3.10.2 Root causes and remedies for un-cooperative behaviour
This chapter follows on from its predecessor (chapter 10.1) in examining questions related to learner behaviour in the classroom, though the focus here is on the more extreme aspects of non-compliance and defiance which teachers may face from pupils. The first section of the chapter defines and explores a range of un-cooperative behaviours which might be experienced in class. The second part of the chapter looks in more detail at what may be causal aspects related to the identified behaviours. The third section takes as its focus the options open to educators in addressing un-cooperative behaviours, and what outcomes may result from the causes of such behaviours being addressed. The fourth and final section examines the limitations for teachers with respect to the levels of intervention they may take when intercepting uncooperative behaviour.
The chapter's contents are contextualised in the workplace scenario section which may be found after the conclusion. Throughout the chapter there are reflective sections designed to support your engagement with the chapter materials.
Learning objectives for this chapter
By the end of this chapter we would like you to be able:
- To define un-cooperative behaviour and the ways it may manifest in the classroom
- To appreciate some of the root causes of un-cooperative behaviours
- To consider the role of the teacher in managing classroom behaviour
- To consider strategies to prevent negative behaviours
- To appreciate the range responsibilities teachers and schools have in disciplinary matters when appropriate
What is "un-cooperative behaviour"?
Un-cooperative behaviour can take several guises. At one extreme, it may be physical, deliberately disruptive, and perhaps dangerous to others; at the other end of the behavioural spectrum it might manifest as unwillingness to engage with classroom activities in a range of ways. A spectrum of behaviours is possible, and this section indicates a hierarchy of severity. It should be noted, though, that the tendency will be for such behaviours to be at the lower end of the spectrum. However, it is useful to have some awareness of the range of potential behaviours and the underlying conditions which may be relevant to consider. Schools will have in place not only policies and training, but dedicated points of contact for special educational needs, for difficult behaviours, and for teacher training and development, and it is always useful to be fully aware of the setting's protocols for dealing with disruptive behaviour at all levels.
Passive-aggressive behaviour may be apparent through resistance to engaging in normal classroom activities, complaints about being misunderstood or above the work being done, complaints of victimisation, argumentativeness, being critical of authority, including that of teachers, alternating between defiance and being apologetic, and periods of resentfulness towards others' engagement or success.
Such behaviour can be psychologically wearing on the teacher, can be frustrating leading to anger or loss of control, and may lead to the educator feeling guilty about having conflicted emotions towards the passive-aggressive learner.
Learners exhibiting passive-aggressive modes of behaviour may claim to be temporarily confused about or blind to the task being set, may be intentionally inefficient, taking time over routine or simple tasks for example, or may work to destabilise the class through spreading dissent, concocting rumours, or being insulting towards others. Extreme behaviour might involve the pupil working themselves into anger, creating tension through emotional outburst, and so destabilising not only their own learning, but that of the whole class (Fad, 2015).
Less co-operative learners might be outwardly and deliberately defiant, seeking to engage and obstruct authority, to undermine the teacher in front of classroom peers, or else to find ways to subvert the running of the session. Behavioural patterns in such learners can be negativistic, hostile, and argumentative, though will be more straightforward in their approach than in passive-aggressive learners. A tendency to communicate through conflict may be determined, as might the need to exert power in situations where they do not hold natural authority as learners.
Defiance may be linked to recognised disorders such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), attachment disorder, or may lead to a diagnosis of (or be symptomatic of) oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Not all defiance is necessarily related to a diagnosable condition; nevertheless, it may be appropriate to seek colleagues' advice and support, and to refer the learner onwards so that the viability of a formal diagnosis being made can be discussed with the appropriate professionals.
Conduct disorders, and related antisocial behaviours, are characteristically linked to ongoing, repetitive, and persistent patterning of defiant and at times aggressive behaviour. Opposition to authority - represented by individual teachers, or perhaps towards the school in general terms - is a common thread. Conduct disorders typically are indicated by behaviour of such significance that they violate social expectations of age-appropriate behaviour; there is often a link to a diagnosable condition.
