Behaviour review

Elizabeth Buie

The closer you are to bad behaviour in a school, the worse you perceive it to be, according to the latest discipline survey.

Pupils have the most negative views of their classmates' behaviour, followed by additional support staff, teachers, and finally headteachers.

Teachers were more than twice as likely as headteachers to report that some or most pupils were badly behaved around school.

If anything, pupils would like to see harsher punishments meted out for bad behaviour. They also want more praise and recognition of those who do behave well.

Secondary teachers were consistently more likely than their primary counterparts to identify indiscipline as a serious problem. The most challenging classes for school staff were P6 and P7 in primary, and S2-S4 in secondary - although S2 was identified as more of a problem by teachers than by heads. A third of headteachers and teachers said they "frequently"

or "sometimes" made a referral for an exclusion.

The report, published this week by a team of five academics, led by Anne Wilkin from the National Foundation for Educational Research, followed a similar review carried out two years ago by a team from Edinburgh University, led by Pamela Munn. Surveys were also carried out in 1990 and 1996.

The figures reflecting how education staff view pupil indiscipline show little significant change, although primary and secondary teachers'

perceptions of the problem as "very serious" have increased very slightly since 2004. Secondary headteachers feel the problem has worsened in the last two years, while primary headteachers reported a slight improvement.

The Scottish Executive strategy, Better Behaviour, Better Learning, appears to have affected practice at a local authority level, although a minority of local authorities have been slow to implement the strategy. There has been less impact at school and classroom levels.

Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, said: "The survey tells us there is not yet sufficient consistency in the implementation of Better Behaviour, Better Learning, and that must improve because we know where the policy is fully implemented, it works. The best practice we see today must become standard practice everywhere."

As a general rule, the more positive headteachers, teachers and additional support staff were in their ratings for their school's overall ethos, quality of leadership and collegiality, the less serious a problem they thought indiscipline was. Similarly, the more supported teachers and additional support staff felt, the less serious a problem they thought indiscipline was.

The Education Minister, teaching unions and other education leaders acknowledge that the majority of pupils are well-behaved in the classroom and around schools, and have signed up to an action plan to tackle indiscipline.

As ever, the key behaviour issue for schools continues to be the "drip, drip" effect of low-level indiscipline - talking out of turn, making unnecessary noise, and hindering other pupils. However, some 2 per cent of primary headteachers reported that "most" or "all or almost all" pupils were badly behaved in the classroom. This was more likely to be the case if it was a small school with higher levels of deprivation, or higher levels of special educational need.

Schools were reported to be experiencing "dramatic rises" in the numbers of early years pupils with significant behaviour problems or lack of social skills.

Mr Peacock said the Scottish Executive was stepping up its support in areas such as "nurture groups". It announced a pound;2 million investment in providing nursery support for vulnerable two-year-olds earlier this year.

However, the NFER also identified a root cause of the behavioural problems of the youngest children as working parents who did not have enough time for proper parenting, and did not have time to liaise with schools on discipline issues. "You need to have parents at home reinforcing what is going on at school," said Ms Wilkin.

The young children with behaviour problems also tended to come from dysfunctional families with drug and alcohol problems.

Mr Peacock said: "There is a lack of bonding between child and parents in some of these cases. It means that the child is unable to relate to other adults, demonstrating sometimes quite violent behaviour at that age."

Some of these children did not know how to eat properly or did not have an understanding of their own health, he said.

"It is still a very small number of pupils, but the fact that we are more alert to that, because of this survey and other things, allows us to take action," he said.

The survey also highlighted the concerns of additional support staff, whose views have not been sought in previous reports. They said they did not feel valued in the whole school community and felt left out of decision-making.

The Positive Behaviour Team, set up by the executive to promote a range of measures, including restorative practices, staged interventions, the Solution Oriented School, Cool in School, and the Motivated School, is to develop a training package tailored to the needs of additional support staff.


Pupils on discipline: effect of bad behaviour on you or other pupils "It is like a flight of stairs and a rising water level. There are people at the higher stairs but the less the teacher controls it, the quicker the water rises and the people at the top get affected." (Pupil in S4-S6 focus group) "We don't get anything back. They're getting praise for being bad, but we've been good all day but we don't feel like we're being praised at all."

(P6 group) "Sometimes it is quite bad because we don't get as much work done because the teacher is talking to the badly behaved pupils." (S1-S3 pupils) Local authority on early years "The area where there is the greatest increase in problems is in pre-school, in early primary. There has been a marked increase in asocial and un-socialised behaviour in very young children who can be quite violent and aggressive and who do not have the cognitive capacity to be aware, necessarily, of the nature of their behaviour and the consequences of it.

That is where there does seem to be a growing problem." (Local authority interviewee)

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Elizabeth Buie

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