Disruptions in the classroom: What students say.

Concerns about pupil behaviour and discipline in schools are not new. Since the establishment of state schools in the nineteenth century, there has been an ongoing discussion about the purpose of school, the way teachers should manage pupil behaviour in the classroom and ways that students should be disciplined and rewarded.

Education is not just about academic learning, it is also about the practice of obedience, following instructions, conformity to the school system and character building. Since the beginning of the school system, corporal punishment was used as a way of disciplining students. This was abolished in 1987 in state schools and 1998 in private and independent schools.  Teachers had to find other ways to discipline students. Here are a few examples used at  my school:

  • A verbal reprimand,  many times I walk past students getting reprimanded outside or inside the classroom.
  • Standing outside the classroom,  I see students standing outside the classroom door for disrupting lessons. Sometimes I stop and ask them what happened? Why are you out here? Sometimes it is a strategy used to help students “cool down.”
  • Withdrawal of privileges, these can include exclusion from school trips or sporting activity.
  • Time-out to calm down especially if a student is annoyed about something another student said or did to them.
  • Temporary segregation of the individual within the school, the student or students involved will be isolated and sent to a different teacher or head of a subject.
  • A system of demerits,  a student given a number of warnings before getting a demerit. This is noted on their daily behaviour record.
  • Intervention by the Pastoral head or deputy head of year group, this can include withdrawal from normal teaching groups and isolation with a member of the Pastoral team either for a long or short period of time.
  • Detention, informally during the school day, break and lunch times or briefly after school. Detention, with official parental knowledge and consent.
  • ” On report” system whereby behaviour is monitored with or without parental knowledge. Students report to their head of year,  form tutor or head of a subject.
  •  Parental involvement, teacher phone parents in talking about their concerns about behaviour, sometimes known as “a negative phone call home.”
  • Time spent in an internal isolation unit in the school.
  • Temporary exclusion or permanent exclusion.
  • Off-site units of education such as Pupil Referral Units (PRU)

There also strategies to encourage and support good behaviour, some of these include:

  • Verbal reasoning, teachers talking to a student about a particular classroom behaviour, together with the student and the teacher develop strategies aimed at changing the behaviour.
  • Positive reinforcement such as praise, a special treat or a prize.
  • Use of rewards, including a token economy where credits are earned for good behaviour and traded for rewards, such as a school trips,  or a special treat.
  • A system of merits.
  • Services such as counselling, mentoring, peer support, behaviour management, and mindfulness all aimed at behaviour modification.
  • Behaviour plans or contracts with or without parental involvement.
  • Valuing of pupils work, for example through display in a particular department.
  • Letters of commendation or postcards home from  Head of a year or of tutor to parents.
  • A “positive phone call” home to parents.

Government concerns about behaviour and school discipline continue into the twenty-first century, with Secretaries of State for Education commissioning reports aimed at giving schools strategies to manage pupil behaviour and discipline. Some of these are:

  • The Elton Report (1989) Discipline in Schools.
  • Steer Report Learning Behaviour (2005). The Steer committee also published a follow-up report Learning Behaviour: Lessons Learned in 2009.
  • House of Commons Education Committee Behaviour and Discipline in Schools  First Report of Session 2010–11.
  • Behaviour and discipline in schools: Advice for headteachers and school staff  January 2016.

The most recent, in  March 2017 is Tom Bennett’s Independent review of behaviour in schools  ‘Creating a Culture: How school leaders can optimise behaviour.’

According to Bennett:

‘Behaviour remains a serious concern in the UK school system. As the 2014 Ofsted report Below the radar8 report’ said:
‘A YouGov survey show that pupils are potentially losing up to an hour of learning each day in English schools because of disruption in classrooms. This is equivalent to 38 days of teaching lost per year. A large number of pupils, therefore, are being denied a significant amount of valuable learning time. Many teachers have come to accept some low-level disruption as a part of everyday life in the classroom. One fifth of the teachers surveyed indicated that they ignored low-level disruption and just ‘tried to carry on’. However, this behaviour disturbs the learning of the perpetrators as well as that of others. According to the teachers themselves, an average secondary school might contain five or six teachers who lose at least 10 minutes of learning time per lesson as they struggle to maintain good order.’ Creating a Culture: How school leaders can optimise behaviour. (p20)

I have talked to teachers who feel relieved when a  student who is difficult or disruptive during their lesson is booked for a counselling session.  There is a difference in the dynamics of the class when the disruptive student is not there. Students are aware of rewards and sanctions for lack of compliance and conformity to school rules. there.  Some will push the boundaries and will disrupt their learning and that of others by engaging with low-level disruption such as answering back, annoying other students by making personal comments or name calling, this can eventually cause conflict between those involved.

What are students perception of others who disrupt their lessons?

In my conversations with students, they talk about the behaviour of other students in the classroom. They describe students who are disruptive by being rude to teachers, those who are consistently sent out of lessons,  others who start conflicts with other students by calling them names, attention seekers who think they are witty, to name a few. One student describes her experience.

“People who distract lessons are annoying, they are not funny, they get us in trouble. They are really not funny they are just trying to impress but they are ruining the lesson and the teacher gives us a class detention, this is not fair. I didn’t do anything why should I get a detention I want to learn.  Some students are rude to everyone, teachers and students they just don’t care. Every class has its clown or two who play off each other, when they are sent out I learn better.”

Another student said “When someone starts to mess about  I get angry, especially if they are not funny. If they are funny, they just make me laugh.”

Another student expressed her feelings about a student in her tutor group who often misbehaves during tutor time.  “He really annoys me, he always answers back and starts an argument with the teacher. Sometimes it’s like the teacher can’t control him, it’s better when he is not there.”

Why are some students disruptive?

There is not one answer to this question, there are a number of reasons.  Behaviour is caused by what is inside of us, it is about how we perceive, think,  feel and our response to these emotions. As individuals, we sometimes make snap judgements and decisions about a given situation, these are based on our evaluations, expectations about the self and other individuals.  The same can be said about teacher- student or student-student interactions.  It is the students rather than teachers that set the atmosphere of the classroom. I have talked to students who find a particular subject or a teacher difficult so sometimes they are disruptive. Playground disagreements or student-student conflict that have not been resolved can also have an impact on the classroom atmosphere.

In my conversations with students, they give different reasons for changes in behaviour or attitude.  For example, students who have family problems at home bring these into the school, they come into school worried about what may be going on at home. Some students have an immediate dislike of a particular teacher “I just find him/her annoying they can’t teach.”  Feelings of victimization by a particular teacher  “that teacher is always picking on me.”   Dislike of a particular subject, conflict with another student in the same class.

 Some questions I ask students

What behaviours are you choosing?
Why are you choosing these behaviours?
What are your past experiences with this teacher/student?
What could be the possible outcomes if you continue this behaviour?
What do you really want?
How realistic is this?
What are the chances of this happening?
What do you need to do to make this happen?
It is important to explore the root cause of individual behaviours. Getting an understanding of their  perception of the problem, thinking and feelings; can help students to  develop their understanding of the decisions, choices and responses they make daily.