Are grammar schools failing to challenge their more able pupils?

A new report from the Schools Network suggests that some grammar schools may be failing to challenge their more able pupils because the current benchmark of 5+ A*–C GCSE passes including English and maths is too low.

The University of York’s Professor Jesson, the report’s author, suggests that for grammar schools this should be raised to 5+ A/A* GCSE passes including English and maths. Currently around 58% of pupils in comprehensive schools achieve 5+ A*–C GCSE passes including English and maths, compared with 55% in grammar schools achieving the suggested higher performance measure. Grammar schools should have “greater expectations” when it comes to pupils’ GCSE passes.

The report, which provided a comparative analysis of performance in all UK grammar schools, demonstrated that there are wide variations in both the intake of grammar schools in different parts of England and in pupils’ performance at GCSE. In outer London 75% of pupils in grammar schools achieved 5 A*/A GCSE passes including English and maths, compared to just 44% in east England. According to Professor Jesson these substantial differences go unnoticed in standard GCSE league tables where their performance is still considered to be high against current indicators of performance.

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Updated report on Peer-Assisted Learning/Literacy Strategies (PALS)

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has posted an updated report on Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (also known as Peer-Assisted Literacy Strategies (PALS)), peer-tutoring programmes that supplement the primary reading curriculum. For the report, the WWC reviewed 45 studies that investigated the effects of PALS on beginning readers. Of these studies, three met the WWC’s evidence standards (one of which met the standards with reservations).

The three qualifying studies involved 3,130 beginning readers in kindergarten and first grade (KS1) in four US states. Based on these studies, the WWC found PALS to have potentially positive effects on alphabetics, no discernible effects on fluency, and mixed effects on comprehension for beginning readers.

Source: WWC Intervention Report (2012), What Works Clearinghouse

The effect of Professional Learning Teams on student achievement

A new study of Professional Learning Teams has shown that they may lead to improved student retention and grades. Professional Learning Teams are small groups of teachers who actively collaborate, share expertise, improve their skills, examine and use various forms of data, and learn from each other—all for the purpose of improved pupil learning. They were introduced systematically in five counties in North Carolina in 2003.

The study showed that schools that used Professional Learning Teams the most had greater decreases in pupil retention rates (the number of pupils held back each year) than those with lower implementation. The same was true for increasing test results, although this was not statistically significant.

Source: Wake County public school system (WCPSS) Professional Learning Teams (PLTs): 2010-11 to 2011-12 school-based policy study (2012), Wake County Public School System

Social-emotional learning for preschool children

This study from the Early Childhood Education Journal looks at the effects of an SEL curriculum on the social and emotional competence of preschool pupils. Participating teachers and pupils were assigned to either a treatment group or a control group. In the treatment group, Strong Start Pre-K was implemented, a programme that covers specific objectives and goals that help to prevent emotional and mental health problems; optional booster lessons are included to reinforce skills. In the control group, Strong Start Pre-K was not implemented.

The study showed a significant decrease in internalising behaviours and more improvement in the pupil–teacher relationship in the treatment group. The results also supported the use of the optional booster lessons.

To learn more about effective approaches to social-emotional learning, see “Social and emotional learning programmes that work”, an article from a recent issue of Better: Evidence-based Education magazine.

Source: Promoting social and emotional learning in preschool students: A study of strong start pre-k (2012), Early Childhood Education Journal, 40(3)

Do pupils whose second language is English affect native English speakers?

The percentage of primary school children in England who do not speak English as their first language has risen by a third to 12% over the last 10 years. This has led to concern from some that it could be having a negative impact on native English speakers’ achievement because teachers’ time would be taken up helping pupils whose second language is English. However, according to a study from the Centre for the Economics of Education, this concern is unnecessary.

The research used data from the National Pupil Database to explore the correlation between the proportion of non-native English speakers in a year group and educational attainment of native English speakers at the end of primary school. A second approach looked specifically at evidence from Catholic schools attended by the children of Polish immigrants. The results of both approaches suggest that there were no negative effects of pupils whose second language is English on the educational attainment of native English speakers.

Source: Non-native speakers of English in the classroom: What are the effects on pupil performance? (2012), Centre for the Economics of Education

How does the social attainment gap in England compare with other countries?

Using findings from an OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) study on the impact of socio-economic background on pupil performance this report from the Department for Education summarises how the social attainment gap in England compares with other countries.

It looks at:

  • How the OECD measure pupils’ socio-economic backgrounds in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment);
  • The distribution of pupil attainment in England and how this compares with countries internationally;
  • The association between pupils’ socio-economic backgrounds and attainment in England and how this compares with countries internationally;
  • How social gaps reported in PISA compare to the gap reported between pupils known to be eligible for free school meals and their peers in England; and
  • How average attainment reported by PISA is affected when we control for pupil background.

One of the findings of the report is that England is not the only country in which socio-economic status has a high impact on attainment. This is also true for some high-performing PISA participants, in particular, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, and Belgium.

Source: PISA 2009: how does the social attainment gap in England compare with countries internationally? (2012), Department for Education