New research from the Education Review Office (ERO) has found that disruptive behaviour in New Zealand’s classrooms is worse than other countries, is a rapidly growing problem, and is getting in the way of learning. 

Ruth Shinoda, head of ERO’s Education Evaluation Centre, said more than half of teachers surveyed for the report claimed all types of disruptive behaviour have worsened over the past 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,” she said in a statement. 

Challenging behaviour in classrooms could also exacerbate the teacher shortage currently plaguing the sector, with half of the teachers saying it has a large impact on their intention to stay in the profession.  

According to the ERO, teachers aren’t always set up and prepared to manage disruptive behaviour.  

“Less than half of new teachers told us they could manage behaviours in the classroom,” Shinoda said.  

“And far too often when teachers and principals do seek support and expert advice, it is difficult to access.” 

President of the New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) Leanne Otene said the report made for sobering reading and highlighted what principals have been saying for years. 

Otene welcomed ERO’s recommendation for greater investment in effective support and said that the lack of professional educational psychologists, specialists and therapists was long overdue. 

Until the issue is addressed, she said in a statement, schools will continue to struggle and have their classes disrupted. 

“The time lag to provide the specialists must be filled by instigating a system of smaller classes and increased teacher aide staff,” Otene said. 

Mark Potter, president of NZEI Te Riu Roa, also welcomed the recommendation for investment in learning support, and called on the Government to create a ten-year learning support investment strategy in consultation with the education sector, to prioritise learning support for students with challenging behaviours. 

“We want all tamariki and their teachers to thrive in our education system. That is going to take more than online guidance for teachers or manuals on physical restraint,” Potter said in a statement. 

The ERO report shows disruptive classroom behaviour is having a negative impact on student progress and attendance, with two-thirds of teachers saying it is having a large impact on students’ enjoyment of school. 

“We also know that we need to do all we can to prevent and tackle behaviour problems early – students who are stood down, suspended or excluded are at greater risk of not succeeding in education and having worse outcomes as an adult,” Shinoda said. 

To support schools, ERO has produced an evidence-based good practice guide with practical actions schools can take to address behaviour, but Shinoda urged that schools can’t do this alone. 

“...they need support and parents play a key role too,” she said. 

“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,” Shinoda added. 

Otene hopes to see the Luxon Government step in. 

“This Government is focused on evidence-based data and here it is in black and white,” she said.  

“I expect that, as with the cell phone directive, the Government will move with urgency on these findings.”