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Pupil disruption in the classroom – what is the real picture?

Andrew Jenkins

A favourable classroom climate – essentially one in which there is a well-ordered and calm environment – is likely to be conducive to learning and therefore important for pupil progress. Conversely, disruption in the classroom will hamper student learning as well as being the bane of teachers’ working lives. In England official statements and publications from DfE have maintained that the extent of any misbehaviour is minimal. Yet other evidence points to substantial problems with classroom disruption and it has even been suggested that pupils in England are ‘among the worst behaved in the world’. What, then, is the real picture? Our research, recently published in BERJ (Jenkins and Ueno, 2017) used international data from a range of sources, principally the 2013 round of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS 2013), to provide new information on classroom disciplinary climate in secondary schools in England.

It has even been suggested that pupils in England are ‘among the worst behaved in the world’.

The most recent round of TALIS was conducted in 2013 with over 30 countries in the survey, and including England for the first time. Focusing on the lower secondary stage of education, it provides an invaluable international comparative perspective on teachers’ work and working environment including school staffing and leadership, teacher training and professional development, appraisal of teachers’ work and the feedback they receive, teachers’ pedagogical beliefs, attitudes to teaching and teaching practices, and the job satisfaction of both teachers and headteachers (Micklewright et al, 2014).

As part of the survey teachers were asked a series of questions about the disciplinary climate in a particular class which they taught. To better understand the prevalence of deficits in classroom climate, we used the TALIS data to assess the extent to which teachers in England perceived problems of poor disciplinary climate and to place that experience in international context by comparing with a range of other countries. The data showed that teachers in England perceived considerable disruption in their classrooms. Over a fifth of the lower secondary school teachers who participated in the survey agreed or strongly agreed that it took quite a long time for students to quieten down at the start of the lesson. Some 22% agreed or strongly agreed that there was a lot of noise in their classroom.

How did England compare with other countries on these variables? We made comparisons with averages for all countries in TALIS; with a sub-group of European countries which are likely to be culturally similar; also with a group of high-performing countries (where ‘high-performing’ was defined in terms of pupils doing well on average in PISA and other internationally-comparative tests). It turned out that the results for England on classroom climate were somewhat better than both the all-country average and the average for high-performing countries. They also tended to be a good deal better than for the group of European comparators. For example, the proportion agreeing/strongly agreeing that there was a lot of disruptive noise in the class was as low as 13% in Japan, and as high as 39% in Spain and 55% in Brazil. The proportion among teachers in England, at 22%, was lower than the average for all TALIS countries, which was 26%, and also lower than averages for high-performing countries (26%) and European comparators (28%). The TALIS evidence suggests that, in the view of teachers, there was a substantial amount of noise and disruption in lower secondary classrooms in England. But it was at, or somewhat below, the average for western European countries. These findings were broadly consistent with other international evidence, notably from recent rounds of the PISA survey. PISA, with information obtained from questionnaires completed by pupils and headteachers, provided a useful supplement to the teacher perspective of TALIS.

So, while some reports especially from official sources, have suggested that classroom disruption is minimal in schools in England, that does not seem plausible given the results from TALIS and, indeed, from a range of other sources of evidence. But the results also refute claims that have sometimes been advanced in the national press that pupils in England are among the worst behaved in the world or the suggestion that deficits in classroom climate are particular to schools in England. 


Jenkins, A., & Ueno, A. (2017) Classroom disciplinary climate in secondary schools in England: What is the real picture? British Educational Research Journal, 43/1, 124-150.

Micklewright, J., Jerrim, J., Vignoles, A., Jenkins, A., Allen, R., Ilie, S., Bellarbre, E., Barrera, F. & Hein, C. (2014)  Teachers in England’s Secondary Schools: Evidence from TALIS 2013, DfE Research Report RR302 (London,  Institute of Education, University of London).