The Behaviour Question

Tom Bennett

I have three or four boys who have very high spirits. They are usually quite nice, but there is another boy, who is quite clever, who causes low-level disruption and is disrespectful. The other boys seem in awe of him. Whenever I tell him off or suggest that he is behaving badly he denies it and tells me I am picking on him. I am not sure how to handle this behaviour. I am new to the school and it will be his word against mine.

What you said


Treat everyone equally. Punish the behaviour of whichever child misbehaves without reference to the sly boy (he is exhibiting power-struggler behaviour, I would say, and acting to undermine your authority). Punish the sly boy's misbehaviour without reference to other children; if possible deny him his audience. If necessary, involve senior staff and parents. Lastly, make a record of every incident for evidence.


The kids who are influenced by the "sly" kid need to take responsibility for their own behaviour. Just because someone tells them to do something, they do not have to do it. Hopefully, they will realise when they get into trouble for their actions that "sly" isn't as great as he seems. Also, moving the "sly" kid may help. You are in charge of where pupils sit. Make sure he is not going to distress the pupils that don't give grief though.

The expert view

Your word against his? In hell, maybe. If you work in a school where the word of a misbehaving child is taken as much as yours, you need to start scanning the job pages of TES. The vast majority of schools will support you if you say that child X did behaviour Y, and you sanction the child for it. This isn't the High Court and if the level of evidence required was that of "beyond reasonable doubt" we would never get anything done.

Use sanctions and rewards as appropriate, and in this circumstance I would park the rewards a little in favour of sanctions. This child doesn't need nurturing; he needs to realise that his actions, while perhaps marvellous for attracting the awe of his classmates, are not appropriate for a classroom. And the only person who will make him realise this is you.

Separate him from his peers. If he acts up, have a plan in place so he can be removed until he can behave properly. Few children enjoy isolation from their peers, so this is a tried and tested way to ensure compliance. If his friends disrupt the room, make sure they also experience sanctions: detentions, missed breaks, phone calls home and so on.

The important thing is that you step up to the challenge this represents. If you let it slide, it could start to infect the conduct of the others, and then you will see an escalation of challenge in the room.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum.

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