I'm struggling with behaviour management in my all-girls secondary. Are girls harder to discipline than boys?

13th May 2005 at 01:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

It is too easy to slip into crude gender stereotypes when thinking about this issue - boys are violent, girls are sneaky - but I shall no doubt fall into the same kind of trap in answering your question. I have observed lessons in primary and secondary schools all over the country, and I think the difference between the behaviour of boys and girls is less pronounced than it used to be.

Health figures show that secondary school girls smoke just as much, if not more than boys. A few years ago girls drank mainly fortified wines, if they took alcohol at all. Today the figures for beer and spirits consumption among girls and boys are virtually the same. In schools with challenging pupils, girls are just as likely as boys to swear at teachers, heads and fellow pupils, though many more boys than girls are actually excluded from schools for poor behaviour.

I still find it more distressing to hear girls swear. Old fashioned, maybe.

Single-sex education often makes little difference. There are single-sex schools where behaviour is just as poor as it is in mixed schools. In all schools facing these challenges, however, there are always some teachers who manage better than others, so do not be shy about seeking advice from colleagues who seem to have fewer problems than you.

Usually the ingredients for success, with boys or girls, are: an interesting curriculum that engages pupils, orderly behaviour, and good personal relationships. Talk to as many pupils informally as you can. Mind you, the difficult pupils can be sweetness and light when they're alone with you and become little beggars in front of their mates. That's adolescence for you.

You say

Make sure you are always fair

Young women are not harder to discipline than young men, but they respond to a different approach. Years of increasing equality means that today's teenage girls are more prepared to stand up for what they want, right or wrong.

Young women's behaviour can be emotion-led, and they remember and internalise unfair treatment. They have better social skills than young men and will relate to a personal approach. They also tend to be more prepared to reflect on their behaviour and to empathise with its effects on others.

There are key behaviour management strategies that apply to all young people: know why you are "disciplining" and whether it's entirely necessary, then apply consistency, calmness and praise for getting it right.

Tina Russell-Cruise, Macclesfield

Be firm with ring leaders

Girls are not harder to discipline, it's just that boys' laid-back attitudes make it seem that way. Girls are increasingly the bullies who know all their rights but none of their responsibilities, and have the confidence to show it.

Be firm, especially with any ring leaders, removing them from the lesson if necessary. Praise them if possible; if not, then discuss what needs to be done (less talking, arriving on time). Don't be afraid to get parents involved. Find out what they like and incorporate it into your teaching.

Reward any progress.

Jessica Boddis, Manchester

Make an effort with your clothes

Boys are often open and can be won round with good humour. But girls see through attempts to win them over and respond with contempt. I realise this sounds slightly shallow, but they do appreciate good clothes, so it is always worth looking smart and paying attention to your appearance.

Decide who is the most charismatic character and target her. Have her parents in and discuss her unsuitable behaviour, stressing what a shame it is as you can see this girl has tremendous potential and could really influence others for the better. Then keep in contact with the parents and give immediate positive feedback for any glimmerings of improved behaviour.

J Harrison, Stockport

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