Conflicting evidence on pupil behaviour?

Recently I pointed out that there had been a slight increase in the level of exclusions from schools, particularly in the primary sector. It therefore came as a bit of surprise to discover the results of a survey showing that teachers in general think pupil behaviour is improving. The data for the latter comes from the NfER Voice Survey and specifically the questions asked on behalf of the DfE. The analysis can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/210297/DFE-RR304.pdf

In view of the fact that half the profession is now under thirty-five the responses by age groups were especially interesting. Teachers in the younger age groups we less likely to report that behaviour was ‘very good’, only 20% of those under 25, and 21% of NQTs did so, compared with 40% of teachers aged over 50. Now the latter category will have included a number of heads and other school leaders, so perhaps it is not surprising that they think behaviour is better than do relatively new teachers. 88% of those teachers over 50 agreed that they felt equipped to manage pupil behaviour compared with just 73% of the under-25s, and 63% of NQTs; a worrying low figure for those just out of training. 37% of young teachers didn’t feel parents respected a teachers’ authority to discipline a pupil, compared with just 20% of teachers over 50 who felt that way. NQTs were also less likely than other teachers to use force either to remove a pupil from a classroom or to break up a fight. Interestingly, male teachers stated that they were also less likely to use force that did female teachers.

Compared with a previous survey in 2008 there was an increase of seven percentage points in teachers seeing behaviour as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. As this has been a period of stable staffing in schools, it may well be that after a period of turmoil pupils in general are becoming better behaved. Alternatively, acceptance of low level disruption is now such that after a few years what is acceptable becomes different to standards expected by new entrants to the profession. I suspect that there may be a bit of both at work in the responses.

Nevertheless ‘persistent disruptive behaviour’ is the main reason for pupils to be excluded from most schools so there still remains a bit of a mis-match between the two sets of statistics. I think in this case I am more likely to accept the evidence of the exclusions, based as they are on actual events rather than the answers to hypothetical questions posed as part of a survey. But it may be that a small number of pupils spoil the good behaviour shown by the majority.

However, I am sure most schools are full of better behaved pupils than when I started teaching in 1971. In those days, the key task for a new teacher in the area where I taught was keeping the pupils contained within the classroom. As ever, the better the lesson the more chance one had of achieving that result; only then could teaching and learning begin.

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