Disruptive behaviour in school


Emotional Behavioural Difficulties (EBD)


Definitions and Types


How would you define disruptive behaviour in 50 words or less?


A child who deliberately makes a fuss in class and prevents learning


Disruptive behaviour is when a child is uncooperative and prevents themselves and other children in class from working.  A disruptive child also manages to grab a teacher’s attention and prevent the teacher from giving the other children attention.


Behaviour that distracts a teacher and other pupils from learning.


Cooper (1996)

Emotional Behavioural problem

Young person

Interferes with their personal, social and/or educational development.

Psycho-social problems

Deviancy and delinquency

Low self-esteem



Acting out behaviour

Bio-psychosocial nature

ADHD (Attention Deficit hyperactivity Disorder)




Charlton and David (1993)

Verbally or physically

Covertly challenges

Varying degrees

Variety of ways

The authority of the teacher or the school.


How would you create a checklist designed to measure disruptive behaviour?



Garner and Hill (1995)

Prevents children’s participation in educational activities

Isolates them from their peers

Affects other pupils

Reduces opportunities for involvement in ordinary community activities

Excessive demands upon teachers, staff and resources

Places the child or others in physical danger

Makes future placement difficult




How teachers define disruptive behaviour


Daniels et al 1999


Pupil behavioural enquiry form

Scale of 1-4

1 No cause for concern

2 Mild cause for concern

3 Moderate cause for concern

4 Serious cause for concern


5 areas


Who has EBD?


Elton committee (DES 1989) concluded that behavioural difficulties are not increasing.

But school exclusion statistics give a different story.

2,910 in 1990/1

12,000 in 1995/6 (Parsons 1996)

12,298 in 1997/8 – boys 84%

Black Caribbean’s had the highest rate and Chinese had the lowest.

Local authority children are excluded 10 times as much (ONS 2000).

Refer back to Special Ed Needs notes for diagnosis.  Remember it is difficult to agree upon the criteria.




Pack report (SED 1977)


Ogilvy (1994)

  1. Child
  2. Home/Community
  3. School


Reybekill (1998) – EBD pupils blamed individual teachers and their teaching styles.

Teachers blamed pupils and their upbringing.  Their families and peers.

Social desirability – self-serving bias


Ogilvy suggests that we need to take into account many factors and the way they interact.


Categories of causes


  1. Behavioural: Reinforced behaviour.  Observational learning.
  2. Psychodynamic: unresolved conflicts dating back to early childhood.
  3. Bio-psychosocial: ADHD or Autism.  Biological.  Difficulties in socialisation.  Undiagnosed dyslexia.
  4. Eco-system approach: individuals belong to a set of sub-systems.  School is a sub-system.  Labelling a child from past behaviour.
  5. Complex interaction.


The cause would suggest the intervention.

Preventative measures and corrective measures.

When do teachers intervene?


Psychodynamic approach


Attachment theory (John Bowlby – Maternal deprivation)


Proximity-seeking attachment


Emotionally charged demands for attention


Screams, tantrums or severely withdrawn behaviour.


Appropriate childcare – not neglectful nor over-protective.  Child needs to develop a sense of security and well-being.

Confidence to adopt socially acceptable behaviour.


Regression – child returns to an earlier form of behaviour.


Child as they grow up still show early forms of behaviour.


Contrasts with their peers.


Psychodynamic interventions.


Teacher must respond to the child at the level the child displays.  Provide structures, level of control, accept emotional behaviour, encouragement to move on. (Bennathan 1997)


Similar to Vygotsky – Zone of Proximal development and scaffolding.


Nurture groups ILEA 1970’s Marjorie Boxall, educational psychologist.

Based on attachment theory (Bowlby 1965). 

4 or 5 year olds

Mainstream schools

Registration with other children and then taken to nurture group room.

Nurture room – tables, chairs, sofas, cushions and eating area.  Very homely.

10 to 12 children.

One year in nurture group.

Then rejoin mainstream education.


Advantage (Bennathan 1997) – these children would otherwise fail in a mainstream environment and would need otherwise to be offered a special placement (Separate school).


Friendly places.




Rules are made clear and are rehearsed.

Personal relationship between teachers and pupils; improves communication.


It is hoped that through the discussions the child realises the meaning and consequences of their behaviour, realise they have choices and begin to develop inner controls (Cooper and Lovey, 1999)


Evaluation of Nurture Groups



Causes – Bio-psychosocial


Underlying physiological or biological condition.

Medical intervention

Barkley (1988) ADHD – Key brain circuits that do not develop.

