New study backs up my feeling that pupils' behaviour is getting better, not worse...

Francis Gilbert's picture
A new study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that pupils' behaviour has got better in the past decade and the behaviour of pupils' in the UK is better than the European average. This certainly backs up my experience as a teacher in the last few years. A while ago, I felt that there was a crisis of discipline in the classroom: teachers were overloaded with centralised dictats, didn't have enough pastoral support, and there was a culture of low expectations in some schools.

Then the Labour government eased the burden of centralised dictats, got rid of the Key Stage 3 tests, and poured money into where it was needed: helping schools buy in good pastoral support staff who had the time and resources to follow up on poorly behaved children, one-to-one tuition for strugglers, mentors for challenging kids, and made the curriculum more accessible generally, giving pupils who found the academic subjects difficult better vocational options. Furthermore, the concentration on literacy and numeracy in the primary schools started to pay dividends, with children being much more literate when they arrived at secondary school. All these factors meant that behaviour has improved in the last few years -- a fact borne out not only by Ofsted but now the OECD. I've certainly noticed in my classes that they are much better behaved than the ones I took five years ago. The pupils are simply better educated; better able to cope challenging texts by authors such as Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, Robert Louis Stevenson.

This is one of the reason I've found the Coalition government's approach to education so depressing; just as local authority schools have really got their acts together and behaviour has improved, they've opted to impose policies that will almost make behaviour worse, turning back the clock. They've jettisoned one-to-one tuition, reduced funds for pastoral managers and mentors, rubbished some perfectly good vocational courses, and instituted a policy of bribing schools to become "academies", whereby what goes on in these schools will be hidden by a cloak of secrecy. I know from own bitter experience that when there's a lack of transparency, bullying and bad behaviour become rife.
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Andy Smithers's picture
Thu, 26/05/2011 - 16:17


Unfortunately this is only one study and the majority of teachers dissagree with you.

"More than 70 per cent of teachers have considered quitting teaching as a result of poor behaviour in schools, a new survey will reveal tomorrow. 92 per cent of teachers, who responded to the 2010 Behaviour Survey from Teacher Support Network and Parentline Plus and the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said that pupil behaviour had got worse over the course of their career, which had led many to think about changing professions. "

There have been several studies carried out by various unions that indicate behaviour has actually got worse. I will dig them out if you have not seen them.

Warby's picture
Thu, 26/05/2011 - 16:52

Francis, wondering if you have any views on the unfairness of grammar schools in Reading? Missing your voice over there buddy. x

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 26/05/2011 - 17:00

I appreciate you highlighting this Andy, because I think there are teachers out there who feels things are getting worse. I feel though that the support for dealing with bad behaviour has got much better in the last few years, but the Coalition is turning back the clock by getting rid of one-to-one tuition and cuts to pastoral and support staff, plus unaccountable Academies. Just as we were starting to get things in order, it appears we are scrapping the things that were making improvements. But it's a very complex issue.

Warby's picture
Thu, 26/05/2011 - 17:04

Seem to have missed my comment mate :)

Andy Smithers's picture
Thu, 26/05/2011 - 17:53


Academies are actually leading the way in improving discipline. Everything I read and know about academies is based around a focus on improving behaviour and their records back this up.
I think finding one study, which is contradicted by the the majority of teachers, and then trying to use it to lambast the coalition policies is very poor and a very weak argument.
Must do better if anyone is to listen to you.

Andy Smithers's picture
Thu, 26/05/2011 - 17:55

Oh and by the way you need to remember that the OECD actually supports Academies and Free Schools as a way of improving choice and driving up standards.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/05/2011 - 07:54

The OECD says that the government's academies and free school policy "is increasing user choice" (p85)* However, it does not say the policy will drive up standards. In fact, it warns that this policy "needs to closely follow effects on fair access for disadvantaged children".

The OECD also says (p85*): "The impact of increasing user choice on eductional outcomes is uncertain". And later in the same document (p106) OECD says:

"There is however mixed evidence within the OECD area whether school systems with more user choice provide better outcomes. User choice may also increase segregation of high-ability and low-ability students, which is likely to create-peer spillovers. Several high performing school systems in the OECD area offer very limited user choice... Country-specific evidence is also mixed. Studies show no measurable long term effects of increasing user choice on pupils in Sweden and the United Kingdom."

*OECD Economic Surveys: United Kingdom, 2011: Reforming education in England. The document is unfortunately not freely available on the internet but details of how to obtain a copy are here:,3746,en_2649_34569_47283558_1_1_1_1,00...

