Disruptive Behaviour in Classroom Past, Present and Future

Disruptive Behaviour

Research defines disruptive behaviour as any behaviour that inhibits a faculty member's ability to conduct the class or limits other student's ability to benefit from instruction [1]. Classroom disruptions are the pattern of repeated behaviour that significantly interrupts the learning of others or threatens their personal security or well-being. It has now been established, with a degree of certainty, that there is a strong link between effective classroom management and the teaching and learning process [2]. The ability of a teacher to handle classroom disruptions is given a key priority in observations of teaching and learning conducted by the regulators. In a recently published survey, Ofsted reports that “low-level disruptions are a major issue depriving too many young people of the education they deserve”. They believe that the “low-level classroom disruption hits learning” and their statistics reveal that “the students are losing up to an hour of learning each day because of bad behaviour” [4]. Ofsted suggests that “the teachers are not doing enough to tackle unruly behaviour” in their classes [4].

The History

In order to devise an effective strategy against classroom disruption, it is important to understand the history of this phenomenon. The conflict in the classroom has been part of education since its inception and various examples of incivility in the classroom dating back to the 13th century could be quoted from the literature [5]. In the 13th century, the University of Bologna was established in response to conflicts among students, faculty, merchants, and politicians. Literature also reports instances of students physically attacking the professors when their grades did not meet their expectations [5]. A bishop in the Episcopal Court of Paris was quoted as describing his students’ attitude as “they attend classes but make no effort to learn anything” [5].

Based on the research of Ivan Pavlov in the late 19th century [6], some remarkable theories in behaviourism were presented in the first half of the 20th century by Thorndike, Watson, Skinner, and Clark [7, 8, 9, 10]. The research in humanism by Maslow and Carl in 1940s laid the foundation stone of an entirely new era in classroom management [11, 12]. Similarly, the work of Jacob Kounin towards the end of the 20th century is considered unraveled among the pedagogists and practitioners [13].

The Present

There has been a recent surge in classroom discipline issues in the UK, as reported in another survey conducted in the further education establishments [15]. The survey reveals that 79% of the staff complained that the students talked in class, would not pay attention, and messed around during the lectures. Some 68% added that students were disrespectful and ignored their instructions. 55% said they had dealt with verbally aggressive students and a fifth with physically aggressive students. The survey also reveals that 42% of the teachers taking part in a survey have suffered from stress and almost a quarter had lost confidence at work.

Besides its impact on teaching and learning and meeting regulatory standards, disruptive behaviour has critical consequences in terms of the morale and mental well-being of the teachers. A survey in [14] has revealed that 70% of the teachers have considered quitting because of badly behaved pupils. More than 90% believe that classroom behaviour has worsened during their careers. More than a third took time off work, over 40% tried to move to another establishment, and 81.2% reveal that they have experienced stress, anxiety, or depression.

The Future

Despite this being known to us for centuries, why could we not devise effective strategies to cope with this issue? The core answer lies in human psychology. Fundamentally, every human is different, thus, there can be no single strategy working with all the students in all classroom situations. Moreover, the ever-evolving variables in form of physical, environmental, social, and more importantly, technological factors behind these disruptions will require pedagogists to consistently work on developing and updating behaviour management strategies. Legislative expectation in context of the Duty of Care, and conformance to regulatory requirements, including tackling issues around equality and diversity, will be another challenge for teachers to undertake in the future.

Research Trends

Some of the key areas in research in behaviour management include the study of human psychology and mental health issues, analysis of physical, environmental, and social factors behind disruptions, inception of technology, equality and diversity issues in context of disruptive behaviour, policy and legislation, professional development for educators, teaching methodology, and differentiation in teaching, learning, and assessment.  


[1] University of Arkansas , Disruptive Behaviour Policy, 2007. Available from www.ethics.uark.edu/information-for-faculty-and-staff/what_is_disruptive_behavior.php

[2] Brophy, J. E., & Evertson, C. M., Learning from teaching: A developmental perspective, Allyn & Bacon Publishers, 1976.

[3] Katherine Sellgren, Low-level classroom disruption hits learning, Ofsted warns, BBC News Report, 2014, Available from www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-29342539

[4] Graeme Paton, Ofsted: an hour of teaching each day lost to bad behaviour, Daily Telegraph News Report, 2014, Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11119373/Ofsted-an-hour-of-teaching-each-day-lost-to-bad-behaviour.html

[5] Holton, S. A., It’s nothing new! A history of conflict in higher education, New Directions for Higher Education, 92, pp11-18, 1995.

[6] Pavlov, I. P., The work of the digestive glands. London: Griffin, 1897.

[7] Thorndike, E. L., The elements of psychology. New York: A. G. Seiler. 1905

[8]Watson, J. B., Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 20, 158–177,1913.

[9] Skinner B. F., The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis. New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1938.

[10] Hull, C. L., Principles of behavior: An introduction to behavior theory. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1943.

[11] Maslow, A. H., A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-96, 1943.

[12] Rogers, C. R., Significant aspects of client-centered therapy. American Psychologist, 1,  415-422, 1946.

[13] Kounin, Jacob S., Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms. Huntington, N. Y., 1977.

[14] Mark Townsend, Massive rise in disruptive behaviour, warn teachers, The Guardian News Report, 2013, Available from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/mar/24/schools-disruptive-behaviour

[15] Andrew McCorkell, Seven out of 10 teachers want to quit, survey shows, 2010, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/seven-out-of-10-teachers-want-to-quit-survey-shows-2096257.html

About the Blogger

Muhammad Adeel holds a PhD Degree in Electronic Engineering from Queen Mary University of London. He has a teaching experience of over 12 years in Higher, Further, and Vocational setups. Adeel has over 40 research publications to his credit in domains of Computing and Engineering, Management and Leadership, and Education. His current research interests in the field of Education include leadership in higher education, behaviour management, and psychology of teaching and learning.


  • Date 2016-07-07
  • Author Muhammad Adeel
  • Subject Education
  • Views 1776

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