Tag Archives: Social Science Research

CentrePiece : the education issue

A long-running research programme at the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) has been assessing the effectiveness of the UK’s educational policies in raising standards.

A series of studies has evaluated efforts both to improve the quality of education overall and to tackle the `long tail’ of people without basic skills by giving better opportunities to low-achieving, `hard-to-reach’ children from poorer families.

The latest issue of CentrePiece, published this week, provides an overview of some of the most significant findings across a wide range of policies.

Key findings from this collection of studies include:

Academies have improved their GCSE performance after changing status – but so have comparable schools that did not become academies.

Raising the school leaving age – as the UK government is currently proposing to do – may increase regional mobility and improve the employment outcomes of the least educated segment of the population.

Higher ability pupils tend to be graded higher by tests than by the teachers – and lower achieving pupils better by the teachers than by the tests.

The effects of higher spending on educational attainment have been consistently positive across all areas tested at the end of primary education. Resource-based interventions seem to produce their best outcomes when targeted towards pupils and schools in real need.

Remedial programmes are not working for a significant proportion of children labelled as SEN. There is no net effect of being labelled as SEN on the performance of pupils with moderate difficulties.

Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources on the Economics of Education.

Royal Economic Society conference 2009

Royal Economic Society logoThe Royal Economic Society conference 2009 is the leading gathering of academic economists in the UK and it is under way at the University of Surrey.

This year the conference features keynote speeches from:

The Press Centre features a range of research papers that will be presented at the Conference, including:

Widening Participation in Higher Education

Poor attainment in secondary school is the biggest barrier to going to university among socio-economically disadvantaged students – not barriers at the point of entry to higher education such as borrowing constraints.

Key UK export industries suffer most from the recession

Can credit crunch-hit economies rely on overseas trade to pull themselves out of the current downturn? The answer depends on the kind of things they export, and for countries like the UK, the picture looks troubled.

We are living beyond our means

The UK has failed to save adequately in the past 20 years and our current patterns of consumption will only be sustainable if drastic changes are made. There are two alternatives: either people finance their old age by relying on support from their children or they settle for spending less in old age than current patterns suggest.

Further items will appear on the website addressing some of the conference themes with research on education, happiness, families, housing and work.

Intute: Social Sciences features more from previous RES conferences including podcast interviews with economics researchers.

Will Easter Eggs make your kids smarter?

With the Easter break fast approaching will scoffing all those chocolate eggs help your children gain brain power?

Or should you be feeding them something much more healthy instead?

See what the latest Economics research has to say …

Feeding very young children a high-energy, high-protein supplement leads to increased educational attainment in adulthood, especially for women, according to a study published in the current issue of the Economic Journal.

Girls who received the supplement, known as atole (the Guatemalan name for porridge), in the first three years of life completed one additional year of schooling than those who received an alternative low-energy supplement. Both men and women who received atole as children achieved higher scores on reading comprehension tests and on non-verbal cognitive tests.

By following the same individuals from childhood to adulthood, this study provides some of the strongest evidence to date of the effects of early childhood nutrition on educational attainment in adulthood.

The research was conducted in Guatemala by the Institute for Nutrition in Central America and Panama, Emory University, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the University of Pennsylvania and Middlebury College.

The Economic Journal is published by the Royal Economic Society and each issue features a freely available article and press release style summaries of other pieces of economics research.

Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources on the topics of the Economics of Education, the Economics of Food and chocolate – Happy Easter!

Image credit: YIP Day 72 – Creme Eggs from Auntie P on Flickr

ESRC Festival of Social Science 2009

The ESRC Festival of Social Science 2009 runs from March 6th to March 15th.

The Festival provides an insight into some of the country’s leading social science research and how it influences the social, economic and political life of the country – both now and in the future.

The full programme of events includes over 90 events in cities and towns from Aberdeen to Hove and Cardiff to Belfast – so there may well be something happening near you.

There’s also a range of virtual events including:

Intute: Social Sciences are not running an event for the Festival this year, but you might like to revisit some of our previous contributions.

Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources from or funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Do you feel lucky?


Is Britain a nation of optimists or pessimists – a new report may surprise you – but that obviously depends on your point of view!

The report presents the first findings of research conducted by the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) into the nature of optimism in 21st century Britain.

