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Exams: changing the rules of the game while you are playing will not rebuild trust

Blog Editor, IOE Digital26 February 2021

Melanie Ehren.

In December last year, Ofqual announced a new expert group to rebuild trust in the exam system. The group is to look into how data on schools’ and students’ performance could be “better and more widely shared”, thereby prising open the box of secrets containing the data and processes that drive the awarding of exam grades.

The group’s appointment could not come at a better time; Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has since announced that teachers’ estimated grades will replace cancelled GCSEs and A-levels in England this summer, saying that he would “trust in teachers rather than algorithms”, a reference to last year’s exams U-turn. Today, Government announced new plans for teacher assessed GCSEs, AS and A levels which will include a series of ‘mini-exams’.

But is this alternative approach the best way forward to rebuild trust in exams? Or do we need a wider set of strategies?

To answer the question, we first look at whose trust needs to be rebuilt. (more…)

To be transformed by research-informed practices, schools must have the right leaders

Blog Editor, IOE Digital11 February 2021

Qing Gu  and Simon Rea.

What does it take to transform practice, culture and outcomes in the schools that need it most? Our evaluation of the Education Endowment Foundation’s Research Schools Network shows that the essential ingredient is committed and strong leadership.

This national network was launched in September 2016, and the research schools (RS) are funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to share what they know about putting research into practice, and lead and support schools in their regions and beyond to make better use of evidence to improve teaching practices.

These schools’ primary purpose is not to conduct academic research in classrooms or schools. Rather, they help schools to access, understand, critique, and apply external evidence in their own contexts through disseminating newsletters, blogs and other materials. They also provide CPD and training in their areas. In essence, RSs are brokers between the EEF’s evidence and school practice.

Our evaluation report on the experiences of the first five RSs in their initial three years provides clear and (more…)

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

Blog Editor, IOE Digital8 February 2021

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…)

Location location location: how the ‘wrong’ one can put schools in a difficult spot and the right kind of inspection could help pull them out

Blog Editor, IOE Digital1 December 2020

Melanie Ehren, Jo Hutchinson and Bernie Munoz-Chereau.

Where schools are located can make a big difference to their outcomes, and the pandemic is making the geographical gap worse in a number of ways. In remote or deprived areas, parents often have limited access to the internet, and this has severely limited schools’ ability to teach online during lockdowns and closures.

Now that students have returned to school, teachers and school leaders are tasked with the enormous challenge of making up for lost time. In remote or deprived areas, these challenges are even greater. In its 2020 report on ‘stuck schools’ – those struggling to improve over more than a decade – Ofsted looked at how location – particularly geographical remoteness and level of deprivation – relates to school performance. The Inspectorate said ‘a system of deeper inspection and better support’ was needed to improve education for children in these schools. This emphasis in tackling schools that are deemed less than ‘good’ is sustained in  Ofsted Annual Report 2019-2020 launched today.

Now more than ever, inspection needs to use place-based approaches to take into account the related challenges. Assessment of (more…)

Does class size matter? We’ll get a better answer if we rethink the debate

Blog Editor, IOE Digital13 November 2020

Peter Blatchford and Anthony Russell.

For many teachers, large classes present problems which adversely affect their practice and their pupils’ learning. This is what our surveys show. But researchers and commentators often have a different view. For them the class size debate can be summed up with the question: does class size affect pupil attainment?

As we show in our new open access book, ‘Rethinking Class Size: The Complex Story of Impact on Teaching and Learning’, published by UCL Press this week, researchers (contrary to a practitioner view) commonly find that the statistical association between class size and attainment is not marked and so conclude that class size does not matter much. This has led some to even suggest that we could raise class sizes, and instead invest savings in professional development for teachers. Currently, in the wake of the Covid pandemic and teacher absences, there are reports of some schools being forced to create supersized classes of 60 pupils.

The view that class size is not important is probably the predominant view among researchers and policy makers, and so they may be relatively relaxed about increases in class size. We therefore need – more than ever – good quality evidence on class size effects, but in our view much research is limited and leads to misleading conclusions.

We identify three problems. (more…)

How the COVID-19 home-schooling experience can boost creativity and enhance teacher feedback

Blog Editor, IOE Digital9 October 2020

Sara Bubb.

You might expect that the lockdown imposed by Covid-19 last spring would undermine schools’ progress in engaging pupils with more creative teaching and learning. But in the Norwegian municipality where I am involved in school improvement, this has not been the case at all.

Much has been written about the negative impact of the pandemic on pupils’ education but research that I conducted with Mari-Ana Jones has found much to celebrate about remote teaching and learning.

