Ask Tom

Teacher, TES Connect blogger and behaviour expert Tom Bennett puts on his agony uncle hat and answers your education questions

I am a supply teacher and I recently went to a school where the class teacher's notes stated that one of the children was "autistic and a nightmare". Having then spent two days with this five-year-old pupil, and having extensive experience of working with autistic children, I can say with some confidence that he is not autistic but bored and poorly managed. He is going to be tarred with this label throughout his time at that school. Should I say something?

A teacher, via email to

You might be one of the most important people in this child's life. Yes, do say something. Find out who assessed this pupil and what the official investigation was that resulted in this decision. Then, if you feel it's wrong, challenge it and ask for it to be struck from his record, because this will haunt the boy as he grows through school. It's not just the mums and dads that mess kids up, to paraphrase Larkin.

Our new headteacher is gradually observing every teacher in the school. Thus far she has found "serious concerns" with every one, but our last Ofsted report was good and inspectors had no concerns about these teachers. I am up next and I'm expecting the worst. No one has challenged her yet - people are worried about coming across as troublemakers - but if I get the same treatment, I think I will. Is this the right decision? Or should I just let her make her "strong" entrance and forget about it?

A teacher, via email to

You absolutely should challenge if she comes to a conclusion you really disagree with. For a start, even Ofsted has revised its guidelines to indicate that observers can't make a meaningful judgement of an entire lesson after a short observation - and assessing teaching is just as fraught. Research by Robert Coe, professor in the School of Education at Durham University, suggests that many observations are very far from accurate and, worse still, fail to show any positive impact on teaching. So speak up. After all, we are professionals.

Should we be setting homework over the summer holidays? I teach a Year 4 class and the Year 5 teacher has asked me to send pupils home with a mountain of prep work. In my experience, this is a pointless exercise, but should I just do it anyway? Or should I warn her that it's unlikely to get done?

A teacher via Twitter to @tes

Here's what will happen: the nice, biddable kids will do it and lots of the others won't. For many headteachers this is an exercise in keeping parents happy, showing them what kind of school they've sent their child to. If it's school policy, do it because it's your job - you don't want a disciplinary. But set differentiated, interesting homework that you believe will actually teach them something valuable. And don't be surprised when half of them look at you with innocent "who, me?" faces after the holidays.

Tom teaches full-time at Raine's Foundation School in London.

Do you agree with his advice? To have your say or ask a question, visit www.tesconnect.comasktom or email

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