Behaviour interventions

Behaviour interventions seek to improve attainment by reducing challenging behaviour, including aggression, violence, bullying, substance abuse and general anti-social activities. Three broad categories of behaviour interventions can be identified: 

  1. Universal programmes which seek to improve behaviour and generally take place in the classroom; 
  2. More specialised programmes which are targeted at students with either behavioural issues or behaviour and academic problems; 
  3. School level approaches to developing a positive school ethos or improving discipline which also aim to support greater engagement in learning. It should also be noted that other approaches, such as parental involvement 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 (see instead Parental involvement).

How effective is it?

Evidence suggests that behaviour interventions can produce large improvements in academic performance along with a decrease in problematic behaviours, though estimated benefits vary widely across programmes. 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.

The majority of studies report higher impact with older pupils. Different treatment approaches, such as behavioural, cognitive and social skills for aggressive and disruptive behaviour, seem to be equally effective. Parental and community involvement programmes are often associated with reported improvements in school ethos or discipline so are worth considering as alternatives to direct behaviour interventions.

School-level behaviour approaches are often associated with improvements in attainment, but the evidence of a causal link to learning is lacking. 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 based on randomised controlled studies of interventions in schools. 

Some caution in interpreting findings is needed as the majority of the meta-analyses on behaviour interventions focus on pupils diagnosed with specific emotional or behavioural disorders. 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 also that it is possible to reduce problematic behaviour without improving learning. Further research is also needed to investigate links between universal approaches to improving behaviour and learning

For full references and effect sizes, please click here.

What are the costs?

There are no specific costs reported in the studies summarised here. Costs will be highly dependent on the type of intervention. Teacher-led behavioural interventions in the classroom are the least costly, but the least effective (estimated at £20 per pupil per year). One to one support is more expensive, but more effective (about £40 per hour, or £640 per pupil for 15 sessions). Overall, costs are estimated as moderate.

What should I consider?

Before you implement this strategy in your learning environment, consider the following:

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

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

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

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

  5. Have you explored how to involve parents or communities in behaviour programmes? On average they show higher effects.