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Out of crisis can come transformative and positive change: some lessons from history

IOE Editor19 February 2021

By Luke Sibieta, Research Fellow, Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) & Education Policy Institute (EPI)

Lost learning over the pandemic is likely to lead to significant long-term costs if pupils are unable to catch-up over the coming years. I have recently argued that missing half a year of normal schooling could amount to lost lifetime earnings of about £40,000 for each child in school today, based on existing evidence on the returns to schooling. This is not a precise estimate or projection, which would be effectively impossible at present, but an illustration of the scale of the risk we face. There are also much bigger estimates of the long-run cost of lost learning that go into the trillions after accounting for potential effects on economic growth. Policymakers should be responding now in a way that recognises the high probability and risk of massive long-run costs.

The scale of the potential costs calls for radical action and a massive amount of extra resources. However, there is also a need to focus on quality. Creating more weeks or hours of schooling to even things out on a ledger would not achieve very much if it can’t deliver high-quality teaching or just leads to teachers and pupils feeling totally drained, or worse, punished. Indeed, there is a wider lesson. If the sole goal of catch-up is to get back to a hypothetical, pre-pandemic benchmark, it is unlikely to galvanise support for radical change or extra resources. Should we just be aiming to get the attainment gap back to where it was pre-crisis?

Creating more weeks or hours of schooling to even things out on a ledger would not achieve very much if it can’t deliver high-quality teaching or just leads to teachers and pupils feeling totally drained, or worse, punished.

Here, there are some very clear lessons from the last century when the country suffered massive upheaval during wars, which then directly spurred positive changes to the school and education system.

World War 1 and the 1918 Fisher Act – missed opportunity

Children’s lives were turned upside down during World War 1. Many will have seen fathers and other family members go off to fight and never return.  Many missed school to help at home whilst their mothers also took on new jobs to help the war effort. Many teenagers went off to fight and die themselves.

The disruption to schooling, however, was lessened because there wasn’t all that much schooling going on. The school leaving age was 12 and very few children went to secondary schools, which charged fees. During the war, the President of the Board of Education was H.A.L. Fisher (MP for Sheffield Hallam and whose underpants formed a key detail of Operation Mincemeat in 1943). From 1916, he toured the country and was shocked by the level and under-financing of schooling. This directly led to the 1918 Fisher Act, which raised the school leaving age to 14, with ambitions to increase it to 16 and create a system of free secondary schooling.

The economic depression of the 1920s and burdens of war debt meant that most of the main provisions were either delayed or dropped altogether. The share of pupils staying on to secondary schools only increased from 10% to 14% between 1910 and 1938.

The Fisher Act was high on ambition but ultimately represented a missed opportunity.

1944 Butler Act – the creation of free secondary schools

The 1944 Butler Act is much more well known. It formed part of more general efforts to create the welfare state in the wake of World War 2, alongside the Beveridge Report and creation of the National Health Service.

As is well known, children’s education was massively disrupted as many had to leave towns and cities as evacuees. As has been rightly pointed out, many children got much joy and new skills through these experiences, which will have also happened today. But, it is important to recall that provision of formal education would have been fairly limited in the 1940s, even without a war. Most children still left school at 14, if that, and with no formal qualifications. Universal secondary schooling was still a pipedream.

Appointed as President of the Board of Education in 1941, R.A. (Rab) Butler quickly developed an ambitious plan for reform of the school system. Convincing Churchill of the merits of the legislation was difficult at the height of the war, but was partly achieved (or assumed) through Butler’s complementing of Churchill’s cat in his bedroom. The 1944 Butler Act then created a nationwide system of free secondary schools and raised the school leaving age to 15. There were further plans to raise it to 16 when practical, though this got postponed till 1973 (that pesky war debt again). This led to the tripartite system of grammar schools, secondary moderns and secondary technical schools. The act also established the present system free school meals and (now abolished) system of free milk.

Whilst there is much debate about the role of grammar schools, it is also important to recognise the achievements of the Butler Act in creating a system of free secondary schooling and increasing years of schooling. Prior to the law, 60-70% of young people left school at age 14 or below. Studies of the increase in the school leaving age to 15 in 1947 show that it is likely to have increased adult earnings amongst those affected by about 10-14% per year. Whilst the increase in the school leaving age to 16 was delayed till 1973, many studies have shown large and positive effects on adult earnings.

The Butler Act was therefore a significant achievement in extending schooling and increasing life chances. It may have been more successful if the increase in the school leaving age to 16 had not been delayed by 25 years.

US GI Bills – creating new opportunities

Looking across the Atlantic, President Roosevelt signed the GI Bill into law in 1944.  This very famous piece of legislation provided a range of benefits to veterans across a range of different areas, in recognition of their sacrifice and the disruption to their education. This included very significant support for education, training and payment of college fees. A range of studies have shown positive effects amongst those were able to take advantage of the bill’s main features, and the GI Bill is almost part of the American psyche.

Be positive, radical and pay for it

Looking back through history, large disruptions to schooling and education during war time have often been followed by large transformations to the education system and extensions to schooling. However, policymakers in the UK have not always been willing to pay for the most transformative ideas.

Today, we are again facing massive disruption to schooling, of a kind not seen since World War 2. Rather than setting narrow goals to get back to a hypothetical pre-pandemic benchmark, perhaps we should also be setting positive and transformative goals. And we should be willing to pay for the resources required.

Setting such goals is a much harder question. This is partly because we have already implemented some of the obvious changes, such as raising the school leaving age to 16. This has since been increased to an education leaving age of 18 in England, though this is not seriously enforced and does not apply in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The most worthy goals for today are likely to be harder and more nuanced. At present, children from poorer families leave school 18 months behind their peers from richer families. Only about two thirds of young people aged 19-24 possess an A level equivalent qualification or higher. Perhaps we should be setting a goal for all children to leave education at age 18 with qualifications that are high-quality and reflect a broad and deep curriculum.  Achieving such a goal would require a relentless focus on high-quality teaching, joined-up action across all parts of the education system (from the early years through to colleges) and with other public services. Maybe that should be COVID’s legacy for the education system.

Housing wealth, not bursaries, explains much of private school participation for those without high income

IOE Editor4 February 2021

By Jake Anders and Golo Henseke

Although less than a tenth of children in Britain attend private schools, who goes matters to all of us. This is because of the considerable labour market advantages that have persistently been associated with attending a private school, including recruitment into the upper echelons of power in British business, politics, administration and media. As a result, in recent work published in Education Economics we looked into who send their children to private schools. In brief, despite all the talk about bursaries, public benefits and attempts at widening participation, who goes to private school remains as closely tied to family income and wealth as it did at the end of the 1990s. This casts doubt on accounts of real progress in opening up the sector to a more diverse student body.

