Types of Intervention

I’ve been reviewing a Research paper from UNESCO “Learning Divides: ten policy questions about the performance and equity of school and schooling systems”

The paper uses results from Wilms and Somers, 2001, which explored the relationship between results from Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and socioeconomic status.

Not surprisingly, in every country there is a gradient in student performance associated with family socioeconomic status: youth from lower socioeconomic backgrounds  have weaker literacy skills on average than those from more advantaged backgrounds. The results revealed that the strength of this relationship varies considerably among countries, suggesting that some are more successful than others in reducing the disparities associated with socioeconomic status.

The focus of the paper is to establish a general framework for analysing educational data that are collected in international, national and local studies. This is accomplished by setting out ten key policy questions that provide a more explicit link between educational indicators and practice.

I’ll consider, some of these questions in a separate post, but I want to capture here some of the types of intervention which were identified by the authors.

The interventions are:


What struck me was how well these definitions suit education policy in Scotland. It is interesting to explore the evidence from across the globe as to the efficacy of each of these interventions.

Universal interventions strive to increase the educational performance of all children through reforms that are applied equally across the schooling system. Generally they are aimed at altering the content and pace of the curriculum, improving instructional techniques or the learning environment in schools and classrooms. 

Some universal interventions strive to improve children’s learning environments by changing the structural features of schools. 

Most universal interventions, however, are directed at changing teacher practice. Teachers regularly receive in-service programmes pertaining to instructional approaches, assessment strategies and classroom management. 

 Perhaps the most prevalent universal intervention among OECD countries has been to increase the accountability of schools and schooling systems through the assessment of student performance. The underlying belief is that increased accountability will motivate administrators and teachers to improve the learning

SES-targeted interventions aim to improve the educational performance of students with low socioeconomic status by providing a specialised curriculum or additional instructional resources. The classic example is Head Start pre-school programmes for children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, but there is a wide range of programmes that target “at risk” children and youth.  The important distinction is that these programmes select children based on the family’s SES or some other factor correlated with SES rather than on the cognitive ability of the child.

Compensatory interventions provide additional economic resources to students from low SES backgrounds. These could be considered a subset of SES targeted interventions, as they target children from low SES families, rather than children with low cognitive performance. However, the emphasis is on improving the economic circumstances of children from poor families rather than providing a specialised curriculum or additional educational resources. The provision of transfer payments to poor families is a good example because it is one of the  primary policy levers at the national level in many countries.

Performance-targeted interventions provide a specialised curriculum or additional instructional resources for particular students based on their levels of academic performance. For example, in most schooling systems, students with special needs are provided with additional support through special education programmes. Some schooling systems provide early prevention programmes that target children who are deemed at risk of school failure when they enter kindergarten or the first grade, while other systems provide late prevention or recovery programmes for children who fail to progress at a normal rate during the first few years of elementary school. Some performance-targeted programmes aim to improve children’s capacity to learn by reducing maladaptive behaviour or improving self-esteem. These and other counselling and clinical programmes can also be placed in this category even though they are usually targeted towards children with certain behaviours rather than those with low academic performance. At the secondary school level, these programmes are often delivered in “alternative” schools. Some performance-targeted programmes aim to provide a modified curriculum for students with high academic performance or for gifted students. More generally, programmes that track or stream students into different types of programmes can be considered performance-targeted interventions, because they strive to match curriculum and instruction to students’ academic ability or performance. Grade repetition could be considered a performance-targeted intervention, because the decision to have a child repeat a grade is usually based mainly on school performance; however, in many cases grade repetition does not entail a modified curriculum or additional instructional resources and, therefore, would not fit the definition of a performance-targeted intervention.

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