The Behaviour Question

10th August 2012 at 01:00

This morning, I was on playground duty when a fight broke out between two 10-year-old boys. All the pupils in the vicinity ran over to watch the brawl, chanting 'Fight! Fight! Fight!' I shortly arrived on the spot to intervene, but it wasn't easy to calm them down. I reckon that the onlookers were the trigger. So how should you intervene in fights - and deal with the onlookers?

What you said


Dealing with a fight is difficult. Here's what I try to do:

1. An authoritative booming "Stop!" repeated from the instant I spot the fight until I'm in range to effect step 2.

2. Assuming that step 1 hasn't had the desired effect, I try to position myself between the two combatants.

3. An authoritative, booming "This fight is over", repeated while trying to maintain my position between the pupils. Usually they've failed to land a blow with me in the middle and some of the wind has left their sails by now.

4. Luckily I've never had to get this far. I would be wary of trying to restrain a pupil. That way lies the wrath of parents and the senior leadership team.

The expert view

The advice given by masons, above, is pretty excellent. I will just add a few thoughts. Most fights are more about face than any point of importance; often the antagonists' baiting has escalated to the point that the only way out is through each other.

The crowd not only provides a catalyst to the situation, but also makes it hard to physically leave by drawing up an arena boundary with their bodies. They encourage and generate the tension that makes such fights inevitable.

But your immediate concern is to stop the fight. The first thing to do is to shout "Stop" or "Oi" or whatever your bag is. It probably will not stop the fight, but it usually starts to take the sting out of it.

Then get in close if you feel capable of doing so. No teacher is required to do this. But I cannot stand by and watch two people batter lumps out of each other. The community needs us to police such things, and when I can do so personally, I will.

Your mere physical presence may disperse them. Most of them do not really want to fight; your intervention provides the excuse to break it up. Try to make sure someone else is working with you at this point.

Restraint is a last resort, but you are within your rights to use it, as long as your force is proportionate and aimed at stopping the conflict. But try to always have back up. No teacher should be monitoring a large area alone, so get the other person to call for help.

Afterwards you can find out who started it and who deserves what. But your first priority is stopping things progressing; tackle the most belligerent ones first. I try to make an example of a few spectators to show that they are not observers but participants.

It is best to have a policy in your own head before fights happen, rather than freeze the first time you see one.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum.

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