Conduct disorders vary, though tend to be more prevalent in boys than in girls, impacting upon up to 8% of boys and 5% of girls (NICE, 2013). Referrals to appropriate line management and specialists are appropriate, so that a firmer diagnosis may be made, usually through the intervention of an educational psychologist or other mental health professional. The tendency is for conduct disorders to be associated with other mental health conditions, as well as being associated with risk factors connected to low educational attainment, impulsive behaviour, contact with the criminal justice and social care systems, and lifestyle and family factors. As with other behaviours to which there may be a mental health component, referral and collegiality is key; colleagues can suggest ways forward, can back up or offer alternatives to modes of conduct, and can help provide a unified and consistent approach to dealing with pupils whose behaviour represents a significant conduct issue.
The term challenging behaviour is used in education and health-related contexts to refer specifically to such behaviours which may put the individual or others around them at risk; such behaviours might include being aggressive, self-harming, being destructive or abusive in class, or engaging in culturally abnormal behaviour. Typically, such behaviours and their definition relate to those with severe learning difficulties, and relate to those whose behaviour limits the reasonableness of them being included in mainstream education or in community facilities (Challenging Behaviour Foundation, 2008).
Thus, where it may be tempting to use the term challenging to refer to a pupil's behaviour, one should consider the use of appropriate and specific terminology, and restraint its use to those who are fairly represented by such terms; there is a difference between someone whose behaviour can be challenging at times, and those who might reasonably fit the definition as given here.
If a statemented pupil who is exhibiting challenging issues is part of a mainstream class, then there will be a range of support measures in place, and regular contact with the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) within the school, who will by the main point of context for any observations, support, or concerns. In addition, if pupils are exhibiting behaviours that suggest an underlying condition, then the SENCO is well-placed to offer guidance.
Un-cooperative behaviour may combine with absence issues. Absence from class may be sporadic, such as in a pupil missing certain sessions but attending others during the school day, occasional, as in missing individual days from time to time, or more structured and on-going. Truancy, whether it is sporadic, occasional, or more structured, impacts negatively upon a child's continuity of education, and can be an issue as regards group and class dynamics, as the child concerned may be a destabilising influence when present only occasionally.
What kinds of un-cooperative behaviour have you experienced in classes? What kinds, if any, have you evidenced yourself when young?
Is there such a thing as a 'bad' pupil? Or does all non-cooperative behaviour have a root cause in your opinion? What informs that opinion?
Though it is perhaps inevitable that may pupils will exhibit moments of lack of co-operation at times, for the clear majority of learners these will be temporary frustrations and will not represent a longer-term issue. It should be remembered, though, that children are growing throughout their compulsory schooling years and there may be an association between behavioural issues and the mental and physical experiences associated with puberty and with adolescence. For some learners, though, there may be underlying causes that relate to the symptomatic behaviour, and it is important to consider the possibility that there may be wider issues for the learner which it would be appropriate to follow up on.
Un-cooperative behaviours may be fuelled with frustration, by feelings of lack of self-worth, or with the child making unrealistic expectations of themselves, often by trying to - and failing - to match the performance of others. Anxiety and mental health-related conditions such as depression may play a role. A range of causes is given below (HM Government, 2016):
- Emotional disorders: phobias, anxiety states, depression
- Conduct disorders: theft, defiance, aggression, being anti-social, damaging property, setting fires
- Hyperkinetic disorders: disorders related to activity and to attention
- Developmental disorders: autism-spectrum conditions, other developmental delays
- Attachment disorders: being distressed or socially impaired as a result of an atypical pattern of attachment to a parent or other care giver
- Other mental health problems: eating disorders, habit disorders, post-traumatic disorders as examples
For many pupils, though, their issues will be temporary states, and the behavioural symptoms will be mild. Where, though, there is severity and persistence over time, or where multiple un-cooperative and oppositional difficulties present themselves simultaneously, that may represent a diagnosable condition. 2016 data suggests that almost 10% of children and young people have a clinically diagnosed mental disorder (HM Government, 2016). Of these, 6% of all children have a conduct disorder, almost 4% have emotional disorders, and 1.5% have hyperkinetic disorders and/or other disorders; a fifth of those diagnosed will have multiple disorders present. An additional 15% of school age children have problem which, though less severe, nevertheless put them at risk of developing mental health issues in the future (HM Government, 2016).
