How intake and other external factors affect school performance
By Will Cook
The purpose of this review is to present the evidence for the factors that influence pupil attainment and the extent to which the performance of schools reflects these factors. Increasing school performance and reducing educational inequalities remain central policy objectives in English education.
With the advent of the ‘pupil premium’ policy, there has been increased focus on what schools might do to lessen the effects of pupil background factors, and this review provides an overview of the effective interventions that teachers, schools and policymakers may consider.
• School performance as measured by both exam scores and Ofsted ratings is strongly related to the prior attainment and the socio-economic background of a school’s intake.
• The strongest determinants of pupil attainment are located at the individual pupil level and at the family level. This is not to say that schools are not important but, once intake characteristics are controlled for, variation in school performance is not large.
• There is a limit to what can be done to break the link between pupil background and attainment by interventions directed at whole school improvement.
• Some pupil level interventions have been demonstrated to produce gains in attainment for disadvantaged pupils; for example, there is robust evidence of the efficacy of pre-school interventions in breaking the link between background and attainment. However, effective teaching and learning is a complex activity that cannot readily be reduced into simple interventions.
• The most effective interventions are those that start early and are sustained over the course of a pupil’s school career.
• Schools do not operate in a vacuum and some of the influences on pupil attainment, such as maternal health and wellbeing, family income, parental job security, the socio-economic mix of peers and access to thriving labour markets, imply measures that are much wider than those that have hitherto been the focus of education policy.