Joanna Williams of Policy Exchange, a U.K. think-tank, has written a report about disruption in secondary schools in England.
Policy Exchange commissioned Deltapoll, an opinion polling company, to survey a large number of students, parents and teachers and report their findings. They followed this with qualitative interviews. The report is interesting and I cannot help wondering what the results of a similar poll would elicit about Australian secondary schools.
Of the teachers surveyed, 62% said that they had considered leaving the profession and/or were currently considering leaving the profession due to poor behaviour. This is interesting because the majority of the discussion around teacher recruitment and retention tends to focus on issues such as workload. I do not doubt that these are important, yet behaviour is also clearly a factor. I think there are two reasons for this blind spot. To get the right answer, you have to ask the right question and there seems to be a reluctance in traditional education research to focus on behaviour problems, at least in terms of the impact on peers and teachers. There is also a culture where teachers are blamed for the bad behaviour of their students – the teacher didn’t plan an engaging enough lesson or they failed to build adequate relationships – and so teachers are less likely to volunteer behaviour problems as a cause of their disenchantment. An anonymous poll asking directly about the issue circumvents the latter problem.
There were other interesting insights from the poll. A majority of students thought that low level disruption and disorder occurred frequently or very frequently in their school and this compared with 40% of parents. 58% of parents thought such a level of disruption was unacceptable. There was also feedback from teachers that they thought their school’s behaviour policy was applied inconsistently and that this led to further problems. Some of this appears to relate to the administrative burden implied by some behaviour policies where teachers have to supervise all their own detentions and fill-in onerous paperwork.
Williams found increasing support from all groups for so-called ‘zero tolerance’ policies but notes, “Many schools are dealing effectively with behavioural issues without implementing zero tolerance policies.”
Of course, many will dismiss these findings as a paper from a think-tank rather than a peer-reviewed journal article. I think that would be a mistake. It is actually a welcome contribution to a neglected topic. If academics are motivated to refute it by conducting what they perceive to be more rigorous work then that can only be a good thing.
Note: after publishing, I saw a response from an academic which is not promising:
If you are new to teaching then may I point out that I have a chapter on classroom management in my book The Truth About Teaching that has been reasonably well received. You can order here