This part of the EPPE 3-11 research identified significant variations in pupils’ self-perceptions at age 10 in terms of ‘Academic self-image’ and ‘Behavioural self-image’, as well as in their
‘Enjoyment of school’. These self-concept measures are strongly linked with pupils’ academic and social/behavioural outcomes and progress/development in these outcomes (measured by standardised tests and teacher’s ratings). It is likely that pupils’ views of themselves and their attainment have a reciprocal relationship. Those who have higher Reading and Mathematics scores and better progress will be likely to develop a more favourable ‘Academic self-image’ and vice versa. A similar pattern is evident for the connection between pupils’ self-perception of their behaviour and measures of their behaviour in school rated by teachers. It is likely that feedback processes (observations, teachers’ comments, comparisons of self and peers) mediate these relationships. In addition, supporting children in improving their attainment (by formative feedback, high quality teaching and appropriate learning experiences) is also likely to improve their ‘Academic self-image’ and ‘Behavioural self-image’.
In addition, the results reveal that there are differences in pupils’ experiences of school that help to account for variations in their educational outcomes and progress. Those who perceive their schools more favourably in terms of ‘Teachers’ support for pupils’ learning’ have better progress.
‘Teachers’ support for pupils’ learning’
‘Headteacher qualities’ appears to play an important role too, in terms of the pupils’ perceptions of their Headteacher’s interest in pupils and their impact on behavioural climate. Results suggest that encouraging greater pupil participation in school and enhancing these features of school culture may foster improved pupils’ educational outcomes and greater ‘Enjoyment of school’. However, high levels of ‘Enjoyment of school’ on their own do not predict better attainment or behaviour.
These research results have implications for the Excellence and Enjoyment agenda since they indicate that the affective, behavioural and academic domains are complementary and remain important for all round good child development. Improving the school culture in terms of experience of a ‘Positive Social Environment’ is also likely to promote better cognitive and developmental progress and overall outcomes. School policies and classroom practices that take steps to explore pupils’ views and perceptions are more likely to encourage and promote the development of positive self-perceptions in pupils, and will be better placed to target support for more vulnerable groups.
Section 7: Understanding Pupils’ learning trajectories
Summary of Key Messages
• Children’s achievements and development are influenced by social disadvantage but also by parenting.
• The EPPE analyses have shown that pre-school and primary school factors are also important when background factors are taken into account.
• Having allowed for background factors many children achieve as expected, but some performed better than expected and some worse that expected.
• Over and under performance relative to that expected from background characteristics is influenced by ‘Self-regulation’ and Early years home learning environment (HLE).
• Case studies show that low SES families where children perform better than expected show several characteristics supporting children’s learning, such as high Early year HLE, support for learning from family members and high parental expectations.
• EPPE 3-11 data suggests that efforts should be made to improve young children’s Early years home learning environment (HLE) (i.e. birth-4 years).
•Findings suggest that primary schools and pre-schools should target greater educational
support for those children who need it and that a focus on ‘education’ need not be incompatible with a focus on social and behavioural development.
We have approached the issue of differences in pupils’ learning trajectories through an
examination of the achievement gaps that are increasingly apparent as children progress through the educational system. Using the EPPE 3-11 longitudinal data we start off by specifying what influences achievement differences between different groups of pupils in academic outcomes, and then move on to examine unexpected performance. By unexpected performance we refer to a situation where pupils do better or worse than might be expected on the basis of their family and demographic background. This approach can help in understanding not only
underperformance but also where pupils attain ‘against the odds’. We look closely at the influence of families, especially the ways they foster pupils’ academic and social/behavioural development. We then show that disadvantaged families can support the development of better achievement in their children, leading to greater academic success and to more positive ‘Self- regulation’. We provide qualitative case studies of low SES pupils who have ‘achieved above expectation’, charting the positive influences that families living in poverty have brought to bear on their children. The study highlights the important role of the wider family, grandparents, siblings and the community in promoting skills and aspirations. At the end of this section we explore the policy recommendations with practical suggestions for ‘closing the gap’. These findings have important implications for the study of equity in education and were conducted to contribute to The Cabinet Office Equalities Review (2007) (see EPPE 3-11 Team, 2007).
