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Research round-up (31 August 2018)

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

The teacher labour market in England - shortages, subject expertise and incentives

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) has released research that considers the latest recruitment and retention trends in the profession and examines how highly-qualified teachers are represented across different subjects in the country. Its evidence shows lower levels of access to subject specialists in high-priority subjects while access to subject specialists is lower in more deprived schools and in schools outside of London. The key points are listed below:  

  • At key stage four, only 37% of maths teachers and 45% of chemistry teachers in deprived schools outside of London have a relevant degree while only 17% of physics teachers have a relevant degree in deprived schools outside of London

 - Inside of London, the proportion of maths and physics teachers with a relevant degree is generally higher, at 40% to 50% and mostly more than 60% for chemistry. There also appears to be less evidence of variation by deprivation inside of London  
  • Many maths and science teachers don't have a degree in maths or science subjects. We find that 46% of maths teachers and one-third of physics teachers at key stage four don't have a maths or science degree 
  • Access to teachers with a relevant degree is also low for languages at key stage four, at around 40% to 50%, with a small socio-economic gradient and little evidence of any London specific difference 
  • In other subjects, the proportion of teachers with a relevant degree is generally high, at between 65% and 75% for English, 60% to 70% for biology and 70% to 80% for history. In such subjects, there is a small socio-economic gradient, but little evidence of a London specific effect 
  • There are similar patterns for key stage three except that the proportion of key stage three teachers with a relevant degree is generally lower 
  • There's a large amount of variation across local authorities too. The proportion of teachers with a relevant degree is generally high in London and the South East of England, but low in areas including South and West Yorkshire (eg Barnsley and Doncaster), the Welsh borders and the fringes of Birmingham.

About the research

  • The analysis uses data from the school workforce census for November 2016.
How can we increase girls’ uptake of maths and physics A level?

The question of what barriers exist that stop more female students engaging in maths and physics A levels is examined in research published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). The research came out of a scholarship pilot, which was designed to encourage girls who were predicted to do well in maths, physics or combined science GCSE (the eligible students) to stay on to study maths or physics at A level. It consisted of an upfront payment made to all eligible girls shortly before A level subject choices were finalised (in January of year 11) and an additional weekly payment for 12 weeks during the summer term of year 11 to those eligible girls who applied to study physics and/or maths at A level. The key points found are below: 

  • Most of the girls interviewed enjoyed maths and physics; however, they report finding a lot of content is needed to be covered, which means that the teaching often had to focus on exam preparation. They felt this was boring and repetitive, and meant they couldn't go into depth on the topics they found interesting
  • Many of the students interviewed were predicted to achieve grades seven to nine (A/A*) in maths and physics yet struggled with confidence at the thought of taking these subjects at A level
  • Girls perceive STEM careers to be well-remunerated but male-dominated; they're also concerned about taking STEM subjects at A level and university because few other women do so
  • The scholarship does have an impact on STEM subject uptake, but it is likely overestimated and unlikely to tackle the root causes of girls’ reluctance to study maths or physics beyond GCSE level
  • Female students suggest more practical ideas such as talks from female role models in STEM, STEM work experience, and interventions to build girls’ confidence in maths and physics to encourage them to study the subjects. 

About the research

  • In September 2017, the STEM Skills Fund invited (by email) all state secondary schools in England to express interest in participating in a trial of a scholarship designed to encourage high-achieving girls in maths and/or physics GCSEs to continue studying these subjects at A level. As part of the pilot, they varied the amount of upfront and weekly payments across schools to provide indicative evidence on whether the amount and/or timing of the scholarship mattered for its success
  • To investigate, the IFS interviewed 266 girls and senior staff members as well as conducted focus groups. Note that these schools are not representative of all secondary schools in England. They have higher average key stage four outcomes and a lower percentage of students who are eligible for free schools. A higher proportion of them are selective schools, faith schools and single-sex schools. Students from these schools are also more likely to study maths and physics at A level even before the scholarship was introduced.
The truth about life after A levels

Research from the Careers & Enterprise Company analyses what young adults (those aged 16 to 18) undertake after school. It found that less than half of young people (39%) go to a school-based sixth form and roughly the same number (38%) go to a further education college. One in 20 (6%) go on to an apprenticeship. Maths is the most popular STEM A level subject, with 95,000 entries a year and the number of girls taking a STEM A level increasing by 5% (compared with 3.9% for boys).  

lts A level 'myth-busting' article explores some of the common myths surrounding post-16 education, and it aims to debunk them while offering further advice and information. These include false claims such as ‘everyone stays in school until they are 18 years old’ and ‘nobody is taking STEM A levels’. You can find the full data report that underpins the myth-busting article here.

Schools, pupils and their characteristics

The DfE has published statistics on pupils in schools in England as collected in the January 2018 school census. The main findings are below: 

  • Between January 2017 and January 2018, the number of pupils across all school types rose by 66,000
  • In January 2018, for all school types, 13.6% of pupils were eligible for and claiming free school meals. This is the lowest proportion since 2001 when the department began collecting pupil level information
  • 4.9% of infant pupils are in classes of more than 30 pupils. This has decreased for the third year and is 1.3 percentage points lower than the peak of 2015. However, it remains higher than the proportion in 2013 (4.6%)
  • The proportion of pupils from minority ethnic origins has been rising steadily since 2006. In primary schools, 33.1% of pupils of school age are of minority ethnic origins, an increase from 32.1% in January 2017. In secondary schools, 30.3% of pupils are of minority ethnic origins, an increase from 29.1% in 2017. 
Also this fortnight
  • The Education Datalab analyses how widespread early entry in English language and literature in GCSE
  • A blog post from the Education Datalab looks at 'are more pupils now leaving schools between year 10 and the end of year 11?'
  • Findings from online surveys conducted by YouGov on behalf of Ofsted examines teachers’ awareness and perceptions of Ofsted
  • Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has released a survey of parents' views on employers' role in supporting young people into work
  • Ofqual has released reports on variability in GCSE results and variability in A level results for schools 2016-18.