14th December 2012 at 00:00

The problem

I have a Year 10 (S3) girl who reads voraciously and has a reading and spelling age of 18-plus. Yet she can't or won't put pen to paper. Apparently this has been ongoing throughout secondary; her mother claims nothing has been done about it for the past four years. Has anyone experienced anything like this? The pupil is very quiet and gets frustrated in my lessons. She mutters every time I give them a worksheet and says things like "What's the point?" She seems really disaffected.

What you said

Can't or won't? You need to find out. Speak to learning support: does this girl have an individual education plan or any kind of statement? If so, your special educational needs coordinator should be able to guide you. If not, go through her head of year.


Phone her primary school and find out if she wrote there and what happened in Years 6 and 7 (P6 and 7) to convince her that there is no point. Ask if there has been a death in the family or something of that kind. Then get creative. If she doesn't want to write, will she type? Can you provide a laptop?


The expert view

You need to get to the bottom of this. Ask other teachers if she writes for them. If she is selectively literate, you need to crack down on her, because laptops and soft strategies will simply feed her narcissism. This is serious because she will be handwriting her exams.

Even if she does not write much in other subjects, I would be minded to park the laptops and so on anyway. Unless she has some kind of identifiable writing problem, she needs to write because, if one is able, it is a requirement of school. She cannot get into the habit of doing only what she wants, because life is not kind to pupils who leave school thinking that will continue. Have a good chat with her and investigate as suggested above. If all else fails, she needs to experience the route of sanctions and rewards that is appropriate for this or any other kind of significant non-compliance.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru, Not Quite a Teacher, and Teacher, published by Continuum.

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