Behaviour: Disengaged pupil

4th February 2011 at 00:00
I have a pupil who doesn't speak much in class and often refuses to work. She recently emailed me to apologise for her behaviour. I would like to reply to let her know I appreciate her gesture, but I know her classroom behaviour is not acceptable. What should I do?

What you said

"Any email contact apart from the most banal and mundane information, such as `band practice is cancelled tonight due to bad weather' is extremely unwise."


"Follow her email up with a short chat next time you see her - nothing heavy, just saying you appreciate her email and you understand her feelings."


"I would put something similar to what you have suggested, but check with your head of department before sending and copy them if they have given the OK so that the pupil sees."


The expert view

The first point to consider in this case is whether the pupil has emailed the teacher's personal or work email address. The NASUWT always advises members not to give out their personal contact information to pupils in order to avoid situations that may breach professional boundaries.

Teachers who enter into personal contact with their pupils, for whatever reason, leave themselves vulnerable to false or malicious allegations that can blight their personal and professional lives.

If contact was made via the teacher's personal email address, it would be advisable to register a new address and delete the old one to ensure further personal contact from pupils is not possible.

However, the teacher should acknowledge the pupil's effort to apologise, in order to encourage her and, hopefully, encourage an improvement in her behaviour and performance. You must also address the unacceptable behaviour which has led to this situation as there may be serious underlying causes.

You should arrange a face-to-face conversation in school in which the pupil is thanked for her sentiments but made aware that personal email contact is inappropriate and advised that in future the best thing to do is approach the teacher in person with any issues or concerns she may have.

A face-to-face meeting also provides the best opportunity to discuss the girl's behaviour and assess a suitable way forward, which may require involving her parents or child services. A senior member of staff should be briefed on the situation and the actions being taken.

Chris Keates is general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union. For more advice, go to



- Meet the pupil face to face to discuss the exchange.

- Brief a senior colleague on the situation and how you are responding.

- Acknowledge the effort the pupil has made to apologise.


- Encourage further personal email contact, however innocent, as this could be misconstrued.

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