I am delighted to chair the evidence group for Josh MacAlister’s review of the care system, described by the Secretary of State who launched it as a “wide-ranging, independent review to address poor outcomes for children in care as well as strengthening families to improve vulnerable children’s lives.”
Josh MacAlister and the review team published their opening position on Thursday 17th June, a statement on the case for change.
The review has heavy billing, not least as the level of government borrowing is higher now than when a previous Conservative chancellor demanded austerity. The current administration may be more inclined to spend but will they spend on children outside of universal services?
The review is also in the shadow of the recent review of the system in Scotland, which was much longer, was evidently led by those with experience of care, and reported into a devolved administration that has a clear articulation of its commitment to deliver the rights of children.
The pressure is certainly on. The case for change sets out Josh’s interpretation and that of the review team of what they have heard so far, in listening to and reading the evidence of personal testimony, academic research, expert views and from responses submitted to the review. From this, the case for change indicates where the review team think the system needs to change.
It is very welcome that the review is publishing the case for change so that everyone with an interest knows where the review will focus and is able to respond on the more specific issues. I know that Josh and the team are very open to all responses on these questions and I know that they are listening. People can respond here.
There are two old cliches about how those outside positions of power in government might best engage in the business of government. One cliché is the lift test, “what do you do if you find yourself in a lift with a senior figure?” How to cut through, what to say, how to be heard? The second cliche concerns a train leaving the station. You don’t get to decide when the train runs, your choice is whether to ride the train.
The Evidence Group is one of three groups providing support to the review. Of particular importance is the Experts by Experience Board, there to ensure a voice in the review for those who have had a social worker (either themselves or a child in their care). The Design Group will help guide how the review designs its recommendations.
In my work I have tried to bring good evidence to bear on policy and practice and help ensure it is used meaningfully and accurately. To do this we need a clear idea about what we mean by good evidence, by what counts as evidence, for who, about what, applied how? We might call this an episteme, a framework of agreement about what counts as knowledge and how it should be interpreted, which allows us to settle on truths or at least determine what we mean by truthfulness, in how we answer research questions intended to inform decisions.
As chair of the evidence group, I can say that the review team have had access to a great deal of high quality evidence of multiple sorts on multiple questions. In the time available Josh and the team have made their interpretation of what it says about what should change in the care system, focusing particularly on the side of problems and issues requiring attention, rather than the many daily successes and positive outcomes that make up so much of existing practice and experience.
The members of the evidence group appointed by the review have submitted their views on the review team’s reading of the evidence and on the team’s interpretation and representations of it. Ultimately the case for change is not primarily an evidentiary paper in the sense of being set up as a research or science project with a clear technical methodology to address a narrow scientific or social scientific question. It isn’t subject to formal peer review and approval in the way that a National Statistic or an academic paper might be. Neither I nor the other group members get to sign off the document. It is ultimately the view of Josh and his team and that is in part what is meant by an independent review. Another reviewer might have looked at the evidence differently and made a different case or called for different changes.
I hope it leads to a fruitful discussion. For what it is worth I think the field suffers from a lack of agreement about what counts as good evidence. Because of the nature of the evidence as yet available and the diversity of views on it, many of the issues in the case for change are subject to considerable uncertainty and disagreement so it is likely that debate will continue.
I don’t think the question of the appropriate balance between statutory care of children and wider support to families is resolved by the evidence available, nor do we know enough in aggregate about what structures best help people provide the right supports to which groups of children at the right times. I agree it is good to have a debate about these things. The available evidence can inform and there will be more evidence gathering in the next stages of the review.
I hope that the review goes on to make valuable and effective recommendations that address many of the issues and challenges raised in evidence to the review and that these lead to real improvements to the experiences of children, families and care experienced people. I hope that the review is able to address the clear call from those with care experience to be heard, not just in the review, but in perpetuity. Finally, I hope the review addresses the need to improve knowledge and understanding both in terms of about how the care system might be improved but also in helping the public and hence government recognise the work of and hear the voices of care experienced people, children, social workers, carers, directors of children’s services and others who are too often drowned out of the public debate.
We will all have differing views on all of this. I hope we will have more blogs in the weeks ahead.
Read more about the case here.
This insight piece by Dr Lisa Holmes for the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory explores the nature, availability and use of child level administrative data at the local and regional level by children’s social care departments.
“It is evident that there is value in children’s social care data being analysed locally and regionally, as well as purely being exported by local authorities to meet the statutory reporting requirements, but that the capacity and capability of performance management teams impacts on the ease and frequency that this can take place. “
Use of these data are considered within the context of requirements to submit annual administrative data to the Department for Education. Consideration is also given to issues related to the capacity of local authority performance management teams which have been drastically reduced in many local authorities as a result of austerity.
