In 2015, the NSW Department of Education introduced the Supported Students, Successful Students funding package. A key initiative within this package was $15 million over four years to support schools to implement Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL). PBL is a whole school approach that aims to create a positive, safe and supportive school climate in which students can learn and develop. The funding employed 32 PBL coach mentors and four PBL deputy principals.
CESE’s evaluation included:
• two rounds of fieldwork (a survey and in-depth interviews) to examine the experiences and views of PBL and Non-PBL schools, PBL coach mentors, PBL deputy principals, and other school services staff
• a review of how some PBL schools use their data to inform decision-making
• development of statistical models to measure the impact of PBL on student attendance and suspensions, as well as student wellbeing measures captured in the department’s Tell Them From Me student survey.
We conservatively estimate that 1,138 NSW public schools are implementing PBL and that 67 schools have stopped implementing PBL. This translates roughly to a 94% retention rate.
Almost all schools reported implementing each of the universal school-wide features of PBL, using their data to inform decision making and develop appropriate interventions, and using existing PBL evaluation tools to examine their implementation fidelity.
At the time of data collection, approximately four in ten schools were implementing tier 2 (targeted support) and two in ten were implementing tier 3 (intensive individualised support). The most common targeted intervention was an individual support plan.
Coach mentors provided schools with professional learning, general information about PBL, and support with data and evaluation, and are viewed as a source of expert knowledge and advice.
Using their own internal school data, observations and feedback from parents, nearly nine in ten PBL schools reported that they perceive PBL to have improved student wellbeing. The large majority of PBL schools reported that both major and minor problem behaviour incidents have reduced since implementing PBL. More than half of the schools also perceived that PBL had reduced short suspensions, but only a small proportion of schools reported an improvement in attendance.
These findings are not reflected in the department's centrally recorded data and are not supported by our outcome analyses, which found no meaningful differences between PBL schools and non-PBL schools on attendance, suspensions or student wellbeing. However, we identified a number of limitations in the use of these data sources as outcome measures. Without better data systems in place, we are unable to make a conclusive statement about the effectiveness of PBL.