Early years childcare and cognitive and socioemotional development at age three

From September 2013, two-year-old children living in the 20% most disadvantaged households in the UK became eligible for 15 hours of funded early childhood education and care (ECEC) per week. This was extended in September 2014 to two-year-old children living in the 40% most disadvantaged households. The longitudinal Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) followed the progress of children from approximately 6,000 families, from ages two to seven, to help provide the Department for Education (DfE) with evidence on the effectiveness of early years education.

This latest DfE impact study presents findings for 4,583 children from the SEED longitudinal study and focuses on the relationship between the amount and type of ECEC between age two and three and children’s cognitive and socioemotional development at age three. After controlling for home environment and demographic factors, the amount of ECEC received between the ages of two and three was found to be associated with cognitive and socioemotional developmental benefits. There was also evidence that ECEC is associated with higher cognitive verbal ability (naming vocabulary). The study also found that children who participated in more than 35 hours of ECEC per week between two- and three-years-old had higher levels of conduct problems and lower levels of emotional self-regulation than children receiving less than two hours a week, although this group of children comprised only 3.25% of the sample (149 children). The researchers note that the children who received more than 35 hours of ECEC between two- and three-years-old were also more likely to have started early (ie, during the first year of life), and that this early start combined with high use when aged two to three is a significant factor behind these effects.

Source: Study of early education and development (SEED): Impact study on early education use and child outcomes up to age three. Research report (July 2017), Department for Education. Reference: DFE-RR706

Mindfulness-based interventions in schools

This Campbell systematic review examines the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) implemented in school settings on cognition, behaviour, socio-emotional outcomes and academic achievement. MBIs are interventions that use a mindfulness component, broadly defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”, and is often combined with yoga, cognitive-behavioural strategies, or relaxation-skills training.

A total of 61 studies are included in the review, but only the 35 randomised or quasi-experimental studies are used in the meta-analysis, with a total of 6,207 pupil participants. Most of the studies were carried out in schools in the US (74%), with some in Asia (5%), Europe (16%) and Canada (5%). The interventions ranged in duration (4–28 weeks), number of sessions (6–125 sessions) and frequency of meetings (once every two weeks to five times a week).

The findings show that MBIs in schools have a small positive effect on cognitive outcomes and socio-emotional outcomes, but do not improve behaviour or academic achievement. There was little heterogeneity for all outcomes, apart from behavioural outcomes, suggesting that the interventions produced similar results across studies on cognitive, socio-emotional and academic outcomes, despite the interventions being quite diverse. Overall, Brandy Maynard and colleagues find a lack of support at post-test to indicate that the positive effects on cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes then translate into positive outcomes on behaviour and academic achievement.

Source: Mindfulness-based interventions for improving cognition, academic achievement, behavior, and socioemotional functioning of primary and secondary school students (March 2017), A Campbell Systematic Review 2017:5

What makes social and emotional learning programmes effective in the classroom?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) addresses the ability to control one’s emotions and to interact appropriately with others. Numerous programmes exist to teach this skill to children in the classroom, and a recent surge in SEL research has allowed patterns to emerge regarding what makes certain programmes effective. As one of a four-part series on SEL, REL Mid-Atlantic has released A Review of The Literature on Social and Emotional Learning for Students Ages 3-8: Characteristics of Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs, which identifies the most important components of SEL programmes and offers guidance to those selecting them.

As part of this research, Rosemarie O’Conner and colleagues examined 83 research syntheses from 2008-2015 that met inclusion criteria. Common characteristics of successful SEL programmes were that learning occurred through teaching specific skills in the classroom, incorporating role-playing and modelling the skills. The research showed that SEL activities should occur in a sequential order, be used regularly and pupils should be allotted enough time for practice. Teacher training is also essential.

When choosing a programme, authors refer readers to a guide that rates 23 programmes by quality and evidence of effectiveness. They also list several recommendations including considering the school’s resources, staff attitudes and time available to implement a given programme.

Source: A review of the literature on social and emotional learning for students ages 3–8: Characteristics of effective social and emotional learning programs (part 1 of 4) (February 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.

What happens when school districts integrate social and emotional learning?

American Institutes for Research (AIR) has published findings from an ongoing evaluation of a districtwide implementation of social and emotional learning (SEL).

The Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI) was launched in 2011 by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning to support school districts’ capacities to provide SEL for all students. AIR’s evaluation of the first four years of the CDI analysed, among other factors, its effect on student academic and behavioural outcomes at the school level in the eight participating districts. Academic outcomes included reading and mathematics standardised test scores and grade point average (GPA). Behavioural outcomes included attendance, suspensions, graduation, and dropout.

Overall, students’ academic performance improved in CDI implementation years relative to the years before the CDI. GPA was seen to improve in four of the districts and discipline in six. Attendance improved in four districts and declined in one.

Although the research demonstrated some positive trends in the academic and behavioural outcomes of students in the school districts where CDI was implemented, these improvements were not seen consistently for all students. The evaluation suggests that even modest investments in SEL can have benefits, but more research is needed to determine which SEL approaches work best at different grade levels and have the strongest long-term benefits.

Source: When districts support and integrate social and emotional learning (SEL): Findings from an ongoing evaluation of districtwide implementation of SEL (2016), Education Policy Center at American Institutes for Research

Out-of-school clubs linked with better outcomes

A new working paper from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies investigates whether taking part in out-of-school activities during primary school is linked with end-of-primary-school achievement and social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes for all children, and specifically for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The analysis is based on the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a national longitudinal study of more than 11,000 children born in the year 2000. This was linked with administrative data on the children’s attainment scores at ages 6-7 and 10-11. In addition to looking at achievement (total point score, English, and maths) at ages 10-11, researchers also investigated social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) total difficulties and prosocial skills scores.

Results showed that sports clubs and “other” (unspecified) club participation was positively associated with achievement outcomes at age 11, when controlling for prior achievement. Participating in organised sports or physical activity was also positively linked to social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes. Among disadvantaged children, after school clubs emerged as the only organised activity linked to child outcomes; participation was linked to both higher achievement  and prosocial skills at ages 10-11.

Source: Out of School Activities During Primary School and KS2 Attainment (2016) Centre for Longitudinal Studies

Promoting emotional health, well-being, and resilience in primary schools

A new report from the Public Policy Institute for Wales synthesises research and policy evaluations related to school-based strategies to promote emotional health, well-being, and resilience among primary school students aged 4 to 11 years.

The report argues that school-based work in this area can be very effective, and school systems need to be strongly connected with each other in order to translate the research evidence into sustained impact. While work on emotional health and well-being is relevant to all students, some children are likely to have additional needs. These children often come from high-risk groups that can be identified, for example, those who have socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report’s overarching recommendation is to develop a carefully planned and well-supported approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) that is integrated with core pedagogical principles and situated within a connected school. It also calls for an independent evaluation of a Welsh initiative on SEL that is designed to support emotional health, well-being, and resilience. Importantly, the focus should not be on developing an entirely new SEL curriculum or new teaching resources, since many evidence-based programs with high-quality resources already exist. Rather, the emphasis should be on identifying specific strategies for integrating SEL work, engaging families, and broader schools systems and core pedagogical principles.

Source: Promoting Emotional Health, Well-being and Resilience in Primary Schools (2016), Public Policy Institute for Wales.