A classroom behaviour game – tested in Irish Primary Schools – has reported a 58% reduction in children’s off task behaviours. The results are from a study of an internationally proven teaching approach called the PAX Good Behaviour Game (GBG), which was applied and evaluated in 11 Irish Primary School classes in the Northside of Dublin and the Midlands, including nearly 200 children.

The PAX GBG is a simple game that helps children to engage with learning, to manage their behaviour and to regulate their emotions so that they can benefit fully from school.

The findings follow a pilot study of the programme in Ireland in 2015 – and found that the positive impacts are even greater, and more wider ranging, than found previously. Importantly, the programme received universal and particularly strong endorsement from teachers and Principals.

The 2015 study found a 43% reduction in off task behaviours in the classroom (behaviours not focused on learning). However, the new study accessed a wider range of Primary school children (junior infants – 4th class compared to 1st and 2nd classes in the pilot study) and classrooms were this time accessed twice pre and post introduction of the programme, to see how stable the changes were.

Independent observations found an average of 58% decrease in off task behaviour in the more comprehensive study.

The idea behind the PAX GBG is that by learning to regulate their emotions, to get on with others, to express their feelings, to have healthy self-esteem, to be independent and solve problems themselves; children can achieve better academic outcomes, better mental health and can succeed throughout their lives both at work and in relationships.

How it Works
To deliver the programme, teachers are trained in the approach over two days and provided with materials. They then apply it within the ongoing classroom work, with support from a mentor who briefly visits the classrooms four times to support the teacher.

It is based upon promoting desirable behaviours using proven strategies which are practised as fun activities. Children are divided into teams, which are rewarded for delivering positive behaviours that support classroom activity. The games are played doing normal class work and can last from a couple of minutes to 45 minutes. They are played at least three times a day and are increased in duration over time.

The PAX GBG has been developed internationally using 30 years of research and evidence on supporting children’s behaviour and learning. Internationally, it has been shown to gain an extra hour of quality teaching and learning classroom time each day that is otherwise lost to minor disruptions and distractions.

This research finds that the approach is particularly impactful in the Irish school setting.

Impact on Pupils
In the research, by Dr. Margaret O’Donnell of St. Patrick’s College in Drumcondra and Mary Hegarty Senior Researcher Public Health HSE, reported that the impact of PAX for pupils was “extra learning in the classroom and also learning of a higher quality. Relationships improved, both between pupils and between teacher and child. In turn, pupils became more respectful to others, more skilled at resolving conflict, and were experiencing more feelings of happiness both in themselves and in the classroom environment.”

The benefits were found to support pupils generally and not just those with behaviour difficulties.

Impact on Teachers
The outcome of the PAX GBG as fedback by teachers was extremely positive. They reported that the programme positively changed their professional lives, reduced stress levels and re-aligned their relationships with all pupils. The teachers were strongly in favour of the programme and all of those trained said they planned to keep using it.

“As pupils become more skilled in self-regulation, there was a significant reduction in teacher stress which in turn led to a much more positive learning environment with the teachers being able to focus on teaching and learning as opposed to continuously correcting and monitoring inappropriate behaviours,” the report stated.

Impact on Principals
The feedback from Principals highlighted that the PAX GBG was easy to implement and the resources and supports to the programme were highly commended. The fact that the programme was not an extra ‘add on’ to school activity, but was integrated into the normal school day, added to its attractiveness. All Principals reported that they planned to have more teachers in their schools trained.

“Each of the Principals noted less bad behaviour with fewer referrals to them and less detention for behaviour issues. Relationships improved and there was a positive atmosphere in the school because poor behaviours were happening less and pupils were better able to regulate themselves.”

Overall the report concluded: “The recommendations from all parties advocate a continuation and extension of the PAX GBG in support of ensuring quality teaching, learning, engagement and empowerment for all pupils, teachers and principals.”

Midlands Area Partnership Manager Conor Owens said the findings were highly significant for Irish schools and that the programme is highly cost efficient and scalable.

“Currently 250 teachers have received PAX training in Ireland with in excess of 6,000 pupils receiving the programme. It can be rolled out further at a cost of approximately €1,300 per teacher including training, information packs and follow up mentoring. However, once the teacher is trained they can then apply PAX to each class every year for the rest of their teaching careers – so the benefit is applied over a career rather than for just one class.

“To put this on a scale, an investment of approximately 3.6m over 3 years (1.2m per year) would train 2,700 teachers, and from year three these teachers would be using PAX with 67,500 children annually for their teaching careers,” he said.

The Founder of the PAXIS Institute in Arizona Dr. Dennis Embry, who helped bring the GBG to Ireland, highlighted the strength of financial return of the intervention: “The most recent cost benefit analysis on the Good Behaviour Game by the Washington Institute for Public Policy has shown a social return of $57 for every $1 invested, making it possibly the highest return on investment for any schools based programme worldwide.”

Preparing for Life (based in North Dublin), Family Mentor Victoria Monkhouse said: “It’s very exciting that this programme has proven so successful in the Midlands and North Dublin. It provides a beneficial intervention for all parties – pupils, teachers and Principals.”

The initiative is currently being funded through the Area Based Childhood (ABC) Programme which is co-funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Atlantic Philanthropies.

Conor Owens concluded by identifying the broader health and life long benefits of the programme and what these mean for policy makers: “The Growing up in Ireland study identified a key interaction between social and emotional competencies and school achievement and also the importance of self-regulation for social and academic development.

“In broader terms, we know that the positive development of these skills in children is linked to better mental health, reduced risk of suicide and increased ability to successfully integrate and perform in the workforce. In an era when investing in positive youth mental health is seen as essential for future societal and economic benefits, the results being generated by PAX GBG internationally, and now in Ireland, indicate that there is a strong case for scaling up this programme so that more Irish children can experience its positive benefits.”

Further Information
Ronan Cavanagh, Cavanagh Communications: (086) 317 9731.
To view the full research report go to www.paxireland.ie / www.mapp.ie or www.preparingforlife.ie