Education Endowment Foundation:Positive Action

Positive Action

Lady Joanna Thornhill Primary School
Project info

Independent Evaluator

Queen's University Belfast logo
Queen’s University Belfast
Testing the feasibility of a social and emotional learning programme
Pupils: 473 Schools: 15 Grant: £141,000
Key Stage: 1 Duration: 2 year(s) 4 month(s) Type of Trial: Pilot Study
Completed May 2018

Positive Action is a school-wide programme that aims to develop positive pupil attitudes and behaviour, and improve peer relationships and engagement in learning. Schools receive teacher training, lesson plans, classroom resources and guidance on whole school activities.

Positive Action is a popular approach in the US, used by over 15,000 schools, but has not been widely delivered in the UK prior to this project. The EEF funded this pilot to see whether Positive Action can be successfully implemented in UK schools, and whether it is suitable for a trial.

The results of the pilot were mixed. While observations found that the classroom elements of the intervention were well implemented, several headteachers did not implement the whole-school parts of the approach. For example, some did not use the Positive Action behaviour policy, because it came into conflict with existing school practices. Teachers were generally positive about the quality of resources, but many felt that more work was needed to tailor them to a UK context, and there was feedback that it was difficult to fit in the large number of lessons recommended by Positive Action (one hundred 15 minute sessions).

While the aim of this pilot was not primarily to measure the impact of Positive Action, some pupil outcome data, for example on levels of pro-social behaviour, and worrying, was collected. However, there was no clear pattern of overall improvement.

At its current stage of development, Positive Action is not ready to be trialled in English schools. The EEF continues to explore approaches that seek to improve character outcomes.

  1. The classroom elements of the programme were well implemented and well received across the pilot. Teachers were positive about the quality of materials but reported that the large number of core lessons were difficult to deliver.
  2. Some school leaders were reluctant to implement the whole-school elements of the intervention. In schools with high levels of these elements, pupils had less positive feelings about themselves and their life, but the trial was not designed to assess whether this was due to Positive Action.
  3. The study found some evidence of a relationship between the behaviour, personal feeling, and self-regulation outcomes of pupils. This is consistent with the underlying idea that positive actions lead to positive self-concepts as described by the Positive Action Think, Act, Feel’ model.
  4. Pupils reported varying levels of engagement with the programme. Children who reported higher engagement also experienced improvements in reported Think, Act, Feel’ outcomes.
  5. There were mixed results across the outcomes measured. Over the course of the programme, there was a decline in aggressive behaviour, but there were also reductions in positive feelings about self and life and in levels of self-regulation. However, the pilot was not designed to assess whether any changes in these outcomes were actually caused by Positive Action.

Is there evidence to support the theory of change?


The measures of self-regulation and feelings about self and life both declined. There was a reduction in aggression during the programme.

Was the approach feasible?


Overall, the approach was delivered with high fidelity. Teachers did voice concern over the number of lessons, and some school leaders were reluctant to deliver the whole-school elements of the programme.

Is the approach ready to be evaluated in a trial?


A number of adaptations are suggested prior to any future trial, including better tailoring to the U.K. context.