Minerva Learning Trust
17th November 2017

Recognition and Reward

Louise Chenery, Head of Crucible House

We are justifiably very proud of the House System at High Storrs, but are not content to sit on our laurels. One of the areas we have been seeking to improve on in the past couple of years is the way in which we reward students.

There has disquiet amongst students for some time now about the way in which we award House Points. Our student voice discussions in the Summer term were particularly damning. Some students, particularly the older ones felt that it was patronising to offer them incentives in the form of points in recognition of work that they should be doing anyway. Other students felt that the way the House Points were awarded was not fair, in that some members of staff were more generous with their giving of them than others, resulting in an unfair disadvantage for some students depending on what combination of teachers they had that year. Students also, overwhelmingly felt that the anonymity with which House Points were awarded (on the computer) was not helpful. They wanted to know who had awarded them House Points and what for. In short, students crave the personal aspect of reward.

In addition, reading that I did over the summer holidays (Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn) regarding the use of rewards in the form of House Points, stickers, gold stars and the like was enlightening to say the least. Controlled psychological studies have, time and time again, shown that offering extrinsic motivators in exchange for any sort of task actually has a detrimental effect on intrinsic motivation. Simply put, saying, “if you do this you’ll get that” may work for very simple tasks in the short term but long term not only gives little motivation to do the task, it is likely when the motivator is taken away people who were offered a motivator in the first place perform worse that those who were never even offered it at all.

Let me stress here that this is not about performance as such, but more about motivation. We want all of our students to retain that love of learning that they were born with. No child enters this world without a zest for learning, a fascination about the world, a yearning to understand how things work. We want our students to retain that attitude to learning all the way through their time with us. Offering them a House Point for every lesson they ‘do the right thing’, is, we think, not the way to go about it.

This blog therefore is about the demise of House Points, but not the demise of the House system – far from it!

At High Storrs, we still feel very strongly that we want to recognise every child for themselves. For who they are rather than what they do. We have started to invite every student to their House office on or near their birthday to receive a birthday present. The Heads of House have already very much enjoyed having ‘birthday chats’ with students, especially as many of them are infrequent visitors to the House Offices and it enables us to get to spend a little 1:1 with each student every year.

However we would still like to be able to congratulate students for work well done. We will now be awarding commendations to students who:

1. Produce work or put in effort over and above that expected or asked for and that shows progress up the attitude to learning levels.

2. Provide extra contributions to school, house or form.

We will also celebrate very good attitude to learning grades (from the trackers) with commendations. Those students who accrue a number of commendations will receive certificates in celebration.

Teachers may also nominate students for a Headteacher’s Commendation throughout the year. Commendation points will also be awarded to celebrate those students who get a Headteacher’s Commendation and these students will receive a certificate.

Whenever a commendation is awarded for work done in a lesson or for homework, the teacher will tell the student that they are awarding it and what it is for. Remember, it’s the personal aspect of reward that the students value. These commendations are no longer linked to competition between Houses. Each commendation is personal to the student who receives it.

We were very pleased with the change of timings of our Celebration of Success last year, moving it from an evening in September to an afternoon in July. Prior to this event, every teacher nominates students they have taught and in their form group for commendations for progress, excellence and citizenship. Students receive these commendations in the form of certificates, along with certificates for their commendations during the celebration afternoon. We aim for every student to be celebrated.

So our House System continues, but points are not linked to competition between the Houses. The Houses remain to provide support to students in any way we can during their time with us.

Sports Day will still be competitive though!