The latest research

Report: Literacy: A Route to Addressing Child Poverty? (2011)

What? This report from the National Literacy Trust (NLT) reviews existing research into the role of low literacy in poverty and disadvantage. Although many of the issues are widely known, the report aims to be a useful resource for those with an interest in child poverty. Key findings include that children who grow up in poverty are less likely to do well on a number of outcomes, including literacy, wider education and health, but that children’s achievement can be predicted not only by parental income or social status, but also by the extent to which parents are able to create a home environment that encourages learning and aspirations. Children from poorer backgrounds have less advantageous “early childhood caring environments” than children from better-off families. Parents’ involvement in their child’s education is also key, with family involvement in school mattering most for children whose mothers have less education. The report says that current government policy sees entrenched poverty as resting on low achievement, low aspiration, and a lack of employment, and that literacy has a vital role to play in addressing all of these issues and breaking the cycle of poverty.

Authors: National Literacy Trust

Where? The report is available through the National Literacy Trust website (see research reports).

Report: The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling (2011)

What? This article, which appeared in the journal Science (vol 333, 6050), argues strongly that single-sex education is “deeply misguided”, and that not all reforms lead to meaningful gains for pupils. Although it is a US study, the findings could also apply in the UK. Findings include that although single-sex education outcomes may at first appear promising, apparent advantages dissolve when other factors are taken into account, for example the “quality” of the pupil body, the demanding curricula, or other advantages. The authors also counter the argument that boys and girls learn differently, stating that “neuroscientists have found few sex differences in children’s brains beyond the larger volume of boys’ brains and the earlier completion of girls’ brain growth, neither of which is known to relate to learning”. Overall, they conclude that there is no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation actually increases gender stereotyping and legitimises institutional sexism.

Authors: Diane Halpern et al.

Where? The report is available through the Science journal website

Report: Self-Paced Learning: Effective Technology-Supported Formative Assessment: Report on Achievement Findings (2011)

What? A new study by the Institute for Effective Education at the University of York has shown that self-paced learning could produce significant gains in primary maths learning. In self-paced learning pupils answer, at their own pace, questions delivered directly to electronic handsets. The technology instantly marks the responses and feeds back the results to both pupil and teacher. Teachers can use this formative assessment to help pupils and guide future teaching. The study involved Year 5 pupils from seven primary schools across two local authorities, and ran over a 12-week period. In comparison to control pupils, pupils who used the self-paced learning technology made significantly greater gains in mathematical learning.

Authors: Mary Sheard and Bette Chambers

Where? The report is available from the Institute for Effective Education website

Report: Subject and Course Choices at Ages 14 and 16 Amongst Young People in England: Insights from Behavioural Economics (2011)

What? This report, commissioned by the former DCSF and conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, explored how young people make their subject choices at age 14 and age 16. Although these choices have huge implications for the young people, it is not an area that has been particularly well-researched. This report includes a review of existing research, as well as statistical analyses of school and pupil data to examine whether differences in subject and course choices were correlated with individual pupil characteristics (such as gender and family income), and differences in the characteristics of the schools they attend. The report also focused on psychological issues. Key findings included that in 2009–10, GCSEs were still the most commonly taken qualification at KS4, with VRQs and BTECs being the most commonly taken vocational courses. However, the growth in the number of pupils taking vocational qualifications over the past five years has risen dramatically, with the number of VRQs awarded in England growing from almost none six years ago to nearly 600,000 by 2009–10. In terms of the reasons for making their choices, findings of the report are quite complex. Some of the key findings include that gender affects choice (for example, boys were significantly more likely than girls to study triple science), as do aspirations for the future, although this tended to be more a case of choosing to remain in education and take A levels rather than the subject choices themselves. Other psychological factors behind decision-making included an overconfidence in ability, choosing courses that appear to be easier rather than considering career options, or selecting “default options” such as the combination of subjects laid out in the new English Baccalaureate.

Authors: Wenchao Jin, Alastair Muriel, and Luke Sibieta

Where? The report is available through the Department for Education website

Report: Teaching Reading in Europe: Contexts, Policies and Practices (2011)

What? This report was carried out on behalf of the European Commission by the Eurydice Network, which supports European co-operation in the field of education and provides information to assist those responsible for education policies and systems. It comes in response to concerns about literacy levels. For example, the latest results of the survey on reading skills carried out under the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that on average in European countries, one in five 15 year-olds have very low reading skills. The report drew conclusions across several areas, and these are listed below, along with key comments.

  1. Improving reading instruction and reading engagement. Curricula should be balanced between goals that provide focus for the competencies that pupils should achieve, and flexibility to allow teachers to provide tuition appropriate for their pupils.
  2. Cognitive aspects in reading instruction. All countries have assigned objectives relating to reading comprehension. Although research supports the combined use of several strategies in the teaching of comprehension, only one third of countries include a broad range of five or six key strategies for enhancing pupil’s reading comprehension in their steering documents for primary level.
  3. Reading engagement. Most curricula underline the importance of developing pupils’ pleasure and interest in reading. Also, a plethora of large-scale state-funded programmes exist that promote reading either across the whole of society or in particular sections. However, many of these initiatives take the form of activities which may largely attract those already interested in reading.
  4. Tackling the difficulties experienced by struggling readers. This is a widespread concern, but a greater problem in some countries than in others. The difficulties experienced by pupils at various stages of learning to read must be tackled by using appropriate teaching and assessment methods, specific interventions, and targeted programmes.
  5. A stimulating learning environment for reflective teachers. Teachers need to receive appropriate initial training to provide them with solid foundations in educational research and methodology. CPD is also fundamental.
  6. Adolescent readers. According to curricular guidelines in the majority of countries, all subject teachers at lower secondary level are responsible for improving the reading ability of their pupils. However, it is unclear if this principle is supported by sufficiently strong foundations.

Authors: Isabelle De Coster, Nathalie Baidak, Akvile Motiejunaite, and Sogol Noorani. The managing editor was Arlette Delhaxhe.

Where? The report is available through the Eurydice website


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April 2013