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Secondary - 'possies' and merit certificates

Tynecastle High in Edinburgh is (almost) embarrassed about recent publicity about their "possies" or "positive referrals" system. Not traditionally a school to blow its own trumpet, this inner-city comprehensive doesn't do it in the corridors either - it seems so quiet and orderly they've obviously got a secret worth sharing.

But headteacher Mike Hay makes the point that the "possie" forms teachers give pupils to take home for all kinds of achievement or good behaviour, along with their merit certificate system are just one part of a whole-school discipline system where pupils know exactly what the rules are, and the sequence of penalties for breaking them. "Clear sanctions, clear rules, positive rewards, " he says.

The result has been a near-50 per cent drop in negative referrals, unexpected big improvements in Standard grade results and the pupils, says Mike Hay, seem happier and more relaxed.

But don't positive referrals encourage a goody-goody, teacher's pet mentality? "No, because so many children get them, for so many different things, we've given out 1,300 since August in an 800-pupil school."

"I was good at making children jump," reveals ebullient head of history Andrew Savage, "and positives didn't come so easily - but children respond to praise. People say, why should you thank children for doing what they should be doing? Yet adults do this to each other all the time. I'd say that the clear, simplified rules have made our job even easier than the 'possies'. Children want consistency most of all from teachers, and it removes the need to nag. Teachers don't object to the extra form-filling, because their real fear with increased workload is that it will be to no effect. If it makes an improvement, then they don't mind at all."

There was nothing goody-goody about the laid-back group of sixth years canvassed for their views ("Possies are more beneficial to the younger years, we have to work anyway," they sighed). But they were impressed with the system and pointed out the real benefits to pupils' records of achievement when they applied for jobs. They also revealed that some of the hardest cases in the school were "really, really happy" to take the certificates home, though they may not always admit it.

The other secondary presentation at the school discipline conference is from Iain Duncan, head of the large Bannerman High, from a mixed catchment area in Glasgow's East End. Bannerman has developed an impressive computer database of all discipline referrals in the school - in order to monitor them better, and thus improve pupils' behaviour.

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