`It's OK to let kids think they've won'

Reality star headteacher plays the long game on discipline

Teachers should be prepared to lose a few battles in order to emerge victorious in the war against bad behaviour, according to headteacher and reality television star Stephen Drew.

"I think sometimes, as a teacher, you can lose the ability to see the bigger picture," said Mr Drew, star of Mr Drew's School for Boys on Channel 4. "You're in a lesson and things aren't going that well, and you need to win.

"But sometimes it's OK to let the kids think they've won. You don't need to win the battle, but you win the long game."

Mr Drew first appeared on TV as a rule-enforcing, hoodie-confiscating, Christmas-song-singing deputy headteacher in 2011 reality series Educating Essex. Since then, his parallel careers have moved on. He is now headteacher of Brentwood County High, also in Essex. And he has his own reality TV show.

The six-part series, which finished this week, follows Mr Drew as he attempts to instil discipline into 11 boys aged 12 and under, all with severe behavioural problems. The series has showcased Mr Drew's ability to remain unflustered in the face of swearing, shouting, insult-hurling prepubescents. "Why are you so fat?" one boy asks him; another calls him "a dark teacher".

"Am I really so shallow, so lacking in self-confidence, that I'm going to be upset by the words of a nine-year-old?" he asked TES. "Of course I'm going to ignore it. It's water off a duck's back.

"However much bravado they may have, they're children, and children want you to care for them. But they lack the skills to express that properly. They lack the ability to see how their actions run counter to what they actually want.

"These kids don't feel in control. That's what their shouting and screaming is about: they want to take control. They would rather have an argument about the shouting and the swearing than have a conversation dealing with the actual cause of the behaviour."

Mr Drew is keen to point out that the swearing and shouting did not go unpunished. It was addressed later in the day, with the boys' parents present. In fact, the series focuses as much on improving the behaviour of the parents as it does on that of their sons.

"Of course, you can beat an eight-year-old in an argument. But so what? What does that prove? It's very short-term. We've got to work in a way that educates that child and trains them to look at things differently.

"I very strongly believe that kids' behavioural problems stem from their influences, their family. None of those parents was setting out to do things wrong. Parents want the best for their child. It's about enabling them to achieve it.

"What I often do is big up the parents to the child: `How do you think your parents feel about your behaviour at school?'; `How embarrassed must your mum be, having to be here for this meeting?' It's about bringing them into that circle."

In fact, part of his motivation for appearing in the series was to demonstrate that teachers' work does not begin and end in the classroom.

"I see it as an opportunity to help people understand the amazing things that their children's teachers do for their children every single day," he said. "There are teachers and other people in schools doing this day in and day out, with more challenging kids, with more challenging families, in more challenging situations.

"OK, I think I do a reasonable job, a fairly good job. But then you hear what other people do and you think, that's amazing."

Mr Drew'sSchool for Boysis available to watch on 4oD.

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