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Head's little (paid) helpers

In return for tackling admin jobs, pupils at one primary get points they can redeem for toys

It is a problem faced by many cash-strapped schools: how to ensure the photocopying is done, the mail sent and school equipment set up on time, without splashing out on additional support staff? But few schools have hit upon quite so effective a solution as Bulphan primary in Essex.

The 78 pupils at this school are being recruited to work as support staff, helping adults with time-consuming jobs. Iain Bendrey, the head, has introduced a series of pupil positions, each carrying a "salary" of 20 or 25 points a week. Children can then use points to buy creative toys, such as a Meccano building set if they amass 200 points.

The best-paid job is assistant to the head, which involves putting out chairs and setting up the projector for assembly. "I used to have to do it," said Mr Bendrey. "Now, I come into the hall and it's all set up. If a job is something the children can do, it makes life easier."

All the jobs involve break or lunch-time work so children do not miss lessons. Three pupil office assistants have been trained to use the photocopier. Energy monitors check that lights and computers are switched off in empty classrooms. And peer mentors look after younger children, ensuring that all pupils have someone to play with at break.

Each position is filled through adverts placed around the school. Potential employees request an application form and detailed job spec. Each applicant is expected to provide an adult reference and given a 10-minute interview.

"I ask them why they want to do that job and how they'll carry it out,"

said Mr Bendrey. "We want to know what they'll bring to the job, why they'll be good at it. And we talk about trust and responsibility."

Successful applicants are offered a contract, which lays out terms, conditions and salary. If they fail to meet the terms, pupils are given two written warnings. Any employee still found wanting would then be liable for dismissal.

Conversely, there is a regular employee of the month, who is rewarded by public recognition and a pay bonus.

"We're teaching them responsibility and respect," said Mr Bendrey. "The children take it seriously. And, if they're doing a job well, it improves their confidence. But, of course, they also look at how many points they'll get - most adults go for a job because the money's right."

Ten-year-old Becky Robertson intends to spend her head's assistant salary on a make-your-own pencil case set for 150 points.

"I like doing my job every day," she said. "I think it would be fun to have a proper one. Only you'd probably have to work longer and you would have to spend your money on other things, like a house or car."

Mr Bendrey prides himself on the happiness of his workforce: "They don't complain about the job. They just get on with it."

But Unison, the public services union, questions whether the children are amply remunerated for their efforts. A spokeswoman said: "You shouldn't expect support staff to work for points. They work for money."

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