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Disruption report: Aus classrooms ‘among the worst in the world’

Nine sweeping education reforms have been recommended by the Senate in The issue of increasing disruption in Australian school classrooms report, released by the Education and Employment References Committee last Friday.

The inquiry found evidence-based practices should be used to teach Australian children good classroom behaviour, routines and habits as part of a push to improve school discipline.

The inquiry comes after the OECD assessed Australia’s classrooms to be among the most disruptive and disorderly in the world — ranking at 69th out of 76 school systems.

The Committee was tasked with receiving submissions and investigating the classroom disruptions issue in November 2022 after teachers were overwhelmed by disruptions.

One recommendation suggested that a national 'behaviour curriculum' should be designed to curb classroom disruptions, which would outline to students exactly what their behaviour in the classroom should, or shouldn't, look like.

Other strategies include an end to open-plan classrooms and a return to traditional school rooms, along with an increase in school-based psychologists, social workers and specialists to help identify and manage disruptive behaviour.

Disruptive behaviour includes students talking unnecessarily and calling out without permission, being slow to start work or follow instructions, showing a lack of respect for each other and staff, not bringing the right equipment or using mobile devices inappropriately.

The senate also recommended teachers receive more professional training in dealing with disruptive behaviour, especially due to increasing reports of physical harassment of teachers by students.

Some submissions to the inquiry said their teachers were being hit, having furniture thrown at them, or having their cars keyed by students. This was inhibiting them from teaching or supporting students to their full ability because they don't feel safe at work.

Although the inquiry found disturbing cases of harassment and abuse, the committee found the most common disruptive behaviour is when students, as a group, consistently disengage with their schoolwork or become idle when completing tasks.

The report also called for education ministers to issue a yearly survey to students and teachers to gauge each school's learning climate, behavioural culture and policies, and the frequency and impact of classroom disruption and the schools' responses.

The national survey scheme is used in the United Kingdom, and is seen as valuable because teachers and students are 'recipients and inhabitants of [school] culture', and know what really goes on inside the classroom.

The inquiry, headed by WA Senator Matt O’Sullivan, also recommends the introduction of classroom lessons designed to 'help students understand their school’s behavioural expectations and values, allowing them to navigate their school’s social environment successfully while ensuring that the best possible learning climate is achieved'.

The report's terms of reference said disruptions in classrooms are 'disadvantaging students and contributing to poor literacy and numeracy results for young people, denying them the learning of essential foundational skills to reach their full educational, economic and social potential'.

In response to the report, Education Minister Jason Clare on Tuesday announced new 'Engaged Classrooms' resources to help teachers manage noisy and disengaged classrooms.

The minister acknowledged many teachers who first enter the workforce don't feel prepared to handle disruptive students, something the report also outlined as an issue.

The Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) consulted with teachers and classroom management to develop the 'easily accessible evidence explainers and adaptable best practice guides'.

AERO chief Dr Jenny Donovan said this is the first of three classroom management resources to be released over time, with the others to be published in 2024.

An AERO submission to the disruptions inquiry explained that even if schools are assigned evidence-based learning regimes, sometimes teachers and principals struggle to understand and implement them.

The submission also said the Engaged Classrooms resources aim to be effective through understanding 'behaviour needs to be explicitly taught and ... treated like other elements of the curriculum ... that need to be taught, practised and retrieved so that it becomes routine.'

"Students thrive in classrooms where they are engaged in learning without distractions; where they feel safe; and where they know what is expected of them," Dr Donovan said.

"These resources offer evidence-based guidance to teachers about explicitly teaching students the expected behaviours so that all classrooms are conducive to learning.

"By refining their classroom management, teachers will see increased student focus on learning and fewer disruptions, which will subsequently enable teachers to focus more on teaching, leading to improved outcomes for all students."

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