17th August 2012 at 01:00

The problem

I was on playground duty when a fight broke out between two 10-year-old boys. Other pupils ran over to watch and chanted, "Fight! Fight! Fight!" I intervened, but it wasn't easy to calm them. How should you intervene in fights, and deal with the onlookers?

What you said

Here's what I try to do:

1. An authoritative "Stop!" repeated from when I spot the fight until I'm in range to effect step 2.

2. If step 1 hasn't worked, I position myself between the two combatants.

3. A booming, "This fight is over" repeated while trying to maintain my position between the pupils.

4. Luckily, I've never had to get this far. I would be wary of restraining a pupil.


The expert view

The advice of masons is pretty excellent. I will just add a few thoughts. Most fights are about face; often the antagonists' baiting has escalated to the point that the only way out is through each other.

The crowd offers a catalyst to the situation, but also makes it hard to leave by creating an arena with their bodies and generate the tension that makes such fights inevitable.

But your immediate concern is to stop the fight. First, you should shout "Stop" or "Oi". It probably will not stop the fight, but it can start to take the sting out of it.

Then get in close if you feel you can. No teacher is required to do this. But I cannot stand by and watch two people batter lumps out of each other.

Your mere physical presence may disperse them. Most of them do not really want to fight; your intervention provides the excuse to break it up.

Restraint is a last resort, but you are within your rights to use it, as long as your force is proportionate and aimed at stopping the conflict. But try to always have back-up.

Afterwards, you can find out who started it and who deserves what. I try to make an example of a few spectators to show that they are not observers, but participants.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum.

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