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

New guidance to support schools to put evidence to work in their classrooms

A new guidance report from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) aims to give schools the support they need to put evidence to work in their classrooms and implement new programmes and approaches effectively.

The report highlights how good and thoughtful implementation is crucial to the success of any teaching and learning strategy, yet creating the right conditions for implementation – let alone the structured process of planning, delivering and sustaining change – is hard.

The authors offer six recommendations to help schools give their innovations the very best chance by working carefully through the who, why, where, when and how of managing change. These recommendations can be applied to any school improvement decision: programmes or practices, whole-school or targeted approach, internally or externally generated ideas.

The report frames implementation in four stages: explore, prepare, deliver and sustain. It also provides guidance on how schools can create the right environment for change, from supporting staff to getting leadership on board.

Source: Putting evidence to work: a school’s guide to implementation. EEF Guidance Report (February 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

New analysis of the attainment gap

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published a new analysis of the state of the attainment gap in the UK. Using data from Key Stage 2 to predict how the attainment gap is likely to shift in the next five years, it reveals that there will be little or no headway in closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates in the next five years.

Improvements in primary schools over the past few years mean that the gap between the proportion of disadvantaged pupils with at least a good pass at GCSE in English and maths and all other pupils is set to reduce from 24 percentage points (ppts) to 21.5 between 2017 and 2021. However, there will be little change in Attainment 8 (which measures average achievement in GCSE across eight subjects) and Progress 8 (which measures students’ progress between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 across eight subjects) gaps. The Attainment 8 score gap of 11 points in 2017 will remain in 2021, while for Progress 8 the attainment gap is set to increase a little: from 14.8 ppts in 2017 to 15.6 ppts in 2021.

The analysis emphasises that even small improvements – just one or two GCSE passes compared to no qualifications – can have significant increases on a young person’s lifetime productivity returns and in national wealth. This highlights the importance of continuing to focus on improving results for currently low-attaining pupils.

The report also contains 15 key lessons from the first six years of the EEF on closing the attainment gap.

Source: The attainment gap: 2017 (January 2018), The Education Endowment Foundation

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

Disseminating research to make a difference in classrooms

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published the results of its Literacy Octopus trials – named after their multi-armed design – which looked at the impact of research dissemination on achievement in schools.

More than 13,000 primary schools across England were involved in the trials (823 schools in the first trial and 12,500 in the second trial), which drew on a wide range of evidence-based resources and events designed to support the teaching and learning of literacy at Key Stage 2. These included printed and online research summaries (including this Best Evidence in Brief e-newsletter), evidence-based practice guides, webinars, face-to-face professional development events and access to online tools.

The first trial tested whether sending schools high-quality evidence-based resources in a range of different formats would have an impact on pupil outcomes. The second trial tested whether combining the provision of resources with “light-touch” support on how to use them would have greater impact. Some schools were simply sent evidence-based resources, while others received the resources along with simple additional support, such as invitations to seminars on applying the resources in the classroom. As well as pupil outcomes, this trial also measured teachers’ use of research to measure the impact on teacher behaviour.

Neither of the Literacy Octopus trials found evidence of improved literacy achievement at Key Stage 2 for pupils whose teachers took part in the trials compared with the control group. The second trial found no increase in teachers’ use of, or engagement with, research. The results suggest that, in general, light-touch interventions and resources alone are unlikely to make a difference.

Source: The Literacy Octopus: Communicating and engaging with research (December 2017), The Education Endowment Foundation

Examining the evidence on out-of-school-time programmes

Out-of-school-time (OST) programmes typically provide children with additional academic lessons outside of school hours and/or recreational and enrichment activities. To examine the evidence base on OST programmes, Jennifer McCombs and colleagues from the RAND Corporation reviewed meta-analyses and large-scale, rigorous experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations of after-school and summer programmes. Their review included specialty programmes (eg, sports or arts programmes); multipurpose programmes (eg, Boys and Girls clubs); and academic programmes (eg, summer learning programmes).

After reviewing the research, the authors compiled the following conclusions:

  • OST programmes provide measurable benefits to children and families on outcomes directly related to programme content.
  • Academic OST programmes with sufficient “dosage” (measured by the hours of content provided) can demonstrably improve pupil achievement.
  • Programme quality and intentionality influence outcomes.
  • Children need to attend regularly to measurably benefit from programming.

The authors provide a complete list of studies reviewed and their key findings.

A previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief included a study by the Nuffield Foundation, which examines the effect of OST study programmes on GCSE performance in England.

Source: The value of out-of-school-time programmes (2017), PE-267-WF, RAND Corporation