In the paper we demonstrate quite how concentrated private school attendance is among the highest levels of household income (see image). The proportion of children attending private school is close to zero across the vast majority of the income distribution, and doesn’t rise above 10% of the cohort except among those with the top 5% of incomes. Only half of those in the top 1% send their kids to private school.

Income concentration of private school participation, 1997-2018.

 

On one level this is unsurprising. Sending your child to a private school costs a lot of money: in 2018 average annual fees were £14,280 for day schools and £33,684 for boarding schools. Not many people have more than £1000 per month available to spend on school fees unless they have some of the highest incomes in the country. But what about those who do attend even though they’re from families with incomes below these levels, even if there are not many of them?

One potential explanation, much flaunted by private schools themselves, are bursaries. Indeed, our analysis found that about 1 in 6 private school pupils received some form of financial support such as bursaries or fee reductions – does that explain our observation and suggest these are doing real work to open up the private school sector to a wider stretch of society? Sadly, not: it’s not the case that all kinds of financial support are targeted at lower income groups (some are academic or music scholarships, for example) and if we focus on those outside the top income decile, a large majority – up to four out of five children – are not receiving grants or bursaries.

Furthermore, among those who received it, average financial support was around £4,900 in 2011-2018. This is little changed from earlier periods that we also analysed and, because of rising fees, paid for a smaller fraction of those fees (35% compared with 57%) than it did in 1997-2003. Taken together, these cast serious doubt on the idea that this is making a big difference to widening participation in private schools – or that it’s playing a growing role in achieving this in recent years.

As such, we set out to explore other sources of potential financing for private school fees that might explain their affordability at lower levels of income: housing wealth and how it has grown in recent decades. We find that a 10% rise in a family’s housing wealth raises private school participation by 0.9 percentage points. This is actually similar to the association we see between family income and private school participation – among those with high levels of income. However, unlike the income link, the role of increased housing growth is evident much further down the income distribution. This suggests that access to wealth, rather than support from bursaries and grants, is playing an important role in helping these families send their children to private schools.

These findings have clear implications for things that need to change. Our findings imply that while existing bursaries offered by private schools do perform a somewhat progressive role, they are far too small and scarce to make much of a real dent in private schools’ exclusivity. Means-tested bursaries would need to expand considerably in reach and scale, and the selection criteria should take into account family wealth, not just income. Private schools need to up their game dramatically in this respect, otherwise calls for externally imposed reforms to effect real change will only grow louder.

This research was covered by in an article by The Observer.

 

How can policy-makers and parents support home learning during lockdown?

IOE Editor27 January 2021

This article first appeared on the Economics Observatory

By Dr. Laura Outhwaite, CEPEO Research Fellow 

With schools again closed, disadvantaged children need laptops and internet connections to access remote education. Parents can support home learning by making their children’s wellbeing the priority and focusing on the quality of learning experiences, not the quantity.

In January 2021, schools in the UK have again switched to online learning for most children, due to the resurgence of Covid-19 across the country. Consequently, there is a renewed emphasis on ensuring that children receive the best possible education while staying at home.

There are concerns that the impact of further school closures will disproportionately affect some children, such as those from lower socio-economic backgrounds (Eyles and Elliot Major, 2021). Data from before Covid-19 show that mothers’ education is strongly associated with increased parental investments in educational resources, such as toys and books in the home, and higher family income. These factors are significantly associated with children’s academic outcomes (Macmillan and Tominey, 2019).

During the pandemic, families with lower incomes are also more likely to face challenges providing their children with a high-quality learning environment for reasons including less physical space, less access to computers, and slower and less reliable internet connectivity.

While some of these challenges are especially difficult to overcome, such as limited physical space, policy-makers should be doing all they can to take action where possible, notably ensuring that all children have access to suitable laptop computers and a reliable internet connection that allows them to engage effectively with online learning resources and virtual lessons that schools are now required to provide.

Families are also facing unprecedented challenges with balancing children’s schoolwork alongside the demands of parents’ jobs and other stresses related to the pandemic. Consequently, parents should be assured that they are providing a good quality home learning environment by looking after their children’s wellbeing, providing access to a broad range of resources, and focusing on quality, rather than quantity.

What should policy-makers do?

Statistics from a representative survey conducted online of families with school-aged children in England during the pandemic emphasise a ‘digital divide’ in access to technological devices for home learning. Results show that around 15% of primary school-aged children and 20% of secondary school-aged children in the poorest third of families, based on household income, have no access to a computer or tablet device for schoolwork, compared with approximately 5-10% of children in the richest third of families (Institute for Fiscal Studies, IFS, 2020).

Similar survey data on teachers show only 10% reporting that all their pupils have access to the internet. This figure varies significantly by pupil background, with 5% of state school teachers reporting that all their children have access to the internet, compared with 51% of private school teachers (Sutton Trust, 2021). These data collected via teachers can be considered a more reliable estimate of children’s internet access, as many family surveys are conducted online and may therefore be unintentionally biased to households with adequate resources already in place.

To date, the government has failed to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, have access to the appropriate technology resources to engage with online learning. In April 2020, in response to the first lockdown, the Department for Education announced a £85 million rollout of 200,000 laptops for disadvantaged children to support learning from home. This figure falls short of the 540,000 children calculated to be eligible for the scheme by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner based on the Department for Education’s published criteria.

Moreover, by mid-June 2020, only 115,000 devices had been delivered to local authorities or academy trusts for distribution to children (IFS, 2020). This implies that only 21% of disadvantaged children were provided with access to the technological support that they need to learn from home by this point. Little progress has been made since then, with widespread reports from schools of failures from the government in meeting their proposed targets.

During the current lockdown, the Department for Education announced further laptop provision aiming to reach more than one million children and young people by April 2021. But this still leaves substantial time during which some disadvantaged children will not be able to access resources, with the risk that these children will fall further behind. To ensure that children are able to access the remote learning that schools are providing, regardless of their background, it is imperative that these targets are met efficiently and effectively.

Providing access to a reliable internet connection also remains an unresolved issue. According to current Department for Education guidance, disadvantaged families may be able to access increases in mobile data, free of charge, if they are customers of selected telecoms providers and must request access via their school or local authority.