Finally consideration is given to ways that local authorities may share learning and increase capacity and capability.
Full report Nuffield Family Justice Observatory 21/10/2019
Some of the UK’s most eminent education academics have collaborated to create a book offering a firm foundation for evidence-based, effective primary education. The book features work from department Professors Iram Siraj (Professor of Child Development and Education), Pam Sammons (Professor of Education), Edward Melhuish (Professor of Human Development) and Kathy Sylva (Professor of Educational Psychology). Using the UK’s 17-year Effective Provision of Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education research study (EPPSE, 1997–2014) as the core source, this research-led book combines qualitative and quantitative research findings to shine a spotlight on teaching in effective primary schools.
Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive Education Endowment Foundation, says “The history of education is littered with ideology, headline-grabbing here today, gone tomorrow policies and the hyped ideas of education gurus. Cutting through the fads and fashions, this book, by some of the UK’s most eminent education academics, gives us firm foundations for effective primary education.”
The book reveals the pedagogical strategies that are the hallmark of successful schools and brings these strategies to life through detailed observations of classroom interactions. By taking the reader into the classrooms of skilful teachers, it offers an accessible, multi-layered insight into how to make learning more engaging and motivating for children. This in turn will influence their development and progress, and, therefore, their later life chances.
The book also features work from Brenda Taggart, Honorary Senior Research Associate at the UCL Institute of Education and Donna-Lynn Shepherd, Senior Research Assistant at Coventry University.
Teaching in Effective Primary Schools: Research into pedagogy and children’s learning
Iram Siraj, Brenda Taggart, Pam Sammons, Edward Melhuish, Kathy Sylva and Donna-Lynn Shepherd
£24.99, paperback, 220 pages 16th September 2019 UCL IOE Press
Find out more about this area of research here.
This article was first published on The Conversation on 24 May 2019.
Author: Dr Neil Harrison, Rees Centre.
After years of decline, school exclusions are on the rise again, according to official figures for the Department for Education. The Timpson review, carried out by former children’s minister Edward Timpson, also shows that children in care and other “children in need” are disproportionately likely to be excluded. This amplifies the educational disadvantages they already face.
There are around 75,000 children in care at any one time in England. Collectively, they have some of the lowest educational outcomes of any identifiable group for reasons that are complex and multidimensional. The 2016-2017 figures show they are five times more likely to have been temporarily excluded than other children. Children in need -– the wider group needing support from their local authority –- were nearly four times as likely to be temporarily excluded and twice as likely to be permanently excluded.
Among Timpson’s 30 recommendations, he argues that all teachers should be trained in attachment theory as a means of understanding and addressing behavioural issues in school. This isn’t the first time this has appeared in a government report, but it feels like momentum is building.
Indeed, there is growing evidence that one pathway to reducing exclusions is for schools to adopt an “attachment and trauma aware” approach. This has its origins in early studies emphasising how a child’s relationships with adults and feelings of safety guide their psychological development. More recent advances in neurobiology have revealed how adverse childhood experiences such as abuse and neglect impact directly on the structure of a young person’s brain.
There is now increased understanding as to how the legacy of trauma affects how young people experience the world. It particularly influences how they build trusting relationships, understand boundaries and manage their emotions. Childhood trauma can leave a long-lasting physical mark.
This is, of course, not to argue that these children are inevitably destined to be poorly behaved, nor that bad behaviour should be ignored or explained away. Attachment and trauma awareness is about action, not inaction – and about equipping people with knowledge and information to understand children who have experienced difficult circumstances.
Causes not symptoms
In 2015, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) explored the effectiveness of attachment and trauma awareness in supporting vulnerable children. Their assessment, based on research evidence from around the world, was unequivocally positive.
Inexplicably then, it has taken four years for attachment and trauma awareness to bubble onto the political agenda. Rather, the focus of government attention, strongly promoted by schools minister Nick Gibb, has been on a “zero tolerance” approach to behaviour. This manifests in strict rules, strong sanctions and even periods of isolation for minor transgressions. Crucially, given the recent rise in exclusions, it doesn’t seem to be working. This is perhaps unsurprising given its obsessive focus on symptoms rather than causes.
Between 2016 and 2018, the University of Oxford evaluated three local projects to train school staff in attachment and trauma awareness. In the main, staff and pupils reported improvements in well-being and behaviour, with most schools also showing rising attainment. Become, a charity for children in care, recently made attachment and trauma awareness its number one recommendation for how teachers can best support vulnerable children to thrive.
The Attachment Research Community –- a charity working with schools –- collects case studies of schools that have been transformed through attachment and trauma awareness. The binding theme is a focus on ensuring that all staff, from headteachers to mealtime supervisors, are equipped to support young people to regulate their own emotions. They also typically make use of innovations like “chill out” rooms, nurture groups and “time out” cards to create a calmer environment for learning.
