Achievement gap narrowing for looked-after children

A new statistical release, published by the Department for Education, explores a range of outcome measures at national and local authority level in England for children continuously looked after for at least 12 months. The release shows there has been modest progress.

At Key Stage 1 (age 6-7), achievement in mathematics, reading and writing has improved gradually between 2009 and 2013. The achievement gaps between looked-after children and their peers have also fallen slightly during that time.

At Key Stage 2 (age 10-11), the picture is similar, with the achievement gap falling between 2009 and 2013, although it is still substantial. In reading, the gap fell from 27% to 23%, while in mathematics it fell from 32% to 26%.

At Key Stage 4 (age 15-16), 15.3% of looked-after children achieved 5 or more A* to C GCSEs or equivalent including English and mathematics (up from 11% in 2009). Changes to the attainment gap are less clear, but this compares with 58% of non-looked-after children who achieved 5 or more A* to C GCSEs or equivalent including English and mathematics in 2013. Although it is important to note that a high proportion of looked-after children (67.8%) have special educational needs, the achievement gap is substantial and influenced by a broad range of factors.

Source: Outcomes for Children Looked After by Local Authorities (2014), Department for Education.

How are schools and colleges raising aspirations?

New research commissioned by the Department for Education has reviewed the strategies used by schools and colleges to raise the aspirations of high-achieving disadvantaged pupils to pursue higher education. It comprised a nationally representative telephone survey of 400 schools and 100 FE and sixth-form colleges, and ten case studies drawn from institutions identified as exemplifying good practice.

Aspiration-raising activities with high-achieving disadvantaged pupils were reported in 50% of 11-16 schools, 39% of 11-18 schools, and 40% of colleges, although nearly all reported at least some activities to raise aspirations more generally. 32% were using Pupil Premium funding specifically to raise aspirations among disadvantaged pupils, and 75% were using it to fund aspiration-raising activities with all pupils. However, concerns were raised that Pupil Premium funding did not adequately replace the support offered by the previous Aim Higher programme.

The report identified key issues that aspiration-raising activities needed to address. These included financial concerns; feeling that higher education was not “for them”; attainment levels; and pupils favouring other opportunities such as work or vocational qualifications. However, the findings challenged the assumption that parents or family constitute a significant barrier to higher education.

Recommendations for best practice include a whole institution culture of raising aspirations; a combination of universal and targeted approaches; staff with specific responsibility for higher education access; early intervention from KS3 onwards; information and guidance on financial issues for both pupils and parents at an early stage; immersive, subsidised, university experiences; and systematic monitoring of applications and destinations.

Source: School and College-level Strategies to Raise Aspirations of High-achieving Disadvantaged Pupils to Pursue Higher Education Investigation: Research report (2014), Department for Education.

Pupil Premium is funding wide range of interventions

The Department for Education has published the findings of an independent evaluation of the Pupil Premium, which aims to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. The funding was worth £623 per pupil in the 2012/13 school year, with approximately 27% of pupils eligible. This report is based on a survey of schools during the Autumn term of 2012 to collect quantitative information and financial data, case studies, and analysis of the National Pupil Database.

It is too early to measure impact, but the report gives an overview of how the funding is being used. Over 60% of schools surveyed reported reduced overall budgets between 2010-11 and 2011-12. Over 90% of schools surveyed had been focused on supporting disadvantaged pupils before the introduction of the Pupil Premium. Over 80% reported that the Pupil Premium alone was not enough to fund this support, and many pooled the funding with other budgets. Since its introduction about 70% of schools had increased such expenditure.

All schools were offering a wide range of support to help pupils they considered to be disadvantaged. The biggest areas of expenditure focused on learning in the curriculum, and social, emotional, and behavioural support. Of 11 types of support listed, primary schools offered 8 on average, and secondary schools 9.3. The four most highly used (reported by over 90% of both primaries and secondaries) were additional support both inside and outside the classroom, additional staff, and curriculum-related school trips. The range of support has been built up over time, not introduced since Pupil Premium funding began. Over 45% of schools based their decisions on how to spend funding on academic research, and almost all schools surveyed (95% or more) said they were monitoring the impact.

Source: Evaluation of Pupil Premium: Research Report (2013), Department for Education.

Summer Schools help with transition

A new report published by the Department for Education assesses the first year of their Summer Schools programme for disadvantaged pupils. The programme aims to help children eligible for free school meals (FSM) and looked-after children make the transition from primary to secondary school. In 2012, 1,776 Summer Schools were held across England.

A total of 9,682 pupils from treatment schools (that ran summer schools for disadvantaged pupils) and 11,383 pupils from comparison schools completed a survey when they started secondary school, and the authors also used data from the National Pupil Database (NPD). The results were broadly supportive of the Summer School programme and are consistent with a small positive effect on transition to secondary school, especially for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (especially those eligible for FSM) had significantly lower levels of confidence, socialisation, and school readiness than their peers. Attending a Summer School was related to more positive attitudes (for confidence, socialisation, and school readiness); however, these should be viewed as “associations” rather than causal links.

Source: The Impact of the Summer Schools Programme on Pupils: Research Report (2013), Department for Education.

Sure Start survey shows why disadvantaged families need support

New research published by the Department for Education presents findings from a baseline survey of families using Sure Start Children’s Centres (SSCCs), which aim to reduce inequalities in child development and school readiness. The data forms part of a six-year study examining SSCCs in the most disadvantaged areas of England, and was taken from interviews with a sample of 5,717 parents with a “selected child” aged 9-18 months old.

The survey explored take-up of services at the centres, as well as the socio-economic characteristics of the families using them.

Extensive findings are detailed in the report, and a research brief outlines key results. Negative findings were often associated with disadvantaged families, including:

    • Families with lower incomes and where mothers had lower levels of educational attainment had a less favourable home learning environment (HLE).
    • Families where parents did not work had lower HLE scores than those where at least one parent was in paid employment.
    • Households with lower incomes were slightly more likely to be characterised by less favourable parenting and family functioning.
    • Families with lower incomes, those where mothers had lower educational attainment, single parents, and those where parents did not work, tended to have slightly more chaotic and less organised homes than those in more advantaged circumstances.

Source: Evaluation of Children’s Centres in England (ECCE). Strand 2: Baseline Survey of Families Using Children’s Centres in the Most Disadvantaged Areas. Research Report (2013), Department for Education.

An alternative approach to Alternative Provision

The Department for Education has published an interim evaluation report of a three-year school exclusion trial. The trial places more responsibility on schools for the quality of education their excluded pupils receive in Alternative Provision (AP), and for the attainment levels they achieve.

In the trial, funding is shifted away from local authorities to the schools, meaning they can not only fund the AP they think most appropriate for a particular pupil, but also fund early intervention to try to avoid exclusion in the first place. Initial findings have shown changes to some schools’ processes, training, and the provision they offer. However, the report also identifies issues of concern including the availability of sufficient local, flexible, high quality AP to meet the needs of young people. The trial involves 180 schools and 11 volunteer local authorities, and will run until July 2014.

Source: Evaluation of the School Exclusion Trial: Responsibility for Alternative Provision for Permanently Excluded Children – First Interim Report (2013),Department for Education.