The Behaviour Question

7th December 2012 at 00:00

I have a Year 10 girl who reads voraciously and has a reading and spelling age of 18-plus. And yet she either can't or won't put pen to paper. Apparently this has been ongoing throughout secondary school; her mother claims that nothing has been done about it for the past four years. Has anyone experienced anything like this? The pupil is very quiet and gets frustrated in my lessons. She mutters about wasted paper every time I give them a worksheet and says things like "What's the point?" a lot. She seems really disaffected.

What you said


There's a huge difference between "can't" and "won't" and you need to find out which applies here. Speak to your learning support department: does this girl have an individual education plan or any kind of statement? If so, your special educational needs coordinator should be able to guide you. If not then the best thing is to go through her head of year. In short, this doesn't sound like something you can fix without calling in the cavalry.


I used to work in a secure unit so I've met kids who refuse point blank to do all sorts of things - including writing. The first thing to do is phone her primary school and find out if she wrote there and what happened in Years 6 and 7 to convince her that there is no point. Don't just look at school - ask if there has been a death in the family or something of that kind. Then get creative. If she doesn't want to write will she type? Can you provide a laptop?

The expert answer

You need to get to the bottom of this. Ask other teachers if she writes for them. If she is selectively literate then you need to crack down on her, because laptops and soft strategies will simply feed her narcissism. This is serious because until the exam boards accept e-submissions she will be handwriting her exams.

Even if she does not write much in other subjects, I would be minded to park the laptops and so on anyway. Unless she has some kind of identifiable writing problem then she needs to write because, if one is able, it is a requirement of being in a school.

She cannot get into the habit of doing only what she wants, because life is not kind to pupils who leave school thinking that this will continue to be true. I would have a good chat with her and investigate as suggested above, if you have time. But if all else fails she needs to experience the route of sanctions and rewards that is appropriate for this or any other kind of significant non-compliance. This is misbehaviour that could seriously damage her life chances. Good luck.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. Read more from Tom on his blog,, or follow him on Twitter at @tombennett71. His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum

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