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Research round-up 10 November 2017

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Here's a round-up of education research published in the last fortnight.   


Educating our economic future 

Educating our economic future is a report by the Education Policy Institute and Pearson who assembled an independent advisory group on skills chaired by Professor Sir Roy Anderson. This is a follow-up report from ‘Making Education Work’, which was published in 2014. 

Key findings 

  • The country faces a range of economic challenges that raise the importance of skills
    • Depending on the final Brexit deal and its impact on the numbers and types of migrant workers in the UK, the public and private sectors may struggle to meet their skills needs. Jobs requiring intermediate technical skills appear the most vulnerable given the UK’s long-standing difficulty in generating these skills in its workforce
  • The government is rightly acting to rationalise education pathways, but the approach must be comprehensive and focused on the quality of outcomes
  • The global recognition of employability and ‘soft’ skills should be reflected in education, but with due regard to the evidence on how to develop them
    • While employers in the UKCES’s 2015 Employer Skills Survey reported specialist skills and knowledge are the most difficult to obtain from applicants (64 per cent cite such difficulties), they also described challenges finding people who can manage time and prioritise tasks (47 per cent), possess customer handling skills (39 per cent) and are good team workers (33 per cent)
  • Schools and colleges are adapting to the changing needs of the economy and recognising that digital skills must be developed at all levels
    • Digitalisation and automation are changing the number and types of jobs available and the skills required to carry out existing jobs effectively. Around half of adults in England have basic or no ICT skills, and this is higher than the OECD average. Younger people fare better, but the facility with social media should not be mistaken for ‘digital literacy’ and work-based digital skills such as knowledge management and data analysis
  • Our long-term economic challenges demand a new approach to career development and lifelong learning
    • Career paths today are often more dynamic than in the past; spanning multiple roles in multiple fields. For an individual well-equipped for this, it can be life-enriching. For others, it can be daunting and a world away from the security and personal visibility of a ‘job for life’. A grasp of the basic toolkit of practical numeracy, English and life skills can facilitate career flexibility, but beyond this, a commitment to lifelong learning should be at the heart of any credible skills strategy.

About the research 

  • The document outlines 15 recommendations, with nine for urgent action and six for longer-term policy development.
TALIS 2013: working conditions, teacher job satisfaction and retention

The Department for Education (DfE) has released a statistical working paper on working conditions, teacher job satisfaction and retention. This research provides new evidence by using the 2013 teaching and learning international survey (TALIS) to test for, and quantify the relationships between, different aspects of working conditions in schools, and both teachers’ job satisfaction and desire to move to another school. 

Key findings 

  • The research shows job satisfaction among teachers in England is below that of comparable TALIS nations. This difference is statistically significant at the 95 per cent level
  • The proportion of teachers in England who ‘strongly agree’  that they would like to move to another school if possible (8.2 per cent) is also higher than other comparable TALIS nations (6.4 per cent), but this difference is not statistically significant
  • The research shows more cooperation between teachers and more effective professional development is associated with increased teacher job satisfaction. Increased teacher cooperation is also associated with reduced odds that teachers want to move school
  • Better school leadership is strongly associated with higher teacher job satisfaction and a reduction in the odds that a teacher wants to move school
  • Teacher cooperation and scope for progression have the next strongest relationships with increased job satisfaction
  • Feedback, effective professional development and discipline are also positively associated with job satisfaction, although the relationships are weaker
  • Increased levels of effective professional development are associated with a reduced desire for teachers to move schools
  • The number of hours worked and frequency of marking and feedback reported by teachers does not have a statistically significant relationship with job satisfaction. However, teachers who report their workload as unmanageable do have lower levels of job satisfaction. 

About the research 

  • TALIS is an international teacher survey that has been conducted once every five years since 2008. It collects information on teaching practices, teachers’ beliefs and working conditions in schools, and it aims to be representative of all teachers in the participating school systems
  • England first participated in TALIS in 2013
  • The TALIS research uses data on more than 50,000 teachers from 34 different countries, and it takes into account the effects of teachers' age, gender, qualifications and experience
  • Cross-national surveys such as TALIS are often subject to concerns that responses cannot be compared across respondents who read and respond to the survey in different languages and may interpret the questions through different cultural lenses. 
Improving maths in key stages two and three

The Education Endowment Foundation has published guidance to help teachers boost primary and secondary school pupils’ maths skills. 

Key findings/recommendations

One recommendation focuses on how to develop good maths knowledge and highlights some areas that pupils should get to grips with, as well as some common misconceptions that they may pick up. Three examples given in the report are: 