A few choice snippets from the Executive Summary …

Britain is an optimistic nation – 21% of people see themselves as being generally optimistic with a further 54% being generally optimistic but also feeling pessimistic about some things

British optimism – a large proportion of poll respondents also agreed that Britishness was characterised by a pessimistic ‘mustn’t grumble’ attitude and  … to play down achievements and to engage in rather self-deprecating behaviours.

Optimists attract – Over 50% preferred the company of optimists compared with a mere 3% who were more attracted to pessimists

The role of the media – 53% of poll participants agreeing with the statement ‘I think that TV and newspapers encourage me to have a more negative outlook on life’.

The SIRC Optimism Spectrum

  • Realist (24%): I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but simply realistic about the good and bad things in my life
  • Concrete optimist (19%): I am optimistic, but I am realistic about the possible outcomes of events
  • Cautious optimist (18%): I am optimistic, but I am careful not to be complacent about my good fortune
  • Situational optimist (15%): My levels of optimism/pessimism change from situation to situation
  • Fatalist (6%): I accept that essentially I can’t change what’s going to happen to me, whether it’s good or bad
  • Individualist (3%): I believe that essentially I have control over what’s going to happen to me, whether it’s good or bad
  • Pessimist (3%): I am generally pessimistic, whatever the circumstances
  • Contagious optimist (2%): I am always optimistic, and my optimism spreads to those around me
  • Unabashed optimist (2%): I am always very optimistic, whatever the circumstances

But why the picture of dice at the top of the page? Well the research was commissioned by the National Lottery – perhaps they are trying to see if we would like to play the lottery more.

So to undertake a wholly unscientific survey – would you like to sample more academic Internet resources about optimism or pessimism?

Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources on Social Perception and Cognition, the National Lottery and the Sociology of Emotions.

Image credit: Dice Another Day from topher76 on Flickr under a CC license.

Britain and the World in 2009

As the year draws to a close, thoughts inevitably move on to the future and the year ahead. For the ESRC, this means looking at Britain in 2009 their annual publication that picks out some of the best Social Science research and asks what it says about the state of the nation.

Britain in 2009 is available in a number of High Street stores in the UK, including WHSmith, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Tesco and Borders. It is priced at £4.95.

Features in this edition include:

  • The return of depression economics? Government intervention in markets
  • Sustainable living: can it work in Britain?
  • Changing relationships: how friendship and family networks are evolving
  • Surveillance: social benefit or genuine menace?

Or if you would prefer a broader canvas then why not sample The World in 2009 an annual publication from The Economist that draws together a range of contributors including:

Plus there are supplemental materials and ongoing discussions via The World in 2009 blog.

Predicting the future is always a tricky business – after all who would have foreseen that bailout would have been the word of the year according to Merriam-Webster – so soothsayers beware!

Intute: Social Sciences features more resources on the topics of the ESRC, The Economist and Political Economy.

Understanding Society – taking the long view

Understanding Society, is the world’s largest ever household longitudinal study and it launches on Monday 13th October 2008. It will provide valuable new evidence to inform research on the vital issues facing communities.

It will collect information from 100,000 individuals, across 40,000 households from across the country. It will assist with the understanding of the long term effects of social and economic change, and will provide tools to study the impact of policy interventions on the well being of the UK population.

Understanding Society will be based at and led by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex, together with colleagues from the University of Warwick and the Institute of Education. The survey work will be undertaken by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen). It will be a major advance on the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS).

Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources on the topics of Research Tools and Methods, Statistics and Data and longitudinal studies.

More evidence on NHS targets and patient choice

With the National Health Service (NHS) featuring heavily in David Cameron’s conference speech this week, here’s an analysis of NHS targets and patient choice in the context of the Conservative policy on health from our occasional correspondent, François Briatte a researcher from the University of Edinburgh. Find out more about his work, from his website.

Intute: Social Sciences features more resources on the topics of the NHS, health policy and health services, plus there are plenty of resources in the Intute: Health and Life Sciences collection.

From 2000 onwards, target-setting in the National Health Service was portrayed as an important departure from previous governmental initiatives when New Labour came into power. In its Health Green Paper, the Conservative opposition has now committed to a symmetrical shift in health policy, claiming to replace Labour’s top-down process driven targets with NHS health outcomes, or the recorded result from the care that a patient, or a group of patients, experiences (page 15). As underlined in an earlier report, the contemporary history of health services policy in England indicates that the commitment to targets has already been replaced in effect with a different orientation for the NHS – patient choice. Moreover, observers have commented on the strategic nature of the Conservatives’ rhetorical emphasis on outcomes in their policy agenda.

