Evaluation of the Second Language Learning Funding Pool (1999-2003) Publications
The Second Language Learning Funding Pool was set up in 1998 (with funding commencing in 1999). Its general aim was to help schools develop effective and sustainable second language learning programmes for students in years 7-10 in accordance with the Government’s policy of encouraging schools to provide instruction in an additional language in these years.
Author(s): Rod Ellis, Shawn Loewen, Penny Hacker, The University of Auckland. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.
Date Published: 2005
In mid 2004, the Ministry of Education commissioned a Research Team from the University of Auckland through Uniservices Ltd to evaluate the Pool. The evaluation was carried out over the following six months. The evaluation sought to determine the effectiveness of the funding in increasing and improving opportunities for the learning of an additional language in years 7-10 in schools. To this end, a number of Research Questions were formulated. The questions addressed the following aspects:
1. Profile of the funded schools
2. Benefits to students
4. Teacher capability
6. Community outreach
This summary will review the main findings related to each of these aspects.
Data for the evaluation were collected from a variety of sources – Ministry roll returns (for all funded schools), the Milestone Reports from the schools, a Motivation/ Attitudes questionnaire administered to 400 year 9 students studying languages, interviews with project directors and principals in 13 focus schools that had received funding in one or more years, and teacher questionnaires from language teachers at these schools. For some of the subsequent analyses, a subset of the schools receiving funding in 1999, 2001 and 2003 was used.
Profile of the funded schools
Schools in the higher decile range were more likely to receive funding than schools in the lower decile ranges. Schools with enrolments between 301 and 750 were the most likely to receive funding while schools with enrolments below 300 were the least likely. It is clear, therefore, that there is a relationship between both school decile and school size and funding received. Student enrolments in schools receiving funding did not exceed 11% of total school enrolments in any of the funding years.
In evaluating these findings it is important to bear in mind that it is not clear whether smaller schools in the lower decile range were less likely to receive funding because they did not submit applications to the Pool or because their applications failed.
Benefits to students
One obvious way in which students could benefit from the funding is through access to language classes that did not exist prior to the funding. The numbers of schools offering all the main languages (Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Samoan and Spanish) increased, most likely in response to the Government's promotion and resourcing of second language learning opportunities for students in years 7-10, but almost certainly as a result of the funding. However, this increase was almost entirely due to primary and intermediate schools introducing new language classes. Secondary schools used the funding to support existing language classes. This finding was borne out by a comparison of the number of enrolments in funded schools prior to the first year of funding and in the last year of funding. While enrolments in funded primary/intermediate schools nearly doubled, those in secondary schools remained the same (refer p.29). In the opinion of the project directors interviewed this was largely due to the restrictions on the ability to provide for increased opportunities for students to study languages within the secondary school curriculum and the fact that opportunities for language learning were already available.
Another way in which students might have benefited from the funding is in terms of motivation and more positive attitudes towards language learning. However, no statistically significant differences in motivation/ attitudes were found between year 9 students who had previously attended schools that had received funding and students who had not, although a number of differences that approached statistical significance did point to enhanced motivation/attitudes in the former. Nevertheless, project directors in focus schools were strongly of the opinion that, as a result of the funding, students' confidence and interest in language learning had increased.
It was not possible to examine whether the funding had had any impact on student learning, as no information relating to student achievement prior to funding was av aila ble and, also, because there is no standardized method of assessing students' language achievement in the schools. However, the project directors were of the view that students' learning had benefited and they supported this with some anecdotal evidence.
Overall, the schools sampled in 1999, 2001 and 2003 reported spending the funds they received on the following areas, rank ordered from highest to lowest: (1) teaching resources other than IT, (2) professional development, (3) information technology, (4) publicity and (5) networking. In all three years sampled, expenditure on (1) and (2) accounted for the bulk of the funds received. The interviews with the project directors in the focus schools revealed that some changes in spending patterns did occur but that the nature of these changes varied from school to school.
The primary and intermediate school project directors linked success in learning outcomes to pool funding spent on resources. The main point raised was that the funding was entirely or largely responsible for setting up or extending a language programme in the schools. The funding provided to secondary schools was largely used to provide resources for existing programmes.
The interviews provide clear evidence of the project directors' conviction that the resources they were able to purchase with the funding had enhanced language learning in their schools. In so far as the funding resulted in more languages being taught to more students, this conviction is justified. However, the teaching of languages cannot be simply equated with the learning of languages and the project directors were not able to demonstrate improved learning outcomes for the students.
The schools sampled in 1999, 2001 and 2003 spent a substantial amount of the funding av aila ble from the Pool on professional development. The proportion of total funding spent on professional development was greatest in 2003, where it reached 30%.
The schools spent the funds they allocated to professional development on three major categories: (1) conferences/ meetings and courses, (2) teacher release/ relief (e.g., in order to allow a teacher to participate in professional development), and (3) other professional development. The bulk of the money was spent on (1) but substantial amounts were also spent on (2). There was a reduction in the proportion of money spent on conferences/ meetings/ courses over the three years and an increase in the proportion spent on teacher release/ relief.
The interviews indicated that all focus schools were concerned to develop teachers' methodological skills for teaching languages. Both teacher release/ relief and attending conferences/meetings/courses were seen as contributing to this. The primary school project directors also reported that money was spent on enhancing teachers' proficiency in the languages they taught and, in some schools, on employing specialist language teachers for professional development. The project directors of the majority of the focus schools identified professional development as the most important of the funding categories.
The schools applied for little money for networking and spent even less. However, most of the teachers who answered the questionnaire indicated that they had engaged in networking and all the project directors reported that networking had taken place. The explanation for this apparent contradiction lies in the fact that networking arose predominantly through funding for professional development (e.g. through conferences). The cluster schools reported satisfaction with the networking this clustering promoted but, overall, it is clear that the networking that took place was predominantly at an informal, personal rather than an institutional level. The schools pointed to a number of advantages of networking (e.g. it helped teachers feel supported, it provided ideas for teaching, it developed awareness of av aila ble resources and it increased understanding of the needs of students) but offered no direct evidence of enhanced student learning as a result.
The schools applied for and spent relatively little money on publicizing their language programmes either within the wider community or within their own schools. Only 20% of the teachers who completed the questionnaire thought that any money had been spent to support school and community understanding. However, two-thirds of the project directors did claim that the funding had helped directly (e.g. through public relations evenings for parents) or indirectly (e.g. through international language weeks for schools) to promote community understanding. Somewhat fewer project directors felt that the funding had assisted greater understanding of the language programme within their schools.
An analysis of the applications to the Pool and the Milestone Reports indicates that, in general, the funding was not spent according to the categories of expenditure requested in the schools' applications. For example, in 1999 and 2003 the schools sampled reported overspending on teaching resources other than IT and underspending on other categories (including professional development, which project directors identified as the most important category). In the interviews, the project directors indicated that they had experienced difficulty in predicting funding areas in their applications (with several admitting to changes) but they also claimed that they had spent the money as intended. Overall, there appeared to be few commonalities in the changes that occurred.
The interviews provided evidence of some dissatisfaction with both the overall policy of asking schools to apply for funding and with the application and reporting processes. Concern was also raised about the unpredictability of future funding. Some of the project directors recognized the need for accountability but many inveighed against the workload involved in administering the fund and completing the Milestone Reports. There was general concern over what constituted 'evidence' that the aims of the funding had been reached and, in particular, that it had resulted in gains in learning. The project directors and principals offered a number of recommendations directed at ensuring that funding for the teaching of languages continued and, in particular, emphasised the need to support the professional development of language teachers.
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