Behaviour: Attitude problems

13th August 2010 at 01:00
A lot of my secondary pupils have attitude problems: they fail to admit they have done wrong, don't listen to class discussions and constantly interrupt me. I have tried detentions, phone calls home and names on the board. Can anyone help?

What you said

"In every class there is a `ringleader' who wants to impress. Find the ringleader and come down hard - send himher out for any comment you deem inappropriate. It will become easier and hisher peers will realise it's not `cool' to do this."


"You cannot punish a child unfairly, especially the `ringleader'. Why not try getting to know the ringleader? Find out what makes them tick. I had similar problems with a Year 10 class and by showing I care about them we now have brilliant lessons and the ringleader will seek me out if anything is wrong."


"Getting persistent offenders out of your class for a time can make a radical difference. Write everything down so you can clearly evidence any necessary internal exclusions."


The expert view

Your definition of the issues needs to be clarified. You cite a failure to admit they are wrong, failure to listen and interrupting. It feels like one big problem, but it is a series of small ones.

The chances are, there is no "ringleader", and there is only a limited chance of success in establishing a rapport with, or making an example of, that person. More likely, different pupils create difficulties in particular situations. Each issue may call for different strategies, applied to different pupils and in a staged manner rather than trying to solve it all in one sweep.

An admission of wrongdoing is satisfying, but not necessary for an effective response. Identify what was wrong about the behaviour, accept no contradiction and impose a sanction.

Listening is vital for learning, so tackle this first. Try some of these ideas: reduce the number of times you demand a silent audience; demand attentiveness when it is needed by making instructions clear; use activities in which pupils have to listen to each other and that reward listening. For example, putting their hand up when a key word is used by you could earn them a Celebrations sweet - small things, but surprisingly popular.

With interruptions, persistence is important: small sanctions, regularly applied, will pay off. Model the behaviour you want. Listen to your pupils; ask if you might contribute before you interrupt their group discussion; give a pupil your full attention when they ask you a question. You must show them respect, too.

Stephen Calladine-Evans is assistant principal at St Richard's Catholic College, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex. For more behaviour advice, go to



- Break the issues down into separate, more manageable problems.

- Work on strategies that reward attentive listening.

- Model behaviour that you want your pupils to display.


- Focus on getting pupils to admit they are wrong - this is a side issue and potentially distracting from the real problems.

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