In recent years, interventions that apply positive psychology principles have become increasingly popular, providing an alternative approach to promoting pupils’ well-being. A recent research study published in Frontiers in Psychology examined a positive education programme in China focusing on positive emotion for middle school pupils.
Participants were drawn from a public middle school in the city of Chengdu, China. A total of 173 eighth graders (Year 9) from six classes participated in the study, of which three classes (84 pupils) were randomly allocated to the intervention group, and three classes (89 pupils) were assigned to the control group. Pupils in the intervention group received a 10-session positive education programme delivered by their teachers who received training in positive psychology from the researchers. The programme consisted of three main modules, namely understanding emotions, fostering positive emotions, and managing negative emotions. Each session lasted 45 minutes. Pupils in the control group spent the same time taking a moral education class that covered moral character, school discipline and class culture building.
Pupils completed online assessments (a Chinese version of the
PROMIS paediatric scale) measuring depressive symptoms before and after the
intervention. The study found that:
The level of depressive symptoms for pupils in both groups increased as measured by the post-test.
However, compared to the pupils in the control group, the increase in the level of depressive symptoms of pupils in the intervention group was significantly less.
The authors suggest that compared to correcting pupils’ behaviours,
positive interventions which keep pupils intrinsically motivated could also
help pupils improve their life in an effective way.
education interventions prevent depression in Chinese adolescents (June 2019), Frontiers in Psychology, volume 10
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looks at what impact an intervention designed to help students with concerns about starting middle school has on their academic achievement, behaviour, and well-being.
Geoffrey Borman and colleagues conducted the study with 1,304 sixth graders (Year 7) at 11 middle schools in a US Midwestern school district. Within each of the 11 schools, students were randomly assigned to the intervention or control condition. The intervention group was given reflective writing exercises, two months apart, which were designed to help students reassess any concerns and worries they might have about belonging in school. The control condition exercises asked students to write about neutral middle school experiences that were not related to school belonging.
The researchers collected pre- and post-intervention survey data on students’ reported social and emotional well-being, and official school records of student attendance, disciplinary records, and grades. The results of the study suggested that the intervention reduced behavioural referrals by 34% (effect size = -0.14), decreased absence by 12% (ES = -0.13), and reduced the number of failing grades by 18% (ES = -0.11). Differences across demographic groups were not statistically significant.
Source: Reappraising academic and social adversity improves middle school students’ academic achievement, behavior, and well-being (August 2019) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Mathematica Policy Research posted a new research brief that summarises findings from a study of Healthy Harlem, an after-school programme aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles. The study, by James Mabli, Martha Bleeker and Mary Kay Fox, showed that participation in the Healthy Harlem programme led to increased physical activity and improved weight status for overweight and obese pupils.
Key components of Healthy Harlem include physical activity, healthy snacks, nutrition education lessons and parent workshops. To assess Healthy Harlem’s effectiveness, the authors monitored pupils at 21 after-school sites during an initial baseline year and then measured programme impacts after two and three years of participation. They collected data through a pupil survey, a fitness test and direct measurements of height and weight. Key findings were as follows:
A 5.5 percent decrease in mean BMI z-scores after two years of participation and a 9.0 percent decrease after three years of participation. According to the report, a BMI z-score reflects the number of standard deviations a pupil’s BMI is from the mean BMI for a reference population.
A decrease of 12.2 percentage points in the percentage of pupils who were overweight or obese after two years, and a decrease of 18.4 percentage points after three years.
An increase in the percentage of pupils considered to be within the Harlem Fitness Zone, a measure of fitness based on a pupil’s ability to complete a minimum number of laps, defined for age-and-gender subgroups.
Source: The impact of Healthy Harlem on the body mass index and weight status of adolescents after two and three Years (March 2018), Mathematica Policy Research
Many studies have been conducted to examine the impact for pupils of later school start times, some of which can be found in previous issues of Best Evidence in Brief. This Campbell systematic review summarises the findings from 17 studies to examine the evidence on the impact of later school start times on pupils’ mental health and academic performance.
The studies included in the review were randomised controlled trials, controlled before-and-after studies and interrupted time series studies with data for pupils aged 13 to 19 and that compared different school start times. The studies reported on 11 interventions in six countries, with a total of almost 300,000 pupils.
The main results of the review suggest that later school starts may be associated with positive academic benefits and psychosocial outcomes. Later school start times also appear to be associated with an increase in the amount of sleep children get. Effect sizes ranged from +0.38 to +2.39, equivalent to an extra 30 minutes to 2 hours of sleep each night. However, the researchers point out that, overall, the quality of the body of evidence is very low, and so the effects of later school start times cannot be determined with any confidence.
Source: Later school start times for supporting the education, health, and well-being of high school students: a systematic review (December 2017), A Campbell Systematic Review 2017:15
In a new report from the Education Policy Institute, Emily Firth has examined the evidence of the impact of using social media on young people’s mental health and emotional well-being.
One of the key findings from the report is evidence of a beneficial impact. This is because young people can connect with others to improve their social skills online, develop their character and resilience and collaborate on school projects. In the recent PISA well-being survey of 15-year-olds, 90.5% of boys and 92.3% of girls in the UK agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “It is very useful to have social networks on the internet”. Also, importantly, those with mental health problems are able to use the internet to seek support, either through social media networks or through the online provision of advice and counseling support. For example, 78% of young people contacting the organisation Childline now do so online.
However, the report also highlights several negative effects on the well-being of young people linked with social media, including cyber-bullying, concerns about excessive use and sharing of private information and harmful content. It also finds that attempts to restrict children’s internet access are likely to be counterproductive as they hinder the development of vital skills needed to counter such risks. Rather than seeking to protect young people from all online risks, the report calls on policy makers to promote proactive measures that build resilience in children, in order to help them lead safe digital lives.
Source: Social media and children’s mental health: a review of the evidence (June 2017) Education Policy Institute
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%.