There may be other factors at play which are driving the child's behaviour, and it may be appropriate to consider referring the pupil to an appropriate member of staff with the requisite authority to deal with the matter. There is the potential, for example, for underlying causes such as the child being impacted on, or at risk from, abuse or radicalisation; a referral to the designated safeguarding officer might be appropriate in such situations, if there is reasonable cause to do so.
To what extent can you equate negative behaviour in class with emotional or mental difficulties? To what extent do you think there might be other causes?
Look again at the statistics towards the end of the section. Do those numbers surprise you? If so, how?
What is your experience of working with or studying with someone who exhibits difficult or challenging behaviour? How did that make you feel as a learner in that environment?
As the material discussed in the previous chapter discussed, to some extent, the potential for un-cooperative, disruptive, or other oppositional behaviour can be mitigated by careful and considerate planning and preparation ahead of time, by thinking through of the potential distractions and sources of conflict and working to remove them so that they do not represent an issue in class, and by clarity and consistency in the teaching. This, when allied with a considerate approach to learners who might represent problematic behaviours, though not to the extent of shaping the session to them, is appropriate.
Pupils tend not to look to maliciously cause problems, but they may not always be in control of their emotional state, and so may be unable to moderate their uncooperative behaviour if it is triggered. Working to prevent issues arising ahead of time is sensible, and often more straightforward than having to cope with the aftermath of an outburst or similar incident.
Farrell (2010) suggests taking the needs of potentially problematic learners into account when designing lesson plans and activities within lessons. Frequent short activity bursts are recommended; activities should have a clear end point, and be directly related to formal input, A diet of short and frequent activities can be used to develop attention-retention abilities, and to prevent learners getting bored, moving off-topic, or seeking to otherwise disrupt.
- The classroom: be learner-focused and goal-oriented, and ensure that the learners are motivated and guided with efficiency through the session; let momentum carry the session through.
- Mediation with individuals: use your knowledge of learners to counsel and guide, be appreciative of their contexts and problems, and work to avoid confrontational situations developing
- Modification of behaviour: apply relevant learning theories to the classroom to support the shaping and development of behaviour, and the modelling of positive behaviours and learning environments throughout
- Monitoring school discipline: dealing to assess the effectiveness of disciplinary protocols, and of the school response to un-cooperative learners and to teachers who are working with those learners
If un-cooperative or disruptive behaviour occurs, it should be treated fairly, quickly and with clarity. Where instructions are given before activities, then they can be used to relate the activity back to the learner during and after the activity has ended. Direct confrontation should be avoided, or the undermining of the learner in ways which might reinforce oppositional behaviour. Sanctions for non-cooperation need to be fair, proportionate, relevant to the task in hand, and known by all in advance. If you are fair and consistent as an educator, and if sanctions are applied without favour when appropriate, then the learner has every opportunity to know what to expect in a session, and can be encouraged to alter their behaviour accordingly. However, if a teacher is inconsistent, unsure of themselves, applies sanctions which are not relevant or disproportionate to the incident, or else seeks to make an accommodation with the un-cooperative behaviour, then this may be taken as licence to disengage or to continue with unwanted behaviours.
Being un-cooperative through absence (or using previous absence as a pretext for disruption) may be addressed through the school's truancy or absence policy; your setting will have such a policy, and the policy will give details on the reporting procedure to be used. Follow the policy which is outlined in the procedure. Pupils may only be absent from school if they are too ill to attend (and there will be a reporting procedure in operation in every school for the notification of child illness) or else with the school's permission (UK Government, 2016). If a child represents an ongoing issue regarding their attendance, then there will be interventions at the school or local authority level, depending on the rules established in that school's policies and procedures.
However, being compelled to attend school might be a trigger for further bouts of un-cooperative behaviour, so there is the potential for there to be cyclic behaviour which may require further interventions. Repeated absenteeism will be treated as a school issue and will be dealt with centrally by the school, with referral to the local policy on the topic, and with outside agencies as appropriate.
What classroom strategies have you seen in the past which have been effective in working with un-cooperative or disruptive learners? What about those strategies which did not work?
What might prevent sometimes an un-cooperative learner from engaging with a class or activity? Can such factors be designed out?
