While the notion of low-level disruption is useful for highlighting the fact that it is this, rather than the more dramatic but isolated incidents, which typically concern most teachers and disrupt learning behaviour, it is necessary to recognise that the construct is rather ill-defined and subject to varying interpretation. Thus, it is not altogether clear where ‘low level disruption' ends and more serious misbehaviour begins. Close examination of the Elton Report, for example, suggests that it subsumes most problematic behaviour, other than gross physical and verbal assault
To read many headlines in some quarters of the national press one might be forgiven for believing that most teachers are confronted on a regular basis by students who present a serious threat of violence or intimidation. In reality, what studies and official reports (from Elton 1989 to Steer 2005/6) have consistently shown is that, for the majority of teachers, the greatest concern is not major confrontational incidents but rather frequent low level disruption.
This is no recent phenomenon. Much of the earlier pioneering work, using behavioural approaches by Wheldall, Merrett and colleagues in the early eighties had highlighted problems such as talking out of turn and moving out of seat. Their work influenced the findings of the Elton Committee (1989) which commissioned a study of primary and secondary school teachers. The Elton Report investigation found that, for many teachers, "... the flow of their lessons had been impeded or disrupted by having to deal with minor discipline problems. Pupils 'talking out of turn', 'hindering other pupils', 'making unnecessary (non-verbal) noise' and 'calculated idleness or work avoidance' were the most commonly reported forms of bad behaviour in class. 'Showing lack of concern for others', 'unruliness while waiting' and 'running in the corridors' were the most frequently mentioned forms of bad behaviour encountered during the course of teachers' duties round the school. Interviews with teachers indicated that, while they are dealing with these problems as a matter of routine, "their cumulative effects are wearing and contribute to a sense of stress and growing frustration" (pp. 61-62).
Some sixteen years later, the Steer Report (2005) echoed this theme arguing that the main issue for many teachers, even in well-managed schools, was frequent low-level disruption. The Steer Report noted that such behaviour had the effect of draining teachers, interrupted learning and helped to create a climate in which more serious incidents were more likely to occur. This reflected comments to Sir. Alan Steer in a letter from the Prime Minister (18.7.05) in which he noted that "Ofsted has reported that the biggest issue for most schools is the extent of what the inspectors call ‘low level disruption' - the backchat and disrespect which makes it so hard for teachers to teach and pupils to learn"
Relevance for teachers
It is clear that, to create a climate for learning, teachers have to prevent low level disruption and deal with any that occurs effectively. This will be their major concern in encouraging behaviour for learning.
Consequently the focus of learning behaviour approaches is on helping teachers create the relationships with pupils, with themselves and with the curriculum that will ensure engagement with, participation in and access to, learning and which will reduce low level disruption and allow teaching to go uninterrupted.
The Learning behaviour Induction Packs suggest 10 strategies - amongst the many - for teachers to adopt in order to create the conditions for positive learning behaviour without low level or other forms of disruption:
- 1. Prepare for & reinforce positive behaviour. You can't "control a class". Praise helps pupils learn to behave
- 2. Establish clear routines and rules. Pupils prefer assertive teachers who set realistic Learning Behaviour standards.
- 3. Model the behaviour using positive language. You get back what you put in. Your behaviour is a model for pupils.
- 4. Actively build trust and rapport. Pupils will respect and value praise from teachers they admire and trust.
- 5. Separate the behaviour from the pupil. Always praise or admonish the behaviour and not the person.
- 6. Use the language of choice. Pupils should be taught to understand that behaviour has consequences.
- 7. Always follow up on issues that count. Be consistent. Always mean and do what you say.
- 8. Keep the focus on primary behaviour. Avoid escalation in order to achieve the primary Learning Behaviour objective.
- 9. Use sanctions rarely and restoratively. Praise not punishment promotes Learning Behaviour. Sanctions should only be used restoratively.
- 10. Work to repair & restore relationships. Without opportunities for restoration, punishment damages relationships. (Adapted from Hook P, Vass A, 2004)
The Elton Report (1989). Discipline in Schools: Report of the Committee of Enquiry chaired by Lord Elton. London: H.M.S.O.
DfES (2005). Learning behaviour: The Report of The Practitioners' Group on School Behaviour and Discipline, DfES
Houghton, S., Wheldall, K. & Merrett, S. (1988). Classroom behaviour problems which secondary school teachers say they find most troublesome. British Educational Research Journal, 14(3), 297-312.
Munn, P., Johnstone, M., Sharp, S. & Brown, J. (2007). Violence in schools: Perceptions of secondary teachers and headteachers over time. International Journal on Violence and School, n°3, April 2007.
Hook, P.,Vass, A. (2000) Creating Winning Classrooms London. Fulton