Pupils are on task

PRIMARY teachers are far better at pushing pupils' learning, handling behaviour and helping to raise attainment after adapting their approach to managing the classroom, a major study by educational psychologists in Angus has found.

It confirms what many thought but could never prove - that primary pupils are "on task" far more than they used to be and learning more effectively in relatively calm classrooms. The difference is made by training in positive assertive management which encourages teachers to be less negative and more responsive.

The findings underline the importance of continuing professional development directly related to classroom practice, a key element of the McCrone agreement due to be implemented a year from now. Teachers are said to be demanding more training and feedback on their classroom styles.

The research project, headed by Rodger Flavahan, principal psychologist, shows that teachers in Angus have turned around the balance of positive to negative responses to pupils. British studies in 1987 and again last year indicated that the balance of positive- and negative responses on academic tasks was 3:1 - but 5:1 negativepositive on behaviour.

The evidence from Angus is that teachers have moved on a long way to improve their practice and encourage pupils to get their heads down. When children are positively engaged, they spend less time disrupting others, according to research. In Angus, teachers now encourage and praise pupils on academic tasks on a ratio of 5:1, well up from the national figure of 3:1, while behaviour has significantly improved to 1:1.

Mr Flavahan said: "There has been a major shift in positive approaches. There is increased awareness in terms of affecting children's best efforts and the message we are getting is that it is child-centred and much more in a partnership, giving children responsibility for their learning. You cannot do that if you are on their backs."

The study focused on 29 teachers in 16 primaries whose classes were observed for three half-hour periods. Staff were also involved in self-assessments.

Teachers with 10-20 years' experience were the most positive and responsive while the least experienced had the most negative responses to behaviour. In contrast, the most experienced had the most negative responses to basic learning tasks.

The study found that teachers are consistent in their styles across time and different parts of the curriculum. The highest number of teacher-pupil interactions are in P4-P5, where "there is a also a high degree of negative feedback compared to other stages".

But the researchers stress that classes were characterised by a positive ethos. "We did not come across any rammies in any classrooms," Mr Flavahan said.

Teachers are now pressing for greater knowledge about behaviour management strategies and different approaches that will help them improve. The most experienced valued the chance to develop their personal style.

The psychologists say teachers respond to professional development opportunties, irrespective of their experience. But further CPD programmes will have to consider teachers' individual differences.

One teacher said: "It is always nice to be told you are doing a good job. It doesn't happen often enough."

Another stated: "It made me more aware before, during and after visits of what I was saying and how I was approaching children."


Speak in a soft voice and even reprimand in a quiet manner.

Control misbehaviour quietly but visually by putting your finger on your lips.

Reverse roles with pupils - playing Beat the Teacher with homework word definitions.

Use individual names when giving positives and use gestures and smiles together.

Respond positively: "Russell's table are all working very well."

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