Education & Family

Disruptive behaviour rising, teachers say

Girls texting in class
Image caption Teachers often complain about low level disruption in class

The number of pupils in the UK with behavioural and mental health problems is on the rise, a teachers' union says.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said disruptive classroom behaviour was also worsening, with 53% of 844 members surveyed reporting a deterioration over the past five years.

The union said teachers and support staff needed better training to help them deal with challenging children.

The government said teachers now had more powers to deal with unruly pupils.

In June last year, the government's adviser on behaviour, former head teacher Charlie Taylor, told a committee of MPs that some pupils in England were too disruptive to fit into regular school life.

He said some of these challenging children needed much more help and support.

The issue of pupil behaviour is likely to be hotly debated at the ATL's annual conference in Liverpool next week.

Challenging behaviour

In a survey of 844 members across the UK, 62% said there were more children with emotional, behavioural and mental health problems than two years ago and 56% said there were more than five years ago.

Nearly 90% of those surveyed, which include support staff, teachers, lecturers and head teachers, said they had dealt with a challenging or disruptive child during this school year.

The main targets of challenging behaviour were other pupils (cited by 72%), followed by teaching staff (46%) and then support staff (43%).

The most prevalent challenging behaviour was verbal aggression (cited by 77%), followed by physical aggression (57%), bullying in person (41%) and breaking or ruining other pupils' belongings (23%).

Over a third of ATL members surveyed (35%) said they did not get any training in how to deal with challenging, disruptive or violent students, with only 18% saying they had regular training which was good or adequate.

Moreover, 42% said they did not get any relevant training during their teacher training.


A teacher at a secondary school in Dudley said: "I've been sworn at, argued with, shouted at, had books thrown at me, threatened with physical abuse and had things stolen and broken."

A primary school head from Kent said: "This year we had the most challenging reception pupil I have encountered in 20 years of teaching.

"He did not comply with a single instruction, even to sit on the mat for a story. His mum would not accept that his behaviour was different to the other children's and took him to another school after two terms."

A male secondary teacher from Staffordshire said: "I was cyberbullied - pupils created a pornographic Photoshop image of me."


Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: "Regrettably teachers and support staff are suffering the backlash from deteriorating standards of behaviour.

"They are frequently on the receiving end of children's frustration and unhappiness, and have to deal with the fall-out from parents failing to set boundaries and family breakdowns.

"And the huge funding cuts to local services mean that schools often have to deal with children's problems without any help."

She said schools needed to offer staff "good and regular" training.

A DfE spokeswoman said: "Disruptive or violent behaviour has no place whatsoever in the classroom. That is why we have strengthened teachers' powers to put them back in charge.

"Teachers can now issue no notice detentions, search a pupil without consent when they suspect they may be in possession of a prohibited item and changes to the system mean a school's decision to exclude a pupil cannot be reversed by an appeals panel.

"Our guidance also makes clear that teachers can use force to remove disruptive pupils from the classroom when necessary.

"Making sure teachers are fully trained to deal with any sort of challenging or violent behaviour is a core part of teacher standards."

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