Education Quandary

'I am appalled by the behaviour of the secondary school girls I teach. They are much harder to deal with than the boys. Do other teachers find the same?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's Advice

Girls are not what they used to be. Anyone who walks through a city centre on a Saturday night can see that at a glance. In recent years they have busted a gut to catch up with boys in those important developmental areas of fighting, drinking, swearing and criminal damage. But they have also retained their own strengths. Girls have always been adept at verbal bullying, ostracism, and subtle insolence. Add these two things together and you can end up with some incredibly challenging classroom behaviour.

Many teachers agree that girls are getting harder to deal with. Some point out how ready today's teenage girls can be to assert their 'rights', or to threaten to allege abuse if they are told off. Others say girls are quicker than boys to spot teachers' weaknesses, and deadly in exploiting them

But those on the other side of the fence say classroom management problems almost always stem from particular circumstances, and you can't lump all boys, or all girls together. Maybe you are an inexperienced new teacher, or have one or two exceptionally difficult girls who are leading the others on, or are working in a school where discipline in general is poor. Maybe there is something in your own personality that finds girls hard to deal with.

However a new report, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and due to be published next month, makes it clear that all British teenagers are getting into deeper psychological and behavioural trouble. The report looks at generations of 15-year-olds over the past quarter of a century and finds that problems such as lying, stealing and disobeying parents and teachers have more than doubled, while anxiety and depression have risen by 70 per cent.

Boys vent their frustrations with violence; girls by turning their emotional hurt on themselves and on those around them. For teachers the only possible outcome is even harder work trying to control young people who haven't been given the stability or boundaries to behave properly.

Readers' Advice

If any pupils in your class are difficult, it is because your classroom management policies in general are not working. You need to make clear what are acceptable standards of behaviour to you, to set behavioural targets, and get pupils to think about and discuss good behaviour. You need to praise good behaviour, have clear sanctions for bad behaviour and, of course, teach in a way that engages your pupils and does not let them become bored and act up.
Quentin Willis, Swindon

Even primary schools find girls harder to manage. Many now come to puberty early, and no longer seem to be children by the time they reach the top end of school. They ape what they see on television in terms of how they dress and act, and like to exude an air that school is beneath them. At the same time, they are very insecure. I have seen 11-year-olds pinching their thighs and talking about cellulite. I believe this insecurity is at the root of so much bad behaviour and think it is sad that that is how so many children are now growing up.
Patricia Caldwell, Bristol

I am 13, and in a class where a group of girls makes everyone's lives miserable. They think they are so cool, and talk through lessons and take no notice of anyone. If they get punished, or get a letter home, they just laugh about it and say their parents don't care. They pick on anyone whom they think isn't cool, especially one girl who is fat. Our form tutor knows but does not do anything. I don't think she knows what to do. Your school isn't the only one with these problems.
Lara Stevenson, Portsmouth

Next week's quandary

My daughter is bright and good at reading, and her Reception teacher used to let her change her reading books daily instead of weekly. Now, in Year One, she only brings home one very easy book a week. I don't want to push her, but shouldn't a bright child of her age be stretched by work at school? Or is it fine to let her work easily within her abilities?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 1 November, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser