The NFER blog

Evidence for excellence in education


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Are secondary free schools really achieving what they’re supposed to?

By Chloe Rush

This opinion piece first appeared in TES on Tuesday 14 November 2017. 

A key part of the 2010 Coalition Government’s education strategy, free schools were introduced to create a more autonomous and self-improving school system by driving up standards through greater school choice and increased local competition. However, free schools have attracted a lot of controversy since their inception, with some commentators claiming they are expensive and wasteful, and set up in places where there is surplus capacity, while supporters say they are located in areas of need and provide a better quality of education than local authority schools. Who is right? We explore some of these issues here and ask why so much of the new provision has happened in London. Continue reading


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International school spending – how does the UK compare?

By Maire Williams

Over the last six months, school funding has been an almost constant feature in policy debate, from the proposed introduction of a National Funding Formula to the longer running cuts and freezes schools are facing to their budgets. However, far less has been said on how the UK compares internationally. While there are obviously some ‘health warnings’ around comparing international data, including recognising that different countries may be pursuing different priorities, international comparisons can still give us insight into how outcomes vary (or don’t vary) with expenditure.  Continue reading


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Are teacher pay reforms having an impact on schools?

By Matt Walker

Growth in pupil numbers as well as the increased costs associated with pensions, national insurance and inflation are putting pressure on school budgets in England. At the same time, school workforce and teacher retention are high on the education policy agenda. Continue reading


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Apprenticeships In England – are they working?

By Zoe des Clayes

Currently the United Kingdom’s (UK) gross domestic product per hour worked is at least 20 per cent behind that of the USA, France and Germany, according to official figures from the Office of National Statistics. The green paper, Building our Industrial Strategy (January 2017) argues that the productivity gap between the UK and these other countries could be partially closed by developing the technical and higher level vocational skills of the UK workforce. This green paper argues that high-quality apprenticeships are a core way to improve these skills across the UK. The strategy also highlights that improving these skills is especially important because of the increasing mechanisation of low skill jobs and the UK’s departure from the European Union.  Continue reading


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Party conferences: policy aspiration, inspiration and ideation

By Karen Wespieser and Claudia Sumner

Party conferences are, by their nature, all about policy aspiration, inspiration and ideation. For the party currently in government, it is also a time for reflection and celebration. But whichever ‘tion’ is in the spotlight, research evidence can play a useful role. Continue reading


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Phonics results – Now that’s good news for young readers

By Jane Nicholas

In the first year of the annual phonics screening check (PSC) in 2012, less than three-fifths of pupils achieved the expected standard. There was also a large variation in outcomes between different areas of the country. However, the latest PSC for primary pupils in England, published yesterday by the Department for Education (DfE), shows that many more pupils are now achieving the expected standard in 2017 and the wide variation previously seen has largely disappeared. This is good news, as the teaching of phonics is considered by the Department of Education to be the best practice to provide a secure foundation for the teaching of reading. Continue reading


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Choose a not-for-profit research organisation for a lower effect size?

By Ben Styles

As the head of NFER’s Education Trials Unit, I was interested to read Professor Stephen Gorard’s recent book on Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) in education.

It’s an interesting book but there are aspects that I would like to challenge. Take the passage that reads: ‘One of the main problems with [the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)] lies in finding the capacity among traditional researchers in university departments of education to conduct and even appreciate such work… Instead, the funds have been taken up by the growing sector of not-for-profit organisations… IES (and EEF in the UK) need the capacity that these organisations offer in order to conduct evaluations, and the organisations themselves need the external funding maintained in order to pay the salary of staff employed to do the evaluations. This might make the organisations more likely to provide what they feel the funder wants…’ Continue reading


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Factors affecting maths achievement and pupil absence in Ethiopian schools

By Stephen McNamara

Bad policy is, at best, a waste of resources and, at worst, damaging to those it intends to help. To prevent such situations, we need reliable data to facilitate effective analysis and policy.

One of the best sources of data about educational outcomes in the Global South is the Young Lives study, which is carrying out longitudinal research on childhood poverty in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam. Young Lives School surveys, which provide valuable insights on student achievement, school effectiveness, and equity issues, and are an important component of this research. Continue reading


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What’s happening to reading under the new Key Stage 2 curriculum and assessment regime?

By Jennie Harland and Claire Hodgson

The Government has today published the provisional national curriculum assessment results for Key Stage (KS) 2 for primary pupils in England. They show very encouraging increases in attainment compared with the 2016 results, with 61 per cent of pupils reaching the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics (i.e. a scaled score of 100 or more or a teacher assessment of ‘reaching the expected standard’ or ‘working at greater depth’ in writing) in 2017 compared with 53 per cent in 2016. Continue reading


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Overall NEET rates continue to fall but should we be concerned about the rise in 16 to 18 year olds who are NET as well as NEET?

By Tami McCrone

Amidst the excitement of GCSE results and commentary on the new grading system for English and maths yesterday, you may be forgiven for missing the fact that the latest quarterly statistical first release (SFR) from the Department for Education on young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) was also published.
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