Behaviour: Bad language

17th June 2011 at 01:00
A pupil had his head on the desk. When I asked him to do his work I was subjected to a tirade of bad language. Senior management seem to sympathise with him as he often does this, so he will only get a telling-off. What should I do?

What you said

"In our school we make a distinction between indirect comments (for example, saying "For fuck's sake" at no one in particular) and those directed at a member of staff, which will warrant a day's exclusion. An indirect comment would result in a day's isolation."


"Since I started I've been told to F-off more times than I can remember. They laugh in my face when I tell them off - and there is absolutely no reaction from senior management."


"I have been in my new school for two weeks and I haven't heard a single swear word. It depends on how the management view swearing. Some schools take it seriously and some couldn't care less."


The expert view

You don't come to work to be sworn at. The consequences need to be immediate and predictable. If you are not confident of support from the senior management team, a good head of department will be able to impose a sanction that fits, involves parents and sends a message that is heard. Swearing at a member of staff is out of order. Pupils know they are crossing a line, staff recognise it and even the most unhelpful parents see it, too. Ideally, the leadership team would hold a consistent line and the message would echo through the school. If this line is not obvious, ask for it to be formally clarified.

Exclusion might seem the obvious response, but it is not necessarily the most effective. I understand the urge to have some respite from the pupil. However, if the immediate consequence is exclusion, all you are doing is giving some pupils an open door to a day at home watching TV. Some pupils fear the cliff edge of exclusion; others have learnt that it isn't really that far to fall.

The pupil needs to apologise. Even when behaviour is appalling and the natural response is to back away, it is wise to stay connected to the incident. Ask for support, but don't pass responsibility over. The long- term solution lies in your relationship with the pupil. Through this difficult incident you may find you come to a better understanding of each other.

Pupils decide who they direct poor language at. They decide which lessons they will try to swear openly in. With a firm, consistent line you will make it very difficult for him to choose to direct it at you, with or without support higher up the chain.

Paul Dix is managing director of Pivotal Education. For free behaviour advice go to or follow Paul on Twitter on #PivotalPaul. For more behaviour advice, go to



- Act immediately. The pupil needs to know that swearing at a teacher is out of order.

- Enlist a head of department or trusted colleague if senior management won't help.

- Use this incident to improve your relationship with the pupil.


- Simply exclude the pupil. For some, this isn't an effective punishment.

- Back away or hand over responsibility to someone else - you need to stay connected to the incident.

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