30th March 2012 at 01:00

The problem

I'm new to my school and have a very challenging group of pupils, who are three grades below where they should be because they did not have a constant teacher last year. This year they are switched off and feel they don't have to do any work. I have tried positive praise and rewards systems, followed school behaviour policy, used pupil contracts, brought in the senior leadership team and set them achievable work. But it has been to no avail, even if I am told that they behave better for me than other staff.

What you said

This class is understandably demoralised with your subject. You need to cheat. Just a little. Give them an end-of-unit test (i.e. not a real test). Before you give it to them, teach them a revision lesson "to the test", giving them that little bit more of an advantage. They won't do brilliantly, but they will get something that might just make them question their own conviction that they will fail.


With a class like yours I start with: a five- to 10-minute explanation (the shorter the better); a 10-minute task (closed questions); and answers on the board (two minutes to selfpeer-assess).


The expert view

I feel your pain. You have not been there long, so there is one ingredient missing from this potion: time. If they are bottom set, mucked around, mucking about and just mucky, then they are in a raw state of studenthood. They will take a while to mould into the right shape. You need to make a few adjustments mentally:

1. Acknowledge that this will take time and there is only so much you can do. This is not your fault. Does a doctor blame himself for patients being sick? No, he gives them medicine. You are in the medicine phase.

2. Persist with the things you have been trying so far. They all seem sound to me. What you must not do is lose your nerve and stop what you are doing.

The path you are on is not pretty, but it is the right approach. There are no sexy shortcuts, no tricks and tips. There is only persistence, and the development of a relationship of trust and discipline with these children.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. Post your questions at

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