Disadvantaged pupils do worse in schools containing a large number of disadvantaged children, new research reveals

Janet Downs's picture

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?

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Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 14/07/2011 - 18:20

Interesting research. Of course, its findings appear complex -- and possibly contradictory. Some schools manage to raise the standards of many disadvantaged children, while others do not.

Alan's picture
Sat, 16/07/2011 - 20:14

There is a refusal to recognise the contextual value added but the context is of limited value to begin with because it ignores several factors and is thus open to misuse to detract from inequalities of competing systems.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 17/07/2011 - 07:24

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said that publishing Contextual Value Added (CVA) socres was a "step in the right direction" it conceded that "school efficiency is imperfectly measured by this indicator" and suggested the "use of more sophisticated measures". OECD suggested the following:

1 Sampling methods "to track changes in outcomes over time and across regions and school organisations."
2 Sampling would "hinder ranking of schools" thereby removing incentives to "teach to tests".
3 Cognitive tests could be "combined with a (smaller) set of in-depth interviews" to measure non-cognitive skils.
4 Sampling and interviews should be set-up and run by a body independent of Ofsted and qualification boards, such as the Office for National Statistics.

These suggestions are worth considering but Mr Gove's response was to remove CVA from league tables.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 15/07/2011 - 06:14

The report acknowledged that there were schools in the target group that could do better, but the researchers stressed that many of these below-floor schools are doing well in challenging circumstances. It is this refusal to recognise the context in which schools work which is so frustrating, even unjust, because it falsely labels these schools as "failing".

FullFact.org looked at media reporting of the research and found that articles confined their comments to comparing disadvantaged children with their better-off peers. This oversimplified the report’s conclusions and incorrectly assigned the results of the research to all FSM pupils, not just those in the EEF target schools. A typical headline was the Mail’s “Why are 60% of children from our poorest home arriving at secondary schools without three Rs?” while the Independent ran an editorial entitled “The poorest are being failed” which missed all the nuances of the report. This is not what readers expect from a paper which claims to offer intelligent comment.

The media attention on the poor students also missed the point that the performance of ALL pupils in the below-floor schools was declining, not just that of the FSM children. The research seems to confirm OECD findings: that ALL pupils in disadvantaged schools do not do as well as expected.



Alan's picture
Fri, 15/07/2011 - 13:24

More variable than contradictory, perhaps. That is why I suggested in the basement somewhere that the contexual valued added should be reviewed to include all of the data surronding the operation of secondary modern schools. I wasn't implying that it should be abolished. My point was it is unjust to dismiss an association between deprivation and attainment whilst seeking to use CVA to mask the effects of selection.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 17/07/2011 - 10:09

The research showed that below-floor schools are concentrated in urban areas in particular Yorkshire & Humber and the South East (primary and secondary schools). These two areas are joined by West Midlands (primaries) and East Midlands (secondary). The county in the South East with the greatest cluster of below-floor schools by a long way is Kent, a selective area. In the East Midlands the counties with the highest concentration of below-floor schools are Northamptonshire (fully-comprehensive) and Lincolnshire (selective).

The area with the highest number of below-floor schools in Yorkshire & Humber is Leeds where education was run from 2001 to April 2011 by Education Leeds, a not-for-profit company wholly owned by Leeds City Council. Education Leeds has now been closed. Leeds City Council has taken control of education in a new department comprising children's services.

The West Midlands has the highest concentration of below-floor primary schools. Within the West Mindlands the area with the largest cluster of these schools (primary and secondary) is Birmingham which has retained grammar schools. However, it is unclear from the statistics whether Birmingham has a large proportion of below-floor secondary schools. In the West Midlands as a whole, the proportion of below-floor secondary schools is low.

There seems to be a correlation between areas with the largest number of below-floor schools and areas that retain selection. But correlation is not causation, although it does seem obvious that if some schools cream off high-ability pupils then this will leave other schools with an ability range skewed towards the bottom and these schools tend to have more FSM and SEN pupils.

Alan's picture
Mon, 18/07/2011 - 18:02

Causation, no, but a positive linear relationship should infer that there’s scope for further investigation, a multi-factorial analysis of issues associated with educational pathways, for example. There should be a focus EYFS, health, income and parent’s ability to raise expectations in children – and also, practitioner co-operation / retraining - not easy when you consider the above delimiters.

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