Preventing depression in secondary school pupils

Helen Christensen and colleagues conducted a cluster randomised trial to investigate the effectiveness of an intervention for the prevention of depression in secondary school pupils.

The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, reported on the results of a trial of the SPARX-R programme, a gamified online cognitive behaviour intervention that is delivered to pupils prior to facing a significant stressor – in this case final secondary school exams.

A total of 540 final-year pupils from 10 secondary schools in Sydney, Australia, took part and clusters at the school level were randomly allocated to SPARX-R or the control intervention (lifeSTYLE, an online interactive control programme). Interventions were delivered weekly in class under teacher supervision, in seven 20- to 30-minute modules. Symptoms of depression were measured by the Major Depression Inventory (MDI).

Pupils in the SPARX-R group showed a greater reduction in MDI scores than those in the control group, both post-intervention and at the 6-month follow-up. Effect sizes were small post-intervention (+0.29) and at the 6-month (+0.21) and 18-month follow-ups (+0.33).

Source: Preventing depression in final year secondary students: school-based randomized controlled trial (November 2017), Journal of Medical Internet Research, vol 19 (11).

Can schools help prevent childhood obesity?

A study published in The BMJ tests the effectiveness of a school and family based healthy lifestyle intervention (WAVES) in preventing childhood obesity.

Almost 1,500 pupils, aged five- and six-years-old, from 54 primary schools in the West Midlands took part in a randomised controlled trial of the WAVES programme. The twelve-month intervention encouraged healthy eating and physical activity, and included an additional 30 minutes of daily physical activity at school and a six-week programme with a local premiership football club.

Children’s measurements – including weight, height, percentage body fat, waist circumference, skinfold thickness and blood pressure – were taken when they started the trial. These measurements were taken again 15 months and 30 months later and were compared with children in a control group.

At the first follow-up at 15 months, the mean body mass index (BMI) score was not significantly lower for the intervention group compared with the control group. At 30 months, the mean difference was smaller and remained non-significant. The results suggest that schools alone may not be effective in preventing childhood obesity.

Source: Effectiveness of a childhood obesity prevention programme delivered through schools, targeting 6 and 7 year olds: cluster randomised controlled trial (WAVES study) (February 2018), BMJ 2018; 360:k211

New guidance to support schools to put evidence to work in their classrooms

A new guidance report from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) aims to give schools the support they need to put evidence to work in their classrooms and implement new programmes and approaches effectively.

The report highlights how good and thoughtful implementation is crucial to the success of any teaching and learning strategy, yet creating the right conditions for implementation – let alone the structured process of planning, delivering and sustaining change – is hard.

The authors offer six recommendations to help schools give their innovations the very best chance by working carefully through the who, why, where, when and how of managing change. These recommendations can be applied to any school improvement decision: programmes or practices, whole-school or targeted approach, internally or externally generated ideas.

The report frames implementation in four stages: explore, prepare, deliver and sustain. It also provides guidance on how schools can create the right environment for change, from supporting staff to getting leadership on board.

Source: Putting evidence to work: a school’s guide to implementation. EEF Guidance Report (February 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Reviewing the research on school climate and social-emotional learning

A new research brief, School climate and social and emotional learning: the integration of two approaches, by David Osher and Juliette Berg at AIR reviews research on how positive school climates support social-emotional learning (SEL) and how improved SEL contributes to improved school climate in primary and secondary schools.

The authors present research from various journal articles, research briefs, policy guides and other sources. Key findings were as follows:

  • Supportive relationships, engagement, safety, cultural competence and responsiveness and academic challenge and high expectations create positive school climates that can help build social and emotional competence.
  • The relationship between positive school climate and SEL is interactive and co-influential, occurs in all settings and pupil-teacher-staff interactions and influences pupils and teachers directly and indirectly.
  • Rigorous evaluations of school climate and SEL approaches have provided some direct evidence that one can improve the other.

The authors say that the research and practice communities could benefit from greater clarity and alignment in definitions, goals, messaging and measurement of SEL and school climate and understanding of how each one can complement the other.

Source: School climate and social and emotional learning: the integration of two approaches. (January 2018), Edna Bennet Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University

Later school start time may produce benefits but more evidence is needed

Many studies have been conducted to examine the impact for pupils of later school start times, some of which can be found in previous issues of Best Evidence in Brief. This Campbell systematic review summarises the findings from 17 studies to examine the evidence on the impact of later school start times on pupils’ mental health and academic performance.

The studies included in the review were randomised controlled trials, controlled before-and-after studies and interrupted time series studies with data for pupils aged 13 to 19 and that compared different school start times. The studies reported on 11 interventions in six countries, with a total of almost 300,000 pupils.

The main results of the review suggest that later school starts may be associated with positive academic benefits and psychosocial outcomes. Later school start times also appear to be associated with an increase in the amount of sleep children get. Effect sizes ranged from +0.38 to +2.39, equivalent to an extra 30 minutes to 2 hours of sleep each night. However, the researchers point out that, overall, the quality of the body of evidence is very low, and so the effects of later school start times cannot be determined with any confidence.

Source: Later school start times for supporting the education, health, and well-being of high school students: a systematic review (December 2017), A Campbell Systematic Review 2017:15

Examining the research on charter schools

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released a new topic area that focuses on the impact of charter schools on pupil achievement and other outcomes. As part of the launch, the WWC released three intervention reports, which review available research on an intervention or programme to determine if there is strong evidence that it has a positive impact on pupil outcomes.

The intervention reports examine the following three programmes:

  • Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a non-profit network of more than 200 US public charter schools educating early childhood, elementary, middle and high school pupils. According to the WWC intervention report, research shows that KIPP had positive effects on mathematics achievement and English language achievement, and potentially positive effects on science achievement and social studies achievement for middle and high school pupils (Years 7 to 13), and no discernible effects on pupil progression (eg, high school graduation within four years of grade 9 (Year 10) entry) for high school pupils.
  • Green Dot Public Schools, a non-profit organisation that operates more than 20 public charter middle and high schools in California, Tennessee and Washington. The WWC reports that Green Dot Public Schools had potentially positive effects on mathematics achievement, pupil progression, school attendance and English language achievement for high school pupils (Years 10 to 13).
  • Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) Promise Academy Charter Schools, a non-profit organisation designed to serve low-income children and families living in Harlem in New York City. According to the intervention report, the WWC is unable to draw any conclusions based on available research about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the HCZ Promise Academy Charter Schools on elementary, middle and high school pupils. Research that meets WWC design standards is needed to determine the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of this intervention.

Source:  Charter Schools, What Works Clearinghouse