GROUPING BY ABILITY -EVIDENCE MIXED
Does it help the equity agenda? Look at international practice.
Grouping by ability means that pupils with similar attainment levels are grouped together either for specific lessons on a regular basis (setting or regrouping) or as a class (streaming or tracking). The assumption is that it will be possible to teach more effectively or more efficiently with a narrower range of attainment in a class.
The Education Endowment Foundation ,which has reviewed evidence on grouping by ability, found that while there is some evidence that there can be benefits for high attaining pupils these benefits are outweighed by the direct and indirect negative effects for mid range and lower performing pupils, with low attaining learners falling behind on average by one or two months a year compared to progress in their class without segregation .The EEF also found ‘research shows a clear longer term negative effect on the attitude and engagement of low attaining and disadvantaged pupils’.However, and this is important, the exception is the impact that separate teaching can have on gifted and talented pupils ‘who benefit from a range of different kinds of ability grouping’
Jo Boaler, a Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University in her paper ‘The ‘Psychological Prisons’ from which they never escaped: The role of ability grouping in reproducing social class inequalities’ (2005)asserted that the ability grouping policies that the last Labour government had encouraged in schools would not be entertained in most other countries in the world and goes some way to explaining the inequities in the UK system. She writes ‘England strides forward, encouraging extensive ability grouping practices at the youngest possible age. It is only the rarest and bravest of teachers who have managed to resist the pressures to group by ‘ability’ from the current Labour government, thereby maintaining a vision of schooling that promotes equity and high attainment for all. ‘ In Sweden ability grouping is illegal because it is known to produce inequities. In the US parents have brought law-suits against school districts that have denied high level curricula to students at high school age; the idea that such selectivity in ‘opportunity to learn’ (Porter, 1994) could happen at elementary school is inconceivable for most Americans. In Japan (Yiu, 2001) students are believed to have equal potential and the aim of schools is to encourage students to attain at equally high levels. Japanese educators are bemused by the Western goal of sorting students into high and low ‘abilities’.
Boaler suggests that one of the most important goals of schools is to provide stimulating environments for all children; environments in which children’s interest can be peaked and nurtured, with teachers who are ready to recognize, cultivate and develop the potential that children show at different times and in different areas. It is difficult to support a child’s development and nurture their potential if they are placed into a low group at a very early age, told that they are achieving at lower levels than others, given less challenging and interesting work, taught by less qualified and experienced teachers, and separated from peers who would stimulate their thinking. Yet the predictability of performance in English schools seems not to trouble policy makers who support early and extensive ability grouping (Carvel, 1996). This is one of the reasons that the UK scores at the bottom of the scale on PISA’s measures of equality (OECD, 2000; Green, 2003) she claims. It is an interesting point. How many children are identified early on as weak in a particular subject and placed in a low ability grouping normally with the worst teacher, and stay there, so reinforcing their sense of underachievement and failure? Quite a few I would suggest. Large scale analyses of school effectiveness, conducted with international datasets, such as PISA and SIMS, conclude that ‘schools that group students the latest and the least have the highest outcomes.’ Research on ability grouping has persistently shown high correlations between social class and setting (Ball, 1981, Boaler, 1997a), with social class working as a subtle filter that results in the over-representation of working class children in low groups.
Boaler conducted a longitudinal study of two schools, one of which set by ability early on, the other had mixed ability classes and then set by ability just before exams. Cohorts of students in the two schools, who were similar in terms of social class and prior attainment, were monitored for three years (Boaler, 1997a, 2002).. The one that left setting to the last moment had much better results. Indeed, many of the students in the setting school reported that they gave up on their learning when they were placed into any set from 2 downwards. Boaler was particularly worried about how keen the Governments was to introduce ability grouping in Primary schools. Her conclusion was that if the Government ( then Labour) cares about promoting ‘social justice’ then an important part of their agenda for the future must be to learn about equitable and effective grouping policies that promote high achievement for all and reduce rather than reproduce social inequalities.
