Is pupil behaviour getting worse?


Julian Stanley examines new research that shows behaviour is getting worse in primary schools. What does that mean for the future of secondary school teachers?

We recently surprised many by revealing that more primary teachers than secondary report seeing a worsening of pupil behaviour over the last five years. The poll of teachers reveals over half (53 per cent) of primary school teachers say they have seen worsening behaviour, compared with only 46 per cent of secondary school teachers.

The YouGov poll of 481 primary and 321 secondary school teachers also highlighted the impact poor student behaviour has on teacher wellbeing.

For primary teachers, 62 per cent said that poor behaviour has resulted in stress, anxiety or depression, 37 per cent have thought about leaving the profession as a result of behaviour problems, and 38 per cent complained that behaviour is preventing them from teaching effectively.

Although secondary teachers did not perceive behaviour to have worsened to the same extent as those in the primary sector, the poll did identify some worrying trends – 42 per cent said they had been unable to teach as effectively as a result of poor behaviour, 36 per cent said they were at risk of losing control, while 41 per cent said they had considered leaving the profession.

So what do these findings mean for those in secondary education, particularly at a time when education secretary Michael Gove is calling for teachers to get tough on bad behaviour?

Worryingly, 63 per cent of those who responded to the survey said that they had experienced stress, anxiety or depression due to their students’ behaviour. 

Yet is this only the beginning? Could there be worse to come? Indeed could the survey results of primary school teachers be a warning to secondary school teachers?

If, as the results suggest, behaviour is increasingly a problem in primary schools, and if it is left unaddressed, then surely student behaviour will become more of a problem for secondary teachers too. This will inevitably have a further impact on teaching standards, results and the welfare of staff. It could also, we see from the survey, lead to more teachers considering leaving the profession, with the consequent loss of talent at great expense to the taxpayer and to the profession as a whole. 

Yet why are more teachers feeling less and less able to manage behaviour in their classroom? We know from the Teacher Support Network Support Line that many new teachers feel ill-equipped to tackle behaviour in the classroom. Meanwhile, we know from previous surveys, that more experienced teachers bemoan the lack of CPD in this area. Indeed, one survey found that 62.5 per cent of teachers feel additional training to challenge behaviour is essential to improving pupil behaviour.

So what can be done to tackle behaviour? Government and primary school leaders must ensure staff are provided with the adequate knowledge and training, as well as to identify support mechanisms to help address challenging pupil behaviour at primary and secondary level.

What we know is that behaviour management is at its best when teachers, school leaders and parents come together to create robust and a consistent framework that establishes clear boundaries and expectations, as well as appropriate sanctions.

Given the importance of this topic, Teacher Support Network has produced a free teacher resource entitled Managing Pupil Behaviour – A Practical Guide, which offers teachers useful strategies for managing behaviour in their classrooms, differentiated for primary and secondary teaching. It can be downloaded for free from our website.

  • Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).



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