Student allocation to maths sets not always based on previous achievement

Research into grouping by achievement, by academics from Queen’s University Belfast and University College London, has found that nearly a third of students in England were allocated to higher or lower maths sets than their previous test performance implied.

The study, published in the British Educational Research Journal, analysed data from 9,301 Year 7 students at 46 secondary schools in England. The researchers compared which maths set the students would have been put in – based on Key Stage 2 maths test scores – with the sets they were actually placed in. Overall, they found that 31.1% of students were misallocated – placed in sets that were either higher or lower than their results at the end of primary school would have indicated.

Boys were slightly more likely to be misallocated to higher sets in maths (16.7%) than lower sets (13.0%), whereas girls were more likely to be misallocated to lower sets (17.9%) than higher sets (14.7%). Other findings showed that:

  • Black students were 2.4 times more likely than white students to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • Asian students were 1.7 times more likely than white students to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • Female students were 1.53 times more likely than males to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • White students were 2.09 times more likely than black students to be misallocated to a higher maths set.
  • White students were 1.72 times more likely than Asian students to be misallocated to a higher maths set.
  • Male students were 1.32 times more likely than females to be misallocated to a higher maths set.

Source: The misallocation of students to academic sets in maths: A study of secondary schools in England (June 2019) British Educational Research Journal

Helping parents with Lifestart

A recent paper from Queen’s University and the Institute of Child Care Research has shown positive results for parents involved in a trial of the Lifestart parenting programme in Ireland.

Lifestart is a programme for parents of children aged birth to five years old. It aims to give parents the tools they need to enhance their child’s learning environment, and is delivered in their own homes. The programme includes a monthly 30- to 60-minute home visit from a trained Lifestart family visitor, and monthly information based on the Growing Child curriculum.

The authors conducted a randomised controlled trial of Lifestart between 2008 and 2014. A total of 424 parents and children (less than one year old) were recruited from across Ireland and volunteered to take part in the study. Each family was assigned to either the intervention group (who received the programme for five years) or the control group (who did not). The research team visited every family three times and collected information about the children’s cognitive, emotional, and behavioural development, and about parents’ feelings.

The trial found that parents who received Lifestart reported less parenting stress, better knowledge of child development, and more confidence in their parenting. The authors also found positive changes in children’s development, although these changes were not statistically significant. However, they note that significant impact could emerge later as the cumulative effect of improved parenting builds up over time.

Source: A Randomised Controlled Trial Evaluation of the Lifestart Parenting Programme (2015), Queen’s University.

Does Bookstart+ make a difference?

New research from Queen’s University, Belfast, explores the impact of Bookstart+ on family reading outcomes. Bookstart+ is an intervention provided by health visitors on behalf of the Booktrust. Parents are given a pack of books and other items (eg, bookplates, colouring pencils, reading list) at their child’s two-year appointment. They are also given a presentation to encourage them to share books more often with their child, and the presentation emphasises the importance of reading for children’s development and for building relationships.

The trial involved 462 families from the client lists of health visitors in Northern Ireland. Each health visitor was assigned four families by the health visitor service, two of whom were randomly allocated as intervention families in the study, and two as controls.

The authors looked at three outcomes: the effect on parents’ attitudes to their own reading, the effect on parents’ attitudes to their child reading, and family library use. They found that:

  • There was evidence of a significant positive effect of Bookstart+ on parents’ attitudes to their own reading.
  • Parents’ attitude to their child reading increased, although this was not statistically significant.
  • There was some evidence of a negative effect on families in the intervention group in terms of library use, but again this was not significant.

The effects of Bookstart+ tended to be similar regardless of other factors such as socio-economic background, level of parental education, or number of children in the family.

The authors conclude that Bookstart+, a low-cost and low-intensity intervention, can have a reasonable positive effect on family reading attitudes, and that this study combined with previous research encourages the development and expansion of book-giving programmes.

Source: A Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial of “Bookstart+”: A Book Gifting Grogramme (2014), Journal of Children’s Services, 9(1).

Research suggests link between well-being and achievement

Researchers from Queen’s University in Belfast have explored the relationship between well-being and academic achievement scores among primary school children, and found it to be statistically significant. These new findings were based on data on academic achievement and a range of well-being indicators gathered through a cross-sectional survey of 1,081 pupils aged 7–11 in Northern Ireland. The team used six of the most common measures of well-being, covering psychological factors, school engagement factors, and family and peer relationship factors.

The authors found that the positive relationship between well-being and achievement was the same for all children, regardless of their gender or socio-economic background. Therefore, they suggest that efforts to improve achievement that focus on well-being should not be targeted specifically at children in economically deprived areas or be modified in terms of gender. Instead, a more universal approach to promoting well-being across the population would be appropriate in order to improve educational achievement.

Source: Miller S, Connolly P, and Maguire LK, Wellbeing, academic buoyancy and educational achievement in primary school students (In press, 2013), International Journal of Educational Research.