RANDOMISED CONTROL TRIALS AND CLOSING THE ATTAINMENT GAP

Closing the  attainment gap by encouraging more school based research

Comment

In our last report we mentioned the growing importance attached in education to Randomised Control Trials, (RCTs) and  the work of Dr Ben Goldacre which are   all part of the drive to spread and  embed evidence led practice in schools. There are also initiatives in place to encourage teachers to become more involved in research, particularly as so much more data is being generated within the system and within individual schools as part of the accountability framework. There has been  a tradition of some  support for  in-school practical research conducted by practicing teachers (and school leaders).  But there is a growing belief that this can and should be extended and up-scaled. If teachers can collaborate effectively in research they can  help improve their own teaching practice  but   also  help spread it across the self-improving school system. The work of John Hattie has focused on how crucial it is that teachers use up to date research on what interventions work best  in the classroom, to improve student outcomes.  The goal is to help close the attainment gaps whilst improving the evidence-base, stimulating robust research and development in and across  schools.

CfBT Education Trust  is  involved in an  NCTL programme, in partnership with CUREE and Oxford and Durham Universities, training schools to conduct their own small scale randomised controlled trials as  part of the school improvement approach in  Closing the Gap: Test and Learn.  This represents a major shift in teacher-led research approaches.

So what actually  is ‘Closing the Gap: Test and Learn’ :

The purpose of the Closing the Gap: Test and Learn programme is to provide opportunities for schools to undertake rigorous research, so that:

  • successful approaches to supporting the academic success of the most disadvantaged children are identified and spread
  • stronger links are created between the teaching profession and universities, helping to develop the academic standing of the teaching profession overall

By the end of the programme around 200 participating teaching schools will have led randomised controlled trials in over 700 trial site schools as part of their role as local development and improvement hubs.

The vision for the programme is to:

  • further embed changes so that engagement in research is reinforced as an important part of teachers’ practice
  • support and enable teachers to inform own practice through use of robust evidence, with a direct impact on educational outcomes for their pupils
  • complement work supported by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and wider efforts to develop an evidence-informed teaching profession

Research development and networking events are training schools to use small-scale RCTs and in November 2014 early adopters of an RCT approach to teacher-led research will be able to apply for a grant to conduct research.

The  interventions that are part of the large-scale trials (preliminary results will be available in September 2014 for 5 of these) are:

1stClass@Number

1stClass@Number is delivered by trained teaching assistants to small groups of pupils in Year 3 who have fallen behind in mathematics. Teaching assistants (TAs) work with pupils for eight weeks using detailed lesson plans and adapting them according to information gained from structured assessments.

Growth Mindsets

Approaches to teaching and learning aimed at creating ‘growth mindsets’ have developed from the research by Carol Dweck which shows that teacher and student beliefs about intelligence impact on learning.

Inference Training

Inference training helps students make meaning as they read. This involves learning vocabulary, using their background knowledge, making inferences and building up meaning.

Numicon

The Numicon approach is built on the work of Catherine Stern, using multi-disciplinary/multi-sensory approaches, making use of apparatus and focusing on action, imagery and conversation.

Response to Intervention

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of pupils from Years 6 to 8 with learning and behaviour needs who are not achieving the age-expected level in literacy.

Research Lesson Study

Lesson Study is a structured professional development process in which teachers systematically examine their practice and work together to improve it. Teachers work collaboratively on a small number of ‘study lessons’, in a plan-teach-observe-critique cycle.  This intervention was developed in year 1 of the programme and is being trialled in year 2.

(Source-Acknowledgement to Richard Churches of CFBT Education Trust) and

http://www.curee.co.uk/CTG

RANDOMISED CONTROL TRIALS IN EDUCATION -WHY?

RANDOMISED TRIALS-WHY?

Comment

Matthew Syed ,in the Times on 15 August ,in a piece arguing the importance of randomised control  trials, posed the question -what  is  ‘the most effective way of improving education in sub-Saharan Africa: more textbooks, illustrated flipcharts or de-worming medication? Lots of people had lots of different answers, but they didn’t really know until a trial was conducted. The result? De-worming worked best, by far.

Why? Because the books were not of much value to these kids, as their English wasn’t good enough. And, besides, they were absent the whole time because of illnesses caused by intestinal worms. Getting them into school with cheap, effective medication transformed outcomes. Who would have guessed it? Without a trial, nobody.’

Some now see randomised controlled trials (RCTs) as the gold standard for evidence-based educational practice.

Politicians aided by educators have too often in the past conceived new educational policy which is then enthusiastically accepted and applied.  There is then a belated recognition that it might be necessary to show that said policy actually works. Evaluation then takes place long after the untested intervention is already  widely in  use.

