Bad behaviour in the classroom is costing pupils up to an hour of learning time a day, a damning report from the schools watchdog has revealed.
Some forms of “low level” ill-discipline such as chatting, calling out without permission, swinging on chairs, passing notes around and using mobile phones are “very common” in schools in England, Ofsted found.
Surveys of teachers indicated that pupils are potentially losing up to an hour of learning each day because of this kind of disruption – the equivalent to 38 days of teaching lost per year, Ofsted said.
It warned that the problem has a “detrimental impact on the life chances of too many pupils” and could drive hard-working teachers from the profession.
Headteachers also faced criticism after the “deeply worrying” report concluded that too many school leaders, particularly in secondary schools, “underestimate the prevalence and negative impact of low-level disruptive behaviour”.
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education Sir Michael Wilshaw, who ordered the report, said: “While the days of chaos in the classroom are thankfully largely behind us, low-level disruption in class is preventing too many teachers from doing their jobs and depriving too many young people of the education they deserve.
“I see too many schools where headteachers are blurring the lines between friendliness and familiarity – and losing respect along the way.
“After all, every hour spent with a disruptive, attention-seeking pupil is an hour away from ensuring other pupils are getting a decent education.
“If we are going to continue to improve our education system to compete at the highest levels, we need to tackle the casual acceptance of this behaviour that persists in too many schools.
“Classroom teachers must have the support of their senior leaders to tackle these problems. It isn’t rocket science. Children need to know the rules and teachers need to know they will be supported in enforcing them.”
In the last year schools serving almost 450,000 pupils have been judged below good for behaviour. “That is far too many,” Sir Michael said.
The report drew on evidence from nearly 3,000 inspections of maintained schools and academies conducted this year, findings from surveys of parents and teachers and 28 unannounced inspections targeting schools where there were concerns about poor behaviour.
Two thirds of teachers questioned for the survey complained that school leaders are failing to assert their authority when dealing with poor discipline and pupils flouting the school rules, Ofsted said.
The report said: ” This report demonstrates that, in too many schools, teachers are frustrated by this sort of behaviour and are critical of colleagues, particularly those in leadership positions, who are not doing enough to ensure high standards of pupil behaviour.
“Some school leaders are failing to identify or tackle low-level disruptive behaviour at an early stage. Some teachers surveyed said that senior leaders do not understand what behaviour is really like in the classroom.”
Teachers and parents agreed that the most common form of low-level disruption was idle chatter unrelated to work, with some saying it occurred in almost every lesson. It was identified as a problem by more than two in three teachers (69%) and almost half of parents surveyed (46%).
Other examples of poor discipline reported by teachers were: d isturbing other children (38%), c alling out (35%), n ot getting on with work (31%), f idgeting or fiddling with equipment (23%), n ot having the correct equipment (19%), p urposely making noise to gain attention (19%), a nswering back or questioning instructions (14%), u sing mobile devices (11%) and swinging on chairs (11%).
The report revealed differences between the most common problems identified by primary and secondary teachers.
Those teaching younger children identified calling out, disturbing other pupils and fidgeting with equipment as the most prevalent issues, while secondary teachers singled out not getting on with set work and not having the correct equipment.
Teachers had varying views on the amount of learning time lost through disruption. Just over a fifth of secondary teachers said it resulted in very little lost time in class, but a quarter thought it wasted at least five minutes every hour, while one in 12 said more than 10 minutes of learning was lost every hour.
The situation in primary schools is “less acute, but still concerning”, the report published today said.
It concludes that in the best schools “creating a positive climate for learning is a responsibility shared by leaders, teachers, parents and pupils”.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said there was no evidence of a crisis.
“Ofsted is contradicting itself. Reports from its routine inspections say behaviour is good or outstanding in 83% of all schools. That’s not yet perfect but it shows a massive improvement.
“What is the explanation for these contradictions? Firstly, Ofsted have changed the definition of behaviour. It would help if they had been clear about that and given the system time to clear the new hurdles. It is not ‘failure’ when you are asking more of people.
“We also feel that Ofsted are intentionally adding a note of fear and uncertainty across the education system, seeking to contradict the Department’s attempts to rebuild the shattered confidence of teachers and leaders.
“Ofsted is appearing to set education policy rather than inspect the implementation of policy – and the Department should be wary of ceding such powers to unelected officials.
“However, the comments from teachers can’t be ignored. Teachers have a right to expect the support and backing of their leaders when they seek to enforce policy. School leaders must work with all staff to ensure a school’s behaviour policy is upheld consistently in each classroom and throughout the school.
“Our members aim to support their staff and set high standards, recognising discipline is needed to create a positive climate for learning.”
He also claimed ” continued overreach adds to the evidence that Ofsted has reached the end of the line in its current incarnation”.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Poor behaviour damages pupils by disrupting valuable lesson time, undermining the authority of teachers and holding young people back.
“We have been clear that such behaviour should be stamped out and have given teachers the powers they need to tackle the problem.
“As a result, more teachers say behaviour in their school is good or very good than when this government came to office, and recent figures show the number of pupils persistently missing class is down by almost a third since 2010. We are making good progress but there is of course more still to do.”