Pupils' behaviour in schools has improved on most counts since the last survey in 2006, Edinburgh University researchers said this week in their second three-yearly report on indiscipline. But they counselled against complacency.
Physical violence and aggression by pupils against teachers in primary and secondary were very rare - three out of 557 primary teachers (fewer than 1 per cent) and four out of 1,460 secondary (again, fewer than 1 per cent) reported experiencing physical violence towards them in school in the week before the survey was carried out.
But pupil-to-pupil incidents of violence and aggression, including verbal abuse, were frequent occurrences, said Pamela Munn, who led the report. Around one in four primary teachers and one in five secondary teachers had encountered physical violence by one pupil on another at least once in the week prior to the survey.
Despite that, almost eight out of 10 primary and secondary heads assessed the impact of serious indiscipline or pupil violence as "not serious" or "not at all serious" in the effect it had on the running of their school. Low-level disturbance, such as talking out of turn and running in corridors, remains the most common indiscipline issue for teachers. Mobile phone-use against rules and cyber-bullying were among the least-observed infractions.
The report was endorsed by all the teacher unions, with the exception of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, whose general secretary, Ann Ballinger, told The TESS: "We felt the report underestimated the size of the problem. Members are telling us that indiscipline, particularly low- level indiscipline, is a huge problem in schools, particularly within classrooms."
While acknowledging that the incidence of serious violence was rare, the stress caused to teachers as a result of indiscipline was "a huge problem", said Ms Ballinger.
Schools minister Keith Brown warned that Curriculum for Excellence could not be delivered without good relationships and positive behaviour, but said he hoped the curriculum reforms would mean that pupils were more engaged and therefore better behaved.
He also recognised that of all the groups surveyed - heads, teachers and support assistants - support staff had the most negative perception of behaviour.
Teacher unions warned that education cuts to support and specialist staff - already planned by a number of councils - could have an impact on discipline.
Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said the improvement in discipline highlighted by the report was partly as a result of the high priority given to tackling the issue by a succession of Scottish education ministers. "Therefore, it is essential that there is no let-up in the priority given, or the resources invested, in improving school discipline," he added. "Any cuts to education funding would only put at risk all the progress made on improving school discipline to date".
And Professor Munn said: "Personally, I believe it would be a great pity if cuts meant that support and specialist staff numbers were reduced. There is also a training issue here - we need to be careful that the least-qualified staff are not the ones helping the most difficult and troubled pupils."
Sandy Fowler, the EIS representative on the Scottish Advisory Group on Behaviour in Schools, added that, although there were few incidents of serious indiscipline, the effects could be serious and it was important that headteachers retained the right to exclude pupils.
Only one area of the survey showed a negative change in teachers' perceptions: that more pupils were "withdrawing from active engagement in the classroom" - or "refusing to take part in school life", as Stephen Sharp, a member of the research team put it.
Professor Munn added: "One in 10 youngsters suffers from depression. We can't be definite about this, but there is a suggestion that this withdrawal from engagement may be connected to mental-health issues in some children. We need to pay greater attention to it."
Pupils "bounce back", page 14
Chatroom, page 31
- More than 90 per cent of staff saw all or most pupils as generally well- behaved around the school and in classrooms;
- 24 per cent of primary and secondary teachers and 10 per cent of primary and secondary heads saw pupils running in corridors several times a day;
- Only 4 per cent of primary and 1 per cent of secondary teachers said they did not encounter pupils talking out of turn in the week previous to the survey being carried out;
- 65 per cent of secondary heads said that pupil-to-pupil verbal abuse had been referred to them at least once in the week before the survey;
- Since 2006, secondary teachers reported that 51 out of 58 behaviours had shown a positive change; primary support staff perceived a positive change for only three out of 35 behaviours and a negative change for six;
- 93 per cent of primary and 87 per cent of secondary teachers were confident or very confident in their abilities to promote positive behaviour; 89 per cent of primary and 85 per cent were confident in their ability to respond to negative behaviour in their classrooms.