Does supporting pupils to positively impact their classmates behaviour improve attendance? EEF & YEF launch new research projects



A new trial will find out if empowering well-connected pupils to positively impact their fellow pupils’ attitudes and behaviours can have an impact on attendance rates and bullying, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) announced today.  


Secondary schools in England can sign-up to take part in the randomised controlled trial of Grassroots, which will be delivered by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and independently evaluated by researchers from UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society (IOE).  


In the programme, BIT will select a ‘seed group’ of around 30 pupils in each school. Trained research assistants will work with the groups of pupils through fortnightly sessions. Together, they’ll identify how student interactions in their school could be improved, think about what they might do to encourage their peers to have positive interactions, and make sure their initiatives are visible to others, for example, through posters and social media content.   


In a trial in schools in the USA, the Grassroots programme was found to reduce disciplinary events related to conflict and bullying by 25% over one year. The independent evaluators of this trial will find out if taking part in the programme improves attendance levels in participating schools, as well as reducing bullying and behavioural problems.  


Grassroots is one of two new randomised controlled trials launched today by the EEF and YEF to add to the evidence base of what works for improving attendance and reducing exclusions. One hundred secondary schools will take part in a trial of the Behavioural Insights Team’s BITUP programme, which sends personalised text messages to parents and carers to update them on the number of days of school their child has missed over the last half term. A smaller trial of BITUP boosted rates of good attendance by four percentage points.  


The EEF and YEF have also launched three research projects that investigate the impact that different school practices have on attendance and exclusions: 


·       ICF Consulting will find out if employing attendance and family liaison officers reduces the likelihood of an at-risk pupil being absent from school.  

·        NFER has partnered with The Difference to explore the impact of different approaches to internal alternative provision in secondary schools on exclusion rates and persistent absence.  

·       NatCen and UCL have come together to find out what impact authoritative behaviour policies have on attendance rates.   


Today’s new trials and research projects are the first launched through a partnership between the YEF and EEF to build evidence of what works in improving attendance and reducing exclusions. The partnership finds, funds, and evaluates programmes and practices in England and Wales that could both keep children safe from involvement in violence and improve academic attainment, by ensuring they attend, positively engage with, and remain in school or college.  


It follows an evidence review published by the EEF last year that found big gaps in the evidence on improving attendance and reducing exclusions, with very few studies taking place in English schools. The five projects announced today will add to the evidence base, to give schools more information about how to improve attendance and reduce exclusions. More trials and research projects will be launched later this year.  


Professor Becky Francis CBE, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: 


“We know that pupils who are persistently absent from school are less like to achieve well academically. Improving attendance is also a real and immediate priority for schools.  But we just don’t know enough about the best ways to improve attendance. Teachers deserve a much clearer picture of how best to support their pupils who are persistently absent. 


“Our new research projects with the Youth Endowment Fund will help fill some of these evidence gaps. By funding high-potential approaches like Grassroots and BITUP across many schools, we’ll also provide direct support to schools who are looking for programmes to improve attendance.”   


Jon Yates, Executive Director of the Youth Endowment Fund, said:  


“Absence from school not only limits a child’s ability to succeed academically, but also puts them at increased risk of harm. Through our research with EEF, we’ll learn more about what works to keep children engaged at school and away from the streets. 


“When you’re growing up, your peers have a huge impact on your behaviour and attitude towards school. The Grassroots programme is a really interesting model. It uses the social dynamics of the classroom to challenge damaging behaviour like bullying and create positive places to learn. It’s made a difference in the US. We want to test if it has an impact here.”