Bored girl sitting in class

Pupils can become disruptive if teachers use psychological pressure

A study by researchers at the University is expected to help teachers identify specific reasons for different types of pupil withdrawal in the classroom.

The study, which was led by Dr Stephen Earl from the University’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, discovered that psychological pressure from teachers can contribute to disengagement amongst teenage pupils under 14. Active disengagement behaviours include talking and making noise, with daydreaming in class amongst the more passive disengagement behaviours.

It also discovered that although most teachers may pressurise pupils with the well-meaning intention of engaging them, it may have the opposite effect and actually promote disengagement. Such pressure includes threats of punishment or controlling language – e.g. ‘do this because I say so’ – without providing any explanation.

Other findings from the study, which was conducted across three secondary schools in Kent, include:

  • pupils who were made to feel incapable of being successful reported less energy in class and were rated as passively disengaged by teachers
  • pupils who felt forced to do activities in class were reported to disengage either actively or passively

The research is published in the journal Learning and Instruction as ‘Autonomy and competence frustration in young adolescent classrooms: Different associations with active and passive disengagement’ (Stephen R. Earl, Carla Meijen and Louis Passfield, University of Kent; Ian M. Taylor, Loughborough University).