Every so often, the issue of discipline in schools rises to the surface of the soup of education discussion. The Department of Education apparently has to issue direction on how badly-behaved pupils can be disciplined in schools. Guidance sent out earlier in 2014 told schools to use “tough but proportionate” punishment to stamp out persistent bad behaviour. It suggested that schools could use punishments such as writing lines, picking up litter in playgrounds, weeding, tidying classrooms and removing graffiti. Or pupils could be ordered to report to school early, clean dining halls or forfeit privileges such as joining in a non-uniform day. Could the schools have thought of these, errr…, radical new ideas themselves, one wonders?

According to the headlines (‘Low-level classroom disruption hits learning,’ was how the BBC news website put it), a constant culture of poor behaviour is costing up to an hour of teaching time every day. So, schools could, after all, do with more help? All the fuss came from an Ofsted report on English schools published in September, entitled Below the radar: low-level disruption in the country’s classrooms.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, caught media attention by making some fairly dramatic statements following the report: “Every hour spent with a disruptive, attention-seeking pupil is an hour away from ensuring other pupils are getting a decent education,” he said.

The report showed that bad behaviour had worsened since the previous year, with 17% of schools inspected over the last 12 months having behaviour that was not good enough. That accounts for schools teaching 450,000 pupils. The problem rose from 12% a year earlier. The situation is worst in secondary schools, of which 28% had poor levels of behaviour. The main problems are that kind of irritating, distracting background stuff – chatter, calling out without permission, swinging on chairs, play-fighting, using mobile phones and, even, quietly humming.

Criticism of head teachers

Parents regularly highlight discipline as a concern, and the report shows that 40% of parents surveyed agreed that their child’s learning was adversely affected by the behaviour of others. But while 27% of teachers believed low-level disruption had a high impact, 45% said it had a medium impact and 26% said it had a low impact. What did come from the report was strong criticism by teachers of their heads, who they felt to be isolated from the realities of everyday life in the classroom and so did not adequately support them or gauge the level of the problem. Ofsted’s Sir Michael Wilshaw commented: “I see too many schools where head teachers are blurring the lines between friendliness and familiarity – and losing respect along the way”.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, criticised the report as failing to “‘identify systemic issues” in a system “already creaking under huge cuts to local support services for schools, particularly for the most vulnerable and often challenging students”. Nor, she said, does the report hold parents to account.

But be not too downhearted. Turn the stats around, and we see that 83% of schools rate ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ for behaviour and pupil safety. That sounds a lot better than focusing on the 17% which don’t. A large majority of schools are doing very well in controlling poor behaviour, after all, and more than 80% of secondary students’ parents clearly expressed confidence that teachers could handle disruptive behaviour.




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