Behavioural Standards and Learning Outcomes in the English Comprehensive School System

Publication Details

This report explores how effective approaches to behaviour management can lead to better learning outcomes for pupils in the English comprehensive school system. It examines the behavioural policies, learning outcomes, and contextual institutional characteristics of 150 UK non-faith, non-selective state schools, representing the best-, median-, and worst-performing comprehensive schools in the 2022 Progress 8 rankings.

The report closely analyses and compares these schools’ behaviour management approaches to evaluate how differently they treat positive and negative behaviour, as well as other statutory policies that have a close bearing on how their behavioural policies operate, including codes of conduct and Special Educational Needs and Disability provision. It accompanies this with an analysis of the available Government data collected as part of the Progress 8 score rankings, including various breakdowns of academic attainment scores, and statistics related to pupil management and school staff structures.

Using these findings, the report develops a series of recommendations for reforms to schools policy in the UK, in particular for the behaviour guidelines to be implemented at the national level. Drawing on the latest best practice across the state school sector, it proposes ten strategic recommendations for future national and regional legislation around school behaviour, and ten tactical action points for school leadership teams to prioritise in their behaviour policy implementation.


Strategic recommendations for legislators

  1. Behaviour accounts. School rewards and sanctions systems should be joined up into a live ‘behaviour account’ that pupils can ‘pay into’ through good behaviour, and from which the school makes ‘withdrawals’ when they exhibit poor behaviour. Behaviour guidance should provide an indicative national ‘points conversion’ framework for different types of reward and sanction (such as reprimands, detentions, or suspensions for negative behaviour, as well as stickers, certificates, or commendations for positive behaviour).
  2. Behaviour records and behaviour scores. The ‘running tally’ of the points surplus/deficit that pupils have on their behaviour account should be converted into a termly ‘behaviour score’. This should be made a formal component of each pupil’s yearly school results, made available to pupils themselves and their parents/carers alongside their examination performance, to evidence either behavioural consistency, growth, or decline. This ‘behaviour score’ can then be provided as supplementary information for their later UCAS and job applications.
  3. Behaviour 5 ranking. The Ofsted ratings system should be supplemented by a behavioural equivalent of the Attainment 8 and Progress 8 measures for academic outcomes. Like these, the DfE should introduce a standardised points conversion system for a basket that includes: (1) schools’ ‘behaviour score’ (as an average of its pupils’ scores); (2) compliance rates; (3) rates of absence and persistent absence; (4) rates of lateness; and (5) number of temporary or permanent exclusions. Comparison of schools’ Behaviour 5 scores at KS2 and KS4 would allow for a similar ‘value added’ assessment as Progress 8 offers for academic results.
  4. ‘Fair play’ prizes and ‘foul play’ penalties. Financial rewards and sanctions should be given a greater role in school behaviour management. Schools should be further empowered to issue prizes/bonuses or penalties/fines to pupils and their parents/carers if they show instances of outstanding positive and negative behaviour. These prizes and penalties should be calibrated to pupils’ individual behaviour plans and targets. National behaviour guidance should offer clear advice on what a fair, sustainable maximum level for any financial rewards and sanctions should be.
  5. School ID cards. The DfE should roll out a national mandate for school ID cards, to allow school and non-school authorities to hold pupils to account for their behaviour on school premises and beyond. These cards should be scannable, linked to a smart device app, that allows school staff, parents/carers, and pupils to easily access (and in the case of staff, amend) each pupil’s behaviour record and behaviour account.
  6. Behaviour contracts. The DfE should implement a national mandate for school behaviour contracts, to be signed by pupils and their parents/carers at all schools and academy trusts. These will help hold pupils accountable for their actions at school, integrate the mentorship roles of staff and parents/carers, and make the behavioural expectations pupils face at home and at school more consistent and predictable.
  7. Behaviour teaching. The DfE should set a mandatory minimum weekly quantity of behaviour-focused teaching, where staff and pupils systematically consider key questions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour in theory and practice. This can be conducted as separate ‘behaviour classes’, or integrated into existing curriculum provision, either within National Curriculum subjects or alongside Critical Thinking and Citizenship classes. Behaviour guidance should offer indicative teaching and testing materials to provide a minimum expectation for this learning objective.
  8. Bans and interdictions. Clearer policies are needed around the items schools are empowered to exclude as inessential to learning, such as smartphones or other electronic devices. Existing policies on staff intervention should be expanded to include clear national guidelines around pupils’ use of school space, and to better protect pupils’ personal boundaries and circumscribe the limits of physical interaction between them while on school premises.
  9. Behaviour policy councils. The DfE should mandate all schools and academy trusts to create forums for systematic dialogue between staff, pupils, and parents/carers on the content and implementation of school behaviour policies. These are vital to providing clarity and continuity for pupils about the behavioural expectations they face at home and at school.
  10. School Behaviour Unit. Government should create a dedicated consultancy and intervention unit with a policy scrutiny function that draws on the expertise of welfare, health, social care, police, and education consultancy services. This Unit should oversee, integrate, and structure the resources for the existing system of Behaviour Hubs. Accountable to Ofsted, it should play the role of a ‘think and do tank’ empowered to help schools and trusts revise and update their behaviour policies and develop strategies to improve their behaviour performance.

