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

The positive effects of vocational schools

More than 90% of high schools in the US offer a vocational training option for pupils, and more than one in five pupils participate in these career and technical education (CTE) programmes. Traditionally in CTE, career-training courses are offered during each school day, and non-career classes contain a mix of CTE and non-CTE pupils. Massachusetts has taken CTE a step further by offering 32 regional vocational and technical high schools (RVTS), where all pupils participate in CTE, alternating one week of schooling with one week of career training.

Shaun Dougherty of the University of Connecticut recently studied the effects of attending an RVTS. In this study, pupils had to apply to attend, with admission based on middle school (Key Stage 3) record of attendance, standardised test scores in maths and disciplinary record. Using state data and admissions applications, Dougherty compared 4,000 ninth grade pupils (Year 10) in three RVTS schools, 2,000 of whom were just above and below the cutoff points for admission, inferring that RVTS participation would be the main variable affecting their performance. Following these ninth grade pupils through to twelfth grade (Year 13), he found that, as compared to pupils who barely missed the cutoff, pupils who had participated in RVTS:

  • Were 7-10 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school
  • Were more likely to earn industry-recognised credentials while in high school
  • Were likely to receive comparable state test scores that qualified them for graduation

Given that state test scores in core subjects were similar for the pupils who did and didn’t participate in the RVTS, Dougherty concluded that RVTS schools positively influence graduation rates without sacrificing knowledge in core subjects.

Unlike traditional CTE programmes, where pupils may study one course one year and switch the next year, RVTS pupils stay within the same course of study from tenth to twelfth grade (Years 11–13), often with the same teachers and peers. They offer a larger selection of courses, and classes are taught within the same building, allowing vocational-training teachers to confer with traditional-course teachers and carry over career training into the traditional realms of maths, English and social studies.

Source: The effect of career and technical education on human capital accumulation: causal evidence from Massachusetts (October 2017), Education Finance and Policy doi: 10.1162/EDFP_a_00224

Effective reading programmes for secondary pupils

Ariane Baye from the University of Liege and Cynthia Lake and colleagues from the Center for Research and Reform in Education have updated their paper Effective Reading Programs for Secondary Students. Their review focuses on 73 studies that used random assignment (n=66) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=7) to evaluate outcomes of 55 programmes on widely accepted measures of reading.

The authors found that specific programmes using one-to-one, small-group tutoring, and cooperative learning showed positive outcomes, as did a small number of programmes emphasising social-emotional learning, technology, or teaching of metacognitive strategies. Benchmark assessments did not affect reading outcomes. Leaving aside tutoring and benchmarks, programmes that provide additional instructional time (usually, a daily extra period) were no more effective than programmes that did not provide extra time.

The findings suggest that secondary readers benefit more from engaging and personalised instruction than from additional time on supplemental courses.

Source: Effective Reading Programs for Secondary Students (August 2017), Best Evidence Encyclopedia

How promising are college promise programmes?

The Detroit Promise is a US school programme administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber  that provides the city’s high school graduates with scholarships for state-funded universities and community colleges. To encourage pupils to stay in school once enrolled and to improve their academic outcomes, the Chamber and MDRC created the Detroit Promise Path. This initiative adds four components to the existing scholarship programme: campus coaches who help pupils navigate academic and personal issues, monthly financial support contingent on meeting with coaches, enhanced summer engagement and monitoring and messages informed by behavioural science through a management information system created by MDRC.

MDRC is evaluating the Detroit Promise Path using a randomised control trial design. In a new report, Alyssa Ratledge presents early findings from a pilot cohort of pupils who enrolled in autumn 2016. According to the report:

  • The Detroit Promise Path was implemented with fidelity to the model and participation was high. More than 95 percent of pupils responded to coaches’ outreach and two-thirds of enrolled pupils met with coaches as directed.
  • Pupils appreciate the programme. Ninety-six percent of surveyed pupils who had been in contact with a coach said the programme was “valuable” or “very valuable” to them.
  • The programme had a sizeable impact on enrolment in the second semester and on full-time enrolment in the first and second semesters.

Source: Enhancing promise programs to improve college access and success (July 2017), MDRC

Selective schools not necessarily better

New analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) shows there is no academic benefit to attending partially selective schools. Partially selective schools admit a proportion of pupils by academic ability and/or subject aptitude and a proportion by commonly used non-selective criteria. The NFER identified 38 partially selective schools in England that select more than 10% of pupils on the basis of ability or aptitude, but are not wholly selective grammar schools. Of these 38 schools, 20 selected pupils on academic ability alone. The next most common criterion was academic ability and musical aptitude (10 schools). Four schools selected by aptitude for music alone. The remaining schools selected pupils using a mixture of academic ability and different aptitudes.

The findings of the analysis by Karen Wespieser and colleagues revealed that pupils with high prior achievement make less progress in maths at partially selective schools than their peers at non-selective schools (up to five percentage points). Pupils with low prior achievement are less likely to achieve five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths, than pupils at non-selective schools (up to eight percentage points). In addition, they find that admissions policies at some partially selective schools may act as a barrier to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Source: The performance of partially selective schools in England (March 2017), National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

Best schools in England continue to be highly socially selective

A report published by the Sutton Trust reveals that 85% of England’s top comprehensive schools are more socially selective than the average state school. However, schools where pupils make the most progress are much less so.

The report looks at the social composition of England’s top 500 comprehensive schools, based on GCSE attainment, and finds that the top-performing schools take just 9.4% of pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM), which is just over half the rate of the average comprehensive (17.2%). About half of this gap is due to the location of high-attaining schools in catchment areas with lower numbers of disadvantaged pupils, but the rest is due to social selection in admissions occurring even within those neighbourhoods.

Among the best schools measured by the Department for Education’s new ‘Progress 8’ measure, which focuses on gains, Carl Cullinane and colleagues find that FSM rates are much closer to the national average (15.2%), and that they are less socially selective, with a third of these schools admitting more FSM pupils than their catchment area.

There are indications of improvement in the numbers of disadvantaged pupils attending top schools, with the average 9.4% FSM rate up from 7.6% in 2013. In that year, 57% of the best schools had FSM rates lower than six per cent, but the number below that mark has fallen to 39%.

Source:  Selective comprehensives 2017: Admissions to high-attaining non-selective schools for disadvantaged pupils (March 2017) The Sutton Trust