Can a pupil (or a small group of pupils) ruin the chances of the rest to do well?

Recently I read a blog by @iQuirky_Teacher which I thought was interesting. During the ensuing debate someone said something along the lines of “No student ever takes too much”. In response I gave some examples of students that I thought “took too much”.

That phrase is open to interpretation so I should explain what I mean by that. I mean that the presence of those pupils in my lessons took up so much of my time that the education of the other students in the class was significantly damaged.

It was then implied that the behaviour of those pupils was my fault, the schools fault and that if a pupil was damaging the chances of others then either the teacher or the school was rubbish.

I then had a brief sensible discussion with @JulesDauby and @rachelrossiter (both of whom I really like) about whether the “1 child ruins 29 others” happens and why it might.

I said I would blog about it so here is my blog…

First of all I should say that the person who implied that the behaviour is my fault, my responsibility, that if that occurs the teacher is rubbish and/or the school is rubbish could well be right. I make no great claims to being a brilliant teacher. I have worked in some awful schools. Some of the things I will describe happened in schools with awful inclusion policies (in my opinion). All of that is besides the point. The point is that in those schools, in those environments, in that context the presence of those pupils in lessons was hugely damaging to the other pupils in the class. Should it have been? Probably not but we must deal with the world as it is not as it ought to be or as we would like it to be.

If someone says the presence of some pupils is damaging the education of the rest then there is little point in telling them that they’re wrong. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way. Maybe they are rubbish. Maybe their school is rubbish. Maybe it would all be different if they were different or worked somewhere else or perhaps they are a good teacher doing their best in trying circumstances who does not need someone with no awareness of their situation judging them. Being unpleasant to them certainly adds nothing to the sum of human happiness.

Secondly I should say that most pupils I have taught who have significantly damaged the learning of the other pupils in the class have not had any diagnosed special need or disability. It has mostly been the schools behaviour management systems that have been at fault in my opinion. Of the pupils who have had a special need in the opinion of the school many have not been statemented and in my opinion have either been misdiagnosed or labelled special needs when they should not have been (as challenging behaviour is not always indicative of a special need or disability). I blogged about this previously here:

This does not change the fact that their presence in lessons has had a significant negative impact on the learning of the other pupils in the class.

So, on with the blog…

Recently a young man was moved into one of my low ability classes from a higher ability class. This was done as part of the school’s strategy for dealing with his behaviour and was done at his parent’s request. His statement was for ADHD. The reasons given to me for this change were:

  1. He has an appalling attitude to women and his teacher at the time was a woman.
  2. He doesn’t listen during explanations. In his current class this means he is unable to do the work causing him to misbehave. In a lower ability group he might be able to do the work without having listened thus minimising his poor behaviour.
  3. Of all the teachers he could have moved to my style of behaviour management was best suited to dealing with him.
  4. His current class was a large class and he was damaging the learning of all pupils in that class. All attempted strategies to change his behaviour had failed so they wanted to move him to a smaller class.

He knew about the change in advance and had already told the other pupils in my class before he moved. The came to me to complain before he had even been in the class once.

  • If he’s in the class I won’t learn anything.
  • He’s in all my classes and just mucks around all the time
  • None of my teachers can control the class if he is in it

are some of the complaints the pupils made. I told them to wait and see and have confidence in me.

I was told that he had an exit card which allowed him to leave the lesson and go to the SEND department if he felt he was not coping in lessons or was about to get into trouble. This was a strategy that was supposed to allow him to pre-empt difficulties with his behaviour in lessons. I was told to challenge his poor behaviour, to suggest he use his exit card if I judged him unlikely to cope in the lesson and to send for a senior leader should his behaviour be unmanageable if he declined to use his exit card.

In most lessons one of the following things happened:

  1. He would arrive late, enter the room rapping at the top of his voice and when challenged use his exit card.
  2. He would arrive late, enter the room rapping at the top of his voice and what challenged either verbally abuse or threaten me. He would then attempt to use his exit card and when informed that the purpose of the exit card was not to get him out of trouble when he had misbehaved threaten or abuse me some more before being taken away by a member of the senior leadership team.
  3. He would arrive late, forego the rapping and instead wind up or abuse other students until he was either set detention or asked to leave the classroom. If either of these things happened he immediately became abusive and/or threatening. He would then be removed by a member of the senior leadership team.
  4. He would arrive late, do some work but spend most of the lesson either singing or winding up other students. If set detention the inevitable response resulted in him being sent out. If not then he would ignore all warnings and requests to stop singing and stop disrupting others until it was suggested to him that he might wish to use his exit card.

Why was he always late? I quickly discovered that before coming to my lesson he was going to disrupt the beginning of the lesson of his old class (presumably to upset his previous teacher and/or see his mates).

I also found setting him a detention to be difficult. You see he didn’t turn up to detentions. His form tutor couldn’t get him to attend or keep him behind. Nor could his head of year. All the escalations achieved nothing in this regard. It took quite a few attempts to establish this. Getting him to actually do a detention invariably involved getting a member of the senior leadership team to collect him. I would then go to their office, tell him why he had detention and then leave immediately before he had the opportunity to start arguing or being abusive. The leader would take it from there.

He did have a teaching assistant with him some of the time. He did not want one. He was appalled by the notion that he needed one. He was invariably abusive towards them if they tried to support him in any way. I put this partly down to his attitude to women and partly down to his attitude to special needs students.

There are a lot of pupils that I could have used an example but I have chosen this one because he joined the class part way through the year and thus how his presence impacted on the learning of the class was very visible to me, the other pupils and the school.

Could the school have dealt with this pupil differently? Absolutely. Would the impact of his behaviour have been lessened if he had been dealt with in a different way? Possibly. That is beside the point.

There are far more extreme examples I could have used as shown by my tweets but for several reasons I think this example illustrated my point better. However if anyone is interested in the context of the schools where I was frequently dealing with sexual assaults and confiscating knives then they can find several posts on this blog relating to those schools. These are probably the most relevant:



3 thoughts on “Can a pupil (or a small group of pupils) ruin the chances of the rest to do well?

  1. jameswilding

    Really interesting and challenging post. I could probably answer yes and no to all of your questions. It’s my view that over the past 25 years or so, school leadership has moved over from those who lead, manage and teach to those who manage.
    As a result, those who teach find themselves being managed by those who don’t. As in Orwell’s Animal Farm, the rules have shifted such that poorly behaved children are the product only of some bad teaching, not the complex alphabet soup that includes the possibility of disability and/or inappropriate parenting.
    35 years of headship, and most of the time, both the problem and solution require individual experienced fettling. Which takes SLT time, effort, energy and creative thought. If it were easy, teachers would solve it.
    Of course, some teachers create the chaos in the first place; in some schools, they are recognised for what they are, in others, they earn promotion…
    and may write blogs about behaviour management.

  2. Pingback: SEND IS Mainstream. But it’s complicated. | headguruteacher

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