Research by the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) published this month seems to confirm what the OECD revealed: that disadvantaged pupils do worse in schools which contain a large number of similarly disadvantaged children. The research looked at children eligible for free schools meals (FSM) in schools that failed to reach the floor standard (EEF target schools). The report showed:
1 EEF target schools tend to have more FSM pupils and pupils with special educational needs (SEN). However, they are “broadly similar to other schools in terms of ethnic makeup and language mix”.
2 The achievement gap is “attributable to factors other than just poverty”. FSM pupils in above-floor standard schools achieved higher results than those in EEF target schools.
3 The attainment gap is caused by many factors including pupil background, family circumstances, pupil aspirations, and potential differences in the quality of teaching and schools.
4 EEF pupils are more likely to miss school persistently, and to be excluded more than once. This is particularly acute in secondary school.
5 Three years ago the lowest-performing schools were achieving higher results than today.
6 EEF target schools are defined as “below-floor” because of their low performance in exams. However, this doesn’t take into account the challenges that particular schools may face.
7 Despite not reaching the floor standard, there are “many well-run and effective” EEF target schools. There is a very high proportion of EEF secondary schools rated Outstanding by Ofsted, and almost a quarter of these secondary schools receive a Contextual Value Added (CVA) score significantly higher than the national average.
8 A small improvement would raise performance of many of the EEF schools to above floor standards – around one third of EEF primary schools and more than half of EEF secondary schools are within 5 percentage points of the floor standard.
9 White British pupils in EEF target schools were the least likely to succeed, while Bangladeshi pupils in the same schools were the most likely to succeed. However, there is a wide variation within particular ethnic groups.
10 EEF target schools are concentrated in urban areas with the South East and Yorkshire & Humber having the highest overall numbers of such schools. These regions are joined by West Midlands EEF primary schools and East Midlands EEF secondary schools.
11 The South West and London have the lowest concentrations of EEF target schools. In the case of London this is thought to be due to large numbers of higher-attaining pupils with a South Asian background and targeted programmes like the London Challenge.
12 EEF target schools generally receive the same funding as other schools – some receive more. However, this doesn’t mean that extra funding wouldn’t help. Because these schools tend to operate in challenging areas, they may require more resources.
13 As noted above, EEF target schools have a higher share of special needs pupils. However, these needs are generally at the lower end of the severity scale “where interventions to improve their attainment are more likely to be viable”.
The research makes important points. Below-floor schools are not always “failing” schools as Mr Gove and sections of the media would have it. Many of them are doing well in challenging circumstances. Despite this, they are pilloried for failing to reach a floor standard. It also raises important questions including: What interventions are likely to be most effective? What was it about the London Challenge that raised results in the capital? Why are white British pupils (mainly boys, but the report didn’t make this distinction) more likely to perform worse than any other ethnic group (apart from primary age Gypsy/Roma/Irish Traveller) in EEF target schools?