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Reading at ‘English hub’ schools holds up post-pandemic

But DfE research finds no firm 'causal' link between participation and improved phonics scores

But DfE research finds no firm 'causal' link between participation and improved phonics scores

A reading improvement scheme allocated almost £100 million in government funding may have helped participating schools weather the impact of Covid-19 disruption, Department for Education research suggests.

However, the study found no firm “causal” link between participating in the English hubs programme and improved outcomes in the phonics screening check.

English hubs were launched in 2018 with £26 million in set-up funding. Each of 34 “hubs” is a school selected for their “expertise” in teaching early reading.

They work with selected schools in their area to improve teaching. A further £48 million has been spent since then, and £19.8 million has been allocated for next year.

Government researchers analysed results from the phonics screening check, which is conducted in year 1, for schools that participated in the English hubs scheme and those that did not.

They found that between 2018-19, the last year the phonics check was conducted before pandemic disruption, and 2021-22, the proportion of pupils in partner schools meeting the “expected standard” rose by around 1 percentage point.

In non-partner schools, the proportion meeting the benchmark fell by around 7 percentage points.

Supported schools ‘appear to have fared better’

The DfE said this meant schools supported by English hubs “appear to have therefore fared better than other schools, on average, in dealing with the negative impacts of the pandemic on PSC attainment”.

The research said this was “possibly” due to the English hubs programme. However, there are “limitations” to the findings.

To interpret the results as “genuine programme impacts” relies on “strong assumptions about what would have happened to partner schools’ attainment in 2021-22 if they had not been enrolled into the programme”.

A causal interpretation “also requires the assumption that the results are not being biased by variables we do not or cannot control for”, such as schools implementing interventions that were not at the behest of the English hubs scheme.

“Ultimately, we cannot definitively rule out that omitted variable bias is driving part or all of the estimates and therefore none of these results can be interpreted as causal.

“However, given the size of the coefficients across the various methodologies and sensitivity analysis carried out, it seems more likely than not that the [programme] is having an impact on phonics results.”

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