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Like a lion-tamer on a tightrope

Middle leaders are often the life-blood of the after-school detention rotas. Of all detentions to run, Saturdays are the spikiest. To survive one takes creativity, flexibility and a thick skin. At nine in the morning, all the leading villains in the school are brought together. These hardened convicts of the school system would not sit quietly in any lesson during the week. But because it's a Saturday detention - the ultimate sanction - I am supposed to keep them in complete silence for two hours!

I have a whole pile of assorted pieces of work for them to complete, but I soon realise that the reading ages in the room are low and many pupils could only complete tasks if I gave them intensive individual support. But the rule is supposed to be a total penitential silence.

Many of my villains are already in a very ugly mood when they arrive. Apparently, they have received early morning phone calls reminding them of the detention. Parents have forced them to get out of bed. I placate and threaten them into silence. I feel like a lion-tamer walking a tightrope.

Forty-five minutes have gone by and we have kept the silence, but I can see that some of the detainees are beginning to get bored and restless. A whistling noise starts somewhere in the room. Have you ever tried to catch the person whistling? It is very difficult. I decide to ignore the whistling but make threats about adding on time for some people.

The only way to handle such detentions is to stay calm and use a bit of humour to get out of a difficult situation. Reward the majority who do their detention without fuss. You can let them leave earlier than the official time. Send a pupil home if their silly behaviour is threatening the whole group's attitude. They can always serve their detention again!

Paul Blum, Senior manager in a north London comprehensive.

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