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Must do better - NZ students among worst behaved kids in OECD: report

Benjamin Plummer,
Publish Date
Thu, 28 Mar 2024, 7:06AM
Photo / 123rf
Photo / 123rf

Must do better - NZ students among worst behaved kids in OECD: report

Benjamin Plummer,
Publish Date
Thu, 28 Mar 2024, 7:06AM

New Zealand school students are among the worst-behaved kids in the OECD and behaviour has worsened in the last two years, a new report has found.  

A report released by the Education Review Office (ERO) this morning has called for classroom behaviour to become a priority and a more “national approach” to worsening behaviour.  

“We know that disruptive 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,” ERO’s Education Evaluation Centre head Ruth Shinoda said. 

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

As a result of the report’s findings, the ERO has made 16 recommendations, including better training for teachers, a national approach to behaviour and clear guidance for schools on having effective consequences for poor behaviour. 

The report found that behaviour issues are “particularly severe” in larger schools and poorer communities. 

At least 40 per cent of teachers from schools in low socioeconomic communities see challenging behaviour such as damaging or taking property at least every day compared to compared to 23 per cent from schools in wealthier communities. 

“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,” Shinoda said. 

The Education Review Office has raised extreme concerns about the behaviour of students at schools in low socioeconomic communities and larger schools. Photo / ThinkstockThe Education Review Office has raised extreme concerns about the behaviour of students at schools in low socioeconomic communities and larger schools. Photo / Thinkstock 

The disruptive behaviour is “badly impacting” students and is associated with negative life outcomes, ERO reported. 

“Experiencing stand-downs is linked to other longer-term outcomes such as unemployment, offending, and poor health.” 

The younger a student’s first stand-down, suspension, or exclusion, the more likely they are to receive a benefit, have a lower income, have a greater number of admissions to emergency departments, offend, or receive a custodial sentence. 

“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. 

It was found that disruptive behaviour in classrooms is also badly affecting teachers across the country, with half of teachers saying it has a large impact on their intention to stay in the profession. 

Less than half of new teachers (45 per cent) report being capable of managing behaviours in the classroom in their first term. 

One recommendation from the ERO suggested increased recruitment of “more mature Initial Teacher Education students who are better able to manage behaviour”. 

Education Minister Erica Stanford says improving student behaviour is critical to lifting achievement and ensuring every student receives a world-class education. 

“Having a world-class education system is important for children and their futures and is essential for long-term economic growth.” 

Education Minister Erica Stanford. Photo / Alex BurtonEducation Minister Erica Stanford. Photo / Alex Burton 

Stanford said the Government is “already actioning” two recommendations by the ERO to improve student behaviour by banning cell phones in classrooms and looking at how to improve teacher training. 

The report noted that 51 per cent of teachers said device use reduced the ability to concentrate and may be one of the causes of worsening behaviour. 

“We want students to focus on learning and achieving and getting rid of cell phones in classrooms is one of the best ways to do this... Today’s report tells an important story of what is happening in schools and importantly it tells us some of the changes we have introduced will work,” Stanford said. 

The Education Minister added she was interested in the ERO’s recommendation for a national approach to prevent, notice and respond to challenging behaviour in school effectively. 

“Making sure every child, no matter where they live in New Zealand, receives a world-class education is a priority for this coalition Government and is a key component of our Better Public Services approach.” 

Last year, an OECD survey of 15-year-olds gave New Zealand the bottom score among developed countries for classroom behaviour and one of the worst of the 81 participating nations and territories.  

Secondary Principals’ Council chair Kate Gainsford said the ERO report’s findings would sadly come as no surprise to anyone working in a school.  

“Principals and teachers have reported a significant increase in behavioural incidents and issues in the classroom and school grounds have increased significantly over the last few years. Our schools are a mirror of our communities and the issues being experienced in our communities are brought to school by young people every day.”  

The report comes after Ministry of Education figures showed schools stood down pupils 25,167 times in 2022, the highest number in more than 20 years of records. 

The figure was equivalent to almost 3.3 stand-downs for every 100 students, the highest rate on record by a narrow margin. 

Gainsford said while the scale and complexity of social issues had increased, schools were expected to do more, but without a corresponding increase in resources. 

“It’s not all about money for schools, it’s about service and a workforce to provide the necessary service.” 

Gainsford said schools endorsed the report’s call for a consistent set of expert supports and programmes. 

“We need more investment in effective support to help the better management of behaviour, including timely access to mental health professionals for young people who need this. Parents, young people and schools need this, and the call for this has not seen a corresponding movement in pace or volume of service provision.” 

ERO’s findings supported the Secondary Principals’ Council 2021 report on the staffing of schools, which highlighted issues with insufficient provision of government resourcing for pastoral care and the negative impact, particularly in larger schools. 

Benjamin Plummer is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He has worked for the Herald since 2022. 

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