Australian schools are suffering a crisis of classroom behaviour. Survey evidence from the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) places us well below the OECD average for in-class disruption. Roughly a third of students in advantaged schools, and half of those in disadvantaged schools, report that in most or every class there is noise and disorder, students don’t listen to what the teacher says, and students find it difficult to learn. Add to this evidence from a different survey that 20% of Year 4 students and 9% of Year 8 students are bullied almost weekly and we have a very worrying picture.
A lot of the research and discussion among academics is not well placed to address these issues. The focus is placed exclusively on those students who misbehave and the educational effects on them of being excluded from classrooms. This is an important question to address but poor behaviour impacts on every student in a class. We need to think at a systems-level. The old trope of blaming and shaming teachers for causing behaviour problems by teaching boring lessons has had its day. Yes, teachers should make efforts to make subjects interesting but we can’t keep students in a high state of excitement all the time. Boredom is part of life. Sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do. Get over it.
That’s why I recommend Tom Bennett’s new report to Australian teachers and school leaders. It is written for the British government and its focus is on U.K. schools, yet there is much to transfer to our own system. Politicians should pay attention to the policy recommendations and principals should take heed of the advice on how to intentionally create a positive school culture.
We can’t keep ducking this issue.