This is all very interesting given how strongly some educationalists and politicians feel about the positive impact of setting.One experienced teacher, and consultant, Joe Nutt, commenting on this issue and the Boaler research wrote ”Taking primary education out of the equation, then any research on setting which doesn’t show an acute awareness of its relevance in different subject disciplines through its design, isn’t worth a great deal. I’d argue that setting in those subjects where knowledge gain is heavily sequential, is almost a necessity. The risk of under-performance works at both ends of the scale and is equally costly’
Politicians shouldn’t be telling schools whether they should set by ability or not, that is called micro-management from the centre and self-evidently undermines school autonomy. It is precisely the kind of decision that should be left to schools themselves, informed by evidence of what works best in practice, in particular contexts.
Autonomy important but so is collaboration and interdependence
Andreas Schleicher, from the OECD, was at the public launch last week of the Academies Commission report and for a subsequent academic seminar. Schleicher sought to place the report into an international context. Yes, he said, the world’s best school systems are those with high levels of school autonomy. But he also pointed out, some of the world’s worst school systems are those with high levels of school autonomy. Autonomy, in short, is no guarantee of success. Autonomy delivers quality only where independence is accompanied by an incentive system and a culture which embeds collaboration and so engenders school inter-dependence.
Professor Chris Husbands, one of the report’s authors, remarked on a striking phrase at the launch from Schleicher who said ‘ “knowledge in education is sticky” – it does not move around the system. So arguably the challenge posed by the Academies Commission is how an autonomous school system can build knowledge about success. Husbands says “We will not achieve the vision success for all if academisation simply produced archipelagos of excellence. One of the report’s recommendations is that no school should be eligible for an Ofsted “outstanding” rating for leadership unless it can demonstrate success in helping other schools to improve. This, at least, would incentivise collaboration.”
The importance of schools helping each other to improve is not, of course, a new idea. Academies and new Free schools are supposed to demonstrate how they will work with other schools to improve outcomes.This is whats termed a self-improving school system. Back in 2010, Steve Munby, then head of the National College for School Leadership, (now the Chief Executive of CFBT Education Trust) said “ I believe that school to school support is central to the future of school improvement. We have clear evidence that this approach not only achieves improvement where it is needed but also raises the bar at all levels of our system”
On the autonomy issue Harry Patrinos, the lead education economist at the World Bank group has some interesting observations. In a blog on the OECD findings last year he wrote:
‘students tend to perform better in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed. Similarly, schools that enjoy greater autonomy in resource allocation tend to show better student performance than those with less autonomy. However, interestingly enough, in countries where there are no such accountability arrangements, schools with greater autonomy in resource allocation tend to perform worse.’ So Patrinos is stressing that autonomous schools must be embedded within a meaningful accountability framework to improve outcomes. He continued ‘ We find that it is the alignment between autonomy and accountability that is important, and not necessarily the levels of education system development that are important in explaining superior academic performance,.. It is not autonomy on its own – or in any way accountability on its own – that produces superior results’.
We have written before about the Finnish education system , and why it is so successful. Finnish schools receive full autonomy in developing the daily delivery of education services. The ministry of education believes that teachers, together with principals, parents and their communities know how to provide the best possible education for their children and youth. Except for guidelines for learning goals and assessment criteria, The National Board of Education (taking care of curriculum development, evaluation of education and professional support for teachers) doesn’t dictate lesson plans or standardized tests. School can plan their own curricula to reflect local concerns. But they also collaborate closely too.Finnish educators have been keen to find ways to help schools and teachers come together and share what they have learned about productive teaching techniques and effective schools. This has resulted in the creation of multi-level, professional ’learning communities’ of schools sharing locally tested practices and enriching ideas, and matching the needs for local economic development
Free school meals
16% of pupils in secondary schools eligible for Free School Meals-19% in Primaries
Research from the DfE on the take-up of free school meals will be published shortly. Information on the number of pupils known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals as at January 2012 is published in the Statistical First Release ‘Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics, January 2012′ available at:
Free school meal eligibility
• In maintained nursery, state-funded primary, state-funded secondary, special schools and pupil referral units 18.2 per cent of pupils were known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals, compared to 18.0 per cent in 2011.
