Teaching manners and fair play are key to making pupils behave

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Teaching good manners and fair play can be more effective than the smack of firm discipline in improving pupils' behaviour, government research has found.

The research, published today, looked at 250 primary schools involved in a pilot aimed at curbing unruly behaviour. The team from London University's Institute of Education foundthat the "softly, softly" approach had achieved a remarkable success in reducing poor behaviour and improving attendance.

It also led to improved performance in national curriculum English and maths tests for 11-year-olds.

Teachers were encouraged to focus on improving behaviour in all subjects - instead of just relying on a rule book. In PE lessons, for instance, they taught children the concept of fair play, working in teams and how to be good winners or losers.

The results were that - in one local education authority, Southend in Essex - 90 per cent of schools reported a reduction in exclusions and 80 per cent improved attendance. In another, Plymouth, one school recorded a drop in the number of serious playground incidents from 15 to none in the first year of the scheme.

The Government has tended to concentrate on the "zero tolerance" approach. But as a result of the study, ministers are to offer the programme to every primary school.