Behaviour in Scottish schools: 2016 research

This report is from the fourth (2016) wave of behaviour in Scottish schools research, first undertaken in 2006.

13 Conclusions and implications

13.1 The 2016 wave of the Behaviour in Scottish Schools Research shows that positive behaviour and relationships continue to be the norm in Scottish schools:

  • most staff report that they encounter positive behaviour from pupils all or most of the time
  • most staff give a high rating to the overall ethos of their school
  • most teachers are confident in their ability to promote positive behaviour in their classrooms and to respond to indiscipline
  • where there are problems, these are more likely to relate low-level disruptive behaviour than serious disruptive behaviour. Serious violent incidents are rare.

13.2 Nonetheless, there are challenges. While the most common problems might be classed as 'low-level' ( e.g. talking out of turn, hindering other pupils and work avoidance), this kind of disruption impacts on the learning of all pupils. Moreover, low-level disruptive behaviour in primary schools increased between 2012 and 2016. Many of the reasons that staff identified for this increase in low-level disruption are linked to broader societal changes -- the impact of digital technologies and changes in parenting – and there are limits to what education policy makers and practitioners, alone, can do. Addressing other aspects of the issue will require the investment of more resources (in support staff and specialist support for pupils with ASN, in particular).

Implications for policy and practice

The links between behaviour and engagement, relationships and ethos

13.3 The research confirms that behaviour in schools cannot be seen in isolation and it is inherently bound up with engagement in learning, with relationships in the classroom and around school, and with the ethos of a school. This reinforces the emphasis placed on these aspects in recent years by a range of policies and initiatives [39] .

Engagement in learning

13.4 Engagement in learning is not about which particular methods are used, it is about: using a variety of methods; adapting methods and reacting to what is working/not working; providing a clear structure; ensuring appropriate differentiation; and avoiding gaps between activities.

13.5 On top of all this, the most important element of engagement is the pupil-teacher relationship, and that includes taking an interest in, and getting to know pupils as individuals – and pupils want teachers to be happy/smiling, enthusiastic, use humour and be calm.

13.6 Considerable time for planning for engagement in learning is therefore required.

The role of parents

13.7 The role of parents is key. A number of the reasons that staff identified for the increase in low-level disruptive behaviour were linked to broader societal changes ( e.g. the increased use of digital technologies, a perceived 'blame culture' and a reduction in respect for others) and staff highlighted the role of parents in mediating the potential negative effects of these changes on their children. Other reasons given related more directly to parenting skills e.g. spending quality time together and teaching problem solving skills. At the same time, staff acknowledged the difficult social and economic circumstances faced by many parents and recognised the challenges of parenting. This reinforces the need to support and equip parents [40] .

The role of support staff

13.8 Headteachers, teachers, support staff and pupils commented on the link between positive behaviour and having sufficient numbers of support staff in class. Staff felt that a reduction in numbers of support staff, alongside an increased number of pupils with ASN (as a result of inclusion policies), had resulted in a lack of one-to-one support for pupils who need it and a wider negative impact on behaviour.

13.9 The research with support staff also indicated a need to allow them more time for discussions with class teachers about individual pupils and classroom planning, and time for involvement in whole-school discussions about approaches to behaviour and relationships. Again, this has resource implications.

Resources to support pupils with more serious behavioural problems or additional support needs

13.10 Headteachers and teachers talked about the problems of reductions in external support for pupils with more serious behavioural problems or additional support needs. They identified a need for additional support staff (as discussed above) as well as more specialist input and advice.

Broader resource issues

13.11 It is important to note that reductions in resources have not just affected resources for pupils with more serious behavioural issues or additional support needs. Resources within schools have been stretched by issues including teacher shortages, difficulties in obtaining supply cover, and the reduction in local authority support. This has had a knock-on impact on aspects which help promote positive behaviour and relationships such as SMT visibility around the school; time for class planning; and time for peer observations and sharing experiences with colleagues.


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