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Is pupil behaviour getting worse?

By Mark Richards,

24 Jan 2020

Most teachers who have been in the classroom for a decade or more will tell you that they believe that pupil behaviour has declined in that time.

Those that have been teaching for longer still often say that the decline in behaviour standards is even more noticeable. Of course, the reasons for this are complex.

Some commentators blame parents.

Others blame the influence and impact of digital devices.

Certainly, mobile devices can be an unwelcome distraction.

We live in a world of instant gratification and the attention span of children often seems to be lacking. Others point to the breakdown of family life and wider societal issues.

There is definitely not a single reason for the perceived decline in behaviour, but it has resulted in many schools (often Academy chains) taking something of a draconian approach to behaviour.

The success of this has been mixed. Now a new poll suggests that the situation in classrooms is actually getting worse, not better – and the problems seem to be more pronounced in the primary sector rather than the secondary sector, as most people probably imagine them to be. YouGov Poll show decline in behaviour standards If children experience difficulties at primary school, it often follows that these problems get worse as they enter the secondary sector.

Any issues that reared their head during primary school tend to stubbornly remain throughout secondary education. This is certainly true if gaps in progress develop at primary school.

Statistically, it can prove very difficult to close these gaps.

Therefore, it is worrying that, in a recent survey, more primary teachers said that pupil behaviour has got worse than secondary teachers.

Of the primary teachers questioned in the recent YouGov poll, 63% said they thought that behaviour had declined in the last 5 years.

This compares with 50% of secondary teachers. Behaviour management highlighted as a key cause of stress It comes as no surprise to learn that behaviour management was identified in the poll as one of the key factors in causing stress for teachers.

The problem is not one that is affecting only primary teachers either – all education sectors and different types of school are reporting concerns about declining standards of behaviour. This is most apparent (unsurprisingly) in pupil referral units, with 89% of PRU teachers saying that behaviour had got worse.

Even in Special Education Needs facilities, 63% of teachers felt that behaviour has declined.

Markedly, teachers of selective grammar schools and private schools reported a different picture of behaviour in schools – with 32% and 34% respectively believing that standards had declined. Sadly, the results of this survey do nothing but simply reinforce the general feeling of the teaching profession that behaviour standards continue to decline.

Put simply, classroom management continues to be a major challenge, and an increasingly difficult one for teachers to meet. Added to the other pressures that teachers have to contend with day-to-day, the constant battle that many face in the classroom can be a key driver in prompting teachers to consider a career away from teaching.     However, convincing pupils that failure is the secret to success can be a tough ask… It’s not a ground-breaking statement or anything new at all to suggest that people need to fail to succeed.

It’s the stuff of motivational quotes and speeches - a staple ingredient, in fact. The notion that to be successful at something you first need to have tasted failure is heard consistently in the world of business and sport.

And, it applies to education equally as well. Children are averse to failing and making mistakes It can often seems that pupils see failure as one of their biggest fears.

Indeed, some seem to be scared of even making a mistake – Hands up if you’ve ever seen a pupil try to rip a page out of a book because they have made a simple mistake in their work? Where the blame lies for this – the education system, continual testing, pressure from parents, teachers, peers… the truth is, in all honesty, it’s probably a combination of all of these factors.

And, apportioning blame isn’t the point of this piece. The point is: How do we help our pupils appreciate the part failure can play in achieving success at school? Allowing pupils to fail is vital to future success Allowing pupils to make mistakes and to feel what failure is like is an important part of any future success.

Of course, you should never set pupils up to fail, but giving them coping strategies and the mental strength (as well as the academic knowledge) to make improvements when they fail to reach the standard, level or grade that was expected, is vital. Fixed and growth mindsets ‘Failure’ is a word that is avoided at all costs in the vocabulary of schools today.

It is impossible to ‘fail’ exams –‘Unclassified’ is the lowest ‘grade’ that can be awarded.

However, failure is certainly something that pupils feel.

Dealing with disappointment can be difficult, yes, but often how a person respond comes down to the mindset that an individual has. If your mindset is fixed, failure is fixed and it will become a permanent fixture.

However, if you have a growth mindset and believe you can take steps to get better at something, you really can. Creating a positive mindset in the classroom is vital if pupils are to realise that failure can be a strength.

After all, nobody ever got better at something by getting things right all the time. A growth mindset allows a person to see ‘intelligence’ or academic ability as something that is fluid and not fixed.

A growth mindsetter believes they can control and change how successful they can be.

Pupils with a growth mindset see failure as a temporary setback and as an opportunity to take stock, learn and become stronger as a result.