Innovative Practice - Plastic fantastic

A bank-style card that acts as a character reference shows pupils how their attitude affects life in the real world Helen Ward

Helen Ward

The background

Kevin Bullock (pictured, centre left, with his High Engager pupils), headteacher of Fordham CofE Primary School in Cambridgeshire, left school at 15 with no qualifications - partly, he feels, because he was allowed to get away with doing very little and didn't engage in education. One of his goals as a headteacher has been for his pupils to be highly engaged in and motivated about learning.

He is now also a member of a business networking group called The Best of Newmarket. "I think going to these events helps get me out of the educational bubble and shows me what is going on in the real world," he says. "The business people there were always talking about how schools were very good at talking about the intellectual ability of pupils, but very poor about highlighting children's attitudes."

Bullock invited one of the business people along to do a motivational assembly. At the same event he also launched a novel kind of reward scheme for his pupils.

The project

Many primary schools have a rewards system that recognises not only children's academic achievements but also their social and emotional aptitudes.

However, Fordham primary has gone a step further with its High Engagers award. Instead of a certificate, children get a plastic bank-style card, which is printed with the words: "This child is a High Engager 20122013". The card also has the headteacher's name and school phone number on it and the child and head sign the card on the back.

"If you get a High Engager card, you can use it when you go to apply for a paper round, say; it has my phone number on and the employer can speak to me," Bullock says. "The idea is that, just as there is currency in a bank card, this card has currency. There is currency in education."

Even if the card is not used explicitly as a reference, Bullock thinks that the message will be clear to children. "Attitudes are shaped in primary school. This card shows the child that I'm prepared to act as a guarantor for them because they have the right behaviour."

The scheme is currently only running in Years 5 and 6. The recipients are nominated by teachers and chosen in discussion with Bullock.

A parents' meeting is to be held this month to discuss the scheme. Bullock stresses that it's not a stand-alone project, but part of a wider scheme at the school looking for ways to encourage excellence and bring in the outside world.

He says: "When children see a business person talking in assembly and saying what I'm always saying, it is very helpful."

Tips from the scheme

Be explicit that the scheme is about rewarding attitude, not achievement. Everyone has the chance to win.

Use quality cards. Plastic bank-style cards show that this is about being grown-up.

Get businesses in and parents on board. It's external recognition that underpins this reward system.

Evidence that it works?

The scheme has only just begun, but anecdotal feedback from parents includes comments that they are "really thrilled with the variety of ways in which Fordham school motivates pupils" and are "absolutely thrilled with how focused" their children have become. Teachers report that pupils are keen to be recognised through the scheme, too.


Approach: A way of rewarding children's attitude that gives them recognition in their community Started 2012

Led by: Kevin Bullock, headteacher


Name: Fordham CofE Primary School

Location: Cambridgeshire

Pupils: 214

Age range: 4-11

Ofsted overall rating: Outstanding (2010).

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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