Improving relationships and behaviour in Scottish schools by influencing policy

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

Teacher providing support to upset pupil

Research hubs

Social Justice and Inclusion

Children and Young People

Research experts

Professor Gillean McCluskey

Dr Gale Macleod

Professor Sheila Riddell

Dr Laura Robertson

What was the problem? 

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

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

What did we do? 

Many projects make up this research, which has been led by researchers at University of Edinburgh for over 25 years, including the following studies:

  • Alternatives to exclusion from school (1994-1996)
  • Research into restorative practices in schools (2004-2006 and 2008, 2009)
  • Behaviour in Scottish schools (2008-2009)
  • Theory, policy and practice in behaviour management (2011)
  • Exclusion and Education Provision for Children and Young People Educated Outside School in Wales (2011-2013)
  • Keeping Youth Away from Crime: Searching for Best European Practices (2012-15)
  • Exploring the intersections of violence in childhood, learning outcomes and educational practices: Towards a new conceptual model 2016-17
  • Exclusion from School: A four nations study (2017-18), 
  • Beyond Behaviour: Exploring the social consequences for pupils (not) diagnosed with neurodevelopmental and behavioural disorders (2019-2020)
  • Excluded Lives: Political Economies of School Exclusion in the UK (2019-2023)

Pioneering work led by Professor Pamela Munn, Dr Gwynedd Lloyd, Dr Stephen Sharp and Dr Elisabet Weedon along with more recent and ongoing work led by Professor Gillean McCluskey, Dr Gale Macleod, Professor Sheila Riddell and Dr Laura Robertson has helped shape national guidance for schools.

What happened next? 

The Scottish Government and the Scottish Advisory Group on Behaviour in Schools 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.

Influencing Educational Policy

The research has influenced practice in schools to reduce exclusion from school. Scottish Government now recommends the use of restorative practices for building good relationships in schools and dealing with exclusions. It influenced a change in the culture and formal policies of Scottish education.

This has 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.

A strong and lasting relationship with the Government's Positive Behaviour team has resulted from the research. Since 2012, Professor Gillean McCluskey has been an active member of the Scottish Advisory Group on Relationships and Behaviour in Scottish Schools (SAGRABIS) which is chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.

Following the November 2017 publication of its national approach to anti-bullying, the Scottish Government convened a Short Life Working Group on Recording and Monitoring Bullying Incidents in Schools (RAMBIS). As a member of RAMBIS, McCluskey’s research helped with the creation of a new, consistent and uniform approach to recording and monitoring bullying across schools in all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities. Published in May 2018, paragraph 26 of the guidance states it is critical “the appropriate support is put in place for all children and young people involved in a bullying incident [which] could include… restorative approaches.”

All our projects have been designed from the outset to achieve impact on policy and practice. Dr Gale Macleod recently led an important project looking ‘Beyond Behaviour’ in secondary schools.

We have also undertaken collaborative research and published our work to support change in England and Wales regarding the provision of education for children and young people educated outside school.

Ongoing Research: School Exclusion in the UK

Gillean McCluskey is also part of the Excluded Lives research team based at Oxford University, and we currently lead work in Scotland as part of the UK-wide study ‘Missing Out: Understanding School Exclusion’ (Political Economies of School Exclusion in the UK). This research is funded by a large grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and aims to improve outcomes for pupils, their families across the UK. We work with researchers based at University of Oxford, London School of Economics, Cardiff and Queen’s Belfast on this project.

This research is organised into three work strands running across the four years of the project (2019-2023).

Strand-A Landscapes of Exclusion is designed to examine the ways in which legal frameworks, policies, and practices of regulation shape practice; this includes researching the patterns, characteristics and consequences of exclusion.
Strand-B Experiences of Exclusion will focus on families’, pupils’ and professionals’ experiences of the risks and consequences of exclusion.
Strand-C Costs and integration will examine the financial costs associated with exclusion; it will also integrate findings within and across jurisdictions to ensure that the research develops a coherent, multidisciplinary understanding of the political economies of exclusion.
In addition to the policy-related impacts described above, our research has had a positive impact on practice in improving relationships and learning environments.

Related study programmes

Education (MSc)