Are England's pupils the world's worst behaved?

Published: 16th Apr 2014

"England 'has worst behaved pupils in the world'"

Daily Mail front page, 15 April 2014

Monday's Daily Mail front page said that England had the worst behaved pupils in the world, although the online version of the story modified this to say they were 'among' the worst.

The article was based on an academic report about behaviour in English schools, although not about how it compares to other countries. The report instead referenced separate PISA research that compared aspects of the UK's school discipline with those of other OECD members.

This data seems to be the basis of the Mail's claim, but it doesn't show that English pupils are the worst behaved in the world.  The measures the Mail cited don't tell us everything about behaviour, and they don't rank England as the worst performers.

In fact, just using PISA data to rank the performance of countries can be problematic.

The report found that disruption is a problem in English classrooms

The research used surveys and interviews with students and teachers in English schools. It found that even small amounts of disruption in the classroom can negatively affect pupil attainment, and that this is a problem affecting many of the schools that the inspection body Ofsted have judged to be 'satisfactory'.

The report's argument is that this means official estimates underestimate the impact of misbehaviour on pupils' ability to learn.

What the study doesn't look at is how behaviour in the schools compares internationally.

PISA does not tell us how England ranks for bad behaviour

The report points to PISA data from 2009 that showed 74% of children in the UK reported that 'their teachers never or rarely have to wait long for them to quieten down'. This put the UK at 32nd out of 65 international education systems.

So this doesn't substantiate the Mail's claim that the UK is the worst in terms of behaviour. In fact, on this measure the UK performed better than the OECD average.

And while classroom quietness may be related to disruptive behaviour more generally, it is not the only measure of bad behaviour.

PISA also looks specifically at 15 year-old pupils, meaning its findings might not apply to English classrooms as a whole. The rankings can also be volatile where the performance of countries is similar - five other countries had the same proportions of pupils reporting class disruptions as the UK, yet placed either above or below the UK in the rankings. We've covered these issues in our spotlight on PISA.


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