Orderly classrooms benefit the most disadvantaged children

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The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have released a working paper that draws on test and survey data from the Programme for International Student Development (PISA). It makes interesting reading for those of us who are concerned about the prospects of the most disadvantaged students.

The authors define a group known as ‘academically resilient’ students. These students have demonstrated an understanding of English, Maths and Science that is sufficient, in the view of the OECD, to enable them to actively participate in their communities and take part in lifelong learning. The working paper then focuses on the proportion of academically resilient students among students from a disadvantaged background.

Some countries, such as Germany, have increased the proportion of such students since 2006, partly by increasing overall PISA performance. Other countries, such as Australia, have seen a decline.

Interestingly, the authors of the paper note a school level effect i.e. there are significantly more academically resilient disadvantaged students in some schools than in others, and they can cross-reference this effect with some of the survey data they have collected.


“…across the vast majority of education systems examined, the likelihood that disadvantaged students will be resilient is higher in schools where students report a good disciplinary climate, compared to schools with more disruptive environments, even after accounting for differences in student and school socio-economic status and other factors associated with  resilience. Attending orderly classes in which students can focus and teachers provide well-paced instruction is beneficial for all students, but particularly so for the most vulnerable students.”

Orderly classrooms were associated with low staff turnover. The authors suggest that low staff turnover causes a better classroom climate but this could easily work the other way around: good classroom climate could cause lower staff turnover. Orderly classrooms were also associated with strong school leadership:

“Transformational leaders foster capacity development, work relentlessly to promote a high level of commitment among teachers towards ensuring high academic results among their students, and are able to ensure that classrooms are orderly so that students make the most of their learning time in school.”

However, the authors note that this kind of leadership is not often taught on school leadership courses. I would add that classroom management skills more generally do not seem to be prioritised by teacher education and are, instead, something that is largely left for teachers to develop themselves over time.

Interestingly, levels of resourcing were not generally associated with the proportion of academically resilient disadvantaged students. The exception was the provision of extracurricular activities which was generally associated with a slightly greater proportion of such students, even if it also sometimes correlated with a lower proportion.

At this point, it is worth noting that Australia ranks poorly in terms of classroom disciplinary climate. At the same time, this data is actively dismissed by an education establishment in thrall to romantic ideas of childhood. This could well be one of the reasons underlying Australia’s overall decline in the proportion of academically resilient disadvantaged students.

Unfortunately, orderly classrooms are often portrayed in a negative light. Teachers who promote an excellent classroom climate are accused of being authoritarian and right-wing. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we are concerned about social justice then we should encourage and support teachers who manage their classrooms effectively. If you disdain disciplined classrooms then you are no friend of disadvantaged students and you are working to cement class privilege, whether you realise this or not.


12 thoughts on “Orderly classrooms benefit the most disadvantaged children

  1. Tom Burkard says:

    It would be difficult to design a system of comprehensive education more suited to the perpetuation of social disadvantage than the one we have now.

  2. It reeks of educational suicide for a nation to permit disorderly classrooms. The reverse should not be maligned as mere politics. Just look at the adult world: how many undisciplined orchestras or bands are there (that survive)? How many disorganised research labs, or even building sites grow and employ people? How many disorganised clubs provide good sporting opportunities for children? How many disorganised armies successfully defend against attack (just thought I’d throw that one in).

    • None I should think. In the sixteenth century in England there was a move to restrict access to grammar schools because too many educated young men were on the market and causing waves. In the sixties the products of the tripartite system also caused waves. The comprehensive system was brought in as fairer and no other generations since has had the drive of those who finished school in the sixties. The UK has also lost drive and creativity. It looks as if no better system than the comprehensive system we have could have been devised to perpetuate disadvantage. Sorry, bit of a conspiracy theory!

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