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Supporting children's development
Supporting children's development

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2.6 Involving children in behaviour management

The majority of children respond reasonably well to a system of rewards and punishments. However, such systems use extrinsic motivators, specifically aimed at controlling behaviour and ensuring compliance with what the teacher or school wants. Statistics show approaches using extrinsic motivation are not effective for all students (DfE, 2013).

Ideally children should be intrinsically motivated to learn, so that they do something, such as reading, for its own sake and because they want to, not just for reward (Kohn, 1999).

Activity 8

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Read the edited extract below on alternatives to the behaviourist principles of sanctions and rewards and the use of restorative practice.

New voices: Do schools need lessons on motivation?

There are alternatives to the behaviourist principles of sanctions and rewards. One of these is restorative practice.

Originating in the criminal justice system, where it has been shown to be both more effective and less costly than traditional punitive approaches (Flanagan, 2014), restorative practice is based on building and maintaining relationships, repairing any harm caused, and working collaboratively on a way forward (Thorsborne and Blood, 2013). This approach takes commitment and support from all school staff and would initially be more time-consuming than continuing with a system of punishments and rewards. But in the long term, this approach would be far more beneficial to the young people involved as they are given the opportunity to learn the skills they need to respond adaptively to life’s challenges and to develop emotional awareness and empathy. Schools that have implemented this approach have seen improvements on both social and academic measures, such as a decrease in school exclusions, a reduction in persistent absence, and increased achievement in both English and maths (Flanagan, 2014; Thorsborne and Blood, 2013).

The basic principle of the approach is that school staff are working with the young people to solve challenging behaviour issues, rather than imposing solutions on them. Research shows that choice and autonomy are key elements in building intrinsic motivation (Ryan and Deci, 2000). Enabling young people to participate in decision making about what happens to them in school is an effective way to engage students and teach valuable decision-making skills.


Flanagan, H. (2014, July). Restorative approaches. Presentation at training event for Cambridgeshire County Council, Over, Cambridgeshire, UK.

Ryan, R. and Deci, E. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54–67.

Thorsborne, M. and Blood, P. (2013). Implementing restorative practices in schools. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

(Adapted from Oxley, 2015)


Now answer the following questions:

  • What are your initial reactions to this approach?
  • In your role as a teaching assistant, how could you support the implementation of this approach?

Make some notes before reading our comments.

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A key element of restorative practice is the building of relationships. By working closely with children – often on a one-to-one basis – maybe you feel you already build relationships with children and that they already have the opportunity to talk to you and be listened to. As a result, perhaps you had a positive reaction to this approach.

Alternatively, you may have thought that it is a ‘nice idea’, but would take too much time to implement in practice. Also, depending on your views, you may or may not feel comfortable with the idea of working collaboratively with the children to resolve issues.