New Zealand's classroom behaviour 'worst in the OECD' – ERO report

Disruptive and even violent behaviour in New Zealand classrooms is at critical levels, according to new research from the Education Review Office (ERO).

A report released on Thursday revealed the "rapidly growing problem" that's not only getting in the way of learning, but teachers are also being put off the profession.

Ruth Shinoda, head of ERO's Education Evaluation Centre, said classroom behaviour is a significant and persistent issue in New Zealand.

"Over the last 20 years our classroom behaviour has been amongst the worst in the OECD," she said.

"But we also know it is getting worse, with over half of teachers saying all types of disruptive behaviour has become worse in the last two years.

"ERO is extremely concerned that a quarter of principals told us they are seeing students physically harm others, and damage or take property at least every day."

The ERO found 74 percent of teachers say they've seen behaviour get worse in the past two years, less than half of new teachers say they're well prepared to manage disruption, and 25 percent of principals say they see physical harm, property damage or theft every day.

The report found disruptive classroom behaviour was badly impacting students' achievement and enjoyment of school.

Three-quarters of teachers said bad behaviour was impacting on students' progress and two-thirds said it was having a large impact on students' enjoyment of school, which is key to attendance.

But it's not just impacting students.

About half of teachers said classroom behaviour had a large impact on their intention to stay in the profession.

Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault told AM on Thursday he wasn't surprised by the report findings.

"It certainly has been an increasing problem," he said.

"At the lightest end of the scale, I suppose it's you haven't brought the right gear or you haven't done your homework, right, which is generally something that a classroom teacher should be able to manage and deal with themselves.

"Then the higher end stuff of that is… the harm to somebody else, harm to property, harm to self – which is right at the more acute end."

Couillault said we needed to step up as a society.

"I don't think there's a big push in terms of 'it's the teacher's fault', actually it's an issue we're dealing with in society and actually everyone needs to step up."

Speaking from a secondary school perspective, he said students were with them for six hours a day - the rest of the time they're with other adults in their lives.

"It's a bit of a cliché but it takes a village to raise a child.

"Schools don't teach fighting, they don't teach swearing, they don't teach theft either so none of those things are being taught in early childhood centres, primary schools or secondary schools across the country, in fact, quite the opposite.

"We're trying to teach pro-social behaviour and grow good humans."

Couillault said educators needed some external agency support.

Shinoda said ERO had produced an evidence-based good practice guide with practical actions schools could take. She said it captures the great approaches teachers are already adopting.

"But schools can't do this alone, they need support and parents play a key role too.

"We need a national approach to how we manage behaviour in our schools so our kids can get the best out of their education. We need to increase support for teachers, alongside setting clear expectations from all of us about what good behaviour looks like so we can prevent and respond to this challenge effectively."

Education Minister Erica Stanford told AM on Thursday the Government had moved to ban phones in schools as it was part of the problem.

However, she was concerned about other findings, including the lack of preparedness of new teachers.

"So, we've got some work to do."

Stanford said overall the findings themselves weren't surprising, but the scale of it was.

"We're also very keen to take a look at their [ERO's] recommendation, and I think this was the most important one, about setting a national baseline standard for expectations and consequences so that there is that nationwide consistency.

"It doesn't need to get any worse, you know, we're the worst in the OECD so we've got some things to do. We're going to be looking at the recommendations and working out which ones we can implement quickly and which ones we're going to start working on."