Chief HMI Sir Michael Wilshaw is right that low-level poor behaviour – chatting, silly remarks, not having equipment etc – disrupts the education of all pupils. His latest report
, Below the radar: low-level disruption in the country’s classrooms
, reveals that such low-level disruption is problematic.
It’s odd, then, that Ofsted inspectors aren’t picking up this disruption: 85% of the 1,413 schools inspected between 1 April and 30 June 2014 (provisional figures*) were judged to be good or better for behaviour. Ofsted said 19,547 of 21,167 schools inspected had behaviour which was good or better at their most recent inspection*.
Ofsted’s survey found 69% of teachers identified ‘talking and chatting’ as one of the top three types of disruption. The two other main ways of disrupting a class were ‘disturbing other children’ (38%) and ‘calling out’ (35%). And it’s the cumulative effect of several types of disruption which affects learning. That said, the teachers surveyed differed in their estimation of how much time was lost through such disruption. Just over a fifth of secondary teachers said it lost very little time; a quarter said it wasted at least five minutes in every hour. One in twelve said ten minutes in every hour was frittered away dealing with low-level disturbance.
Sir Michael makes it clear that school leaders are ultimately responsible for setting standards and supporting staff at the chalk face:
‘Leaders in these schools [where low-level disruption is minimized] are uncompromising in their expectations and do not settle for low standards of behaviour.’
He identified the strategies employed by successful leaders:
1They are seen around the school;
2They can spot low-level disruption and make sure all staff deal with it consistently;
3They set high expectations and are themselves consistent in handling disruptive pupils;
4They are successful in explaining expectations and enforcement methods to staff, pupils and parents.
The report highlighted the importance of pupils, staff and parents knowing how the school expected pupils to behave and applying these expectations consistently. This doesn’t necessarily mean ‘zero-tolerance’ although some will interpret these strategies as such.
Zero tolerance is mentioned only once in the report and that was in a quote from a parent. Sir Michael hasn’t explicitly recommended such an approach. In the United States research
has found that ‘zero-tolerance’ strategies have ‘created more problems than they have resolved’ particularly concerning minority ethnic pupils.
Neither did Sir Michael recommend more military style discipline. Saying schools should be consistent and ensure everyone knows how pupils are expected to behave does not mean the Chief HMI is ‘Launching a nationwide crackdown to enforce military-style discipline across classrooms’. Yet this was what The Times
suggested when commenting on the report four days before it was officially published.
claimed Sir Michael thought this low-level disruption was ‘one of the key reasons why academic standards in English state schools are so far behind their international counterparts, particularly those in the Far East.’ But the published report made no such claim. The only time the PISA tests were mentioned was to highlight how the perception of low-level disruption by heads was lower than the opinion of pupils**.
This misrepresentation again highlights the problem of the media commenting on reports before they’ve been officially published. The media receives copies of such reports before publication but they are usually embargoed. It would appear that one way of getting round an embargo is to announce what a report ‘will say’ or ‘is expected to say’. By the time the report is in the public domain, interest will already have waned and any early comments, whether misrepresentations or not, will remain.
*Ofsted provisional data and outcomes of the most recent inspections downloadable here
**7% of headteachers thought learning was hindered by disruption, but 15% of pupils said they could not work well in their mathematics lessons because of disruption.