The issue of behaviour is always a hot topic in schools. Behaviour – whether for better or worse – has a huge impact on pupils, teachers and school leaders’ daily lives. The EEF Behaviour Guidance Report has collated a great deal of research which will chime with many people’s experiences; both in terms of findings and proposed actions.
Please note: All quotes and graphics are from the Education Endowment Foundation “Improving Behaviour in Schools Guidance Report”
There are six key recommendations: strategies 1-4 are proactive; strategy 5 is reactive and strategy 6 is all about implementation.
My summary would be that appropriate rules, effective routines and good relationships – all consistently applied across a school – will maintain high standards of behaviour for the overwhelming majority of pupils, for the overwhelming majority of time, in mainstream schools. Some children will require bespoke care, much compassion and more time to get things right; they are often the most vulnerable and disadvantaged within our society.
- Know and understand your pupils and their influences – Good Relationships Matter
Knowing pupils well can have a positive impact on their classroom behaviour; every pupil needs to have a supportive relationship with a member of school staff. Class teachers in primary schools and form tutors in secondary schools alongside support staff all have a key role to play. Finding small amounts of time, on a regular basis, to find out about a child or young person’s interests can help here.
Being informed about significant changes to a pupil’s life or well-being allows for early intervention and a more effective response. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and bullying can both adversely affect a child or young person’s behaviour.
- Teach learning behaviours alongside managing misbehaviour
“A learning behaviour can be thought of as a behaviour that is necessary in order for a person to learn effectively in the group setting of the classroom.” (p.16)
Whilst managing behaviour is a good start; helping pupils change their behaviours – increasing their ability to self-regulate and use of coping strategies – has greater long term efficacy improving both academic achievement and cognitive ability
Three interacting sets of learning behaviours – see below (p.17 in the report) – can be developed through ensuring pupils can access the curriculum, engage with lesson content and participate in their learning.
Emotional learning behaviours: inner voice; mental well-being; dealing with setbacks; and self-esteem, self-worth, and self-competence.
Social learning behaviours: pupil relationship with teacher; pupil relationship with peers; collaborative learning; and bullying.
Cognitive learning behaviours: motivation; growth mindset; working memory/cognitive load; and communication—improving through effective teacher/pupil dialogue, modelling.
- Use classroom management strategies to support good classroom behaviour
“Classroom management is a major concern for teachers, often leading to stress, burnout, and exit from the profession as well as being a deterrent for those considering teaching as a career. It is cited as a challenge for headteachers across all school phases. Effective classroom management can reduce challenging behaviour, pupil disengagement, bullying, and aggression, leading to improved classroom climate, attendance, and attainment. While attendance at school and bullying are not wholly the preserve of schools, schools have a role to play. This is of particular concern as in 2019, ‘… both authorised and unauthorised absence rates have increased since last year, the rate of the latter now being the highest since records began.’ Increasing school absence or being bullied are linked to lower attainment outcomes.” (p.20)
Classroom management is the greatest challenge for teachers early in their career; creating a culture, in which early career teachers can be open about issues, receive support, coaching & training is key to improving behaviour management. Intensive training with teachers reflecting on their classroom management, trying a new approach and reviewing their progress over time will have the greatest impact. Reinforce positive pupil behaviour, including reward systems (note most research is US based and at a primary level), as part of broader teacher classroom management strategy.
- Use simple approaches as part of your regular routine
School leaders should ensure the school behaviour policy is clear and consistently applied. Breakfast clubs, use of specific behaviour-related praise and working with parents can all support good behaviour. Teachers, meet and greet! It’s a low cost strategy with positive impact on classroom behaviour. Don’t forget the simple things; praise students in the ratio of 5:1 of positive-to-negative interactions.
“The 5:1 ratio theory is that for every criticism or complaint the teacher issues, they should aim to give five specific compliments, approval statements and positive comments or non-verbal gestures.” (p. 25)
Might be worth noting this ratio has also been shown to be key in long-lasting marriages.
- Use targeted approaches to meet the needs of individuals in your school
“However, universal systems are unlikely to meet the needs of all students. For those pupils who need more intensive support with their behaviour, a personalised approach is recommended. This may involve targeted interventions implemented by trained teachers; teachers reflecting on their classroom management techniques for the whole class may also be particularly beneficial for the individuals with greater needs. For pupils who are disruptive, targeted interventions are often most effective when tailored to the needs of the individuals involved rather than attempting to implement the same strategies for all.”
Universal behaviour systems are unlikely to meet the needs of all your pupils; there will be a need to consider implementing approaches to meet individual needs. This will require teachers to undertake significant specialist training or employing specialist support staff.
- Consistency is key
Consistency and coherence at a whole-school level are paramount. This will take more time than individually tailored or single-classroom approaches but is more likely to have an impact on attainment outcomes.
If you’re thinking of reviewing behaviour management strategies in your school the logic model below may be useful. My advice would be start slowly, plan well in advance of implementation and engage staff, pupils and parents at each stage. There will be a need to ensure fidelity to any approaches implemented and embed each new approach.
Final thought, on the zero tolerance approach from the report (p. 36):
“One approach subject to much debate is the ‘zero tolerance’ policy: a strict, punitive whole-school approach to discipline … In reality, there is not strong evidence in favour or against ‘zero tolerance’ – which it is a loose term applied to a range of punitive approaches. The evidence for how to improve behaviour in schools suggests that understanding individual pupils, training teachers in classroom management, and having a consistent approach across the school which can be adapted for those with specific needs will support better behaviour. This combination of approaches is present in some schools using the language of zero tolerance, as it is in some schools where this language would be resolutely avoided.”
A full copy of the report if available here.
The infographic below gives you a neat summary of some of the main points.