Does Girls Active lead to active girls?

A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity looks at the results of an intervention aimed at improving the activity levels of adolescent girls.

The randomised controlled trial by Deirdre Harrington and colleagues took place in 20 secondary schools in Leicester. Ten schools received Girls Active and ten schools continued with usual practice. Developed by the Youth Sport Trust, Girls Active is focused on providing a support framework to schools to review their physical activity, sport, and PE teaching to ensure they are relevant and attractive to all adolescent girls, but with a particular focus on 11–14 year olds. The programme includes a range of resources for schools, including self-evaluation, training, mentoring, and funding for developing school capacity.

In total, 1,752 girls aged 11-14 participated. The primary outcome measure (at baseline, 7 months, and 14 months) was moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA), as recorded on wrist-worn accelerometers. Secondary outcomes included overall physical activity, light physical activity, sedentary time, body composition, and psychosocial outcomes. The results showed small improvements in MVPA in comparison with control schools after 7 months, but none after 14 months. Subgroup analysis showed that the intervention was effective at 14 months in larger schools, but caused an MVPA decrease in smaller schools. There was no pattern in the secondary outcomes, and any differences were slight.

Source: Effectiveness of the ‘Girls Active’ school-based physical activity programme: A cluster randomised controlled trial (April 2018) International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity

The effect of a World Cup on pupils’ effort and achievement

A study published in the Journal of Public Economics examines how leisure time can impact pupils’ effort and educational achievement by looking at the overlap of major football tournaments (the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship) with GCSE exams in England.

Using seven years of subject data on pupils in England, taken from the National Pupil Database, Robert Metcalfe and colleagues estimated the overall effect of a tournament by comparing within-pupil variation in performance during the exam period between tournament and non-tournament years.

Overall, they found a negative average effect of the tournament on exam performance, as measured by whether pupils achieved a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects at GCSE. In tournament years, the odds of achieving the benchmark of a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects fell by 12%. For pupils who are likely to be very interested in football (defined as likely to be white, male, disadvantaged pupils), the impact is greater, with the odds of achieving the benchmark reduced by 28%. This result is important as this group is already the lowest performing, with only 21.3% achieving a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects at GCSE in non-tournament years.

An earlier study reported in a previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief also found that some pupils perform less well in their GCSEs in years when there is a major international football tournament taking place.

Source: Students’ effort and educational achievement: Using the timing of the World Cup to vary the value of leisure (January 2019), Journal of Public Economics, Volume 172

Out-of-school clubs linked with better outcomes

A new working paper from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies investigates whether taking part in out-of-school activities during primary school is linked with end-of-primary-school achievement and social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes for all children, and specifically for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The analysis is based on the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a national longitudinal study of more than 11,000 children born in the year 2000. This was linked with administrative data on the children’s attainment scores at ages 6-7 and 10-11. In addition to looking at achievement (total point score, English, and maths) at ages 10-11, researchers also investigated social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) total difficulties and prosocial skills scores.

Results showed that sports clubs and “other” (unspecified) club participation was positively associated with achievement outcomes at age 11, when controlling for prior achievement. Participating in organised sports or physical activity was also positively linked to social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes. Among disadvantaged children, after school clubs emerged as the only organised activity linked to child outcomes; participation was linked to both higher achievement  and prosocial skills at ages 10-11.

Source: Out of School Activities During Primary School and KS2 Attainment (2016) Centre for Longitudinal Studies

Screen addicts missing out on GCSE potential

A new article in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity investigated the association between GCSE results and three aspects of the way that teenagers had spent their time when they were 14.5 years old:

  1. Physical activity
  2. Screen time sedentary behaviour (TV/films, internet, computer games)
  3. Non-screen sedentary behaviour (reading, homework)

The study was based on 845 teenagers from Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. Data was taken from the ROOTS study, which aims to determine the relative contributions of genetic, physiological, psychological, and social variables to well-being and mental health during adolescence. Trained researchers administered questionnaires, conducted physical measurements, and gave instructions regarding physical activity measurements at participating schools.

The participants’ median daily screen time was approximately 1.9 hours. The authors found that teenagers reporting an extra hour of daily screen time at 14.5 years old achieved 9.3 fewer GCSE points (almost two grades lower) at 16. All three separate screen behaviours were independently negatively associated with academic performance.

However, participants doing an extra hour of daily homework and reading (up to four hours/day) achieved 23.1 more GCSE points (an increase of four grades). Physical activity did not appear to be either detrimental or beneficial to academic performance.

Other findings included that boys were more active and less sedentary than girls, and boys reported more screen time but less non-screen sedentary time than girls. Girls had higher academic performance than boys.

The authors noted some limitations in the study, including the possibility that less-academic pupils are likely to be doing the less-academic subjects and may be given less homework.

Source: Revising on the Run or Studying on the Sofa: Prospective Associations Between Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour, and Exam Results in British Adolescents (2015), International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 12(106).

Neuroscience approaches with promise

A new review commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation summarises existing evidence about education approaches and interventions that are based (or claim to be based) on neuroscience. The review looked at 18 different topics and considered the strength of evidence to support them and how close they are to a practical application in education.

Five topics were found to be the most developed in terms of educational application and have the most promising evidence about their impact on educational outcomes. These were:

  • Mathematics. Maths anxiety interferes with neurocognitive processes that are crucial to learning, but the effects can be mediated by an individual’s recruitment of cognitive control networks.
  • Reading. Mapping letter symbols to sound and comprehending meaning.
  • Exercise. Participating in physical activity to increase the efficiency of neural networks.
  • Spaced learning. Learning content multiple times with breaks in between.
  • Testing. Being tested on studied material aids memory.

The author notes that there is a growing interest in neuroscience-informed education, but that this enthusiasm means that the topic needs to be approached with care. He concludes that all of the parties involved – neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, educational researchers, and teachers – should work together to ensure that the neuroscience is properly interpreted and applied through educational interventions that are meaningful, feasible, and rigorously tested.

Source: Neuroscience and Education: A Review of Educational Interventions and Approaches Informed by Neuroscience (2014), Education Endowment Foundation.

Children should get active, and stay that way, to improve later cognitive function

Taking part in leisure time physical activity (LTPA) is positively associated with cognitive functioning in the mid-adult years, with the greatest benefits for those people who participate in lifelong (both childhood and adult), intensive LTPA.

In an article published in Psychological Medicine, researchers from King’s College London estimated the association between different LTPA parameters from 11 to 50 years and cognitive functioning in late mid-adulthood. They used data from the UK National Child Development Study (NCDS), a cohort study of children born in 1958, with LTPA data collected from questionnaires.

Source: Leisure-time Physical Activity Over the Life Course and Cognitive Functioning in Late Mid-adult Years: A Cohort-based Investigation (2013),Psychological Medicine, (online, March 2013).