Research review reveals six approaches to improve pupil behaviour

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

Teaching specific learning behaviours and using personalised approaches can improve the behaviour of disruptive pupils, a research review has found.

The review, undertaken by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), recommends against using universal systems of behaviour management, which it says are unlikely to work for all pupils – who may be misbehaving for a wide variety of reasons.

The report also says that there is a lack of evidence showing that “zero tolerance” or “no excuses” approaches to discipline are effective.

Instead the report says that key to effective behaviour management is understanding individual pupils, training teachers in classroom management, and having a consistent approach across the school. Its six recommendations are:

  • Teaching learning behaviours alongside managing misbehaviour.
  • Developing good relationships with pupils so that teachers know and understand them.
  • Using targeted approaches to meet the needs of individuals in your school.
  • Using classroom management strategies to support good classroom behaviour.
  • Creating consistency and coherency on a whole-school level.
  • Using simple approaches as part of teachers’ regular routines.

For example, under the simple routines that teachers might use, the report suggests taking the time to greet each pupil personally at the door of the classroom. Or from a whole-school point of view, offering free universal breakfast clubs. Both approaches, the report says, have been found to have a positive impact on behaviour and preparedness for learning.

Under developing good relationships, the report highlights the multiple influences on pupil behaviour which mean that the same universal response may not be suitable for all pupils or situations.

The report states: “Research suggests that teachers knowing their students well can have a positive impact on classroom behaviour. In settings where multiple adults frequently work with individual pupils, effective communication between those key adults is important. Information needs to be sought and willingly shared by pupils and parents.”

It advises that teachers engage with their most difficult pupils “who may be most in need of a consistent, positive relationship” using the EMR method (Establish, Maintain Restore), which takes no more than 30 minutes a week and can be done within the time teachers already spend with the children.

Among the targeted approaches that could be effective for pupils, the report recommends daily report cards, which set out key behaviour targets, or functional behaviour assessment interventions, which involve collaborative decision-making between school staff and other professionals.

Among the learning behaviours that the evidence shows should be taught, the report lists skills such as extrinsic motivation, growth mindset, collaboration, meta-cognition and communication.

On consistency, the report emphasises the importance of having a sense of shared responsibility among all staff, including school leaders, and effective training for all staff who work with children.

Six steps: The Education Endowment Foundation has published a staffroom poster alongside its Improving behaviour in schools report summarising the six recommendations (image: EEF)

Sir Kevan Collins, EEF chief executive, said: “Most of the report focuses on preventing poor behaviour, but it also includes advice on dealing with it when it happens. The report shows how consistent approaches to behaviour can lead to strong relationships between teachers and students and form the foundations for learning.”

Commenting on the guidance, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “Good behaviour is important for effective learning to take place; classroom disruption can be very problematic. But for many children and young people, their behaviour is a way of communicating that something isn't right. It is vital that we don't look at ‘bad’ behaviour in isolation and take too simplistic an approach in tackling it.

“The recommendations in this guidance that bad behaviour should be tackled using personalised approaches, and that teachers’ time should be spent on understanding and supporting individual children, are quite correct. There is no evidence that zero-tolerance approaches are more effective. It is important to find out if there is an underlying cause for an individual child's behaviour, whether it be mental wellbeing, undiagnosed SEND, or problems at home.

"But schools need capacity and resource for this, and the current twin crises of funding and recruitment and retention mean that many school leaders face an impossible task. Highly skilled staff in sufficient numbers are the key, as well as funding for the right training and resources, and access to external specialist services with the capacity to help when necessary.”

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