Though there is governmental guidance available, this gives only a general statement of the law and of educators' responsibilities and obligations; a fuller, and more contextualised account will be found in each setting's behaviour and discipline policy, and with the internal training which will accompany such documentation. It is useful for teachers to be at least familiar with the main provisions of such policies, and the reporting protocols to be followed following a reportable incident or physical intervention. Where the appropriate response is referral to specialists, then that course of action should be taken, as the chapter has underlined. Where it is appropriate to follow disciplinary measures, then that is the route to take, as outlined by the school's disciplinary policies.
The policy will give the rationale of the school's approach to disciplinary-related matters; these will relate to the promotion of good standards of behaviour, to mutual respect, and to self-discipline, as well as to anti-bullying measures and to the regulation of learner conduct, including the ensuring that learners complete all set work. The policy will also integrate with statements connected to the school ethos, and to the expected standards of pupils and staff alike (Department for Education, 2016). Such guidance may relate to:
- Searching and screening pupils
- The power to use reasonable force and other forms of physical contact
- Disciplinary powers outside school grounds
- Reporting protocols with outside agencies in assessing the needs of disruptive pupils
- Pastoral care for staff accused of misconduct related to the above
Though legal obligations vary slightly between academy schools and those under local authority control, in general terms, there is commonality between the behavioural expectations and the related policies of all mainstream educational institutions. The behavioural policy should be linked to on the school website, and the head teacher should publicise the policy at least annually to staff, pupils and parents (Department for Education, 2016).
Teachers, as well as other staff who have a pupil responsibility - such as teaching assistants - have a statutory authority to discipline pupils exhibiting unacceptable behaviour, or who fail to follow a reasonable instruction. This extends to periods, such as on outside school visits, where the teacher is acting in loco parentis. Teachers may confiscate pupils' property, and have the power to impose detention running outside school hours.
Clarity, even-handedness, fairness, and consistency are crucial to the writing and implementation of policies designed to prevent or to sanction disruptive or other problematic behaviour. It should be clear to all pupils, and to others, of the expectations that are in place, the potential punishments, and the consequences of escalating behaviours. Staff development and school line management which is likewise robust and consistent are equally important, as is a collegiate approach between teaching peers to behavioural issues with learners. Policies and their enacting need to be positive and supportive, rather than punitive and restrictive; the aim should be throughout to avoid the use of sanctions rather than to have them applied automatically.
Where poor behaviour is concerned, the school's policy will give guidance, though the following principles should inform any punitive actions taken:
- Punishments are made under the authority of the head teacher
- Punishments and associated decision-making are to be conducted on school premises or while the pupil is under the teacher's authority in their teaching role
- Punishment must be reasonable and proportionate, and not breach legislation such as the Equality Duty.
- Corporal punishment is illegal.
- If there is reason to believe that the child is suffering, or may be at the risk of harm, and it is this which is triggering the negative behaviour, then a referral via the school's safeguarding policy should be made
Where poor behaviour has been identified, and where the sanction will reasonably address that behaviour, then sanctions which are fair and proportionate may be applied by the teacher. Such sanctions might include:
- Verbal reprimands
- Repeating unsatisfactory work until the required standard is met, or the setting of additional work
- Loss of privileges (such as not being allowed to take part in a school event)
- Missing break time
- Detention: lunchtime, after school, and weekend detentions might be used to indicate different levels of severity of sanction
- Community service-related task: picking up school litter, graffiti removal, cleaning up the dining hall
- Being placed "on report": having the pupil's behaviour and other aspects (such as conformity to standards of school uniform) checked and/or reported on after each class, for example
- Suspension or exclusion from school on either a temporary or permanent basis
Higher level sanctions, such as suspension or exclusion would normally be subject to a stated procedure within the school rules, and will involve the head teacher or their authority as delegated.
Where uncooperative behaviour takes place outside the school grounds, teachers have the power to discipline to an extend understood as reasonable; again, the individual school's policy will give direction on this. This is normally restricted to non-criminal bad behaviour or bullying occurring near the school, which is witnessed by a staff member or otherwise reported to the school. Provisions within the policy will specify the approach to take during school excursions, and in other instances (such as travelling to and from school, when wearing school uniform, and when representing the school in an external capacity).
