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Recent work on Schools

  • What works? The effectiveness of government policies


    Academies and school autonomy

    The programme has evaluated many government policies - such as 'the literacy hour' (the forerunner of the National Literacy Strategy), and Excellence in Cities. A summary of CEP evaluations in these areas is given by Sandra McNally in the 'Big Ideas' series . And a summary of the UK's performance in education was also reported by Sandra McNally to the LSE Growth Commission .

    One more recent (and ongoing) evaluation is about the effect of the Academies Programme.Steve Machin and Olmo Silva (CEP Special Report, March 2013) present evidence that schools that converted to academies between 2002 and 2007 improved overall GCSEs results by raising the attainments of the highest achieving students, however they find little evidence that academies helped pupils in the bottom 10% and 20% ('the tail') of the ability distribution. They compare these outcomes to experiences in other countries to suggest how the system may be improved to benefit the tail. See: School Structure, School Autonomy and the Tail.

    In another paper, Steven Machin and James Vernoit (2011) find positive impact of an academy school conversion on schools' subsequent pupil intake and pupil performance. They also find significant external effects of academies on the pupil intake and the pupil performance of neighbouring schools. See: Changing School Autonomy: Academy Schools and their Introduction to England's Education.

    Synthetic phonics

    What helps improve children's reading? Again our Learning To Read project brings the data to this hotly contested question. In our Learning to Read project Machin, McNally, Viarengo consider whether 'synthetic phonics' (as adopted nationally after the Rose Review) has a short and long term impact on pupils. A paper will be forthcoming in the autumn.

  • School resources

    What is the link between school resources and pupil outcomes? The programme has a number of publications on this topic. The most recent research paper by Steve Gibbons, Sandra McNally and Martina Viarengo (2011) shows a strong positive impact of school expenditure, especially on improving the performance of disadvantaged students. See: Does Additional Spending Help Urban Schools? An Evaluation Using Boundary Discontinuities; or the CentrePiece Article for a summary.

    Steve Gibbons and Sandra McNally (2013) have reviewed the literature on the causal effects of school resources on pupil outcomes. Overall, research suggests that spending matters and that spreading investments evenly across the various stages of education is preferable to interventions at any one stage. For example they find that whilst early age investments potentially offer higher returns, their benefits erode during later phases of childhood unless they are topped up with subsequent investments. See: The Effects of Resources Across School Phases: A Summary of Recent Evidence; or the CentrePiece article for a summary.

  • Peer effects and student outcomes

    Student rank in the classroom

    How much does a student's rank compared to his or her classmates matter? Richard Murphy and Felix Weinhardt (2013) find that a student's higher ranking compared to his or her peers leads to continued higher performance later on, and that this appears to work through improved confidence. This challenges conventional wisdom which says that it is always best to place children with higher-performing peers. See: The Importance of Rank Position ; or the CentrePiece article for a summary.

    Non-native English speakers

    Does school mixing of non-native English speakers and native pupils depress the outcomes of the latter? This has become a big policy question as the number of non-native speakers of English in primary schools in England has increased substantially in recent years. Using two different research strategies, Charlotte Geay, Sandra McNally and Shqiponja Telhaj (2012) find no negative effect on native pupil outcomes. See: Non-Native Speakers Of English In The Classroom: What Are The Effects On Pupil Performance? ; or the CentrePiece article for a summary.

    Influence of neighbours

    How does a student's neighbourhood affect their educational outcomes? Steve Gibbons, Olmo Silva and Felix Weinhardt (2013) find that the characteristics of neighbourhood peers make no difference at all to how well children perform at school: their test score progression in secondary education is unrelated to changes in the social composition of the place where they live. Neighbours seem to have some impact on children's attitude towards school and their propensity for anti-social behaviour, but the effects are very small and weak. For a summary of this work, see the CentrePiece article or the full article: Everybody Needs Good Neighbours? Evidence from Students' Outcomes in England which was published in the Economic Journal (2013).

  • Teacher status

    Teacher status, as well as salary, is important for ensuring that the best people work in the sector. We are often informed that poor performance in schools can be ascribed to the fact that teachers have a lower status in society than they used to. Peter Dolton was commissioned by the Varkey GEMS Foundation to oversee the 2013 Global Teacher Status Index, the first large-scale international comparison of the status of teachers. Based on survey evidence it was found that teachers have the highest status in China and Greece and the lowest in Brazil and Israel. The US, UK and most European countries rank halfway down the index. But the UK comes higher than most other European countries. For a summary of this work, see the Centrepiece article (2013). Please also visit the Global Teacher Status Index website.

  • Valuing schools through the housing market

    CEP research has consistently found that housing valuations are significantly higher in places where measured school quality is higher, implying a strong parental willingness to pay to get their children educated in better performing schools by moving into good school catchment areas. Steve Machin (2011) finds similar results in his critical appraisal of the empirical literature in a number of other countries, using a variety of identification strategies and at different parts of the education sequence that children follow. See: Houses and Schools: Valuation of School Quality through the Housing Market. Steve Gibbons summarises CEP work in this area in his 'Big Ideas' article.

  • Randomised Control Trials in Schools

    Information and Education Decisions (Martin McGuigan, Sandra McNally and Gill Wyness)

    How can information affect student decisions on higher education? Against the background of increased university tuition fees in the UK, Martin McGuigan, Sandra McNally and Gill Wyness look at whether information about the costs and benefits of future education has an impact on the knowledge and aspirations of school students. It examines the impact of an information campaign vis--vis media reports about the rise in tuition fees. The results of the experiment indicate that media reporting and a fairly 'light-touch' information campaign have quite sizeable effects on student attitudes - at least in the short-term. Whilst this does not necessarily translate into behaviour, the study does find a strong correlation between students' attitudes and their subsequent behaviour using data from the Longitudinal Survey of Young People in England. See: Student Awareness of Costs and Benefits of Educational Decisions: Effects of an Information Campaign . Please also visit the project website and consult the RES conference slides discussing the project for further information.

    'Lesson Study': Evaluation of teacher training on student performance (Richard Murphy)

    It is well recognised that the quality of teachers has a large impact on the academic attainment of pupils. Moreover, it has been found that it is during the first five years of teaching that teachers improve most in effectiveness, but that they remain 'stuck' at a certain level. Effectiveness varies dramatically across individuals. Can effectiveness be improved by policy intervention? In a project carried out with the Education Endowment Foundation we use a Randomised Control Trial on 180 schools in England to determine whether teachers trained in observation and feedback who then observe each other during class have more impact on student outcomes in the years during the training and in subsequent years than those in 'untreated' schools. Please also visit the project website .

    Evaluation of Small Group Support (Teaching Assistants) for Literacy (Sandra McNally)

    As well as investigating which methods of teaching reading are more effective we are also looking at whether the way teaching of reading is delivered has an effect. We are undertaking an evaluation of the effects of two interventions to help young children learn to read. Both interventions involve the use of a teaching assistant to work with small groups of children but one is ICT-based and the other non-ICT based. The interventions are randomised and we intend to examine whether the interventions have effects on reading scores for children directly exposed and for their peers. Please also visit the project website .