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Frank Butt, deputy head of Langley School

Recognising merit

Taking an innovative approach to rewards systems and school reports can help motivate children to succeed, says Frank Butt

Posted by Dave Higgitt | April 04, 2015 | Teaching

It’s a competitive world out there and the more effective a school can be at helping pupils fulfil their potential the better. At Langley School, children are encouraged to be themselves and staff are focused on drawing out each child’s individual strengths. This is the guiding principle behind a new rewards programme the school has introduced.

Having a rewards process is one thing, however; getting pupils to engage with it is quite another. Langley wanted something innovative that was fair and transparent and helped ensure that every achievement is properly recognised. 

Celebrating success

The school’s electronic rewards system is simple, yet effective in motivating children to achieve more – without adding to teachers’ workloads. Teachers simply tap merits into the system from a PC or laptop and these accumulate to give each pupil a running total. Based on this, pupils progress through bronze, silver, gold and diamond awards and are given badges to reflect their status.

Langley tries to engender a ‘growth mind-set’ in its pupils. With a recognition that success at achieving one’s goals only comes through continuous effort, merits are focused on rewarding positive behaviour, such as commitment and perseverance. A rewards system needs to have kudos and be seen as inclusive: children need to wear their badges with pride. So merits are not restricted to the classroom. Teachers recognise commitment on the sports field, a performance in the drama or music hall, for instance, or even an act of kindness towards another pupil.

One of the dangers of relying on paper for a reward scheme, as Langley has done in the past, is that an achievement could be overlooked. But Langley uses SIMS Discover – a piece of data analysis software from Capita – which makes it possible to alert a child’s teachers automatically when they move up a band. This way, staff know when someone has jumped from silver to gold, for example, and teachers across the school can congratulate them on their success. At the same time, though, the school also wanted to improve the way pupils’ achievements are communicated to their parents. 

A clearer message

Parents increasingly want to support the school in helping their children to become successful and fulfilled adults. So Langley decided it was time to shake up the parental reporting process. The age of the old-style ‘could do better’ school report is long gone. Understandably, parents want much more precise information on how they can support their child’s progress from home. Hence the decision to ditch traditional paper-based school reports and go digital. This gave the school the flexibility to experiment with the format of the reports, and although a little unusual, the changes have been widely welcomed.

Teachers are now restricted to 200 characters for each child, so that every word counts and no unnecessary details cloud the message. The philosophy behind these new reports is to look forward, not back. Each entry provides a positive comment on a child’s progress and a target based on effort for the coming term. As teachers have to put careful thought into what they say about a child’s learning, the information is much more focused and valuable to pupils and parents. Pupils are addressed directly in reports rather than using the third person, and sending them via email also means they arrive more quickly.

Children who are motivated to learn and have the support of families engaged with school life are much more likely to aim high and achieve. Embracing technology and doing things a little differently has helped Langley remain focused on maintaining the quality of teaching essential for success.

Frank Butt is deputy head of Langley School W: www.langleyschool.co.uk

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