What works and what does not for boys and girls

Child Trends has completed two new research briefs that examine programmes and strategies that work, as well as don’t work, for each gender:

Each brief synthesises findings from rigorously evaluated social interventions for young people. The outcome areas explored include academic achievement, delinquency, mental health, reproductive health, and social skills. One key finding for both boys and girls was that including parents in some way in interventions led to desirable impacts for mental health outcomes.

On the other hand, for reproductive health, one-on-one interventions led to positive impacts for females, but experiential learning activities that included group activities were often effective for boys. In addition, while social skills training interventions were not successful for female children and teenagers in reducing externalising behaviours (eg, aggression), in many cases for males, these types of interventions were successful.

Sources: What works for female children and adolescents: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions (2012), Child Trends

What works for male children and adolescents: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions (2012), Child Trends

Closing the attainment gap in England’s secondary schools

School improvement policies will not be enough to close the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils in England’s secondary schools, concludes a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research. Pupils from deprived areas are about as likely to attend a school rated ‘satisfactory’ or ‘inadequate’ as wealthier pupils are likely to attend a school rated ‘outstanding’; however, findings of the report show that even if every pupil in the country attended an outstanding school, the attainment gap between the poorest and wealthiest pupils would only be cut by a fifth. The report also looks at what impact the pupil premium and other targeted interventions have on closing the attainment gap, and finds that:

  • Targeting interventions towards poorer pupils helps to raise achievement in the poorest areas of the country, but does not help to reduce the attainment gap in the rest of the country.
  • Interventions work best if they focus on tackling the variations in achievement within each school, and are targeted at all pupils who are falling behind regardless of their socioeconomic background.
  • Interventions at secondary school cannot do all of the work in narrowing the attainment gap. The biggest effects are achieved when interventions start in early years and primary school and are continued into secondary school.

Source: Closing the attainment gap in England’s secondary schools (2012) Institute for Public Policy Research

Randomised controlled trial of the Teens and Toddlers programme

This report from the Department for Education presents findings of a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the impact of the Teens and Toddlers (T&T) programme, which aims to reduce teenage pregnancy by raising the aspirations and educational attainment of 13- to 17-year-old girls at most risk of leaving education early, social exclusion, and becoming pregnant.

The T&T programme, which consisted of weekly three-hour sessions over 18 to 20 weeks, combined group-based learning with work experience in a nursery. The RCT measured the impact of the programme on a specific set of outcomes while it was taking place, immediately afterwards, and one year later. Immediately after the intervention, there was no evidence of a positive impact on the three primary outcomes:

  • use of contraception;
  • expectation of teenage parenthood; and
  • general social and emotional development.

However, there was evidence of improved self-esteem and sexual-health knowledge, which were secondary outcomes. One year later, the only impact was that the teenagers were less likely to have low self-esteem.

Source: Randomised controlled trial of the ‘teens and toddlers’ programme (2012), Department for Education

Little incentive for rewarding teacher teams

In the last issue of Best Evidence in Brief, we included a PISA in Focus review on performance-based pay for teachers. This US study from the RAND Corporation also looks at performance pay, but specifically at the effects of rewarding teams of teachers. The study, which used a randomised design, included 159 teams of teachers teaching pupils in grades 6 to 8 (KS3) in nine schools. Teachers on selected teams had the opportunity to earn a bonus based on their pupil’s growth in achievement in mathematics, English language arts, science, and social studies.

The study showed that the intervention had no effect on pupil achievement, teacher practices, or teacher attitudes. Pupils taught by teacher teams who were offered incentives scored slightly better on some standardised tests, but the differences were small and not statistically significant.

Source: No evidence that incentive pay for teacher teams improves student outcomes (2012), RAND Corporation

Can educational attainment be raised by changing parents’ and children’s attitudes?

Changing three attitudes (aspirations, locus of control, and valuing school) does not affect educational attainment. That is one of the findings of a review by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which examined whether educational attainment can be raised by focusing interventions on changing the attitudes of parents and children.

The study evaluated evidence from more than 60 research papers, of which almost 30 were evaluations of specific interventions. These interventions covered the following areas: parent involvement, extra-curricular activities, mentoring, volunteering, peer education, and interventions with a primary focus on changing attitudes.

The review looked for evidence of a chain of impact from changing a particular set of attitudes to a rise in attainment. These attitudes were the aspirations to do well at school and to aim for advanced education, the sense that one’s own actions can change one’s life, and the giving of value to schooling and school results, referred to as aspirations, locus of control, and valuing school. The evidence from this evaluation supports a shift in emphasis from “raising aspirations” to “keeping aspirations on track”.

Source: Can changing aspirations and attitudes impact on educational attainment? (2012), Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Preventing or reducing socio-emotional problems in adolescents

Which programmes help adolescents struggling with social-emotional problems? Child Trends examined the effectiveness of 37 intervention programmes designed to prevent or treat internalising problems for adolescents (“internalising problems” are defined as problems or disorders of emotion or mood caused by difficulties regulating negative emotion).

Findings showed that programmes are most effective when they build cognitive behavioural skills (such as redirecting negative or self-defeating thoughts), build behavioural coping skills for developing healthy responses to stress, and teach social skills for improving interpersonal relationships and self-efficacy. Therapeutic approaches, such as family therapy, group therapy, individual therapy, and treatment-focused, school-based approaches were also shown to be effective.

Source: Research: What works to prevent or reduce internalizing problems or socio-emotional difficulties in adolescents (2012), National Adolescent and Young Adult Health Information Center