Ask Tom

11th April 2014 at 01:00
Teacher, TES Connect blogger and behaviour expert Tom Bennett puts on his agony uncle hat and answers your education questions

A student keeps skipping my lessons and when she does turn up she is massively disruptive. Her parents appear to be supportive but she takes no notice of sanctions at home or school. Is expulsion the only option or can we force her to play by the rules?

A teacher, via Twitter to @tes

Schools don't say "expel" any more. It's "exclude" now, in case anyone mistakes it for a punishment and faints. And if stepped sanctions have been tried already - detentions, loss of privileges, parental meetings - then yes, exclusion is the last resort. It's not pretty, but it does illustrate the seriousness of the situation. Plus, it demonstrates to the other students that being a truant and a terror isn't acceptable. I'm not sure how else we can force anyone to "play by the rules" but it all sounds very sinister. We can't control the behaviour of anyone but ourselves. However, schools can and should act with resigned determination in such matters.

I have a 12-year-old in my class who is constantly interrupting lessons with a stream of jokes. The trouble is, they are really funny and clever. He clearly has a brain but he only uses it to take the mickey out of others. Is there anything I can do to channel his efforts into something more productive?

A teacher, via email to

Sure there is - give him a telling off every time he does it. If he takes the mickey out of class members and interrupts your lesson to do so, then he's not a budding comedian, he's a menace. He'll only channel his energy into working for you when someone pulls the plug on his stand-up and makes him pay attention to his schoolwork. Your class need you to redirect the spotlight, he needs you to turn off the mic and you need the stage for yourself. It sounds like you might even be tacitly encouraging his patter by sympathising with his amazing talent. Let him rattle off one-liners in detention.

Is there any research you know of that actually has evidence of interventions that work for students from low-aspiration families? We have quite a few children like this in our school and there are so many "proven" interventions to pick from that we need a bit of guidance.

A teacher from the South of England

I would say that children from low-aspiration families benefit from the same types of intervention as any other student: a good deal of structure, high aspirations from the teacher and a thorough behaviour policy that doesn't permit underachievement. All children share basic human needs and responses, and children with low aspirations simply require different proportions of certain interventions. In terms of research, Carol Dweck clearly shows that encouraging growth mindsets - high expectations and the perception that intelligence is fluid and can be improved - is a powerful intervention for apathetic students. Look at John Hattie for meta-analyses of the effect of some interventions over others, particularly strategies such as accelerating students and clear, constructive feedback. But most of all, show the students that you care and insist that they do, too - no matter what their families say. Take them to universities and tell them: "This could be you."

Tom teaches full-time at Raine's Foundation School in London. Do you agree with his advice? To have your say or ask a question, visit www.tesconnect.comasktom or email


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