Hope School in Liverpool, which recently shared its new Ofsted report on social media, has been specifically commended for its attachment and trauma awareness:
Based on academic research you have developed a school that is sensitive to supporting pupils with attachment and complex trauma histories [and] removed reliance on external sanctions and rewards to control behaviour.
Ofsted’s report could not be clearer in its judgement. It concludes that “behaviour in school is exemplary and pupils make outstanding progress in their learning”. Specifically, “the emphasis [had] changed to understanding the internal reasons for behaviour”. In other words, attachment and trauma awareness works – even for already successful schools.
So with the current schools minister seemingly at odds with the former children’s minister (and now Ofsted), it remains to be seen how much longer the rhetorical “crackdown” on behaviour can survive. Education secretary Damian Hinds has accepted all 30 of Timpson’s recommendations on behalf of the government, albeit without firm commitments around teacher training. But, hopefully, attachment and trauma awareness is an idea whose time is finally coming.
Senior Researcher Sandra Mathers has been successful in securing joint funding for a ground-breaking project that aims to enhance socially disadvantaged children’s language skills. The project will be jointly conducted with Professor Julie Dockrell (UCL Institute of Education) and Professor James Law (Newcastle University).
Social disadvantage is closely associated with language delay and language delay impacts on social emotional and behavioural development and the ability to access the curriculum. Four-year-olds from the poorest 30 per cent of neighbourhoods are 11% less likely than their peers to reach expected levels in language and communication and 9% less likely to reach the expected level in social and emotional development.
Awarded by the Nuffield Foundation, ‘Empowering staff to enhance oral language in early years’ will build on the evidence-based Talking Time intervention, enhancing it to include professional development for teachers and their teams. The enhanced programme will support practitioners’ understanding and practice in relation to supporting young children’s oral language development. Taking place in the south east and north east of England, the project will begin in May 2019 and run until the end of 2020.
For more information: www.education.ox.ac.uk/research/empowering-staff-to-enhance-oral-language-in-the-early-years/
A Mathematical Reasoning programme developed by Department of Education researchers has been found to help pupils’ understanding of the logical principles underlying maths and boost their results by one additional month, according to the findings of a randomised controlled trial published by the Education Endowment Foundation in December.
160 English primary schools took part in the trial of Mathematical Reasoning, originally created and piloted by Terezinha Nunes (Emeritus Professor of Educational Studies) and Peter Bryant (Honorary Research Fellow), which involved almost 7,500 pupils in Year 2 (Key Stage 1). Teachers were trained to deliver the programme over 12-15 weeks as part of their usual maths lessons and pupils’ learning was supported by online games, which could be used at school and at home.
The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) led the delivery of the trial through the network of Maths Hubs, including recruiting 160 schools and training teachers. The independent evaluation by a team from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) found that pupils who took part in the programme made the equivalent of one additional month’s progress in maths, compared to a similar group of pupils. They also found some evidence that the programme also had a positive impact on mathematical reasoning.
Terezinha Nunes is Emeritus Professor at the department and has been researching children’s mathematical thinking for more than 35 years. In 2018 she was awarded the 2017 Hans Freudenthal Award for her outstanding contribution to the understanding of mathematical thinking, its origins and development.
The Mathematical Reasoning programme aims to improve mathematical attainment by developing pupils’ understanding of the logical principles underlying mathematics. The programme is delivered to year 2 pupils during normal lesson time.
The EEF previously funded a smaller trial of Mathematical Reasoning, which also suggested a positive impact on attainment, equivalent to an additional three months’ progress. This new trial, adapted to enable the programme to be delivered at scale, was designed to test its impact under everyday conditions and in a large number of schools. The EEF, University of Oxford and NCETM will now explore the potential for taking the project to more schools in England.
To find out more about Terezinha’s research visit: www.education.ox.ac.uk/people/terezinha-nunes/
To find out more about this research project see: www.education.ox.ac.uk/research/maths-reasoning/
Members from the department will collaborate with Peking University (China) on the development of maths interventions for Chinese children. The collaboration was inspired by the Reasoning First programme, a programme developed by researchers from the department’s Children Learning Research group, to promote mathematical learning.
The interventions, which will be specially re-designed involve two weeks of intensive joint work taking place in Beijing, starting in September. The visit of four members of the research group –Terezinha Nunes, Peter Bryant, Deborah Evans and Susan Baker – to Beijing is being sponsored by Peking University to launch this collaboration. The Chinese team will be led by Professor Lei Wang, from the Psychology Department.
For more information about the Reasoning First programme, see here.
