Behaviour interventions

Moderate impact for moderate cost, based on extensive evidence.

What is it?

Behaviour interventions seek to improve attainment by reducing challenging behaviour. This entry covers interventions aimed at reducing a variety of behaviours, from low-level disruption to general anti-social activities, aggression, violence, bullying, and substance abuse. The interventions themselves can be split into three broad categories:

  1. Approaches to developing a positive school ethos or improving discipline across the whole school which also aim to support greater engagement in learning.
  2. Universal programmes which seek to improve behaviour and generally take place in the classroom.
  3. More specialised programmes which are targeted at students with specific behavioural issues.

Other approaches, such as Parental engagement and Social and emotional learning programmes, are often associated with reported improvements in school ethos or discipline, but are not included in this summary which is limited to interventions that focus directly on behaviour.

How effective is it?

Evidence suggests that, on average, behaviour interventions can produce moderate improvements in academic performance along with a decrease in problematic behaviours. However, estimated benefits vary widely across the categories of programme described above. Effect sizes are larger for targeted interventions matched to specific students with particular needs or behavioural issues, than for universal interventions or whole school strategies. School-level behaviour approaches are often associated with improvements in attainment, but the evidence of a causal link to learning is lacking. Parental and community involvement programmes are often associated with reported improvements in school ethos or discipline and so are worth considering as alternatives to direct behaviour interventions.

Approaches such as improving teachers’ behaviour management and pupils’ cognitive and social skills seem to be equally effective.

The majority of studies report higher impact with older pupils. There is some anecdotal evidence about the benefits of reducing problematic behaviour of disruptive pupils on the attainment of their classmates, but this is an understudied dimension in evaluations of behaviour programmes.

How secure is the evidence?

Overall, it is clear that reducing challenging behaviour in schools can have a direct and lasting effect on pupils’ learning. This is based on a number of meta-analyses that review robust studies of interventions in schools.

Some caution in interpreting the headline finding is needed as the majority of the meta-analyses of behaviour interventions focus on pupils diagnosed with specific emotional or behavioural disorders, not on low-level classroom disruption. Further research is needed to investigate links between universal approaches to improving behaviour and learning.

One meta-analysis of an anger management intervention shows a positive effect on behaviour but an overall negative effect on learning. This implies both that careful targeting and evaluation is important, and demonstrates that it is possible to reduce problematic behaviour without improving learning.

What are the costs?

Costs will be highly dependent on the type of intervention. Teacher-led behavioural interventions in the classroom are the least expensive (the only cost is likely to be the cost of relevant continuing professional development for teachers) but the least effective. One to one support is more expensive, but more effective (about £40 per hour, or £640 per pupil for 15 sessions). The cost rating presented here relates to the cost of the more intensive interventions. Overall, costs are estimated as moderate.

What should I consider?

Targeted interventions for those diagnosed or at-risk of emotional or behavioural disorders produce the greatest effects.

Programmes of two to six months seem to produce more long-lasting results.

The wide variation in impact suggests that schools should look for programmes with a proven track record of impact.

Have you considered what training and professional development is required for the programmes?

Have you explored how to involve parents or communities in behaviour programmes? This appears to increase impact.

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