Behaviour: Low-level disruption

7th January 2011 at 00:00
I'm an NQT and I'm having a few issues with low-level disruption. I have attempted to implement the strategies suggested by my mentor, but although some are working I keep being told that the issue is classroom `presence'. What can I do?

What you said

"I would be looking for a confident approach, someone who owns the space in the classroom, circulating, picking up on every fidget, chair-swinging, chewing incident . demonstrating to the children you really do have eyes in the back of your head."


"I don't believe it's about being an NQT or a seasoned teacher. It's about the moment you walk into your classroom for the first time, taking control and laying down your expectations."


"If you use the stick, have a carrot. My carrot for difficult pupils is to say to them, `If you give me four good lessons, a positive letter goes home'."


The expert view

Low-level disruption can be one of the most difficult classroom issues to resolve. Give me a pupil throwing a chair or being openly defiant any day of the week, as in our minds we have set routines for dealing with them. One of the main issues with low-level disruption is that it is hard to pinpoint who needs to have sanctions applied to them. If you address one student, they can become very defensive, espousing the mantra: "I'm not the only one talking" or "Why are you picking on me?" You can then be drawn into a debate, which in turn allows others to start talking.

The obvious answer is to be on top of the class from the instant your students enter the room. When you get to a point where the noise is detracting from the lesson, give a clear signal that you are not happy, such as, "The noise level is too high and by the time I count down to one I need you to be quiet."

Say this in a normal tone, and as you move from three to two to one raise your voice a degree louder. As you count, be ready to ask individuals to stand up. This will send a visual message to the others and, hopefully, you should only have a few standing up. Remind these pupils that the next time this happens they will be back at break or after school. They know that they are on your radar and they have been warned.

As far as presence goes, that is a hard thing to define. Many of the best teachers just have it and it is hard to see what they do that is different from the rest of us. Presence can be the way you move around the classroom. Stay standing up so that you can see the whole class at all times. This enables you to identify distracted pupils quickly before momentum builds in the rest of the class.

Chris Wheeler is head of RE and sociology at Helsby High School, Cheshire. For more advice, go to



- Stay on top of the class from the moment you enter the room.

- Remain standing and move around the classroom so you can identify pupils who are distracted.

- Practise giving instructions in the mirror to get an idea of how the pupils see you.


- Get drawn into debates about who is responsible for what.

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