Rules for detentions will consider the nature of the detention (lunchtime, after school, weekend, or on other non-teaching day, such as a teacher training day when the school would be otherwise closed to pupils). Parental consent is not required for detentions. Detentions outside school hours should take into consideration the pupil's personal circumstances, including any caring responsibilities they might have, and the potential risk to the pupil (such as in travelling home after dark, or if the proposed detention clashes with school transport arrangements).
Confiscation of items
Though inconsequential matters might be dealt with a reprimand and an instruction to put the pupil's property away, there exists a general power for teachers to confiscate, and to retain or dispose of - if reasonable - a pupil's property. Again, there will be school guidance on the handing in, return, or destruction of pupil property.
Items deemed as prohibited may be searched for without consent. These include:
- Knifes and other weapons
- Illegal drugs
- Stolen items
- Tobacco and cigarette papers
- Pornographic images
- Any other banned item
- Any article likely to be used to cause offence, injury, or damage (a screwdriver, for example)
Weapons, knives, and illegal pornography must be handed in to police.
Use of reasonable force
Teachers and other school staff have the power to use reasonable force to prevent pupils from harming themselves or others, from committing an offence, from damaging property, and to "maintain good order and discipline in the classroom" (Department for Education, 2016, p. 12).
In addition, head teachers and other delegated staff have the power to use reasonable force to search without consent for the items indicated in the previous sub-section. School rules may also outline additional search provisions, though force may not be used in those instances (Department for Education, 2015).
Seclusion / isolation rooms
Schools may have a policy allowing disruptive pupils to be placed away from other learners for a limited amount of time. The factors governing use of such seclusion or isolation rooms should be clearly stated in school policies, and the use of such rooms should be reasonable to the circumstances, with the dignity, health and safety of the pupil held as paramount.
This section might read as disconcerting; however, the information given here is intended to state the scope of teachers' powers about intervention, and the range of intervention strategies open to schools in dealing with uncooperative behaviour. The clear majority of pupils will be engaged and enthusiastic, and most instances of uncooperative behaviour will be small-scale, perhaps localised, and easily defused with good classroom management, a sense of humour and proportion, and perhaps a quiet word with the learner. It is nevertheless useful to be aware of the scope of, and limitations to, sanctions available to the educator.
Locate a copy of your setting's disciplinary policy. Does it make sense? Is it clear? What questions does it raise in you? What assumptions might the policy make?
What would support your confidence in applying the measures the policy contains? What mechanisms are in place for teaching staff to assist them in decision-making and in applying sanctions where relevant?
The chapter - and its predecessor - have examined a range of behavioural issues and their possible causes and consequences in some detail. When starting out as educators, it is only right to be idealistic about the profession, and to be optimistic for all sessions and all learners. However, as these chapters have indicated, not all learners will engage with everything, and for some learners there might be significant barriers to that focus on the session.
A teacher needs to be proactive; planning in respect of approach and in session content will give an advantage, but there will be times when we are all stretched by a non-compliant or obstructive pupil. This chapter has centred on more difficult behavioural sets, and has had two main themes: the relationships between behaviour and that behaviour as potentially symptomatic of an underlying condition, and of the disciplinary aspects of teaching.
Part of the experience of education is to support children and young people in how to deal with wider society so that when they are adults, with the responsibilities that go along with adulthood, they know what to expect if social norms and standards are not met. To support that aspect of development, while providing appropriate social, counselling, and medical interventions as appropriate, is only right.
Now we have completed this chapter, you should be able:
- To define un-cooperative behaviour and the ways it may manifest in the classroom
- To appreciate some of the root causes of un-cooperative behaviours
- To consider the role of the teacher in managing classroom behaviour
- To consider strategies to prevent negative behaviours
- To appreciate the range of responsibilities teachers and schools have in disciplinary matters when appropriate
Challenging Behaviour Foundation (2008) What is challenging behaviour? Available at: http://www.challengingbehaviour.org.uk/about-us/about-challenging-behaviour/what-is-challenging-behaviour.html (Accessed: 22 November 2016).
Department for Education (2015) Use of reasonable force advice for headteachers, staff and governing bodies. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/444051/Use_of_reasonable_force_advice_Reviewed_July_2015.pdf (Accessed: 21 November 2016).