Altered genes.

LaHoste et al (1996) dopamine receptor gene D4 is more prevalent in children with ADHD.

PET scans show specific areas that function differently.




Lack of attention – falling behind educationally – poor self-esteem – labelled


Anti-social behaviour.


Bio-psychosocial interventions


Ritalin – psycho stimulant


70%- 90% improve


Child less impulsive


Less easily distracted


Less restless


Other effects – Improves memory – ability to store information.

More academically productive.

Better self-control (Barkley 1998)


Evaluation of Ritalin


Diagnosis of ADHD


Family difficulties and emotional problems – inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.


Difficult to diagnose and many children will be prescribed Ritalin when it is not needed.


Ritalin is short acting.  Does not build up in the bloodstream.

Multiple doses

Works after 20-40 minutes.

Maximum effectiveness after 90 minutes.

Children growing so dosage constantly needs to be assessed.

Over-dosage means highly sedated.


Some children – rebound hyperactivity

When dosage wears off they are worse.

Children become more hyperactive than if they had not taken the Ritalin.


Long-term effect – paranoia – everybody is out to get them

Occurs in 2% - occurs in adolescence.


Psychological dependency.


Whalen and Henker (1991) individual interpret their medication as a reflection of a continuous need for chemical assistance in order to sustain personal competence and control.  Negative effect on developing a sense of self.

Converse argument – the drug provides a window of opportunity.


But Ritalin is not enough on its own; a multidisciplinary approach is needed.


Presumed causes: Behavioural


Vicious circle


·       Child presents difficult behaviour – hits another kid

·       Adult punishes – tells the child he is a useless vicious thug, sent out.

·       Child is rewarded with attention – any attention is better than no attention

·       Child becomes the baddie

·       This leads to more difficult behaviour


Break the cycle by giving lots of attention to the child when behaviour is good.


Behaviourist interventions and evaluation


Pay attention to good behaviour (Daniels et al. 1999)

Skinner’s idea – reinforced pigeons and rats in his skinner box.

Negotiate the rewards with the student so the rewards are seen as desirable.


Given for achieving clear targets. (Contingency contracting).

Fairness (Daniels et al 1999)


Problem is that other ‘good’ students perceive the treatment of ‘bad’ students as unfair, in that the ‘bad’ students seem to be getting rewarded for little effort.


Conflict of needs of the individual versus the need to be fair to all (Daniels et al 1999)


Inform others about the need to ignore minor misdemeanours of the problem children. Students can be understanding and tolerant. (Daniels et al 1999).  But consider ethics of this.


Eco-systems approaches


Set of social sub-systems

Behaviour is a result of interactions within and between these sub-systems

‘Disruption is a school-generated problem’ (McGuiness and Craggs 1986).

Frozen perceptions of students according to past behaviour. (Molnar and Lindquist 1989).

We need to acknowledge the mismatch between subsystems and re-frame the behaviour.

Avoid blame and conflict.


Disruptive behaviour – ways forward


Daniels et al (1999) – Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties in Mainstream Schools.


Good practice – ten schools


  1. Good teaching – Matching teaching to learning style, having high expectations, motivating students, offering support sensitively.
  2. An appropriate curriculum that the students can access.
  3. An effective behaviour policy: policies were written, known, and an emphasis on living the policies.
  4. Staff who are able to learn by their actions.  Staff discussed concerns. Share ideas.  Reflect on what went wrong.  Learn from previous situations.  Develop effective practices.
  5. Key staff that understand the nature of emotional and behavioural difficulties.





Homework question

Section B question

 a) Describe what psychologists have found out about children who cause problems in schools (10)

Describe the causes that are evaluated in part b.


b) Evaluate what psychologists have found out about children who cause problems in schools (16)

(a)           Psychodynamic – Catch it early

(b)           Biological (Physiological) – Diagnosis, Ritalin

(c)           Behavioural - Fairness

(d)           Cognitive / Humanist – Eco-systems – school rules have to apply to everybody, large organisation. Difficulty of tailoring an individual program.

Cross reference – Eco-systems / Behavioural approach - similar– labelling – Oak school experiment

Reductionist – biological, psychodynamic, behavioural

But Eco-systems approach is not reductionist

(c)         A child called Phil will not sit in his seat for more than 5 minutes.  Using your psychological knowledge, suggest how Phil’s out-of-seat behaviour may be modified.  Give reasons for your answer (6)

Bio-psychosocial –Ritalin

Behavioural – praise for sitting