What is it about?
Government policy in relation to educational achievement in England is strongly focussed on school quality and school structures. Schools falling below ‘floor standards’ are closed and turned into academies and new school types such as ‘free schools’ have been introduced. While it is well established that there are different levels of effectiveness across schools even after controlling for intake characteristics, it does not follow that ‘failing’ schools are the driver of equity gaps in achievement. This study addresses the following questions: How much does variation between schools contribute to unequal student outcomes in relation to characteristics of ethnicity, socio-economic status or gender? Do schools that achieve well in one curriculum area (e.g. English) also achieve well in others (e.g. in maths or science)? Are schools that are effective in one year (i.e. with one cohort) also effective in subsequent years (i.e. with different cohorts)? The study addresses these questions through multi-level modelling of school effects for a sample of over 6,000 students attending 57 mainstream primary schools in an inner London Borough.
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Why is it important?
The Government should abandon ‘floor standards’ that expect the same educational outcomes for all schools regardless of their intake. Such standards do not recognise the scale of the challenge for schools with low attaining or socio-economically disadvantaged intakes while engendering complacency and coasting among schools with more advantaged intakes. If schools are to be assessed for their contribution to student outcomes this should be through the reintroduction of Contextualised Value Added (CVA) measures abandoned in 2011. Regarding equity gaps, the government should abandon its focus on between-school factors, particularly on school structures such as academies and free schools. There is little evidence that school structures are the root of inequality in England today (beyond the selective and private systems) or that equity gaps vary in size in more or less effective schools. Policy to remediate achievement gaps needs to focus on within-school processes, such as setting and teacher allocation, and with engagement with the home and wider community outside the school. The Government is right to have a redistributive programme of resourcing as represented by the Pupil Premium Grant. However large equity gaps exist before children start school and funding needs to be further targeted towards pre-school and the early years in order to have long term impact. The Government has made welcome moves in this direction. For example in 2014/15 for the first time the Pupil Premium for primary school pupils (£1300) outstripped that for secondary pupils (£950), and an Early Years Pupil Premium has been introduced. This research challenges the implicit assumption that school effects are large, stable over time and consistent across subjects. While the correlations are generally moderate for schools results in different subject domains or over time, they are by no means perfect. In particular schools’ scores (both raw and value-added) for English proved extremely unstable over time. This may well have arisen from the unreliability of the writing component which was removed in 2013. Given the extent of year to year variability greater emphasis should be given to calculating three year rolling averages for all outcomes in performance tables, particularly in the primary sector.
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This page is a summary of: Do some schools narrow the gap? Differential school effectiveness revisited, Review of Education, February 2016, Wiley, DOI: 10.1002/rev3.3054.
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