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The EEF recently released their latest guidance report: Improving Behaviour in Schools. If you keep up to date with education news, it would seem that it has been written at an apt time. Article after article has appeared in the press concerning the behaviour of children in British schools.

On the 11th June, TES reported that:

  • 82% of teachers surveyed felt that pupil behaviour was a problem in their schools
  • 57% reported being verbally abused by a pupil in the last year
  • 18% had been threatened with physical violence and 14% had been physically attacked

The Guardian has published articles in the past few months with the headlines: Education Secretary Calls on Schools to Expel Fewer Pupils, Number of Primary School Children at Referral Units Soars and Teaching Union Calls Zero-Tolerance School Policies ‘Inhumane’.

The behaviour of pupils – in some schools – is clearly a major concern for staff. So, what does the research say about preventing poor behaviour and dealing with it when it happens?

EEF Guidance

It might not be surprising to find the guidance states that good relationships matter; a teacher has to understand pupils and their influences. It is vital that each pupil has an adult in school that they know closely. A positive relationship allows staff to understand a child’s context. Negative behaviour must be viewed as being part of a wider context: what is going on elsewhere, the things that are influencing a child’s behaviour, must be addressed. The EEF offer an example of a pupil who has been disrupting and walking out of lessons. After investigating the behaviour, low social morale is seen as a cause. The child is then encouraged to join school clubs and behaviour improves.

The research suggests that teaching learning behaviours can lessen the need for teachers to manage misbehaviours. Ellis and Tod’s framework focuses on a pupil’s relationship with themselves, with others and the curriculum. They suggest that each relationship can be improved with specific teaching. A learning behaviour, such as lack of motivation, sits within the triangle and it can be addressed through the relationships surrounding it.

Classroom management is a massive concern for teachers and when used effectively is very beneficial in creating a positive learning environment. Classroom management strategies must be used to support behaviour. The evidence shows that teachers must be trained in classroom management techniques and good training follows the pattern of: reflecting on approaches, trying new approaches and reviewing progress. The OECD’s research shows that teachers in the first five years of their careers need most support with classroom management.

Reward systems have been shown to improve pupil behaviour. However, some pupils need a more personalised approach and this is recommended in the guidance. Areas shown to be effective for individuals include social and emotional learning, parental engagement, and self-regulation, programmes to encourage physical activity, support to improve social skills and interventions specific to certain behaviours.

Classroom level behaviour strategies are useful in improving behaviour but consistency across school is paramount according to the EEF. It is, therefore, surprising that half of primary school teachers believe that the behaviour policy in their school is not applied consistently. For consistency to happen:

  • All staff must be trained
  • There must be a sense of shared responsibility
  • The wider school community must be involved

Classroom Ready Ideas

  1. An interesting and low cost – in terms of time and money – approach that all teachers could trial immediately is greeting their children at the door. Cook et al in their article, Positive Greetings at the Door: Evaluation of a Low-Cost, High-Yield Proactive Classroom Management Strategy, suggest that their research shows that doing so produced significant improvements in engagement and reductions in negative behaviours. The researches describe greeting students as a proactive strategy that helps children to transition into the learning environment.
  2. In their guidance report, the EEF discuss a study on behaviour specific praise. Teachers were trained to give praise to students at regular interval. Researchers focused on helping teachers, in disruptive classes of pupils, to achieve a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. The theory is that for every negative comment, teachers should make five positive comments. The study implies that the ‘magic 5:1 ratio’ can increase the amount of time children spend on task.
  3. A technique, which can be implemented during time that is normally spent with pupils, is the EMR (Establish-Maintain-Restore) method. It consists of three defined phases and practical strategies that can be used at each phase.
  4. Ensure that you understand the basics of behaviourism which are reinforcement and punishment (and use them effectively). Simply, a child who is given reinforcement after performing a behaviour is likely to repeat the behaviour. On the other hand, a punishment should mean they are less likely to repeat the behaviour.
  • Positive reinforcement is when something is given as a reward.
  • Negative reinforcement is where something unpleasant is taken away.
  • Positive punishment is when a stimulus, from a teacher, follows a behaviour.
  • Negative punishment is where a pleasing stimulus is taken away after a behaviour.

Understanding the role of each is important because using, for example, positive reinforcement too often could lower expectations.

  1. Using praise effectively is discussed in Nick Rose’s article in Impact, the Chartered College of Teaching’s journal. He writes that we should consider three things when deciding to use praise:
  2. Praise should be sincere, meaning that the child has done something praiseworthy
  3. The content of the praise should express congratulations (rather than express a wish of something else the child should do)
  4. The target of the praise should be not an attribute of the child, but rather an attribute of the child’s behaviour.


Behaviour is, according to the statistics, at the forefront of teachers minds. It can be difficult to get right because the children in our schools arrive with their own contexts and behaviours. When thinking about the behaviour and if you might want to alter policies or practice in your setting, you could consider:

  • Which aspects of the guidance are currently implemented in my school/classroom?
  • Which aspects of the guidance could be implemented?
  • What could I trial today?
  • Are my colleagues and I working consistently?


Education Endowment Foundation. (2019). Improving behaviour in schools. Available: Last accessed 19th July 2019.