What the resource is:
The resource is a standalone report produced by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which is designed to increase understanding of a number of factors affecting pupil attainment at the end of Key Stage Four. The report uses data collected as part of the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE) project. The research explores if the LSYPE data can be usefully combined with National Pupil Database (NPD) data to provide enhanced information on attainment gaps between pupils at KS4. The research does not focus on any one specific area, but examines a range of factors that contribute to attainment gaps. Some of the gaps are already familiar from research; such as the gap between the performance of pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) and their peers, and the gap between White British pupils and pupils from underperforming ethnic groups. However, the report also looks at less well known areas, such as the effect of pupil aspirations on their attainment.
The aims of the resource:
It has always been possible, using NPD information alone, to construct models which show the impact of each of the Pupil Level Annual School Census (PLASC) factors, as well as Key Stage 2 (KS2) attainment, on GCSE outcomes. However, this resource seeks to go further, and its first aim is to establish if these models can be extended and enhanced by combining LSYPE data with NPD data.
The report then aims to explore if the combined data can be used to gain a better understanding of how different factors combine to contribute to the gaps in attainment at KS4 between various groupings of pupils.
Key findings or focus:
Regarding the first aim, the report presents a substantial series of statistical analyses that suggest that LSYPE data can be successfully combined with NPD data in a valid, accurate, and reliable fashion. It is claimed that this finding is significant, as the report suggests that models using the combined information have a number of advantages over those using only NPD data. In particular, it claims that the new models give a better understanding of the relative importance of the PLASC characteristics. The report covers a wide range of factors, but it is possible to illustrate the sorts of claims made with one example: this is the interesting claim that the report makes to the effect that the new models demonstrate that FSM has a much smaller effect on the predicted pupil outcome than before, with much of the 'FSM effect' being explained by other factors in the model, e.g. low income and low parental engagement.
The report claims that such revelations are possible as the new models are better able to 'decompose' the factors contributing to attainment gaps, showing which factors independently affect GCSE attainment, and which actually represent combinations of the independent factors. The report suggests that the main independent factors are: household income and material deprivation; area deprivation; family composition; parental employment status; pupil aspirations; parental engagement; parental background (social class and education levels); school composition; and school effectiveness.
An example of this 'decomposing' process can be given with reference to another interesting contention the report makes. This regards the impact of pupil aspirations on their attainment. It is suggested that aspirations have a significant effect on KS4 attainment. Indeed, the report presents data that suggests that, even after other factors have been controlled for, a pupil having high aspirations still more than doubles the odds of them achieving five A*-C grades, including English and Maths. With such an impact, it is obviously important to understand what influences pupil aspirations, if action is to be taken to improve them. Using the combined data sets, the report suggests that the major factors causing pupils to have low aspirations are: low family income; their friends not wishing to stay in education post-sixteen; and poor family cohesion.
The above examples are just two from a range of interesting inferences the report makes from the combined data sets. The research suggests that there is no single factor that is responsible for the gaps between different groups of pupils. Of course, this does not preclude those gaps being narrowed; rather it presents useful information to suggest where, exactly, initiatives should be targeted and which combinations of factors might ideally be targeted together.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource in relation to ITE:
LSYPE data is linked to the data from the NPD and, together, these data sets represent a large and rigorous source of information. The statistical analyses used in the report are also well established and appropriate.
Regarding the report's first aim: this substantiates the claim that the two data sets are compatible and can be successfully combined to produce new models. There are potential problems. For example, the report itself acknowledges the fact that, in checking the models of the two data sets for compatibility, some differences did emerge. However, sensible reasoning is advanced to explain and address these differences. For example, the differences between the models regarding the Gypsy/Roma ethnic minority group were explained by the fact that LSYPE includes only a population sample instead of the whole population, and that the differences in the LSYPE group were attributable to the fact that it consisted of only a small number of people, relative to the NPD data.
Regarding the second aim of the report: the robust data sets and statistical analyses suggest that the claims advanced regarding how factors combine to affect attainment gaps can be treated with a high level of confidence.
This makes the report of significance to anyone interested in improving the attainment of under-attaining groups at KS4. There is a great deal to digest in the report, but it is worth consideration and does present useful summaries of its findings. Of course, it is not within the report's remit to suggest actual solutions, but it does give useful information as to exactly what the problems are and how they might be targeted in combination.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors - when and how it could have best impact:
The resource is of most relevance in secondary contexts, though its conclusions are thought-provoking and not without relevance to primary contexts, where, it might be argued, the factors identified by the study will also be affecting children. It will be useful in any context where it is necessary to consider how measures affecting attainment might be addressed. The report might be particularly useful on courses focusing on school management, where it might challenge some of the prevailing ideas on what holds certain pupils back, showing the factors involved to be much more complex than they are sometimes portrayed.
The relevance to ITE students - how and why it has importance:
As above, the resource is most useful to students in the secondary sector. Here, it will provide much information to provoke thought on the factors that hinder pupils from attaining and how these factors combine and influence each other.
The following might be useful to read in conjunction with this resource:
For more information on LSYPE, see: www.esds.ac.uk/longitudinal/access/lsype/L5545.asp or https://ilsype.gide.net/workspaces/public/wiki/Welcome