Research-based approach for security in schools

17 March 2020

IBIS creates the preconditions for learning. The school must create a sense of security, procedures, predictability and good relationships.

Providing all students with the preconditions to learn; that is the one of the basic concepts behind the Inclusive Behavioural Support in Schools (IBIS) programme, a research-based method for creating calm and security in schools. The method is being implemented in 20 schools in Uppsala and from the autumn IBIS instructors will be trained at Uppsala University.

Martin Karlberg, senior lecturer at Uppsala
University’s Department of Education.
Photo:Erik Åstrand

“There is continuing interest on the part of Uppsala Municipality to proceed with IBIS. The municipality has four instructors and intends to train four more,” says Martin Karlberg, senior lecturer at Uppsala University’s Department of Education.

In the autumn, Uppsala University will be offering a course worth 7.5 higher education credits to school staff who wish to become instructors. In addition to Uppsala, several other Swedish municipalities have also indicated their interest in the programme, which is based on a method developed in the United States 25 years ago and used in Norway for the past 15 years. Uppsala researchers have adapted it to Swedish conditions.

“While some of the adaption has been to Swedish governance documents and legislation, we have also addressed Swedish school culture, which is highly focused on humanism and democracy. So, instead of working on consequences we have worked a great deal on creating the preconditions for students to behave in accordance with the school’s expectations,” says Martin Karlberg.

Sufficiently demanding tasks for students

This work includes adapting the school environment, teaching students various social skills and identifying their prior knowledge and abilities, so that they can be given sufficiently demanding tasks that are both manageable and promote personal growth.

“These tasks should not be so easy as to present no obstacle; rather, they should sometimes be challenging and developmental,” explains Martin Karlberg.

Which schools are using the IBIS method?
“It is generally schools that feel the need to develop leadership within the school. They want to develop common values and common approaches, so that students can rely on receiving the same treatment no matter what lesson they go to.”

Researchers make one demand of participating schools: at least 80% of staff must be in favour of participation. Research has shown that this is a prerequisite if the method is to yield positive results.

The programme is largely based on documentation and something researchers refer to as “data-driven decision-making”. Results are documented with the aid of a checklist, partly by the IBIS team responsible for implementing the programme and partly by school staff.

Mapping relationships with students

The school’s team is responsible for the third type of documentation; for example, mapping relationships with students in order to build good relationships with all students, preferably before they require extra help and support.

This doesn’t simply make for a more pleasant school; research demonstrates that relationships with students also have a significant effect on both performance and attendance.

“As with anything else, the law of diminishing marginal utility applies. If you already enjoy a very good relationship with students, you may not derive much benefit from improving it from outstanding to fantastic. That said, those who have mediocre or poor relationships have a great deal to gain by improving them,” says Martin Karlberg.

Creating the preconditions for learning

Martin usually compares the school’s mission with a three-storey building.

“Although the school’s ultimate aim is to create democratic citizens capable of critical thought, the foundation for this is a sense of security. This is where IBIS comes in – its creates the preconditions for learning. The school must create a sense of security, procedures, predictability and good relationships.”

Once these pieces are all in place, students will be receptive to learning and can then absorb knowledge and embrace the school’s values. This is the second floor. The third floor is all about acquiring the ability for critical thinking and creativity. This is where students develop responsibility and independence.

Help to make it through the school system

Martin Karlberg emphasises that IBIS has nothing to do with making students obedient or “well-behaved”.

“It is about creating a school environment in which students are provided with the preconditions for learning something, regardless of their varying needs. We don’t want an unruly atmosphere to rob students of the opportunity to make it through the school system,” he explains.

“Some students who are unruly and challenging will find it difficult to make it through; so, we need to address this for their sakes but also for those students who are disturbed by conflicts and the fact that the teacher’s attention is constantly elsewhere.”

Martin Karlberg has recently commenced a collaboration with researchers at Oklahoma State University, who have been studying the method for 25 years. Together they intend to study the effects of IBIS in Sweden in comparison with the United States.

“The idea is to apply for joint research funding and that they will assist in designing the programme in the optimal manner. They will be acting as both researchers and advisors,” says Martin Karlberg.


  • Although Inclusive Behavioural Support in Schools (IBIS) is based on a framework of rigorous principles, the pace and order of implementation can be decided by the school itself.
  • It usually takes four years to fully implement the programme; i.e., until the school has a common approach to creating the preconditions for students’ learning and managing conflicts.
  • The method has primarily been used in primary and secondary schools but by the autumn there will also be a manual for subject teachers in upper-secondary schools.
  • Those training to be instructors are mainly special-needs teachers, school counsellors and school psychologists.