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 26/05/2011 - 18:01

According to the last Ofsted Annual Report, behaviour is good or better in over 85 % of schools. I would agree that behaviour has got better over the last decade, mainly because teaching quality has improved. If pupils are engaged, they tend not to muck around. It is very fashionable to trash Labour's record in office but in fact there were many more failing schools, and more poor and unsatisfactory teaching when the Conservatives left office in 1997. Unfortunately many other services , especially pastoral support and help for parents in challenging circumstances, which have also helped to tackle pupils with challenging behaviour, will be the first services to go as the cuts start to bite.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 26/05/2011 - 18:48

I think the lesson of the last Labour government is that it takes an administration quite a while to find its feet with education and that it's generally best policy for a government to take stock before forcing through radical change. We need incremental change, fixing the existing system, supporting all schools to be great rather than making them totally independent and unaccountable to anyone except the Secretary of State. While it may be working in the short term with a few schools, the long terms prospects of such a scheme are bleak; it's bound to lead to a lowering of standards in the long run.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/05/2011 - 08:05

OECD evidence would support the view that educational change needs to be slow and steady as in Finland. OECD confirms that educational reform in Finland was not driven by high-profile iniatives by individuals or governments (as is attempted here).

OECD also points out that it takes many years to assess fully the consequences of education reforms: "Evaluating educational reforms and identifying efficient policies if often difficult however. Firstly, conclusive evaluations in terms of labour market and social outcomes can often not be performed until groups affected by policies have reached adult age, which may take place 20 years after policies have been introduced." (OECD Economic Surveys: United Kingdom, 2011: Reforming Education in England p 87 - for details of how to obtain the document see post above).

Andy Smithers's picture
Thu, 26/05/2011 - 19:05

Actually one of the lessons of the last Labour Government was that did not do enough quickly enough, and in fact most of their major achievements happened ver quickly - minimum wage, independence for Bank of England etc.
Remember that the Conservatives have been planning for several years.
Additionally the main policy you disagree with, Academies, is in fact building on whatLabour party started.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 26/05/2011 - 20:00

Smithers! Stop twisting the few facts you possess! The ConDemned are NOT building on what the previous government started, they are bastardizing them. If you don't know what I mean, go and do some research and find out. Remember my boy - previous posts on Academies here will enlighten you if you want to brought out of obscurity. Also Remember Smithers - Labour wanted aspiration to be an achievable ambition for everyone, not just people like you who see it as a means to segregate yourself from people you don't deem worthy of yourself. That's the difference. Bastardization - remember that word

Andy Smithers's picture
Thu, 26/05/2011 - 22:54


Again what are you talking about. I presented facts only.
An OECD study, an NUT study and the fact that Labour started acdemies.
Do what you do best just insult everyone that disagrees you.
Everyone else can rise above that.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 30/05/2011 - 14:47

As so often with these reports the results raise questions, the most important being “What is meant by disciplinary climate – an ordered classroom or one where the pupils are cowed?” and “Which environment will produce the best educational results?”

OECD says that PISA 2009 results show “that disciplinary climate is strongly associated with student performance” so you would expect to see a strong correlation between the PISA 2009 educational performance tables and the discipline table. However, this isn’t so when judged by how long a teacher has to wait for quiet. Only five of the countries in the PISA 2009 top ten were in the top 25 countries when judged on this measure. And Finland, top-performing country in PISA 2009, is at the bottom of the score for calm classrooms while Kazakhstan (59th) was second in the discipline league.

The Times Ed quotes an OECD representative: cultural differences can explain this anomaly. In Finland, for example, lively behaviour is acceptable - in other countries it would not be tolerated. An academic, Susan Hallam, said that the countries scoring highly for discipline were known for “being very ordered” (which could be a euphemism for strictly-controlled) and this spilled over into classroom discipline (but this type of discipline only translated into high educational attainment in a small number of countries). Ms Hallam also said that the UK “still has a long way to go” when compared with comparable countries. But the UK was above the OECD average of 72%* and the European average of 70%. The UK was also ahead of such comparable countries as New Zealand, Norway, France and, as already noted, Finland.

However, league tables don’t tell the whole story. Even those countries listed at the bottom had a majority (62%) saying that they rarely had to wait for quiet. OECD concludes: “PISA offers no evidence to support the notion that discipline in school is a growing problem.”**

*TES incorrectly said the OECD average was 73%

**PISA compared trends between 2000 and 2009. UK was not included in this comparison because, as we know, the 2000 PISA results for the UK were found to be flawed.

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