Pupil behaviour worse than thought

Roger Titcombe's picture
This is the headline in the Independent of 14 April, following the publication of a report by researchers from the University of East Anglia.

"Unruly behaviour in schools is far worse than inspectors and official government reports indicate, according to a major study of classroom disruption out today.

Even teachers in the most popular, oversubscribed state schools have to work hard to avoid their classrooms getting out of control, it adds. Hardly any schools are free of disruptive behaviour."

Let us try to apply some logic to this paradoxical scenario.

Indiscipline is found in the most popular, over-subscribed schools. So how do schools become popular and over-subscribed? Presumably by getting 'Outstanding' OfSTED judgements. Am I stretching this too far by suggesting that at least some schools have been getting 'Outstanding' judgments from OfSTED despite poor pupil behaviour?

This seems odd, but I have a hypothesis that may explain this perverse pattern. I admit to not having a lot of evidence, but maybe it will emerge.

I am suggesting that this is just another outcome of Inspectors making their minds up from performance data, before they even enter the school. We know that this approach affects OfSTED judgements of individual lessons. It is called 'triangulation'. If an inspector sees a poor lesson in a school with outstanding results, then we know that the judgment is 'moderated' on the basis that as so little time is spent in so few lessons that the observation evidence can be disregarded.

This works the other way too. If Inspectors find superb teaching in a school that fails to meet floor targets, then this must be moderated so as not to get in the way of the 'Inadequate' or 'Requires Improvement' judgment that has already been decided in advance.

According to posts by OfSTED insiders on other threads, this definitely happens.

I am proposing that the disruptive growth in poor behaviour noted in the study is real and is a consequence of the increasing popularity of 'zero tolerance' behaviour policies with automatic punishments applied according to arbitrary tariffs. I am further suggesting that such behaviourism in regard to discipline policies goes hand in hand with behaviourist 'filling heads with knowledge' teaching methods. These are frequently so tedious and boring that pupils naturally become restless and distracted. This generates automatic tariff based punishments. These punishments are sometimes unjust and undeserved because of teacher jumping to conclusions (Kahneman System 1) and a lack of proper investigation. Classroom incidents are rarely as simple as they may seem to a hard pressed teacher fearful of losing control, so catastrophic misjudgments are likely.

Nothing feeds pupil negativity and infectious sedition like being severely and unfairly punished for something you didn't do in a system that brooks no argument or debate ('backchat' just escalates the punishment).

Lots of 'Outstanding' schools have zero-tolerance behaviour policies. These are recommended by the Chief Inspector and the Secretary of State for Education and are beloved of parents. So if a school has 'Outstanding' performance data and adopts the officially prescribed zero-tolerance behaviour policies, then what is a Lead Inspector to do, except fail to notice the poor behaviour or make some sort of excuse for it?

This goes with failing to notice gaming through early GCSE entry and exploitation of vocational equivalents. Will someone please find me an OfSTED report where these have drawn the proper negative comments.

But schools must prevent disruptive behaviour preventing teaching and learning.

Of course, but like so much in the real, complex world of education, the ways of achieving good relationships in classrooms between pupils and between pupils and teachers are counter intuitive and do not fit with the prevailing paradigm. The clue is in the word 'relationships'.

I suspect that Henry picked up a lot of wisdom in his visit to Finland.
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Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 15/04/2014 - 16:57

The report cited in the Independent (and the Telegraph and the Mail) about pupil behaviour said it was the result of a ten-year study.

Two years ago the same author presented a report to BERA about behaviour which was reported as saying much the same as yesterday's report. It was described as being the result of a ten-year study.

So was yesterday's ten-year study the same ten-year study? Of has there been new evidence in which case it would presumably be a twelve-year study?

I asked this question in the Telegraph comments and John Bald told me there was " a bit more evidence". Unfortunately, it's published on the BERA site and it's only available to members.

That said, of course there's misbehaviour in schools. It's how it's dealt with that counts. And as Roger says, zero tolerance policies are not as effective as might appear. The TES reported zero-tolerance strategy hit minority groups harder.

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 15/04/2014 - 22:18

The outcome of our last inspection (October 2013) was a foregone conclusion - RI. 'It was the data wot did it for us!'

