Do physically active lessons improve pupil engagement?

A study published in Health Education and Behavior looks at the effects of introducing physically active lessons into primary school classes. Emma Norris and colleagues used the Virtual Traveller (VT) intervention to evaluate whether physically active lessons had any effect on pupil engagement, physical activity and on-task behaviour.

Virtual Traveller is a programme of pre-prepared physically active lesson sessions delivered using classroom interactive whiteboards during regular lessons. A total of 219 children aged 8- to 9-years-old from 10 schools in Greater London took part in the cluster-randomised controlled trial. Children in the intervention schools received 10-minute VT sessions three times a week, for six weeks, during maths and English lessons. To assess the effectiveness of VT, pupils’ physical activity levels, on-task behaviour and engagement were measured at baseline (T0), at weeks two (T1) and four  (T2) of the six-week intervention, and at one week (T3) and three months (T4) post-intervention.

Pupils in the intervention group showed more on-task behaviour than those in the control at T1 and T2, but this was not maintained post-intervention. No difference in pupil engagement between the control and intervention groups was observed at any time point. VT was found to increase physical activity, but only during lesson time.

Source: Physically active lessons improve lesson activity and on-task behavior: a cluster-randomized controlled trial of the “Virtual Traveller” intervention (March 2018), Health Education & Behavior DOI: 10.1177/1090198118762106

Parenting app has positive impact on children’s development

A new randomised controlled trial of EasyPeasy, conducted by the University of Oxford’s Department of Education and published by the Sutton Trust, suggests that the EasyPeasy app had moderate positive effects on children’s concentration levels, determination and ability to make their own decisions, as well as parents’ sense of control.

EasyPeasy is a smartphone app for the parents and caregivers of children ages 2 – 6 that aims to improve school readiness by encouraging positive play and parent–child interaction. A total of 302 families with children ages 3 – 4 were recruited from eight children’s centres in the London borough of Newham. The eight centres were randomly assigned to either the intervention group or comparison group. All families in the intervention centres were given access to the EasyPeasy app, and games were sent via the app once a week over the three-month duration of the intervention.

Families in the intervention group scored higher than those in the comparison group on two parent-reported outcomes: children’s cognitive self-regulation (effect size = +0.35) and parents’ sense of control (effect size = +0.26). Parents reported that they felt more able to get their child to behave well and respond to boundaries, as well as feeling more able to stay calm when facing difficulties.

However, because of the self-report measures used in the evaluation, the researchers note that caution must be exercised when interpreting the results from the study.

These findings build on similar results from an earlier evaluation of EasyPeasy, which showed some positive benefits for children’s cognitive self-regulation and parents’ sense of control.

Source: EasyPeasy: Evaluation in Newham findings from the Sutton Trust Parental Engagement Fund (PEF) project (April 2018), The Sutton Trust

Evaluation of computer game to teach pupils to read

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) recently carried out an evaluation of a trial of the GraphoGame Rime intervention for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and Wellcome Trust.

GraphoGame Rime is a computer game designed to teach pupils to read by developing their phonological awareness and phonic skills. The game is delivered in small groups supervised by a teacher or teaching assistant, with pupils working on individual devices, as the game is designed to constantly adjust the difficulty to challenge the learner at an appropriate level.

The pupil-randomised controlled trial involved 398 Year 2 pupils with low phonics skills in 15 schools in Cambridgeshire, and was designed to determine the impact of the intervention on pupils’ reading skills. The results of the evaluation found no evidence that GraphoGame Rime improved pupils’ reading or spelling test scores when compared to business-as-usual (effect size =-0.06). The intervention also showed no impact on reading or spelling test scores for pupils eligible for free school meals compared with the business-as-usual control group.

Source:  GraphoGame Rime: Evaluation report and executive summary (May 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Family literacy sessions could boost learning

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published findings from a new evaluation report of “Family Skills”, a programme that aims to improve the literacy and language of children learning English as an additional language.

A total of 115 primary schools in England took part in a randomised controlled trial of Family Skills. Over the course of one term, parents of four- and five-year-olds were offered weekly sessions with family learning tutors. The 2.5 hour sessions focused on topics like reading to children, phonics, making the most of bilingualism, learning through play and understanding primary education in England. Families were encouraged to do learning activities at home with their children, and were also given opportunities to visit a local library and take a tour of their child’s school.

The evaluation, conducted by the National Centre for Social Research, found that, overall, children of parents who were offered the Family Skills intervention did not make any more progress in literacy than children of parents who were not offered it (effect size = +0.01). However, the evaluation also suggests that children whose parents actually attended Family Skills sessions made greater progress in literacy than children whose parents did not. While the evaluators are cautious about this, it may indicate some potential if ways can be found to ensure more parents attend. The key challenge the evaluation highlighted is that some schools struggled to get parents to show up – only around one-third of eligible parents attended at least one session.

Source: Family Skills: evaluation report and executive summary (May 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Missing the mark at GCSE English

Getting above or failing to reach thresholds in high-stakes public examinations is an important feature of success or failure in many people’s lives. One well-known example is the need to obtain a grade C in GCSE English. New research by the Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER) analyses the costs of narrowly failing, or only just achieving, a grade C in English GCSE.

Stephen Machin and colleagues tracked the progress of more than 49,000 pupils who took their English GCSE in 2013 and got a grade C or D, and then looked at how they progressed over the next three years. Results showed that pupils of similar ability have significantly different trajectories depending on whether they just pass or fail the exam. Pupils who continue in education post-16 may find that the options open to them are more limited, and may end up in settings with less-well performing peers. Those who narrowly miss out on a grade C have a lower probability of enrolling in a higher-level qualification – by at least nine percentage points. Furthermore, pupils who narrowly miss out on a grade C are more likely to drop out of education at age 18 (by about four percentage points), and are at increased risk of poorer prospects in the long term.

Source: Entry through the narrow door: the costs of just failing high stakes exams (April 2018), Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER) Research Discussion Paper 014 

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