Boarding and Day School for boys aged 7 - 18 years

Bedfordshire ELLI Project Report  

Exploring the Learning Profiles of Underachieving Students

It is known from value added work and research that prior ability “explains” at best some 50% of the outcome in assessed work. Little formal attempt previously has been made to ascertain the learner-centred origin of the other “missing” 50% of the outcome. The aim of the Bedfordshire EllI Project was to undertake research that might help to unpack the reasons for demonstrated underachievement (relative to ability) and to develop insight and strategies that potentially could be of considerable value in raising student performance.

The project which commenced in September 2006 was initiated by Dr Philip Evans, in partnership with Ruth Deakin Crick a Senior Research Fellow of the Graduate School of Education of Bristol University. Four schools committed to the project: Bedford School, Bedford Modern School, Sharnbrook School and St Thomas More School.

The project was funded by a grant of £40,000 for the Harpur Trust and £5,000 from the Bedford School Trust.

Aims and Objectives / Research Questions

The following aims and objectives were developed at the start of the project:

  • To examine the relationships of learning power variables to achievement and ability variables of a cohort of students across a number of Bedfordshire schools.
  • To identify the characteristic learning power profiles of underachieving and highly achieving groups of students.
  • To identify learning interventions and strategies to enhance achievement in those students identified as under achieving.

In addition a number of key research questions were posed:

  • What is the relationship of learning power variables to student academic achievement?
  • What are the characteristics of the learning power profiles of under achieving and high achieving students?
  • What are the diagnostic implications for supporting the learning needs of underachieving students based on their learning power profiles?
  Bedford School 1st XV October 08

Research Design

The research design for the project included the following:

  1. Quantitative data collection of learning power data along with achievement and demographic data of Year 9 students in four schools.
  2. Qualitative data collection to gain an in-depth view of student learning identity and agency.
  3. An intervention study with a sub group of underachieving students based on the data acquired.

The identification of those individuals within schools who showed a considerable discrepancy between their general cognitive ability and their general academic achievement was determined by the use of a simple localised regression method to locate three groups of students achieving below, at and above expected levels, in each of the schools. The linear regression took the mean of student cognitive ability tests in Year Seven (verbal, non-verbal and numeric) as the predictor variable, and the mean of their KS3 results (English, mathematics and science) or end of Year 9 examinations as the outcome variable. The regression line thus generated was used to identify underachieving students.

Understanding Learning Power
Each student undertook the ELLI profile. This inventory is a self report questionnaire which is administered online through 72 items. It measures what learners say about themselves in a particular domain, at a particular point in time. The scales form seven dimensions of what is considered to be the components of an individual’s ‘learning power’ – a form of consciousness which leads to learning, change and growth and is characterised by various dispositions, values and attitudes.

A brief description of the seven dimensions is set out below:

Changing & learning: the sense of being able to learn and change over time.

Critical curiosity: the energy and desire to explore and ask questions.

Meaning making: make sense of learning, both personally and cognitively.

Creativity: imagination and intuition; risk taking, lateral thinking and playfulness.

Learning relationships: being inter-dependent, rather than isolated and/or dependent.

Strategic awareness: being emotionally, cognitively and practically self aware.

Dependence and fragility: being risk averse; challenge avoidance.

Project Findings
The analysis revealed a statistically significant difference between the under achievers and both other groups in four dimensions - strategic awareness, changing and learning, critical curiosity and meaning making.

The cohort of underachieving students reported themselves to be more static in their view of their capacity to change and learn over time, less critically curious and less likely to make meaning from their learning than both their achieving and overachieving counterparts. They also reported less strategic awareness than their ‘over achieving’ colleagues. It was apparent that students who are underachieving have less awareness and self regulation of their own learning processes and are more likely to be passive receivers of information, than actively curious and engaged makers of meaning. They are also likely to be less confident in their capacity to learn and achieve. They will also have had less experience of success in school validated work.

The mentoring sessions with the underachieving students have produced in a number of cases the following outcome:

  1. Students reported change and benefit including improved self awareness and confidence, higher aspirations, improved questioning, a better understanding, improved relationships with teachers, improvements in planning and organisation and better use of learning techniques and skills.
  2. Improvement in the level of academic achievement both in terms of course work and examinations. Also in a number of cases there has been considerable added value in relation to previous levels of achievement.
  3. Positive changes in the individual ELLI profiles with significant development in the weaker dimensions, with students finding the language of ELLI very helpful in talking about their learning.


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