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The best advice for parents at the start of term

Category: In the News
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The Sutton Trust and our sister charity, the Education Endowment Foundation, receive recognition for our evidence-based research on the best school strategies in the Financial Times.

At the start of the summer term, let us hail Brandy Young. The elementary school teacher from Texas announced last year that her class would no longer receive homework.“Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside and get your child to bed early,” ran her advice.

An approving parent posted Mrs Young’s message on Facebook, and it went viral. The letter won plaudits and prompted a public debate about whether homework and other school strategies, such as making class sizes smaller and enforcing uniforms, really do lead to better academic results.

The stream of bright ideas can be dizzying, and the dividends are hard to pin down. The Sutton Trust, a UK think-tank, has long recognised this. I first came across its pioneering research about six years ago when I was a school governor in London. Being an evidence junkie, I was struck by the trust’s finding that many supposedly advantageous practices, such as school uniforms and smaller class sizes, made little difference to academic outcomes.

In 2011, the trust set up the Education Endowment Foundation, a charity funded with £125m from the UK government. It runs randomised controlled trials to uncover which schemes, such as breakfast clubs, actually work.

In fact, says James Turner, EEF’s deputy chief executive, it is as much about pinpointing what does not work. On this, Mrs Young had it about right: homework does not always make the grade.

Mr Turner explains: “Primary homework can add an extra month’s progress over a year but given the time and effort involved [in setting and marking], is it really the best use of teachers’ time?” By contrast, giving pupils feedback can add five months’ progress over the same period.

The EEF is conducting a fascinating trial to shoehorn secondary school parents back into the engagement loop. Selected secondary schools are sending regular text messages to parents, such as prompts about homework.

The SMS updates give parents an opportunity that may not otherwise arise to discuss school with their child.

Read the full article here.