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  • 18th Apr 2023

Can behavioural science help improve pupil behaviour and boost school attendance?

Improving pupil behaviour and boosting attendance are two of the biggest challenges facing UK schools right now, and we are excited to be starting work on two large-scale RCTs to learn more about what works to improve outcomes in this space. We are currently recruiting for schools to participate in these projects – Grassroots: an anti-conflict intervention, and BITUP: Updating Parents on Days of Schools Missed

Grassroots: empowering pupils to reduce conflict by positively influencing their peers

Bullying in childhood is a serious problem and one known to have negative outcomes for both victims and perpetrators, including absenteeism and poor educational outcomes

One approach to prevent and reduce bullying is harnessing the power of peer networks to promote positive anti-conflict behaviours. We know how powerful social norms can be and evidence suggests that young people are strongly influenced by their peers – so strongly that peer influence may even be more impactful in reducing bullying than the risk of punishment. 

The Grassroots programme, first developed in the US by Elizabeth Paluck, Hana Shepherd and Peter Aronow, takes just this approach to empower pupils to reduce conflict. It involves asking pupils to complete a survey identifying other pupils they have chosen to spend time with recently. This information along with demographic data is then used to identify a group of roughly 30 pupils who, between them, can represent all pupils in the school.

A trained facilitator then meets with this group of pupils for 10 fortnightly sessions to identify types of conflict that occur in their schools and develop solutions to tackle them. A key part of the programme is making initiatives visible to all pupils (for example putting up posters and handing out wearable items, like wristbands). 

 A US Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) involving more than 24,000 pupils found the programme reduced conflict among pupils by up to 60% (as measured by disciplinary incidents). Interestingly, the effects were strongest when the seed group contained more social referents (i.e. pupils that were highlighted in the survey as having recently spent time with many of their peers).   

Building on these promising results, we are delighted to be working with the Youth Endowment Fund and the Education Endowment Foundation to deliver the first ever UK trial of the Grassroots programme. The programme will be tested in an RCT with over 100 secondary schools across England and Wales.

The trial will take place in the 2023/24 school year and interested schools can book a call with the Grassroots project team now by clicking here, or emailing

More information about the programme can be found on the project website (Welsh translation: here).

BITUP: Updating parents on days of schools missed

Missing school robustly predicts poor academic performance, while persistent absence robustly predicts a range of negative outcomes, including drug and alcohol use, poorer outcomes later in life and even criminality.

With national attendance figures still well below pre-pandemic levels, boosting attendance has become a key focus for government and schools. Evidence suggests that timely nudges could help. 

In the 2019/20 school year, BIT worked with Bristol City Council, parents and schools to identify the key barriers to good attendance. Although many of these barriers were complex and structural, some were amenable to a behavioural approach. For example, attendance is often communicated to parents as a percentage, and that can make it difficult for parents to understand when there’s a problem. At face value, 90% attendance might sound positive – after all, 90% would be a great test score – but 90% attendance over a school year would mean around 15 days of school missed. 

Drawing on this work, and inspired by evidence from a recent US trial – which showed that telling parents how many days of school their child had missed, and highlighting the importance of school attendance and their ability to influence it, reduced chronic absenteeism by over 10% –  we developed a series of behaviourally informed text messages for parents, like the one below: 

Exploratory findings from an RCT with 22 schools revealed that the messages boosted the proportion of students keeping good attendance records (95%+) by 4 percentage points (59.5% to 63.3%). If the messages were sent to the parents of all pupils in the trial, ~350 more pupils would have achieved good attendance records.

We are now excited to be working with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) to test the impact of the messages at scale, in a randomised control trial with 115 secondary schools from across the country

The trial will take place in the 2023/24 school year and schools interested in taking part in the project can book a call with the BITUP project team now by clicking here, or emailing More information can be found on the project website.