Keep it real

A new article published by the American Psychological Association used data on more than 3,500 German secondary pupils to explore the link between parental aspirations and their children’s maths achievement. It concludes that realistic aspirations are beneficial, but that unrealistic aspirations can be detrimental.

The authors used data from the Project for the Analysis of Learning and Achievement in Mathematics (PALMA), a longitudinal study investigating adolescents’ development in mathematics during the secondary school years (German grades 5 to 10; 2002 to 2007). Samples were drawn from schools in Bavaria and were representative of the child population and the three major school types within the German public school system. The project included assessments of children, teachers, and parents.

The study found that parental aspiration and children’s mathematical achievement were linked by positive reciprocal relations over time. However, the authors also found that parental over-aspiration can be detrimental to children’s maths achievement when aspiration exceeds expectation. These effects were robust across different types of analyses and after controlling for a variety of demographic and cognitive variables, including children’s gender, age, intelligence, school type, and family socio-economic status. The results were also replicated with an independent sample of US parents and children.

The authors conclude that their findings highlight the danger of simply raising parental aspirations to promote children’s academic achievement and behaviour. They suggest that educational interventions should not focus on changing aspirations of parents and children per se, but on facilitating opportunities and information for parents and children to develop realistic expectations.

Source: Don’t aim too high for your kids: Parental overaspiration undermines students’ learning in mathematics (2015), American Psychological Association.

Boosting the life chances of non-white boys

A new report from MDRC looks at what is known about the economic and social disadvantage of non-white young men in the US and the evidence behind initiatives that may help to tackle this problem.

The paper reviews the results from a number of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and highlights promising interventions. Interventions are divided into two broad categories: (a) Proactive Approaches: preventive interventions aimed at young men who are still connected to positive systems (like schools or community colleges) that seek to enhance their success in moving through those systems and on to productive careers, and (b) Reconnection Approaches: interventions targeting those who have disconnected from positive systems. The report also lists ongoing research with results expected soon.

The authors note that well-targeted and well-implemented programmes can make a difference, but to make a lasting difference, successful interventions must be taken to scale — that is, replicated and expanded successfully in new places and settings.

As well as identifying proven and promising programmes, the authors outline four additional (evidence-based) approaches that could have wider implications for supporting young people from underperforming groups. These are:

  • Encouraging young people to apply for the best higher education establishment they are capable of attending, not “undermatching”;
  • Specialised support within higher education for students from underperforming groups;
  • Embedding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy within employment schemes for those within the justice system; and
  • New approaches to summer jobs and internships to help give work experience to help build work-readiness, a CV, and gain references.

Source: Boosting the Life Chances of Young Men of Color: Evidence from Promising Programs (2014), MDRC

KS4 achievement key to HE success

What role do schools play in encouraging more young people to continue into higher education and achieve at university? New research published by the Department for Education suggests that pupils’ Key Stage 4 (KS4) attainment is central.

Using data from schools and universities, the authors found evidence of sizable differences between pupils from different types of schools. For example, pupils who attended selective state schools were more than 40 percentage points more likely to go to university and more than 30 points more likely to go to a high-status institution than pupils attending non-selective state schools. In contrast, students who attended one of the 20% of secondary schools with the highest proportions of free school meal (FSM)-eligible pupils were, on average, 5.4 percentage points more likely to drop out, 11.0 points less likely to complete their degree, and 21.8 percentage points less likely to graduate with a first or a 2:1 than those who attended one of the 20% of secondary schools with the lowest proportions of FSM-eligible pupils.

However, when comparing pupils with similar background characteristics and KS2 scores, most of the remaining gaps in higher education participation could be explained by accounting for the qualifications, subjects, and grades that pupils achieved at KS4.

The authors conclude that amongst pupils with a given set of characteristics and prior attainment, those from non-selective or low-value-added state schools could be regarded as having higher “potential” than those from selective or high-value-added state schools or independent schools. Therefore, they suggest that university entry requirements could be lowered for such pupils. They also recommend that widening participation efforts should focus on ensuring that pupils make the right choices of subjects and qualifications they take at KS4 to maximise their chances of getting good grades at this level.

Source: The Link Between Secondary School Characteristics and University Participation and Outcomes: CAYT Research Report (2014), Department for Education.

How are schools and colleges raising aspirations?

New research commissioned by the Department for Education has reviewed the strategies used by schools and colleges to raise the aspirations of high-achieving disadvantaged pupils to pursue higher education. It comprised a nationally representative telephone survey of 400 schools and 100 FE and sixth-form colleges, and ten case studies drawn from institutions identified as exemplifying good practice.

Aspiration-raising activities with high-achieving disadvantaged pupils were reported in 50% of 11-16 schools, 39% of 11-18 schools, and 40% of colleges, although nearly all reported at least some activities to raise aspirations more generally. 32% were using Pupil Premium funding specifically to raise aspirations among disadvantaged pupils, and 75% were using it to fund aspiration-raising activities with all pupils. However, concerns were raised that Pupil Premium funding did not adequately replace the support offered by the previous Aim Higher programme.

The report identified key issues that aspiration-raising activities needed to address. These included financial concerns; feeling that higher education was not “for them”; attainment levels; and pupils favouring other opportunities such as work or vocational qualifications. However, the findings challenged the assumption that parents or family constitute a significant barrier to higher education.

Recommendations for best practice include a whole institution culture of raising aspirations; a combination of universal and targeted approaches; staff with specific responsibility for higher education access; early intervention from KS3 onwards; information and guidance on financial issues for both pupils and parents at an early stage; immersive, subsidised, university experiences; and systematic monitoring of applications and destinations.

Source: School and College-level Strategies to Raise Aspirations of High-achieving Disadvantaged Pupils to Pursue Higher Education Investigation: Research report (2014), Department for Education.

Roadblocks to university

A study conducted by The Strategic Society Centre compares the university-going aspirations and behaviour of a group of academically qualified and interested English pupils who considered not applying to university and those who never had any such hesitation. Data for the study was collected from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England for the years 2004-2009. The research focused on pupils who expressed motivation to go to university, but answered positively to the question: “Have the financial aspects of going to university, that is the costs of fees and living expenses, ever made you think about not applying?”

Findings revealed that 34% of 16-year-olds who had shown the potential and expressed a motivation to go to university reported that the financial aspects made them think about not applying. Several factors were significantly associated with those pupils who were concerned about cost ultimately deciding against going to university. These were:

  • Ethnicity (being white, Caribbean black or mixed race);
  • Houshold income (£10-£15k or £41.6-£46.8k per year);
  • Parental education (to GCSEs or A levels);
  • Not having friends who applied to university;
  • Not feeling informed about financial support; and
  • Not receiving information and advice on university from a teacher.

Source: Access for All: An investigation of young people’s attitudes to the cost of higher education using the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (2013), The Strategic Society Centre.

Improving college readiness and enrollment for disadvantaged populations

This paper from the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness synthesises the evidence on the effectiveness of programmes designed to improve college readiness and enrollment for disadvantaged populations in the US. The purpose of the paper is to provide guidance for policymakers and practitioners implementing college access programmes, and to identify important gaps in the scientific evidence base that warrant further research.

The authors note that their findings are still preliminary. However, they do identify two early conclusions:

  • Measures of completed coursework are the best pre-college predictors of college graduation. The authors encourage evaluators to consider including these outcome measures in their evaluations of college access programmes.
  • The sharp differences in the size of estimated impacts between quasi-experimental designs (QEDs) and randomised controlled trials raise questions about the extent to which QEDs are identifying causal impacts.

Source:Effects of college access programs on college readiness and enrollment: A meta-analysis, Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness