Why it's time to off-roll Little Johnny

He's been drawn into rows over selection, testing, truanting, detentions, exclusions and phonics. Give the boy a break

Stephen Petty


This is surely the time to seize the moment. With schools soon to say a sad farewell to their departing pupils, we must take this opportunity to bid a less sorrowful goodbye to a much older pupil, whose name has seemingly loomed on every school roll for decades. Yes, we must finally say good riddance to Little Johnny.

Little Johnny has been held back in school for decades – and for all the wrong reasons. He only exists because those of us who bore on about education are often incapable of dreaming up a more original illustrative name to use.

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I like to think that I have never mentioned Little Johnny myself, but I have probably conveniently forgotten. Little Johnny is to the educational pundit what cocaine is to a prospective leader of the Conservative party – many have used it, but we were much younger at the time and just about everyone else was doing so, too. 

We've created a monster

Between us, we have created a monster, courting trouble throughout his long and extended school life – possibly stretching back to the 1944 Education Act and beyond. Throughout that time, he has been drawn repeatedly into rows over selection, sports days, testing, truanting, homeschooling, parental choice, pupil voice, detentions, exclusions, phonics, phones, Turkey Twizzlers and skirt-wearing boys, to name but a few. Whatever the argument, whenever and wherever, you can rest assured that Little Johnny will have been caught up in it at some point or other. 

Recently, in Tes, a teacher complained rather naively about “Little Johnny’s constant boundary-pushing”. What else could she expect? When a pupil has the god-like capacity to be both ageless and ubiquitous, it is hardly surprising to find him merrily ignoring any list of classroom rules and regulations. 

What makes Little Johnny even harder to control is that he has always seemed to be in the care of two utterly blinkered and overprotective parents. These people must be well over a hundred years old by now, yet they do not seem to have mellowed with age at all.

Little Johnny's parents

“Little Johnny’s parents” (as they are commonly known) are still found giving the headteacher an earful when their boy has not been offered a big enough part in the summer production. They still complain if he is not picked for the school team, still want to know why his name did not get picked out for the school trip, still wonder why his exam grades were below parental expectations once again, as in all previous years. It never seems to occur to them that his apparently taking Sats, GCSEs and A levels all at once might possibly be overstretching him, despite those superhuman powers.

And, of course, we are faced with all those countless Little Johnny classroom jokes, in which the unsuspecting teacher is always shocked or outwitted by the cheeky chappy’s withering one-liners. These, of course, are now recycled and occasionally even dramatised on YouTube, the internet enabling Little Johnny to link up online with his equivalent friends abroad, including “Toto” in France, “Klein Fritzchen” in Germany and “Vovochka” in Russia. 

It’s clear that this boy has single-handedly caused irreparable damage to us all – to staff, students and scribes. He needs to be quietly done away with. Illicit off-rolling may be wrong in principle, but not in this instance. 

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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