Ethnic composition and the London Effect

The London Effect describes the significantly higher scores of students in the capital compared with those who study elsewhere in England. A report from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO), University of Bristol, examines the effect by looking at the progress and attainment of students in secondary schools, using data from the National Pupil Database.

The CMPO analysis confirms that student progress on standardized measures is significantly higher in London than in the rest of England (9.7 percentage points of a standard deviation higher in London). It also finds that an even greater effect can be found in Birmingham (13.4 percentage points higher), but not in Manchester or Newcastle.

Much of the effect is explained by ethnic composition. Throughout England, White British pupils have the lowest progress measure, while Chinese and Black African students have the highest. London has a higher proportion of high-performing groups and a lower proportion of low-performing groups, principally White British students. There is also a positive effect for recent immigrants, although this is difficult to untangle from ethnic status.

The report concludes with two lessons for policymakers – that multi-ethnic school systems can be very productive and that in areas without recent immigrants a focus on encouraging pupils’ engagement with school, hard work, and aspiration may bear fruit.

Source: Understanding the Success of London’s Schools (2014), CMPO Working Paper 14/333

What influences attainment at age 16?

The Department for Education has published a new report analysing the attainment and behavioural outcomes at age 16 of children in the Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) study.

EPPSE is a large-scale, longitudinal study of the progress and development of children from preschool to post-compulsory education. The study ran from 1997 to 2014, following nearly 2,600 children in six local authorities from early childhood to age 16.

The report is substantial. Focusing on academic attainment as measured by GCSE results, the key findings include:

There is an enduring effect of preschool. Attendance, quality, and duration at preschool all show long-term effects on academic outcomes.

  • The early years home learning environment has a long-term impact, and a stronger impact on all measures of GCSE results than free school meal eligibility.
  • Family income, measured in KS1 (age 5-7), showed large effects on the likelihood of achieving 5 A*-C grades at GCSE.
  • Parents’ highest qualification level (compared to no qualifications) was the strongest predictor of better attainment in GCSE English and achieving 5 A*-C including English and maths.
  • Ethnicity was a relatively strong predictor of total GCSE score and maths grades.
  • Pupils who had attended a more academically effective primary school for maths went on to gain better GCSE maths grades.
  • Secondary school quality and pupils’ experiences of school also influenced outcomes.
  • After taking into account other influences, girls and Autumn-born children generally scored higher at GCSE.

Source: Students’ Educational and Developmental Outcomes at Age 16 (2014), Department for Education.

What works for reducing risky behaviour?

This report from the RAND Corporation examines whether being assigned to attend a high-performing public charter school in the US reduces the rates of risky health behaviour among deprived ethnic minority teenagers, and whether this is due to better academic performance, peer influence, or other factors. Risky behaviour included alcohol use, drug use, and unprotected sex, while very risky health behaviour included binge drinking, substance abuse at school, and gang participation. The researchers surveyed 521 pupils aged 14 to 18 who were offered admission into a high-performing public charter school through a random lottery (intervention group) and 409 pupils who were not offered admission (control group). The researchers also obtained the pupils’ state standardised test scores.

Results of the study showed that being assigned to attend a high-performing school led to improved maths and English standard test scores, greater school retention, and lower rates of engaging in very risky behaviour, but no difference in risky behaviour. The authors list several factors that may have contributed to these improvements. For example, the school environment may play a role by reducing exposure to “risky” peers but also by improving persistence, resilience, and other non-cognitive skills, and simply being in a demanding school may leave less time and opportunity to engage in very risky behaviour.

Source: Successful Schools and Risky Behaviors Among Low-Income Adolescents (2014), Pediatrics 134(2).

Free schools don’t reflect local demographics

A research briefing from the Institute of Education says that free schools (non-profit-making, independent, state-funded schools introduced by the current government) are socially selective, failing to serve the neediest children in their areas.

The authors used data from the National Pupil Database for 2011/12, 2012/13, and 2013/14. For each type of school, they looked at the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM), ethnicity, and the prior achievement of pupils.

They found that free schools have emerged in slightly more disadvantaged areas, as indicated by the proportion of FSM pupils in the neighbourhood compared to the rest of England: 22% compared with 17% at secondary level, and 18% compared with 16% at primary level. However, they are taking fewer FSM pupils than other local schools.

The study also showed that children who enter primary free schools are academically ahead of their peers. They have significantly higher levels of attainment than the average, not only for their neighbourhoods, but for the country as a whole. Prior achievement for pupils entering secondary free schools is the same as for pupils entering other local schools.

The other main finding was that free schools have emerged most strongly in neighbourhoods with high proportions of non-white children, compared with the national average, and that within those neighbourhoods they have admitted even higher proportions of non-whites. This may be a result of free schools with a declared religious affiliation.

Source: Research Briefing Summary: The Social Composition of Free Schools after Three Years (2014), Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES).

Boosting the life chances of non-white boys

A new report from MDRC looks at what is known about the economic and social disadvantage of non-white young men in the US and the evidence behind initiatives that may help to tackle this problem.

The paper reviews the results from a number of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and highlights promising interventions. Interventions are divided into two broad categories: (a) Proactive Approaches: preventive interventions aimed at young men who are still connected to positive systems (like schools or community colleges) that seek to enhance their success in moving through those systems and on to productive careers, and (b) Reconnection Approaches: interventions targeting those who have disconnected from positive systems. The report also lists ongoing research with results expected soon.

The authors note that well-targeted and well-implemented programmes can make a difference, but to make a lasting difference, successful interventions must be taken to scale — that is, replicated and expanded successfully in new places and settings.

As well as identifying proven and promising programmes, the authors outline four additional (evidence-based) approaches that could have wider implications for supporting young people from underperforming groups. These are:

  • Encouraging young people to apply for the best higher education establishment they are capable of attending, not “undermatching”;
  • Specialised support within higher education for students from underperforming groups;
  • Embedding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy within employment schemes for those within the justice system; and
  • New approaches to summer jobs and internships to help give work experience to help build work-readiness, a CV, and gain references.

Source: Boosting the Life Chances of Young Men of Color: Evidence from Promising Programs (2014), MDRC

Mother’s reading level makes a difference

A new article published in the Early Childhood Education Journal shows that maternal reading level predicts both a child’s receptive vocabulary and reading proficiency prior to schooling, after maternal education is taken into account. The findings also controlled for ethnicity, number of children in the family, and marital and employment status.

The authors used a sample of 155 children (aged 3–5 years) and their mothers (aged 20–44 years) of low income and low educational background from Western Canada. Children and mothers were tested individually for their reading proficiency using standardised tests, and children’s receptive vocabulary proficiency also was tested. The mothers were also interviewed one-to-one for demographic information. All the families spoke English first and foremost, although some were bilingual.

The study concludes that both mothers’ measured reading levels and their reported educational levels were significant predictors of children’s reading proficiency, each over and above the other. However, in the case of children’s receptive vocabulary proficiency, they found that mothers’ reading levels were a significant predictor but that mothers’ educational level was not.

In the light of this, the authors recommend that early childhood educators may consider implementing programmes to support mothers in improving their reading, in order to raise their children’s language and literacy levels.

Source: Unique Contributions of Maternal Reading Proficiency to Predicting Children’s Preschool Receptive Vocabulary and Reading Proficiency (2014), Early Childhood Education Journal, online first January 2014.