A recent survey of UK teachers suggests that girls’ bad behaviour is becoming more of a concern in the classroom than boys’. But is it true, and how does it impact on their work?

Our blog ‘Are Girls Smarter than Boys?’ produced a record number of views and comments, proving that this has always been a hot topic in education. In that blog, we asked why girls consistently out-perform boys in examination and test results, and considered whether the answer could be that they were simply more academically intelligent! A lot of research and many heated comments later, we concluded that the skewed statistics are more likely to be the result of girls maturing earlier and being a little more conscientious about school work and revision than boys, particularly at a young age.

So does this new information about girls’ behaviour turn those conclusions on their head? Boys have always traditionally been considered more likely to play the prankster in class than girls, who are usually considered more likely to be hard-working and well-behaved. But according to the new survey, of 859 members of the Teachers and Lecturers Association, those on the front line of classroom discipline believe that girls’ behaviour has worsened more than boys’ over the past two years.

Teachers taking part in the survey also highlighted the differences between ‘bad behaviour’ in the two sexes, with more physical aggressiveness and fighting being attributed to boys,whilst girls were more likely to be accused of “bullying…making snide looks and comments”. One teacher said “girls spread rumours and fallouts last a long time…boys tend to sort it out more quickly.” So perhaps the long-term, war of attrition favoured by naughty girls allows them time to get on with their school work in between, whilst brawling boys are too busy scrapping to read their books?

Certainly the statistics do not show any deterioration in girls’ examination superiority to imply that this worsening of behaviour is having a negative effect on their academic attainment. So perhaps what is most worrying about this survey is not so much the difference between the sexes, but rather the overwhelming sense that teachers believe classroom behaviour overall is getting worse and worse every year. With the ever increasing implementation of checks and limits on teachers, many have accused the government of “turning a blind eye” to the problem and leaving educators helpless to create a disciplined environment in which to teach effectively. Even a Department for Education spokesperson admitted that “teachers can’t teach effectively and pupils can’t learn if discipline is poor or there is continual low-level disruption”.

So just why are school-children getting naughtier, and what can be done to give power back to teachers? Many blame the modern digital age, where children are raised glued to television, Gameboys and social networking sites, with electronic interaction increasingly replacing actual face-to-face engagement with other children. Others claim that the influence of increasingly rude and violent media, from rappers to songs to expletive-ridden video games is to blame. But surely all this is in the hands of the parents who send these children to school? These are all elements that may be carefully monitored and policed by parents, but over which teachers have very little control. Why should children behave badly and refuse to respect their teachers if they arrive in a disciplined and polite frame of mind? Whilst the government promises “we’re giving teachers tough new powers and underlining their clear authority to crackdown on badly-behaved pupils”, it seems that the problem might be most effectively solved by shifting the focus a little closer to home.