9th October 2009 at 01:00
I run an after-school homework club but, because it's outside formal school hours, some pupils just use it as a chance to gossip and misbehave. How much control can I have over their behaviour?

After-school and lunchtime clubs are run for a variety of reasons: to support or enhance class work, to allow pupils to work on larger projects, or to provide them with opportunities not afforded by regular lessons. Working out the purpose, arrangement and formality of the club will help deal with misbehaviour.

"A homework club is an extension of traditional class work," says Tom Bennett, head of RE and philosophy at Raine's Foundation School in Bethnal Green, east London. "It needs to be run along the same guidelines as a regular lesson, otherwise what is the justification for having the club?

"The teacher needs to make sure they are clearly in charge, which means rules, consequences, rewards and sanctions," says Mr Bennett, who hosts the TES behaviour online forum (

"Children thrive on security and rules that empower them to do better. To encourage good behaviour, do what all good teachers should do in the classroom - praise achievement and punish misbehaviour."

Eddie Gardner, a behaviour consultant with Equis in Education, agrees: "Just as in taught lessons, pupils have a right to do their homework without distraction, so make sure any rules are 'observable' and can be easily reinforced with praise.

"Set out your expectations and communicate them clearly. Without these basics in place, the situation will get worse - and with a long term ahead, it could all get very stressful."

A key feature of any after-school club is that pupils will naturally perceive it as less formal than structured lessons. However, Mr Gardner believes this can be used to your advantage: "The atmosphere will be as formal or informal as the teacher wants it to be. Involve the pupils in setting up the room and establishing the expectations. This is their club, so get them to talk about how they would set up and run it if the teacher wasn't there. What rules would they have? How would they encourage pupils to allow others to get on with their work? Who would they elect to make decisions?"

Rachel Simpson, head of drama at Broughton Business and Enterprise College, Preston, says: "An after-school club is meant to be more relaxed. It demands the formalities of a teacherpupil relationship in a more informal setting, and pupils will treat it this way."

Regarding anxiety about misbehaviour, Ms Simpson asks: "Is the teacher worried more about the behaviour of pupils or that the club isn't formal enough in the eyes of other staff? If they're worried about being judged on it, then they need to clarify the expectations and level of desired formality with a member of the management team or their head of department."

She suggests that a more informal approach could help reduce tension and help pupils concentrate on what they are supposed to be doing: "If talking is distracting pupils from working, then steer them back towards their study in a relaxed but authoritative way. Acknowledge what they're discussing and then focus them back on their work."

Finally, don't beat yourself up if you have to refuse entry to those spoiling the atmosphere. Take encouragement from Mr Gardner, who says: "You've probably used up most of your energy during the school day. If students are not coming to do their homework, they're in the wrong place. You haven't failed if you don't let them in."

Tom Bennett agrees: "A club in school is a class. Any student who can't grasp this should reconsider their membership."

Next week Dealing with a colleague's son


- Make sure you treat the club as you would any other lesson. Keep expectations of pupils high and they will adopt the right attitude.

- Involve the pupils in the organisation of the club and find out from your head of department or senior managers what level of formality is expected.

- Deal with misbehaviour as you would in a lesson. A simple rewards-and-consequences system will help reinforce your authority.

- Refuse entry to pupils who persistently cause trouble. If they want to join in they will soon get the message.

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