In economics and public administration research departments, skepticism towards public sector targets tends to be fuelled by expectations of gaming among accountable senior managers. In that respect, studies which conclude that targets can nevertheless prove successful at accomplishing what they were set up for might deserve some particular attention. With regard to targets in the NHS, several statistical analyses now exist along with anecdotal evidence, whether negative or positive. Tim Doran and colleagues have matched possibilities of gaming within NHS targets with one year of empirical data on GP practices; their paper shows that gaming, if it exists, is a small-scale phenomenon among English general practitioners. Carol Propper and colleagues also recently submitted new data that complement previous studies by Gwyn Bevan and Christopher Hood. In a nutshell, Propper et al. find that the reduction in waiting times within the English NHS has been more significant than the reduction in waiting times within the Scottish NHS, where the targets and terror policy was not implemented, Scotland remaining instead with the collaboration and cooperation approach that characterised Third Way health policy before 2000: broad targets for hospital treatment and no aggressive naming and shaming among NHS Trusts by governmental bodies.

Patient choice, an idea currently in good political currency, has been equally controversial among health policy analysts. The economic evidence that exists in favour of competition does not ward off concerns regarding how choice might affect health equity, nor does it solve the general issue of patient involvement. The situation of patient choice in England is still difficult to assess properly: Because of delays in the patient choice implementation agenda, empirical evidence on that topic is still scarce. A report recently authored by the Audit and Healthcare Commissions, Is the Treatment Working?, points out that public opinion does not unanimously view patient choice as an efficient driver for better quality of care, echoing a common line of criticism towards that policy: People do not want choice; they want a good local service (see Julian Le Grand’s lecture on choice and competition for a critical discussion). Commenting on that same audit report, Gwyn Bevan stresses the fact that patient choice has been only one reform in an ocean of system-level tweaks and experiments in health care. Most analysts seem to agree with his opinion that too much tweaking and successive redisorganisations, as Donald Light presents them in light of the Darzi report, have had damaging effects on the NHS and its governability. What these last comments seem to indicate is that the overall edifice of health care reform is more than the sum of its parts.

The new IBSS Blog

Welcome the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS) team to the Social Science blogosphere!

The new IBSS Blog will look at topical events through the lens of Social Science research and help provide a new route into the wealth of information that IBSS provides.

Or as they put it …

will provide a place where social scientists can examine topical issues and explore how material available on IBSS can deepen understanding of these issues. The blog also aims to highlight some of IBSS’s hidden treasures, thus showing users how to get more out of using the database.

The new blog will supplement the existing IBSS INFO newsletter, which includes a profile of our very own Debra Hiom, who describes IBSS as:

a key resource for users within the Intute database as well as a source of information for the subject editors of Intute: Social Sciences

IBSS is an essential tool for Social Science researchers and includes over two million bibliographic references to journal articles, books, reviews and selected chapters dating back to 1951.

If you would like to find out more about IBSS, I interviewed Tom Carter, Assistant Manger of IBBS for our podcast back in 2006.


Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources in the area of Research Tools.

ESRC Festival of Social Science

ESRC Festival of Social Science logoRunning from Friday 7th March to Sunday 16th March the ESRC Festival of Social Science, organised by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will celebrate some of the very best British social science research, highlighting the ways in which it makes a difference to all our lives.

More than 30 UK towns and cities, from Aberdeen to Bognor Regis and Belfast to Cardiff, are hosting events during the Festival. Over 90 events are being organised during the Festival ranging from conferences to workshops and debates, exhibitions, film screenings, policy briefings and much more.

Plus if you can’t make it, there are even virtual events with one taking place here about Our Favourite Social Science Blogs.

Whether it’s school children tramping through the Peak District on a ‘Moorland Walk’ or getting to grips with why economics is important; finding out how you could save money on your energy bills or exploring the impact of Alzheimer’s, this Festival has something to capture everyone’s interest.

The Festival website includes a full programme of events, so you can find out if there is something happening near you and there are more details in the full press release.

Intute: Social Sciences features more ESRC related Internet resources.