Pupils who pester other kids in front of them, chuck pencils about and generally stretch teachers to breaking point are facing a new strategy that has cut discipline referrals by up to 80 per cent. And they may never know they have been psyched out.
Independent research of a discipline scheme in Birmingham has shown that niggling, tooth-aching, persistent, low-level bad behaviour - the bane of teachers' lives - can be substantially reduced by altering the structure of the classroom and changing the way staff manage teaching.
Next session East Ayrshire will become the first Scottish authority to adopt the Framework for Intervention (FFI) initiative and trial it in two secondaries and five primaries following a training programme for key staff.
With the task group on discipline headed by Jack McConnell, Education Minister, currently taking evidence, the initiative is certain to be watched closely.
The authority believes the scheme may prevent small difficulties escalating into serious disruption while restoring teachers' confidence in their own ability to manage classroom behaviour.
Tom Williams, principal psychologist, said the enthusiasm of teachers in Birmingham had sold the scheme to him and to East Ayrshire staff. It is running in 400 of the city's nursery, primary and secondary schools.
"There is no wonderful new magic idea in here. It's an organisational, structured approach to managing behaviour," Mr Williams said.
Schools appoint a member of staff who is not a senior manager to act as a behaviour co-ordinator and confidential adviser to colleagues. Teachers can ask for help if they think they have a problem in a particular class.
A behaviour environment checklist involves a whole-class approachand no individual work. Mr Williams adds: "In consultation with the BCo (behaviour co-ordinator), they come up with a strategy that 99 times out of 100 is to alter the dynamics of the way the classroom operates. It could be changing the seating or agreeing not to hand out the pencils until they are needed."
The teacher runs the plan for six weeks and rechecks incidences of behaviour with the co-ordinator before considering if further steps are needed.
At least two plans have to be carried out before work with individual children begins and parents are brought in. Staff draw up individual behaviour plans and set targets. The last stage is the involvement of outside agencies when the individual plans may not be working.
Mr Williams said the emphasis was very much on the behaviour checklist. "It seems to be incredibly effective in nipping low-level disruption in the bud." Research by Birmingham University showed strong support among teachers after they overcame fears about a bureaucratic, form-filling exercise.
Success varied depending on the quality of support from senior management, the strength of the co-ordinators and the extent of teacher resistance. Some staff felt the scheme was unsuitable for severe emotional and behavioural difficulties. Others wanted more time if they felt their intervention was not working.
"The data examined suggest that FFI can benefit nearly all schools - secondary or primary, leafy suburb or inner city," the researchers conclude.
Mr Williams said that key East Ayrshire staff would be offered a five-day training course to prepare them for roles as behaviour co-ordinators. Schools would have to adopt FFI as a model of working over a period of time and it would be optional.