Behaviour in Scottish Schools 2012

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4 Serious disruptive behaviour/violence

Summary

  • Serious disruptive behaviour was much less common than low-level disruptive behaviour.
  • Serious disruptive behaviour was more commonly directed at other pupils rather than staff.
  • Overall, heads and support staff encountered similar levels of serious disruptive behaviour and both were more likely to see this than teachers.
  • In general, those working in the secondary sector were more likely to encounter serious disruptive behaviour than those in the primary sector, with the exception of physical aggression and physical violence.
  • On the whole, serious disruptive behaviour has been decreasing over time. However there are a few specific behaviours that saw an increase. In particular, all staff groups had seen an increase in the abusive use of mobile phones from 2009 to 2012.

Introduction

4.1 Staff were given a list of 15 serious disruptive behaviours and asked how frequently they had occurred in the classroom and around the school in the previous full teaching week before the survey. The results for the primary and secondary sectors are discussed in turn.

4.2 Overall, serious disruptive or violent behaviour in the classroom was much less common than low-level disruptive behaviour. We mainly report on the percentage of staff who had encountered a behaviour at least once in the previous week. However, where there are sufficient numbers to explore the differences at a more detailed level we do so. It must also be borne in mind that these results relate to the number of incidents and not the number of pupils. While there may be several incidents in a school in one week, they may only involve a single pupil.

Serious disruptive behaviour/violence in the primary classroom

4.3 It was more common for serious disruptive behaviour in the classroom to be directed at other pupils than at staff. The most frequently encountered behaviours in the classroom were 'physical aggression towards other pupils' and 'general verbal abuse towards other pupils'. The most common form of serious behaviour directed at staff members was 'general verbal abuse towards you/your staff' (Figure 4.1) (Table 22).

Figure 4.1 Serious disruptive behaviour/violence in the primary classroom

Figure 4.1 Serious disruptive behaviour/violence in the primary classroom

4.4 The least common behaviour was 'pupils under the influence of illegal drugs/alcohol'. No staff from the primary sector had observed this in the classroom in the previous week. There were also very low levels of sexist, racist or homophobic abuse towards staff (Table 22).

4.5 Both primary heads21 and support staff22 encountered more serious disruptive behaviour in the preceding week than primary teachers.

Serious disruptive behaviour/violence around the primary school

4.6 Serious disruptive behaviour around the school followed the same pattern as behaviour in the classroom23. It was less common for primary staff to see serious disruptive behaviour than low-level disruptive behaviour. When serious disruptive behaviour was encountered, it was mostly directed at other pupils as opposed to staff. (Figure 4.2) (Table 26).

Figure 4.2 Perceptions of serious disruptive behaviour around the school in the previous week

Figure 4.2 Perceptions of serious disruptive behaviour around the school in the previous week

Bases: primary heads n = 314, primary teachers n = 876

Personal experience of serious disruptive behaviour in the primary school in the previous 12 months

4.7 Staff were asked if they, personally, had experienced abuse (including verbal abuse) or violence against them in the previous 12 months. Twenty-seven per cent of primary heads, 19% of primary teachers and 23% of primary support staff had experienced some form of abuse or violence in the previous 12 months.

4.8 The most common form of incident was 'verbal abuse towards you (i.e. threatening remarks)', followed by 'physical aggression towards you (e.g. by pushing, squaring up)' and 'physical violence towards you (e.g. punching, kicking, head butting, use of a weapon)'. It was very rare for primary staff to say they personally experienced racist abuse, sexist abuse or homophobic abuse in the previous 12 months (Table 28).

4.9 It was most common for incidents involving primary heads to be followed up with a restorative meeting, while for teachers and support staff it was most common for incidents to be followed up with 'feedback on the incident' (Table 31). While the questionnaire provided no further information on what feedback was provided, staff comments from the questionnaire pilot suggest that they perceived this to be feedback from the head or the senior management team (SMT).

4.10 Primary heads and teachers reported similar levels of satisfaction with how the incident was followed up (77% of heads and 73% of teachers were 'very' or 'fairly satisfied' with the way it was handled). A lower proportion of support staff were satisfied with the way the incident was handled (58%) (Table 32).

Impact of serious indiscipline/pupil violence in primary school

4.11 In general, primary staff perceived serious disruptive behaviour to have a much lower impact on their day-to-day school experience than low-level disruptive behaviour24. This is perhaps unsurprising given the fact that it was much rarer. The serious behaviours that were thought to have the greatest impact (both in the classroom and around the school) were 'physical aggression towards other pupils' and 'general abuse towards other pupils' (Table 23 and 27).

4.12 Staff were also asked about the overall impact of serious disruptive behaviour/pupil violence on the performance of their school. The majority of primary staff felt it had little impact. Eighty-three per cent of primary heads, 73% of primary teachers and 65% of primary support staff thought this type of behaviour had little impact on the performance of their school25 (Table 48).

Comparisons with 2006 and 2009

4.13 For all primary staff, the frequency of encountering serious disruptive behaviours/violence in the classroom either declined or stayed the same between 2006 and 2012, with the exception of an increase in the proportion of primary heads' experiencing 'general verbal abuse towards you/your staff'. However, this change was only significant between 2006 and 2009, suggesting that it may have levelled off in the last three years. Interestingly, across all staff groups there was a decrease in physical violence towards other pupils between 2006 and 2012, but again most of this change took place between 2006 and 2009, with no significant change between 2009 and 2012.