In a randomised control trial, study participants are randomly assigned to one of two groups: the experimental group receiving the intervention that is being tested and a comparison group (control) which receives a conventional treatment, or placebo. They have been widely used in the medical profession for some time after it was discovered that some treatments that had been widely used for years were actually harming rather than curing patients. The reason was that they had not been properly evaluated and tested, using for example, RCT.

Dr Ben Goldacre, a doctor and researcher, and keen advocate of RCTs, has argued that  high-quality research into different approaches should be embedded as seamlessly as possible into everyday activity in education. He says this would not only benefit pupils but increase teachers’ independence. Drawing on comparisons between education and medicine, he said medicine had ‘leapt forward’ by creating a simple infrastructure that supports evidence-based practice, making it commonplace.

The DFE  last year announced some  RCTs including one on school attainment in mathematics and science and Safeguarding Assessment and Analysis Framework (SAAF) child protection assessment tool.

The National College for Teaching and Leadership is also encouraging teachers with a track record of reducing the attainment gap to put forward their best strategies for rigorous testing, using research methods including RCTs. The £4 million research scheme ‘Closing the gap: test and learn’ was launched in 2013. It will see a number of strategies analysed to establish which are the most effective and could be replicated across the country. It is anticipated that up to 1,000 schools and many more teachers could be involved in the project. Initial findings are due to be published this year

 

The Department for Education has also of course  allocated £135 million to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to improve quantitative data available in education.

GOVERNORS AND ACCOUNTABILITY-ON THE FRONT LINE

 

Autonomous schools system places school governors at centre of reforms and accountability

Comment

Our school system relies heavily on volunteering governors to enable it to function .If you want to see the much vaunted  ‘Big Society’ at work, maybe its worth looking at  what  the army of volunteer governors do, day in day out.  A recent White Paper described School governors as “the unsung heroes of our education system”. There are some 300,000 school governors, which makes them one of the largest volunteer forces in the country.  A report published by CfBT Education Trust (The ‘hidden givers’: a study of school governing bodies in England, University of Bath 2010) found that school governors give an enormous amount to the education system in England, though their contribution is largely hidden from public view. It also found, reinforcing the message that governing bodies role is vital, that ‘the lack of a capable governing body is not a neutral absence for a school; it is a substantial disadvantage.’ The message is that governors play an important role not just in the governance of a school, but also in delivering accountability and as levers to help improve student outcomes.

But governors don’t have it easy. More is now being expected of them in terms of their legal responsibilities and their work load (and therefore their time) their skills and their training.

This at a time when schools in disadvantaged areas are finding it hard to recruit high quality governors and there is a growing awareness that the quality of governing bodies varies considerably countrywide.

Since 2010 an unprecedented number of schools have converted to academy status and therefore opted out of LEA control.  So, Local government power has been rolled back to allow all schools to be administratively self-governing or ‘autonomous’. The dilution of the  local government  role has in turn, given rise to demands for better governance. Governors are now subject to  inspection and there is an on-going drive to professionalize all Governing Bodies (GBs). One rather obvious consequence of this transfer of power and responsibility from central government to schools  can be seen in the  increased legal responsibility and (limited) liability for school governors..

The concurrent drive to professionalise governors and GBs  is about ensuring that there are ‘skilled’ governors; in other words, a strong GB is one which is structured with particular people with certain skills sets, preferably those who possess knowledge of business but also finance and law. The logic being that skilled governors are more likely to give informed advice to the Head, although this could undermine the traditionally strong links between governors and the local community.

The government now insists on the inspection of all GBs .  All Ofsted reports, for example, now include an evaluation of school governors in the section on leadership and management. Governors are typically assessed on whether they demonstrate sufficient knowledge or understanding of school budget and performance data. Therefore, school governors are evaluated on their preparedness and willingness to hold senior leadership to account. This is justified on straightforward accountability grounds but also as integral to the reform process as governors are seen to  have a key role in helping to drive up student performance.

To complement and support the professionalization of school governors, a variety of  ‘third sector’ agencies  offering technical support, advice and guidance on how GBs might conduct themselves efficiently and effectively.  The National Governors Association, Freedom and Autonomy for Schools – National Association, Ten Governor Support, School Governors’ One-Stop Shop, and Modern Governor are among the most well-known . Quite a lot of this support is very high quality and  on -going reforms   mean that it is extremely important that this technical advice is easily available,  to ensure that governors can use their new found freedoms effectively  but also to ensure that what they do  is  within the law and adheres to guidance.

