14/08/2014 16:54 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Do Schools Reward Naughty Pupils?

School boy balancing a pencil on nose with classroom at the back

Do you think naughty pupils get all the breaks at school? (That is of course if you can bring yourself to refer to children as naughty in these enlightened times.)

It's a view that I find surprisingly prevalent among my friends.

I can't help thinking about occasional sensationalist headlines about young troublemakers on all-expenses paid jaunts to the countryside after they've stolen a car.

Yet I know a knee-jerk reaction is the wrong one, life is not so black and white.

When it comes to less extreme cases of bad behaviour being met with incentives rather than – or alongside – punishment, are we right to speak up for the children who wouldn't dream of kicking off in the first place?

Take my friend Helen, she has two girls and was gobsmacked last week when her elder daughter, aged 11, came home from school to report that some youngsters in her class had been allowed to bring in games consoles.

The children were encouraged to bring in their gadgets as a reward for 'improving' their behaviour, after being singled out as class members who had caused disruption in the past.

Helen's little girl hadn't caused any problems so she didn't share the treat.

"Sammie was pretty disappointed as to why she couldn't take her DS to school," says Helen.
"I was a bit stuck as to how to explain that she hadn't been naughty enough."

Katie, mum to Alex, 17 and Josh, 10, has a similar gripe.

She says: "I've lost count of the times Josh has come home to tell me all about how a child in his class has been earmarked for a Star of the Week prize, because they did something naughty a while ago – but haven't done it since.

"I'd like to see the kids who haven't sparked any trouble be included more often."

Mum-of two, Jacqui says her daughter's experience at the start of Year One, is unfair.
"For the first time ever she was teary and reluctant to go to school. When we pressed her on why, she said she was finding it hard to understand what her teacher was saying, and was feeling overwhelmed," she says.

"We rang her teacher, and she was fantastic. She promised to speak directly with her to find out if there was anything she could do to help her settle in more quickly. Then she confided in us 'off the record' that one of the problems was that her class included a few unruly boys and girls. Because her time and attention was sometimes disproportionately spent dealing with them, the 'good' kids were sometimes overlooked. It was a problem she was very aware of but didn't know how to change, as there was only so many minutes in each lesson.

"It is unfair when the naughty kids divert attention that should be evenly distributed amongst the entire class, and I can see why some teachers resort to incentives simply to bring their classrooms under control. But what kind of message does that send our children: if you play up and don't do what you're told, you get rewarded?

"I think in some cases children causing the disruption DO need more intensive tutelage - maybe they're acting out because they simply don't understand the school work. But it shouldn't be at the detriment of the children who are better behaved, or need less supervision. Maybe it's a case of teachers regularly going directly to each child to see if they need help, rather than waiting for the children to approach, or grab their attention first?"

Jean is a mum of two and primary school teacher.

She says: "These examples could be to do with the teacher's authority in the classroom and how they handle disruptive pupils, and also whether the school has consistent strategies in place for dealing with behaviour. Some schools don't, and teachers have no support for dealing with bad behaviour.

"I don't think it's fair to say well behaved children always get overlooked, but it does happen and a lot of it is to do with the teacher's skill at managing behaviour in the classroom, as well as the parents' willingness to cooperate with the teacher.

"In my opinion the children that are overlooked the most are the well behaved but academically average children. They don't get as much recognition as the brighter children but don't cause a problem either.

I remember hearing a poem many years ago, written from a child's perspective, describing his school years as living in his "average hell" and I've always tried to remember that middle group who miss out on praise or attention.

"Handling behaviour is one of the key skills for teachers, and if they get it wrong it can change the whole atmosphere in the classroom. I work with some teachers who are brilliant at it and other less so. I suppose a lot comes down to the individual.

"One of the biggest problems with dealing with pupils' poor behaviour is that some parents are either not interested in hearing about their child's bad behaviour or just won't accept that their son/daughter is badly behaved. ("But he doesn't do that at home")

"So many parents excuse their child's behaviour as being 'normal' or don't have any control of their own. The number of parents I've spoken to over the years who've made excuses for their kids is disheartening, and you learn that the children have no boundaries at home, no rules and no sanctions if they don't behave. Even worse, some parents become aggressive and will drag their children into school to watch while they berate the teacher. From that point on, the child has no respect for the teacher."

So what would Jean say to parents with the impression that well-behaved children lose out?

"I can see why they might think that, but most teachers want the best for their pupils. It's also important that the parents talk to their child's teacher if they have a concern."

"If they're not satisfied, or if the problem continues, they can take it to the headteacher or Board of Governors."

As parents we are working hard to see good behaviour rewarded at home.

Perhaps we should all queue up to point out we'd like to see the same at school.

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