Closing the attainment gap in England’s secondary schools

School improvement policies will not be enough to close the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils in England’s secondary schools, concludes a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research. Pupils from deprived areas are about as likely to attend a school rated ‘satisfactory’ or ‘inadequate’ as wealthier pupils are likely to attend a school rated ‘outstanding’; however, findings of the report show that even if every pupil in the country attended an outstanding school, the attainment gap between the poorest and wealthiest pupils would only be cut by a fifth. The report also looks at what impact the pupil premium and other targeted interventions have on closing the attainment gap, and finds that:

  • Targeting interventions towards poorer pupils helps to raise achievement in the poorest areas of the country, but does not help to reduce the attainment gap in the rest of the country.
  • Interventions work best if they focus on tackling the variations in achievement within each school, and are targeted at all pupils who are falling behind regardless of their socioeconomic background.
  • Interventions at secondary school cannot do all of the work in narrowing the attainment gap. The biggest effects are achieved when interventions start in early years and primary school and are continued into secondary school.

Source: Closing the attainment gap in England’s secondary schools (2012) Institute for Public Policy Research

Are ambitious children more resilient?

Can career aspirations at age seven provide valuable insights into children’s emotional state and their ability to overcome difficult family circumstances? A Centre for Longitudinal Studies working paper examines the role of young children’s career aspirations in the association between family poverty and emotional and behavioural problems.

Using data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, researchers tested a path model linking family poverty and maternal qualification to children’s emotional and behavioural problems via their career aspirations. The findings suggest that career aspirations are related to maternal qualifications but not family poverty or behavioural problems.

Family poverty is significantly associated with behavioural problems, but is moderated by career aspirations. More ambitious children from poor backgrounds are less likely to have behaviour problems than equally disadvantaged seven-year-olds who have lower career aspirations.

Source: Do primary school children’s career aspirations matter? The relationship between family poverty, career aspirations, and emotional and behavioral problems (2012), Centre for Longitudinal Studies

RAND Corporation: focus on K-12 education

A new report from the RAND Corporation in the US describes recent RAND work related to K–12 education (primary to sixth form), including teacher pay for performance, measuring teacher effectiveness, school leadership, school systems and reform, and out-of-school time. Headlines include:

  • No evidence that incentive pay for teacher teams improves pupil outcomes
  • Incorporating pupil performance measures into teacher evaluation systems (Recommendations include: (1) promote consistency in the pupil performance measures that teachers are allowed to choose, and (2) use multiple years of pupil achievement data in value-added estimation, and, where possible, use average teachers’ value-added estimates across multiple years.)
  • First-year principals in urban school districts: how actions and working conditions relate to outcomes (A key finding of this study was that teacher capacity and cohesiveness were the school and district conditions most strongly related to pupil outcomes.)

When viewing the report online, each headline links to the corresponding RAND report on the topic.

Source: Focus on K-12 education (2012), RAND

Pupil awareness of the costs and benefits of university

A Centre for the Economics of Education Discussion Paper looks at what impact an information campaign and media reporting on university tuition fees had on pupils’ understanding of the costs and benefits of university.

Participating Year 10 pupils completed a survey about the cost and benefits of higher education, followed by a similar survey eight to 12 weeks later. In between the two surveys treatment schools were given information packages about the costs and benefits of staying in education. Control schools were given this after the second survey. At the time of the study the increase in tuition fees was announced, so the researchers also measured the impact of media reporting on both groups.

Their analysis showed that pupils had significant gaps in their basic knowledge of the costs and benefits of going to university, which was influenced by both the information campaign and media reporting. The change to fees, and specifically media reporting of it, increased the perception of going to university as “too expensive” – especially among lower income groups. However, it also showed that a relatively inexpensive and properly directed information campaign can help to mitigate this effect.

Source: Student awareness of costs and benefits of educational decisions: Effects of an information campaign (2012), Centre for the Economics of Education

Traditional teaching methods may be putting off maths pupils

Traditional teaching methods, where the teacher stands at the front and dictates to the class, may be affecting pupils’ attitudes toward maths, suggest researchers at the University of Manchester. The initial findings of the Economics and Social Research Council-funded study were presented at the British Educational Research Association’s annual conference.

More than 13,000 11- to 16-year-old pupils and 128 teachers at 40 secondary schools across England were asked to complete questionnaires detailing the kind of activities they experienced in maths lessons. Traditional activities such as copying the teacher’s notes from the board and being asked questions by the teacher were most frequently cited, ahead of alternative learning approaches such as using media, like magazines and videos, in class. Pupils who reported a more traditional teaching experience in their lessons also named maths as their least favourite subject.

The results of a 2009 review from the Institute for Effective Education,Effective programmes in secondary mathematics, found that the most successful programmes for teaching maths focus on changing daily teaching practices, particularly the use of co-operative learning methods, and encourage pupil interaction.

Sources: What works in teaching maths? (2009), Institute for Effective Education

Teaching and learning practices in secondary mathematics: measuring teaching from teachers’ and students perspectives (2012), Pampaka M, Wo L, Kalambouka A, Qasim S, and Swanson D, presentation at BERA Conference 2012

In case you missed them: two new research reviews

The Institute for Effective Education at the University of York and the Johns Hopkins School of Education’s Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE) released two new research reviews over the summer:

Findings from the primary science review support a view that improving outcomes in primary science depends on improving teachers’ skills in presenting lessons, engaging and motivating pupils, and integrating science and reading. Technology applications that help teachers teach more compelling lessons and that use video to reinforce lessons also showed promise.

The technology and struggling readers review found that educational technology applications produced a positive but modest effect on the reading skills of struggling readers in comparison to “business as usual” methods. Among four types of educational technology applications reviewed, small-group integrated applications such as Lindamood Phoneme Sequence Program and Read, Write, and Type produced the largest effect sizes, but these were mostly evaluated in small studies, which tend to overstate programme impacts.

To view these and other reports, visit theBest Evidence Encyclopaedia.

Sources: Effective programmes for primary science (2012), Best Evidence Encyclopedia, Educational technology applications for struggling readers (2012), Best Evidence Encyclopedia