Critics argue that this approach increases the administrative burden for schools and suggest that universal zero-ratings for educational content, such as Oak National Academy, would be more effective than making disadvantaged families ask for handouts. Internet providers have since highlighted challenges of zero-rating educational resources, as content is often hosted on external sources, such as YouTube.

Regardless of these challenges, children still need to access online learning if the negative effects of the pandemic on their education are to be mitigated. Policy-makers should be taking the lead on co-ordinating effective action in ensuring that all children, regardless of their background, have equitable and reliable access to learning at home.

What can parents do?

Research carried out during the first lockdown in England found that children spent, on average, 4.5 hours a day on educational activities, including online classes, other schoolwork, private tutoring and other educational activities. This is a 25% reduction in learning time for primary school pupils and a 30% reduction for secondary school pupils compared with children’s usual routine, as measured using comparable data from 2014/15 (IFS, 2020).

Another nationally representative survey highlights that 81% of children with limited access to appropriate technology and study space, and 52% of those eligible for pupil premium funding, are less engaged in remote learning, compared with their classmates (National Foundation for Educational Research, NFER, 2020).

Nevertheless, working parents, particularly mothers, report that the home schooling that did occur during the first lockdown placed significant demands on their time, as they attempt to achieve a balance between work and supporting their children’s learning (Doyle, 2020Anders et al,2020). Overall, these data suggest that the school closures during lockdown may widen educational inequalities, based on who can access the educational resources and parental support that they need for home learning.

Given such time pressures and the stressful context that lockdown can bring, it is important for parents to make a priority of their children’s wellbeing and focus on the quality of home learning experiences and interactions, rather than worrying about a shortfall in quantity.

For parents who now find themselves taking on the role of teachers, it is important to focus on children’s mental health and wellbeing, as studies show their fundamental importance for learning and development (Panayiotou et al, 2019).

Recommendations from the Child Mind Institute suggest the idea of a ‘developmental checklist’, which includes questions such as: ‘is my child sleeping enough and eating a somewhat balanced diet?’; ‘are they getting some form of exercise every day?’; ‘are they getting some quality time with family?’; and ‘do they use some screen time to keep in touch with friends?’. Establishing and keeping a daily routine that meets the needs of an individual family is also recommended best practice.

Several other organisations – such as Oak National Academy, the National Literacy Trust, the Children’s Commissioner and Emerging Minds – also have useful and evidence-based online resources to support parents and their children during the pandemic.

There are also several key areas where parents might focus their efforts to enrich learning experiences for their children at home, mindful of their own time constraints. For example, educational apps can benefit children’s learning outcomes (Griffith et al, 2020Madigan et al,2020): educational technologies that are ‘gamified’ and child-centred are also particularly beneficial, especially for children’s motivation and enjoyment (Lai and Bower, 2019).

Research also shows that children can successfully use educational apps independently (Outhwaite et al,2019) and so may be a useful tool when parents need to focus on other things. In terms of when and where parents can provide support, some studies highlight that co-viewing technology-based content with young children is beneficial, (Madigan et al, 2020), especially if children are still developing their language skills (Outhwaite et al, 2020).

While there are many school and technology-based solutions, parents should also remember that home learning does not always have to be working through a worksheet or engaging with an educational app. Research shows informal, everyday learning experiences also significantly benefit young children, in terms of their conceptual knowledge and language skills. Such activities include cooking and playing card or board games for maths (Zhang et al, 2020), and reading together, writing postcards and notes, such as shopping lists, for reading and writing (Meyer et al, 2017).

For older children, reading a broad range of texts, including fiction books may also be good for improving their future educational outcomes (Jerrim and Moss, 2018). In terms of downtime, parents should not worry if their children like to spend time on computer games as there is evidence that some games can support their spatial and mathematical abilities (Bos et al, 2014). They can also support children’s wellbeing and feeling of connection with their peers, which is particularly important when they are unable to spend time together in person (Johannes et al, 2020).

Conclusions

Home learning during Covid-19 remains a challenge for all involved. It is imperative that policy-makers deliver on their provision of laptop computers and take a lead on providing reliable internet access for disadvantaged children. This will ensure that all children, regardless of their background, have equitable access to online learning resources and the virtual lessons that schools are now required to provide.

Parents can also support their children by making a priority of their own and their children’s wellbeing and by not stressing about the small things – learning is important, but school is about so much more than maths and reading, and this can be reflected in their home experiences.

Where can I find out more?

Who are experts on this question?

  • Laura Outhwaite, Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, UCL, London
  • Lindsey Macmillan, Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, UCL, London
  • Jake Anders, Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, UCL, London
  • Jo Van Herwegen, Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, UCL, London

Exams 2021: So what now? Part 2: CEPEO’s response to the DfE/Ofqual consultation on summer assessment 2020/21

IOE Editor21 January 2021

By Jake Anders, Lindsey Macmillan and Gill Wyness

Given the widespread disruption to learning this academic year and the substantial risk of continued disruption to schooling into the summer term, the government were right to take the decision to cancel exams in England in their usual form – indeed having done so earlier as many were calling for would have made the implementation of a wider range of alternatives feasible. But now that the government, working with Ofqual, have turned to decide how GCSE and A level grades should be awarded this year, what should they do? In our recent blog we made the case that assessment should be flexible in terms of timing and content, but that it should continue to be externally set and marked, to ensure fairness and rigour.

Unfortunately, the government’s new proposals do not take that message on board and instead take teacher assessment as a given. As a result, their current consultation is framed without allowing for the opportunity to consider this fundamental aspect of the government’s approach. In setting out these plans, Gavin Williamson said that they put their trust in teachers, not algorithms. But this is a false dichotomy, as our proposed approach shows. In addition, as we argued last year, asking teachers to assign grades accurately and fairly is asking them to do a near impossible task – and one that will add considerably to their hugely expanded workloads: fundamentally, trusting teachers can only go so far when it comes to achieving fair and rigorous assessment.

Nevertheless, since the framing gives no alternative, in our response to the consultation, we make suggestions that will minimise the unfairness that this approach will cause. In particular, we highlight that, if teacher assessment must be used, it must take unequal learning loss into account, and it must be subject to a system of external quality assurance.

Dealing with Learning Loss

Assessment is important, not just so that students can continue to the next stage of their education, training or employment, but also to ensure that they continue to engage with schooling for the remainder of the academic year and, hence, minimise the learning loss that will be experienced. We therefore agree that students should be assessed in some manner, and that this should be through papers set by the exam boards and provided to the schools (as is proposed). Both for this reason and wider aims of fairness, it should be compulsory for these to be used by schools as the primary basis of the teacher assessed grades for both GCSEs and A levels. Flexibility in the timing of these assessments will allow this possibility despite the ongoing risks to disruption of schooling.

