eBASE, effective basic services:Behaviour interventions

Behaviour interventions

Moderate impact for moderate cost based on limited evidence
Implementation cost
Evidence strength
Impact (months)

Behaviour interventions seek to improve attainment by reducing challenging behaviour in school. This entry covers interventions aimed at reducing a variety of behaviours, from low-level disruption to aggression, violence, bullying, substance abuse and general anti-social activities. The interventions themselves can be split into three broad categories:

  1. Approaches to developing a positive school ethos or improving discipline across the whole school which also aim to support greater engagement in learning;
  2. Universal programmes which seek to improve behaviour and generally take place in the classroom; and
  3. More specialised programmes which are targeted at students with specific behavioural issues.

Other approaches, such as Parental engagement and Social and emotional learning 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.

Despite the UN Convention on the Rights of Child, corporal punishment is still practiced in many parts of Africa as an approach to behaviour management. 

1. Both targeted interventions and universal approaches have positive overall effects (+ 4 months). Schools should consider the appropriate combination of behaviour approaches to reduce overall disruption and provide tailored support where required.

2. There is evidence across a range of different interventions with highest impacts for approaches that focus on self-management or role-play and rehearsal.

3. Even within programme types there is a range of impact. If selecting a behaviour intervention, schools should look for programmes that have been evaluated and shown to have a positive impact.

4. When adopting behaviour interventions – whether targeted or universal ­­– it is important to consider providing professional development to staff to ensure high quality delivery and consistency across the school.

5. There is no evidence to support the efficacy of corporal punishment as a behaviour management strategy. 

The average impact of behaviour interventions is four additional months’ progress over the course of a year. 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 programmes.

Approaches such as improving teachers’ behaviour management and pupils’ cognitive and social skills are both effective, on average.

School-level behaviour approaches are often related to improvements in attainment, but there is a lack of evidence to show that the improvements are actually caused by the behaviour interventions, rather than other school interventions happening at the same time. Parental and community involvement programmes are often associated with reported improvements in school ethos or discipline and so are worth considering as alternatives to direct behaviour interventions.

There is a paucity in research assessing the impact of behaviours intervention on students’ educational outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Available evidence suggest poor behaviour is associated with financial problems, bad friends, and poor academic performance. Behaviour interventions such as, group-based problem-solving interventions on aggressive behaviours among primary school pupils in Nigeria showed positive effect in reducing challenging behaviours despite limitations in relation to sample size and randomization. More global program seeking to include guidance and counselling into school curriculum or empowering teachers with knowledge and skills to enhance their school environments, foster psychosocial support, and facilitate school-community relationships, showed positive result in reducing challenging behaviour. There has been limited research to evaluate the effectiveness of the different behaviour interventions in SSA.

While corporal punishment is still widely used in some school systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is no evidence to suggest that it has a positive impact on pupil outcomes. A comprehensive search of the evidence found no evidence of impact on pupil learning. By contrast, many studies show the negative consequences of corporal punishment on children’s development including higher levels of depression and other mental health problems and increases in antisocial behaviour. 

  • The effects are slightly weaker for secondary school students (+3 months).

  • The impact appears to apply across the entire school curriculum, with a slightly higher impact (+5 months) for math than for literacy or science.

  • Frequent sessions, several times a week, over an extended period of up to one trimester, appear to be most effective.

  • Approaches that focus on self-management and those that involve role-playing or rehearsals are associated with greater impact.

Behaviour interventions have an impact through increasing the time that pupils have for learning. This might be through reducing low-level disruption that reduces learning time in the classroom or through preventing exclusions that remove pupils from school for periods of time. If interventions take up more classroom time than the disruption they displace, engaged learning time is unlikely to increase. In most schools, a combination of universal and targeted approaches will be most appropriate:

  • Universal approaches to classroom management can help prevent disruption – but often require professional development to administer effectively.
  • Targeted approaches that are tailored to pupils’ needs such as regular report cards or functional behaviour assessments may be appropriate where pupils are struggling with behaviour.

Across all approaches it is crucial to maintain high expectations for pupils and to embed a consistent approach across the school. Successful approaches may also include social and emotional learning interventions and parental engagement approaches.

Evidence suggests that programmes delivered over two-to-six months seem to produce more long-lasting results. Whole-school strategies are usually longer to embed than individually tailored or single-classroom strategies.

Costs will be highly dependent on the type of intervention. Most current behaviour interventions will normally require minimum investment on the part of schools. As a result, the costs will generally be estimated as moderate. In Cameroon, discipline masters and guidance counsellors in schools are used for this purpose. They are being paid by the Government so the schools incur no extra costs.

Implementing some of the targeted behaviour strategies from the global evidence may incur additional costs either through staff time or training.

Alongside time and cost, school leaders should reflect on the impact of whole school behaviour policies and support their staff to maintain a consistent approach. When adopting new approaches, school leaders should consider programmes with a track record of effectiveness. Improving classroom management may involve intensive training where teachers reflect on their practice, implement new strategies, and review their progress over time.

The security of the evidence around behaviour interventions is rated as low. 89 studies were identified that met the inclusion criteria for the Toolkit. Overall, the topic lost two additional padlocks because:

  • A small percentage of studies took place recently. This might mean that the research is not representative of current practice.
  • A large percentage of the studies were not independently evaluated. Evaluations conducted by organisations connected with the approach – for example, commercial providers, typically have larger impacts, which may influence the overall impact of the strand.

There has been limited evaluation work on different behaviour interventions within the context of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Available evidence is very limited.

Future research is required to see if the universal and targeted behavioural outcomes identified as promising the global literature can be successful at improving outcomes in SSA.

As with any evidence review, the Toolkit summarises the average impact of approaches when researched in academic studies. It is important to consider your context and apply your professional judgement when implementing an approach in your setting.

Evidence strength
Number of studies89
Review last updatedJuly 2021