Behaviour: Bottom sets

28th January 2011 at 00:00
I'm an NQT. Two of my bottom sets in Years 10 and 11 mess around the minute they step through the door, are constantly out of their seats and making silly noises. I'm finding it impossible to teach. What can I do?

What you said

"These kids are testing you to see if you'll crack, give in or relent. But you absolutely mustn't. Keep going, keep handing out detentions, making your expectations clear and, in time, the weaker vines will wither and gradually the others will too."


"This sounds like a class I once had. I found that instead of doing a standard three-part lesson, I could distract them with five 10-minute activities. I only had to keep it up for a week, then I started to give them longer activities and after a month they started to calm down."


"My Year 10 bottom set has been very similar. One of my favourites is to give them something extremely simple and just tell them to get on with it. The first time you can only expect five or six to get involved, but eventually the group will grow."


The expert view

Two bottom-set GCSE classes sounds like old-school timetabling: "Give the bottom set to the NQT. She can't do any harm and it will do her good." But this low-level disruption is detrimental to good teaching and learning, a constant irritation and a sign that things could get worse if left. Try these three strategies:

1. Link yourself with wider authority. As a single teacher in the classroom, you look and feel outnumbered. Joining forces will help you to manage behaviour because the pupil that undermines you will know others will become involved. Start a dialogue with parents of the more disruptive pupils. Express your concern and tell them you want to work with them. See your head of department (the one who probably stitched up your timetable) and ask for three pupils to be put on report to her or him. This will shift some of the follow-through to the departmental head.

2. Buddy up. Ask an experienced colleague to observe a couple of lessons. A different pair of eyes and ears helps, as there may be room for improvement in your teaching. Ask someone whose presence will not suppress the group's usual behaviour but who is positive and will give constructive advice.

3. Praise constantly - not every pupil in class, not every moment of the lesson. Some pupils are meeting your expectations all the time, and most are probably meeting your expectations some of the time. Take those opportunities to praise with a smile, a sweet, and whatever reward system your school uses. You need allies in the class, so work to win them over with as much determination as you apply to those whose behaviour undermines lessons.

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



- Ask colleagues for help. They can observe your lesson and give feedback on how the disruption affects the lesson.

- Praise those pupils who are attentive and follow instructions.

- Consider asking your head of department if the most disruptive pupils can report to them.


- Wait for the problem to resolve itself. If left, it will only get worse.

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