However, as is widely documented, pupils have had very different experiences of learning this year, so they will be at very different stages when they come to be assessed. For this reason, it is deeply unfair to award pupils grades based solely on the standard they are performing when they are assessed(which is proposed to be at some point between May-June 2021). While it is important to push the assessment date to the latest time period possible (to allow students maximum time to catch up), it is unlikely that students will be able to recover from lost learning, and it is inevitable that students will be at different levels when they are assessed through no fault of their own.

This is fundamentally different from the philosophy that DfE and Ofqual have taken according to the consultation document, which states that students should be assessed at the standard at which they are currently performing. While we agree that it is important that these grades proxy pupils’ potential for that next stage, given the important role they play in the transition to further education and employment, it cannot be fair for pupils whose education has been disrupted the most to be systematically disadvantaged by an approach that ignores this. As such, it is vital that this year’s assessment system take this unequal opportunity to learn into account.

An important aspect of that would be for the papers set by exams boards to have several flexible components. There should be flexibility in the timing, to ensure that all pupils are able to sit them in their educational setting despite the risks of further disruption. The papers themselves should also be flexible, with teachers able to account for differentially disrupted curricula by deciding which topics are covered in the questions that students are asked to answer.

Quality assurance

Given the exam boards will be required to set these exams, the best approach would be also to use their expertise in marking them. As well as being far more rigorous, using the exam boards’ available, paid workforce to do the marking would avoid placing a huge additional burden on teachers’ workloads, as well as avoiding the risks of exposing them to unfair pressure from pupils and parents.

But in the absence of this option, we agree with Ofqual that exam boards should still play an important role in providing assessment guidance and monitoring. We agree with the proposals to involve exam boards in providing support and information to schools and colleges to help them meet the assessment requirements, and to ensure internal quality assurance. Exam boards should also be involved in external quality assurance. At the very least this should include extensive sampling, at subject level, the evidence on which the submitted grades were based. Judging by last year’s experiences, there is good reason to suggest that independent schools should be a particular focus of external quality assurance activity.

We also argue that the exam boards should be responsible for the appeals processes, rather than schools and teachers being involved in reconsidering the marks they have provided. Again, this distance between candidate and assessor is vital to ensure a rigour and fairness in the process that is not susceptible to inappropriate pressure, while also protecting individual teachers and schools from unfair criticism from parents and the media.

Finally, it is crucial that the appeals process take place before universities receive students’ grades. This is critical to avoid the deeply unfair situation of last year, with students apparently missing offers and losing their university place, only to have their grades later overturned.

Making these decisions quickly will provide much needed clarity for schools, pupils and their parents. However, the serious problem of learning loss will remain. Students transitioning to further education or into the labour market will be doing so having received less education than in a normal year. Adjusting grades to take account of this is a necessary short-term solution to avoid embedding unfairness in the transition process, but even more important is a plan to support catch up for all those who have fallen behind, which will be most acute for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This will require significant commitment and investment. This needs to be recognised immediately to prevent further delay.

Exams 2021: So what now?

IOE Editor4 January 2021

By Jake Anders, Lindsey Macmillan, and Gill Wyness

While the uncertainties of a global pandemic make this one of the most volatile periods of education policy in history, if there is one lesson we should all have learned since last March, it is that indecision is costly. This has proven true repeatedly for public health and looks just as relevant for education. As we saw with the exam fiasco of summer 2020, the failure to act decisively led to there being little alternative but to assign students grades based on teachers’ predictions of what they would have achieved. This sub-optimal situation removed any final contribution on the part of the student, and, more importantly, resulted in significant biases across school type and family background. Of course, back in summer 2020, the government had little time for the advance planning that any alternatives (such as ongoing assessment) would have required. But this year, they have no such excuse, and inaction now poses the substantial risk of being left without alternatives again. That is why the government must act now to ensure that we don’t have a repeat performance in summer 2021.

For exams to give all pupils the same chance to succeed, one of the pre-requisites is that they have had the same amount of time to prepare. However, we know that is not the case from looking at patterns in disruption to their studies. While both exam cohorts (year 11 and year 13) missed up to 5 months schooling in the academic year 2019-20, the disruption has continued during this crucial exam year and in much less uniform a manner. Unfortunately, England does not publish data on attendance rates by year group, but we can look more broadly at attendance rates in all state-funded schools by region over the autumn term. The figure below illustrates that while attendance rates started the academic year between 85% and 95%, by mid-November we were seeing rates substantially below this (falling from 88% to 83% on average) driven by widespread – but regionally varying – self-isolation by both individual pupils and education ‘bubbles’. In mid-November, attendance rates were lowest in the North West and Yorkshire. By mid-December, with what we now understand to be the prevalence of the new variant increasing, London, the East, and the South East had all seen stark declines in their attendance rates. In contrast, the South West has remained near the top of attendance rates throughout.

Figure: Weekly attendance in state-funded schools by region, 10th September 2020 – 10th December 2020.
Source: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/attendance-in-education-and-early-years-settings-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak

 

This disruption seems likely to get worse still. The Christmas holidays were anything but a break for schools and teachers, with an announcement on setting up in-school testing released shortly before the end of term (here) and the long-awaited announcement on returning to school made by DfE on December 30th. Secondary schools across the country have now moved to remote learning this week. While the majority of primary schools remain open, an increasing proportion (upwards of 15%) will not open their doors to pupils for the foreseeable future, either under direct DfE instruction through the schools contingency framework, or acting unilaterally over fears for teachers’ and students’ health. The DfE currently state that the majority of schools will re-open on January 18th, but with spiralling infection rates and stretched hospital capacities in every region, this position looks increasingly untenable. We await the Prime Minister’s announcement this evening, but many suspect that all schools will be closed for the foreseeable future.

In a blog post from November (here), we laid out the evidence that points to exams being the best route forward for school pupils in 2021, but advocating important changes (particularly focused on allowing greater flexibility),  given the uncertainty that was already evident at that point. It is becoming increasingly clear that exams, at least in their usual form, cannot go ahead – this makes the changes that we continue to call for vital and urgent. The current exam plans cannot provide the level playing field that it is claimed they will deliver, given the extent of differential learning experiences of those from different regions and backgrounds in this school year alone. So what now?