When the Covid-19 lockdown hit, it looked like a severe obstacle to the gains in creative teaching made between September and March, but surveys in April 2020 of teachers, parents and carers and pupils aged 6-9 and 10-16 showed that was far from the case. There was more creative learning, better progress, more useful feedback and greater student independence. School leaders (more…)

Moving up to secondary school during a pandemic is difficult. Here are some ways for teachers to help

Blog Editor, IOE Digital4 September 2020

 Sandra Leaton Gray and Jane Perryman.

When researchers visit schools to ask young people about their experiences of moving up to secondary school, there are a number of repeating themes. They are excited by the idea of new school uniforms, learning new subjects in specialist rooms, using special equipment, meeting new teachers, joining interesting clubs, and making new friends.

However, moving up to secondary school can also cause young people to develop worries. Things like getting lost on a large school site, having lots of homework, being bullied, and not having enough friends will often cause concern. Schools are well aware of this phenomenon, of course, and generally handle young people’s anxieties very well, which means that by the end of the first term, the vast majority have settled into their new educational homes and can barely remember what it was like being at primary school. The strategies used by secondary schools to encourage this settling in process include liaising closely with primary staff, welcoming Year 6 pupils in for taster days, and visiting them in their primary schools. It’s a robust formula based on research into the relationship between adolescent development, socialisation and school attainment, and it’s something UK schools usually do pretty well.

This year it’s very different. Many young people have not been in school since March, and others have had little (more…)

Choosing welfare over worksheets and care over ‘catch-up’: teachers’ priorities during lockdown

Blog Editor, IOE Digital3 July 2020

Alice Bradbury and Sam Duncan.

Teachers’ working lives changed dramatically under lockdown, with a sudden shift to providing work for children at home or teaching small groups at school. At the same time, our research suggests, their priorities may also have changed. As we enter a new phase of the COVID-19 crisis, planning for the autumn term needs to take into account the importance teachers place on care over ‘catch-up’.

Our project, ‘A duty of care and a duty to teach: educational priorities in response to the COVID-19 crisis’, explores how schools have been operating during this unique period of sudden and dramatic changes to daily life, and how these changes have affected primary teachers’ and school leaders’ thinking about education. Our first set of findings arise from a survey conducted in May via TeacherTapp, involving 1,653 participants.

The survey results reveal that teachers’ primary concern at the start of lockdown was with pupil welfare. When asked about their priorities in communicating with parents, the most popular option was checking how families are coping in terms of basic food, health and emotional needs. Headteachers in particular were regularly involved in (more…)

Covid-19 and schools – a moment to act

Blog Editor, IOE Digital19 June 2020

 IOE Events

The Covid-19 pandemic has been catastrophic for schooling, as it has been for many areas of society. But its order of magnitude has also revealed in no uncertain terms some very clear and convincing priorities for action, from which much good could follow.  That was the main message from our debate What if… our education system changed for good in light of COVID-19? Part 1: schools, with Mary Bousted, Jon Coles, Natalie Perera and Mrunal Sisodia.

So, what, in our panelists’ view, have been the main lessons from the pandemic, and what impetus for change has it presented? In most cases the lessons ran far larger than the catch-up tuition currently to the fore of the education policy response to Covid-19.  

Some lessons related to the harsh light that Covid-19 has shone on levels of inequality in our society and the fragility of many families: the need to keep hold of the current focus on addressing those inequalities and the attainment gap they generate; the need to recognise that schools are not just about education but also hubs for their communities, hubs that many families have come to rely upon more and more, as other services have been cut.
(more…)

Schools never shut: the extraordinary lengths teachers have been going to in supporting children during lockdown

Blog Editor, IOE Digital11 June 2020

Alice Bradbury.

There has been much discussion in the news about schools ‘re-opening’ in the last few weeks; however, schools have never been ‘closed’ during the COVID-19 crisis, and in fact, teachers have been working incredibly hard to support their communities during the lockdown period.

As well as continuing to teach the children of key workers and vulnerable children, including through school holidays, staff have been engaged in a variety of activities which stretch far beyond their normal roles, as our research in the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Pedagogy (HHCP) has shown.

Our mission in HHCP is to improve children’s lives through pedagogy; during this crisis, we have prioritised supporting parents at home (through campaigns such as our ‘Get children thinking’  project) and – the focus here – documenting the experiences of staff in schools and the early years sector. We have spoken to and surveyed leaders across the field of primary and early years education, gathering fascinating testimonies of the experiences of the (more…)