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.

Quality matters for preschool

A new report from The Sutton Trust and Oxford University reviews the evidence on early childhood education and care for children under three, and finds that developmental benefits will only be achieved if children are able to attend good-quality preschool. The findings, which draw on research from the UK, US, and Australia on both centre-based care and home-based care provided by childminders, identify four key dimensions of good-quality pedagogy for all children under three:

  • Stable relationships and interactions with sensitive and responsive adults;
  • A focus on play-based activities and routines which allow children to take the lead in their own learning;
  • Support for communication and language; and
  • Opportunities to move and be physically active.

The report provides recommendations for policy and practice, which focus in particular on helping children from poorer backgrounds overcome early disadvantage. Several of these relate to the “quality” of staff. For example, recommendations include increasing pay rates contingent upon improved qualifications, and ensuring that practitioners have access to continuing professional development.

The authors also recommend retaining an overall ratio of 1:4 for group-care settings and 1:3 for home settings, working to ensure a good social mix in early years settings so that lower-income children mix with other children, and having an appropriate physical environment (eg, stimulating and appropriate resources; space for eating, sleeping, and physical activity; and small group sizes appropriate for age/stage).

Source: Sound Foundations. A Review of the Research Evidence on Quality of Early Childhood Education and Care for Children Under Three: Implications for Policy and Practice (2014), The Sutton Trust and Oxford University.

GCSE shake-up: What’s the evidence?

The Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment has conducted an analysis of research relevant to the government’s proposals to change GCSEs.Their report considers issues specific to the examinations themselves as well as the wider context.

The headline question is perhaps “are exams getting easier?” The authors found that overall, research evidence does not point to a decline in the cognitive demand of examination questions, and that modular assessment has not been found to be consistently easier than end-of-course examinations. In fact, they found that high-stakes end-of-course examinations produce negative effects on teaching and learning.

In terms of whether there is a need for change, international test scores show that England does not compare poorly to other countries and that test scores show no decline. However, England does have a particularly wide spread between the lowest and highest achievers. This highlights, they say, the need for provision for low-achieving students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds in England to be improved.

Source: Research Evidence Relating to Proposals for Reform of the GCSE (2013), Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment.

Evaluation of children’s centres in England

The Evaluation of Children’s Centres in England (ECCE) is a six year study, commissioned by the Department for Education and undertaken by NatCen Social Research, the University of Oxford and Frontier Economics, that aims to provide an in-depth understanding of children’s centre services, their effectiveness and cost efficiency in delivering different types of services. In this first report from the study, children’s centres in the most deprived areas are examined using the responses from a survey of children’s centre leaders conducted in July and September 2011.

The report shows the changing environment in which children’s centres operate with 40 per cent experiencing recent cuts in services or staffing, and many leaders managing two or more centres. The subsequent outputs from this study will examine children’s centres’ service delivery, multiagency working and reach, impact analysis, cost benefit analysis, and the families using them.

Source: Evaluation of Children’s Centres in England (2012), Department for Education