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Primary Education News
News Pupils who switch schools in-year do worse in exams
Report says grades decline with each successive move and that poorer children suffer disproportionately
Children who change schools during their primary or secondary education do worse in exams than peers who do not, research has revealed.
Figures from the RSA thinktank show the decline in attainment increases with each change of school outside the traditional first years of primary and secondary education in England.
The authors of the RSA's report say the problem may disproportionately affect children from disadvantaged backgrounds as benefit cuts force poorer families to seek cheaper accommodation and end up being pushed into lower-performing schools with unfilled places. According to the RSA's calculations, a child's chances of achieving the government's benchmark of five good GCSE results drops markedly with each change of school.
While 62% of children who did not move schools got five GCSEs with marks between A* and C, only 44% of those who moved once in the previous four years did so. Among those who moved three times, just 27% gained the government's target of five good GCSE results.
The research comes as the government has increased its pupil premium payment to tackle underachievement among disadvantaged children to £1,300 per child. The chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has called for a renewed effort on closing the attainment gap that blights students from poorer families.
"Any government or any headteacher who cares about closing the gap should focus on those pupils who move mid-year," said Joe Hallgarten, the RSA's director of education, who initiated the project.
"They are often moving because of disadvantage. It may be because they are in care, it may be due to exclusion, it may be to do with house moves as a result of poverty, and so on. It looks here that those multiple factors means that layer upon layer of disadvantage is placed upon those young people."
The research – entitled Between the Cracks – reveals that 300,000 children move schools each year, higher than previously thought. Children from families eligible for free school meals – with a household income of less than £25,000 a year – make up about 40% of the total, well above the 26% of pupils who receive free meals nationally.
While the overall number of pupils moving "in year" has remained stable in recent years, the proportion of those from disadvantaged backgrounds has risen.
One glaring reason for the poorer results are the long periods of time some children spend out of school as a result of moving. The figures from the authoritative national pupil database show that, in any one year, 20,000 pupils will not have found a place even after an absence of a whole school term.
Urban centres, especially London's boroughs, see the most movement between schools, although the research also noted considerable movement in coastal towns.
Even after adjusting for prior attainment and social background, "we're confident that there is a negative impact happening to these people because of in-year moves", Hallgarten said.
"Pupils who move mid-year tend to get much worse choice of schools, and tend to be given the choice of less successful schools that have places on their rolls." While minority ethnic groups are disproportionately represented among the families moving between schools, the biggest growth belongs to the category "white other", which the RSA analysts suggest is most likely to be eastern European migrants.
The negative effect of moves on secondary school results are repeated at primary level. While 82% of those who don't move primary school attain level four or above at key stage two in English and maths, only 65% of those who move twice in the previous four years manage the same level of achievement, and only 57% for those moving three times or more.To solve the problem, the authors conclude that local authorities need to work together to share the problem of mid-year applicants. For individual schools, Ofsted should take admissions policies into account during its regular school inspections.
"Ofsted should look to see if schools are taking their share of in-year admissions, and if they are unfairly rejecting applications for in-year admissions," Hallgarten said.
While wealthier parents can co-ordinate their movement with the school calendar and afford to live closer to good schools, disadvantaged families have no such choice. As a result, those moving house mid-year were three times as likely to get placed in one of the worst-performing schools than in a top-performing school.
The report proposes that the Department for Work and Pensions and others should take into account the impact of housing moves on children's education and delay those moves – particularly as the result of housing benefit changes – until the end of a school year.
"Those who control housing – landlords, social landlords and local authorities – should wherever possible avoid families being forced to move mid-year, because we know the impact that can have on those young people's attainment," Hallgarten said.