Does quality of teaching improve outcomes in early childhood education?

The Education Endowment Foundation has published an evaluation of a programme that trains early years teachers to improve children’s language outcomes. The Using Research Tools to Improve Language in the Early Years (URLEY) intervention is an evidence-based professional development programme for early years teachers. It is designed to improve teacher’s knowledge of how children learn and develop oral language skills, and how to support that learning through evidence-based practice.

Teachers take part in five day-long professional development workshops in which they are introduced to evidence-based learning principles and research tools to evaluate and refine pedagogy and practice. In particular, teachers are taught to use Environment Rating Scales (ERS) – research-validated observational rating scales known to predict aspects of children’s development, with higher scores linked to improved maths and English achievement. Teachers watched videos of effective practice and were supported to use the language principles and ERS to “tune in” to language-supporting practice.

Nearly 2,000 children from 120 schools from the West Midlands, Liverpool and Manchester participated in the study from October 2016 to July 2018. The programme was evaluated using a randomised controlled trial, testing the impact of the URLEY programme on children’s language development over two years, compared to business as usual in control schools.

The results of the trial found that children in schools receiving URLEY did not make additional progress in language development compared to children in control schools, as measured by a composite language score (effect size = -0.08). However, the programme did show a positive impact on the quality of teaching (as measured by ERS), with effect sizes in the range of +0.5 to +0.7.

Source: URLEY: evaluation report (February 2020), Education Endowment Foundation

Randomised controlled trial of a whole-school reading programme

A study published in The Curriculum Journal presents the findings of a randomised controlled trial that evaluated the efficacy of the Bug Club programme on the reading, spelling and vocabulary skills of pupils in the first two years of primary school compared to pupils in a control group.

Bug Club is a whole-school reading programme based on the principles of guided reading and synthetic phonics. It is offered as part of, rather than in addition to, standard literacy lessons. This study analysed data from 1,273 pupils in Years 1 and 2 from 30 schools in the UK (15 intervention, 15 control). Pupils were tested at baseline and again at 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months, using the InCAS reading assessment for 5- to 11-year-olds.

At the 6- and 12-month tests, pupils in the Bug Club schools showed more progress on the standardised reading measure than pupils in control schools (effect size = +0.18 and +0.16). For disadvantaged pupils, the picture was mixed. After six months, there was a greater impact on reading gains in schools with high levels of pupils eligible for free school meals than those in control schools. After twelve months, this effect had disappeared, but pupils eligible for pupil premium were found to have improved more on reading gains than those in control schools.

Source: Evaluation of Bug Club: a randomised control trial of a whole school primary aged reading programme (February 2020), The Curriculum Journal. DOI: 10.1002/curj.29

Review of professional learning and development in early childhood education

Approaches to professional development that combine coaching or mentoring with new knowledge and opportunities for reflection on practice may be the most effective in improving outcomes in early childhood settings, according to a study published in Review of Education.

Sue Rogers and colleagues conducted the systematic review, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, in order to examine the impact of professional learning and development. The studies included in the review identify approaches to professional learning that demonstrate impact on early childhood education on one or more outcomes across three main areas: literacy knowledge and skills, maths and science knowledge, and social-emotional and behavioural development. 

The findings from the review suggest that coaching models, and approaches that help develop pedagogical knowledge, may be the most effective in improving outcomes in early childhood settings. The evidence on duration, frequency and intensity of the professional learning, although likely to be important factors, was inconclusive.

Source: A systematic review of the evidence base for professional learning in early years education (The PLEYE Review) (February 2020), Review of Education, Vol 8, No 1

The evidence behind strategies to reduce absenteeism

Phyllis Jordan at FutureEd, a US think-tank, recently wrote Attendance playbook: Smart solutions for reducing chronic absenteeism, a report outlining strategies for reducing chronic absenteeism and the evidence behind each suggested strategy. The strategies are presented by Tier I, II, and III intervention levels as follows:

  • Tier I
    • Effective messaging and engagement (eg, nudging parents and pupils)
    • Removing barriers to attendance (eg, school-based health services)
    • Improving school climate (eg, relevant – and culturally relevant – curriculum)
  • Tier II
    • Effective messaging and engagement (eg, early warning)
    • Removing barriers to attendance (eg, addressing asthma)
  • Tier III
    • Including truancy courts, interagency case management and housing

Each strategy described is followed by a list of the evidence supporting it, ranked by US’s ESSA evidence strength (strong, moderate, promising, emerging), with a link to each report. Short descriptions of schools and districts using the strategies are also included.

Source: Attendance playbook: Smart solutions for reducing chronic absenteeism (July 2019), FutureEd

Writing supported by virtual reality

In a recently published article in the British Journal of Educational Technology, Hwang and Chang examined how the spherical video-based virtual reality (SVVR) approach can support descriptive article writing in high school writing classes in Taiwan.

In traditional language learning activities, the authors noted, there is usually no chance for pupils to develop in-depth feelings about the context of topics, resulting in low learning motivations and limited expression in the writing process.

To provide in-depth experiences and to facilitate pupils’ descriptive article writing, the study introduced an SVVR system that used 360-degree photos or videos in a VR environment supporting pupils before they started to write. Pupils from two grade 11 classes participated in the study, with 30 pupils allocated to the experimental group and 35 students to the control group. After pupils understood the writing tasks and read a descriptive article about the Jade Mountain in Taiwan, pupils in the experimental group used SVVR to experience the ascent of the mountain, while pupils in the control group only watched videos and saw photos of the mountain. The study was conducted over two weeks with three hours of class per week. Before and after the intervention, a pre-test and a post-test on pupils’ writing performance were administered, along with questionnaires. The results showed that:

  • While pupils’ writing performance in both groups was similar in the pre-test, pupils who learned with the SVVR approach obtained better post-test results in terms of content and appearance than pupils in the control group, but not in organisation and vocabulary use.
  • Pupils’ learning with the SVVR approach also outperformed that of control-group pupils in creativity tendency and writing self-efficacy on the post-test.
  • However, experimental-group pupil and control-group pupils did not differ in learning motivation and cognitive load on the post-test.

The authors suggest that SVVR is worth promoting in school settings for language courses and experiential learning activities, as a way to provide deep experience in specific learning contexts. 

Source: Learning to be a writer: A spherical video‐based virtual reality approach to supporting descriptive article writing in high school Chinese courses (December 2019), British Journal of Educational Technology

Have GCSE reforms in England led to a widening of the achievement gap?

A report published by the Sutton Trust suggests that recent changes to GCSEs – including tougher exams and a new grading system – have led to a slight widening of the achievement gap in England, but the overall impact is small.

Making the Grade uses Key Stage 4 data from the National Pupil Database from before and after the GCSE reforms were introduced. Simon Burgess and Dave Thomson looked at the results and entry rates for disadvantaged pupils (pupils eligible for free school meals at any point in the six years up to and including the year in which they reached the end of Key Stage 4) and non-disadvantaged pupils to explore the impact on disadvantaged pupils and the achievement gap.

Their findings suggest that during the period that the reforms were introduced, test scores for disadvantaged pupils fell slightly compared to their classmates. Under the previous system, 2% of disadvantaged pupils achieved the top grade of A*, whereas just 1% now achieve a 9 (the re-designated top grade). The drop is less for non-disadvantaged pupils, falling from 8% achieving A* to 5% achieving a 9.

Source: Making the grade: The impact of GCSE reforms on the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers (December 2019), the Sutton Trust