Friday Five: Closing the attainment gap, child benefits, redistributing education spending, teacher retention and teacher churn


9th June 2023

Hello! It’s been another eventful week in the world of education and youth policy. Catch-up on some of the key reports, analysis and commentary with this handy round-up, courtesy of our policy team.

This week, our Friday Five covers closing the attainment gap, capping child benefits, government public spending on education, teacher retention and how to deal with teacher churn.

Researchers at Durham University analyse poverty attainment gap in pupils

Research by Stephen Gorard, Beng Huat See and Nadia Siddiqui from Durham University analyses the status of attainment gap between rich and poor pupils and makes recommendations on how best to reduce it. They note that the common measure of attainment gap, as the difference between attainment of the majority of pupils and those eligible for free school meals (FSMs), is fairly unreliable because the proportion of pupils eligible for the FSMs changes over time. Instead, they recommend a more robust measure that looks at pupils that are always eligible for FSMs for their entire school lives, since this group remains relatively stable over time and shows the highest degree of disadvantage. They observe that the attainment gap had been reducing historically in England until 2014. The gap increased in 2015, possibly due to changes in curriculum, but started decreasing again since 2016. Exam disruptions caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns has made it difficult to gather data after 2019.

The authors have two key recommendations for how the attainment gap can be reduced:

  • Reduce school segregation and ensure that extra school funding focuses on children who need it the most. The research finds that where school segregation is lower, the attainment gap is too. The authors suggest that one way to reduce school segregation is to reduce the variety of different types of schools in England. They posit that the wide variety of schools to choose from in England, including grammar schools, faith schools, foundation schools, academies, community schools etc., drives up segregation
  • Additionally, they observe that the biggest decline in poverty segregation has taken place since 2011, when pupil premium funding was introduced in schools. They recommend that the premium be better calibrated for pupils who have been eligible for FSMs the longest, thus proportionately providing extra support to those who are the most disadvantaged

Read the article here

LSE researchers find no evidence that capping child benefits increases employment 

In this paper, researchers from the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at LSE use a mixed methods approach to study the impact of the UK’s ‘two-child limit’ policy on benefits. Under the policy, all children born on or after 6 April 2017 are no longer eligible for means-tested child benefits if they are born into a family with two or more existing children. The policy has been justified on the grounds that this will incentivise employment among larger families. 

The research finds no evidence that capping child benefits resulted in increased employment, derived by quantitative analysis using the Triple Differences Method. Researchers turn to qualitative longitudinal evidence to help explain why the substantial reduction in income from child benefits failed to increase employment. Interview data shows that labour market activity among larger families seems to be ‘sticky’ in response to reduction in child benefits, likely due to parents’ commitment to unpaid care, the scale of caregiving responsibilities, and barriers to paid work. Qualitative data, on the other hand, indicates that effects of such negative shocks can instead render these policies counterproductive by pushing people further from the labour market. 

Read the full report here

Institute of Fiscal Studies examine how the government’s public service spending affects the gap between rich and poor

In light of the large sum of money (£509 billion) spent by the UK government on public services and infrastructure in 2019-2020, researchers at IFS study its impact on redistribution of resources between rich and poor households.The authors claim that even though such policies do not directly aim at redistribution, they do have that impact which needs to be studied. On methodology, authors note that it is not enough just to look at how much public money was spent on services for different kinds of households, but it is critical to supplement it with analysis of service access, use, and quality. 

The report shows that the overall redistributive impact of public service spending has increased significantly over the last 35 years. The report looks at public service spending across different domains, including health, education, social care and social housing. They find that health spending is progressive, but needs are also much higher among low-income households. In education, improvement in further and higher education participation by children from lower socioeconomic status and changes in funding policies have made education spending a lot more progressive than earlier years. Fall in funding for social care and housing has resulted in more stringent financial means-testing, meaning that these services are now increasingly available only to people on the lowest incomes.

Finally, the report advocates for higher overall public spending since it is found to be the biggest driver of redistributive impact. At the same time, they remark that further research and attention needs to be given to how the funding is allocated across social groups and the impact of such redistributive funding based on factors such as how much people value these services as well as their quality and accessibility.

Read the full report here

Education Support publishes commissioned inquiry report on teacher retention

Following a six-month inquiry, Education Support’s Commission on Teacher Retention has published its final report titled “1970s Working Conditions in the 2020s: Modernising the professional lives of teachers for the 21st century”. As the title suggests, the report lays out in stark terms the realities of the lives of teachers, the increasing crisis of their morale that is leading to thousands of them prematurely leaving their careers. The Commission, consisting of experienced educationalists, sector experts and teachers, brings together qualitative as well as quantitative insights from England’s secondary schools. 

The report compiles eye-watering statistics. 

  • 78% of the polled teachers said that they would be likely to leave the profession if they were offered a job in another sector that promised a better work-life balance. 
  • More than 1 in 5 secondary school teachers said that they were unlikely to be in the profession in five years time. 
  • 72% of secondary teachers said that they were helping students with non-academic matters relating to mental health and cost of living issues. 
  • 31% said that their work-life balance was either bad or very bad. 

The Commission makes important recommendations to improve teacher retention, including a review of pay and working conditions to allow for flexible working arrangements, better regulatory mechanisms by the DfE and Ofsted to account for teacher burnout and retention, formal guidance and better training for school staff to understand to what extent and how they can tackle the increasing non-academic requirements of their job to support pupils socio-emotional needs, and a regular review of workload practices in schools, among others. 

Read the full report here

Loic Menzies on understanding and responding to the impact of teacher turnover 

CfEY’s former CEO and Founder, Loic Menzies synthesises research on the impact of teacher turnover on students and staff, and discusses the potential of teacher allocation strategies such as ‘looping’ to mitigate the impacts of high turnover. Drawing from existing research, the author proposes three ways in which teacher turnover (includes ‘attrition’, ‘between-school-churn’ and ‘within-school-churn’) might impact students and schools. The author argues that high turnover is linked to corrosion of trust between students and teachers, reduction in teachers’ ability to rely on contextual and institutional knowledge, and disruption in the staff collaboration and collegiality. 

The author explores the strategy of ‘looping’ in more detail, a term used to describe students being allocated to the same teacher more than one year in a row, for its potential to provide ‘continuity of care’. A Teacher Tapp poll conducted for this research indicates that many teachers (42%) would be open to the approach of looping, the number increasing (54%) if research showed it to be beneficial. The author calls for more research on teacher allocation in the context of the UK, particularly to study tensions between teachers’ preferences and influence over allocation, the impact teacher autonomy in this regard may have on their retention and satisfaction, as well as potential tradeoffs between grade-specific, and student-specific expertise. 

Read the full report here

That’s all for this week! If you found this blog useful, please be sure to share/tweet it and follow @theCfEY@Barristotle and @billyhubt for future editions.