Three-year achievement gap between poor pupils and their better-off peers

Research published by the Sutton Trust shows that for schools in the UK, the achievement gap in maths, science and reading between the top-performing pupils from low and high socio-economic backgrounds is around two years and eight months.

Global Gaps by Dr John Jerrim of the UCL Institute of Education analyses the 2015 test scores from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) PISA tests to assess how well the top 10% of pupils in the UK’s schools are doing. In England, the highest-achieving pupils score above the median score for OECD countries in maths, science and reading. However, in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, high-achieving pupils perform, on average, below the OECD median scores.

For girls in England, the achievement gap in science and reading is even greater. High-achieving girls from low socio-economic backgrounds are around three years behind their more advantaged, high-achieving peers. This is around eight months greater than the equivalent gap for boys for science, and nine months greater for reading. There is no significant gender difference in maths, with an achievement gap of around two years and nine months for both girls and boys.

Source: Global Gaps: Comparing socio-economic gaps in the performance of highly able UK pupils internationally (February 2017), The Sutton Trust

Do students perform better when schools offer extracurricular activities?

A new PISA in Focus study from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), looks at whether pupils perform better in science if they are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, such as field trips and science projects. Most countries (22 of 31 OECD countries) demonstrated that pupils did perform better at science in schools that offer more extracurricular activities compared with pupils in schools that offer fewer of these activities. The types and availability of extracurricular activity vary widely across countries, but the study shows that the relationship between improved pupil performance and extracurricular activity is consistent, with Germany and Australia having the strongest correlation.

Another finding of the study is that in addition to performing better, pupils in schools that offer more science-related extracurricular activities also report more positive attitudes toward the subject. They tend to believe more in their own ability in the subject (22 OECD countries) and enjoy learning science more (20 OECD countries). After accounting for socio-economic background, the positive relationships between achievement, enjoyment, and self-efficacy still hold for most countries. In particular, no negative relationships between science-related extracurricular activities and positive attitudes towards science learning were found.

Source: Are students more engaged when schools offer extracurricular activities? (2012), PISA in Focus

Realising the potential of immigrant students

A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) looks at the educational achievement of immigrant children and how it can be improved, drawing on results from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The report shows that performance gaps between immigrant and non-immigrant pupils vary across countries, and it recognises that integrating immigrant pupil populations poses significant challenges to the quality and equity of schools in OECD countries. It suggests that by reinforcing language-learning policies, ensuring a more balanced social mix in schools, and focusing on content specific to immigrants, schools can improve the educational achievement of immigrant children. However, education policy alone is unlikely to fully address these challenges, and changes to social policy may also be necessary.

Source: PISA – Untapped skills: realising the potential of Immigrant students (2012), PISA

How does the social attainment gap in England compare with other countries?

Using findings from an OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) study on the impact of socio-economic background on pupil performance this report from the Department for Education summarises how the social attainment gap in England compares with other countries.

It looks at:

  • How the OECD measure pupils’ socio-economic backgrounds in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment);
  • The distribution of pupil attainment in England and how this compares with countries internationally;
  • The association between pupils’ socio-economic backgrounds and attainment in England and how this compares with countries internationally;
  • How social gaps reported in PISA compare to the gap reported between pupils known to be eligible for free school meals and their peers in England; and
  • How average attainment reported by PISA is affected when we control for pupil background.

One of the findings of the report is that England is not the only country in which socio-economic status has a high impact on attainment. This is also true for some high-performing PISA participants, in particular, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, and Belgium.

Source: PISA 2009: how does the social attainment gap in England compare with countries internationally? (2012), Department for Education

It’s not about the money

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has published a new PISA in Focus review, analysing the results of their PISA study (Programme for International Student Assessment). It explores whether money “buys” improved performance for a country, and finds that higher expenditure on education does not guarantee better pupil performance. National wealth is important up to a point, and this research focuses on countries above a certain baseline.

But, for relatively high-income economies, the success of the country’s education system
depends more on how educational resources are invested than on the volume of investment. Investing in teachers and having high expectations for all pupils are cited as particularly important characteristics.

Source: Does Money Buy Strong Performance in PISA? PISA.

Policies to help disadvantaged pupils

New research from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) looks at international data to explore how disadvantaged pupils can best be supported, and the findings emphasise fairness and inclusion.

Recommendations include using teaching practices that are known to make a difference for low-performing pupils, deferring any selection or ability grouping until the later secondary years to avoid exacerbating inequities, and attracting, supporting, and retaining high-quality teachers.

Source: Equity and quality in education – supporting disadvantaged students and schools (2011), OECD