Pupil behaviour problems are ‘widespread’ according to Norfolk and Suffolk UEA study

Pupil behaviour problems are 'widespread' according to new research conducted with teachers, pupils and student teachers in Norfolk and Suffolk.

The findings, which come in the week that pupils return to school from the summer holidays, are the result of a 10-year University of East Anglia project which researchers say shows that official conclusions on the standard of behaviour in England's secondary classrooms underestimate the scale of the problem in many schools.

The research was compiled from four studies, including a survey of 243 PGCE trainee teachers, carried out by Prof Terry Haydn from UEA's school of Education and Lifelong Learning. The survey found that more than half of student teachers surveyed about their school experiences, either as young professionals or as pupils, said they had often been in lessons where the teacher was not in complete control of the class.

Prof Haydn's research contrasts with official pronouncements on behaviour standards, for example Ofsted data shows that 99.7 per cent of schools have pupil behaviour which is described by inspectors as at least satisfactory.

Today one union echoed professor Haydn, saying the findings accurately reflected the increasingly difficult job that teachers faced in classrooms.

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The research, compiled from four main studies, included interviews with 105 classroom teachers and 13 head teachers from more than 80 schools, carried out in 2006/07.

All 13 heads indicated that pupil behaviour was at least to some extent 'an issue' in their schools. While in some schools it was not seen as a major problem, many teachers reported that at least some of their classes 'required careful handling' to keep fully under control. Comments from teachers included: 'I am very experienced and am generally accepted by the staff as someone who is good at dealing with the kids but I am finding it really difficult to cope with the number of pupils who are really serious cases, who are off the scale in terms of their behaviour.'

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Prof Haydn said: 'It should be stressed that there are many schools in the UK where the lower levels of the behaviour scale never occur. But the outcomes of the surveys I have undertaken over the past decade suggest that there would appear to be few schools in the UK where there are no deficits in the working atmosphere in classrooms.

'A second important point to note is that there would appear to be massive variations, both between schools and within individual schools, in terms of the behaviour levels prevailing. In-school variation is part of the problem. There is an important difference between classrooms in which the working atmosphere is 'satisfactory', and a classroom climate that is perfectly conducive to learning, in terms of the impact on pupil attainment.'

Prof Haydn said policy-makers should not claim that there are easy fixes or suggest that poor pupil behaviour is simply due to poor teaching or bad schools. At least part of the problem lay in factors outside schools and classrooms.

Colin Collis, Norfolk branch secretary for the NASUWT teaching union, said it could take just one or two badly behaved pupils to significantly disrupt a good working atmosphere in a classroom, and various factors such as gender, parental attitude, children's attitude to learning and even the curriculum played a part in whether a class was well-behaved or not.

He said: 'In quite a few places petty, low level disruption is harming a good working atmosphere.'

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