Primary school teachers report decline in pupil behaviour with damaging effects for their mental health and ability to teach

New research released today by the UK’s leading charity for teacher well-being, the Teacher Support Network, shows primary school teachers reporting a worsening of pupil behaviour over the last five years. The poll of teachers reveals over half (53%) of primary school teachers say they have seen worsening behaviour, compared with only 46% of secondary school teachers.

The YouGov poll of 481 primary and 321 secondary school teachers also highlights the impact poor student behaviour has on teacher well-being

  • Nearly two thirds (62%) of primary school teachers said that poor behaviour has resulted in stress, anxiety or depression.
  • Over a third (37%) of primary school teachers say they’ve thought about the leaving the profession as a result of behaviour problems.
  • Almost one in four (38%) teachers complained that behaviour is preventing them from teaching effectively.

The Teacher Support Network is now calling on the Government and primary schools to ensure staff are provided with the adequate training and support needed to cope with increasingly challenging pupil behaviour. The charity also provides free teacher resources, such as ‘Managing Pupil Behaviour – A Practical Guide’, which offers teachers useful strategies for managing behaviour in their classrooms, differentiated for primary and secondary teaching.

Commenting on the findings Julian Stanley, Chief Executive of the Teacher Support Network, said:

“Many people think bad behaviour is at its worst in secondary schools but in fact our research highlights that primary school behaviour is declining at an alarming rate. When bad behaviour prevents teachers from doing their jobs, pupils cannot listen and learn properly. In primary schools, where a class and teacher are paired up for the whole year, poor behaviour can have a really detrimental effect on teaching standards. It is driving valuable teachers away from the profession and damaging the morale and mental health of many others.
“Behaviour management is best when teachers, school leaders and parents come together to create policies that meet the needs of both students and teachers. If we want to hold on to the best primary teachers we must ensure they are adequately trained and supported to tackle bad behaviour effectively.”

Case Studies

Sandra, primary school teacher in London
“In my 20 years’ experience as a primary school teacher, I have seen children’s respect for teachers drop and naughty behaviour on the rise. There is so much regulation and so many constraints, teachers have lost their voice and often their control of the classroom too. Classes are large and can be unruly, with bullying, personality clashes and little discipline. Teachers are afraid to seek help from their colleagues because they are afraid of looking like they are not able to manage. We need to do more to empower teachers – they need support from their senior teams, their headmasters and from authorities at large.”

Jayne, a retired primary teacher said:
“Many social factors contribute to behaviour problems in primary schools: family difficulties, lack of stability at home, peer pressure and ever-growing class sizes. Teaching in primary schools is getting more difficult but there are ways to help. Building good relationships and knowing your pupils can help a great deal. Talking to children and involving them in establishing their own rules and boundaries can transform behaviour and improve learning. It takes time and effort to become a good teacher who can manage a difficult classroom, but no one is beyond this set of skills.”

Marie, a teacher, said:
“Having worked in both primary and secondary schools throughout my teaching career, I have seen first-hand the decline in pupil behaviour particularly within some primary schools. There is often simply no escape from unruly behaviour in a primary classroom and constantly focussing on the misbehaviour of a few, prevents effectively teaching the whole class. There needs to be clear guidelines and procedures in place in every school that enables teachers to get support when they need it and suitable training to manage the classroom appropriately.”