Low-Level Disruptive Behaviour

Should we ignore low-level disruptive behaviour?

One new study seems to think so and quite frankly this is bonkers.

I’m fairly sure that the researchers haven’t read all the damning evidence that you don’t “keep calm and carry on” – you have to nip things in the bud from the outset.

The study was conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School led by Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Tamsin Ford.

Ofsted aren’t fans of this “just ignore it” attitude and for once, there won’t be many teachers who disagree with them.

In a “deeply worrying” 2014 report they said that teachers, parents and carers are rightly concerned about the frequent loss of learning time through low-level but persistent disruptive behaviour. They say,

…..this type of behaviour has a detrimental impact on the life chances of too many pupils. It can also drive away hard-working teachers from the profession. Some school leaders are failing to identify or tackle low-level disruptive behaviour at an early stage.

Who in the right mind would ‘allow’ the following:

  • talking unnecessarily or chatting
  • calling out without permission
  • being slow to start work or follow instructions
  • showing a lack of respect for each other and staff
  • not bringing the right equipment
  • using mobile devices inappropriately

What Ofsted found was that some teachers have come to accept these types of behaviour as part of everyday life and “just carry on”. They said that “too many many school leaders, especially in secondary schools, underestimate the prevalence and negative impact of low-level disruptive behaviour.”

According to teachers themselves, Ofsted note that an average secondary school might contain a handful of teachers who lose at least 10 minutes of learning time per lesson as they struggle to keep discipline. Low-level disruption is reported to be the cause of children losing 38 days of their education a year which is mind-blowing.

Amanda Spielman is on the case. In her speech this year at the Wellington Festival of Education she said,

I want us to look just as hard at low-level disruption, which stops pupils learning and which can make the job of classroom management miserable.

She’s right – a classroom where low-level behaviour is tolerated grows and grows and makes it an unhappy place to learn and there is a definite uneasy atmosphere where the teacher hasn’t got a grip. It can lead to extreme stress and upside down chaos.

Praising children and catching them when they are good is fine and can send out messages to other children that they too could be the recipients of positive pats on the back.

Using positive reinforcement strategically and purposefully for the  children who are on task to prompt others to modify their behaviour can work.

However, you cannot simply ignore poor behaviour and focus only on the children doing good and getting on. Low-level disruption needs low-level responses not a “this isn’t really happening” zero response – poor behaviour doesn’t just evaporate because it will be felt all around the school and some other poor colleague will be picking up the pieces.

By ignoring poor behaviour we are also giving children an image. As Michael Linsin (2013) says in his book The Classroom Management Secret, “Misbehaviour, silliness, and distraction then become their identity rather than something they can control.”

If you allow niggling, low-level behaviours to persist then you are setting yourself up for a year of hell. Ignoring low-level behaviour is weak.

What should you do to tackle low-level behaviour? Take a look at Greg Ashman’s article and also Tracey Lawrence’s article – both featured in the Tes.

But back to the 2014 Ofsted report, ‘Below the radar: low-level disruption in the country’s classrooms‘.

Ofsted found that in the most effective schools there was a positive climate for learning in place supported by the whole community. Importantly, it was the senior leaders who made the difference because they didn’t stand for low standards of behaviour and they “do not shy away from challenging teachers, parents or pupils, where this is necessary.

Ofsted found that the best leaders:

  • are visible in classrooms, school corridors and grounds
  • know if – and where – low-level disruption occurs and ensure that all staff members deal with it
  • have high expectations of behaviour and are consistent in dealing with disruptive pupils
  • explain and enforce their expectations successfully to staff, pupils and parents.

Senior leaders should take a look at the report and see that where this happens, a school enjoys success as a positive place of learning. Katharine Birbalsingh’s ‘no excuses’ Michaela school is a prime example of what we should all aspire to and come down like a ton of bricks on poor behaviour. As Katherine says, “Children push, we push back.”

Next time children push it, don’t stand off, push back – you are the adult in the classroom and they are not mini-adults. We need a laser focus on pupil discipline not turn a blind eye to it.

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