A levels and GCSEs

The evidence clearly points to avoiding centre or teacher assessed grades where possible. We, therefore, argue that externally set and marked exams remain the fairest option to all pupils taking terminal exams.

But these do not have to take place in the current format proposed, during a three-week period in June 2021. Instead, there is a strong case for more flexible timing for testing pupils, allowing exams to be spread across the summer term and, crucially, allowing pupils to sit these exams at different times to deal with any continuing need for closures during this period. While this will involve more work for exam boards given the need to provide multiple versions of each exam, this is the fairest way to ensure that pupils do not miss out on external assessments. The fact that it requires more work only underlines the need for swift action.

Further, we must ensure that this year’s exams include flexible content. This would help to reduce the unfairness caused by the fact that different schools will have been able to cover different content through interruptions to in-person schooling. These reformed exams would be more like university finals: pupils could be given a wider set of options and be asked to answer a smaller proportion of these, for example, 2 questions from 6 alternatives covering a wide sweep of the curriculum.

This approach would have substantial similarities with that already announced in Wales – also supporting fairness for university applications between applicants from the two countries – and would ensure that pupils can still be awarded grades that they have earned while providing robust information on achievement for universities and future employers. Scotland, on the other hand, has cancelled their exams altogether – with National 5s (the GCSE equivalent) cancelled several months ago, and Highers (the A level equivalent) cancelled just before Christmas. Scotland will instead base awards on teacher judgement, and while this is not an optimal situation, announcing this well in advance gives schools and teachers ample time for ongoing assessment and observation.

Primary school testing

While Key Stage 1 tests have been suspended for 2021, current plans are for Key Stage 2 tests to go ahead, although the school-level results will not be published. Given that these tests are primarily used as indicators of school performance, which is going to be measured with substantial error this year, there are serious questions about their value to bodies such as Ofsted with whom they are still proposed to be shared for accountability purposes. As such, there is a strong case for abandoning these tests altogether given the current circumstances. This would significantly reduce the burden on primary school teachers, who are working under very difficult conditions, and would remove the stress on pupils and parents associated with preparing for these tests under such difficult circumstances.

Action this day

The longer it takes for these steps to be taken, the harder it will be for them to be implemented, until the point where they are no longer feasible. At that point, there is a major risk of a repeat of last year’s fiasco – but without the excuse of not having had time to prepare a better alternative. We’ve seen yet another example today of the decision making process in Whitehall lagging behind that of Holyrood. In the words of the Scottish national anthem, it’s time for the Prime Minister “tae think again.”

How should we assess students this year, and what are the implications for universities?

IOE Editor10 November 2020

By Professor Lindsey Macmillan, Dr. Jake Anders, and Dr. Gill Wyness

In summer 2020, to much controversy, the UK government cancelled both GCSE and A level exams and replaced them with “Centre Assessed Grades” based on teacher predictions. While Scotland has cancelled some exams in 2021, and Wales appear to have arranged for something akin to exams to take place in a classroom setting, the English Government remains adamant that their exams will go ahead as planned. This strategy is not without its problems, but with some important adjustments, it’s still the best and fairest way to assess pupils.

Primary and secondary schools closed their doors in late March 2020 and only fully re-opened 6 months later in September. Schooling has continued to be disrupted for many, when classes or other ‘bubbles’ have to self-isolate due to suspected COVID outbreaks, meaning that learning has to move online. This situation is likely to result in further unequal “learning loss” as a result of inequalities in-home learning environments, including technology to reliably access lessons online.

Recent work by Ofsted reported widespread learning loss as a result of these closures, with younger pupils returning to school having forgotten basic skills, and older children losing reading ability. But the loss is not evenly distributed; Ofsted reported that children with good support structures were doing better than those whose parents were unable to work flexibly. Several analyses (e.g. Andrew et al, 2020; Anders et al, 2020) back this up, reporting that pupils from better-off families spent more time on home learning, and were much more likely to have benefitted from online classes than those from poorer backgrounds. Work by the Sutton Trust found that children in households’ earnings more than £60,000 per year were twice as likely to be receiving tutoring during school closures compared to those earnings less than £30,000. While steps have been put in place to help pupils catch up, such as the pupil catch-up premium and the National Tutoring Programme, pupils this year will almost certainly be at a disadvantage compared to previous cohorts when they face this year’s exams, and the severity of disadvantage is likely to vary by family background.

While this might be evidence enough that exams should be cancelled this year, it is worth first considering that the alternatives:

  1. Continuous teacher assessment

Perhaps the most obvious alternative to exams is continuous teacher assessment, through the use of coursework, in-class testing and so on. This would negate the need for exams and would mean all students would receive a grade in the event that exams have to be cancelled due to a resurgence in the pandemic. Scotland has already committed to using teacher assessment instead of exams for their National 5s (equivalent to GCSEs) this year. While this does seem like a safe choice to replace exams, research has shown that teacher assessment can contain biases. For example, Burgess and Greaves (2013) compared teacher assessment versus exam performance at Key Stage 2, finding evidence of black and minority students being under-assessed by teachers, versus white students. Campbell (2015) similarly shows that teacher’s ratings of pupils’ reading and maths attainment at age 7 varies according to income, gender, Special Education Need, and ethnicity.

Using coursework to assess pupils (whether internally or externally marked and/or moderated) also risks interference from parents and schoolteachers, so that a pupil’s eventual grade could be more a reflection of the support they’ve received rather than their own achievements. And levels of support are likely to vary by SES, again putting those from poorer backgrounds at a disadvantage.

2. Teachers’ predictions

But sticking with exams is not without its risks. It is, after all, a pandemic, and the government could be forced to cancel exams at the last minute. If they leave it too late to implement continuous teacher assessment or an alternative form of external assessment then they will have to turn to more reactive measures – such as asking teachers to predict pupils’ grades (the method finally adopted for the 2020 GCSE and A level cohorts). This would at least have the advantage of being consistent with last year, but, again would likely result in biased measures of achievement. Predicted grades have been shown to be inaccurate, with the vast majority overpredicted (causing headaches for university admissions). However, work by Anders et al. (2020) and Murphy and Wyness (2020) showed that among high achieving pupils, those from low SES backgrounds and state schools are harder to predict and end up with lower predictions than their more advantaged counterparts.

