Praise works better than detention, study shows

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Detentions, lines and harsh tellings-off are less effective for controlling unruly pupils than praise for work well done, a new study has revealed.

A group of teachers was instructed to look for and reward good behaviour during lessons. They were also encouraged to acknowledge when pupils had completed a task asked of them.

Whenever they upbraided pupils for bad behaviour, teachers were told to indicate clearly what conduct was expected instead. Observing the results, Jeremy Swinson and Alex Harrop, of Liverpool John Moores university, claim that the effect was immediate and dramatic.

They said: "It is probable that this change, more than any other, resulted in the pupils becoming better behaved, and as a result were told off less."

The proportion of pupils on-task during lessons rose from 77 per cent to 94 per cent. Similarly, the need for classroom admonishment dropped from 46 per cent to 15 per cent. On average, only 4 per cent of teachers'

positive feedback is directed at pupils' behaviour. By contrast, behaviour claims 29 per cent of negative feedback.

Dr Swinson said: "If you praise kids who are doing what you want, you're sending the message that the way to get approval is by following instructions."

Teachers from five primaries in north-west England parti-cipated in the research project. Seven secondary teachers from one comprehensive also took part.

The authors now believe that the skills provided during their training session should be offered to all teachers during their initial teacher-training course.

Jenny Moseley, a Wiltshire-based behaviour consultant, says many training courses already include such techniques. But she believes that, to be successfully implemented, they require a whole-school commitment.

"It's hard for teachers to ignore the bad and focus on the good," she said.

"It takes a lot of energy. If staff talk negatively to each other, it's hard to be positive in the classroom." More debate on behaviour on

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today