Department for Education (2016) Behaviour and discipline in schools: advice for headteachers and school staff. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/488034/Behaviour_and_Discipline_in_Schools_-_A_guide_for_headteachers_and_School_Staff.pdf (Accessed: 21 November 2016).
Fad, K.M. (2015) Dealing with students who are uncooperative, oppositional, and exhausting. Available at: http://www.crcpd.ab.ca/uploads/userfiles/not_going_to_do_it.pdf (Accessed: 21 November 2016).
Farrell, M. (2010) The effective teacher's guide to behavioural and emotional disorders. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Education and inspections act 2006, c. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/40/pdfs/ukpga_20060040_en.pdf (Accessed: 21 November 2016).
HM Government (2016) Mental health and behaviour in schools departmental advice for school staff. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/508847/Mental_Health_and_Behaviour_-_advice_for_Schools_160316.pdf (Accessed: 22 November 2016).
NICE (2013) Antisocial behaviour and conduct disorders in children and young people: Recognition and management. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg158/chapter/introduction (Accessed: 22 November 2016).
Smith, C.J. and Laslett, R.A. (1992) Effective classroom management: a teacher's guide. 2nd edn. New York: Taylor & Francis.
UK Government (2016) School attendance and absence. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/school-attendance-absence/help-with-getting-your-child-to-go-to-school (Accessed: 21 November 2016).
You are a new member of staff in a school, and are attending a team meeting to discuss learner behaviour. Part of the meeting involves a group working exercise, where you are given some information about theoretical pupils and are asked to suggest appropriate ways of engaging them and responding to different kinds of un-cooperative behaviour.
The invented pupils are:
Rob: Rob gets bored easily, particularly when set writing tasks, claiming that he can't see the point of writing when everyone uses computers and tablets anyway. He will avoid writing wherever possible, to the extent of refusing to finish written prose homework.
Lena: Lena is a learner whose grades have dropped off over the previous term. Once an able and engaged pupil, Lena is not surly and contributes little in class. At times, particularly when asked a direct question, Lena can be disrespectful and intolerant of others and of teachers.
Kane: Kane has attendance issues, and uses non-attendance to draw attention to himself when he does show up for school, claiming not to know what he is doing, and being distracting in class because of this. When not given attention, he is emotional and prone to outbursts, and has stormed out of classes on more than one occasion.
What might you suggest for each learner?
Rob: Rob might benefit from a reappraisal of his preferred learning styles. Though some exercises will always require writing, there may be opportunities to vary the kinds of assessments which his group does, which offer ways to complete the desired learning outcomes without having to write extensively. This does not mean tailoring assessments or activities to the individual, but offering options to all which are valid so long as the outcomes are being successfully met. If handwritten tasks are contextualised to both subject and to real-world applications, this may help also.
A trial on these lines might indicate if this solves the issue. If other barriers become apparent, then this might be indicative of some other underlying cause to this lack of engagement. This can then be investigated separately. In addition, conference with colleagues will indicate if Rob is consistent across classes, or if there is a situational aspect to his lack of co-operation.
Lena: Changes in personality, and associated alterations in character and performance might indicate an emotional problem. This may be a short-term issue, or one related to the pains of growing up, but it should not be ignored. In the first instance, simply asking Lena in confidence if everything is alright may yield an opening; boosting her confidence may also work in re-igniting a spark in her.
An offer of a counselling referral may be appropriate; the chance to talk matters through with someone who is a comparative stranger, and to whom the teacher/pupil dynamic does not apply might be a useful strategy. As with Rob, checking with colleagues to see if her behaviour is consistent across classes and subjects is useful, and others' observations might be relevant in suggesting a way forwards.
Kane: Kane suggests an answer to his own problems, though he might not have realised it. Notwithstanding any diagnosis that Kane might have, nor the relevance of considering a professional opinion on Kane from a behavioural standpoint, his behaviour is problematic. The school's disciplinary policy should be followed, in association with the absence/truancy policy. If Kane's mode of behaviour is to use his own absence to cause disruption, then part of the solution may be to use detention time to support Kane to catch up on what he has missed away from the distractions of other learners.
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