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

Impact of Research Learning Communities on pupil achievement in reading

An evaluation led by Jo Rose at the University of Bristol and published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) looks at the impact of Research Learning Communities (RLC) on pupil achievement in reading at Key Stage 2 and teachers’ awareness, understanding, and use of research.

As part of a randomised controlled trial involving 199 schools, 60 primary schools were allocated to the treatment condition for the RLC intervention delivered by a team of academics from the Institute of Education at University College London. Two teachers from each of the schools involved in the trial were designated “Evidence Champions”. They attended four RLC workshops in which they discussed research with academic experts and colleagues from other schools. The Evidence Champions were then required to develop school improvement strategies using their learnings from the workshops, and to support other teachers in their schools to engage with research.

While the results of the evaluation showed some evidence that being in an RLC increased teachers’ engagement with research, there appeared to be no evidence that the RLC intervention led to improvements in reading outcomes for 10- and 11-year-olds, compared with the control group (effect size =+0.02). However, there was evidence that there may be some relationship between how engaged teachers are with research and the achievement of their students, regardless of any involvement in the RLC.

Source: Research Learning Communities (December 2017), Education Endowment Foundation

Impact of secondary school mindfulness programmes

Catherine Johnson and colleagues carried out a randomised controlled evaluation of a secondary school mindfulness programme (called “.b mindfulness” for “Stop, Breathe and Be!”) to measure impact on self-reported measures of anxiety, depression, weight/shape concerns, well-being and mindfulness.

Five hundred and fifty-five pupils in four secondary schools in South Australia participated (mean age = 13.44 years). Pupils were assigned using a cluster (class-based) randomised controlled design to one of three conditions: the nine-week mindfulness curriculum, the nine-week mindfulness curriculum with parental involvement, or a control (business-as-usual) curriculum.

The evaluation found no differences between the mindfulness groups with or without parental involvement and the control group at post-intervention or at the six- and twelve-month follow-up. The researchers conclude that further research is required to identify the optimal age, content, and length of programmes delivering mindfulness to teenagers.

Source: A randomized controlled evaluation of a secondary school mindfulness program for early adolescents: Do we have the recipe right yet? (September 2017), Behaviour Research and Therapy, Vol 99

Evaluation of a parent-delivered early language enrichment programme

A study, published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, evaluates the effectiveness of a parent-delivered language programme on pre-school children’s language and emerging reading skills.

Kelly Burgoyne and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial with 208 pre-school children (mean age 3 years, 1 month) and their parents living in socially diverse areas of the UK. Children and parents received either an oral language programme or an active control programme targeting motor skills. Parents delivered the 20-minute sessions to their child at home every day over 30 weeks. Children were assessed at pre-test, post-test, and 6 months after post-test on measures of language and motor skills. Early literacy skills (letter-sound knowledge, phoneme awareness and regular and irregular word reading) were assessed at 6 months after post-test only, as children were non-readers at pre- and post-test.

Children who received the language programme made larger gains in language skills (effect size = +0.21) and narrative skills (effect size = +0.36) at post-test than those children who received the active control programme, and these results were maintained six months later. Improvements were also seen in letter-sound knowledge (effect size = +0.42) and regular word reading (effect size = +0.35). No evidence was found that the control programme improved motor skills.

Source: Evaluation of a parent-delivered early language enrichment programme: evidence from a randomised controlled trial (September 2017), Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12819

Evaluation of an early language intervention

A randomised controlled trial, conducted by Silke Fricke and colleagues, looked at the effect of an oral language intervention and compared the extent to which a 30-week programme beginning in nursery and continuing for 20 weeks in Reception was more effective than delivering a 20-week programme starting in Reception.

Children from 34 nurseries in the UK were randomly allocated to a 30-week intervention (n= 132), a 20-week intervention (n=133), or an untreated waiting control group (n=129). Allocation was minimized for gender, age and verbal skills. The children in the 30-week intervention group received the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme for 10 weeks in nursery and continued for 20 weeks in Reception. The 20-week intervention group received only the final 20 weeks of the intervention, beginning when they entered primary school. The control group received their usual schooling.

Children in both the 20- and 30-week programme intervention groups showed greater improvement in oral language skills on measures including the CELF Expressive Vocabulary and CELF Sentence Structure subtests, and the Information Score from the Renfrew Action Picture Test, compared to children in the control group (effect size for the 20-week programme = +0.21; effect size for the 30-week programme = +0.30). However, there was no evidence to suggest that either programme improved early literacy or reading comprehension skills.

Source: The efficacy of early language intervention in mainstream school settings: a randomized controlled trial (October 2017), Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12737