3. A school leaving certificate?

There are more radical possibilities to consider. One is for schools to abandon assessment this year altogether, and to simply issue students with school leaving certificates, similar to that received in America for graduating high school. This would certainly level the playing field among school leavers. But it could lead to some big problems for what comes next. For example, without A level grades, how would universities decide which applicants to accept?  Under this scenario, admissions tutors would become increasingly reliant on ‘soft metrics’ such as personal statements, teacher references and interviews. This may also lead to the more widespread use of university entry tests, which are already in place at some institutions.  All of this is likely to be bad news for social mobility since the use of “soft metrics” has been shown to induce bias (Wyness, 2017; Jones, 2016) while there is very little evidence about the equity implications of using aptitude tests, except in highly specific settings (Anders, 2014) so the potential for unintended consequences is substantial.

But in theory, universities shouldn’t need to use entry tests – these pupils already have grades in national tests – their GCSEs. For this university entry cohort, they were sat before the pandemic, and are high-stakes, externally marked assessments. Indeed, Kirkup et al. (2010) find no evidence that the SAT (the most widely used aptitude test in the US) provides any additional evidence on performance once at university than using GCSE results on their own. Many universities already use GCSE grades as part of their admissions decision along with predicted A level grades. Yet these grades were measured two years ago now – and so will obviously miss any changes in performance since then. Indeed, recent work by Anders et al. (2020) suggests that GCSE performance is a poor predictor of where students are at, in terms of achievement, at the end of their A levels. Using administrative data and machine learning techniques, they predict A level performance using GCSEs, finding that only 1 in 3 pupils could be accurately predicted, and that certain groups of students (those from state schools and low SES backgrounds) appeared to be “underpredicted” by their GCSEs, going on to outperform at A level.

An alternative approach to exams?

The alternatives to exams raise many concerns, particularly for those from poor backgrounds. A better solution may be to design A level exams to take account of the learning loss and missed curricula experienced by pupils, and the fact that some pupils will have experienced this to different degrees. Ofqual was dismissive of this suggestion in their report on examinations for 2020/21, pointing to burden on exam boards among other factors, but while we take seriously the considerations they highlight, we think this underestimates the challenges of the status quo.

For all the headlines about Wales “cancelling” exams, from a first look, it appears that this is rather a simplistic summary. They are still planning to hold some kind of examination, which will be both externally set and externally marked, but when these will take place is now more flexible, and they will happen in class rather than in exam halls – ironically, removing the in-built social distancing normally associated with examinations. This kind of flexibility is needed in these difficult circumstances.

An alternative that has also been discussed in England is that exams could be redesigned so that the majority of questions are optional. In this way, they would look more like university finals, in which students are typically given a set of questions, and need only answer a subset of their choice – e.g. answer 2/7 questions. This would take account of the fact that pupils may have covered different aspects of the curricula but not all of it, since they need only answer the questions they are prepared for. While appreciating there are challenges with this approach, a carefully designed exam would at least provide pupils with a grade they have earned and would provide universities and employers with the information needed to assess applicants.

Universities should also be aware that students from different backgrounds will have experienced lockdown in very different ways, and those lacking school and parental support may still struggle to do well, even in well-modified exams. This could and should be tackled with the increased use of contextual admissions. Universities often cite fears that students from contextual backgrounds are more likely to arrive underprepared for university and risk failing their courses. But this year, lack of preparation for university may well be the norm, forcing universities to provide extra tuition and other assistance to help students get “up to speed”. There has never been more need, and more opportunity, for widespread contextual admissions.

The 11 Plus can be accurate or fair, but not both

IOE Editor16 October 2020

By Dr. Samuel Sims 

*This article originally appeared in Schools Week*

This week sees the climax of two elite competitive events: the French Open and the 11 Plus.

On Sunday, Nadal confirmed his status as the ‘King of Clay’ by winning a record thirteenth French Open. There was no aspect of the game in which he did not excel. His topspin made the ball bounce up rapidly off the clay. His nimble footwork allowed him to cover the long courts at Roland Garros. And his persistence paid dividends during the longer rallies. Nadal is the complete clay court player.

In the 11 Plus, which thousands of pupils sit today, primary school children compete for entry to selective grammar schools. They will slug it out over three sets of questions: English; maths; and ‘reasoning’. The test is designed to objectively determine those with the highest academic potential.

As with the tennis, the prizes on offer in the 11 Plus have changed over the years. Between the wars, examinations at age 11 were used to ration access to free secondary school places. When secondary education was extended to all in 1944, the test was used instead to allocate pupils to more academic (grammar) or less academic (‘modern’) secondary schools.

Likewise, the rules of the 11 Plus game have changed over time. Prior to 1944, headmasters would often decide who to admit based on wide-ranging interviews with pupils, which might cover history, science, or any other range of subjects.

Unsurprisingly, concerns emerged that pupils whose parents couldn’t answer such questions would themselves be disadvantaged. Others worried that the test incentivised “cramming.” In 1938 the Spens report, which laid the foundations for the post-war grammar school system, concluded that modern intelligence testing would be fairer, and should be used instead. Some local education authorities followed their recommendations.

In the decades following the war, the extent of middle class dominance in grammar schools became all too clear. To make matters worse, private tutors began offering preparation for the tests. Repeated attempts were made to ‘class proof’ the 11 Plus by removing any assessment of knowledge. Hence the emphasis on maths, comprehension, and abstract ‘verbal and non-verbal reasoning’ in today’s exam.

No sooner than the shift to intelligence testing began, however, its limitation started to become apparent. As early as 1947, the educationalist Brian Simon noticed the weak correlation between IQ and academic achievement among his own pupils.[1] In the same way that Nadal’s dominance results from a combination of skills and temperament, intelligence seemed to only be one part of what makes for the complete student.

Recently, the psychologist Sophie Von Stumm has identified the other elements. Synthesising data from eleven different studies, she found that the recipe for the ideal student is approximately two parts intelligence (IQ), to one part intellectual curiosity, and one part scholarly diligence.[2] In short, intelligence is only half the story.

This insight was not lost on pre-war Heads. John Paton, High Master of Manchester Grammar School in 1920, defended his admission interviews against accusations of social bias on the grounds that the conversations told him about a pupil’s hunger for knowledge, and ability to apply themselves academically.[3] Paton was also looking for Von Stumm’s other two ingredients of academic potential.

So where does this leave the 11 Plus? At one extreme, we could design it to be a pure intelligence test. This would prevent pupils from highly-educated families gaining an advantage from the knowledge they pick up by osmosis at the dinner table, or the coaching they receive from private tutors.

