Improving behaviour in Scottish schools


Research into behaviour management in schools has influenced government policy and led to lower levels of exclusion from schools.

What was the problem? 

There are many stories in the media about bullying in schools. Poor behaviour in schools is a concern for parents, teachers and the wider public.

People think that there is more poor behaviour in schools than there used to be. Being able to provide adequate support for children with additional needs in mainstream schools is another worry.

A study was needed to look at how much poor behaviour there was in schools. Because researchers needed to look at how pupil behaviour changed over time, the study took place from 1994 to 2009. They could then show how schools can change the behaviour of their pupils. It would also let local authorities judge which methods of changing poor behaviour were most successful.

What did we do? 

Many projects make up this research. Three projects are key to this case study:

Alternatives to exclusion from school (1994-1996):

This project looked at the ways schools tried to change behaviour. They found that the attitude of the school could encourage good behaviour and deal with poor behaviour. They also noticed that certain groups were excluded more than others, such as:

  • male pupils
  • pupils from ethnic minorities
  • pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • pupils with extra support needs.

For example, boys were four times more likely to be excluded than girls.

Behaviour in Scottish schools (2008-2009):

This project looked at how teachers and pupils viewed behaviour at school. Most teachers found pupils to be well behaved. However, staff often had to deal with ‘low level’ negative behaviour. They also found that physical violence and aggression towards other pupils happened more often than towards staff.

Research into restorative practices (2004-2006 and 2008):

This project looked at ways of reducing poor behaviour by building a positive school community. It showed how this can be achieved by:

  • promoting good relationships between pupils
  • using lessons to look at how to deal with arguments
  • ethos building
  • using positive language.
The Scottish Government and the Scottish Advisory Group on Behaviour in Schools have identified the next steps and priority actions to further improve relationships and behaviour within Curriculum for Excellence in response to the findings of this research.
The Scottish Government, ‘Behaviour in Scottish Schools’, 2009 report
What happened next? 

Scotland’s national curriculum was directly influenced by this research. The Scottish Government now recommends the use of these practices for building good relationships in schools and dealing with exclusions.

This research promoted restorative practices. It drew attention to the need to deal with low-level negative behaviour. It also showed the importance of school ethos in promoting positive behaviour. It influenced a change in the culture and formal policies of Scottish education. It benefitted teachers, pupils and parents and led to lower levels of poor behaviour and exclusions from school. It also led to higher levels of teacher confidence and skills in dealing with difficult behaviour.

Training was developed on the benefits of teachers working together. It also looked at the time needed for change in schools and showed the value of building a positive ethos based on strong relationships rather than punishment. All have become features of Scottish policy. A strong and lasting relationship with the Government's Positive Behaviour team has resulted from the research. It also encouraged the Scottish Government to start collecting national statistics on exclusion, a practice that continues today.

All projects were designed from the outset to achieve impact on policy and practice. This was done by involving local and national government, teaching unions, parents and academics.

The researchers also used conferences, workshops, television appearances and published articles to promote the research and its impact. Munn gave interviews to BBC Scotland news and STV in November 2009 on the results of the behaviour survey. Articles also appeared in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland.

About the researcher(s)

Deputy Director of CREID / Senior Research Fellow
Head of the Institute for Education, Community & Society (ECS), Senior Lecturer

Research unit

Subject area:
  • Education


  • The Scottish Government

Related study programmes