The behaviour question

20th January 2012 at 00:00

I have a slightly disaffected but generally manageable Year 9 German class who have recently shown improved behaviour. Therefore, as a treat, I thought I'd organise for them to bake biscuits next week. When I talked to the class about it, asking them to bring in #163;1 next lesson for the ingredients, three of the 19 put up their hands, saying they didn't want to do this activity. So I said those who didn't behave, or bring in a pound, would do worksheets. What should I do?

What you said


Go ahead with the cookery - you can't cancel that now. Can you ask one of your colleagues to have the "worksheet candidates" sitting at the back of their class? Or the library? You may discover that they decide to join you and scavenge a quid from somewhere when they realise that they are excusing themselves from the fun.


Really big this up to them and to their form teacher. Send messages to be read in registration time about bringing the money. Get the form teacher on board for this. They are teenagers so won't show the same excitement you feel, but keep with it for the majority of the class. Enjoy it and concentrate on the majority of lovely ones. I know it is hard to do sometimes, but you have to.

The expert view

You absolutely should go ahead with this, but there's another possibility behind this kind of refusal: financial. I work with lots of kids for whom #163;1 is a scarce commodity. They are from homes where the parents and carers hide when the letters fall through the postbox because they're bills that can't be paid. Or worse, it's someone serving a court order for repossession of belongings.

It's a sad, anxious place that many people find themselves in, especially now, and the children from such families are often - probably correctly - equally anxious when it comes to any activity that requires a contribution. I feel for them.

Another point is that the school isn't allowed to require that parents pay extra for activities, unless it's been agreed by prior consent at the induction stage. The school can ask for contributions, as long as it makes it explicit that they are voluntary. This is so that schools avoid the situation of making parents on the breadline feel inferior, or have their children excluded from activities.

So the behaviour may well be rational and reasonable. I advise that you do hold the event - I think it's a lovely idea - but let the kids know it's voluntary. If there's a shortfall, I suggest that you make it up, or ask the school to cough up 20 quid or so.

Leaving kids out of activities for financial reasons is one of the reasons we decided in our society to have state education - so that finance didn't exclude children from an education. It's wrong to make the non-payers sit out the fun stuff while they watch the others bake and gorge.

Of course, it's possible that they are just being deliberately obstructive. The point is, this isn't a battle you should fight with them. Do it - please - and do it in the spirit of reward and education. You'll reap the benefits that generosity of spirit can sow.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. See:

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