A good reception year teacher makes the biggest and longest-lasting difference to primary school education, an assessment of over 70,000 children from Durham University's Curriculum, Evaluation and Management (CEM) Centre reveals.
The research, presented today at the British Educational Research Association Conference (BERA), suggests that while relative progress in each year of school is important, the earlier years are the most crucial. A modest boost in reception year is still detectable in the final year of his/her primary schooling at the age of 11, equivalent to a improvement of about a fifth of a level in a child's SAT test results. This can be added to by boosts in later years.
It also casts doubts on the current practice of schools focusing their best teachers on the later primary years in attempts to boost SAT test results used in Government league tables. A final dash to the finishing post at the end of Key Stage 2 might not result in the long terms gains that are so important for secondary education and beyond.
The paper's author Professor Peter Tymms, Director of Durham's CEM Centre explained the potential policy implications: "This work reinforces research which shows early years education is critical for children's later cognitive development and that while attention should of course be given to every year of education, more value should be placed on the most sensitive times, the first few years.
"Currently in England the primary school league tables have prompted schools to concentrate on generating the greatest gains in children's attainment in Year 6, to coincide with the year in which pupils sit the Government SAT tests from whose results the primary school league tables are published. This research shows that schools could well be misplacing some of their key resources and need to look carefully at their reception teaching and attainment of the children in this year group."
The research also revealed the opposite was true, that setbacks in a child's reception year could still be creating negative repercussions for his/her schooling six years later.
The research data comes from the CEM Centre's Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS) assessments, which measure cognitive development, such as vocabulary, maths and reading, in children throughout primary education. It used data from over 70,000 pupils who started school in England in 1999 and who were then tracked to the end of their primary education in 2005. It aimed to look for the impact of high quality provision in schools, by measuring relative progress (or "value-added") year on year. The analysis found cumulative effects throughout primary schooling.
The CEM Centre's PIPS On-entry Baseline Assessment is one of a suite of assessments that enable schools to monitor children's progress. PIPS is currently used by over 3,000 primary schools in the UK, 800 schools in Australia, and other schools worldwide including New Zealand, the Netherlands and South Africa. The baseline assessment has been translated into eight languages. Since its introduction in 1992, PIPS has tested several million primary school students.