Case study: Positive progress and behaviour

Written by: Francesca McEvoy | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Action was needed at Beacon Academy to boost pupil engagement and improve behaviour. Francesca McEvoy introduces their ‘positive progress’ project

Everyone agreed pupil engagement was an issue. In the strategic talks that followed our school, Beacon Academy, joining the Wellsprings Academy Trust, we identified that a new behaviour initiative was needed in order to change.

Even the students had complained about our behaviour policy in the pupil voice survey, saying that more emphasis was placed on sanction than reward.

We decided on “positive progress”, a three-pronged approach to improving behaviour thorough positive praise in order to enhance outcomes for pupils.

The three parts of this approach are positive praise, positive recovery and rewards. This academic year we have seen significant improvement in engagement to learning through successful implementation of the positive progress project.

We realised that we were failing to acknowledge the positive choices most students were making every day. Positive progress now forms the backbone of everything we do, and nurtures a positive environment for learning by celebrating success for all.

Planning for change

Once we decided that positive progress was our chosen solution, we rolled it out in English, maths and science. We created a strategic plan and a clear vision. To ensure transparency, I shared my experiences with staff and detailed the thought process that fed into the decision.

Our next priority was to ensure buy-in, and we did this by delivering whole-school training where we encouraged staff to help mould and shape the strategy. I used evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, our behaviour data and pupil stories to back up the plan.

I then invited staff to trial the strategy and discuss what worked well. Meanwhile, I made slight amendments for individual departments to ensure that the strategy was being used consistently.

We also included half-termly reviews, pupil voice information, and data-sharing with staff, pupils and governors to continue to demonstrate its effectiveness on both behaviour and teaching and learning in the academy.

How to use positive praise

Positive praise is the next step after classroom rewards. We introduced a two-phase award process that gives pupils smiley face points for good conduct, then a postcard if they go above and beyond.

Pupils receive smiley face points and postcards for good conduct, displaying desired behaviours, helping peers and individual successes, which for some involves simply staying in a lesson.

This list is not exhaustive, and staff are actively encouraged to praise any positive conduct or contribution by students in their classroom. Staff praise is converted into points which are logged on a system and added to a pupil’s record. This gives an incentive to the pupils, especially those who are motivated by competition, as well as enabling us to track them and provide a visual stimulus for tutors and pupils to discuss.

The benefits of positive recovery

This strengths-based approach allows pupils to rectify their behaviour through choice. Through challenging their behaviour choices, pupils can develop their emotional intelligence as well as awareness of their actions. It encourages pupils, through restorative practice, to have ownership over their attitude to learning.

This cathartic approach includes restorative dialogue between pupil and teachers. We place high importance on pupils effectively engaging in conversations about their behaviour and we find that this allows them to regain control over their future behaviour choices.

The pastoral team exercises a variety of strategies tailored to the individual’s needs through interventions such as boys’ groups, one-to-ones, peer coaching and restorative practice which, through unconditional positive regard (for more on this, see, are all vehicles for building positive relationships and change.

Revamping your rewards

The reward system injects a buzz of competition throughout the academy. Pupils are rewarded daily for their individual efforts, weekly as a tutor group and every half-term as a whole academy assembly, where we gather to celebrate success together.

By giving pupils tangible rewards, we physically demonstrate that we hold positive behaviour in the highest regard. We also celebrate pupil success in front of their peers through issuing engagement to learning certificates and positive praise point milestone badges of bronze, silver, gold, platinum and “Beacon”. We also use canteen vouchers, presentation evenings and school trips as rewards.


The positive progress strategy has had an impact on the academy’s daily routines and ultimately its ethos. We’re committed to providing a positively inclusive, supportive and child-centred approach to education.

We have awarded 32,000 positive points since we began this project and we’re seeing impact through a significant reduction in referrals to the “protected learning room”. In our latest pupil voice survey, we found that more than 80 per cent of pupils feel that they are consistently rewarded and praised.

We are not quite there yet though; we’re still embedding positive progress and overcoming challenges as we continue to drive for change. An example of a challenge we are thinking through at the minute is how to translate positive progress from the classroom to other learning spaces such as sports fields, tech workshops and theatre stages.

In order to keep the strategy fresh we keep it flexible – it is changing and growing every day and this change is decided by both the pupils and the staff.

This project has produced an influential climate for change at Beacon and our hope is that this will continue to be cultivated through creating consistency across the whole school to enable pupils to enter every lesson and know what is expected of them, keeping our standards high and encouraging calculated risk.

In the future, we wish to continue to strengthen relationships with pupils and parents. Staff at Beacon strive for excellence and, with true enthusiasm and grit, empower pupils through positivity. 

  • Francesca McEvoy is geography co-ordinator at Beacon Academy in Cleethorpes. She is a current participant on the 2017 Teaching Leaders Secondary programme, run by Ambition School Leadership.

Ambition School Leadership

Ambition School Leadership is a charity that runs leadership development programmes in England to help school leaders create more impact in schools that serve disadvantaged children and their communities. Visit


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