Interventions to improve student behaviour

The Campbell Collaboration has published a policy brief looking at six systematic reviews of school-based interventions with students who demonstrate at-risk behaviour.

It found that school intervention programmes are marginally effective at ensuring that more students attend school, and at curtailing harmful student behaviours.

Students participating in 28 programmes addressing chronic truancy improved their attendance by nearly five days per year, although in most of the programmes student attendance was still below 90%.

A review of 73 violence prevention programmes found that students showed significantly lower levels of aggressive and disruptive behaviour, including a 7% reduction in fighting on school grounds.

Twelve studies of interventions aimed at improving classroom-wide behaviour found that students in the programmes showed less disruptive behaviour than their peers.

The 44 anti-bullying interventions studied in 16 countries showed average decreases of 20-23% in bullying and 17-20% in victimisation.

Evidence from 12 studies of sexual violence prevention programmes found that students had increased awareness of sexual violence and approaches to conflict resolution, but there was no effect on levels of violent behaviour or victimisation.

Source: Effects of School Based Interventions to Improve Student Behaviour: A Review of Six Campbell Systematic Reviews (2016), The Campbell Collaboration.

Practical support for preventing gang and youth violence

The Early Intervention Foundation has released two new reports on gang and youth violence, based on international evidence. The authors emphasise the importance of early intervention and of providing high-quality, evidence-based support to children and young people at risk of involvement, delivered in the right way by the right people.

The first report looks to identify who is potentially at risk of involvement in gangs or youth violence. Findings are grouped into five domains – individual, peer group, community, school, and family – with the strongest risk factors associated with the individual. This includes behavioural risk factors (eg, violent activity, exposure to and consumption of drugs and alcohol) and explanatory risk factors (eg, psychological issues such as symptoms of ADHD, hyperactivity, self-esteem, levels of aggression, and an inability to say no to peer pressure). The likelihood of involvement increased in line with the number of risk factors.

The second report identifies what types of programmes or interventions appear to be most effective in preventing involvement. Skills-based and family-focused programmes were found to be amongst the most robustly evaluated and effective types of programme. Mentoring, community-based, and sports-based programmes to tackle youth crime and violence appeared promising, but have a limited evidence base. In contrast, approaches based on deterrence and discipline (eg, boot camps) were ineffective, and may even make things worse (eg, increase the likelihood of offending).

Sources: Preventing Gang and Youth Violence: A Review of Risk and Protective Factors (2015), Early Intervention Foundation, and What Works to Prevent Gang Involvement, Youth Violence and Crime: A Rapid Review of Interventions Delivered in the UK and Abroad (2015), Early Intervention Foundation.

Promising results for Career Academies

Career Academies is a US dropout prevention strategy for young people considered most at risk of dropping out of secondary school. The programme integrates academic curricula with career themes, including health care, finance, technology, communications, and public service, and includes work experience through partnerships with local employers.

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released an intervention report that looks at research on the programme. In particular, the WWC analysed a randomised controlled trial that included approximately 1,400 young pupils in the US who applied to an academy before their ninth- or tenth-grade years (Year 10 or Year 11). The academies were located in eight urban areas in six states.

Based on the research, the WWC found Career Academies to have potentially positive effects on completing school and no discernible effects on staying in school or progressing in school for secondary school aged young people.

Source: WWC Intervention Report: Career Academies (2015), What Works Clearinghouse.

First-year effects of the Communities in Schools programme

MDRC has released a report describing the first-year results of a randomised study of the Communities in Schools (CIS) programme. This is a programme designed to prevent at-risk middle and high school pupils in the US from dropping out by providing them with academic, behavioural, and emotional supports through an organised, in-school, case-managed system.

The study took place in 28 schools during the 2012-2013 school year. The sample included 2,230 pupils, of which 1,140 were assigned to the CIS group, and 1,090 were assigned to receive the regular support services provided by their schools. Both groups were predominantly ethnic minority and low income, and similar in terms of attendance rate, academic achievement, and EAL status, the only difference being that the experimental group was 2.8% more likely to receive free- or reduced-price lunches.

Following one year of services, CIS pupils were more likely than the controls to report having positive relationships with adults outside the home or school setting, to report positive peer relations, and to view education as valuable. However, the case-managed group did not demonstrate more gains in attendance, academics, or discipline than the control group.

The authors discuss areas for improving the programme and will examine the second year of data to continue to assess findings.

Source: Case Management for Students at Risk of Dropping Out: Implementation and Interim Impact Findings from the Communities In Schools Evaluation (2015), MDRC.

Mind-set interventions on a larger scale

A paper from researchers at Stanford University and the University of Texas describes how the institutions delivered brief online mind-set interventions to 1,594 pupils in 13 schools.

The authors reported that previous research on mind-set demonstrated the worth of small-scale interventions, and they set out to gather evidence on whether such interventions are practical on a larger scale.

Mind-set interventions seek to replace unhelpful fixed-mind-set attitudes where intelligence is viewed as unchangeable and praise focuses on passive aspects of achievement (“you are lucky to be so smart/talented”) with growth-mind-set attitudes where intelligence can grow and effort attracts praise (“you worked hard to come up with a good answer”).

Pupils allocated to intervention groups were given two 45-minute sessions two weeks apart (intervention groups had either growth-mind-set or sense-of-purpose sessions or both). Pupils allocated to the control group were given similar sessions but these “lacked the key psychological message that intelligence is malleable.”

One third of the study participants were considered to be at risk of dropping out of high school. Pupils in this subgroup improved their core subject grade point average after the mind-set intervention. Achievement of satisfactory grades (A to C) increased by 6% among the at-risk subgroup; there was no difference in satisfactory grades in the control group.

The authors concluded that their study demonstrated “the potential for academic-mind-set interventions to be effective on a wide scale.”

Source: Mind-set interventions are a scalable treatment for academic underachievement (2015), Psychological Science

Do positive impacts at Reception age last?

In the US, compulsory schooling usually starts a year later than in the UK, with the first year – kindergarten – equivalent to Year 1. Pre-kindergarten programmes in the US are run privately or through federally funded initiatives typically aimed at deprived children, such as Head Start.
Tennessee’s Voluntary Prekindergarten Program (TN-VPK) is an optional pre-kindergarten programme for four-year‐old children. First priority is given to children who are identified as at-risk (ie, eligible for free or reduced price lunch, with disabilities, or with English as an Additional Language).

In 2013, the Peabody Research Institute published the results of a randomised controlled trial in which children applying to the programme were admitted on a random basis. The outcome measures were: emergent literacy, language, and maths; and measures of pupils’ performance or status other than academic achievement.

During the pre‐kindergarten school year, the children who participated in TN‐VPK gained significantly more on all of the direct assessments of academic skills than the children who did not attend. Positive effects were also found on kindergarten teachers’ ratings of children’s preparedness for kindergarten and, to a lesser extent, on their ratings of the children’s classroom work behaviour and social behaviour.

However, at follow-up at the end of kindergarten, the researchers found that the effects of TN‐VPK on achievement measures had greatly diminished, and the differences between participants and non-participants were no longer statistically significant. Similarly, at the end of first grade (UK Year 2), there were no statistically significant differences between TN‐VPK participants and non-participants on these measures (with one minor exception).

Sources: Evaluation of the Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten Program: End of Pre‐K Results from the Randomized Control Design (2013), Peabody Research Institute. Evaluation of the Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten Program: Kindergarten and First Grade Follow‐Up Results from the Randomized Control Design (2013), Peabody Research Institute.