School Senior Managers must address low-level classroom disruption

Persistent, low-level disruptive behaviour in England’s schools is affecting pupils’ learning and damaging their life chances, according to an Ofsted report released today. The report says that teachers are frustrated that those in leadership positions are not doing enough to ensure high standards of pupil behaviour. Some pupils could be losing up to an hour of learning each day – or 38 days a year. Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said that “leadership is absolutely critical” in improving behaviour. “Even in the most challenging areas,” he said behaviour policies could be successful if head teachers “got out of the office” and checked up on lessons.

So, what are the main symptoms of the problem?
• Disturbing other children (38%)
• Calling out (35%)
• Not getting on with work (31%)
• Fidgeting or fiddling with equipment (23%)
• Not having the correct equipment (19%)
• Purposely making noise to gain attention (19%)
• Answering back or questioning instructions (14%)
• Using mobile devices (11%)
• Swinging on chairs (11%).
Source: Poll conducted by YouGov for Ofsted

The report says that too many school leaders, especially in secondary schools, underestimate the prevalence and negative impact of low-level disruptive behaviour and some fail to identify or tackle it at an early stage.
Many teachers have come to accept some low-level disruption as a part of everyday life in the classroom. One fifth of those surveyed indicated that they ignored it and just “tried to carry on”. One in 12 secondary teachers polled said that more than 10 minutes of learning was lost per hour because of disruption.

In more than a third of the 95 school inspection reports studied, inconsistency in how behaviour was dealt with across different classes was prevalent. Ofsted also found that inconsistencies in how behaviour policies were applied annoyed parents. 80% of the parents surveyed said they wanted the school to communicate its expectations about behaviour clearly and regularly.

I have recently completed a PhD thesis in Education Leadership, which indicated that it is the responsibility of School and College leaders to manage the culture of their institution, which includes managing challenging behaviour of students/pupils and the responsibility of teachers to produce creative, imaginative and inspiring lessons. Very often senior managers, keep their head in the sand by ignoring “the elephant in the room”, encouraging poor student/pupil behaviour, fecklessly blaming teachers’ inability to teach as well as carrying out crowd control.

The general background “noise” of low-level misbehaviour such as pen-tapping, rocking on chairs, playing with mobile phones, talking out of turn in class, etc are simply symptoms of senior managers’ lack of engagement with the core business of teaching and learning. In a nutshell, when students/pupils see others get away with things at the beginning of term, there is always the temptation to push the boundaries. Therefore, I would advocate having clear strict behaviour guidelines e.g. with say two Concern notes then a Verbal Warning, then a Written Warning, then a 4-Week Contract after a meeting with a Senior Manager and the Parent/Carer then instant withdrawal. “No ifs; no buts”. There should then be an Appeals process where students/pupils can be re-admitted by an Appeals Panel a) if the established protocol has not been followed or b) if there is new evidence.

Having worked in such a regime as a Senior Manager, I noticed that this has a very positive impact on the culture of the organisation which benefited from increased retention, increased attainment and improved teacher and student satisfaction. Such a system needs to be applied consistently across the whole organisation to avoid mixed-messages. This would also facilitate parents and educators working together to help increase pupils long-term earning potential. Please note that this is my personal opinion rather than that of Excel in Key Subjects, where, as you would expect, there is absolutely no disruptive behaviour.

Of course, there are wider environmental issues such as the pressures of inspection, the increase in competition for students, league tables and reductions in public spending, which force senior managers to produce more and more from less and less. There are also issues with many state Schools having to retain disruptive pupils. However, FE Colleges are in an ideal position to offer stimulating vocational courses for 14-16 year olds. However, it is very clear that many Heads need to get out of the office more and “take the bull by the horns”. It is very hard work, but a small price to pay to bring about culture transformation.

Dr Jon Cartmell

PhD MA(Cantab) MA(Leadership & Management) DMS PGCE
Director of Curriculum, EIKS