March 26, 2013 – ‘What works’ in supporting young people’s development

Mentor are determined to bring evidence-based practice to mainstream education. We will do this through the delivery of free regional seminars exploring best practice in prevention and showcasing promising programmes for young people.


This topic could easily fill a two-day conference, but the speakers in our afternoon seminar managed to cover a wide range of issues and perspectives in a short period: the CAYT repository of evidence-based services and programmes for young people; building a model PSHE ‘Healthy Minds’ curriculum; how evidence-based programmes can be delivered in schools; and the ‘Just for a Laugh’ programme.

Richard White from the Department for Education started off by introducing the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions (CAYT) repository of evidence-based services and programmes for young people.This rates programmes submitted for the quality of their evaluation and their impact. CAYT has recently received funding to expand the repository (beyond the ‘usual suspects’ of well-evidenced programmes which are currently included) and to provide bespoke training and support to organisations which want to improve their evidence base. Their website is currently being redeveloped and key areas for improvement include encouraging new organisations to submit evidence, and ensuring that people can access and use the information.

Other recent developments include four new ‘What Works centres’ to join NICE and the Education Endowment Foundation. Ben Goldacre’s paper, Building Evidence into Education, has also raised more interest in research in education.

Nick Axford from the Social Research Unit at Dartington recorded a video highlighting some issues in introducing evidence-based programmes. These included getting support from headteachers; the importance of training in ensuring that programmes are delivered with fidelity; the importance of mapping programmes to curricular requirements; and the extent to which programmes could be adapted by teachers.

Nick’s video:

Lucy Bailey from How to Thrive explained how they were building on the Penn Resilience Programme which is already being used in UK schools (see evaluation summary and video). Starting with this programme in Year 7, they were drawing on other evidence-based programmes to create a model PSHE ‘Healthy Minds’ curriculum from Year 7 to Year 10. This needed to be coherent and age-appropriate, recognising potential problems where programmes developed in the US may not work in a UK context. The Education Endowment Foundation is funding a randomised controlled trial in 30 UK schools, which are currently being recruited.


Patrick Hargreaves presented his ‘Just for a Laugh‘ programme. This uses as its starting point children or young people’s own perceptions of what is ‘risky’, gets them to research the facts and share their opinions and then uses drama as a safe means of exploring situations they might find themselves in. (Evaluation reports here and here)


‘Just for a Laugh’ video:

(NB: video not exactly the same as that shown on the day)

Patrick highlighted the difficulty of capturing all impacts in an evaluation. For example, it may depend on the measures used – would a reduction in the quantity drunk show up if frequency of drinking remained the same? There may be delayed, or knock-on effects, for example in an evaluation of JFAL, three pupils reported that a family member had given up smoking as a direct result.

In the presentations and discussion the constraints on schools were raised: limited curriculum time, pressure to meet targets and Ofsted inspections unlikely to put a high value on health education. Lucy reported that schools were generally enthusiastic about the value of the Healthy Minds curriculum, but many felt they could not find the curriculum time or release teachers for training, even with supply cover funded in this case.

It was suggested that rather than whole programmes, what may be useful to teachers are evidence-based approaches or components which they can draw on. This creates a challenge as much of the most rigorous research evidence, is currently based on programmes, with no guarantee of success if these are not delivered in their entirety. The next step is to be able to understand exactly what the different elements of programmes achieve rather than the current ‘black box’ approach of some RCTs. It may also be important to understand who a programme works for – whether it is more effective with girls or boys, or with those most at risk.

Another question, relating to the new ‘What Works’ centres, was whether evidence would influence policymakers, since top-down limitations placed on schools, and the ways success is measured may not be based on good evidence. In response, Richard referred to Ben Goldacre’s suggestion that a greater emphasis on evidence may strengthen the hand of teachers seeking to improve policy.

Many thanks to everyone who came and contributed to the discussions, especially our speakers.

No Responses