The NFER blog

Evidence for excellence in education


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Are secondary schools making enough progress in closing the attainment gap?

By Caroline Sharp

I read the latest DfE Statistical First Release on 2016 GCSE results with great interest. Although most of the press coverage focused on the league tables of schools and the relative performance of grammar, academies and local authority schools, I was drawn to the section on the attainment gap in state-funded schools. This was a case of good news/bad news. Good news: the attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and others reduced slightly in 2016, as it has in four of the last five years. Bad news: progress is slow and the position of disadvantaged pupils in 2016 is almost the same as in 2013. In fact, the gap would have been the same as last year if you exclude the recent addition of results from students in FE colleges. Continue reading


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EBacc teacher recruitment and retention: even more challenging times ahead?

By Susie Bamford

Secondary schools face particular teacher recruitment and retention challenges, especially in some English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects. This was one of the conclusions of NFER’s report last November, Should I Stay or Should I Go: NFER Analysis of Teachers Joining and Leaving the Profession. The report was well received, primarily for its fresh and independent take on the emotive topic of a so-called workforce crisis. Continue reading


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Could it be that disengagement leads to poor skills?

By Tami McCrone

Last Thursday I attended two events in London: a Demos seminar reporting on ways to re-engage disengaged young people pre-16 years old, and an OECD seminar ‘Building skills for all – a review of England’ which offered policy insights from the survey of adult skills.
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Coasting schools and the cliff edge

Ben Durbin

When you walk along a coastal path close to the cliff edge, it’s hard to concentrate on anything other than the sheer drop below. It’s more difficult to hold a conversation and positively risky to look too far ahead for fear you might slip. This situation becomes all the more exaggerated for someone who does slip towards the edge, scrabbling to regain their footing.

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Boarding schools can provide a springboard for disadvantaged pupils

By Suzanne Straw

The benefits for the less than one per cent of pupils in England who have the privilege to attend fee paying boarding schools are widely acknowledged. However, what are the impacts of offering fully funded boarding school places to disadvantaged pupils? This is a subject less well researched over recent years and is the focus of an evaluation of The SpringBoard Bursary Foundation (‘SpringBoard’) being undertaken by NFER between 2013 and 2018. The second year evaluation report can be found here.

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researchED 2015 – factchecking claims isn’t just about accuracy

By Amy Sippitt, Education Lead at Full Fact.

At the ITV general election leaders’ debate back in April, Nick Clegg claimed:

“If we want to make sure that our own youngsters get the jobs…we’ve got to train them up. Over the last five years we’ve got two million more people starting apprenticeships”.

He’s right that there was an increase of two million, but these new apprentices don’t necessarily represent better qualified youngsters. Look at the breakdown of the data and the biggest increase in starts was for those over 25, who made up 4 in 10 of the new starts. In other words—apprenticeship starts for the over 25s more than tripled, while starts for the under 19s increased by 3%. Continue reading


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How can we best support coasting schools?

By Matt Walker

The waiting is finally over, and the government has now set out their definition of what constitutes a ‘coasting school’.  In my earlier post I explored some of the potential issues around the criteria chosen, and many others have commented too (see for example education datalab’s ‘Choose your own coasting secondary school’ tool).  While discussion of the definition will inevitably continue, it’s also important to consider the government’s proposed remedy. Continue reading


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The line of best fit isn’t always a straight line

I remember the first time I was taught by a good maths teacher and discovered with joy that maths was not just endless repetition and learning of formulae but a hidden language, a series of codes and puzzles, a playground of the mind; and I was hooked. At the time, preparing for my O levels, I did not appreciate that my mathematical journey was a reflection of the changes that were happening in maths education through developments such as MEI. Continue reading