Unruly pupils are driving teachers out of the profession, says academic

1st May 2009 at 01:00
He rejects Sir Alan Steer's optimism and says bad behaviour is a major cause of underachievement

The level of bad classroom behaviour is far worse than official studies - and government tsar Sir Alan Steer - have reported, according to a leading academic.

Many teachers' working lives are blighted by unruly children, leaving them simply attempting to keep control of their class rather than being able to educate, according to Dr Terry Haydn. The academic's new research flies in the face of the government-backed Steer report of a fortnight ago.

Dr Haydn, a teacher trainer at the University of East Anglia, said he was worried Sir Alan's optimistic view that behaviour is improving might stop the Government viewing unruly pupils as a priority. He argues that Ofsted figures showing that just 6 per cent of schools have a behaviour problem is far too low.

Dr Haydn believes even children who are keen to learn and do well are now difficult to teach because they have poor social skills, and that most teachers regularly have to decide between attempting to teach a whole class or just those that want to learn.

Conducting his research, Dr Haydn spoke to more than 100 teachers and heads about behaviour and 100 student teachers, many of whom worked in popular and oversubscribed schools. None suggested it was getting easier to create an ideal working relationship in classrooms.

But many experienced headteachers also told Dr Haydn that the idea of a "golden age" in which, for example, pupils did what they were told and were punished by their parents if told off at school was a myth.

"It has always been a challenge to get pupils to behave perfectly in classrooms," said Dr Haydn, who presented his research recently at the American Educational Research Association.

He believes that teachers adapting their work to help them control a class rather than being able to focus on learning is still a major cause of underachievement - as well as affecting the quality of teachers' lives and retention rates in the profession.

"Most teachers go into teaching to help pupils to learn, and they become disenchanted when they are unable to do this because of pupil disruption," he said. "We are losing a lot of talented and experienced teachers."

Dr Haydn has spent the past decade developing a 10-point scale of behaviour (see box), where 10 is perfect and 1 the most challenging, to help student teachers think about what makes children unruly.

He believes it takes considerable skill and effort to get all children, even model pupils, to be keen to learn and co-operate with the teacher. In his survey of teachers, most said behaviour regularly fell below levels 9 and 10.

Dr Haydn believes satisfactory behaviour ought to mean children are not interfering with learning - leaving teachers relaxed and in control of the classroom.


LEVEL 1: The teacher's entry into classroom is greeted by jeers and abuse. Such staff have to turn a blind eye to bad behaviour to avoid confrontation. They often wishs they had not gone into the profession.

LEVEL 2: Pupils are in control. Teaching ignored, with staff just hoping children will be in a good mood, leave them alone and chat to each other.

LEVEL 3: Teacher dreads the thought of the lesson. Major disruption, with children who want to work having difficulty.

LEVEL 4: Control is limited and it takes time to get the class to listen. Lesson preparation is about control rather than education.

LEVEL 5: The teacher feels awkward or embarrassed if a visitor, such as the head, a governor or an inspector, comes in because their control of the class is limited.

LEVEL 6: Major effort to establish and maintain a calm atmosphere. Several pupils will not remain on task without persistent exhortation.

LEVEL 7: Class bubbly and rowdy. The few pupils who mess around stop when asked to do so.

LEVEL 8: Teacher can establish and maintain relaxed and co-operative atmosphere, but this requires considerable thought and effort.

LEVEL 9: Teacher in control, but has to exercise some authority at times to maintain working atmosphere.

LEVEL 10: Teacher completely relaxed and comfortable and able to work without concern.

Related resources:

Top 10 behaviour management tips


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