Evidence in the news

Can time spent on homework predict academic success?

TIME SPENT ON HOMEWORK IN THE secondary years is a relatively strong predictor of pupil success in English, maths, and science. That is one of the findings of a final report of the Key Stage 3 phase of the Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education project (EPPSE), which has followed around 3,000 children since the age of 3 in 1997.

Spending any time on homework on a regular basis on school nights showed benefits for both attainment and progress, but the effects were larger for pupils who put in more time, with those who reported spending two to three hours a night on homework much more likely to do well in English, maths, and science and to show better behaviour.

Findings also indicate that the ratings given to secondary schools by Ofsted for the quality of pupils’ learning and learners’ attendance were good predictors of better attainment and progress. For example, better progress was made by EPPSE pupils in English, maths, and science when they attended an “outstanding” compared to an “inadequate” school in terms of the Ofsted quality rating. This was equivalent to between one and two years of schooling for the three core subjects at the end of Key Stage 3.

The report looks at a range of factors that influence children’s success across the following domains: individual pupil, family, and home; pre-school; primary school; and secondary school. The report concludes that there is no single factor that explains achievement and development; rather, it is the combination of factors that make a difference to young people’s long-term life chances.

Source: Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education Project (EPPSE 3-14) – Influences on Students’ Attainment and Progress in Key Stage 3: Academic Outcomes in English, Maths and Science in Year 9, January 2012 (From www.education.gov.uk).

What works for NEETs?

FIGURES FROM THE DEPARTMENT FOR Education show that 19.2% of young people aged 16–24 were not in education, employment, or training (NEET) in 2011. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has been exploring approaches that could help NEETs through a series of four reviews that analyse research and evidence-based practice from the last five years.

The latest review, Approaches to Supporting Young People not in Education, Employment or Training, looks at what works with NEETs, both generally and in terms of three categories identified by NFER:

  • Open to learning NEETs – young people most likely to re-engage in education or training in the short term and with higher levels of attainment and better attitudes towards school than other NEET young people.
  • Sustained NEETs – young people characterised by their negative experience of school, higher levels of truancy and exclusion, and lower academic attainment than other NEET young people. They are most likely to remain NEET in the medium term.
  • Undecided NEETs – young people similar in some respects, such as their attainment levels, to those who are “open to learning” NEET, but dissatisfied with available opportunities and their inability to access what they want to do.

The report includes a number of recommendations that would have an impact on the roles schools can play, should they be adopted. These include: monitoring and intervention throughout primary and secondary school to keep pupils “on track”; a varied and flexible curriculum that offers a range of qualifications and is relevant to the world of work; pastoral and academic one-to-one support; parental involvement; and financial support/incentives to continue in learning.

The NFER review follows a report on a similar theme, produced by the CMPO (the Centre for Market and Public Organisation) at the University of Bristol at the end of last year. The Early Bird… Preventing Young People from Becoming a NEET Statistic also analysed previous research in the area and found this to be poor in terms of judging successful programmes. The authors argue that more needs to be done to identify which interventions are most effective in terms of outcomes and cost-effectiveness. Nevertheless, they make a number of recommendations, reflecting some of those in the NFER report. These include financial incentives for participation and achievement, and a greater cross-over to the world of employment through work experience or part-time work, or through formal apprenticeships.

Sources: Approaches to Supporting Young People not in Education, Employment or Training, March 2012 (From www.nfer.ac.uk/nfer/publications).  The Early Bird… Preventing Young People from Becoming a NEET Statistic, November 2011 (From www.bristol.ac.uk).

More evidence on the impact of a child’s background

A NEW CENTRE FOR LONGITUDINAL Studies (CLS) working paper has looked at specific “risk factors” and the impact of these on children’s outcomes. It uses data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which surveyed 18,819 children born between September 2000 and August 2001, interviewing families when the children were nine months, three years, and five years old.

The risk factors were: living in overcrowded housing; having a teenage mother; having one or more parents with depression, a physical disability, or low basic skills; substance misuse; excessive alcohol intake; or living in a family experiencing financial stress, worklessness, or domestic violence. Being exposed to one factor is not considered damaging to children’s development, but more than one has an impact. The research found that 28% of families with young children across the UK in 2001 were facing two or more of these risks. In other words, at least 192,000 young children (under one year old) were affected.

The authors, from the Institute of Education at the University of London, found that children who were exposed to multiple risks had poorer behavioural development scores at ages three and fi ve than those experiencing one or no challenges, and that the vocabulary scores of children with multiple challenges were also lower. These are important factors in terms of school-readiness, placing the children at a disadvantage compared with their peers.

Another recent study has explored the school-readiness of children from low to middle income (LMI) families. The research, from the Resolution Foundation, was again based on data from the Millennium Cohort Study. The authors found that LMI children are five months behind their more affluent peers on vocabulary skills when they begin school, and exhibit more behaviour problems. A number of factors influence attainment, including parental education – a powerful predictor of the school readiness of children in this group. The challenge is how to break this cycle, with research-based parenting programmes suggested as one possibility.

Sources: Multiple Risk Factors in Young Children’s Development, February 2012 (From www.cls.ioe.ac.uk). On Your Marks: Measuring the School Readiness of Children in Low-to-middle Income Families, December 2011 (From www.resolutionfoundation.org/).

Should we be trying to reduce class sizes?

A RISING POPULATION AND DECREASING funding mean that pressure on class sizes is likely to grow. A research review from the Department for Education considers a number of issues around class size in England, including the impact on educational outcomes.

The authors found a number of benefits from smaller classes, such as individual pupils being the focus of the teacher’s attention for longer. However, previous research has shown that reducing class size is beneficial when classes are small, around 15 pupils. With budgets stretched, schools should consider the financial benefits of allowing classes to grow slightly. This may allow them to preserve resources for more effective ways of improving attainment, such as increasing teacher effectiveness.

Source: Class Size and Education in England Evidence Report, Dec 2011 (From www.education.gov.uk/publications).

Moving English Forward

A LACK OF SUBJECT SPECIALISTS IN primary schools could be the reason for slower improvement in English in primary schools than secondary schools. This is one suggestion from a recent Ofsted report, which found that since 2008 attainment in English has risen in secondary schools, but there has been only limited improvement in primary schools.

The proportion of Key Stage 2 pupils achieving Level 4 or above, the standard expected for their age, changed very little: it was 80% in 2009 and had risen to 82% by 2011. Far more pupils failed to achieve this standard in writing and the report links this with weaknesses in the teaching of writing and gaps in the subject knowledge of some English co-ordinators in primary schools.

The report is based on evidence from inspections of English in 268 maintained schools in England made between April 2008 and March 2011, and is in two parts. Part A highlights the main strengths and weaknesses in English and presents the evidence from the inspection visits. Part B takes forward the findings from Part A to analyse 10 areas of weakness and recommends a range of practical measures that schools and the government should take. Ofsted believes that these actions would have the effect of helping to raise standards and to “move English forward” in schools.

Source: Moving English Forward: Action to Raise Standards in English, March 2012 (From  www.ofsted.gov.uk).

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February 2013