Schools inequality: what works

All right. Something useful happened at the Liberal Democrat spring conference in York last week. There was a fringe meeting, at which Stephen Tall spoke about his work for the Education Endowment Foundation.

The EEF is interested in what works in reducing educational inequality, which is something on which the UK has a worse record than many comparable countries, although there is some evidence that the gap closed a bit during the New Labour years.

The notes for Tall’s speech are excellent. Here are two of his lists.

Things that don’t help:

• reducing class sizes is a poor way to spend money if you want to boost attainment;

• setting or streaming classes by ability has a negative impact on children’s attainment; and

• teaching assistants, on average, make little difference to the attainment of pupils, and can sometimes even have a negative impact on pupils’ attainment.

Things that might help, and on which the EEF is running randomised controlled trials (that is, testing the effect of the change against a control group which is kept the same):

• Does learning music help children academically? Plenty of correlational evidence it does. But very little causational evidence. So we’re testing in 15 primary schools whether singing in a choir or playing a musical instrument has a knock-on impact on children’s attainment.

• Can a behavioural programme focusing on pupils with prior records of truancy and exclusion not only help solve their behavioural problems but also improve their academic performance? We’re testing that in 40 secondary schools in London.

• Does teaching children to play chess boost their attainment in maths? We’re testing that in 100 primary schools across five cities.

• Can peer observation by teachers, using a programme called Lesson Study, improve practice? We’re testing that in 80 primary schools across England.

• We’re testing controversial topics, such as incentives. Do pupils respond to financial or other rewards? Will parents engage more with their children’s education if they’re paid to take time off work to attend classes which equip them with the skills to support their children?

• Do Saturday schools actually improve attainment? [Please, no. – My comment on behalf of all children everywhere.]

• Do volunteering programmes like the Duke of Edinburgh Award boost attainment?

• Can a school improvement programme modelled on London Challenge work outside London in narrowing the attainment gap?

• What impact, if any, does giving children a nutritional breakfast have?

More, please.



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