J. Carl Hughes


Some reasons why behaviour analysis is not good for education


We could divide education as a practice into two areas that generally focus on child behaviour and academic learning. In both of these areas, behaviour analysis has made significant strides in developing knowledge, research and good practice. We have decades of good research demonstrating fantastic impact across diverse settings and tackling many serious and important issues. As a scientific field, we have developed highly effective approaches that have the potential to improve the outcomes for all children within our school systems, now. These approaches include: approaches to good classroom management behaviour and social skills, such as School-wide Positive Behaviour Support; powerful instructional and teaching methods like Direct Instruction and Precision teaching; and more recently sophisticated computer aided learning targeting complex academic skills, such as Headsprout Early Reading® and Headsprout Reading Comprehension. These approaches are readily available, are often relatively cost effective, and can have significantly positive effects on child outcomes. We have much to celebrate as a field. However, despite this evidence, we continue to struggle to get coverage in mainstream and maintained special education settings. Most teachers do not know these methods, and most don’t want to know them. These approaches tend to survive in islands of good practice, that struggle to maintain in the absence of significant external impetus. Despite powerful technologies of teaching, we struggle to disseminate our practices for the benefit of most children. Even in fields where we believe behaviour analysis is leading, like early interventions for children with autism, the vast majority of children with this diagnosis do not get access to practice informed by behaviour analysis. Good evidence and good impact are clearly not good enough. Education just doesn’t seem to want us. In this talk I discuss some of the reasons why I believe behavioural approaches are not good for education, and why they are not being readily adopted at scale in educational settings – and perhaps offer suggestions as to ways we can get good.


Professor Carl Hughes, BCBA-D, is Professor of education research at the School of Education, Bangor University, Wales. He is Director of the Collaborative Institute for Education Research, Evidence and Impact (CIEREI). His research interests include behaviour change in education settings, evidence-based educational interventions with children, reading instruction, and educational application of behavioural science. Professor Hughes has recently been honoured as the first European to be given the Distinguished Contribution to Behaviour Analysis award from the international Society for the Advancement of Behaviour Analysis (SABA). Professor Hughes has over 50 peer-reviewed publications, many of the leading international journals both in behavioural psychology and the field of disability and education, including the The American Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities, and the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.