Background - small primary school (under 90 pupils) hence small cohorts, FSM above average, statemented pupils above average, SEN children above average, local area high social housing, good behaviour and support systems attract many difficult to place children.
Ofsted inspection - one inspector, officially for two days, spent half of both mornings in meetings with head or governors, 6/7 lesson observations - judgement almost certainly made before inspector set foot over the threshold.

The good behaviour was recorded but evidence collected during the previous twelve months, when the school was supported by an experienced National Leader of Excellence, was not accepted. This evidence supported the school's view that the quality of teaching is on an upward trend - most teaching good with increasing elements of outstanding. The RAISEonline data was all the inspector needed to reach her judgement. Teaching was over 80% good with some outstanding features but it was never going to be good enough to trump the data and 'triangulation' worked its magic.

Incidentally, (or maybe not!) the Key Stage 2 cohort of 2013 numbered just twelve children, around a quarter of whom had attended at least one other school before joining us and half were permitted the support of a 'reader' for the maths sats. I remember looking around the room on those two mornings, marveling at the fact that all the children registered for the tests were present.

Just a very personal example of 'the real, complex world of education' you speak of Roger. But, you are right to point out that disruptive behaviour must not stand in the way of learning and teaching. The problem is, cooperative pupils need effective teaching and in the present climate, those making key judgements about the system are clueless about the impact of their policies on the work of teachers and children alike. In schools like the one I support, the fact that the playing field is not level adds another layer of complexity.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Wed, 16/04/2014 - 07:22

And it's not just classroom behaviour the current system affects: it's learning attitudes too. As has been pointed out by many a commentator, schools resemble factories where 'outcomes' are measured at the start and finish and all stages in between. There is much talk of 'inputs' and 'outputs' as though education was a matter of finding the right formula and applying it to all children. You don't hear words such as 'imagination' 'enthusiasm' or 'joy' in relation to schools.
Naturally enough there are compliant and long-suffering kids in schools who are not deemed problematic because they are not standing on the tables hurling chairs around. However, to judge by the kinds of things my kids report to me, their cynicism is deep. They work to the test, are not particularly interested in reading around the subject and switch off until effort is required. My youngest surmised (correctly, viewed from her perspective) that there was no point really pulling your finger out in Y9 because 'there's no marks in it". Fortunately, there are still teachers in the system who believe they are there not simply to fill heads with facts but to enhance understanding of the subject and create favourable conditions for learning and discovery. As far as I can see, they won't get any credit for it unless it can be translated into hard, results-determined success.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 16/04/2014 - 07:46

You are right Michelle. The fact is that the attitude of the pupils that you describe, who cope by means of dull compliance, manifests itself as ill-targeted and often irrational, surly rebellion in the more spirited.

Learning attitudes and classroom behaviour are two facets of the same coin. This is why it is far more effective to target learning attitudes in order to address poor behaviour, than to target poor behaviour in order to address learning attitudes. Learning attitudes rise with high quality developmentally challenging teaching.

Deeply absorbed and engaged pupils, for whom the end of the lesson comes as a disappointing surprise do not even think about behaving badly and if they do other pupils will tell them to shut up. In such classes the vast majority of the pupils support the teacher when there is a disruptive incident especially if the teacher deals with it in an understanding and kindly way.

When that relationship is not there, the compliant but sullen majority offer no support to the teacher whatever.

It is like what happens when a football manager 'loses the dressing room'.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 17/04/2014 - 14:40

Michele - there's too much emphasis on exam results in England, the OECD said over two years ago. It sounds as if it's happening elsewhere.

Such an emphasis distorts the education process as Professor Alastair Sharp describes here.

Rodger123's picture
Thu, 17/04/2014 - 19:30

Academies/ schools with 'zero' tolerance generally have a selective intake or high exclusion rate (now called disappearing students). So they either have the ability to self-regulate their behaviour or they are excluded if they can't cope (for whatever reason).

In the pre 2014 OFSTED framework ‘good’ teaching would generally imply ‘good’ attainment/ progress but ‘good’ attainment/ progress would not imply ‘good’ teaching.

Imagine that you are an academy sponsor, you have ‘gamed’ a fantastic set of results only for OFSTED to tell you that your academy ‘requires improvement’ due to poor teaching. That isn’t going to go down very well at all, hence the 2014 OFSTED ‘what ever works’ no questions asked approach.

Call me a cynic but I believe the bar is only being raised so that the ‘right’ groups are able to gain control of our schools and when that happens, the data (quality of education) will be manipulated to fit their narrative.

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