Flat White

The kids aren’t alright

3 November 2017

7:41 AM

3 November 2017

7:41 AM

It’s always amusing when you provide extensive evidence of X, then some academics respond only by exclaiming “there is no evidence of X!”

In this case, my latest research report clearly showed that Australia has high levels of classroom misbehaviour compared to the OECD average and the top-performing countries. Australian school students, on average, appear to be disruptive and ignore their teachers relatively frequently.

How do we know this? The two main international datasets on education, PISA and TIMMS, both show this is the case, based on comprehensive worldwide surveys of school principals and students.

Despite the authority of these sources, academic critics claim this is not “credible evidence.” In fact, they say, Australian students are “generally cooperative and only a small percentage engage in deliberately disruptive behaviour” and “The ‘behaviour management’ concept is outdated and requires urgent reform in favour of modern research-informed perspectives from developmental psychology and behavioural science.”


Many schoolteachers would wonder in what universe — let alone what country — some university academics live. Of course teachers need to manage student behaviour; otherwise, how are teachers meant to teach?

The fact that Australian classrooms are relatively ‘rowdy’ is concerning because there is a lot of evidence to suggest that disruptive behaviour in the classroom leads to worse student results (yes, this is a statement of the bleeding obvious, and yes, we probably didn’t need dozens of dissertations to discern this).

Actually, according to a recent paper from Macquarie University researchers, school discipline is far more important than school funding in determining a country’s educational performance.

One of the underlying causes of the classroom discipline problem in Australia is that teacher education degrees do not consistently provide new teachers with evidence-based classroom management techniques, according to several recent studies. Effective classroom management practices can mitigate disruptive behaviour, but many teachers are simply unprepared in this area.

It should be obvious that the ability to manage disruptive students is an integral part of effective teaching, not some optional extra.

The education system should help teachers to be much better prepared to manage the classroom, through more rigorous teacher education degrees and professional development. We owe this to both teachers and students.

Blaise Joseph is an Education Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies and a former teacher. He is author of Getting the most out of Gonski 2.0: The evidence base for school investments.

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