Some of my pupils have done zero work on their GCSE projects

Some of my pupils have done zero work on their GCSE projects. How do I get them to take more responsibility for their learning?

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice -or offer some of your own

Ted says

It depends partly why these key pieces are missing. Pupils may be unmotivated, or they might lack facilities at home for doing assignments.

Do they think they can rush everything later, so they make a slow start? The problem of weak or missing project work can apply to both sexes, but is more common among boys.

One facility the school can provide is out-of-hours study opportunities.

Some pupils who have few books and other resources at home might stand more chance if they can stay longer at school (or arrive earlier) and use a decent library or resource centre with books, internet access, CDs and DVDs.

GCSE pupils need good advice about their total load, not just separate counselling in each subject. It is often the first time they have had to organise themselves across several subjects and many will not do this in a systematic way. Check they know exactly what is required in all their subjects. Show those who are clueless how to construct and use a time chart or deadline diary.

Is there any early warning system for checking progress? Ignoring problems can mean those who fall behind will descend into despair, or become indifferent. Be wise to, and look behind, the usual defences, such as homework-devouring dogs, forgotten books, and pressure from other teachers, real or imagined. Encourage immediately anyone who makes an effort. Be aware of genuine difficulties and see if someone can help. If desperate, ask the unmoved how they would feel repeating the year when their friends move on. You can even bring in former pupils to relate their experiences.

You say

Bring back some ex-students

Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes. You are battling against one of the strongest forces in the universe: teenage inertia.

One method we have used is to keep in touch with former pupils who have done well, and invite them back into GCSE year groups to pep up motivation.

This works best when the ex-students are not high-fliers (difficult for many to identify with) but lively, middle-of-the-pack types who are good communicators and who put in the effort to get on. One or two of these positive role models will be more effective than a staffroom full of imploring teachers.

Jenny Stead, Norwich

Show them the job ads

Wouldn't it be great to walk into a GCSE class and find a room full of motivated and self-empowered learners raring to go?

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth... Don't feel bad about your students'

apparent apathy. Think of all the hormones you are up against.

I'm not sure what your current motivational gambit is, but it isn't working. Maybe trying anything else will have some effect. At least you'll be changing the record.

You could always take in the vacancies pages from the local paper and show them the wage rates for unqualified jobs. This might, in the short term at least, make them reflect on the consequences of their inaction.

Malcolm Preston, Ebbw Vale

Let them know you care

Don't give up on them! A short but serious talk about how you care that they do well can make a big difference.

Many pupils believe the only reason teachers want them to get good marks is to guard the school's position in the league table. If you take an interest in all the pupils as individuals and encourage them, the standard of work will probably improve as a whole.

If the problem lies in pure disorganisation, a simple phone call to the parent(s) can be surprisingly effective. If the lack of work is due to a lack of understanding, make it clear that pupils can come to you for support. Working with them to set achievable target grades can also improve the situation. If you treat them as individuals and believe in their true potential, they will see this and their attitudes will improve.

Isobel Haysom, Berkshire

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