Secondary teachers identify low-level disruption problems


Students not getting on with set work, not having the right equipment, and using mobile phones in lessons are among the most frequent disruptions facing secondary school teachers.

Students not getting on with set work, not having the right equipment, and using mobile phones in lessons are among the most frequent disruptions facing secondary school teachers.

Low-level disruption has been identified as a key problem by Ofsted, which says that addressing a lack of consistency in “setting and insisting on” high standards of behaviour is key to tackling the issue.

A report from the inspectorate claims that more than a quarter of teachers are wasting five minutes or more every lesson dealing with this type of behaviour.

It labels its findings as “deeply worrying” and says that “school leaders are failing to identify or tackle low-level disruptive behaviour at an early stage”.

However, reacting to the report, headteachers point out that the findings are contradicted by Ofsted’s own routine school inspections, which show that pupil behaviour is “good” or “outstanding” in 83 per cent of schools.

Furthermore, the report itself confirms that teachers are generally “very confident” about their ability to manage this type of behaviour.

The report, Below the Radar: Low-level disruption in the country’s classrooms, has taken evidence from nearly 3,000 school inspections between January and July this year, as well as two YouGov surveys of the views of 723 teachers and 817 parents.

Overall, the most common type of disruption identified by teachers was talking and chatting (69 per cent), which was far ahead of “disturbing other children” (38 per cent), “calling out” (35 per cent), and “not getting on with work” (31 per cent). However, the report reveals specific concerns for secondary school teachers, with frequent disruptions including:

  • Not getting on with the work set.

  • Not having the right equipment.

  • Technology, such as using mobile phones in lessons.

Secondary teachers also identify a greater impact on learning from low-level disruption than their primary colleagues, with 72 per cent saying it had a “medium or high impact on learning”, compared to 62 per cent of primary teachers.

The report found that 27 per cent of teachers said that more than five minutes was being spent managing this type of behaviour every lesson, including eight per cent who put this figure at 10 minutes or more.

However, 22 per cent of secondary teachers said that low-level disruption resulted in very little time in class being lost, and a further 40 per cent said that one to five minutes was being wasted.

The report adds: “The teachers surveyed were generally very confident about their ability to manage behaviour. Few teachers were ‘not very confident’ about handling disruptive behaviour and none said that they were ‘not at all confident’.”

However, the report raises concerns about school behaviour policies, which it says are often not being applied consistently across a school. Furthermore, only three in 10 secondary teachers said that their headteacher supported them in managing behaviour.

The report has identified that when behaviour is rated as less than “good” it is often the case that standards of discipline vary across the school. Inspectors have now urged senior leaders to ensure they maintain a “high profile” in their schools to help tackle this problem.

The report states: “Many teachers indicated that senior leaders were not visible or assertive enough in enforcing discipline, school rules or establishing the right ethos. 

“As a result, having the correct uniform and not chewing gum in classes, for example, were perceived as unimportant. In some cases, teachers said that senior leaders had too narrow a focus and needed to set higher expectations of behaviour, including by being visible in the classroom themselves.”

The consistency of behaviour management is also the most common area for improvement highlighted in an analysis of 95 recent school inspection reports.

Drawing lessons from schools which have been praised by inspectors for their behaviour management, the report adds that school leaders in these institutions are “uncompromising in their expectations” and “do not hesitate if students need admonishment or if parents need to be involved”.

The report continues: “In these schools, high expectations of behaviour have been spelt out by senior staff and are applied consistently, with similarly consistent responses to any pupils who engage in minor or other disruptive behaviour. 

“Staff, pupils and parents know what is expected of them and any transgressions by pupils are met with a robust response.”

Chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said: “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.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “If low-level disruption is as widespread as he says, it certainly isn’t backed up by inspection grades, which show that pupil behaviour is one of the strongest aspects in schools.

“We are not saying that behaviour is perfect all the time and that every school gets it right. However this is not just about schools. Where there are issues, parents need to take equal responsibility for making sure that children understand what is appropriate behaviour and what is disruptive.”

The report can be downloaded from



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