To assist school governors in their role, Ofsted have created the Ofsted Schools Data Dashboard (OSDD). http://dashboard.ofsted.gov.uk/

The OSDD provides, in an accessible format, decontextualized results for each school based on student achievement levels for Key Stages 1–4. Data for ‘Similar schools’ and ‘All schools’ is represented graphically in quintiles sorted according to five categories where top quintile equals good and bottom quintile equals bad. OSDD is intended ‘for governors and schools to use in their drive for improvement’ (Ofsted website). In addition, Ofsted have introduced RAISEonline, an online digital archive of reports and analysis of attainment and progress levels for all schools, which schools in turn are encouraged to use as part of the self-evaluation process.

So, while the official role of school governors  remains  to hold senior leadership to account for the financial and educational performance of their  school, school governors are themselves held  more personally to account (by Ofsted and senior leadership who conduct a skills audit, for example) than they have ever been before,  for their schools and students performance. They will also find that although their schools might have ‘autonomy’  the robust accountability framework, regulatory requirements and centrally driven interventions mean that the degree to which they can exercise that autonomy is ,in practice, circumscribed.

While Ministers are keen to attract better and more highly skilled governors, particularly into the most disadvantaged areas, and are encouraging business leaders to put forward their top executives as governors, many may balk at the increased demands being made of governors and the risk reward ratio. In this environment how do  you incentivise the very best to become governors? Appealing to their altruism and community spirit may not be sufficient, and the governments reforms may, paradoxically, make it even harder to attract the best people as school governors.  This is a challenge that the government needs to address.

ACCOUNTABILITY AND REGIONAL COMMISSIONERS

 System  Up and Running by September

Comment

Ministers believe that arrangements for the management of academies and free schools will be enhanced by the collective expertise and wisdom of eight regional schools commissioners, supported by their head teacher boards.

Two RSCs are already in place and the other six start this September. DFE have also strengthened the guidance for local authorities on intervening in maintained schools, and ‘inspections are undertaken using a risk-based approach, with more frequent inspections for those schools not performing well.’ Critics suggest that the system, though better than before, when the SOS was directly responsible for all schools,  simply establishes another layer of bureaucracy without significantly improving accountability.

David Blunkett, who produced a report for Labour,  says that he wants to have between 80 and 150 directors of school standards, all supported by their own bureaucracies. Tories argue that many of these will simply be recycled local authority people. Certainly in terms of school improvement, local authorities historically, have a very  mixed record.  The Tories are keen on encouraging the emergence of regional multi-academy trusts, which are proving particularly effective, they believe, in delivering both accountability and improved outcomes. But MATs, as   recent Sutton Trust research shows, vary in their  impact on student outcomes  and most schools,  of course ,are not part of any Trust.

The actual cost of running the regional schools commissioners system will be something in the order of £5 million. Tories claim that the Blunkett proposals have not been properly costed and will, in practice,  be much more expensive.

The newly appointed regional school commissioners are as follows:

  • North: Janet Renou, currently Executive Head, Skipton Girls’ High School
  • East Midlands and Humber: Jenny Bexon-Smith, currently Executive Principal, Tudor Grange Academies Trust
  • South West: Sir David Carter, currently CEO, Cabot Learning Federation
  • North East London and the East of England: Dr Tim Coulson, currently Director of Education, Essex County Council
  • North West London and South Central: Martin Post, currently Headmaster, Watford Grammar School for Boys
  • South London and South East: Dominic Herrington, currently Director of Academies Group, Department for Education
  • West Midlands: Pank Patel, currently Headteacher, Wood Green Academy
  • Lancashire and West Yorkshire: Paul Smith, currently Executive Principal, Parbold Douglas Church of England Academy and Teaching School

The Commissioners take key decisions regarding academies and free schools in their Regions, on behalf of the Secretary of State. Each RSC will be advised by a headteacher board (HTB) made up of four elected academy headteachers and experienced professional leaders, to provide sector expertise and local knowledge.

ARE ACADEMIES COLLABORATING WITH OTHER SCHOOLS ?

The short answer is Yes they are.

Over a fifth (22%) received support from academies from a different trust to their own

Almost all academies rated as outstanding support other schools

Comment

A key aim of the education reforms is to increase the level of interaction between schools. Effective collaboration between schools and groups of schools is seen as the best way to improve student outcomes and teachers’ professional development. Academies are expected to provide school-to-school support and there is some evidence that this is happening, at least according to recent DFE research.

The research   looks at how   academies are using their autonomy to improve outcomes. The research states ‘The level of support offered by academies to other schools is one of the most prominent findings from the research. The vast majority of converter academies have started to support schools which there were not before conversion.’

One of the reasons academies join Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) is to formalise the support they give and receive. As would be expected, those in MATs are more likely to offer a wider range of support to other schools. But, and this is key,’ there is evidence of academies in MATs supporting not only the schools in their trust but also standalone  schools and even academies in other MATs.’