• In maintained nursery and state-funded primary schools 19.3 per cent of pupils were known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals, an increase from 19.2 per cent in 2011. (Table 3b)
• In state-funded secondary schools 16.0 per cent of pupils were known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals, an increase from 15.9 per cent in 2011. (Table 3b)
• In special schools 37.5 per cent of pupils were known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals, an increase from 36.5 per cent in 2011. (Table
• In pupil referral units 36.7 per cent of pupils were known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals, an increase from 34.6 per cent in 2011. (Table
Note- Students who meet eligibility requirements can claim free school meals if they attend school sixth forms, academies, university technical colleges or free schools, but their contemporaries at sixth-form colleges and further education colleges cannot. Fair? Not really.
Deposited Paper- 2012-1607 -Department for Education
Table showing the number of boys known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals in Read more
New regime next year
Some concerns over no-notice inspections
Ofsted has published an evaluation report that summarises the responses to Ofsted’s consultation on its proposals for the revision to the framework for inspecting non-association independent schools from 1 January 2013. The consultation proposed that, in future, key inspection judgements in independent school inspections will be made about: pupils’ achievement; pupils’ behaviour and safety; quality of teaching; quality of curriculum; spiritual, moral, social and cultural development; welfare, health and safety; and leadership and management. Other proposals included inspecting schools without prior notice; amending the inspection judgement ‘satisfactory’ to ‘adequate’; and introducing a different way of inspecting the education provided by children’s homes which are part of a group. The following inspection proposals will be implemented from 1 January 2013. Ofsted will:
‘Revise the key inspection judgements
There was very strong support for the proposals for the revised key inspection judgements. We plan to implement these, with some minor revisions to those proposed for pupils’ behaviour and safety, and pupils’ moral, social and cultural development following feedback from trial inspections.
Introduce a leadership and management judgement
There was very strong support for this proposal. We will implement this from January 2013.
Introduce a judgement for behaviour and personal development
This will include the school’s provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and its impact on pupils.
Retain the judgement on provision for pupils’ welfare, health and safety
There was strong support for retaining this judgement from the current framework.
Introduce a judgement on pupils’ achievement
There was strong support for a judgement that enables inspectors to report both on the standards achieved by pupils in the school alongside the amount of progress pupils make relative to their starting points. This will be implemented from January 2013.
Change satisfactory to adequate
In maintained schools the grade ‘satisfactory’ is to become ‘requires improvement’. In the independent sector we will replace ‘satisfactory’ with ‘adequate’. This reflects the regulatory requirements for independent schools. The judgement of ‘adequate’ will apply to a school that is meeting minimum standards, but that is not good enough to be judged good. Inspection reports will be clear about why these schools are not yet good, what these schools need to do to improve, but will also reflect their strengths. This proposal was supported by consultation responses and will be implemented from January 2013.
Shorten the notice we give of an inspection
We will reduce the notice period to half a day in order to see schools as they really are, while ensuring that schools can make the necessary practical arrangements. We reserve the right to inspect without notice when required.
Improve the way we inspect children’s homes which provide education for a small number of looked after children, particularlythose which are part of a group .Although we received a number of neutral responses to this proposal, therewas strong support from providers to which it applies. We have recentlycarried out the first pilot inspection of education in a group of children’shomes and we will continue to work with the Department for Education(DfE) and with group providers to implement this change from January2013. The responses to the consultation were strongly in favour of most of Ofsted’s proposals. However, responses varied considerably by respondent type in relation to no-notice inspections. The majority of parents agreed with proposals, but teachers and head teachers were against its introduction for practical reasons. The majority of those who replied – 47% – rejected no-notice inspections, 12% neither agreed nor disagreed and 40% supported the proposal. While most parents and carers – 64% – agreed with the idea, many teachers and ,head teachers – 59% – disagreed.
Crisis looms due to funding shortage
A Freedom of Information request revealed that from May 2007, government projections showed a rapidly increasing primary school population in each year from 2009 to 2015.
