Teachers are being forced to battle the lure of ever-improving mobile communication as they strive to hold pupils’ attention in the classroom.
The results of the Scottish Government’s Behaviour in Scottish Schools study, published last week, found the most common type of low-level disruptive behaviour in the classroom was “talking out of turn”. This was experienced at least twice a day by around 70 per cent of staff in both primary and secondary schools.
However, it is the use of mobile phones, which has steadily increased in secondary schools since 2009, that has been identified as one of the major ongoing problems.
The report was compiled from research carried out in a dozen case study schools and also involved surveys of head teachers, teachers and support staff which asked about positive behaviour, low-level disruptive behaviour and seriously disruptive/violent behaviour, both in the classroom and around the school.
Nigel Fletcher, Falkirk Council’s head of educational support and improvement, agreed with the findings contained within the report, stating Falkirk was fairly typical of what was going on in Scotland at the moment.
He said: “Of course there will be variations across the country, but it isn’t always easy to get accurate figures because some schools are more likely to report certain issues than others.
“Serious disruptive behaviour happens in a very small minority of cases and there are measures put in place to deal with that, with the most significant incidents being dealt with through exclusions.”
Listed as one of the most common types of low-level disruptive behaviour, along with “running in the corridor”, was “using mobile phones against school policies”, which is seen by 42 per cent of secondary teachers and 12 per cent of head teachers at least twice a day.
Mr Fletcher said: “Getting pupils to behave has always been part of a teacher’s job, but these days you have things like mobile phones which they didn’t have to deal with in the past.
“There is nothing worse when you are trying to get youngsters’ attention on their work and someone is texting away under the desk. Then you have the problem of pupils sending abusive messages to one another and that can also start trouble.
“However, the other side of that is these phones and devices are some of the most powerful learning tools around, so we don’t want to ban them – that’s not the way forward.
“Our schools all have different rules on mobile phones, but in general you would not have pupils using them in lessons when their attention is supposed to be focused on the teacher.
“In the future we will look at ways in which we can get the pupils to use their mobile phones in a positive way.”
The report states teaching staff voiced concern about the impact disruptive behaviour has on class learning time, particularly with regard to pupils who are focused on their work being overlooked because the teacher or classroom assistant’s time is diverted to the pupils causing the problem.
Mr Fletcher said Falkirk Council had been putting a lot of policies in place to cut down on negative, disruptive behaviour - moving towards rewarding youngsters rather than punishing them.
“The Falkirk Positive Behaviour Framework finds positive ways to encourage good behaviour without focusing on negative things like punishment. We find those measures, like punishment exercises, are not particularly effective.
“Saying we will give you more school work for misbehaving is not a positive step. We find rewarding good behaviour is far better. Curriculum for Excellence is also important – if youngsters are bored with the things they are being taught then they are more likely to misbehave.”
“We try to get youngsters to reflect on the consequences of their actions, to talk to the person they have bullied or abused, because that is a more effective way of dealing with issues.
“Teaching is all about relationships. The teacher does not beg or plead with the youngsters to learn, but they do form a relationship with pupils that makes them want to learn.
“A good teacher is someone pupils want to learn from.”