4.14 Similarly, primary heads and teachers generally encountered either less or the same amount of serious disruptive behaviours/violence around the school between 2006 and 2012. Notable exceptions to this were primary heads' experiences of 'general verbal abuse towards you/your staff' and 'physical aggression towards you', which increased between 2006 and 2009, but had levelled off by 2009-2012 (resulting in no overall change between 2006 and 2012).

4.15 Among all staff groups, there had also been no change since 2009 in the proportion who personally experienced some form of abuse or violence in the last 12 months.

4.16 For more detail on these findings, please see Annex 7.

Serious disruptive behaviour/violence in the secondary classroom

4.17 The most common forms of serious disruptive behaviour in the classroom seen by secondary staff were: 'general verbal abuse towards other pupils'; 'general verbal abuse towards you/your staff'; and 'physical aggression towards other pupils'. (Figure 4.3) (Table 22).

Figure 4.3 Serious disruptive behaviour/violence in the secondary classroom

Figure 4.3 Serious disruptive behaviour/violence in the secondary classroom

4.18 Overall, secondary heads26 and support staff27 were more likely than teachers to encounter serious disruptive behaviour in the classroom in the previous week.

Serious disruptive behaviour/violence around the secondary school

4.19 Secondary heads and teachers said that the most common forms of serious disruptive behaviour around the school were 'general verbal abuse towards other pupils' and 'physical aggression towards other pupils'. In general, secondary heads were more likely to encounter serious disruptive behaviour around the school than teachers28. (Figure 4.4) (Table 26).

Figure 4.4 Perceptions of serious disruptive behaviour around the school in the previous week

Figure 4.4 Perceptions of serious disruptive behaviour around the school in the previous week

Bases: secondary heads n = 254, secondary teachers n = 2026

Personal experience of serious disruptive behaviour in the secondary school in the previous 12 months

4.20 Staff were asked if they, personally, had experienced abuse (including verbal abuse) or violence against them in the previous 12 months. Thirty-five per cent of secondary heads and teachers and 26% of secondary support staff had experienced some form of violence or abuse in the previous 12 months.

4.21 The most common serious behaviour was 'verbal abuse towards you (i.e. threatening remarks)', followed by 'physical aggression towards you' (e.g. pushing, squaring up). It was extremely rare for secondary staff to say they personally experienced any other kind of abuse or violence in the previous 12 months. Among those staff who had experienced some form of abuse, the most recent incident was most likely to have been 'verbal abuse towards you' (Table 28).

4.22 It was most common for an incident involving a head to be followed up with a formal meeting. Among teachers and support staff the most common outcome was 'feedback on the incident'. While the questionnaire provided no further information on what feedback was provided, staff comments from the questionnaire pilot suggest that they perceived this to be feedback from the head or the senior management team (SMT) (Table 31).

4.23 Overall, the majority of secondary staff were satisfied with how the most recent incident they experienced was handled. However, secondary heads were more satisfied than secondary teachers or support staff (87% of secondary heads, compared with 61% of secondary teachers and 56% of secondary support staff were very or fairly satisfied) (Table 32).

Impact of serious indiscipline/pupil violence in secondary school

4.24 Secondary teachers and support staff did not rank the impact of any of the serious disruptive behaviours highly29. This may be because these incidents are, in fact, relatively rare. The serious disruptive behaviour thought to have the greatest impact in the classroom was 'general verbal abuse towards other pupils' (Table 23 and 27).

4.25 The majority of secondary heads and teachers thought the serious disruptive behaviour/pupil violence had little impact on the performance of their school. Eighty-six per cent of secondary heads, 60% of secondary teachers and 47% of secondary support staff thought this type of behaviour had little impact on the performance of their school30 (Table 48).

Comparisons with 2006 and 2009

4.26 Across most of the categories for serious disruptive behaviours/violence in the classroom, there had been a decline from 2006 to 2012 across all staff. However, secondary heads saw a rise between 2006 and 2009 in:

  • 'sexist abuse towards you/your staff'
  • 'general verbal abuse towards you/your staff'
  • 'physical aggression towards you'

4.27 By 2012 this had levelled off, but was still at a significantly higher level than in 2006.

4.28 The other notable finding was that secondary teachers and support staff had seen a rise in using mobile phones abusively in the classroom between 2009 and 2012 (question not asked in 2006).

4.29 Similarly, the general picture of serious disruptive behaviours/violence around the school was one of improvement between 2006 and 2012, but again, secondary heads saw a rise between 2006 and 2009 in the three categories of serious disruptive behaviour listed above. Once again, this had levelled off by 2012, but was still higher than it had been in 2006. Secondary heads also saw a rise in 'using mobile phones abusively' around the school between 2009 and 2012, but there was no change for secondary teachers in this regard.

4.30 There has also been an increase in secondary heads' personal experience of physical violence in the last 12 months: 3% (8 of 257) of secondary heads had experienced this in 2012, compared with 1% (3 of 246) in 2009. While an increase in physical violence towards secondary heads is a very serious matter, and should be monitored, it must be borne in mind that the absolute number of incidents is very small and is therefore subject to fluctuation when comparing two time periods. Physical violence is one out of six types of serious disruptive behaviour examined. For the other five, there was no evidence of change between 2009 and 2012 among secondary heads. Therefore, the change seen in the level of physical violence towards secondary heads does not appear to reflect a wider trend.

4.31 For more detail on these findings, please see Annex 7.