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Breaktime jokes help to build trust

It has been a quiet half-term for Colin Ward. The only noteworthy incident that the newly-qualified teacher can recall was when he had to yell at a rampaging pupil to get out of his bloody office right now. But aside from that, he insists, it was fine.

Of course, there was also the scathing report he had to write about the child who regularly challenges his authority. But aside from that, really, it was fine.

Mr Ward, 33, is a new drama teacher at Barr's Hill community school, in Coventry. In the past, the school has had problems with misbehaviour: a 2002 inspection report concluded that "a few pupils are ready to disrupt lessons if they are not managed firmly".

Since then, behaviour has improved and exclusion rates fallen. This year, inspectors concluded that behaviour was satisfactory or better in nine out of 10 lessons.

Robin Brabban, head, has advised Prime Minister Tony Blair on strategies for dealing with misbehaviour. He said: "The behaviour of any adolescent can be challenging if not managed properly. But we have rules and expectations, spelled out very clearly and managed in a consistent way by staff. It takes a lot of the sting out for young teachers having to impose discipline."

Mr Ward accepted a job at the 567-pupil secondary because he wanted to work in a small school in the Coventry area and because its drama department was well-established.

"People told me the behaviour of the kids would be awful," he said. "But I thought I would judge that for myself. And 99 per cent are fine. Some kids are lovely with me, but Satan with other teachers. Kids very quickly decide which teachers they will work with and which ones they won't."

He attributes his success to time spent joking with pupils at breaktimes, building up their trust.

But Mr Ward never allows them to forget that he is not their peer: "Even though I'll have a laugh with them, I'm a teacher, they're pupils, and we are not equal. I'm honest in reports, and if needs be I will contact their parents."

His only major incident at Barr's Hill this year involved a disruptive child, who persistly interrupted other pupils' conversations.

These interruptions became increasingly profane, until the boy squared up to fight Mr Ward - who was immediately surrounded by an outraged flank of protective Year 9 pupils. The boy was later suspended.

In fact, the most trying incident of his teaching career did not take place at Barr's Hill at all. Instead, it occurred during a training placement at a school with impeccably behaved pupils.

"Whenever staff walked into the room, pupils would stand up," he said.

"That totally destroys the atmosphere in a drama lesson."

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