Despite this, in 2007, Ed Balls then Education Secretary told councils to remove surplus primary places or risk losing capital funding. Mr Balls issued guidance telling them: ‘The Department has made clear its view that maintaining surplus places represents a poor use of resources – resources that can be used more effectively to support schools in raising standards’. The guidance went on: ‘The Department expects local authorities to make the removal of surplus places a priority’. Local authorities were told they would not receive capital funding if they failed to cut surplus primary school places. ‘Strategies that fail to commit to addressing surplus capacity at local authority or individual school level will not be approved’. The big problem is the baby boom. In 2010, there were four million children in English primary schools; by 2018, there’ll be 4.5 million. So if Ed Balls blundered, has the Coalition got this covered? No, not really. Although some elements of the education budget were protected, which produced encouraging headlines, there have been swingeing cuts to the capital available for new schools-new schools will be needed to cope with the demand as expanding existing schools is often not possible. And indeed some of the new Free schools are proving to be relatively expensive which also means that this initiative will not have the funding to expand in the way the government would wish (ie there is not enough capital available to fund the demand for Free schools-so bids are being rejected not because they fail to satisfy the criteria-the official stance- but because there is no money available). As Jonn Elledge has pointed out in the Guardian the biggest story in education won’t be about academies, or grade inflation, or international league tables: it’ll be about parents petrified they can’t find a school place for their child. The Department for Education’s core resources budget had, of course, been protected, although there have been allegations that perceived funding shortfalls mean that Heads and governors are dipping in to the Pupil Premium to make up shortfalls . (funding that is supposed to go to disadvantaged pupils). But its capital budget – the bit that pays for buildings and so forth – is to fall by 60% over four years. Gove squeezed another £1.2bn out of the Treasury last autumn but nobody thinks that this will be enough to cover the additional Primary places that will be required over the medium term. The Government may be forced to turn to the private sector for capital , but that is the more expensive option.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE PRIMARY PLACES SHORTFALL
Where is the funding to create new capacity?
The Government will have to do something about the chronic shortage of Primary school places.In Greater London alone, primary schools are at an average of 110% of capacity. The problem has crept up on the DFE and it has only belatedly acknowledged the extent and scale of the problem. Figures show that more than 800,000 extra places will be needed in state-funded nursery and primary schools by the end of the decade. Demand for primary places is projected to increase by 434,000 by 2018, with acute shortages projected in cities such as London, Manchester and Bristol. According to official forecasts, the number of under-11s in the education system will rise from 4m to 4.82m by 2020 – taking the primary school population to its highest level since the early 70s. New free schools (so far just 24 are up and running)aren’t always located where demand is greatest.
Significantly increasing capacity over the medium term is not something that can be avoided. But public funding for this is in short supply. There are three options in terms of funding the new capacity. Public capital, PFI and straight private capital. The Government looks likely to exhaust the first two options before they move onto the third, because of the perceived political risks associated with it. But how long will they take in holding out against straight private cash, not least because PFI is now showing up on the books? Clearly accessing private capital is politically problematic, but with other options limited and so long as its seen as funding for additional schools, then maybe its manageable. One thing is for sure much more thought has got to go in to working out where new Free schools need to be established to meet surging demand. Establishing them in areas where demand is not greatest will not make much sense and will look wasteful.
In the Autumn Statement 2011, the Treasury announced an additional £600 million of capital basic need funding for schools in England. On 11 April 2012, the Secretary of State announced the allocation of this funding for local authorities. The £600m will be allocated to those authorities that show a shortfall in places as at 2013/14. 110 authorities will have a proportionate share of the £600m, based on data from the 2011 schools capacity forecast. Some experts believe that government funding plans fall far short of what will be needed to cover the additional places that will be required. There are also concerns that many Primary schools will increase very significantly in size, which will be unpopular with parents.Independent schools may see this as a marketing opportunity as small class size and good pupil teacher ratios are seen as key attractions of the independent sector.
SHOULD THE CHILDREN OF SCHOOL STAFF BE GIVEN ADMISSIONS PRIORITY?
WON’T IT MAKE THE LABOUR MARKET LESS EFFICIENT?
