Poor conduct bystudents - as well as staff - is affecting colleges' image and performance. Ngaio Crequer reports.
DISRUPTIVE behaviour in colleges is increasing and tighter budgets are making it more difficult to manage.
Moreover, bad behaviour by students - and sometimes staff - is affecting the image of colleges and damaging recruitment, according to a report commissioned by the Further Education Development Agency.
"Managing disruptive behaviour has become a crucial issue for colleges to address. The extent of disruptive behaviour in the sector is wide and it is having an impact on the college image in general and recruitment, retention and achievement in particular," the report says.
The 25 per cent increase in students numbers over the last three years had led to a change in the nature of colleges' "client base". There was now a broader range of students, less supervised learning, an increase in outreach provision - sometimes in inappropriate accommodation, more disaffected and demotivated students, and more had learning difficulties.
At the same time there had been a rise in general and violent crime, more people in prison, an increase in school exclusions, less parental influence and control, and an increase in "gang" culture. "All of the evidence suggests that disruptive behaviour is likely to increase rather than decrease."
Colleges now saw a positive approach to disruptive behaviour as an integral part of their work. Researchers looked at eight colleges that had experienced problems of student bad behaviour and showed how they had coped with it. One college found that most disruptive behaviour took place in unsupervised areas such as corridors and canteens; in another the library was the centre for disruption.
"Staff as well as students can become involved in disruptive behaviour. Also, while colleges seek to maintain the balance between an environment which is open and welcoming while at the same time being secure, people with no legitimate reason to be there still gain access."
Some staff lacked interpersonal skills and did not understand group dynamics. There were instances of academic staff not respecting support staff.
Factors contributing to bad behaviour included contract staff who did not appreciate the college ethos, demoralisation because of redundancies, new conditions of service and greater stress, and a heavy dependency on part-time teachers that increased pressure on full-time staff.
A reduction in student supervision or in taught hours was another contributory factor.Colleges needed to assess their local situation and draw up models of good practice, as well as providing for staff development.