A report published by the Sutton Trust suggests that recent
changes to GCSEs – including tougher exams and a new grading system – have led
to a slight widening of the achievement gap in England, but the overall impact
Making the Grade uses Key Stage 4 data from the National Pupil Database from before and after the GCSE reforms were introduced. Simon Burgess and Dave Thomson looked at the results and entry rates for disadvantaged pupils (pupils eligible for free school meals at any point in the six years up to and including the year in which they reached the end of Key Stage 4) and non-disadvantaged pupils to explore the impact on disadvantaged pupils and the achievement gap.
Their findings suggest that during the period that the
reforms were introduced, test scores for disadvantaged pupils fell slightly
compared to their classmates. Under the previous system, 2% of disadvantaged pupils
achieved the top grade of A*, whereas just 1% now achieve a 9 (the re-designated
top grade). The drop is less for non-disadvantaged pupils, falling from 8%
achieving A* to 5% achieving a 9.
the grade: The impact of GCSE reforms on the attainment gap between
disadvantaged pupils and their peers (December 2019), the Sutton Trust
The Better Schools for All? report, published by the Nuffield Foundation, examines the role that schools play in pupils’ education and suggests that the school reforms in the UK in the past two decades have failed to bridge the gap in pupil achievement.
Researchers from University College London and the National
Institute of Economic and Social Research looked at data from around 3,000
secondary schools in England between 2003 and 2016 and compared pupil outcomes
and teachers’ experiences with those of employees elsewhere.
They found that:
- Attending a “good” secondary school adds only a
small amount more value than attending a “bad” secondary school. Overall,
schools were found to contribute around 10% of variance in pupil achievement.
- State schools are better at managing staff than
private schools. Using Workplace Employment Relations Survey data, the study
shows that state schools were more likely to have rigorous hiring practices and
employee participation programmes than private schools, and the link between
human resource management and effective and high-performing schools was only
apparent in the state sector.
- Performance-related pay and performance
monitoring, which were found to improve workplace performance elsewhere, were
ineffective for teachers.
- Schools with more middle leaders tended to be
rated more highly by Ofsted in terms of leadership and management. However, in
schools which formed part of a multi-academy trust, no significant relationship
Source: Better schools for all? (June 2019), Nuffield Foundation
Despite the achievement gap that has historically existed
between pupils from different racial backgrounds and poverty levels, at-risk
pupils in some California school districts are outperforming pupils of similar
backgrounds in other districts. Why? What are these districts doing to make
their pupils so successful?
Anne Podolsky and colleagues at the Learning Policy Institute recently released a report first identifying the 156 California school districts performing better than expected, referred to as “positive outliers”, and then compared their characteristics to other districts in the state who have similar populations but are not performing as well.
Results show that schools in the successful districts were
comprised of more experienced, well-qualified teachers than the less successful
districts. After controlling for pupil social and economic status (SES) and
district characteristics, teacher qualification emerged as the primary variable
affecting achievement for all pupils, as measured by California’s English and
maths assessments. In addition, years’ experience in a district was positively
associated with achievement for African-American and Hispanic pupils.
The report notes that in the 2017–18 school year, California
authorised more than 12,000 substandard permits and credentials, more than half
of the entering workforce that year, many of whom were disproportionately
assigned to schools serving the largest percentages of pupils of colour or from
low SES backgrounds. The findings highlight how the state’s shortage of
qualified teachers is negatively impacting pupil achievement.
California’s positive outliers: Districts beating the odds (May 2019), Learning Policy Institute
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published a new analysis of the state of the attainment gap in the UK. Using data from Key Stage 2 to predict how the attainment gap is likely to shift in the next five years, it reveals that there will be little or no headway in closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates in the next five years.
Improvements in primary schools over the past few years mean that the gap between the proportion of disadvantaged pupils with at least a good pass at GCSE in English and maths and all other pupils is set to reduce from 24 percentage points (ppts) to 21.5 between 2017 and 2021. However, there will be little change in Attainment 8 (which measures average achievement in GCSE across eight subjects) and Progress 8 (which measures students’ progress between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 across eight subjects) gaps. The Attainment 8 score gap of 11 points in 2017 will remain in 2021, while for Progress 8 the attainment gap is set to increase a little: from 14.8 ppts in 2017 to 15.6 ppts in 2021.
The analysis emphasises that even small improvements – just one or two GCSE passes compared to no qualifications – can have significant increases on a young person’s lifetime productivity returns and in national wealth. This highlights the importance of continuing to focus on improving results for currently low-attaining pupils.
The report also contains 15 key lessons from the first six years of the EEF on closing the attainment gap.
Source: The attainment gap: 2017 (January 2018), The Education Endowment Foundation
Research has shown that socioeconomic status (SES) is the highest predictor of children’s academic achievement. Moreover, the achievement gap between low- and high-SES pupils begins early in their schooling. How effective have initiatives been at narrowing the achievement gap? Emma Garcia at the Education Policy Institute in the US and Elaine Weiss at the Broader Bolder Approach to Education examined two cohorts of kindergartners (Year 1), those who started in 1998 and those who started in 2010. They were looking at the relationship between socio-economic status and kindergartners’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills at the start of their school years to see if the achievement gap had narrowed in this twelve-year span.
Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics – Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies of the Kindergarten Classes of 1998-99 and 2010-11, Garcia and Weiss found that the achievement gap did not change between 1998 to 2010 among pupils living in the US’s highest and lowest economic strata, a difference of 1.17 standard deviations in reading and 1.25 standard deviations in maths, despite parents’ increased involvement in educating their children across all SES groups and the implementation of programmes designed to narrow these gaps. Interestingly, they did find that the percentage of children living in poverty grew during that time, yet the achievement gap did not grow, nor did it narrow. They found that greater parental involvement and children’s pre-school attendance contained the gap, but did not do enough to eliminate the overall effects of poverty on pupil achievement.
The researchers then reviewed twelve programmes designed to narrow the achievement gap. The most effective programmes addressed not only academics, but ensured the children were getting proper meals and healthcare and provided other supports for children and their families.
Source: Education inequalities at the school starting gate: Gaps, trends, and strategies to address them (September 2017), Education Policy Institute
A study by Huebener and colleagues examined whether increasing the amount of time pupils spend in the classroom affects their performance.
The authors used PISA scores to analyse the effect of increasing the time spent in class by two hours per week over a five-year period for ninth-grade students in Germany (average age = 15 years old). During the additional classroom time, pupils were taught new content.
Their findings indicate that while increasing the time spent in class did improve pupils’ average performance, effect sizes were small. The increase in lesson time was shown to increase average PISA test scores in reading, maths and science (effect size between +0.04 and +0.06 for one additional hour per week). However, these results differ according to pupil ability, with a widening gap in performance between low- and high-performing pupils. The researchers suggest this is because the additional teaching time was used to teach new content, and that lower-performing pupils may not be able to cope with this additional content. They recommend that when policymakers consider adding additional classroom time, they consider how this time is spent. Different pupils have different learning needs, so the content of the extra lessons, rather than the time, is more important to improving pupil performance.
Source: Increased instruction hours and the widening gap in student performance (August 2017), Labour Economics, Volume 47