Boys' behaviour at school is still more challenging than that of girls, but the behaviour of both is getting worse - ATL

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Press release
09 November 2016 by ATL Media Office
Boys' behaviour continues to be more of a challenge at school than that of girls, but the behaviour of both has got worse according to nearly 60% of education staff surveyed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

In an ATL survey of 859 teachers, head teachers, lecturers and support staff working in state and independent schools in the UK during March 2011, 56% of education staff said that pupil behaviour had got worse over the last five years, while 45% thought it had got worse over the past two years.

Half thought boys' behaviour had got worse over the past five years, and 48% thought girls behaviour was worse. But girls seem to be catching up, over the past two years 44% thought girls' behaviour was worse and 43% said boys' behaviour had deteriorated.

A head of department in a primary school in England told ATL: "Classes with a majority of boys tend to be louder, less co-operative and harder to teach."

While a fifth of staff thought girls' behaviour was more challenging than that of boys, 68% disagreed. In schools that have excluded pupils, 57% of education staff said that more boys have been excluded for challenging behaviour, while only 5% of staff said more girls had been excluded.

Among both sexes, low-level disruption such as talking, not paying attention and horsing around was the most problematic behaviour experienced by staff in schools and colleges (cited by 70%).

Amongst boys the most challenging behaviour was physical aggression (cited by 40%) such as pushing, spitting, kicking, and hitting. A secondary school teacher in England said: "Boys are more physically aggressive and usually to other pupils, with girls it is more name calling, less fighting."

A teacher and member of the management team in a primary school in England said: "The boys are far more willing to be aggressive to adults, verbally and even physically. There don't seem to be any parental boundaries set of what is an appropriate way to speak and deal with another adult."

For girls, most staff said bullying such as isolating another pupil from a friendship group, spreading rumours, making snide looks and comments, was the biggest problem (44%). A 34-year-old teacher from Reading said: "Girls spread rumours and fallouts last a long time. Boys tend to sort it out fairly quickly".

A learning support assistant from Crawley in Sussex said: "Girls are quicker to toe the line but instigate more low level disruption. Boys tend to explode without thinking about what or why they are doing it."

A member of the management team in a secondary school in England noticed a rise in the use of social media as a means of bullying, saying: "There is a lot of cyber bullying, particularly via MSN and Facebook - this is mainly girls."

A primary school teacher from Bedfordshire told ATL: "Boys are generally more physical and their behaviour is more noticeable. Girls are often sneakier about misbehaving, they often say nasty things which end up disrupting the lesson just as much as the boys, as other children get upset and can't focus on their work. They are usually the ones who refuse to comply with instructions."

However, some staff had noticed girls' behaviour getting worse. A teaching assistant from Weston-Super-Mare said: "Girls are definitely getting more violent, with gangs of girls in school who are getting worse than the gangs of boys."

Staff thought the main reasons for challenging behaviour within their schools and colleges were family breakdowns (62%), followed by a lack of positive role models within the home (58%) and poor emotional health (51%).

Amongst boys, 45% of staff said the main reason for challenging behaviour was bravado, followed by seeking attention from other pupils (25%), and a lack of positive role models at home (23%).

Among girls the key reasons for challenging behaviour were break-ups between friends (50%), seeking attention from other pupils, including seeking attention for popularity or sexual attention (22%), and puberty (20%).

ATL general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, said: "The behaviour of both boys and girls can pose huge challenges for those working in schools and colleges. Staff get ground down daily by the chatting and messing around, which disrupts lessons for other pupils and takes the pleasure out of teaching. Even more worrying is the physical aggression, most often among boys but also among some girls, which puts other pupils and staff at risk. Schools need to have firm and consistent discipline policies and work with parents to keep schools and colleges safe places for pupils and staff alike."


For details of the survey findings, see this press release pdf.

Notes to editors

  1. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing approximately 170,000 teachers, headteachers, lecturers and support staff in maintained and independent nurseries, schools, sixth form, tertiary and further education colleges in the United Kingdom.
  2. ATL exists to help members, as their careers develop, through first rate research, advice, information and legal advice.
  3. ATL is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). ATL is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.