Rebecca Allen and Simon Burghes of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation raise an important question on their blog regarding whether or not teachers and other school staff should be given priority when it comes to admissions to schools where they are employed. The admissions code is currently under review following consultation. Paragraph 1.33 of the code says: “If admissions authorities decide to give priority to children of staff, they must set out clearly in their admission arrangements how they will define staff and on what basis children will be prioritised.” This, Allen points out, suggests that admissions authorities are to be allowed to prioritise the children of staff, reversing the policy of recent Admissions Codes. On the face of it one has some sympathy for teachers wanting their children to be in the school where they teach. It makes their lives much easier for one and allows them to keep a close eye on their child’s education. One group very likely to be included in most definitions of “staff” are teachers. For those teachers with children, this will add a new aspect to their decision on which school to seek a job at. Like many other parents, teachers will be keen for their children to attend high-performing schools. Following the White Paper “The Importance of Teaching”, one of the leading education policy issues is how to attract particularly effective teachers into the more challenging schools. Research evidence does not tell us whether teachers who are parents are on average more effective teachers, but there are two points to make:
This policy change will differentially increase the flow of applicants to high-performing schools. If the Headteachers of those schools are skilled at spotting effective teachers, then simply having access to a much bigger applicant pool will raise the average effectiveness of teachers hired at those schools. They are less likely to be novices, which is one of the few clear findings on teacher effectiveness, so in that sense alone teachers who are parents are likely to be more effective. Given that, claim Allen and Burghes, this policy change is very likely to work against any efforts to attract effective teachers to challenging schools, and thus set back the Government’s stated educational policy goals of narrowing the outcome gap between affluent and disadvantaged pupils. The proposed code change could also complicate disciplinary procedures because firing a teacher from a school would also have implications for her/his children. This is likely to make it even less likely that headteachers will engage in robust performance management. They write ‘We know that any work-based privileges that are specific to particular establishments tend to cement people in that job and reduce turnover. Such privileges include health insurance, pension rights, and so on. This reduces labour mobility and typically will make the labour market less efficient. This proposed change will have the same effect in the teacher labour market as teachers will be less willing to move as it will disrupt their children’s education.’ They make a compelling argument but if you are a parent and teacher you might not share their view.
Big Attainment gap between those pupils eligible for Free School Meals and those not
New figures deposited in Parliament highlight the significant attainment gap between those pupils who are eligible for free school meals and those who are not. Attainment is measured by the number of pupils gaining A*-C Grades in GCSE subjects. In 2010 77,419 pupils were eligible for FSM compared to 78,087 in 2006 In English, in 2006, 31.2% of FSM pupils met the benchmark, moving up to 42.9% in 2010. However for non-FSM pupils the 2006 figure was 61% moving to 69.8% in 2010. In Maths, in 2006, 27.1% of FSM pupils achieved the benchmark, improving to 39.6% in 2010, but this compares to 56% in 2006 and 65.9% in 2010 respectively for pupils not on FSM. The attainment gap between FSM and non-FSM pupils has not actually narrowed over the period 2006-10. Alarmingly for linguists, just 14 % of FSM pupils met the grade in modern languages in 2006, with this percentage actually dropping in 2010 to 13.5% The Education Secretary Michael Gove, when he was in opposition, through a series of parliamentary questions, established that those pupils on Free School Meals have not appeared to benefit much from the significant investment in education over the period of the last Government. Which is why he has made disadvantaged pupils his major priority and why he has introduced such policies as the Pupil Premium.So to some extent, at least, his policies will be judged on whether they improve the performance of pupils eligible for FSM, and whether the gap between them and non-FSM pupils closes over the next two or three years.
New Research identifies different approaches in schools and authorities to Community Cohesion
Community cohesion is about ensuring different groups of people share a common vision and sense of belonging, where similar life opportunities are available to all. It is defined as working towards a society in which there is a common vision and sense of belonging by all communities; a society in which the diversity of people’s backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and valued; a society in which similar life opportunities are available to all; and a society in which strong and positive relationships exist and continue to be developed in the workplace, in schools and in the wider community.
