A disruptive atmosphere


Many schools underestimate the effect that low-level disruption has on a class – in fact, the most common form of poor behaviour is low-level disruption.

In 2014, Ofsted published findings of surveys into low-level disruption in schools. These surveys showed that pupils are potentially losing up to an hour of learning each day due to low-level disruption – equivalent to 38 days of teaching lost per year.

To combat low-level disruption, schools need to have robust behaviour expectations that are communicated to, and understood by, all staff, pupils and parents. This article discusses leaders’ responsibilities for tackling low-level disruption, plus strategies to help teachers in the classroom.


Understanding low-level disruption


Generally, low-level disruption involves the following:

  • Talking unnecessarily or chatting
  • Shouting out without permission
  • Being slow to start work or follow instructions
  • Showing a lack of respect for other pupils and staff
  • Not bringing the right equipment
  • Using mobile devices inappropriately

Individual instances of this kind of behaviour may seem minor, but if it is consistent throughout a lesson, l, teachers must stop to intervene – meaning pupils miss out on learning.


Senior leaders’ responsibilities


A positive learning environment should be a shared responsibility between parents, pupils, teachers and leaders; however, senior leaders are responsible for determining the school’s behaviour policy and ensuring it is well-communicated and understood.

Leaders should:

  • Be visible in classrooms, corridors and around the premises generally.
  • Know if, and where, low-level disruption occurs and ensure that all staff members know how to deal with it.
  • Have high expectations of behaviour and be consistent in dealing with disruptive pupils.
  • Explain and enforce their expectations successfully and consistently to staff, pupils and parents.

An emphasis should be placed on involving parents in setting high expectations of behaviour – parents are key to building a positive learning atmosphere that is intolerant of disruptive behaviour. Leaders should maintain regular communication with parents, and ensure their teachers do too – including the following:

  • Setting strict behaviour expectations for both parents and pupils on how pupils are required to behave
  • Helping parents of disruptive pupils to understand why it is important that they seek support from the school
  • Providing feedback to parents regularly on their child’s learning and giving guidance techniques to improve discipline at home
  • Engaging with parents often to bring the learning culture into the home


What should teachers do?


Rules and procedures


Rules should be clearly stated for behaviour expectations to be understood. It is well-known that classrooms work best when rules have been put in place through collaboration between teachers and pupils, as pupils understand why the rules are needed and are more accountable for their actions.

Try the following methods:

  • Make sure rules are created and are communicated positively, rather than a list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’
  • Make sure rules are justified, so it’s clear why they are in place
  • Discuss rules with the whole-class and seek their involvement – negotiate with pupils to get their commitment
  • Display rules throughout the classroom, e.g. using posters
  • Regularly review rules with pupils and encourage them to devise their own rules and take ownership of them
  • Remind pupils of any relevant rules before a potentially disruptive activity
  • Encourage and develop team working and define team rules
  • Ask pupils to regularly review their behaviour against the expectations
  • Make sure your classroom rules are linked to the main aspects of low-level disruption


Teacher-pupil relationships and managing the classroom


A balance between dominant and cooperative is the best way to achieve effective classroom management. To do so, make sure you:

  • Negotiate ground rules.
  • Set goals and assessment criteria.
  • Set learning objectives.
  • Set specific behaviour objectives.

Being authoritative doesn’t necessarily mean shouting at pupils. Low-level disruption often creates a lot of noise in the classroom, and a teacher shouting only adds to this. Be clear with instructions, maintain eye contact and address pupils calmly but firmly. When giving sanctions, address pupils by firmly saying their name, remain calm and avoid raising your voice – this is usually better than addressing the whole class as a group. It may take a few minutes to get the desired response, but stick with it until the whole class complies.

Having pupils line up outside of the classroom before entering is a good way to assert authority without having to speak at all – they understand to wait for instruction before doing something, i.e. entering the classroom. When pupils enter the classroom, teachers should greet them positively. A good rapport with pupils is essential for building respect and preventing behavioural issues.

Sometimes, all it takes is proximity to a pupil to influence behaviour. If teachers know the pupils who are more likely to disrupt the class then, when giving instructions, they should stand close to them. They will be more likely to pay attention if the teacher is in close proximity to them and this can often deter them from misbehaving in the first place. 

Seating plans are perhaps most pivotal to tackling low-level disruption. Make sure potentially disruptive pupils are not sat next to one another, but seat them close enough to the front of the class for you to easily monitor their behaviour.

Make use of pre-starter activities which are set up on pupils’ desks when they enter the classroom. Not only does this focus their minds on something the minute they sit down, but clear instructions can be provided straight away and prevent any delay in starting activities. Activities should be varied too, i.e. paired and group learning, and activities that involve both listening and talking – this keeps things interesting, means pupils are stimulated that they are more likely to stay on task.


What’s next?


Review your school’s Behavioural Policy to ensure expectations and disciplinary procedures are clear. Make sure this is communicated to, and understood by, all staff, pupils and parents.

Use our Behaviour Management Meet and Brief Pack to provide teachers with the confidence to manage behaviour problems and clarity on the procedures your school has in place.




Education Support Partnership (2016) ‘Managing pupil behaviour’

Ofsted (2014) ‘Below the radar: low-level disruption in the country’s classrooms’

Rogers, T., (2018) ‘Low-level disruption: 6 ways to stop the rot’ <https://www.tes.com/news/low-level-disruption-6-ways-stop-rot> [Accessed: 5 October 2018]