What is it?
Behaviour interventions seek to improve achievement by reducing challenging behaviour. This entry covers interventions aimed at reducing a variety of behaviours, from low-level disruption to general anti-social activities, aggression, violence, bullying, and substance abuse. The interventions themselves can be split into three broad categories:
- Approaches to developing a positive school ethos or improving discipline across the whole school which also aim to support greater engagement in learning.
- Universal programs which seek to improve behaviour and generally take place in the classroom.
- More specialised programs which are targeted at students with specific behavioural issues.
Other approaches, such as parental involvement and social and emotional learning programs, 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.
How effective is it?
Evidence suggests that, on average, behaviour interventions can produce moderate improvements in academic performance along with a decrease in problematic behaviours. However, estimated benefits vary widely across the categories of program described above. 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. School-level behaviour approaches are often associated with improvements in achievement, but the evidence of a causal link to learning is lacking. Parental and community involvement programs are often associated with reported improvements in school ethos or discipline so are worth considering as alternatives to direct behaviour interventions.
Approaches such as improving teachers’ behaviour management and students’ cognitive and social skills seem to be equally effective.
The majority of studies report higher impact with older students. There is some anecdotal evidence about the benefits of reducing problematic behaviour of disruptive students on the achievement of their classmates, but this is an understudied dimension in evaluations of behaviour programs.
In an Australasian context, the majority of studies on the impact of behaviour interventions focus on students’ behaviour and wellbeing rather than student achievement. The majority of the studies focus on bullying and the effectiveness of interventions to reduce bullying. These interventions, which are focused at the whole-school level, showed beneficial effects on reducing bullying and violence as well as improving overall school ethos.
A 2009 study involving high school students in Western Sydney found that an approach which sought to reinforce positive behaviour increased students’ enjoyment of school and improved how they prepared for lessons, but did not measure whether learning outcomes improved.
How secure is the evidence?
Overall, it is clear that reducing challenging behaviour in schools can have a direct and lasting effect on students’ learning. This is based on a number of meta-analyses based on robust studies of interventions in schools.
Some caution in interpreting the headline finding is needed as the majority of the meta-analyses of behaviour interventions focus on students diagnosed with specific emotional or behavioural disorders, not on low-level classroom disruption. Further research is needed to investigate links between universal approaches to improving behaviour and learning.
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.
What are the costs?
There are no specific costs reported in the studies summarised here. Costs will be highly dependent on the type of behaviour intervention. One to one support is effective but costly (estimated at about $50 per hour, or $800 per student for 15 sessions). Overall, costs are estimated as moderate.
What should I consider?
Targeted interventions for those diagnosed or at-risk of emotional or behavioural disorders produce the greatest effects.
Programmes of two to six months seem to produce more long-lasting results.
The wide variation in impact suggests that schools should look for programs with a proven track record of impact.
Have you considered what training and professional development is required for the programs?
Have you explored how to involve parents or communities in behaviour programs? On average, this appears to produce higher effects.