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.
Testing the feasibility of a social and emotional learning programme
Queen's University Belfast
Character & essential skills
Special Educational Needs
Staff deployment & development
Language and literacy
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pupils reported varying levels of engagement with the programme. Children who reported higher engagement also experienced improvements in reported ‘Think, Act, Feel’ outcomes.
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.
Full project description
Positive Action aims to improve pupils’ social and emotional learning skills. Lessons focus on topics such as ‘managing yourself responsibly’ and ‘treating others the way you like to be treated’. Schools purchase ‘kits’ of lesson plans and resources for 140 15-minute lessons. Each kit is tailored to a specific school year during which schools are expected to deliver 100 core lessons. In addition to these lessons, Positive Action includes whole-school elements such as assemblies and posters that aim to reinforce the messages from the classroom work. The programme focuses on three outcome areas:
- self-regulation (or ‘Think’);
- prosocial behaviour and levels of aggressive behaviour (or ‘Act’); and
- levels of worrying and feelings about self and life (or ‘Feel’).
Together these outcomes form the ‘Think, Act, Feel’ cycle, which is based on the theory that positive actions result in positive thoughts and feelings, and vice versa—meaning that these three outcome areas should be mutually-reinforcing.
Positive Action is an established programme in the United States, but had not been widely delivered in the U.K. before this project. The pilot was designed to test the theory and feasibility of the programme, and explore whether standardised measures created using pupil survey data were appropriate for assessing the programme’s three outcome areas. While the programme is available across primary and secondary schools in the U.S., this pilot focused on Years 4 and 5 in 15 primary schools in Kent. The programme was co-funded by the DfE and the KPMG Foundation as part of an EEF funding round on Character Education.