Since September 2007, schools have had a legal duty to promote community cohesion and their inspectorate, Ofsted has had to check that they are doing so. The requirement – enshrined in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 – was introduced in part to combat fears of a rise in support for the British National Party and Islamophobia. But the coalition government is now scaling back Ofsted’s role and confining its remit to inspecting what it sees as core elements- the quality of leadership in schools, teaching , pupil behaviour and child safety and achievement. The plans seek to reduce the bureaucratic burden on schools and this in effect means an end to Ofsted inspections of the duty, but, importantly, the duty itself remains.
Research on community cohesion, just published by CfBT Education Trust, was conducted in English schools in 2010.
The research uses an opportunity sample of 27 primary and secondary schools in three local authorities to generate insights on how the duty to promote community cohesion has been interpreted, enacted and accounted for since its beginning in 2007. The significance of this report is not in the sample size or spectrum but in the themes that emerged from the semi-structured interviews.
The researchers found that, overall, the duty to promote community cohesion received an ambivalent response from school leaders and teachers. Yet most regarded it as important, not only for their students’ wellbeing but as essential to the building of a successful school. The schools also see a focus on community cohesion as an opportunity to improve relations with and between parents – and it provides a chance to draw on resources available within the local authority and wider community.
Tony McAleavy, director of education at CfBT Education Trust, wrote in the Guardian on 26 July that the report ‘ identified promising schemes with the potential for integrating parents not only into the school, but also into their communities. These could offer a template for local authorities. Crash courses in English have been set up in response to the arrival of a large group of newcomers; a primary staged a community week when parents were invited to take part in a range of activities including playing games with local children.’
The requirement for schools to foster community cohesion has been interpreted differently by different local authorities: an equal opportunities self-evaluation scheme for schools had been developed in one authority, while there had been a strong emphasis on respect in another programme. Where money had become available to prevent violent extremism, this was drawn on to support police working with schools in one area, but spent on training teachers about Islamic fundamentalism in another.’.
Two reports are available:
A Perspective Report, School Leaders, Community Cohesion and the Big Society sets out the background to the duty to promote community cohesion, including its inception as a policy and its roots in other measures, is discussed in an opening section. The findings from group and individual interviews with teachers and school senior leaders are analysed under themed headings. Pointers for future policy development, including links with the ‘Big Society’ agenda, are discussed.
A Research Report, Teaching, Learning and Community Cohesion: a study of primary and secondary schools’ responses to a new statutory duty, provides more detailed guidance for teachers and school leaders.
McAleavy poses an important question- whether it is sensible to have a statutory duty to promote community cohesion, but for Ofsted not to inspect that function in schools.
- CRACKDOWN ON EXPLOITATION OF INTERNS
- PAYING FOR RESULTS-CAN IT HELP RAISE PERFORMANCE- OR DOES IT CORRUPT THE LOVE OF LEARNING?
- PROSPECTS JOINS MUTUAL JOINT VENTURE TO DELIVER PUBLIC SERVICES-GOVERNMENT KEEN ON EMPLOYEE OWNED MUTUALS DELIVERING PUBLIC SERVICES
- PROFESSOR TONY WATTS RESIGNS FROM THE NATIONAL CAREERS COUNCIL
- EDISON LEARNING AND THE NAHT UNION LAUNCH A SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT INITIATIVE WITH DFE BACKING
- THE FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT OF ACADEMIES-WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE ARE CONCERNS?
- PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE REPORT ON ACADEMIES-SOME CONCERNS OVER FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
- CAIRNS OF BRIGHTON COLLEGE BACKS ACADEMIES
- IS CAREERS ADVICE IN SCHOOLS EFFECTIVE OR IS IT TOO EARLY TO SAY?
- LEMOVS TEACH LIKE A CHAMPION -TOP TECHNIQUES USED BY THE BEST TEACHERS
- THE PUPIL PREMIUM AND SPECIAL SCHOOLS
- EDUCATION EXPORTS-NEW GOVERNMENT STRATEGY IN THE WINGS?
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