But this would be a highly incomplete measure of academic potential. It would be like running a version of the French Open in which the players were only allowed to play forehand shots. The tournament would obviously fail to establish the best tennis player. Nadal might struggle to make the quarter finals.

Alternatively, we could include tests of students’ knowledge in a wider range of areas. This would no doubt better reflect their wider reading and studiousness up to that point. But history tells us that this would be socially unfair – like running the French Open with the less wealthy player forced to tie one hand behind their back.

The 11 Plus can either be an accurate measure of academic potential that is unfair. Or a socially fair test that is inaccurate. But it cannot be both. After a century of failed attempts to perfect the formula, perhaps it is time the 11 Plus retired from the game.

[1] Thom, D. (2004). Politics and the people: Brian Simon and the campaign against intelligence tests in British schools. History of Education33(5), 515-529.

[2] Von Stumm, S., Hell, B., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2011). The hungry mind: Intellectual curiosity is the third pillar of academic performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science6(6), 574-588.

[3] Sutherland, G. (1840). Measuring Intelligence: English Local Education Authorities and Mental Testing, 1919–1939. Biology, Medicine and Society1940, 315.

Predicted grades – what do we know, and why does it matter?

IOE Editor11 August 2020

By Dr. Gill Wyness

Whose grades are being predicted?

Predicted grades are a common feature of the English education system, with teachers’ predictions of pupils’ A level performance forming the basis of university applications each year.

What’s different this year?

The Covid-19 pandemic has put these predictions under the spotlight. The cancellation of exams means that all year 11 and year 13 pupils will instead receive ‘calculated grades’ based on teacher predictions.

How well do teachers predict grades?

Teachers’ predicted grades have been shown to be inaccurate but the majority of inaccurate grades are over-predicted – in other words, too high.

  • There is limited research on the impact of predicted grades, though studies of prediction accuracy by individual grade (e.g. how many A’s were predicted to be A’s) by Delap (1994) and Everett and Papageourgiou (2011) showed around half of all predictions were accurate, while 42-44% were over-predicted by at least one grade, and only 7-11% of all predicted grades were under-predicted.
  • Studies of prediction accuracy according to a student’s best three A levels show even higher rates of inaccuracy (unsurprisingly, since it is harder to predict all three A levels correctly). For example, Wyness and Murphy find that only 16% of students received accurate predictions for all three, with 75% overpredicted and just 8% underpredicted.

Who loses out?

Lower achieving students tend to be overpredicted; higher achieving students tend to be more accurately predicted.

  • All studies find that higher grades are more accurately predicted than lower grades. This is likely an artefact of the combination of teachers’ tendency to overpredict coupled with ceiling effects. Overprediction is impossible for the top grades so accuracy is the consequence.
  • Thus, AAA students are likely to be accurately predicted (or underpredicted) whereas CCC students are more likely to be overpredicted.
  • It is therefore essential to take into account the achievement level of the student when analysing prediction accuracy by student characteristics. For example, low SES students tend to be lower-achieving, on average. Therefore, low SES students tend to be overpredicted on average, while high SES students tend to be more accurately predicted (this is shown by Wyness and Murphy).

So are teachers biased?

There is little evidence of bias in prediction accuracy according to student characteristics.

  • The majority of the studies above show no compelling evidence of bias in teacher prediction by student characteristics, once achievement is taken into account.
  • Though Wyness and Murphy show that among high achievers, state school students receive slightly less generous predictions than those in independent schools and that those from low SES backgrounds receive slightly less generous grades than those from high SES backgrounds
  • This was not a causal finding, and other factors could be driving this apparent bias.

What’s going wrong, then?

Predicting student grades is a near-impossible task for teachers

  • Work by Anders et al (2020) highlighted the difficulty of predicting grades accuracy. In this study, the authors attempted to predict A level grades using detailed administrative data on student prior achievement (GCSE) and both statistical and machine learning techniques. Their models could correctly predict 1 in 4 pupils across their best three A levels, versus 1 in 5 for teacher predictions (based on Murphy and Wyness, 2020).
  • Their predictions were incorrect for 74% of pupils.

That’s not great. What else do we know?

Certain pupil types appear harder to predict than others

  • Anders et al also found that high achieving pupils in comprehensive schools were more likely to be underpredicted by their models, compared to their grammar and private school counterparts. This highlights the difficult task that teachers face each year, particularly for pupils with more variable trajectories from GCSE to A level.

Can’t we remove the teacher and calculate grades based on past performance?

The ‘calculated grades’ for 2020 are not just based on teacher predictions.

  • Schools have provided predicted grades and pupil rankings (which are known to be easier to produce than predicted grades).
  • These predicted grades may also be more accurate than in previous years, since teachers were given better guidelines on how to predict, and what information to use
  • Ofqual will standardise teachers’ predicted grades according to the centre’s historical performance. this will reduce the tendency towards overprediction that all studies of predicted grades have observed. For example, if a school historically awards 60% of Bs on average, they will be expected to do so this year, and grades will be downgraded to reflect this.
  • But teachers’ rankings will be preserved so that pupils cannot “change places” after the standardisation.

Scotland have promised to re-think standardising results based on the school. What will happen in England?

  • It’s a controversial point. Our paper shows that high-achieving comprehensive school pupils are more likely to be under-predicted compared to their grammar and private school counterparts.
  • Among high achievers, where under-prediction is most common, the team found 23% of comprehensive school pupils were underpredicted by two or more grades compared to just 11% of grammar and private school pupils.”

What if a student who does less well earlier goes on to study really hard? Isn’t this unfair?

“Outlier” students and disadvantaged students could potentially be disproportionately affected by the standardization process

  • The standardization process could affect outlier pupils more than others
  • For example, an AAA student at a historically low performing school could be downgraded as a result of standardization
  • And a DDD student at a high performing school could be upgraded
  • This could serve to entrench existing socio-economic gaps in pupil attainment to the extent that low SES students are more likely to attend historically low performing schools, and high SES students are more likely to attend high performing schools

So what should we do about it?

The cancellation of exams this year has highlighted that the system of using predicted grades as a key part of the university application process urgently needs reform.

