Low-level classroom disruption hits learning, Ofsted warns

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter

Media caption,
Graham Satchell reports from a school which now has a zero-tolerance policy towards disruption

Low-level, persistent disruptive behaviour in England's schools is affecting pupils' learning and damaging their life chances, inspectors warn.

Ofsted says teachers are frustrated that those in leadership positions are not doing enough to ensure high standards of pupil behaviour.

The watchdog says some pupils could be losing up to an hour of learning each day - or 38 days a year.

Heads say the claims are not backed up by the evidence of inspections.

Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, said that "leadership is absolutely critical" in improving behaviour.

"Even in the most challenging areas," he said behaviour policies could be successful if head teachers "got out of the office" and checked up on lessons.

Media caption,
Sir Michael Wilshaw: "Heads need to get out of the office and into the corridors"

Tougher rules

Sir Michael said that inspectors were "toughening up judgement on behaviour and it is in our children's interest that we do".

"If this low level stuff isn't tackled it becomes more serious and exclusions start to rise."

Ofsted's report - Below the Radar: Low-level Disruption in the Country's Classrooms - is based on the inspection reports of a sample of 95 state schools and academies inspected between January and July this year.

This includes evidence from 28 schools that received unannounced inspections and where behaviour had previously been judged to require improvement.

The report is also based on a YouGov survey of 1,024 parents and 1,048 teachers.

The report says too many school leaders, especially in secondary schools, underestimate the prevalence and negative impact of low-level disruptive behaviour and some fail to identify or tackle it at an early stage.

Image caption,
Head teachers have rejected the warnings about too much low-level disruption

Many teachers have come to accept some low-level disruption as a part of everyday life in the classroom.

One fifth of those surveyed indicated that they ignored it and just "tried to carry on".

One in 12 secondary teachers polled said that more than 10 minutes of learning was lost per hour because of disruption.

In more than a third of the 95 school inspection reports studied, inconsistency in how behaviour was dealt with across different classes was prevalent.

Ofsted also found that inconsistencies in how behaviour policies were applied annoyed parents.

Four-fifths of the parents surveyed said they wanted the school to communicate its expectations about behaviour clearly and regularly.

'Detrimental impact'

The report says its findings are "deeply worrying".

It goes on: "This is not because pupils' safety is at risk where low-level disruption is prevalent, but because this type of behaviour has a detrimental impact on the life chances of too many pupils.

"It can also drive away hard-working teachers from the profession."

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Sir Michael challenges the "casual acceptance" of disruptive behaviour

Introducing the report, Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw said: "I see too many schools where head teachers are blurring the lines between friendliness and familiarity - and losing respect along the way.

"After all, every hour spent with a disruptive, attention-seeking pupil is an hour away from ensuring other pupils are getting a decent education.

"We need to tackle the casual acceptance of this behaviour that persists in too many schools. Classroom teachers must have the support of their senior leaders to tackle these problems."


But head teachers accused the schools watchdog of contradicting itself.

Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Brian Lightman said: "Sir Michael Wilshaw's claims about rampant poor behaviour simply don't stand up in the face of evidence from his own inspection service.

Image source, ASCL
Image caption,
Brian Lightman: Parents need to take responsibility too

"If low-level disruption is as widespread as he says, it certainly isn't backed up by inspection grades, which show that pupil behaviour is one of the strongest aspects in schools."

Parents needed to take equal responsibility for making sure that children understood what was appropriate behaviour, he added.

"Of course we want behaviour to be excellent in all schools, but to publicly berate heads and teachers for something that contradicts Ofsted's own evidence is unacceptable."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, also said Ofsted was contradicting itself.

"Reports from its routine inspections say behaviour is good or outstanding in 83% of all schools. That's not yet perfect, but it shows a massive improvement," he said.

Media caption,
Head teacher Ian Fenn: "If they get out their mobile phone it is confiscated and their parents have to come in to collect it"

"However, the comments from teachers can't be ignored. Teachers have a right to expect the support and backing of their leaders when they seek to enforce policy."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Poor behaviour damages pupils by disrupting valuable lesson time, undermining the authority of teachers and holding young people back.

"We have been clear that such behaviour should be stamped out and have given teachers the powers they need to tackle the problem."

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