Evidence supports The BSCS Inquiry Approach

With the increasing interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) curricula comes the need for evidence backing these programmes. One such science programme is The BSCS Inquiry Approach, a comprehensive secondary school science approach based on three key concepts: constructivism, coherence and cohesiveness. The materials are built around the 5E process (engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate). Teaching focuses on evaluating pupils’ current understanding and using inquiry methods to move them to higher understandings. Each of the science disciplines (physical science, life science, earth science, and science and society) is composed of four chapters that repeat common themes, which advance over a three-year period. Designing and carrying out experiments in small groups is important in all topics. Teachers receive seven days of professional development each year, including a three-day summer institute and four one-day sessions, enabling sharing of experiences and introducing new content over time.

To determine the effects of The BSCS Inquiry Approach on pupil achievement, BSCS conducted a two-year cluster-randomised study of the intervention that compared pupils in grades 10–11 (Years 11–12) in nine experimental (n=1,509 pupils) and nine control secondary schools (n=1,543 pupils) in Washington State in the US. A total of 45% of pupils qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. At the end of two years, the BSCS pupils scored higher than controls (effect size=+0.09, p<.05) on the Washington State Science Assessments.

Source: An efficacy trial of research-based curriculum materials with curriculum-based professional development, Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, BSCS

Why do so few low- and middle-income children attend a grammar school?

A new study led by John Jerrim at UCL Institute of Education suggests that private tutoring may be one reason that children from high-income families are more likely to get into grammar schools than children from low-income families.

The research, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, uses data from the Millennium Cohort Study for more than 1,800 children from grammar school areas in England and Northern Ireland. It considers how factors such as family income, prior academic achievement, private tutoring and parental attitudes and aspirations are linked with children’s chances of attending a grammar school.

The study finds that children from families in the bottom quarter of household incomes in England have less than a 10% chance of attending a grammar school. This compares to around a 40% chance for children in the top quarter of household incomes. Results also show that children who receive tutoring to prepare for grammar school entrance exams are more likely to get in. Overall, around 70% of those who receive tutoring get into a grammar school, compared to just 14% of those who do not. However, less than 10% of children from families with below average income receive tutoring for the grammar school entrance test, compared with around 30% of children from households in the top quarter of family incomes.

Source: Why do so few low and middle-income children attend a grammar school?  New evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study (March 2018), UCL Institute of Education

Effective reading programmes for secondary pupils

Ariane Baye from the University of Liege and Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns and Robert Slavin from the Center for Research and Reform in Education have completed an update to their report on effective secondary reading programmes. The paper, A Synthesis of Quantitative Research on Reading Programs for Secondary Students, focuses on 69 studies that used random assignment (n=62) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=7) to evaluate outcomes of 51 programmes on widely accepted measures of reading.

The authors found that categories of programmes using one-to-one and small-group tutoring, cooperative learning, whole-school approaches including organisational reforms such as teacher teams, and writing-focused approaches showed positive outcomes. Individual approaches in a few other categories also showed positive impacts. These approaches included programmes emphasising humanities/science, structured strategies and personalised and group/personalisation rotation approaches for struggling readers. Programmes that provide a daily extra period of reading and those utilising technology were no more effective, on average, than programmes that did not provide these resources.

The findings suggest that secondary readers benefit more from socially and cognitively engaging instruction than from additional reading periods or technology.

Source: Research on reading programs for secondary students (January 2018), Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education.

One in five pupils in the UK experience emotional and behavioural problems

Around one in five children and young people in the UK experience emotional and behavioural problems according to the first findings from a survey of over 30,000 young people (aged 11 to 14), which were collected as part the National Lottery-funded HeadStart programme.

Pupils in the 114 participating HeadStart schools were asked to complete the online Wellbeing Measurement Framework. This report, by Jessica Deighton and colleagues, explores the data related to the prevalence of mental health problems in young people and how this varies by gender, ethnicity, special educational needs status, free school meal eligibility, and child-in-need status. The findings reveal that:

  • Pupils in Year 9 are more likely to report mental health problems than those in Year 7.
  • Girls are more likely to say they had experienced emotional problems (with 25% of girls saying they had a problem compared to 11% of boys) but in contrast, boys are more likely to say they have experienced behavioural problems (with 23% of boys saying they had experienced them compared with 15% of girls).
  • Pupils from Asian, Black, Mixed, and other ethnic groups were less likely to indicate they were experiencing emotional problems than young people in the White ethnic group.
  • Pupils with special educational needs, those eligible for free school meals, and those classified as children in need were also more likely to say they were experiencing both emotional and behavioural problems.

The report concludes that there is a consistent association between deprivation and mental health problems, however, the schools involved in HeadStart are typically located in less socially and economically advantaged areas of the UK and differ from the national average in terms of proportions with special educational needs and proportions of white pupils, so all results must be understood in this context.

Source: Mental health problems in young people, aged 11 to 14: Results from the first HeadStart annual survey of 30,000 children (January 2018), Evidence Based Practice Unit (EBPU) Evidence Briefing #1:11

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).

Later school start time may produce benefits but more evidence is needed

Many studies have been conducted to examine the impact for pupils of later school start times, some of which can be found in previous issues of Best Evidence in Brief. This Campbell systematic review summarises the findings from 17 studies to examine the evidence on the impact of later school start times on pupils’ mental health and academic performance.

The studies included in the review were randomised controlled trials, controlled before-and-after studies and interrupted time series studies with data for pupils aged 13 to 19 and that compared different school start times. The studies reported on 11 interventions in six countries, with a total of almost 300,000 pupils.

The main results of the review suggest that later school starts may be associated with positive academic benefits and psychosocial outcomes. Later school start times also appear to be associated with an increase in the amount of sleep children get. Effect sizes ranged from +0.38 to +2.39, equivalent to an extra 30 minutes to 2 hours of sleep each night. However, the researchers point out that, overall, the quality of the body of evidence is very low, and so the effects of later school start times cannot be determined with any confidence.

Source: Later school start times for supporting the education, health, and well-being of high school students: a systematic review (December 2017), A Campbell Systematic Review 2017:15