30th July 2010 at 01:00
The problem

I am a drama teacher and my Year 7s and 8s constantly pester me with tell-tale stories such as, 'Miss, Joe poked me in the side.' None of it is true; they are just trying to get each other into trouble. It is driving me mad. What can I do about it?

What you said

"Tell them to go away as you are working with X at the moment, but if it is serious to come back at lunchtime. You can bet your life they won't bother."


"A consistent broken record technique - 'That is not what we are talking about now' - might work. As a class, they obviously need some kind of focus on developing empathic skills and teamwork."


"I tell the complainer to keep working and come and see me at the end of the lesson. Often they either forget or are so keen to leave the room they don't come to see me. If they do, then I consider the problem may be significant and I listen to the story."


The expert view

You need to have a number of possible strategies to try out. One is to go over the top. Have a stack of "complaint" forms made up and have them close to hand. Point out that all complaints must be put in writing and the only time pupils can complete them is during break, lunch or after school. Explain to those trying to wind you up that complaints have to be made in triplicate, with copies sent to heads of year. This will serve to make a point.

Second, you can use punishment. Remind pupils that drama is a lesson with a greater element of freedom than most, and with that comes responsibility. If they cannot work as a group, you will be "forced" to have a classroom lesson where they are writing or copying out of a book. To be fair, I still tend to punish individuals. Remind them of sanctions and consistently apply them. Remove the worst offenders for a lesson or two so that the others can see how good lessons are when people act appropriately.

As they are young, rewards still stand a chance of working. If the main problem is an inability to work as a group, make that their focus or target. Have a visual diagram in the classroom, such as ladders or a hidden picture they are trying to uncover.

Put the targets next to the diagram and phrase them positively, such as work sensibly, remain calm and be quiet when asked. The key ingredient is the reward that they are working towards. It should be suitable and valued. You could show a fun video after a certain number of good lessons, bring chocolates or send home praise postcards for each pupil who does well. You will need to try a combination of approaches and be prepared to change tactics.

Christopher Wheeler is head of RE and sociology at Helsby High School in Cheshire. For more behaviour advice, go to



- Use a combination of strategies, including punishment and rewards, and change tactics when required.

- Remove the worst offenders so pupils can see how good the lessons can be.

- Focus on developing teamwork skills.


- Allow the pupils to keep on disrupting the lesson in this way.

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