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Research round-up (22 June 2018)

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

“Universal” early education: who benefits? 

Free pre-school education disproportionately benefits children from higher income families who least need a head start, according to newly published LSE research funded by the Nuffield Foundation. 

Looking at data on children attending early education in 2011, researchers found persistently poor children who claim free school meals (FSM) for all three years of early primary school are 13 percentage points less likely to attend for the full five terms of free pre-school education than children from higher-income families who never claim FSM. 

Although based on data from 2011, the paper concludes by saying that recent policy shifts are increasing the extent to which subsidies for early education are concentrated disproportionately on children who least need a head start. The new extension of the entitlement to 30 hours' free childcare applies to children of working parents only, while age eligibility will follow the same rules as the 15 hours. So, an autumn-born child in a higher income working family will benefit from five terms at 30 hours compared with three terms at 15 hours for summer-born children in a family whose parents are unemployed. Without serious attention to this issue, the universal free places, while hailed as a great success in the prevalent policy discourse, look set to play a part in embedding or widening inequalities, in direct contrast to stated policy aims. 

A broken social elevator? 

This report from the OECD provides new evidence on social mobility and covers aspects of both social mobility between parents and children and of personal income mobility through life. The report shows that social mobility from parents to offspring is low across the different dimensions of earnings, education, occupation and health, and that the same prevails for personal income mobility. There is, in particular, a lack of mobility at the bottom and at the top of the social ladder – with “sticky floors” preventing upward mobility for many and “sticky ceilings” associated with opportunity hoarding at the top. 

The full report is 355 pages long; however, a two page summary of the UK is available here

Preparing for literacy: improving communication, language and literacy in the early years 

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has issued a guidance report on the theme of literacy, which focuses on the teaching of communication, language and literacy to children between the ages of three and five. It may, however, also be applicable to older pupils who have fallen behind their peers, or younger pupils who are making rapid progress. 

This report provides recommendations that represent ‘lever points’, where there is useful evidence about communication, language and literacy teaching that schools can use to make a significant difference to children’s learning.  The report focuses on pedagogy and approaches that are supported by good evidence; it does not cover all of the potential components of successful literacy provision. 

The report provides detail and suggested strategies around recommendations in seven key areas: 

  1. Prioritise the development of communication and language
  2. Develop children’s early reading using a balanced approach
  3. Develop children’s capability and motivation to write
  4. Embed opportunities to develop self-regulation
  5. Support parents to understand how to help their children learn
  6. Use high-quality assessment to ensure all children make good progress
  7. Use high-quality targeted support to help struggling children.
How do shortages of maths teachers affect the within-school allocation of maths teachers to pupils?

The Nuffield Foundation presents an analysis of the ways in which schools have responded to the shortage in maths teachers using the latest Schools Workforce Census (SWC). 

The report shows that, in broad terms, schools deploy their more experienced maths teachers with the most relevant qualifications to teach year groups where the external stakes are high, ie GCSE, A level and GCSE retakes (key stages four and five). This pattern is consistent across all schools. Although those in disadvantaged areas are less likely to have teachers who fit this criterion, meaning that teacher shortages are having the biggest impact on pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

This deployment of more experienced teachers at key stage five, while understandable, means the shortage of maths teachers is being felt most keenly at key stage three (and to some degree, key stage four). At this age, young people’s attitudes to subjects and future study are crystallising. If maths teaching and learning is not as engaging or tuned to individual needs as might be desired, there are significant risks of adverse effects on pupils' outcomes and progression in those schools struggling to allocate specialist or experienced teachers for younger year groups. 

The report notes the potential impact on teachers should also be considered - putting more pressure on those already teaching maths at key stage five may have implications for retaining some of the most experienced and qualified maths teachers. The analysis references previous Nuffield funded research showing that long working hours, increased pressure, and lack of options for part-time and flexible working are all barriers to improving teacher retention. 

Trials to support schools to improve children’s language and coping skills 

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published independent evaluations of two trials: a pilot of a programme to support schools to develop pupils’ spoken language skills and an intervention designed to improve children’s coping skills. 

Voice 21: improving oracy 

Developed by School 21, the intervention is designed to support schools to develop their pupils’ use of speech to express their thoughts and communicate effectively. 

Schools taking part in the trial spent one hour a week of lesson time developing pupils’ spoken language skills, and they received materials and training in oracy based approaches. 

Independent evaluators reported that the programme showed promise. They found it was well received by teachers and all school staff felt there were improvements to pupils’ oracy skills. Teachers also believed the programme could be implemented in most schools. Although teachers were not confident that the observed improvements to oracy skills would have an immediate impact on attainment, some felt there could be longer-term academic benefits. 

Zippy’s friends 

Teachers delivered sessions to year one and two pupils built around stories about a stick insect (Zippy) and his friends, who are young children. The stories involved issues children might encounter, such as friendship, conflict, change and difficult feelings. The children discussed the issues raised and took part in games and role-play activities about emotions and coping. 

The trial was designed to find out the effect of Zippy’s Friends on reading attainment and emotional self-regulation. The independent evaluators found no difference between pupils who took part in the programme and those who didn’t. However, it is thought that positive academic outcomes from social and emotional learning programmes may take longer to feed through, so the EEF will monitor the long-term attainment outcomes for the schools that received Zippy’s Friends. 

Also this week
  • The Education datalab compares how qualification entry rates differ between schools and MATs
  • The LGA reports that six classrooms worth of children are placed on child protection plans every day
  • The DfE publishes case studies of approaches to tackling bullying.