In the United States, quite a lot of interest has been shown in so-called “looping” – keeping the same teacher with the same set of pupils for more than one academic year. Such an approach may – in theory – allow better pupil-staff and pupil-pupil relationships to be formed, help teachers and pupils adjust to each other’s styles, and make classroom rules and expectations surrounding behaviour clear from the get-go.
Given these possible benefits, to what extent should schools attempt to keep the same teacher with the same pupils over time?
In a new academic paper, Loic Menzies and I look at some new international evidence on this matter.
The TALIS video study
Along with seven other countries, England participated in the 2018 TALIS video study. In total, the participants consisted of more than 500 mathematics teachers and 15,000 of their pupils, who were on average around 15 years old.
As part of this study, pupils were asked whether they were currently taught by the same teacher that taught them the previous academic year. This allowed us to look at whether the classroom climate and pupil outcomes differed across those who kept the same teacher versus those who changed. In our analysis, “looped” classes are defined as those where at least 75 per cent of pupils were taught by the same mathematics teacher for at least two consecutive years.
The table below illustrates how the prevalence of looping compares across the eight countries in our sample. As the data in most were not nationally representative, these figures should be taken with a pinch of salt. And as the data were only collected from secondary schools, we also do not know about the prevalence of looping within primary school settings.
However, it does suggest that looping in England is comparatively rare. Less than one in five of the classes in England were “looped” (16 per cent). This it notably lower than in Chile (50 per cent), Japan (60 per cent) and Shanghai (80 per cent).
Does it make a difference?
The key question, of course, is whether looping makes much of a difference.
Despite the theoretical benefits, our analysis suggests that there is actually little to be gained from looping. While absence rates may be marginally lower, there is no evidence of any improvement in test scores, and possibly even some small declines in students’ self-confidence.
Evidence surrounding classroom climate is also somewhat inconclusive. Students and teachers did not consistently report there to be better behaviour or fewer disruptions in looped classrooms. Nor did they report there to be better relationships between pupils (or between pupils and staff).
We have also gone back and looked again at the literature from other countries, with much of this coming from the United States. Upon further inspection, this evidence also suggested that any positive benefits associated with looping are likely to be very small. The magnitude of the positive effects reported by others – which has focused on test scores and levels of pupil absence – is in fact marginal, at best.
Given these results, what would our advice then be to schools?
Sometimes, researchers can be guilty of providing too much advice, when the reality is the likely impact is minimal. Looping probably falls into this category.
From what we can see, with regards to secondaries at least, the evidence does not seem strong enough to justify schools going out of their way to enact looping as a school policy. Yet neither should they bother to actively avoid it either.
Rather, looping should be encouraged to happen when other aspects of timetabling make it the most pragmatic choice, or when localised professional judgement indicates that it is an appropriate course of action.