11th November 2011 at 00:00
The problem: I have a problem with a five-year-old pupil. I understand she has serious family issues, but she is out of control. She has tried to escape from the classroom several times, has ripped down displays, hit me and spat at me. She shouts at me and the other pupils constantly. I have spoken to other teachers, including the deputy head, and have been told to try to reward her good behaviour. I have tried, but to no avail

What you said

You should be getting support from your head and deputy, not just being told to "reward good behaviour". In this situation, my head would have frog-marched said five-year-old out of the classroom.


Carrots are nice and should not be forgotten, but sticks are a greater incentive. Admonish her, and if she continues after this warning punish her in steps: five-minute break; 10-minute break; naughty seat; phone call; isolation. Every. Single. Time.


The expert view

I don't blame you for wanting to do everything you can for this child - it marks you out as having the DNA of teaching excellence, as you possess at least one of the credentials of the professional educator: you care about the child's well-being. But that compassion must not be allowed to overrule practicalities. This child has rights, but is now destroying your mental well-being and the educational space of your class. That cannot be right.

The approach recommended to you by the school is well-meaning, but wrong. You have been advised to tame this child with love, which is sweet, but not all problems can be solved with compassion alone. You have been urged to try to motivate and persuade, but this child does not want or care for such persuasion. She needs to be shown boundaries, so use sanctions.

Every time she gets out of control, you (or the teaching assistant) need to take her out of the room. This will minimise the impact on the others. The pupil could be taken to another class, to the head, or to a quiet space with the teaching assistant.

You should also pursue any sanctions available, such as detentions, or calls home.

Tom Bennett is author of `The Behaviour Guru' and `Not Quite a Teacher':

Post your questions on:

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today