Tactical action points for school leadership teams

  1. Positive socialisation. School staff should be encouraged to give pupils clear, proportionate praise when they exhibit positive behaviour. This praise can be public or private, formal or informal, and handed out to pupils individually or in groups. It should always draw a precise link between pupils’ character and effort and the value their behaviour is embodying.
  2. Positive reflection. School leadership teams should ensure that dedicated time is set aside in schedules and lesson plans for explanatory behaviour discussions led by the staff. Whenever pupils receive a reward or sanction that is entered on their behaviour record, staff should find structured opportunities to hold explanatory conversations with pupils and parents/carers to help reinforce expectations about positive as well as negative behaviour.
  3. Behaviour celebrations. Schools should introduce half-termly, termly, and annual ‘summary events’ to mark pupils’ behaviour over the preceding period. The aim is to acknowledge pupils’ individual and collective efforts to reflect the attitudes and values the school expects of them in their actions, with praise and other rewards for ‘best behaved’ and ‘most improved’ pupils and class groups.
  4. ‘Behaviour buddy’ system. Schools should expand the ‘first responder’ model of ‘monitor’ or ‘prefect’ systems beyond just reporting or issuing low-level sanctions for negative behaviour. Senior pupils should also act as sources of peer support and accountability, acting as ‘ports of call’ for pupils who are having trouble with behaviour expectations, or as a ‘support person’ who can accompany pupils to some disciplinary meetings to ensure greater transparency.
  5. Reconciling behaviour and SEND policy. Schools’ personal behaviour plans should explicitly take into account contextual factors that might impact pupils’ behaviour, recognising that the experiences they have outside the classroom (on or off school premises) can strongly impact their performance within it. Schools must clarify areas of separation and overlap between EHC and personal behaviour plans, add an explicit behavioural component to SEND provision, and make behavioural policies more sensitive to pupils’ SEND requirements.
  6. Behavioural signalling. School leaderships should develop clear systems of pre-disciplinary, pre-intervention signalling, in the form of ‘yellow cards’ and ‘red cards’ to signal that negative behaviour has been noted, and ‘green cards’ to signal that pupils are making exceptional effort towards positive behaviour. Awards of ‘cards’ should be included as part of pupils’ behavioural records, and integrated into pupils’ ‘behaviour account’ via a clear ‘exchange rate’ between ‘cards’ and ‘points’.
  7. ‘Conditional confiscation’ as a behavioural sanction. Schools should institute policies where items that are not essential to the school curriculum can be confiscated as a form of ‘collateral’ against pupils’ behaviour. Pupils who exhibit negative behaviour must demonstrate that they meet the attitudes and values the school expects of them to ‘earn back’ access to these items on school premises.
  8. Enrichment trips as a behavioural reward. Schools should provide systematic opportunities for place-based visits and outings for pupils who exhibit either consistently positive or greatly improved behaviour. These should be supplementary to the school curriculum, and schools, academy trusts, and LEAs should partner with local businesses, Further and Higher Education institutions, cultural bodies and sites, public service provides, and local authorities. This would help schools make best use of local facilities, and cultivate ‘pride in place’ in their pupils.
  9. Behaviour support staff. School leaderships cannot expect teaching and administrative staff to take on all current and future responsibilities for mentorship and behaviour management. Instead, they should introduce designated full-time behaviour support staff with a dedicated career path within the school and wider sector. These staff can liaise between the school and pupils’ families on positive and negative behaviour questions, taking the pressure off existing teachers and administrators.
  10. Expand teacher training. Schools should provide staff with the opportunity for on-the-job or part-time continuing professional development. As well as the latest ‘best practice’ in course delivery, curriculum development, and behaviour management, training programmes should be supplemented with insights from media, rhetorical, and communications training. This will help staff minimise ambiguity in their communication with pupils, and play a stronger, more proactive part as positive role models.