  1. Pupils should master basic mental arithmetic – addition, subtraction, multiplications and division – and be able to recall their times tables quickly. Those who don’t may well have difficulty with more challenging maths later in school
  2. Pupils sometimes think “multiplication makes bigger and division makes smaller”. This is accurate with numbers greater than one, but it isn’t right when applied to numbers smaller than one
  3. Learning how to add fractions together can often cause difficulty. For example, many think the answer to 1/8 + ½ is 2/10. Teachers can help pupils to understand the right answer is 5/8 using diagrams that help them to visualise the different values of fractions
The other recommendations for good maths teaching for seven to 14-year-olds are as follows:
    • Support pupils as they make the transition from primary to secondary school because this is when attitudes and attainment in the subject tend to dip
    • Use physical objects and diagrams to help pupils to engage with and understand maths concepts
    • Help pupils to become better problem-solvers, so if they don’t know how to work something out, they can draw on different strategies to make sense of it
    • Use tasks and resources, like digital technology, to support good maths teaching
    • Encourage pupils to take responsibility for their learning by developing their ‘metacognitive’ skills – that's the ability to plan, monitor and evaluate their thinking and learning
    • Use assessment of children’s maths to focus on the areas they find difficult. Give children who are struggling with maths additional support through high-quality one-on-one or small-group interventions.
Children’s voices

This report from the Children’s Commissioner looks at the findings from an evidence review of the views, perspectives and experiences of children involved in gangs, on matters related to their subjective well-being. 

Key findings 

  • It has been estimated that six per cent of young people (those aged 10 to 19 years old) are gang members (British Crime and Justice Survey 2006). Based on the Office of National Statistics 2015 mid-year population figure, this approximates to 373,000 10 to 19-year-olds involved in gangs in England
  • There were varying views from children in the literature about what constituted a gang and whether they would class their involvement with a group of peers as gang membership. Some children resisted the use of the label “gang” completely. These children viewed their group of peers as “friendships” or “crews”. This was especially true when their peer group had formed gradually over time
  • Some children used the label “gang” as a badge of pride to separate them from the “wannabee” young people. These children saw gang membership as much more than just territory and friendship; it was about loyalty, interests and attitude
  • Children’s individual positions in gangs were found to affect both boys’ and girls’ levels of vulnerability and exposure to violence and abuse. Status in the gang appeared to be a particularly important factor affecting girls’ experience. For girls, there were several levels of the gang hierarchy that they could occupy
  • Children reported being in poor circumstances before joining a gang. Children described feelings of powerless and turbulent relationships with family, which is often underpinned by violence and disenfranchisement from institutions such as schools and colleges. Lack of opportunity was also reported as a reason for joining a gang.  

About the research

  • There were multiple described definitions of “a gang” discovered in the literature and consensus on what is meant by this term was lacking (Young 2009). In this report, the following definition is used, which has been taken from the Centre for Social Justice in 2009. According to this definition, a gang is “a relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of young people who:
    • (1) see themselves as a discernible group
    • (2) engage in a range of criminal activity
    • (3) identify or lay claim over territory
    • (4) have some form of identifying structural feature
    • (5) are in conflict with other, similar gangs.”
  • The review focused on studies that captured and presented the direct voice, and first-hand accounts, of children
  • Adults' perspectives on childhood experiences and studies with excessive mediation and intervention by the author interrupting children’s accounts were avoided or deprioritised
  • The review only considered literature containing evidence on the experiences and views of vulnerable children ages 17 years or younger
  • The review prioritised studies that had entailed the collection of primary data; secondary literature based on analysis of pre-existing data was generally avoided except where this information was necessary to offset important gaps in primary evidence
  • The 10-week timetable for the project demanded the use of rapid review methodology. While the review aimed to be as comprehensive as possible, strict time constraints necessitated placing limits on the numbers of articles reviewed.  
Support our sixth-formers campaign: funding impact survey report

In October 2017, the Sixth Form Colleges Association conducted an online survey of state schools (school sixth forms, academy sixth forms and free school sixth forms) and colleges (FE colleges and sixth form colleges) in England. The survey was conducted on behalf of the eight organisations behind the support our sixth-formers campaign, which includes ASCL, FASNA, NUS and NGA. 

Key findings

  • In total, 50 per cent of schools and colleges have dropped courses in modern foreign languages as a result of funding pressures, with A levels in German, French and Spanish the main casualties
  • More than one-third of schools and colleges (34 per cent) have dropped STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) courses
  • Two-thirds of schools and colleges (67 per cent) have reduced student support services or extra-curricular activities – with significant cuts to mental health support, employability skills and careers advice
  • More than three quarters of schools and colleges (77 per cent) are teaching students in larger class sizes, and half (50 per cent) have reduced the delivery hours of individual courses
  • Two-thirds of schools and colleges (66 per cent) have moved from a four-subject offer as standard to a three-subject offer
  • Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) do not believe the amount of funding they will receive next year will be sufficient to provide the support required by students that are educationally or economically disadvantaged. 

About the research 

  • Of the 1.1 million students that currently participate in post-16 education in the state sector, 62 per cent study at college and 38 per cent study at school
  • The leaders of 341 schools and colleges that educate 359,397 of the 16 to 19-year-old students (one-third of the cohort) responded to the survey. 

Other research 

  • Teacher observation – Education Endowment Fund - The Teacher Observation intervention aimed to improve teacher effectiveness through structured peer observation. Teachers observe and are observed by their peers a number of times over the course of two years
  • The gender pay gap – Institute of Economic Affairs - While the official gender pay gap figure is 9.1 per cent for full-time workers, the pay gap between men and women aged 22 to 39 is negligible. The gap widens later in life - often as a result of women taking time out of the workplace to raise children and returning to work in a part-time capacity, which reduces their future earning potential.