Evaluation of “Code Clubs”

The National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) has published the results of a randomised controlled trial and process evaluation of Code Clubs – a UK network of after-school clubs where children aged 9–11 learn to program by making games, animations, websites and applications. Code Club UK produces material and projects that support the teaching of Scratch, HTML/CSS and Python. The clubs, which are supported by volunteers, usually run for one hour a week after school during term time.

The evaluation, conducted by Suzanne Straw and colleagues, assessed the impact of Code Clubs on Year 5 pupils’ computational thinking, programming skills and attitudes towards computers and coding. Twenty-one schools in the UK took part in the trial which used a pupil-randomised design to compare pupil outcomes in the intervention and control groups. Intervention group pupils attended Code Club during the 2015/16 academic year, while control group pupils continued as they would do normally.

The results of the evaluation showed that attending Code Club for a year did not impact on pupils’ computational thinking any more than might have occurred anyway, but did significantly improve their coding skills in Scratch, HTML/CSS and Python. This was true even when control children learned Scratch as part of the computing curriculum in school. Code Club pupils reported increased usage of all three programming languages – and of computers more generally. However, the evaluation data suggests that attending Code Club for a year does not affect how pupils view their abilities in a range of transferable skills, such as following instructions, problem solving, learning about new things and working with others.

Source: Randomised controlled trial and process evaluation of code clubs (March 2017), National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER)

Does encouraging contingent talk benefit language development?

A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry examines whether language outcomes for low socio-economic status (SES) children can be improved by encouraging contingent talk (how often the parent talks about objects in the child’s current focus of attention) through a low-intensity intervention.

In a randomised controlled trial with high- and low-SES families, 142 children aged 11 months and their parents were randomly allocated to either a contingent talk intervention or a dental health control. Families in the intervention watched a video about contingent talk and were asked to practice it for 15 minutes a day for a month. Families were visited in their homes twice when children were 11, 12, 18 and 24 months. Questionnaires were also collected by mail at 15 months. Parent communication was assessed at 11 months (baseline) and after one month. Infant communication was assessed at baseline, 12, 15, 18 and 24 months.

At baseline, the amount of contingent talk children hear is found to be associated with SES, with lower-SES parents engaging in less contingent talk. At post-test (when children were 12 months old) all parents who had taken part in the intervention engaged in more contingent talk, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Lower-SES parents in the intervention group reported that their children produced more words at 15 and 18 months. However, effects of the intervention didn’t persist at 24 months. So while parents’ contingent talk is increased through the intervention, and this is effective in promoting vocabulary growth for lower-SES infants in the short term, these effects are not long-lasting. The study concludes that follow-up interventions may be necessary to produce benefits lasting to school entry.

Source: A randomised controlled trial to test the effect of promoting caregiver contingent talk on language development in infants from diverse socioeconomic status backgrounds (April 2017), The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry doi:10.1111/jcpp.12725

How happy are our students?

Students’ well-being: PISA 2015 results analyses pupils’ motivation to perform well in school, their relationships with peers and teachers, their home life and how they spend their time outside of school. The findings are based on a survey of 540,000 pupils in 72 participating Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries and economies.

The study found that pupils in the UK are among the least happy – ranking 38th out of the 48 OECD countries – with the US ranking slightly higher at 29th. On average, 15-year-old pupils in the US reported a level of 7.4 on a life satisfaction scale ranging from 0 to 10 (the OECD average was 7.3).

As in the majority of countries, boys in the UK and the US reported higher life satisfaction than girls (0.7 points higher for UK; 0.6 points higher for US; OECD average = 0.6).

Pupils in both the UK and the US reported higher levels of schoolwork-related anxiety than the OECD average. The study found 72% of UK pupils and 68% of US pupils felt anxious about tests, even when they were well-prepared for them, compared to the OECD average of 55%. And 61% of pupils in the US and 67% in the UK worry about getting poor grades at school.

Bullying is also an issue, particularly for the UK, with 25% of UK pupils and 19% of US pupils reporting that they are victims of one act of bullying at least a few times a month, compared to the OECD average of 19%.

Source: PISA 2015 results (volume III): students’ well-being (April 2017), OECD

Predicting reading ability from DNA analysis

Researchers from King’s College London have used a genetic scoring technique to predict reading performance throughout school years from DNA alone.

Saskia Selzam and colleagues calculated genetic scores for educational achievement in 5,825 individuals from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) based on genetic variants identified to be important for educational achievement. They then mapped these scores against reading ability between the ages of 7 and 14.

The report, published in Scientific Studies of Reading, found there was a correlation between children’s DNA and their reading ability. Genetic scores were found to explain up to five percent of the differences between children in their reading ability. The children with the highest and lowest genetic scores had reading abilities almost two years apart. This association remained significant even after accounting for cognitive ability and family socioeconomic status.

The researchers note that although five percent may seem a relatively small amount, it is substantial compared to other results related to reading. For example, gender differences have been found to explain less than one percent of the differences between children in reading ability. The use of genetic scoring in education as an early screening tool to help identify those at particular genetic risk of reading problems, they propose, could lead to tailored intervention and prevention according to an individual child’s needs.

Source: Genome-wide polygenic scores predict reading performance throughout the school years (March 2017), Scientific Studies of Reading

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).

Leading research engagement in education

The Coalition for Evidence-based Education (CEBE) has published guidance to help teachers, co-ordinators, support staff and leaders in education organisations who want to make more effective use of research evidence. It draws on recent evidence about the process of engaging with research and makes suggestions about some of the resources available to help.

The publication includes examples from schools and colleges, and offers guidance on:

  • Reasonable expectations
  • Preparing for research engagement
  • Phases of development
  • Leading research engagement across an organisation
  • Sources of evidence and support

Source: Leading research engagement in education: guidance for organisational change (March 2017), The Coalition for Evidence-based Education (CEBE) project team.