It’s Not Just Me

June 22, 2008

In this entry I expressed my disagreement with Steer’s (2006) claim that behaviour was effectively managed and that it was rarely extreme in nature. This is the usual view of the educational establishment.

However, whenever teachers themselves are asked then the news on behaviour becomes very different:

A survey of 813 ATL members in primary and secondary state schools published in March 2008 found that:

  • 51% of teachers were dissatisfied with the behaviour policy of their school or college.
  • 64% had considered changing profession because of behaviour, and a similar proportion had seen colleagues leave because of behaviour.
  • 100% had dealt with disruptive pupils.
  • 29% had dealt with physical aggression.
  • 35.3% with physical intimidation.
  • 75.3% with verbal abuse or threats
  • 94.5% had dealt with disrespect such as “use of mobile phone in class, ignoring teacher’s requests”

A Teacher Support Network survey in March 2007 found that of 433 teachers who responded:

“92 per cent had been verbally abused by pupils and 49 per cent had been physically abused. Of those who had been physically abused, 53 per cent had been assaulted with a thrown object, 26 per cent with a ‘weapon’ such as furniture or equipment, two per cent with a knife and one per cent with a gun. The attacks included stabbing with scissors and nails, strangulation, hands trapped in doors, and one teacher had a fire extinguisher turned on them.”

A 2003 NASUWT survey of 300 schools counted 126 physical assaults, 62 sexual insults or threats and nine cases of racist verbal abuse in a ten day period.

A 2008 NUT survey found evidence of how frequently poor behaviour was encountered. The following percentages reported the following behaviour:



Not daily but at least weekly

At least once a year

Refusal to work




Inappropriate interruptions




Offensive Language




Answering back




Verbal Abuse




Damage to property




Open defiance and persistent/malicious disruption




Disruption to lessons




Unwanted physical contact




Pupil threatening violence to another pupil




Pupil actual violence to another pupil




This data appears far more shocking when you realise that it will not be evenly distributed. There will be schools that have far more than their fair share, and skills where this behaviour is rare. Certain types of behaviour will be far more common in secondary schools than primary school. For a large proportion of teachers in tough schools the disruption to teaching, and the stress and strain caused by poor behaviour is the core demand of being a teacher. All other priorities are secondary to protecting yourself, your students, and their learning from the consequences of their behaviour.


Alan Steer (chair), Learning Behaviour: The Report of The Practitioners’ Group on School Behaviour and Discipline, DFES


  1. Most teachers did not expect to be sworn at, spit on, shot, punched, stabbed, kicked or have items of furniture thrown at them when they decided to become part of the educational system. However, dealing with violent and aggressive behavior has become part of the job description. My latest book addresses students and parents bullying teachers and administrators. It is titled Attacking our Educators. The book looks at why, how, where, and what contributes to this issue. It has over 80 solutions addressing school and teacher safety. Teachers being hurt and bullied might sound like something that never happens but it does. http://www.stoppingschoolviolence.com

  2. […] of Scenes From The Battleground posts It’s Not Just Me in a British blog about teaching in tough […]

  3. When you say “dealt with”, I am inferring that the “unacceptable” or “inappropriate” behaviour was not in fact dealt with in a manner or by a means that would significantly reduce the chances of its happening the next day?

    If An Understanding Chat or An Expression of Disappointment was “dealing with”, or [oo-er] a referral to an SMT, whose distance from the real world is measurable in light years, or a voluntary detention now constitute the only means of putting a stop to vandalism, theft, assault and disruption, I don’t understand why you refer to education as a battleground. Usually on a battleground there is a semblance of parity of arms.

  4. Derek Randell, you might be interested in what PC Copperfield has to say on the subject of attacks on public service providers.

  5. Interesting results of the survey. After changing schools I few times I found out that kids are pretty much the same everywhere.

  6. The survey results are interesting and surprising only in the sense that some of the numbers are so low. I agree with Pat- it seems that a worryingly high percentage of our school now seem to be facing the same problems, namely extremely rude, anti-social and aggressive student behaviour. On a daily basis! My view continues unchanged- The so-called parents of these students need to be held responsible.

  7. I cannot see how only 56% encounter “inappropriate interruptions” daily. Either there is misinterpretation of what this means or 44% of teachers or lying.

  8. As well as teachers who have low standards about what is or isn’t appropriate, the sample no doubt includes teachers with very light time-tables or are working at schools with high expectations. It is one of those things that we talk about as normal or inevitable, but it is only normal because nothing is done about it. Even at one of the toughest schools I’ve worked in kids (in the years with a good year head) could sit in silence for assemblies quite easily.

  9. […] unreliable direct experience into the sort of general behaviour problem you hear about when you do large scale surveys of teachers. This objection to anonymity and attempts to share real-life experiences is not an uncommon […]

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