Better School for All? New NIESR research funded by the Nuffield Foundation

31 January 2018

The latest issue of the National Institute Economic Review, to be published on Wednesday 7 February, focuses on the issue of school performance. Produced as part of work funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the issue features new research from experts in the education field, exploring how much of the variance in pupil attainment is accounted for by schools, the prevalence of human resource management practices in state compared with private schools, the use of newly qualified teachers by schools and the role of subject choice. 

The four articles are:

The paper by Wilkinson et al. explores the relative importance of schools in explaining the variation in pupil attainment. Using data for secondary schools in England, covering the period from 2009/10 to 2015/16, the authors find that schools account for a relatively small share of the variation, although the extent of this differs according to the measure of attainment used. While the contribution is small, it is still important – schools do matter for attainment. However, perhaps not quite so much as the policy debate sometimes suggests.

There is a perception among some commentators and policy analysts that leadership and managerial practices in private schools are superior to those in state schools. Analysing a survey of workplaces in Britain, Bryson and Green find no evidence to support this contention. Rather, the evidence points to greater use of modern human resource management practices in state schools. This raises serious questions about the value of encouraging managers of private schools to sponsor state schools.

Teacher shortages in England have worsened in recent years and one contributor is the declining rates of retention among newly qualified teachers (NQTs). Sims and Allen employ a method developed in the health-statistics literature to identify schools that both recruit an unusually high level of NQTs and lose an unusually high level of NQTs from the profession. They show that this small group of schools, which are likely characterised by poor working conditions, are responsible for a disproportionately large amount of attrition from the teaching profession.  This has a sizeable effect on overall teacher shortages and comes at a high cost to taxpayers. Policy solutions, including improving the flow of information to NQTs to help them avoid such schools, are discussed.

A major part of the 2010-2015 UK government’s education reforms in England was a focus on the curriculum that pupils study from ages 14-16. Most high profile was the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) performance measure for schools, incentivising study of subjects the Russell Group identifies as key for university study. Anders et al. use rich survey data from a recent cohort of young people in England to explore whether otherwise similar young people who study specific sets of subjects to age 16 have different probabilities of progressing to university, and specifically high-status universities. The authors find that conditional differences in university entry attributable to subject choice are, at most, small.