This week saw the official start of winter. So with the days set to get colder we take a quick look back at what’s been hot in 2016.
Perhaps this list is not a surprise. It is, not unintentionally, a mirror of what has been important in education over the past 12 months.
Our most popular blog was about Phonics, a topic never far from the headlines. NFER’s evaluation of the Phonics Screening Check (PSC) for the DfE suggested that its introduction had catalysed schools to ‘sharpen up’ their phonics teaching and/or to improve their phonics assessment. But it also warned that there is no conclusive evidence (at least at present) of improvements in pupil attainment or in progress that can be clearly attributed to the PSC.
Our second most popular blog was, on the face of it, about the now redundant Education White Paper, but the detail was all about the importance of responding to government enquiries. The blog highlighted the opportunities that enquiries and consultations present to influence policy by sharing evidence, experience, opinion or opposition. This was a topic which hit the headlines again with Schools That Work For Everyone, DfE’s consultation on their proposal to create more good school places by, among other things, allowing new selective schools to open. NFER’s response urged the Government to consider the existing potential capacity in the system and to think more holistically about sources of school support, beyond a focus on certain institutions or school types.
The third and fourth most popular blogs were both about teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD). In a post to mark NFER reaching the milestone of 10,000 Twitter followers, the edu-twitterati gave their views highlighting how the micro-blogging site can be a great source of CPD, discussion and debate. Similarly, a blog reflecting on research in schools highlighted how a group of teachers felt that research and enquiry were helping them do their jobs better.
Fifth on our list of top blogs, and third in our most downloaded reports, is the issue of teacher recruitment and retention. Our 2016 report found that whilst the majority of teachers are not considering leaving the profession, the proportion of teachers considering leaving had, increased. It also identified a strong interaction between teacher engagement and retention and recommended that school leaders should monitor teacher engagement and future intentions more systematically.
Top of our report downloads are the publications related to the recent TIMSS and PISA results. These came out within a week of each other, the equivalent of a rare solar eclipse in the world of education. NFER used its extensive expertise in international surveys to publish a range of summaries and analyses of what the results meant for UK education. We also used the data from the new 2015 surveys to look in detail at the impact of disadvantage on pupils in England from an international perspective, identifying a gap between the most and least disadvantaged equivalent to over three years’ of schooling (close to the OECD average) and recommending that pupils would benefit from more sophisticated measures of deprivation.
Our second most downloaded report was NFER’s unique contribution to the academies agenda; our latest report is about the evolving schools’ landscape since Regional Schools Commissioners (RSC) were introduced in 2014.The report highlights the growth in academies over the past 12 months (29 per cent of all state schools in England are academies, an increase of four percentage points since September 2015) but points out that the proportion of academies continues to vary by phase and RSC region.
Finally we come to NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training). Although the NEET number is showing indications that it is beginning to rise this is not an issue that is getting as much coverage as teacher recruitment or structural changes to the system. Following a longitudinal study, NFER produced a case study report which found that if school-based programmes are put in place to support students aged 14-16 at risk of temporary disconnection from learning, then the young people’s attitudes to school can be improved over time. There is also a ‘Top Tips’ guide for schools offering practical help in delivering support programmes for this group of students, particularly those aged 14-16.
I hope that this list has warmed you up a little… While we have looked at the top five reports and blogs by downloads and blog views, this is just a small proportion of NFER’s outputs during 2016. You can find more on our website, blog, LinkedIn and Twitter.