It doesn't have to be a lions' den

29th April 2005 at 01:00
BILL ROGERS: CRACKING THE CHALLENGING CLASS. Books Education. DVD pound;95 + VAT. VHS pound;95 + VAT. Order on 0208 202 6776.

DOS AND DON'TS OF BEHAVIOUR MANAGEMENT. By Roger Dunn. Continuum Pounds 9.99

GETTING ON WITH KIDS IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS. By Gererd Dixie. Peter Francis Publishers pound;15.95

PIVOTAL BEHAVIOUR MANAGEMENT HANDBOOK. By Paul Dix. Pivotal Education Pounds 11.99

I was mentally scarred by a question lobbed my way at the end of my first job interview: "A girl at the back of your first lesson is eating crisps while you are speaking. What do you do?" Supremely confident (I was 22, after all), I said this kind of thing didn't happen in my lessons. "It is now," was the reply. "I'd tell her to stop," I said. "She doesn't," said the deputy head responsible for discipline.

The interview started to unravel. Whatever I said I would do, the hypothetical girl carried on crunching. Finally, in desperation, I said I'd take the crisps away from her and throw them in the bin. "Thank you," said the deputy. I had passed the test. That kind of macho approach to discipline still prevails in many schools: the idea of the classroom as an arena where it's a gladiator-versus-lions show of strength.

Bill Rogers is the maestro at showing that it doesn't have to be like this.

I've previously praised his excellent book Cracking the Hard Class (Paul Chapman Publishing, pound;17.99), but here's a DVD covering similar ground: demonstrations on disc 1, question-and-answer session with real teachers on disc 2.

As with so many of such resources, there's something a bit unrealistic about the scenarios. The pupils are hand-picked to play the roles of unruly youngsters, while Bill demonstrates that he is a master of disguise, slipping on a pair of glasses and showing us how not to deal with the situation. Then he re-runs the scenario, without spectacles, to show us how it should be done. He's particularly instructive when he shows the importance of senior staff not coming into an unruly lesson, taking command, and leaving the isolated teacher feeling undermined and adrift.

As a newcomer to Bill's demonstration techniques, I felt a little ground down by the relentlessly soft-voiced approach. It sometimes appeared that his ultimate sanction was: "Would you like to step outside and have a chat?" Yet the combination of demonstrations and discussion makes this a resource well worth having.

Roger Dunn's Dos and Don'ts of Behaviour Management is written by a teacher who the book tells us is "currently in charge of pastoral set-up and behaviour management" at a school in Durham. I like that phrase "pastoral set-up"; it reminds us of the messiness of school structures.

Unfashionably, I also like the fact that the book makes no reference to behaviour gurus or education research. It's exactly what the title says: a practical handbook of advice from a seasoned pro and an unsentimental, well-judged book of guidance that left me very impressed.

Gererd Dixie's book is punctuated by slightly odd, 1950s-style illustrations. Again, it's a practical handbook of guidance that - despite the cringeworthy Grange Hill-style title - is actually about establishing clear expectations, being authoritative rather than authoritarian, and being an effective form tutor. There is much here to admire and learn from, though the format is less accessible than in Roger Dunn's book, and the overall structure not always so clear. Nevertheless, it's good to note the balance of personal advice and judicious use of experts.

Now here's the wild card of the pack. The Pivotal Behaviour Management Handbook comes from Pivotal Education (slogan: "Not all teacher training is the same"). I have to confess to an initial sinking of the heart when I saw the photographs of the author working with students wearing the ubiquitous polo-neck of the consultant. Then I read that he is "an accomplished performer, clown and acrobat who lives between the UK and Spain". No credibility points there. And yet this is a terrific book, which echoes Ofsted's latest findings on Managing Challenging Behaviour (published in March 2005, see

Much depends on good lesson planning and an appropriate curriculum. Paul Dix dives straight in, with pithy, practical advice in a highly accessible format. I could do without all the space to make my own notes (do readers ever make their own notes in these spaces?), but I admired the wisdom of the guidance. For example, if you're going to move a student to sit somewhere else in the room, Dix's advice is: "do it privately". Dead right.

This is a long way from the classroom-as-arena, and avoids the risk of public confrontation and someone - possibly the teacher - ending up humiliated.

All in all, here are some welcome additions to the behaviour management library. But be warned. None will tell you directly how to answer an interview question about girls eating crisps.

Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

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