Achievement gaps and what influences them
This section begins with a description of achievement ‘gaps’ for young children from a range of ethnic and social backgrounds. We describe the contribution of child factors, family influences and pre-school and primary education to pupil’s achievement.
Over many decades, research studies have documented the relationship between socio- economic status (SES) and children’s development (e.g. Davie, Butler & Goldstein, 1972). In terms of which aspects of SES relate most strongly with academic achievement, there is long standing evidence (Mercy & Steelman, 1982) that parental education is the best predictor, with maternal education being most potent in the early years. However, such relationships account for only a limited amount of difference in academic achievement.
From a meta-analysis of studies, White (1982) concluded that possibly as little as five per cent of the variance in academic achievement was linked to SES. While such estimates are open to dispute, clearly other factors are necessary to explain variation in academic achievement, and EPPE evidence can illuminate these factors.
The extent and persistence of academic under-achievement associated with low SES and some minority ethnic status led to policy initiatives in the USA such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) and the recent No Child Left Behind Act (2001), and the UK government’s concern with ‘closing the gap’ between the disadvantaged and the rest of the population. Similar thinking also applied to policies in other countries aiming to change schooling to improve
outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. However, several studies indicate that school under- achievement amongst disadvantaged pupils is presagedby cognitive differences below school age, as shown in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K) (Denton, West & Walston, 2003). Indeed the relationship between SES and cognitive development is present from infancy (McCall, 1981). Such evidence suggests that the causes of poor academic achievement largely lie in experiences and development during the pre-school years. For example, Heckman and Wax (2004) recently proclaimed, “Like it or not, the most important mental and behavioural patterns, once established, are difficult to change once children enter school” (p.A14).
Parenting matters and varies with SES. Parcel and Menaghan (1990) found that mothers with more intellectually stimulating jobs provided more support and stimulating materials for their children, which was in turn linked to children’s verbal skills. The argument linking low SES to lack of cognitive stimulation and lower cognitive development has a long history and has regularly been supported by evidence (e.g. Bradley et al., 2001; Brooks-Gunn et al., 1997). As shown in section 3 of this report, parenting practices and learning opportunities provided in the home are associated with better developmental outcomes. This partly explains links between SES and developmental outcomes, in that higher SES parents use more developmentally
enhancing activities. However, the results for the Early years HLE indicate that it is the frequent occurrence of learning activity in the home that is particularly important. While there is an association with SES, it has only been found to be moderate in EPPE 3-11 analyses (correlation=0.30).
As well as home background and parenting effects, the EPPE 3-11 study demonstrates significant pre-school (and later school) effects (see Sections 3 and 4 of this report). The pre- school effects were most marked at entry to primary school where pre-school (particularly high quality and longer duration) gave children a better start to school (Sylva et al., 2004). However, benefits also remained evident during Key stage 1 and at the end of Key Stage 2 (section 4), although the pre-school influence was not as strong as at the start of school. In addition there are benefits of pre-school in reducing the ‘risk’ of SEN (Sammons et al., 2004b).
Using age 10 data new evidence emerged on the attainment gap in Reading and Mathematics for different groups of children. In addition, analyses identified important differences in social behaviour in relation to ‘Self-regulation’ and ‘Hyperactivity’. Differential patterns of development between ages 6 and 10 years revealed the groups of pupils for whom the gap has widened or reduced during Key Stage 2 and the factors associated with better or poorer progress. The findings draw special attention to the importance of the Early years HLE on longer term educational outcomes, both academic and social/behavioural.
The importance of educational experiences in shaping outcomes at the end of primary school is highlighted in previous sections. In particular it is the quality and effectiveness of the pre-school attended that predicts better outcomes. Pre-school influences are somewhat stronger for Mathematics and ‘Self-regulation’ than for Reading. Also the academic effectiveness of the primary school attended has a significant impact at the end of primary school.
For ‘home’ children (no pre-school provision) in particular, the effectiveness of the primary school attended can help to reduce the attainment gap (for those attending a high academically effective primary school there is a particular boost for Mathematics). Additionally, previous experience of attending a higher quality or more effective pre-school acts as a protective factor for pupils attending a less academically effective primary school.