New study evaluates a summer camp for children with military parents

This RAND study assesses “Operation Purple”, a free one-week summer camp programme in the US for children with a parent who is on military deployment. The study used a quasi-experimental approach to determine whether there were differences between attendees and non-attendees in four Operation Purple theme areas: comfort and skill in communicating about feelings, understanding and appreciation of military life, sense of service/stewardship, and outdoor education. Data included children and parent survey data (from both camp attendees and a control group of non-attendees), camp after-action reports, and visitor observation logs. Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • The most significant difference between children who attended an Operation Purple camp and those who did not was in parent reports that children had a greater ability to communicate feelings of anxiety and stress surrounding parental deployment and a greater connection to the military and their peers. Parents also reported that camp participants had a greater interest in camping in the follow-up surveys.
  • The study found no significant differences between children who attended camp and those who did not in the area of sense of service/stewardship

Source: Assessing Operation Purple: A program evaluation of a summer camp for military youth (2012), RAND

Do students perform better when schools offer extracurricular activities?

A new PISA in Focus study from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), looks at whether pupils perform better in science if they are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, such as field trips and science projects. Most countries (22 of 31 OECD countries) demonstrated that pupils did perform better at science in schools that offer more extracurricular activities compared with pupils in schools that offer fewer of these activities. The types and availability of extracurricular activity vary widely across countries, but the study shows that the relationship between improved pupil performance and extracurricular activity is consistent, with Germany and Australia having the strongest correlation.

Another finding of the study is that in addition to performing better, pupils in schools that offer more science-related extracurricular activities also report more positive attitudes toward the subject. They tend to believe more in their own ability in the subject (22 OECD countries) and enjoy learning science more (20 OECD countries). After accounting for socio-economic background, the positive relationships between achievement, enjoyment, and self-efficacy still hold for most countries. In particular, no negative relationships between science-related extracurricular activities and positive attitudes towards science learning were found.

Source: Are students more engaged when schools offer extracurricular activities? (2012), PISA in Focus

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

Effective interventions for emotional well-being

This paper, written by Tracey Bywater and Jonathan Sharples from the Institute for Effective Education, summarises a selective review of effective school-based social and emotional learning programmes, and draws lessons for policy and practice regarding choice and implementation. The evidence suggests that among universal and targeted evidence-based interventions, multi-modal/component approaches work in promoting cross-context competence and well-being. However, the scaling up of effective programmes remains difficult, and there are too few analyses of the cost-effectiveness or cost-benefit of effective programmes.

Choosing a programme “that works” is not enough to guarantee success; implementing the programme with fidelity takes time and resources, but is necessary to achieve the desired outcomes. A shift from being narrowly focused on “clinical effectiveness” and outcomes to being more inclusive of cost and process evaluations should result in more promising approaches, with a good potential for long-term financial and societal savings.

Source: Effective evidence-based interventions for emotional well-being: lessons for policy and practice (2012), Research Papers in Education, 27(4)

Social-emotional learning for preschool children

This study from the Early Childhood Education Journal looks at the effects of an SEL curriculum on the social and emotional competence of preschool pupils. Participating teachers and pupils were assigned to either a treatment group or a control group. In the treatment group, Strong Start Pre-K was implemented, a programme that covers specific objectives and goals that help to prevent emotional and mental health problems; optional booster lessons are included to reinforce skills. In the control group, Strong Start Pre-K was not implemented.

The study showed a significant decrease in internalising behaviours and more improvement in the pupil–teacher relationship in the treatment group. The results also supported the use of the optional booster lessons.

To learn more about effective approaches to social-emotional learning, see “Social and emotional learning programmes that work”, an article from a recent issue of Better: Evidence-based Education magazine.

Source: Promoting social and emotional learning in preschool students: A study of strong start pre-k (2012), Early Childhood Education Journal, 40(3)

Recent policy developments in school sport

This policy update from the House of Commons library provides a summary of the debate around the type and level of provision of sport and physical education (PE) in schools. The Department for Education has confirmed that PE will remain a compulsory subject after the review of the National Curriculum in England.

Since the Secretary of State for Education’s October 2010 statement, calling for a new direction in school sport, there have been many significant policy changes, and the update provides a useful precis.

The next issue of Better: Evidence-based Education, published in June, takes as its theme “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds” and looks at the evidence that sport and other non-academic activities, such as yoga and programmes to address problem behaviour, can boost children’s physical and mental health and help them to learn.

Source: School Sport (2012), House of Commons Library