This briefing provides information and advice to members on incidents of large-scale pupil disorder in schools and how these incidents should be addressed and prevented
NASUWT members have recently reported a growing number of incidents of large-scale pupil disorder in their schools. This disorder is driven by messages shared between pupils on TikTok and other social media platforms.
While the circumstances of each incident vary, they all appear to share some common characteristics. In particular, they include incitement by pupils to other to misbehave collectively by disrupting lessons, refusing to obey reasonable staff directions and walking out of school buildings without permission. These incidents have frequently been accompanied by the use of abusive language towards school staff and other pupils.
In many cases, the disorder is described online by pupils as a ‘protest’ against a specific school rule or expectation of conduct. Examples include rules prohibiting or limiting the use of toilets during lesson times or aspects of the school’s uniform policy. A key aim of the incidents appears to be to capture footage of disorder for later sharing through social media platforms.
The number of pupils participating actively in such incidents varies but reports of up to 400 pupils being involved in disorder have been made in some instances. Some schools have felt it necessary to request the intervention of the police to restore order.
Schools where incidents have not taken place
While the number of schools where such incidents have been reported remains relatively small, it is highly likely that at least some pupils in every school are aware that such incidents have been taking place, as footage has been very widely shared online.
As a result, a strategy based on not discussing or mentioning these issues with pupils in schools where no such incidents have yet taken place is unlikely to be effective. Staff in many of the schools where incidents have occurred appear to have been surprised by disorder on this scale among their pupils.
The NASUWT recommends that schools engage proactively with pupils to address these issues directly. Pupils should be reminded clearly and consistently that such behaviour is never acceptable and that behaviour policies allow for sanctions to be used against any pupil found to have been actively inciting such behaviour or participating in it.
Pupils should also be reminded that if they are aware of any plans to instigate such disorder, that they should inform a member of staff so that appropriate preventative action can be taken. Schools should set out their behaviour expectations to parents and carers and reassure them that all possible steps are being taken to prevent the occurrence of such incidents.
Schools should remind parents, pupils and carers of existing legitimate channels for raising concerns or complaints, such as the school complaints procedure or through discussion in pupil forums such as the school council.
The school should have a zero-tolerance policy for pupil misconduct and indiscipline that places the wellbeing and safety of others at risk or undermines the right of pupils and staff to learn and work in a safe, respectful and orderly environment.
Given the role of social media in many recent incidents of large-scale disorder, schools that have restrictions on the carrying of mobile phones by pupils on site should restate these expectations clearly and enforce them.
Schools that do not have such policies in place should consider their implementation as a matter of urgency. Every school will have arrangements in place to allow parents to contact their children or to make contact with parents during the school day if necessary. Pupils should not be permitted to carry mobile phones on site for these purposes.
Schools where incidents have taken place
The first priority during any incident of large-scale pupil unrest is to take all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of staff and pupils who are not participating in disorder.
Schools should have critical incident policies and procedures in place that are frequently practised and reviewed. Where disorder is taking place in communal areas, pupils should be instructed to remain in their classrooms until directed otherwise to ensure that they are kept safe and away from sites of disorder.
Incidents that involve large groups of pupils who are refusing to follow instructions from staff to desist from inappropriate activity present a significant risk to themselves and to others. If disorder involves physical violence, risk of injury or damage to property, the police should be called to assist in restoring order.
Extreme caution should be exercised in the direct use of physical restraint by staff. Even if staff have been trained in the use of physical restraint, it is highly unlikely to have addressed its safe and proportionate use in cases of large-scale disorder.
The ability of schools to operate safely depends on a reasonable expectation that pupils will follow instructions given to them by staff, particularly where critical incidents arise, such as a fire alarm.
Following an incident of large-scale disorder, schools will need to risk assess whether pupils are willing to follow such instructions. Where the police have been called, their advice should be used to inform this assessment.
If it appears that a significant proportion of pupils are not yet able or willing to follow the reasonable instructions of staff, it may be necessary to consider closing the school for the rest of the school day. Schools will already have in place policies and procedures to deal with enforced closures during the school day as part of their critical incident planning.
It should not be automatically assumed that following such an incident, schools will ‘return to normal’ on the next school day.
Depending on the circumstances, it may be necessary to phase the return of pupils to school so that expectations of behaviour and conduct can be reinforced and so that staff can be assured that pupils are able and willing to follow directions.
Schools might judge that this reinforcement may be more manageable and effective if undertaken with sections of the pupil population rather than with all pupils on site at the same time.
It is essential that schools take action to address pupil misbehaviour during incidents of large-scale disorder. This should include the use of sanctions and interventions as permitted by school behaviour policies.
Where proportionate and necessary, schools should contemplate the use of suspensions or exclusions where behaviour has given particularly significant cause for concern. The use of suspension or exclusion should be subject to the professional judgement of the headteacher.
Schools should not demur from suspending or excluding pupils as a result of misplaced concern about the impact of such action on their published exclusions and attendance data.
Such incidents also give rise to safeguarding concerns in respect of the physical and psychological wellbeing of pupils. Regardless of school type, local authorities have responsibilities in this respect for all pupils and local authority engagement should be sought to address any issues or concerns.
Staff responsible for these areas of school management should be given such additional time and resources necessary to discharge their responsibilities following large-scale pupil disorder.
Incidents of this nature can be extremely disturbing for staff. Action to tackle the causes and consequences of pupil misconduct of this type will assist in re-establishing staff confidence in their school’s management of pupil behaviour, but additional support should be made available to those members of staff who may have been particularly affected by large-scale pupil disorder.
Following an incident, schools should review their behaviour policy and practice as a matter of urgency, giving particular attention to the role that may have been played by pupils carrying mobile phones on site.
The NASUWT’s advice and guidance on the development and review of school behaviour policies may be helpful in this respect.
NASUWT support and next steps
Every member of school staff has a right to work in a safe and orderly environment and a legitimate expectation that their employer will take all possible steps to secure and maintain such an environment.
There can be no excuse for the types of behaviour addressed in this advice. The incidents that have taken place are not ‘protests’, but unacceptable disorder.
The NASUWT will intervene robustly to protect members’ interests in any school that is failing to do all it can to keep its staff safe and to secure and maintain positive pupil behaviour.
We are also pressing ministers to ensure that schools have the resources and support from Government they need to prevent and address such incidents.
Members who are concerned by incidents of large-scale pupil disorder or the management of behaviour in their schools generally, should seek support and guidance from their Local Association or National Executive Member in the first instance.