Lose the magic of rewards among high achievers and some important aspects of school life unravel

The end of term is within touching distance at Sheffield schools, prompting staff to look back over a successful year.

Wednesday, 26th June 2019, 11:48 am
Updated Wednesday, 17th July 2019, 2:32 pm
Hard work should be rewarded

Student rewards at the end of the academic year are a staple of school life and give an added incentive to kids from September to July.

Many of our schools have reward systems that see kids accruing house points – Harry Potter style – throughout the year in the hope that praise can be shared at home and safe in the knowledge that there’ll be a reward at the end for those who have put in most effort.

But there is a huge gap developing in the city between schools that can afford and value the summer treats and those that don’t have the money and perhaps take for granted the students that give their best day in, day out.

One school in Sheffield has traditionally put on a day trip to Alton Towers in the last week as a reward for those with the greatest attendance and highest number of house points accrued during the year for outstanding effort.

This summer the trip hasn’t happened and some of the kids have been left scratching their heads because the replacement has been the far less white-knuckle experience of getting a certificate in assembly.

Contrast this to what goes off at schools close by in the city and it becomes clear that it’s a postcode lottery when it comes to rewards.

While one school has its reward trip scrapped, some of their friends in other catchments have enjoyed a trip to a theme park while others have been taken out for a meal. One factor here is money, of course.

The story behind dropping the Alton Towers trip is one linked to funding – while it was parents who forked out for the coach and entrance tickets, it’s the school that has to foot the bill for teaching cover on the day.

But the rewards don’t have to be expensive and they don’t need to be time consuming.

Junior school classes will often enjoy a film afternoon in exchange for a full marble jar, and a secondary school in Sheffield has also collapsed lessons one day after lunch this week to let a year group tackle a movie with popcorn.

A bar of chocolate costs very little to hand out in an awards assembly, yet some schools are drawing the line here because of funding issues.

If I was a headteacher on a six-figure salary, I would be recognising the importance of reward assemblies and perhaps digging into my pocket to find £30 or so to spend on a few bars of chocolate.

You can get four bars for £1 in supermarkets, so there’s 120 kids right there who would go home a little happier for the work they’ve put in.

True, no member of staff should have to use their own money to keep the school functioning, even though I don’t know a teacher who ends up buying something out of their salary. But some things are too important to be shelved.

A 25p bar of chocolate not a life changing reward, but you’d be surprised how much of a boost can be given by something so little.

There is an argument, of course, for saying that children don’t need rewards, that they have to go to school and should be putting in the maximum effort all the time.

‘We didn’t have extravagant rewards in our day,’ you can hear the baby boomers chorus.

But good behaviour at school and putting in a great effort should not be taken for granted; it’s what helps make a good school, it’s the oil that keeps the cogs turning in the right direction. And, let’s face it, we all like a little bit of praise.

The most successful companies have a culture of rewarding staff and offering incentives as a motivational tool, so why should we not do this for our young people?

School leaders should start to be concerned when highly motivated students start looking over their shoulder, wondering why they’re being told that house points are so important.

Lose the magic of rewards among the high achievers and some very important aspects of school life start to unravel.