Friendly, fun but fair - the ideal mix

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
Research shows that favourite teachers teach children's favourite lessons. Karen Thornton reports

TEENAGERS love English most, religious education least and either adore or loathe science. But what turns them on most to a subject is the teacher.

Teachers who are friendly, funny and fair, but also strict, are the most popular. They can be the reason why pupils prefer history to design technology, according to Norfolk-based teachers and researchers.

Academics from the University of East Anglia and teachers from five Norwich schools looked at factors affecting pupil behaviour and disaffection in lessons. They asked 11 to 15-year-old pupils to rank 38 teacher characteristics, ranging from "says hello outside lessons" to "knows their subject well". The 704 pupils were also asked which lessons they did and did not make an effort in, and why.

There were some clear subject preferences. English was the favourite subject of nearly 18 per cent of pupils, followed by maths, physical education and science.

Science was also disliked by a significant proportion of pupils, while humanities subjects failed to excite strong feelings either way.

Religious education was the least popular, a long way behind modern foreign languages, business studies, economics, and personal, health and social education.

Children frequently said they thought that RE was useless because it would not help them get a job. However, the subject was more highly thought of in the only Catholic school in the sample.

The single biggest factor affecting children's feelings about subjects liked was whether they liked the teacher who taught them.

Terry Haydn, a senior lecturer in education at UEA, said: "Teacher characteristics are more important to kids than anything else. What their teacher is like really does make a difference."

Nearly 96 per cent felt it was very or quite important that teachers were friendly, and around 90 per cent wanted them to have a sense of humour, talk politely to pupils, and be enthusiastic about their subject.

However, good teaching and professionalism were also appreciated by the children, such as being prompt and well-prepared for lessons (82 per cent).

Being able to "explain things well" was very important to more than three-quarters of pupils. Teachers who lacked clarity turned pupils off a subject, and left them bored and disruptive.

Pet hates were too much written work, teachers talking too much, and not being able to sit where they wanted. Reassuringly, and despite the occasional invective about horrible teachers, most pupils reckoned school was brilliant.

However, some of the teenagers surveyed said their teachers were "sad" and really needed to "loosen up a bit".


"Because the teacher puts it out really well and lets us sometimes go on computers."

Year 9 boy in lower set on why he tries hard in English

"I make the most effort in English because I enjoy it, our teacher is really nice....encourages us to do our best and talks to us like adults because a lot of teachers speak down to you."

Year 8 girl

"Because unless I wanted to be a nun, I do not see how RE is going to get me a good job in later life therefore I feel I'm wasting my time."

Year 10 girl

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today