Behaviour in Scottish schools is improving overall as teachers rely less and less on traditional punitive methods and switch to more positive, values-based approaches, the latest national behaviour survey finds.
But secondary teachers say the use of mobile phones in the classroom has become a frequent distraction in the classroom, while their potential use for cyberbullying is also a major concern, according to Behaviour in Scottish Schools 2012, published this week by the Scottish government.
Mobile phones have emerged as one of the few low-level disruption problems to get worse since the last survey in 2009. School staff also report an increase in "pupils using mobile phones abusively".
Overall, primary and secondary staff are "very positive" about pupils' behaviour. Almost all aspects have improved since previous surveys in 2006 and 2009.
Serious problems are rare, with seven out of 876 primary teachers, and one out of 2,022 secondary teachers having experienced physical violence towards themselves in the classroom in the week before the survey by Ipsos Mori Scotland earlier this year.
Teachers are more concerned about low-level disruptive behaviour than the rare incidents of serious disruptive behaviour or violence. Low-level problems are generally decreasing - although "talking out of turn" has become more common and has been identified as on the rise in primary. However, the picture is different for support staff, who report a general increase in behavioural issues, perhaps because they are directly involved with the most challenging pupils.
Teachers are generally confident in their ability to deal with bad behaviour, and there has been a continued move away from sanctions such as punishment exercises, to more positive approaches.
The promotion of positive behaviour through "whole-school ethos" and values is largely seen as the most useful approach. Staff in schools and local authorities feel there is now more recognition of potential underlying reasons for misbehaviour.
They express concern, however, about what they view as a small but increasing number of children entering P1 with complex difficulties, including nurture and attachment issues.
In both primaries and secondaries, there is concern about perceived increases in severe mental health issues, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autistic spectrum disorders.
School staff believe it is too early to say whether Curriculum for Excellence has had a significant effect on behaviour, although the move toward a whole-school focus on health and well-being is regarded as helpful, as is CfE's greater emphasis on active learning and engaging pupils, and increased autonomy for teachers.
School Leaders Scotland general secretary Ken Cunningham said the report was recognition that school staff had "responded positively and professionally to the behavioural challenges not just of schools but of society". But he stressed it was "vital" to ensure resources were available to support schools dealing with challenging behaviour, whatever the economic constraints.
Greg Dempster, general secretary of primary heads' union AHDS, welcomed the "overall picture of improvement", but saw problems on the horizon: the increasing cases of children with complex difficulties emerged as local authorities were considering once-unthinkable cuts, as shown by North Lanarkshire potentially ending its nurture group programme.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said the report highlighted the "unacceptable behaviour by a small number of pupils (which) continues to blight the working lives of teachers, and damage the educational experience for the vast majority of pupils". He believes solutions lie in continued investment in schools and "manageable" class sizes.
Percentage of different types of staff who, based on encounters around school, think all or almost all pupils are well behaved
- Primary heads 74
- Secondary heads 62
- Primary teachers 42
- Secondary teachers 30
- Primary support 24
- Secondary support 7.