School-based mental health services for primary children

School-based services delivered by teachers and other school-based professionals can help reduce mental health problems in primary-age children, reports a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The findings are based on a meta-analysis of 43 controlled trials involving almost 50,000 primary school children. The study examined the overall effectiveness of school-based mental health services, as well as the relative effectiveness of various school-based intervention models that differed according to treatment target, format and intensity.

Overall, school-based services had a small to medium effect (effect size = +0.39) in reducing mental health problems. Interventions that targeted child behaviour problems demonstrated the largest effect sizes (+0.76). Interventions that were implemented multiple times per week were found to be more than twice as effective as those that were only implemented on a weekly (or less) basis.

Source: The effectiveness of school-based mental health services for elementary-aged children: A meta-analysis (March 2018), Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 57, Issue 3

Getting a read on Ready to Learn media

Ready to Learn (RTL) is an initiative funded by the US Department of Education to promote school readiness among children aged two to eight, and most preschool children in the US are exposed to RTL media. Supporting early literacy has been one of RTL’s primary focus areas, and this meta-analysis published in Child Development examines the effect of RTL media exposure on young children’s literacy skills.

For this meta-analysis, Lisa B Hurwitz collected data from 45 evaluations involving more than 24,000 children. Overall, results indicate positive effects on children’s literacy (effect size = +0.21), equivalent to approximately 1.5 months of extra literacy learning. Effects were varied across literacy outcomes, with larger effect sizes for phonological concepts and vocabulary than for alphabet knowledge and narrative comprehension. Findings were fairly robust across a variety of research designs and across samples of children, although effects were consistently more pronounced in within-subjects designs and for preschool-age children.

Source: Getting a read on Ready to Learn media: a meta-analytic review of effects on literacy (February 2018), Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.13043

Social skills intervention programme shows small positive effects

Results from a study published in the Journal of Education Psychology suggest that a classroom social skills programme, The Social Skills Improvement System Classwide Intervention Program (SSIS-CIP), generally has small positive effects on social skills and approaches to learning.

James Clyde DiPerna and colleagues from the Pennsylvania State University evaluated the effects of SSIS-CIP on the social, behavioural and academic outcomes of Year 2 pupils from six primary schools in the mid-Atlantic region of the US. Classrooms were randomly assigned to either treatment or business-as-usual control groups. Teachers assigned to the treatment group implemented the SSIS-CIP over a 12-week period. Outcomes were assessed via teacher ratings and direct observations of classroom behaviour as well as computer-adaptive tests of reading and maths.

Results showed that SSIS-CIP has a small positive effect on social skills across all social skills subscales (effect sizes ranged from +0.13 to +0.31), with empathy and social engagement showing the largest positive effects (+0.31 and +0.21). The direct observation measure, however, yielded the smallest effect size (+0.05). Students in the treatment group also demonstrated positive effects on academic motivation and engagement (+0.17). However, SSIS-CIP did not demonstrate any substantial effects for problem behaviours, with effect sizes across subscales ranging from +0.01 to +0.07.

Source: A cluster randomized trial of the Social Skills Improvement System-Classwide Intervention Program (SSIS-CIP) in first grade (2018), Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(1), 1-16.

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

The long-term impact of effective teaching

Peter Tymms and colleagues at Durham University’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring conducted a study of 40,000 children in England to examine what impact effective teaching in the first year of school has on achievement at the end of compulsory teaching at age 16.

Children’s early reading and maths development were measured at the start of school, at age four, using the Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS) assessments. They were assessed again at the end of their first school year and at ages 7, 11 and 16. By assessing children at the beginning and end of their first year, the researchers were able to identify effective classes – defined defined as a class where children made much larger than average gains from ages 4 to 5, controlling for pretests and deprivation.

The study, published in School Effectiveness and School Improvement, found  that children who were taught well in their first year of school went on to achieve better GCSE results in English and maths at age 16 (effect size = +0.2). Long-term benefits in achievement were also reported for those children who were in effective classes in Key Stages 1 and 2, however, these were not as large as those seen in the first year of school.

The study concludes that the first year of school presents an important opportunity to have a positive impact on children’s long-term academic outcomes.

Source: The long-term impact of effective teaching (December 2017), School Effectiveness and School Improvement DOI: 10.1080/09243453.2017.1404478

The evidence on achievement gaps over time: Contained but not closing

Research has shown that socioeconomic status (SES) is the highest predictor of children’s academic achievement. Moreover, the achievement gap between low- and high-SES pupils begins early in their schooling. How effective have initiatives been at narrowing the achievement gap? Emma Garcia at the Education Policy Institute in the US and Elaine Weiss at the Broader Bolder Approach to Education examined two cohorts of kindergartners (Year 1), those who started in 1998 and those who started in 2010. They were looking at the relationship between socio-economic status and kindergartners’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills at the start of their school years to see if the achievement gap had narrowed in this twelve-year span.

Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics – Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies of the Kindergarten Classes of 1998-99 and 2010-11, Garcia and Weiss found that the achievement gap did not change between 1998 to 2010 among pupils living in the US’s highest and lowest economic strata, a difference of 1.17 standard deviations in reading and 1.25 standard deviations in maths, despite parents’ increased involvement in educating their children across all SES groups and the implementation of programmes designed to narrow these gaps. Interestingly, they did find that the percentage of children living in poverty grew during that time, yet the achievement gap did not grow, nor did it narrow. They found that greater parental involvement and children’s pre-school attendance contained the gap, but did not do enough to eliminate the overall effects of poverty on pupil achievement.

The researchers then reviewed twelve programmes designed to narrow the achievement gap. The most effective programmes addressed not only academics, but ensured the children were getting proper meals and healthcare and provided other supports for children and their families.

Source: Education inequalities at the school starting gate: Gaps, trends, and strategies to address them (September 2017), Education Policy Institute