Improving the maths and reading skills of children in foster care

A study published in Oxford Review of Education evaluates the effects of TutorBright tutoring on the reading and maths skills of children in family foster care. TutorBright uses one-to-one, at-home tutoring with detailed instructor’s manuals and customised pupil workbooks. Children receive two one-hour tutoring sessions per week, on designated days of the week, for up to 50 hours of tutoring. Children in the waiting list control group were asked to continue with their schooling as usual and not seek additional tutoring or academic support during the school year, and were then offered the tutoring intervention at the end of the school year. TutorBright tutors all had experience with teaching or mentoring, and an undergraduate or master’s degree (completed or in progress).

For the randomised controlled trial, conducted by Andrea J Hickey and Robert J Flynn, child welfare workers nominated foster care children in Ontario, Canada, who met the following criteria: enrolled in grades 1–11 (Years 2–12), fluent in English, currently living in a foster-family setting, and judged likely to remain in care for the duration of the study. Thirty-four children were randomly assigned to tutoring, and 36 to a waiting-list control condition.

The results suggest that the tutored children made greater gains than those in the control group in reading fluency (effect size = +0.16), reading comprehension (ES = +0.34) and maths calculation (ES = +0.39).

Source: Effects of the TutorBright tutoring programme on the reading and mathematics skills of children in foster care: a randomised controlled trial (July 2019), Oxford Review of Education, 45:4

An evaluation of PACE Center for Girls

Megan Millenky and colleagues from MDRC have released a new reporton an evaluation of PACE Center for Girls. PACE, a Florida-based organisation, provides academic and social services to at-risk middle and high school girls. According to the report, PACE operates daily, year-round; on a typical day, girls attend academic classes and receive additional support such as individual counselling, academic advice, and referrals to other services.

The research team used a random assignment design to evaluate the impact of PACE. From August 2013 to November 2015, a sample of 1,125 girls were enrolled in the study (673 in the programme group, and 452 in the control group). Data sources included administrative records, a survey, and interviews.

Key findings from the study were as follows:

  • The programme group received more academic and social services — and received them more often from a professional source — than the control group.
  • Over a one-year period, PACE increased school enrolment and attendance for the girls it served, compared with the control group. Girls in the programme group were also more likely to be “on track” academically than those in the control group.
  • Girls in both the programme and control groups appeared goal-orientated and hopeful about their futures and reported relatively low levels of risky behaviour one year after study enrolment.
  • The cost of PACE’s holistic package of services is, on average, $10,400 per pupil more than the cost of the services received by control group members through academic and social services provided in the community. The additional cost is largely driven by PACE’s extensive social services; the cost of academic services is similar to those of Florida public schools.

The authors note that further follow-up research would be necessary to see whether PACE affects longer-term academic and delinquency outcomes and to complete a full benefit-cost analysis.

Source: Focusing on girls’ futures: Results from the evaluation of PACE Center for Girls (January 2019), MDRC

Being in care is not the problem

A new systematic review from the University of Oxford has shown that although children in foster care lag behind their peers in a number of educational outcomes, this is not simply the result of being in care.

The authors considered all studies undertaken in English and published since 1990, with 28 studies meeting their inclusion criteria. These showed that children in foster or kinship care had poorer outcomes than their peers on a number of measures of educational attainment, including grades, literacy and numeracy test scores, attendance, and exclusions.

However, the studies reviewed suggest that the relationship between being in such care and low educational outcomes is partly explained by pre-care experiences, such as mistreatment and neglect. Also, the strength of the relationship between being in care and educational outcomes was also reduced when other individual characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, and special educational needs, known to be linked to attainment, were taken into consideration.

The authors conclude that being in care does not appear to be harmful in itself to children’s academic performance, and recommend that more needs to be done to help those in care to succeed and thrive.

Source: What is the Relationship Between Being in Care and the Educational Outcomes of Children? An International Systematic Review (2015), Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education.

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.

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.

Tackling the achievement gap for children in care

A recent Ofsted report explores the impact virtual schools have on tackling the achievement gap between children in care and their peers. Virtual schools are established by local authorities and work with looked after children as if they were in one school. They liaise with the schools the children attend, track the progress they make and support their educational achievement.

The study examines virtual schools in nine local authorities and finds that overall impact is mostly positive. There is good evidence that they raise the profile of educational attainment for children in care, promote much better communication between professionals, increase the involvement of carers in children’s education, and help to improve attendance and reduce exclusions. However, there is little evidence that they are yet able to reduce the achievement gap between looked after children and their peers. Progress between key stages 3 and 4 is generally slower than during earlier key stages, and improving the percentage of those attaining five or more good GCSE passes, including English and mathematics, remains a challenge for most local authorities.

Source: The impact of virtual schools on the educational progress of looked after children (2012), Ofsted