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Research round-up 10 October 2017

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

Making the difference: breaking the link between school exclusion and social exclusion

The Institute for Public Policy Research has released a report on children permanently excluded from school. 

Key findings

  • Permanent exclusions nearly halved between 2006/7 and 2012/13, but they have risen year-on-year since then (a 40 per cent increase over the past three years)
  • Last year, 6,685 pupils were reported as permanently excluded
  • Exclusions data is a serious underestimation of the school exclusion challenge
  • A total of 48,000 children are being educated in alternative provision (AP) for excluded pupils – that's five times the yearly official exclusion statistics. These AP populations have also been rising year-on-year
  • Excluded pupils are likely to have complex needs, including child poverty, family problems (such as parental mental ill health, abuse and neglect), learning needs, mental ill health and poor educational progress
  • Excluded pupils are likely to suffer long-term mental health problems, fail to achieve basic levels of literacy and numeracy, struggle to gain qualifications needed to access work, be long-term unemployed, and be repeatedly involved in crime
  • There are also societal costs; the report estimates that every cohort of permanently excluded pupils will go on to cost the state an extra £2.1 billion in education, health, benefits and criminal justice costs
  • Numbers of vacancies in the maintained AP and special sector have nearly tripled since 2011 (2.6 times higher by 2016)
  • As a proportion of all teaching posts in the sector, the numbers of vacancies in special and AP schools are 100 to 150 per cent higher than in mainstream secondary schools.

 Key recommendations

  • Improving preventative support for young people with complex needs in mainstream schools
  • Improving the commissioning and oversight of alternative provision for excluded pupils
  • Increasing and then maintaining the supply of exceptional teachers and leaders into alternative provision
  • Improving an understanding of what works in improving trajectories for excluded young people. 
     
Perceptions of subject difficulty and subject choices: are the two linked, and if so, how? 

Ofqual has released new research that investigates the main drivers behind students’ subject choices at GCSE and A level. 

Key findings

  • Subject choices appear to be primarily driven by a triad of perceptions: enjoyment, usefulness and difficulty (with perceptions being mostly person-specific)
  • Although perceptions of difficulty did have an influence on subject choices, they seem to be the lesser of these three concerns
  • Although subject difficulty was an important consideration for teachers, much of their advice was based on what each student would enjoy and find useful for future education/employment
  • Teachers had an influence over students’ subject choices via the advice they gave, and school policies also had an effect
  • Entry criteria policies were often based on general notions of subject difficulty, which served to prevent students from taking subjects they would find too difficult
  • Some schools also chose not to offer certain subjects because they were seen to be too difficult - again preventing uptake in those areas
  • Students also agreed that although some subjects ‘stood out’ as seeming to be generally more difficult than others, whether or not they found a subject difficult was dependent on their individual strengths.

 About the research

  • One-to-one interviews were held with 49 teachers, and focus groups were held with 112 students - both from 12 schools across England. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the coded transcripts. These findings are, therefore, based on a small sample that may not be fully representative.  

Content validation study: 2016 key stage two reading and mathematics tests

Ofqual has published an evaluation of the Standards and Testing Agency’s (STA) approach to developing key stage two reading and maths tests alongside a review of evidence relating to the accessibility of the 2016 key stage two reading test. 

Key findings

  • Ofqual concludes its findings provide support for the robustness of STA’s approach for the new suite of national curriculum tests and compares favourably to approaches taken in similar tests internationally while acknowledging there are aspects of maths and reading that cannot straightforwardly be tested
  • While standards were set appropriately in 2016, the review suggests the reading test seemed to be more challenging than the sample materials provided and a significant minority of pupils (around one-quarter of pupils) did not finish the test
  • Ofqual concluded there were a number of “important questions” for the STA, including whether pupils were given enough time to complete the reading test, if concerns about this could have been flagged up earlier during the development process and how potential biases against certain groups of pupils – such as those with SEND – could be better identified.

About the research

  • Ofqual conducted the evaluation via three studies, which considered the topics and thinking skills that appeared to be tested by the 2016 test questions, in terms of their relevance and representativeness
  • As the topics and thinking skills tapped by any particular test question are not necessarily obvious, Ofqual invited independent subject matter experts (SMEs), for mathematics and reading respectively, to share their views on the topics and thinking skills tapped by questions from the 2016 papers.  
The state of school residentials in England: 2017

LKMCo has released a new study assessing the quantity and quality of residential trips currently delivered in schools in England. 

Key findings

  • Each year, only a small minority of school pupils experience a residential trip, and pupils in the most disadvantaged areas are more likely to miss out
  • On average, educational establishments organise 2.5 residentials per year
  • The report estimates that approximately 1.8 million children and young people are involved in residentials each year; this is equivalent to 21 per cent of the school pupil population
  • Nationally, the most common purposes for residentials are to impact on personal development or deliver the Duke of Edinburgh award
  • In 2016, these two categories combined to account for one-third of residentials
  • In the most deprived areas, pupils are more likely to participate in “Personal Development” and PSHE focused residentials, and less so the Duke of Edinburgh award
  • Pupils from poorer families are doubly disadvantaged when it comes to residential provision. They are more likely to live in areas where fewer residentials are available, and costs mean they are less likely to be able to participate where they are
  • Almost half of residentials are mainly led and delivered by external staff. 

About the research

  • This report draws on two main data sources:
  1. The Evolve database: this was primarily used to gauge the availability and purpose of residentials
  2. A school survey (more than 1,100 participants completed the survey across 2016); this was primarily used to gauge the quality of residentials and barriers to better provision. 
Life lessons: improving essential life skills for young people

Sutton Trust has released a new report that looks at attitudes and provision of essential life skills through polling of teachers, employers and young people. 

Key findings

  • There is wide recognition of the importance of life skills with 88 per cent of young people, 94 per cent of employers and 97 per cent of teachers saying they are as or more important than academic qualifications
  • Only one in five pupils say the school curriculum helps them ‘a lot’ with the development of life skills
  • Extra-curricular activities can contribute to the development of life skills, but there are substantial gaps between the level of provision of clubs and activities reported by teachers, and actual take-up by pupils
  • 78 per cent of teachers report the availability of volunteering programmes to build life skills, but only eight per cent of pupils say they take part
  • Almost two in five young people (37 per cent) don’t take part in any clubs or activities
  • Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to take up activities than their better-off peers (46 per cent compared with 66 per cent), with just half of those receiving free school meals (FSM) taking part
  • Schools with the lowest proportion of FSM pupils are twice as likely to offer debating clubs as schools with the highest (70 per cent compared with 35 per cent)
  • Secondary schools provide a wider range of extra-curricular activities than primary schools; however, classroom strategies to improve life skills - such as small group/collaborative approaches, and social and emotional learning programmes - are substantially less common in secondaries.

About the research

  • Teachers were surveyed through the National Foundation for Educational Research's Teacher Voice survey; 1,361 practising teachers, from head teachers to newly qualified class teachers, were surveyed in March 2017
  • Employers were surveyed via the YouGov Business Omnibus; 1,133 employers were surveyed at the end of May/beginning of June 2017 through an online questionnaire. Data is weighted and nationally representative of business size
  • Young people were surveyed through the Ipsos MORI Young People Omnibus; interviews of 2,612 young people were carried out through a self-completion questionnaire across more than 100 schools between February and May 2017. Data is weighted by sex, age and region to match the population.
Also this fortnight
  • Demos, an independent think tank, has released a new report looking at how young people act on social media and what motivates them to act in the ways that they do.