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Determinants of school performance: Resources, pedagogy, workforce and peers

The extent to which changes in school expenditure matter for educational outcomes is a source of much controversy. CEP research shows that increases in school expenditure cause improved educational outcomes in England and that effects are stronger in schools with a disadvantaged intake.

Nevertheless, how school expenditure is used is critical, in terms of the impact on student attainment. For example, we show that large changes in ICT investment had a positive impact on pupil performance in primary schools.

Changes to teaching practice such as the "literacy hour" introduced in the late 1990s and "synthetic phonics" widely applied in English schools in the mid-2000s were very important and cost effective initiatives that improved student learning. The latter had a medium-term effect on those groups of students who tend to struggle with literacy and reduced educational inequality between students from different backgrounds, even where this was not an explicit aim.

Randomised control trials have enabled us to distinguish what works and what doesn't. For example, targeting how teaching assistants are used is more effective in driving up student attainment than teacher peer-to-peer observation and feedback programmes. Banning the use of mobile phones in schools is also effective for raising student achievement.

The effectiveness of different teaching techniques and set ups is mediated by other factors such as ability composition of classrooms, teacher turnover and peer effects. Although we find average peer effects to be small or negligible, and having higher-achieving peers makes little difference to performance, having lower-achieving peers matters disproportionately.

But peer groups often have no effect: in the case of one particular group the arrival of significant numbers of non-native English speakers in English primary schools following the East European enlargement of the EU we find, contrary to common expectation, that there is no impact on the school performance of native English speakers studying alongside them. Perceptions of peers can matter however: we found that a pupil's perception of peers ranked above them can have a depressing effect on confidence and academic performance.

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