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Improving pupil engagement and minimising disruptive behaviour.


A pupil cannot benefit from a lesson if they are not present in the classroom, engaged in the lesson, and behaving appropriately for learning. Many schools take the view that good behaviour is a pre-requisite for learning, and that disruptive behaviour also distracts other pupils and negatively impacts on their learning.

Guidance Reports

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Toolkit strands

Evidence Summary

Behaviour: Overall, the evidence makes it clear that reducing challenging behaviour in schools can have a direct and lasting effect on pupils’ learning. However, school leaders should be aware that some interventions can be effective in reducing problematic behaviour without improving attainment.

Three broad categories of behaviour interventions can be identified:

  1. Universal programmes which seek to improve engagement and 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.

Positive impacts tend to be larger for targeted interventions, matched to specific students with particular needs or behavioural issues, than they are for universal interventions or whole-school strategies.

School-level behaviour approaches are often associated with improvements in attainment, but there is no evidence of a causal link to learning. There is some anecdotal evidence about the benefits of reducing problematic behaviour of disruptive pupils on the attainment of their classmates, but this is under-studied in evaluations of behaviour programmes. Our trial of ‘Magic Breakfast’ found that providing free, universal breakfast clubs in schools in disadvantaged areas improved both behaviour in class and pupil attainment.

Engagement: The evidence on pupil engagement is more limited. Raising aspirations is often believed to be an effective way to motivate pupils to work harder in order to achieve the steps necessary for later success. However, the existing evidence suggests that on average, interventions which aim to raise aspirations, improve self-esteem or develop motivation appear to have little to no positive impact on educational attainment. The evidence suggests it is more important to keep students on track by ensuring they have the knowledge and skills they need to progress towards their aspirations.

Mentoring: Mentoring is another popular approach to improving behaviour and engagement. But, again, the evidence in our Toolkit suggests the average impact on attainment is low. School-based mentoring programmes have on average been less effective than community-based approaches, possibly because school-based mentoring can result in fewer opportunities for young people to develop more lasting and trusting relationships with adult role models. However, positive benefits such as improved attitudes to school, better attendance and improved behaviour have been reported.

The EEF-funded project, ‘Increasing Pupil Motivation’, aimed to improve attainment at GCSE by providing incentives to increase pupil effort in Year 11. Two schemes for incentivising pupil effort were implemented. The first provided a financial incentive, while the second provided an incentive of a trip or event. The independent evaluation identified an improvement in classwork effort across English, maths and science for the group who received the financial incentive, but, on average, no long-term impacts on GCSE results were identified for students on either scheme. It seems that material incentives might have increased motivation, but this did not translate into better grades. 

Promising Projects

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