A new report published by the British Educational Research Association and involving the department’s Senior Research Fellow, Professor Pam Sammons, provides a critical review of the government’s proposals for a baseline assessment of all children at reception entry, which will cost upward of £10 million.
The report ‘A baseline without basis: New report challenges the proposed reception baseline assessment in England‘ (published 4 July 2018) sets out the case against the government’s proposal to use a baseline assessment test of pupils in reception to hold schools in England to account for the progress that those pupils have made by the end of key stage 2, arguing that these are flawed, unjustified, and wholly unfit for purpose. The report goes on to state that these would be detrimental to children, parents, teachers, and the wider education system in England, and that the proposed baseline assessment will not lead to accurate or fair comparisons being made between schools because:
- Any value-added calculations that will be used to hold school to account will be highly unreliable.
- Children will be exposed to tests that will offer no formative help in establishing their needs and/or in developing teaching strategies capable of meeting them.
The report concluded that this an untried experiment that cannot be properly evaluated until at least 2027, when the first cohort tested at reception has taken key stage 2 tests.
The expert panel who authored the report, convened by BERA, included: Harvey Goldstein, Gemma Moss, Pamela Sammons, Gwen Sinnott and Gordon Stobart
Naomi Eisenstadt on how we can work with parents to give us the best possible chance of improving outcomes for children.
Parental engagement is often regarded as the missing link by educators, that elusive ingredient in the educational journey. The feeling is that if we get it right we can see a much greater impact on what happens in the classroom. But finding out what works is harder than you might think, as I’ve seen working on testing the impact of some promising projects.
Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Sutton Trust are working with six voluntary organisations to help them build evidence of the impact their interventions are having on educational outcomes for disadvantaged children ranging in age from two to six. The interventions include supporting parents to engage in their children’s learning through developing their own love of books, identifying day to day opportunities to reinforce early literacy, sending parents ideas of educational games to play with their children through a smartphone app, and training early years practitioners to engage parents in their children’s early education.
I am part of a small team from the University Of Oxford Department Of Education who are helping them to design evaluation strategies that are practical to deliver for small organisations while having sufficient rigour to provide useful information about impact.
We met earlier this month with the organisations and Impetus Private Equity Foundation who are helping them to identify key organisational features that improve quality of delivery of the interventions. This was about learning both from what has worked and what hasn’t.
We gathered in workshops looking at programme design, attendance, delivery level and leadership level learning, trying to answer the questions ‘Could we do what we do better and if so, how should we adapt?’
There are no easy answers, but we need to know them if delivery is going to be scaled up.
We saw a number of important messages emerging from the day. The first is how much harder it is to test out parental engagement interventions than testing out classroom based interventions. Schools are different from almost every other public service, in that all children must attend school, most parents agree that children should attend school, and the basic aims of education are widely understood and supported by the public. Parental interventions are almost always voluntary, and ensuring participation from those who could benefit most from a programme is a challenge.
But the more we learn about how to engage parents, the greater our chance of changing children’s lives for the better.
The second key message is about the challenge of the task itself: it is widely accepted that school success is largely influenced by what mothers and fathers do at home with their children before school, and continue to do at home during the primary school years. We know which behaviours are effective in developing a love of learning in children. However, knowing something makes a difference is not the same as being able to get parents to carry out those activities that make that difference. Changing behaviour is hard which is why it’s important to build the evidence of what works, and that’s what these organisations are focused on doing.
And then there is the question of cost, something we must focus on in the early stages of planning an intervention. The cost will play a big role in the likelihood that any intervention, even those with a very good evidence base of effectiveness, is taken up. A wonderful programme that is out of reach for those it could most help is useless. We need to work hard to ensure our interventions are cost effective taking into account the level of impact they have.
Impetus PEF encouraged a forensic focus on a clearly explained purpose as the key to success. The temptation to try to achieve many things with one intervention is great, but so are the risks: diluting expertise and impact, making it difficult to ascribe particular outcomes to particular aspects of the intervention. Clarity of purpose also works to ensure that across all likely partners there is a shared understanding of what the intervention and the organisation promoting it is all about.
Finally, it was clear by the end of the day, and by the small group discussions, that sharing what did not work as well as what strategies did work is essential, as it demonstrates that no one has all the answers. The reassurance that we all face similar challenges provides encouragement to keep striving to improve. After all, by being persistently curious about our practice and learning what does and doesn’t work for others, we give ourselves the best possible chance of improving outcomes for children.
Naomi Eisenstadt is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford Department for Education and is working with the Sutton Trust on our early years Parental Engagement Fund. She led the Sure Start programme in England during the 2000s and is an adviser to Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on children’s issues. She is also a member of the Sutton Trust’s Education Advisory Group.