Friday Five: academic selection, clean air, sports strategy, school buildings, English as an Additional Language


1st September 2023

1. New research paper finds ‘no evidence’ selective school systems boost outcomes

A new research paper from academics at Durham and the UCL Institute of Education found that while attending grammar schools “might be associated with a small positive difference in KS4 attainment”, any benefits here are undermined by the worse progress of those in selective areas that do not attend grammar schools.

The academics compared pupils’ academic performance in a selective system against that in a non-selective system, using the DfE’s National Pupil Database for the cohort who took GCSEs in 2015/2016 and distinguishing between selective and non-selective Local Authorities. They note that there are 163 grammar schools located in 36 of 152 LAs, with grammars educating 5% of those in the state education system. The existence of grammars in these LAs, “not only influences the academic trajectories of their own pupils but also those of pupils in surrounding schools”.

Linear regression models “reveal no evidence of a positive effect of the selective system on pupil outcomes”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, while grammar school pupils perform better than their equivalent counterparts in comprehensive LAs, those in selective LAs who do not get into grammars perform worse than those in comprehensive LAs. The authors conclude that the expansion of grammar schools and the selective system is “unlikely to raise national academic standards”

Read the full report here.

Read the Schools Week write-up here.

2. Article explores Ulez expansion and the campaign for clean air

An article from Harry Clarke-Ezzidio explores the expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez), which was enacted on 29th August. The capital has pollution levels that regularly exceed World Health Organisation guidelines and pose a significant health threat. Ulez aims to combat this by charging road users for the pollution they cause by using their vehicles. After Starmer attributed Labour’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election defeat to Sadiq Khan’s support for the scheme’s expansion, the policy has received a lot of coverage.

For campaigner Rosamund Adoo-Kiss-Debrah, air pollution need not be a politicaly partisan issue but is instead a health crisis that needs urgent address. In 2020, an inquest into her daughter Ella’s death led the coroner to rule that the polluted air inhaled from traffic emissions had “made a material contribution” to her passing in 2013. This made Ella the first person in the world to have air pollution listed as a cause of death.

Various studies have shown the threat of pollutants, with nearly all homes in Britain exposed to air pollution levels exceeding WHO guidelines, making a clear case for intervention. However, such policies often receive backlash, which Adoo-Kissi-Debrah attributes to it being incorrectly framed as an environment issue, rather than a public health emergency. The article also notes that Black people and those from immigrant communities, and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to live in the most polluted areas in London. Alongside backing for Ulez, Rosamund Adoo-Kiss-Debrah suggests that transitioning costs for residents should be subsidised, with significant public transport investment in outer city and rural areas.

Read the New Statesman article here.

3. The government publishes its new sports strategy: aims to get 3.5 million adults and children physically active by 2030

The government will join forces with former sports stars, health professionals and fitness experts to help an additional 3.5 million adults and children get physically active by 2030. It comes as part of the Government’s new sports strategy published today. ‘Get Active: A strategy for the future of sport and physical activity’ sets out a blueprint to improve the nation’s health and fitness, enhance corporate governance in the sports sector and make it more resilient to future challenges at elite and grassroots level. Survey results indicate that around 25% adults are currently deemed to be ‘inactive’ in England and 53% of children and young people fall below the threshold of having done 60 minutes of activity a day. The three core priorities of the new sports strategy are: 

  1. Being unapologetically ambitious in making the nation more active 
  2. Making sport and physical activity more inclusive and welcoming for all so that everyone can have confidence that there is a place for them in sport
  3. Moving towards a more sustainable sector that is more financially resilient and robust.

See the full press release here and the new sports strategy here

4. DfE asks schools at risk of collapse to be ready for evacuation 

Days before the start of the new school term, the Department for Education has asked schools to check they are prepared to evacuate buildings constructed from reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), and relocate pupils to alternatives such as portable accommodation or other schools in the area. According to a report by the National Audit Office, decaying concrete has been found in 65 schools in England. The DfE report describes three stages of disruption that may be caused in case of evacuation of schools: short term, of up to one month, which “could include school closure and remote learning as a last resort”; medium term, which could involve temporary accommodation of up to three years; and long term, possibility of schools being rebuilt. The department is being criticised for its rushed and hasty response to the crisis that has been building up over many decades. 

See the full article here

5. EPI analyses trends in attainments of students with English as an Additional Language 

This blog by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) analyses data on student attainment and its linkage with ethnicity, school staffing, and English as an Additional Language (EAL). Prior research has confirmed that proficiency in English is a key factor that explains low attainment in a subset of children who speak EAL and high attainment by others. EPI’s analysis of attainment data confirms this as they find that in 2020, most ethnic groups of pupils who speak EAL and who have arrived in the UK during years 7-9 and all but one ethnic group among late-arrivers in years 10-11, had attainment below the national median for GCSE English and Maths. Interestingly, very few positive effects of additional staffing provision were found for pupils speaking EAL and these were exclusive to groups who arrived before year 10. This indicates that the role modelling effects of having BME staff or teaching assistants is limited, especially if they are not able to provide the specialist support that is needed for developing proficiency in English. Positive effects of staffing were also limited to schools with a high quotient of BME teachers and were not found for any groups of pupils attending schools with a high quotient of teaching assistants. 

Additionally, EPI’s analysis exposes the results of the current laissez-faire approach to the teaching of children speaking EAL, as these children often come from highly variable backgrounds but are often clubbed together under one category. For example, a multilingual child whose parents are professionals in the EU has very different needs from a child who is unaccompanied, seeking asylum, and from a war-torn region with severely limited prior education.  

The analysis also finds that the largest attainment gaps for pupils who speak EAL were of similar size to the largest SEND attainment gaps, highlighting the importance of having an EAL policy. The authors advocate for specialist teacher training and the development of English proficiency within the existing school curriculum through adaptive teaching methods. They hold that the routine assessment of English language proficiency for pupils who speak EAL to support this specialist teaching can also be re-introduced.

Read the full article here.