Science clubs may boost socially disadvantaged pupils’ scientific aspirations

Extracurricular activities in science, such as after school clubs, may help to increase scientific aspirations of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to new research published in the International Journal of Science Education.

Tamjid Mujtaba and colleagues looked at survey responses of 4,780 pupils in Year 7 and Year 8 from schools in England with high proportions of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Their responses showed that pupils’ aspirations to study science beyond age 16 were strongly associated with their basic interest in the subject, how useful they thought science was for future careers and their engagement in extracurricular activities, such as science clubs. In addition, pupils’ confidence in their own abilities in science and encouragement from teachers and family to continue studying science after age 16 had smaller but still relevant associations.

Overall, the researchers suggest that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds would benefit from support and encouragement to continue with science and having access to science-related extracurricular activities.

Source: Students’ science attitudes, beliefs, and context: associations with science and chemistry aspirations (March 2018), International Journal of Science Education, Volume 40, Issue 6

Examining the evidence on out-of-school-time programmes

Out-of-school-time (OST) programmes typically provide children with additional academic lessons outside of school hours and/or recreational and enrichment activities. To examine the evidence base on OST programmes, Jennifer McCombs and colleagues from the RAND Corporation reviewed meta-analyses and large-scale, rigorous experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations of after-school and summer programmes. Their review included specialty programmes (eg, sports or arts programmes); multipurpose programmes (eg, Boys and Girls clubs); and academic programmes (eg, summer learning programmes).

After reviewing the research, the authors compiled the following conclusions:

  • OST programmes provide measurable benefits to children and families on outcomes directly related to programme content.
  • Academic OST programmes with sufficient “dosage” (measured by the hours of content provided) can demonstrably improve pupil achievement.
  • Programme quality and intentionality influence outcomes.
  • Children need to attend regularly to measurably benefit from programming.

The authors provide a complete list of studies reviewed and their key findings.

A previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief included a study by the Nuffield Foundation, which examines the effect of OST study programmes on GCSE performance in England.

Source: The value of out-of-school-time programmes (2017), PE-267-WF, RAND Corporation

Less structure = better outcomes?

Frontiers in Psychology has published a new study that suggests that children whose time is less structured are better able to meet their own goals.

As part of the study, parents of 70 6-year-olds were surveyed about their children’s daily, annual, and typical schedules. Researchers then categorised the children’s activities as either more structured or less structured, based on categorisation schemes from prior studies on children’s leisure-time use. In their classification system, structured time was defined to include any time outside of formal schooling spent in activities organised and supervised by adults (eg, piano lessons, organised football practice, and homework). Less-structured activities included free play alone and with others, social outings, sightseeing, reading, and media time. The children were also evaluated for self-directed executive function – the ability to set and reach goals independently – with a verbal fluency test.

Results of the study showed that the more time children spent in less-structured activities, the better their self-directed executive functioning. Conversely, the more time children spent in more-structured activities, the poorer their self-directed executive function.

The researchers emphasise that their results show a correlation between time use and self-directed executive function, but they don’t prove that the change in self-directed executive function was caused by the amount of structured or unstructured time. The research team is considering a longitudinal study, which would follow participants over time, to begin to answer the question of cause.

Source: Less-structured Time in Children’s Daily Lives Predicts Self-directed Executive Functioning (2014), Frontiers in Psychology, online June 2014.

Pupil Premium is funding wide range of interventions

The Department for Education has published the findings of an independent evaluation of the Pupil Premium, which aims to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. The funding was worth £623 per pupil in the 2012/13 school year, with approximately 27% of pupils eligible. This report is based on a survey of schools during the Autumn term of 2012 to collect quantitative information and financial data, case studies, and analysis of the National Pupil Database.

It is too early to measure impact, but the report gives an overview of how the funding is being used. Over 60% of schools surveyed reported reduced overall budgets between 2010-11 and 2011-12. Over 90% of schools surveyed had been focused on supporting disadvantaged pupils before the introduction of the Pupil Premium. Over 80% reported that the Pupil Premium alone was not enough to fund this support, and many pooled the funding with other budgets. Since its introduction about 70% of schools had increased such expenditure.

All schools were offering a wide range of support to help pupils they considered to be disadvantaged. The biggest areas of expenditure focused on learning in the curriculum, and social, emotional, and behavioural support. Of 11 types of support listed, primary schools offered 8 on average, and secondary schools 9.3. The four most highly used (reported by over 90% of both primaries and secondaries) were additional support both inside and outside the classroom, additional staff, and curriculum-related school trips. The range of support has been built up over time, not introduced since Pupil Premium funding began. Over 45% of schools based their decisions on how to spend funding on academic research, and almost all schools surveyed (95% or more) said they were monitoring the impact.

Source: Evaluation of Pupil Premium: Research Report (2013), Department for Education.

Children should get active, and stay that way, to improve later cognitive function

Taking part in leisure time physical activity (LTPA) is positively associated with cognitive functioning in the mid-adult years, with the greatest benefits for those people who participate in lifelong (both childhood and adult), intensive LTPA.

In an article published in Psychological Medicine, researchers from King’s College London estimated the association between different LTPA parameters from 11 to 50 years and cognitive functioning in late mid-adulthood. They used data from the UK National Child Development Study (NCDS), a cohort study of children born in 1958, with LTPA data collected from questionnaires.

Source: Leisure-time Physical Activity Over the Life Course and Cognitive Functioning in Late Mid-adult Years: A Cohort-based Investigation (2013),Psychological Medicine, (online, March 2013).

Do students perform better when schools offer extracurricular activities?

A new PISA in Focus study from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), looks at whether pupils perform better in science if they are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, such as field trips and science projects. Most countries (22 of 31 OECD countries) demonstrated that pupils did perform better at science in schools that offer more extracurricular activities compared with pupils in schools that offer fewer of these activities. The types and availability of extracurricular activity vary widely across countries, but the study shows that the relationship between improved pupil performance and extracurricular activity is consistent, with Germany and Australia having the strongest correlation.

Another finding of the study is that in addition to performing better, pupils in schools that offer more science-related extracurricular activities also report more positive attitudes toward the subject. They tend to believe more in their own ability in the subject (22 OECD countries) and enjoy learning science more (20 OECD countries). After accounting for socio-economic background, the positive relationships between achievement, enjoyment, and self-efficacy still hold for most countries. In particular, no negative relationships between science-related extracurricular activities and positive attitudes towards science learning were found.

Source: Are students more engaged when schools offer extracurricular activities? (2012), PISA in Focus