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Schools lose a quarter of lesson time to misbehaviour

Schools are losing almost a quarter of lesson time to poor behaviour, a government report suggests, as leaders warn of worsening issues and a growing impact on their wellbeing.

The Department for Education has published the findings of its second national behaviour survey, which asked school leaders, teachers and pupils for their views on behaviour in their schools in both March and May 2023.

The survey found that leaders and teachers reported losing an average of seven minutes per half hour of lesson time to misbehaviour.

Dr Patrick Roach

This equates to almost nine weeks if extrapolated across a school year, up from 6.3 minutes, or just shy of eight weeks, reported in the previous year’s survey.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said the DfE’s latest report “confirms the scale and depth of the behaviour crisis that exists in our schools and that is happening on this government’s watch”.

“Ministers need to do much more than collate facts and figures about the problem – they need to take the action needed to ensure all schools are safe for both staff and pupils.”

In May 2023, 76 per cent of teachers reported that misbehaviour “stopped or interrupted teaching” in at least some lessons in the past week, up from 64 per cent in June 2022.

‘Sobering but not surprising’

The proportion of teachers reporting that more than 10 minutes of teaching time per half hour of lessons was lost to misbehaviour rose from 10 per cent in 2022, to 25 per cent last May. Losing 10 minutes of teaching time is equivalent to more than 12 weeks.

Sixty-four per cent of leaders and 74 per cent of teachers reported last May that pupil misbehaviour had had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing to any extent in the past week, up from 47 and 62 per cent respectively in June 2022.

Tom Bennett, the government’s behaviour tsar, said the data was “sobering but not surprising to those of us working with schools nationally”.

He attributed the rise to “a decades-old problems of failing to face up to the need to focus on behaviour, human nature to test boundaries, and the enormous impact of COVID, lockdowns, and the mental health crisis.”

In May last year, 82 per cent of leaders reported behaviour was either “very good” or “good” in the week before they took part in the survey, versus 55 per cent of teachers. This is down from 90 and 64 per cent respectively the year before.

Leaders were also less likely in May last year to report that their school had been calm or orderly every day or most days in the previous week (84 per cent, down from 92 per cent). For teachers the drop was from 70 to 59 per cent.

‘Lack of support from parents’

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the ASCL leaders’ union, said the “increase in poor behaviour among a minority of pupils is posing a challenge for school leaders and teachers”.

He added: “A lack of support from some parents, many of whom are facing challenges themselves, in dealing with behavioural issues only adds to the scale of the challenge.”

The survey showed the proportion of leaders and teachers reporting that parents were not supportive of their behaviour rules rose from 15 to 20 per cent.

Meanwhile, the proportion of leaders reporting being “very confident” in personally managing behaviour fell from 80 to 66 per cent between March and May 2023. For teachers, the drop was from 47 to 35 per cent.

But pupils also reported issues. Twenty-six per cent said they had been bullied at some point in the previous 12 months, up from 22 per cent. And only 39 per cent said they had felt safe at school every day in the past week, down from 41 per cent in June 2022.

Di’lasio said: “Budget constraints have severely limited the amount of pastoral support schools are able to provide, and the fact that so many teachers and leaders surveyed report not being able to access timely external support services is particularly worrying.”

Roach added “cuts to vital support, school budget cuts, and the loss of specialist staff have contributed significantly to escalating the difficulties that teachers and headteachers are having to deal with on a daily basis”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Good behaviour in schools is key to raising standards which is why we are taking decisive action to ensure all schools are calm, safe, and supportive environments and are providing school leaders and teachers with the tools to improve behaviour.”

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