Science clubs may boost socially disadvantaged pupils’ scientific aspirations

Extracurricular activities in science, such as after school clubs, may help to increase scientific aspirations of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to new research published in the International Journal of Science Education.

Tamjid Mujtaba and colleagues looked at survey responses of 4,780 pupils in Year 7 and Year 8 from schools in England with high proportions of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Their responses showed that pupils’ aspirations to study science beyond age 16 were strongly associated with their basic interest in the subject, how useful they thought science was for future careers and their engagement in extracurricular activities, such as science clubs. In addition, pupils’ confidence in their own abilities in science and encouragement from teachers and family to continue studying science after age 16 had smaller but still relevant associations.

Overall, the researchers suggest that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds would benefit from support and encouragement to continue with science and having access to science-related extracurricular activities.

Source: Students’ science attitudes, beliefs, and context: associations with science and chemistry aspirations (March 2018), International Journal of Science Education, Volume 40, Issue 6

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

Better evidence needed on appropriate screen time for children

A briefing paper published by the British Psychological Society states that much of the evidence for the negative effects of screen use in children and teenagers is not based on robust enough science.

The report recognises that the issue of children’s digital media use is more complex than just screen time and calls for new guidelines to be built on robust evidence. To do this, it offers a number of recommendations for government officials, policy makers and practitioners interested in the impact of social media and digital technology on children and young people’s mental health.

Recommendations for research include:

  • Studies should be designed which can identify causality and increase our understanding of when screen use is harmful and when it is beneficial.
  • More qualitative methods, such as interviews, ethnography and participatory research should be employed with young people to understand their media practices and what they want from digital media.

It also offers guidance for families on how to reduce the negative impact that technology can have on some young people’s mental health, which include:

  • Discuss the different aspects of digital media with children and encourage positive media use.
  • Minimise screen use before bed time.
  • Encourage children to engage in a variety of activities away from screens.

Source: Changing behaviour:  Children, adolescents and screen use (January 2018), British Psychological Society

Making learning stick

The results of a trial reported in Impact suggest that using a software platform that incorporates a blended approach of spacing, interleaving, retrieval and the use of visual cues to learn material is more effective than other approaches in aiding pupil performance in assessments, regardless of background.

Lukas Feddern and colleagues at Seneca Learning, who designed and developed the software system, tested its efficacy in a randomised control trial of 1,120 Year 9 pupils in the UK (ages 13 to 14) from independent, grammar and comprehensive schools, including single-sex and co-educational schools. The pupils were randomly assigned to one of the following three groups: software group, spacing group (a spaced learning approach using a PDF of the same material) and massed practice group (a massed practice approach using a printed version of the material).

The results showed that while pupils in selective schools performed better in the assessment than those in non-selective schools, regardless of the experimental group, the software group improved their scores in both school settings.

Source: Retrieval, interleaving, spacing and visual cues as ways to improve independent learning outcomes at scale (February 2018) Impact, Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching, Issue 2: Science of Learning

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

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