Do private schools give students an educational advantage?

Researchers at the Institute of Education at University College London have conducted a study that looks at whether there are any educational advantages to attending private schools in the upper secondary years (Years 12 and 13).

Published in the Oxford Review of Education, the study used data from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies’ Next Steps cohort study and linked this to national pupil achievement information between 2005 and 2009. The researchers followed a sample of 5,852 pupils who attended a private or state school while doing their A-levels.

The profiles of the two groups of pupils were very different – pupils arrived in private school sixth forms with significantly higher prior attainment in GCSEs, and from households that had twice the income of families whose children attended state school sixth form. However, the researchers used the data available from Next Steps to allow for socio-demographic characteristics and prior achievement. Allowing for these characteristics, pupils at private schools outperformed those at state schools in their total A-level score by eight percentile points. Private school pupils also performed better on those subjects deemed to be more important to elite universities.

The researchers suggest that the reason for the difference may lie in the vastly superior resources per pupil in private schools (three times the state school average), including smaller pupil-teacher ratios (roughly half the state school average). However, they caution that their results are not truly causal.

Source: Private schooling, subject choice, upper secondary attainment and progression to university (November 2019), Oxford Review of Education

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

Streaming good for high achievers, bad for everyone else

A new article published in the Oxford Review of Education uses data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) to explore the impact of streaming on Key Stage 1 (KS1) attainment at age seven. The authors found that children in the “top” stream achieved more and made significantly more academic progress than children attending schools that did not stream, while children in the “middle” or “bottom” streams achieved less and made significantly less academic progress. They conclude that streaming undermines the attempts of governments to raise attainment for all children whatever their socio-economic status.

The MCS is following the lives of around 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000/1. For this study, the authors focused on children in England as information on streaming (obtained from a teacher survey) could be linked to Foundations Stage Profile scores and KS1 results from the National Pupil Database. Complete data was available for 2,098 children. Of these, 446 were “streamed” children, from 307 different primary schools.

Although the relationship between streaming and KS1 reading was partly explained by other child characteristics, being in the “top” stream retained a significant positive association with all KS1 scores and being in the “middle” or “bottom” stream retained a significant negative association with KS1 reading and overall performance scores.
Source: The Impact of Streaming on Attainment at Age Seven: Evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study (2014), Oxford Review of Education.

Implementation matters

An article in the latest edition of the Oxford Review of Education looks at the importance of studying the implementation of interventions in school settings. Research studies across multiple disciplines, including education, have consistently demonstrated that interventions are rarely implemented as designed and, crucially, that variability in implementation is related to variability in the achievement of expected outcomes.

In this article, the authors call for an increasing emphasis on the “often neglected” study of implementation itself, particularly in school settings. They discuss the importance of implementation throughout all the stages of a programme’s development, from initial testing to widespread dissemination. They argue that, at each stage, studying the way a programme is implemented can provide a range of useful information. This includes learning about the likely effectiveness of the programme in real-world settings, and learning general lessons about how best to implement change in education.

Source: The importance of studying the implementation of interventions in school settings (2012), Oxford Review of Education,38(5)

Home computer use and children’s academic performance

A paper in the Oxford Review of Education examines the link between children’s home computer use and their academic performance in reading and maths. The study uses data from the nine-year-old cohort of the Growing Up in Ireland survey and a multiple regression model to estimate the effect of home computer use on reading and maths test scores. It finds that computer use is associated with increased scores. This result holds after taking into account other factors that determine school performance, and there is no significant difference in effect for the amount of use.

The study also looks at the effects of different types of computer use. Surfing the internet for fun, doing projects for school, and emailing are associated with higher reading and maths test scores, and children who use the computer unsupervised tend to have higher scores in maths, but instant messaging and downloading music or watching films are negatively associated with test scores. However, while these results indicate significant association with academic performance, the study was not able to establish a definitive direction of causation.

Source: Home computer use and academic performance of nine-year-olds (2012), Oxford Review of Education, 38(5)