20th February 2009 at 00:00
Problem: One of my pupils is consistently late for my lessons. He's on time for other teachers but not me. How do I get him to turn up on time?

Latecomers can be exasperating as well as disruptive, particularly if you find out that they're waiting at the door for everyone else. If it's got to this stage, it's probably too late to nip it in the bud, but there is still something you can do, even if it means reversing your previous policy.

Acknowledging where you have gone wrong is the first step, says Jon Berry, senior lecturer at Hertfordshire University's school of education. His advice echoes that of the local sage when asked for directions: "I wouldn't start from here."

"If they're consistently late, it sounds as if the teacher hasn't made an issue of it in the past," Mr Berry says. "It can be very low key, but you have to make it clear you have recognised lateness."

This doesn't have to involve bringing the lesson to a halt while you deal with the latecomer. Instead, you can carry on with the lesson while letting them know, perhaps with a look or a quiet aside, that you have seen that they are late and you intend to deal with it later.

And you must make sure you come back to it, whether it's at a convenient point in the lesson or at the end. Forgetting, or thinking it's not worth the bother, sends a message that it is alright to be late to your class. "The key thing is somewhere you have to deal with it, because if you don't it implies consent," says Mr Berry. It is important to stick to the school's guidelines on consequences and to apply them rigorously, he adds.

The sanctions don't have to be draconian to work, suggests Paul Dix, of Pivotal Behaviour Management. "A gentle, ritualised deterrent in this situation is as effective as heavy punishment," he says. He proposes a three-pronged approach. First institute or agree a clear ritual setting out what will happen for pupils who arrive late. This could be posted on the door.

A chair with a sign-in sheet could be placed by the door - late children sit and wait until you are ready to speak to them, or invite them to join the class. Latecomers can lose their choice over where to sit, or have to speak to you for one minute after the lesson. The sign-in sheet could become useful as evidence to point out their behaviour to the pupil, or to present to parents.

Go out of your way to improve your relationship with the pupil. Be gentle, but persistent: say hello and smile when you pass in the corridor, keep your good humour even when your greeting is ignored. Exploiting shared interests and building trust can also pay dividends.

"Your professional relationship with the pupil is your greatest lever. Build a positive relationship and you can nurture a genuine motivation for them to be punctual," Mr Dix says.

Finally, randomly reward pupils who arrive on time, while occasionally swapping some of the most exciting parts of your lesson to the beginning.

Stephen Calladine-Evans, assistant principal at St Richard's Catholic College in Bexhill, East Sussex, says that while the first instinct is to blame the latecomer, this can be counter-productive, and you should look to your lesson plans. "A crisp and engaging start to lessons makes regular lateness much less attractive," he says.

Starting with the register and then the lesson objective gives a latecomer a predictable routine - and an audience.

Instead, become unpredictable. Open with images set to music, group activities, or get the pupils into a debate. Give out small prizes early - such as mini packs of sweets. Then the latecomer feels they have missed the fun, but is just in time for the register. "The carrot works more effectively than the stick," says Mr Calladine-Evans.


- Acknowledge when a pupil has been late, but without interrupting your lesson.

- Have clear sanctions and apply rigorously.

- Try to improve your relationship with latecomers so they want to be punctual.

- Make the start of your lessons more exciting - giving them motivation to be on time.


- Get into a debate about their lateness during the lesson.

- Fail to follow through on any sanctions - that gives them the impression lateness is acceptable.

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