Something troubling is happening in Britain’s schools. This week, the government released its findings from the first national survey into pupil behaviour in classrooms. The results are a hard lesson to learn. But, as a teacher who has witnessed chairs being thrown and pupils urinating on teachers’ cars, it doesn’t come as a surprise.
Over 40 per cent of students say that they feel unsafe each week because of poor behaviour, according to the survey. Students have the lowest perception of how well behaviour is going in school. This suggests that teachers and school leaders have normalised lower standards and expectations, to the point that roughly six weeks of lesson time is lost due to disruption a year.
Poor behaviour also seems to have worsened in recent years. A poll of 500 primary school teachers found that, since the pandemic, 84 per cent believe attention span has shortened and 85 per cent have seen an increase in low-level disruption, such as shouting out and not being able to take turns.
This is a problem. 40,000 teachers left the profession last year – the highest since records began – and yet the government failed to meet its recruitment target by 40 per cent. Those who are in the profession are struggling; workforce data from the Department of Education shows a 60 per cent rise in teacher sick days this year.
I know all too well the burnout that comes with constantly fighting fires in a classroom. I worked for two years as a Teach First trainee on the outskirts of London for a school that had an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating for its behaviour, but the reality was anything but. Kids brought knives into school. One time I asked a girl who was being incredibly aggressive to leave; she refused, so I got the head of department, but she still refused, and so we had to move the entire class to a different room because it was unsafe to keep the rest of the pupils there while she was kicking off.
These were (relatively) extreme examples, but I was still sworn at on a near daily basis, and worn down by constantly battling pupils over the basics: sitting down in a chair, not talking over each other, writing down the date and title.