Evaluation of computer game to teach pupils to read

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) recently carried out an evaluation of a trial of the GraphoGame Rime intervention for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and Wellcome Trust.

GraphoGame Rime is a computer game designed to teach pupils to read by developing their phonological awareness and phonic skills. The game is delivered in small groups supervised by a teacher or teaching assistant, with pupils working on individual devices, as the game is designed to constantly adjust the difficulty to challenge the learner at an appropriate level.

The pupil-randomised controlled trial involved 398 Year 2 pupils with low phonics skills in 15 schools in Cambridgeshire, and was designed to determine the impact of the intervention on pupils’ reading skills. The results of the evaluation found no evidence that GraphoGame Rime improved pupils’ reading or spelling test scores when compared to business-as-usual (effect size =-0.06). The intervention also showed no impact on reading or spelling test scores for pupils eligible for free school meals compared with the business-as-usual control group.

Source:  GraphoGame Rime: Evaluation report and executive summary (May 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Selective schools not necessarily better

New analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) shows there is no academic benefit to attending partially selective schools. Partially selective schools admit a proportion of pupils by academic ability and/or subject aptitude and a proportion by commonly used non-selective criteria. The NFER identified 38 partially selective schools in England that select more than 10% of pupils on the basis of ability or aptitude, but are not wholly selective grammar schools. Of these 38 schools, 20 selected pupils on academic ability alone. The next most common criterion was academic ability and musical aptitude (10 schools). Four schools selected by aptitude for music alone. The remaining schools selected pupils using a mixture of academic ability and different aptitudes.

The findings of the analysis by Karen Wespieser and colleagues revealed that pupils with high prior achievement make less progress in maths at partially selective schools than their peers at non-selective schools (up to five percentage points). Pupils with low prior achievement are less likely to achieve five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths, than pupils at non-selective schools (up to eight percentage points). In addition, they find that admissions policies at some partially selective schools may act as a barrier to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Source: The performance of partially selective schools in England (March 2017), National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

Better results for academies

A new report from NFER explores the association between academy status and the attainment of pupils in high-stakes exams.

Academy schools in England are funded by the state but have the ability to teach a different curriculum from the national curriculum, are not bound by the school teachers’ pay and conditions document, and set their own admissions policy. The first academies to be founded in the mid to late 2000s were sponsored academies, under-performing schools whose running is taken over by a sponsor. Now more academies are converter academies, maintained schools deemed to be high-performing that choose to become academies.

Comparing similar schools’ performance in 2015, the report finds that, for secondary schools:

  • The proportion of pupils achieving five or more A*-C grade GCSEs (national high-stakes exams taken at 16) including English and maths was 2.7 percentage points higher in secondary sponsored academies than in similar maintained schools.
  • The proportion of pupils achieving five or more A*-C grade GCSEs including English and maths was 1.1 percentage points higher in secondary converter academies than in similar maintained schools.

Both results were statistically significant.

For primary schools:

  • The average proportion of pupils who achieved National Curriculum (NC) level 4 (the expected standard for most pupils) at the end of Key Stage 2 (age 11) in sponsored academies was 1.2 percentage points higher than in similar maintained schools.
  • The average proportion of pupils who achieved NC level 4 at the end of Key Stage 2 in converter academies was 0.9 percentage points higher than in similar maintained schools.

Neither result was statistically significant.

Source: Analysis of Academy School Performance in 2015 (2016), NFER.

Academies under-performing on GCSEs

NFER have released a new report analysing the progress between Key Stage 2 and GCSE of pupils attending academy schools and non-academy schools. The authors found that in 2011 and 2012 pupils at academy schools achieved, on average, higher attainment outcomes and made more progress between KS2 and KS4 than those at non-academy schools when taking into account both GCSEs and non-GCSE qualifications (eg, NVQs).

However, analysis of the 2012 data excluding non-GCSE qualifications show that academy schools (that had held that status for more than two years) had average GCSE scores that were significantly lower than non-academy schools. The authors say that this may indicate alternative entry policies into GCSE and non-GCSE qualifications, or that pupils in academies perform particularly well in non-GCSE subjects.

Longitudinal analysis of GCSE outcomes from 2007 to 2012 showed no significant improvement in the rate of improvement of GCSE results for academy schools over and above the rate of improvement in all schools.

The research took into account other school level factors that may have been associated with a variation in progress, including the proportion of pupils receiving free school meals and with special educational needs, as well as geographical location.

Source: Analysis of Academy School Performance in the 2011 and 2012 GCSEs (2013), NFER.

Past experience matters most to schools, but research evidence is catching up

The Sutton Trust submitted two questions to NFER’s latest Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey, and the responses have been analysed and published in a new report. One question asked respondents to identify how their school decided which approaches and programmes to adopt to improve pupil learning. The most popular response was that their school used past experience to make these decisions, with 61% of primary teachers and 49% of secondary teachers choosing this option.

However, schools are increasingly using evidence to inform decision-making – 43% of primary teachers and 40% of secondary teachers said that their school made decisions by considering research evidence on the impact of different approaches. This figure was up from 36% in the same survey last year.

The respondents were also asked how the Pupil Premium was spent in their schools. Early intervention schemes ranked most highly as the spending priority in all schools (23%). This was followed by additional teaching assistants and more one-to-one tuition at primary level, and more one-to-one tuition at secondary level. However, 30% of respondents did not know what the main priority was in their school.

Source: NFER Teacher Voice Omnibus March 2013 Survey: Spending Priorities for the Pupil Premium (2013), NFER.

Employer engagement in schools

The National Foundation for Educational Research has released this report that explores the best available evidence on ways employers engage with schools, the features and principles of successful employer involvement, and the impact of employers’ involvement on young peoples’ progression. Overall, the involvement of employers with schools is considered to be beneficial to all involved; however, there is a lack of evidence on the impact employer involvement has on pupils’ achievement and progression.

  • There are ten key features to successful employer involvement, which include good communication, commitment, flexibility, and a focus on the curriculum.
  • There is some evidence of a positive impact on pupils’ vocational skills, knowledge, and understanding; academic and learning outcomes; health and well-being; and enjoyment and engagement, but a lack of robust evidence on the impact on harder outcomes such as achievement and continuing education.
  • There is little evidence of the impact on specific groups of young people who might be at risk of becoming “NEET” (not in education, employment, or training).

Source: Employer involvement in schools: A rapid review of UK and international evidence (2012), National Foundation for Educational Research