  • the research above highlights that predicting student grades, even removing teachers from the equation, and instead using detailed data on pupils’ past achievement is a near-impossible task.
  • A better solution would be to reform the university applications system and allow students to apply to university after they have sat their exams
References
Gill, T., & Benton, T. (2015). The accuracy of forecast grades for OCR A levels in June 2014. Statistics Report Series No. 90. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Assessment.
Delap, M. R. (1994). An investigation into the accuracy of A‐level predicted grades. Educational Research, 36(2), 135-148.
Everett & Papageorgiou (2011), “Investigating the Accuracy of Predicted A Level Grades as part of 2009 UCAS Admission Process”, BIS Research Paper No 37, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, London.
Murphy, R., & Wyness, G. (2020). “Minority Report: the impact of predicted grades on university admissions of disadvantaged groups”. Education Economics, 1-18.
UCAS (2015). “Factors associated with predicted and achieved A level attainment”, University and College Admissions Service, Gloucestershire

Staying ambitious, motivated and focused during Year 11 is worth half a grade per GCSE subject

IOE Editor20 July 2020

New research shows the impact that drive and ambition can have

By Professor John Jerrim 

Much has been written recently about learning loss and the COVID-19 crisis. With the country locked down and schools shut, some children are bound to have learned less over this period than others.

It has been noted that learning loss is likely to particularly affect the life chances of young people with high-stakes examinations next year, such as those entering Year 11 in the autumn.

All other things being equal, those who are motivated, driven to succeed and ambitious are likely to have continued to work hard in their studies even while their school was closed. On the other hand, those pupils who are less motivated and have no clear post-school targets or plans, may well have taken their foot off the pedal.

But how much does being driven and ambitious during Year 11 really matter for GCSE outcomes, even in normal times?

Quite a lot, it turns out.

Unique data

New research of mine (along with my colleagues Nikki Shure and Gill Wyness), published today, looks at a nationally representative cohort of Year 11s who took their GCSEs in 2016, and considers their ‘drive’ (e.g. how they responded to questions such as ‘I want top grades in most or all of my courses’ and ‘I want to be the best, whatever I do’) and their ambition (measured by whether they want to go to university and, if so, which one they want to attend). They answered these questions in November/December of Year 11 – around six months before taking their GCSEs.

From this, we can compare GCSE outcomes for Year 11 pupils who score highest on these measures (e.g. who say they want to be the best at what they do and plan to apply to an Oxbridge university) to their school peers who lack any such motivation. Importantly, we can also account for a wide array of background differences between such teenagers, such as their levels of prior achievement, socio-economic background and the school that they attend.

The results show that drive and ambition really do matter during Year 11. Ambitious and driven young people achieve – on average – around half a grade higher per subject in their GCSEs than comparable Year 11s, with the same level of prior achievement, who are not determined to succeed.

Implications

What does this finding imply?

First, even during ‘normal’ times, motivation and determination in Year 11 matters a lot. Clearly, there is only so much that schools, teachers and parents can do. At the end of the day, the buck stops with young people themselves.

Second, in the current climate, this provides one clear reason why educational inequalities in GCSE grades may widen next year. During this last term – with schools not open to most children – the onus has been placed upon young people to continue putting in the hours on their school work. The driven and the ambitious pupils will have done this. Those lacking motivation and direction will not have.

It would therefore be no surprise at all if the gap in GCSE outcomes between such teenagers increases dramatically next academic year.

You can read the full research here.

10 things you may not know about educational inequality

IOE Editor15 June 2020

1. There are large inequalities in the home learning environment

Families from lower socio-economic backgrounds may experience challenges in supporting their child’s home learning. For example through:

  • Limited access to resources(including tech devices);
  • Lack of reliable and fast Internet connection;
  • Low levels of parental numeracy and literacy;
  • Anxieties towards learning (especially maths).

Current evidence suggests it is important to focus on the quality of children’s home learning, rather than simply the quantity. 

2. Parental inputs affect early child development

By the time children start school, socio-economic gaps are evident in child skills. Exploring the role of various parental inputs, we find that financial resources are an important channel, explaining up to 59% of the effect on child cognitive skills. Parental investments of health behaviours during pregnancy and monetary investments at home explain a further 14% of the test score gaps.

3. Jobless parents invest less money but more time in their children’s learning

Parents out of work, but with otherwise similar backgrounds to working parents, provide lower monetary investments but more time investments in their children’s learning, such as helping with homework. These findings could help guide future social policy aimed at equalising opportunities for children living in workless households.

4. There are large inequalities in the courses that university students attend, by family background.

We examine inequalities in the match between student quality and university quality. We find that students from lower socio-economic groups systematically undermatch, that secondary schools play a key role in generating these gaps, and that while there are negligible gender gaps in the academic match, high-attaining women systematically undermatch in terms of expected earnings, largely driven by subject choice.

5. There is a great deal of inaccuracy in predicted grades.

Only 16% of applicants’ to the UK University system have predicted grades that are accurate. While 75% of applicants have their grades over-predicted, high-attaining, disadvantaged students are significantly more likely to receive under-predictions. Those under-predicted candidates are more likely to enrol in courses for which they are overqualified than their peers. The use of predicted rather than actual grades has important implications for student’s labour market outcomes and social mobility in general.

6. Non-monetary incentives can improve teacher retention.

The French have a non-pecuniary (non-money based), “career-path oriented” centralized incentive scheme designed to attract and retain teachers in French disadvantaged schools. We find this incentive scheme has a statistically significant positive effect on the number of consecutive years teachers stay in disadvantaged schools and decreases the probability of inexperienced teachers in disadvantaged schools to leave the profession.

7. Teacher’s working hours have remained stable despite initiatives to reduce them

Surveys have revealed that teachers in England work far longer hours than their international counterparts. However, contrary to current narrativeswe do not find evidence that average working hours have increased. Indeed, we find no notable change in total hours, work during evenings and weekends over the fifteen to twenty years. The results suggest that policy initiatives have so far failed to reduce teachers’ working hours and that more radical action may need to be taken in order to fix this problem. The article concludes with a discussion of how official data on working hours could be improved.

8. There are large inequalities in who accesses grammar schools

Inequalities exist in who attains places at grammar schools by socio-economic status, with more disadvantaged children far less likely to attend a grammar school than their more advantaged peers. This is true even when comparing those with similar levels of academic achievement. 

9. Private school choices are based on values, not just money

Given the high and rising fees required to send a child to private school, one might think that the decision is entirely connected with financial resources. However, while these remain an important factor, we argue that other determinants are also important. In particular, we highlight the importance of parental values and geographical proximity to choosing high-quality state school alternatives. 

10. Bullying casts a long shadow on attainment

Both type of bullying and its intensity matters for long-run outcomes such as obtaining a degreeincome, and mental health. We can assess the effects of bullying victimisation on short- and long-term outcomes, including educational achievements, earnings, and mental ill-health at age 25 years.