These three studies used different methods to explore phenomena affecting young people, whether transitions and attainment, special needs and disability, or family life.

Bart Shaw and Dr Will Cook previewed study findings that shows pupils’ perception of their academic ability dips dramatically once they start secondary school. This comes from an ongoing project that LKMco is collaborating on with Manchester Metropolitan University, funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Amongst other findings, the study shows that big gaps emerge between poorer pupils and their peers’ perceptions of their ability over the course of key stage 3, particularly in maths and science.

The research uses data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a national data set tracking 19,000 young people born in 2000. It is particularly useful given concerns about key stage 3 being a “lost phase”.

In the next stage of this project researchers will combine MCS data with information from the National Pupil Database to try to explain trends in low-income pupils’ progress at secondary school that were highlighted in a 2017 Education Datalab and LKMco report for the Social Mobility Commission (Low Income Pupils’ Progress at Secondary School; Shaw, B., et al., 2017.) If changes in attitudes really are linked to patterns in attainment, the research could be very important for secondary schools looking to tackle attainment gaps.

The second study, Special or Unique – Young People’s Attitudes to Disability (Odell, E., currently in press), explores a previously neglected topic: young people’s perceptions of disability and young disabled people’s experiences of school.

It showed that young people with special educational needs or disabilities had limited knowledge of their disability, the “reasonable adjustments” they were entitled to and what these adjustments were for. Furthermore, some young people who were classified as disabled did not describe themselves that way.

The study involved 33 disabled and non-disabled young people.

The researchers consulted with a steering group of young disabled people to design research tools that combined artistic methods with discussion. The goal was to help pupils to tell their stories in a way that worked for them.

The study raises questions about how and which pupils are classified as disabled and aims to help schools, policymakers and disability organisations provide inclusive education. One potential implication is that pupils with special educational needs should be helped to understand their disability, and how reasonable adjustments and support could support them academically and in later life.

The third study, Partners in Progression: Engaging Parents in University Access (Mulcahy, E., Baars, S., 2018) explored parental engagement: are there different “types” of parent in terms of the way they engage with their children’s education, and do different types have different concerns about higher education?

The research, conducted for King’s College London’s Widening Participation team, aimed to inform and improve the outreach activities schools, colleges and universities offer parents.

Data was drawn from a specially commissioned survey of 1,000 parents who were asked about their engagement with their child’s education and their concerns about higher education.

Researchers then used a statistical technique known as cluster analysis to identify different “types” of parents based on their (self-reported) patterns of engagement. It showed that parents fall into four clusters, with most (more than 90 per cent) falling into two clusters characterised by relatively high levels of engagement. There was a modest link between social class and parental engagement, with the relatively more engaged clusters containing more parents that were middle class.

The research also showed that most parents focus on particular forms of engagement such as attending school events and talking to their children about their education, whatever their cluster.

Taken together, these three studies show the range of methods that researchers need to have at their disposal if they are to unpick some of the patterns and trends that shape pupils’ lives.