Based on a review of the available evidence and input from education practitioners, a new report from the Education Endowment Foundation provides six, evidence-based recommendations for improving behaviour in schools:

  1. Know and understand your pupils and their influences
  2. Teach learning behaviours alongside managing misbehaviour
  3. Use classroom management strategies to support good classroom behaviour
  4. Use simple approaches as part of your regular routine
  5. Use targeted approaches to meet the needs of individuals in your school
  6. Consistency is key

While the report acknowledges that disruptive behaviour is an ongoing cause of stress for teachers and can have an impact on the learning of pupils, it is also clear that most pupils in most lessons behave well, and that the proportion of teachers who report that behaviour is generally good or better at their school has remained fairly stable for a decade.

Nonetheless, behaviour continues to be a concern in education, and debates rage as to the best ways of creating a culture of excellent behavioural standards in schools.

Three of the reports’ recommendations consider pro-active approaches to minimising unwanted behaviour, strongly emphasising the importance of relationships as having a positive impact on classroom behaviour. The report states that, “understanding pupils better can be more effective than relying on a default response”. Suggestions include structuring the school so that someone knows each pupil, perhaps starting with class teachers in primary, or existing pastoral structures in secondary. For individual teachers, “regularly and intentionally focusing small amounts of time working on relationships with individual pupils can have a big impact.”

The report encourages educators to take the time to investigate the possible underlying drivers of unwanted behaviour in order to mitigate their effects and prevent deterioration. Sometimes a change in approach, or a supportive intervention can remove the need for punitive sanctions. A range of underlying causes of unwanted behaviour are discussed, including the onset of adolescence, bullying, problems within peer relationships, discrimination, and adverse childhood experiences.

These comments will be welcome to many who have long argued that children’s behaviour in school is much more complex than being a simple matter of ‘choosing to misbehave’. The complex drivers of behaviour can be immediate, or rooted in past experiences and trauma, and understanding this will significantly affect the strategies used to support the child.

A second preventative strategy discussed in the report is the teaching of learning behaviours, such as coping with setbacks, collaborative learning, and effective communication. This is more effective than simply managing behaviours as it gives the pupil the tools to become aware of, and to manage their own attitudes and behaviour.

Perhaps the most important recommendation for those supporting children who are care-experienced, or who are impacted by adverse childhood experiences, is Recommendation 5: Use targeted approaches to meet the needs of individuals in your school.

While much of the report focuses on whole-school and classroom-based approaches that are likely to improve engagement and behaviour for all, this recommendation recognises that such universal systems may not meet the needs of all students. The most effective individual interventions focus on encouraging and recognising positive behaviour rather than punishing unwanted behaviour.

The report also recognises that the evidence base for strategies such as internal exclusions (use of inclusion rooms, booths or similar) and zero-tolerance behaviour policies is extremely thin. Schools should focus on consistently-applied school-wide policies, driven by positive relationships, that encourage pupils to recognise and manage their own behaviour and reward them for doing so, while employing targeted supports for those pupils who struggle most.

Read the full report