Schools lose a quarter of lesson time to poor behaviour – DfE survey

Leaders warn of worsening issues and a growing impact on their wellbeing

Leaders warn of worsening issues and a growing impact on their wellbeing

Schools are losing almost a quarter of lesson time to poor behaviour, a government report suggests, as leaders warn of worsening issues and a growing impact on their wellbeing.

The Department for Education has published the findings of its second national behaviour survey, which asked school leaders, teachers and pupils for their views on behaviour in their schools in both March and May 2023.

The survey found that leaders and teachers reported losing an average of seven minutes per half hour of lesson time to misbehaviour.

Dr Patrick Roach
Dr Patrick Roach

This equates to almost nine weeks if extrapolated across a school year, up from 6.3 minutes, or just shy of eight weeks, reported in the previous year’s survey.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said the DfE’s latest report “confirms the scale and depth of the behaviour crisis that exists in our schools and that is happening on this government’s watch”.

“Ministers need to do much more than collate facts and figures about the problem – they need to take the action needed to ensure all schools are safe for both staff and pupils.”

In May 2023, 76 per cent of teachers reported that misbehaviour “stopped or interrupted teaching” in at least some lessons in the past week, up from 64 per cent in June 2022.

‘Sobering but not surprising’

The proportion of teachers reporting that more than 10 minutes of teaching time per half hour of lessons was lost to misbehaviour rose from 10 per cent in 2022, to 25 per cent last May. Losing 10 minutes of teaching time is equivalent to more than 12 weeks.

Sixty-four per cent of leaders and 74 per cent of teachers reported last May that pupil misbehaviour had had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing to any extent in the past week, up from 47 and 62 per cent respectively in June 2022.

Tom Bennett, the government’s behaviour tsar, said the data was “sobering but not surprising to those of us working with schools nationally”.

He attributed the rise to “a decades-old problems of failing to face up to the need to focus on behaviour, human nature to test boundaries, and the enormous impact of COVID, lockdowns, and the mental health crisis.”

In May last year, 82 per cent of leaders reported behaviour was either “very good” or “good” in the week before they took part in the survey, versus 55 per cent of teachers. This is down from 90 and 64 per cent respectively the year before.

Leaders were also less likely in May last year to report that their school had been calm or orderly every day or most days in the previous week (84 per cent, down from 92 per cent). For teachers the drop was from 70 to 59 per cent.

‘Lack of support from parents’

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the ASCL leaders’ union, said the “increase in poor behaviour among a minority of pupils is posing a challenge for school leaders and teachers”.

He added: “A lack of support from some parents, many of whom are facing challenges themselves, in dealing with behavioural issues only adds to the scale of the challenge.”

The survey showed the proportion of leaders and teachers reporting that parents were not supportive of their behaviour rules rose from 15 to 20 per cent.

Meanwhile, the proportion of leaders reporting being “very confident” in personally managing behaviour fell from 80 to 66 per cent between March and May 2023. For teachers, the drop was from 47 to 35 per cent.

But pupils also reported issues. Twenty-six per cent said they had been bullied at some point in the previous 12 months, up from 22 per cent. And only 39 per cent said they had felt safe at school every day in the past week, down from 41 per cent in June 2022.

Di’lasio said: “Budget constraints have severely limited the amount of pastoral support schools are able to provide, and the fact that so many teachers and leaders surveyed report not being able to access timely external support services is particularly worrying.”

Roach added “cuts to vital support, school budget cuts, and the loss of specialist staff have contributed significantly to escalating the difficulties that teachers and headteachers are having to deal with on a daily basis”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Good behaviour in schools is key to raising standards which is why we are taking decisive action to ensure all schools are calm, safe, and supportive environments and are providing school leaders and teachers with the tools to improve behaviour.”

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  1. Patrick Obikwu

    Schools do not lose a quarter of learning time to poor behaviour, they lose the entire purpose for their existence to poor behaviour. A school is much more than just a place for learning. The reduction of school’s to simply learning centres is part of why education provision appears not to have a clear direction or sense of purpose thus failing children miserably.

    • Joni Rees

      Exactly. Giving Teachers “The tools to manage behaviour” is an airless gesture. Give them the extra Staff with “The tools” who can remove the problem swiftly. Give them “The Time” without the disruptions to actually teach those that wish to learn. Stop adding to Teachers workloads like it’s all their problem to fix.

  2. Veronica Walker

    I am so fed up with hearing about the fact that‘budget constraints’ are a barrier to
    Supporting pupils. Academies and Trusts are power hungry and driven by money which has lead to the wrong focus on what’s important in education. Behaviour is a way of
    Kids communicating, yet many schools are more interested in getting kids to be compliant with their coercive and controlling policies. But if the kids are not compliant then they have a behaviour issue!! Does it ever occur to these Trusts that they are fuelling persistant absence and deregistration in favour of homeschooling. My daughter didn’t thrive in a Trust school because of her SEN but she is a different child in a non trust school that does understand kids and puts them at the heart of everything they do and they don’t make the kids stand in a line everyday to check on uniform . This Government is creating a dystopian education through Trusts and it will be the next big scandal of the state system.

  3. Michael O'Loughlin

    This very worrying article ends with a quote from a DFE spokesperson claiming they are taking decisive action to equip schools with the tools they need to improve the situation.
    What decisive action are they taking exactly?

  4. J O'Brien

    Back in 1975 when I was a new teacher ( a graduate in Mathematics and Electronics) without any teacher training on one particular day I returned to school after a morning at college to find the school devoid of staff as there was an emergency meeting that had overrun. The 1st and 2nd form were running amok, damaging and fighting and taking no notice of my attempts to reestablish order so I produced a cane and walked up and down the corridor. ALL children immediately settled into their lines without me even having to raise voice and stayed that way until the staff returned upon which I was heartily thanked and congratulated for maintaining discipline. This was my 1st year of teaching. I shudder to think of the same situation today. How on earth could a new teacher handle such a situation?! Deterrent gone and not replaced.

  5. Schools have tried many strategies, I have tried numerous approaches. The failure is the societal norms that are allowed to flourish – when a practitioner will tell a child that it is okay to be a gry because their condition means they will get angry, when parents do not see education as a partnership and complain whilst taking no responsibility and when some needs/behaviours require specialists provision. It is a mixed bag – and teachers and leaders’ hands are tied by exclusion/suspension rules and data.

  6. Victoria Jaquiss

    It would help if teachers were given the freedom to teach what they thought , in their professional opinion, was of some value to the students. I would be behaving badly if what I was given to do was go over and over and over subjects that I was no good at, didn’t like, nor consider useful. If the teachers I had just become attached to kept leaving [in response to workload and inappropriate tasks to undertake]. And if the Arts were removed from my curriculum, the Arts so beneficial to emotional health and wellbeing – as long Music for instance did not consist entirely of learning an instrument, nor was “knowledge rich” and consist of, for example ten things you need to know about salsa. I would be behave badly if I reduced to being marked and graded, and expected to make endless “progress”. Sometimes you just want to be.