Behaviour management: Dealing with threatening comments

Weekly updates from Tom Bennett with advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management

Sadly, some of the problems I get asked about are very serious indeed. One teacher recently asked what she should do after a pupil threatened to kill her several times. Now, it may have been that the pupil was having a tantrum - although it wasn’t a primary school child - and simply said the worst thing they could think of. Motive is clearly important here, but so too is outcome and action. I know that many teachers would struggle to know what to do in the event of something so serious. In fact, the very rarity of this type of incident in mainstream schools (in EBD schools it can be much more common) makes it difficult to handle.

It is vital to have a strategy for these situations before you need one, so that you are anticipating rather than reacting to problems.

1. Never ignore behaviour like this

First of all, it is important to remember that this is a clear threat to injure, whether the student is blowing off steam or not. Any pupil guilty of this, no matter their reasons, needs to be suspended immediately pending an investigation. In the short term, somewhere must to be found where the pupil can be taught instead of in your classroom.

2. Demand that senior staff take action

Suspension would be the most suitable first step, potentially leading to a permanent exclusion, and a situation like this is not outside the realms of police investigation. At the very least, senior leadership should warn the pupil that further similar acts will lead to serious outcomes. If nothing happens to the pupil, they could assume they are free to repeat their behaviour. I have seen school liaison officers arrest pupils for stunts like this, and rightly so. There might also need to be a parental meeting with senior staff, the child and the teacher, depending on other steps taken.

3. Schools have a duty of care to all members of staff

I certainly would not allow a kid back in my room who had threatened to kill me. While no teacher has a specific right to refuse to teach, it would certainly be a matter for your union if you were required to have a potential assailant in the room. If necessary, enlist line managers and other teachers to press your case. It is likely that this student is not being like this with only one teacher.

Always, always, demand that your safety be protected.

Good luck



Tom Bennett is a teacher at Raines Foundation, a state school in inner city London. He regularly supports teachers through the TES behaviour forum and monthly newsletters on behaviour. Read more from Tom on our behaviour pages or on the @tesBehaviourTwitter account.

His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum/Bloomsbury.

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