20th March 2009 at 00:00
Problem: Gordon Ramsay has made the F-word so commonplace that several pupils now think it's all right to use it in my lessons. How do I tell them it's not?

He may be a dab hand with the Dover sole, but superchef Gordon doesn't set a good example in the language stakes.

While most experts agree that a zero-tolerance policy on swearing is the best approach, simply saying it's not acceptable may not be enough, says Alan Haigh, author of The Art of Teaching. He says this is one of those occasions when it's permissible to ratchet up the disapproval rating. "I would use a stronger disincentive, such as `absolutely forbidden'," he says, spelling it out that bad language will not be tolerated.

Once this rule has been established and understood, Mr Haigh says it is crucial to reinforce it calmly and consistently, even when pupils swear without thinking. "You must persist and you must always follow up," he adds. Sanctions should follow school policy and should escalate in line with repeated transgressions.

He says it is also important to praise the class when the number of incidents drops. If there are still a few who can't rein in their language, make it clear they're excluded from this praise, but without naming them.

"The rest of the class know who they are and to name them can act as praise through notoriety," says Mr Haigh. Those who persist can be given an opportunity to think about the consequences of their behaviour or co- operate in breaking the habit, he adds.

The zero-tolerance approach is endorsed by Geoff Hatch, a sociology teacher at the Joseph Rowntree School in York and secondary teacher of the year in the North of England in the 2008 Teaching Awards. The moment swearing passes without comment is the moment its use is endorsed, Mr Hatch says.

"My usual response is to shout `Language! Not acceptable in here' and to establish eye contact," he says. Normally that results in a swift apology, but he will still talk to the culprit at the end of the lesson, making sure other pupils see him keeping them behind. If this doesn't work, he asks the pupil to step outside the room and explains why the word won't be tolerated and why it's offensive. Repeated use sees school sanctions swing into play, plus a phone call home.

"I might say, `I wouldn't use the F-word in front of your parents as it's a sign of disrespect. I don't treat you with disrespect and therefore I can't accept that disrespect towards me or my class'," he says.

While swearing is more common in secondary schools, it's increasingly becoming a problem in primaries. The difference is these pupils are less likely to know what it means.

Joanne Mason, course director of the PGCE primary course at Birmingham City University, says, "It's not relevant to discuss sex education awareness in this context, but children need to understand that words are offensive for different reasons."

She says primary schools should do this in forums where rules of respect and sensitivity are already established, such as circle time. Children need to know that some words have offensive connotations, even if they don't need to know what those connotations are. She says point out that while your family might use that word, it doesn't mean it's all right to use it in front of teachers or other adults.

Next week: Falling asleep in class

DO .

. Make it clear swearing won't be tolerated.

. Explain that some people find it offensive, although you don't have to go into why.

. Follow through with sanctions if use is persistent.

. Make it clear you've noticed if their language improves.


. Accept that because they use it at home they can use it in school as well.

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