being in care does not appear to be harmful in itself to children’s academic performance, and recommend that more needs to be done to help those in care to succeed and thrive.

Source: What is the Relationship Between Being in Care and the Educational Outcomes of Children? An International Systematic Review (2015), Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education.

Quality matters for preschool

A new report from The Sutton Trust and Oxford University reviews the evidence on early childhood education and care for children under three, and finds that developmental benefits will only be achieved if children are able to attend good-quality preschool. The findings, which draw on research from the UK, US, and Australia on both centre-based care and home-based care provided by childminders, identify four key dimensions of good-quality pedagogy for all children under three:

  • Stable relationships and interactions with sensitive and responsive adults;
  • A focus on play-based activities and routines which allow children to take the lead in their own learning;
  • Support for communication and language; and
  • Opportunities to move and be physically active.

The report provides recommendations for policy and practice, which focus in particular on helping children from poorer backgrounds overcome early disadvantage. Several of these relate to the “quality” of staff. For example, recommendations include increasing pay rates contingent upon improved qualifications, and ensuring that practitioners have access to continuing professional development.

The authors also recommend retaining an overall ratio of 1:4 for group-care settings and 1:3 for home settings, working to ensure a good social mix in early years settings so that lower-income children mix with other children, and having an appropriate physical environment (eg, stimulating and appropriate resources; space for eating, sleeping, and physical activity; and small group sizes appropriate for age/stage).

Source: Sound Foundations. A Review of the Research Evidence on Quality of Early Childhood Education and Care for Children Under Three: Implications for Policy and Practice (2014), The Sutton Trust and Oxford University.

GCSE shake-up: What’s the evidence?

The Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment has conducted an analysis of research relevant to the government’s proposals to change GCSEs.Their report considers issues specific to the examinations themselves as well as the wider context.

The headline question is perhaps “are exams getting easier?” The authors found that overall, research evidence does not point to a decline in the cognitive demand of examination questions, and that modular assessment has not been found to be consistently easier than end-of-course examinations. In fact, they found that high-stakes end-of-course examinations produce negative effects on teaching and learning.

In terms of whether there is a need for change, international test scores show that England does not compare poorly to other countries and that test scores show no decline. However, England does have a particularly wide spread between the lowest and highest achievers. This highlights, they say, the need for provision for low-achieving students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds in England to be improved.

Source: Research Evidence Relating to Proposals for Reform of the GCSE (2013), Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment.