The Top Five Lies About Behaviour

October 30, 2006


Most countries manage to keep a lid on the behaviour in their schools. We can tell this from the shocked faces of staff and students who arrive from overseas as they see what British education is actually like. (A friend of mine worked with refugees and discovered that more than one family left Britain to face persecution and possible torture in their homeland rather than put their children through the British education system). A few generations back we also managed to stay short of the current anarchy. To excuse the situation we are in now it takes a certain amount of deceit. The following lies are the ones I’ve encountered most often.

Lie Number 1:“If your lessons are good enough you won’t have any discipline problems.”
Who’s told me this lie: PGCE lecturers, OFSTED, LEA consultants, teachers from posh schools.
The Truth: Pupils don’t misbehave because you haven’t met their high pedagogical standards. The kind of kids that cause most disruption would consider any lesson where they can’t adjust their make-up, discuss their sex lives, and try and make one of the shyer kids cry as unsatisfactory. In fact one of the things most likely to make them kick off is seeing the rest of the class learning. The worst kids are a problem before you’ve even tried to teach them. They don’t care about the lesson and they don’t have a reason for misbehaving. They misbehave because they can.

Lie Number 2: “Discipline is all about relationships.”
Who’s told me this lie: Senior managers in schools where senior managers don’t do anything about discipline.
The Truth: A relationship is not one way. Students choose whether they have a good relationship with an adult. If the discipline system isn’t tough enough they will take every opportunity to have bad relationships. In tough schools you get hassle from kids you’ve never met. Complete strangers will yell abuse or throw things at you. There is no relationship there to be a problem. Moreover they will look for easy targets – the people management won’t support. In some schools that’s new staff, in some schools that’s particular departments. When I worked in the Woodrow Wilson School and SMT had fallen out with my department, they declared that all the teachers in it had problems forming relationships with the kids. It was considered more plausible that ten teachers all had the same failing, than that the consistent efforts of SMT to undermine the department might actually have had an effect on the kids’ behaviour.

Lie Number 3: “I’m sorry.”
Who’s told me this lie: Kids (usually accompanied by somebody more senior than myself.)
The Truth: When they say “I’m sorry” they actually mean “I’m not sorry at all, but somehow you’ve actually managed to get me into trouble with one of the few people with any power in this school. While they are here I will apologise but the moment they are gone I will make it entirely clear that it was your fault that I am in trouble and that I take no responsibility for my own actions. Moreover I reserve the right to do the action I am apologising for again, along with far worse behaviour, at the very next opportunity”. At Stafford Grove School one of the kids who apologised for his “uncharacteristic” poor behaviour when accompanied by the Head (“David’s not so bad”) was arrested later in the year for burgling the school and was last seen by me sneaking onto school grounds with a can of beer in his hand, accompanied by several other students no longer on the school roll, no doubt looking for chocolate and valuables to steal.

Lie Number 4: “We can’t do anything with him/her at home either”
Who’s told me this lie: Parents of obnoxious brats who I have foolishly phoned looking for help.
The Truth: Of course you can do something. You could stop paying for their mobile phone until they stop using it in lessons. You could cancel their Christmas presents. You could take that TV set out of their bedroom and lock the Playstation in the cupboard. Parents have a hundred times more punishments available than teachers. That said, parents have more to put up with too, so maybe the problem actually lies with the idea that teachers (the professionals) should rely on parents (amateurs) when trying to get schoolchildren to do what they’re told.

Lie Number 5: “Well we can’t expect too much. They are just kids.”
Who’s told me this lie: Teachers making excuses for the anarchy around them.
The Truth: No, they are not “just kids”. In many cultures they’d be considered adults by now. Many of them are as big as adults. Unless they suffer from a severe form of mental illness they should be able to be quiet. They should be able to listen for ten minutes. They should be able to avoid hitting others or verbally abusing them. Children of the same age in many other cultures manage it. Children of the same age in our culture used to be able to manage it. The problem is this has been thrown away due to the belief that controlling others is wrong and that even self-control is wrong. This lie is made twice as bad when the politics of class are brought into it. Not only are children too immature to behave like human beings, they are too poor. I’m not going to pretend that deprived areas don’t have their own problems, but having one or two kids from single parent families does not mean that you are in the ghetto. Woodrow Wilson school had supportive parents who would (both) come in on parents evening and tell you how puzzled they were that their child had started behaving badly since they started at the school. Many of them were Asian but a fair few were white middle class too as you would expect in the suburbs. Yet to hear the school’s SMT talk you’d think we were in The Hood. “You have to understand” said Gary (the school’s third head since I got there) “these aren’t middle class parents we’re dealing with” when one of the non-attenders at parents’ evening tried to blame me for their son not doing his coursework. I didn’t think to ask him “If they are not middle class parents why are they all living in houses twice the size of mine?”



  1. This list of Lies about behaviour should be circulated to all NQTs and trainee teachers. Kids are behaving badly now because they can. There are no effective sanctions for disruptive behaviour in schools & no political will to introduce any that might work.

  2. This is brill.

    Re: Lie no 1 – has it ever occurred to any of the donkeys who perpetuate it that this is completely counter-productive? Til I got wise to it (ie. after my training and NQT years), this particular lie meant that I a) kept planning ‘active learning’ lessons (translated into actively throwing books, paper, pens and chairs at each other and me) in the vain hope of ‘engaging’ the little dears and b) gibbering, doubting self and perpetually thinking that I was in the wrong. Which of course pupils cottoned onto and agreed with.

    A dangerous, stupid and cruel lie to be telling enthusiastic new teachers.

    • lie number 1- if bad behaviour is down to bad lessons then simple have smt create approved lessons that every teacher uses then see how quickly the bad behaviour disappears…or not…

  3. wish i had seen this during my PGCE year – still feel like I’ve been lied to

    • I nearly failed my PGCE due to being told this lie by a particularly unsympathetic lecturer. It was the first time in my life ( I was nearly 30 at the time) that I actually felt genuinely worried because a supposed professional, with my future in their hands, appeared to be not only wrong but malicious with it. Scary. I later heard that this “course leader” had been sacked for drunkenness…

      • …oh, and I should point out thay I`ve been teaching for 21 years happily and I still enjoy it, like the kids etc. Exhausting though, isn`t it?

  4. Further comments about this entry can be found here:


  5. Thank you for saying all the things that I long to say but have neither the wit nor the ability to put my feelings into words.

    Is it possible to send this to Ed Balls with a request to do more about poor discipline in schools, rather than continually harping on about “poor standards of teaching” in some schools and how it’s going to be made easier to get rid of “rubbish teachers”? I haven’t met a teacher that hasn’t tried to engage pupils in the lesson.

  6. i have just read an ofsted report that says behaviour is good or outstanding in 80% of schools.

    to me this seems an outrageous fib- does anyone know if the unions concur?

    i know some supply teachers who say they get abused each and every day regardless of which school they get sent.

    whats the truth here?

    • Rob, discipline problems are whitewashed and swept under the carpet.
      OFTURD is talking out of it’s collective backside!

      • maybe because when OFSTED visit, disruptive pupils are sent elsewhere????

  7. I wish I’d seen something like this 11y ago when, following redundancy from the railway and gaining a decent HND pass in Mechanical Engineering, I was stupid enough to follow through with a “BSc Physics with Education” teaching degree.
    My memories of firefighting severe discipline problems with NO effective backup from SMT are interspersed with a mere handfull lessons that were almost exemplary, but only because the trouble makers had taken the day off.
    I lasted 2y before giving up and, eventually, getting back to the sanity of the Railway.

  8. The most ridiculous comment I have ever heard from a fellow teacher (when enquiring about the seating layout in particular room):
    “I don’t have naughty seats. I don’t have naughty pupils.”

  9. What ever happened to John Dewey’s belief that education’s purpose is to shape responsible citizen, with the emphasis on ‘to shape.’ Odd that we must now shape our discipline and curriculum to student almost exclusively while at the same time paying lip service to high standards. It entertains me to see student after they graduate who have showered, cut their hair and gone back to their natural color and are now wearing respectable clothing. “Yes, Mr. L. I needed to get a job.’ To bad some of them didn’t get an education, because some dumb as educational leaders thought that they should be allowed to express themselves any way they want at school.

  10. i have just read an ofsted report that says behaviour is good or outstanding in 80% of schools.

    to me this seems an outrageous fib- does anyone know if the unions concur?

    i know some supply teachers who say they get abused each and every day regardless of which school they get sent.

    whats the truth here?

    Ofsted have to give good reports to new academies and new schools to justify their existence and funding – even if they are hell holes – *corruption*

    • Unions face both ways on the issue. One moment they will raise concerns that their members are suffering due to poor behaviour, but with the next breath they will claim that the problem isn’t so bad and so their members can’t be blamed. I suppose this sort of thing is inevitable when the same unions represent frontline staff and managers.

  11. You may be (pleasantly) surprised to hear me say that I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written here. The situation ad you describe it certainly merits the label ‘crisis’.

    But this is not an experience I share. I’ve had difficult students and difficult classes nut I’ve always felt supported by the schools I’ve worked in. And they haven’t been posh schools. I worked at one school in special measures for 5 years and enjoyed it immensely. The kids were pathetically grateful for staff who were dedicated and didn’t leave.

    The school I currently work in has gone fro
    Being viewed as a sink 15 years ago to alright 5 years ago to outstanding now. Of course students misbehave at times. But there is no feeling of crisis and no excuses to be made.

    • Well if you are only talking from personal experience (and I notice that a lot of the time when we discuss things you end up arguing only from personal experience) then I can’t doubt you.

      However, just to check that we are basically on the same page, can I ask the question: Do the kids (in either school) follow instructions, and if they don’t who is held responsible?

      I tend to find it distinguishes between people with genuinely good experiences, and people just making excuses for the unacceptable.

  12. School I used to work at: definitely students who sometimes refused to follow instructions. School very good about dealing with their behaviour. My favourite thing they did was making them spend ‘internal’ exclusions with the youth offending team.

    School I now work at: it comes as a refreshing change to encounter any student with whom one has to exercise behaviour management muscles. For the unrepentant 1% – they are banished never to be seen again.

    As for relying on my own experience – lot more reliable than Chinese whispers and unsubstantiated anecdote.

  13. […] if we uproot ineffective ideas on behaviour (see these posts), the curriculum, assessment and training, then the deep-rooted but rotten trunk of inequality in […]

  14. this is hardly revelatory. I could walk in to any staffroom any day of the week and hear this. No idea at all what your purpose here is other than to rant. Wish I hadn’t bothered to read.

    • You’ll only have to hear this in your staffroom if your school is run by muppets.

  15. Liam,
    I would imagine OA is highlighting the excuse culture behind bad behaviour.

    Given that poor conduct is the biggest barrier to learning, and this is an education blog, I would have thought the relevance self evident.

    The good news is that this situation can be reversed- provided people admit the situation and do things to improve it.

  16. […] the final thing – but it is a variable you can control. See other lies about behaviour here: https://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2006/10/30/the-top-five-lies-about-behaviour/ Andrew has a lot of pieces about the importance of a solid behaviour […]

  17. […] The top five lies about behaviour – Andrew […]

  18. […] them behave for you. That “Discipline is all about relationships” is one of Andrew Old’s top 5 lies about behaviour. If you have a tough class, keep a lid on them, and keep that lid on tight. If you start joking […]

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