Department of Education

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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/ 

Departmental research teaching young women from non-traditional backgrounds how to code has led to more than newly developed programming skills for its participants, thanks to department academics Niall Winters (Associate Professor in Learning and New Technologies) and Anne Geniets (Research Fellow), with several young women from the most recent cohort who previously showed low participation in higher education going on to undertake further qualifications and training.

‘Go_Girl’ first began in 2015 and was initially run in partnership with Oxfordshire County Council’s Early Intervention Service to help widen and create a fairer access to the University in Oxford. Now in its third year, the programme has helped more than twenty young women in Oxford by training them in research, presentation, media production and IT skills, whilst also empowering the young women, broadening their aspirations and helping to determine their future career paths.

Pupils from the most recent cohort reported:

Participating in the programme, made me have a wider perspective of what I could do instead of working in retail for the rest of my life.  The programme gives you that hope that you actually don’t have to be what everybody always said you were going to be.  I didn’t want to be that person who wasn’t going to go anywhere … but this gave me more of a push.  It’s made me more independent to make my own decisions.  All the women that are here decided to come because they want a better life.  It’s like you’ve come from somewhere far away to somewhere you’ve never been before and taken that leap even though there is a possibility that it might not work out.  To put on your CV that you’ve attended something like this when you didn’t have to just proves that you’re willing to do something new and different.”  Rebecca, aged 18.

Before joining the programme, Rebecca was not in education or in employment. She has since enrolled in college to complete her GCSE in English, found employment in retail and most recently been accepted to join an NVQ3 in Business at a college in Oxford.

Participating in the Go_Girl programme made me more confident and I know that I’m not alone … I’ve got contacts [now].  The project shows that I can code.  I can design a game.  I can make a model.  I can design all the aspects of a game. The best thing was the guest speakers.  Everyone came from nothing but they didn’t give up.  They kept trying and look where they are now.  Coding has kind of changed my ways.  I changed my career path to designing games … because I enjoy making these fun adventures and I feel like the skills I have could match to it.”
Jay Jay, aged 24.

Since completing the Go_Girl project Jay Jay has been accepted onto a Masters course for Games Design and Development at the National Film & Television School, where she hopes to continue to further develop the demo that she created whilst on the Go_Girl programme into a full game.

It’s really helped me feel comfortable when talking because I never used to feel comfortable or confident doing anything like this.  You guys have been helping me with my future.  I learned coding.  That was really good because it’s something that I wouldn’t have seen myself doing.  Most of the people who came to talk – that was really useful because they obviously came from nothing and kind of worked their way up and that’s useful to hear.  When we had to present, I wasn’t going to do it but I did it anyway.  You guys kind of pushed us to do it and it went really well.”  Haylee, aged 18.

Haylee plans to become a nursing assistant and then a nurse in the NHS.  She is currently undertaking an apprenticeship at a local nursery and attending college 1-day a week.

The programme’s weekly Go_Girl sessions for the third cohort of young women started this month. The project continues to draw on the expertise of an interdisciplinary team who a re part of the department’s Learning and New Technologies Research Group and the Department of Computer Science, who have experience in new media engagement of young women from non-traditional backgrounds, collaborative design, participatory action research, and the training in and development of coding skills.

This research was initially supported by the University of Oxford IT Innovation Seed Fund and has received subsequent funding from Goldman Sachs Gives.

For more information visit: www.gogirloxford.org

Twitter: @gogirlteam

To discover more about the department’s Learning and New Technologies group see here.

This year’s annual International Association for Educational Assessment (IAEA) conference, hosted by the department’s Centre for Educational Assessment, welcomed over 400 participants from examination boards across the globe to St Catherine’s College, Oxford from 9 – 14 September.

The theme for the conference was Assessment and Big Data, with keynotes delivered by Rebecca Eynon (Department of Education), Art Graesser (University of Memphis) and Michelle Meadows (Ofqual), which focused on the social implications of Big Data and data tracking and the use of intelligent agents in tutoring and assessment, to the opportunities and limitations of data as a regulatory tool.

The conference also included an opening address from the University’s Vice Chancellor and an introduction to the conference theme by the department’s Director, Professor Jo-Anne Baird.

Watch all the conference highlights here.

For more information about the department’s Centre for Educational Assessment see: http://oucea.education.ox.ac.uk/

Associate Professor 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 the project, ‘Empowering staff to enhance oral language in early years’, seeks to embed effective practice in order to empower staff to support children’s oral skills. Taking place in the south east and north east of England, the project will begin in 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/

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.

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Article citing research conducted by Professor Pam Sammons (Professorial Senior Research Fellow)

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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.