 Those receiving support were asked from where it came. It is interesting to note that although 60 per cent of academies in a MAT receiving support do so from others in their MAT, over a fifth (22%) received support from academies from a different trust to their own. Half of those in a MAT which were receiving support had done so from other partner academies. This suggests that MATs are not working in isolation from the rest of the local school system, and are actively working together to lead school improvement.

Academies are not feeling constrained by  geographical boundaries in the way some reported in the survey that they once did, and  some are reporting being able to work with like-minded schools from different areas.

This collaboration is felt to be helping to improve the education for pupils in the schools and academies involved. 87 per cent of academies support other schools (and, significantly 72 per cent support schools they did not support before becoming academies). Almost all academies rated outstanding by Ofsted support other schools (96 per cent).

Almost three quarters (72 per cent) offer joint practice development (e.g. lesson study).  Other support offered includes developing middle leadership (57 per cent), running CPD courses (56 per cent) and boosting senior leadership capacity (44 per cent). Just over a third have deployed an SLE, LLE or NLE (39 per cent) and 38 per cent have seconded teachers or leaders into other schools.

There are some differences between the support offered by type and phase of academy.

Converters were more likely to deploy an SLE, LLE or NLE (42 per cent compared to 20 per cent of sponsored) and more likely to review governance (24 per cent compared to 15 per cent of sponsored).Primary schools were more likely to offer joint practice development (77 per cent compared to 70 per cent of secondaries). Secondary schools

are more likely to offer a wide range of support  especially  development of future/middle leadership and deploying an SLE/LLE/NLE. (pg 39 )

Do Academies make use of their autonomy? DFE-July 2014

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/326163/RR366_-_research_report_academy_autonomy_Final.pdf

THE CURIOUS MIND -LESLIE ARGUES THAT A CURIOUS MIND IS KEY TO SUCCESS IN EDUCATION AND LIFE

Comment

Albert Einstein said ‘I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.’

Most are born curious. But only some retain the habits of exploring, learning and discovering as they grow older. Which side of the “curiosity divide” are you on? asks Ian Leslie, in his new book ‘Curious’.

Leslie argues that our future depends on developing a deep curiosity about the world – and no he doesn’t mean clicking on Twitter links.  He argues that the Internet is in effect, making us lazier, not smarter or more knowledgeable .The Internet, he argues, actually makes us less curious to develop fact into broader understanding. And, in his book’s doomy scenario, if you become incurious, “your life will become drained of colour, interest and pleasure. You will be less likely to achieve your potential at work or in your creative life. While barely noticing it you’ll become a little duller, a little dimmer.”

We need to encourage “epistemic curiosity”, which is deeper, focused and more disciplined.

Drawing on research from psychology, sociology and business, Curious looks at what feeds curiosity and what starves it, and uncovers surprising answers. Curiosity isn’t a quality you can rely on to last a lifetime, but a mental muscle that atrophies without regular exercise. It’s not a gift, but a habit that parents, schools, workplaces and individuals need to consciously nurture if it is to thrive and develop.

Curious shows how the practice of ‘deep curiosity’ – persistent, self-reflective seeking of knowledge and insight – is key to the success of our careers, the happiness of our children, the strength of our relationships, and the progress of societies. But it also argues that it is a fragile quality, which wanes and waxes over time, and that we take it for granted at our peril. But there seems to be a great divide between curious and incurious people.

Leslie makes a broader claim- a hungry, curious  mind  is the greatest driver of education success and success in later life.

Curious-The desire to know and Why your future depends on it-Ian Leslie-2014

 

‘THE LEARNER SHOULD DIRECT THEIR OWN LEARNING’-OR MAYBE NOT

THE LEARNER SHOULD DIRECT THEIR OWN LEARNING

 Or not?

In a paper published in Educational Psychologist last year, Jeroen J.G. van Merriënboer of Maastricht University and Paul A. Kirschner of the Open University of the Netherlands challenged the popular assumption “that it is the learner who knows best and that she or he should be the controlling force in her or his learning.” This assumption forms the  basis of much of the approach to ‘progressive’ education.

There are three problems with this premise, according to van Merriënboer and Kirschner   The first is that novices, by definition, don’t yet know much about the subject they’re learning, and so are ill equipped to make effective choices about what and how to learn next.

The second problem is that learners “often choose what they prefer, but what they prefer is not always what is best for them;” that is, they practice tasks that they enjoy or are already proficient at, instead of tackling the more difficult tasks that would actually enhance their expertise.

Third, although learners like having some options, unlimited choices quickly become frustrating—as well as mentally taxing, constraining the very learning such freedom was supposed to liberate.

In any case, they argue, the whole agenda is not based on well tested theories backed by empirical evidence but instead on research that is methodologically flawed. In short. its  based on ‘pseudoscience’.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00461520.2013.804395#.U9DHh_ldUno