Talent points that inspire students to be proud to pass

Pupils at Larbert High near Falkirk walked into school this week to be greeted with huge glossy posters congratulating them on their exam successes.

The posters proclaimed the year pass rates, including those in S3 who passed Standard grade maths and English a year early, and listed the individual "star achievers" in S4, S5 and S6 by name. "Well done! We're very proud of you all!" was the message that accompanied a list of other individual and team successes.

All 56 students who were presented for Standard grade English in S3 passed, 95 per cent at Credit level. In S3 maths, all 64 students achieved a Standard grade Foundation award. In S4, the number who gained five or more Credit passes was up by three percentage points; General awards showed a 5 per cent rise; and Foundation was up by 1 per cent. Higher pass rates also improved.

The exam celebration was the opening salvo in the second year of the school's "talent initiative" - a programme of rewards and sanctions aimed at raising standards of behaviour, attainment and general school ethos.

A year on from the initiative's launch, Neal McGowan, the rector, and Jon Reid, the depute, are encouraged and keen to initiate further developments.

Pupils, particularly boys, are reported to have been gripped by "talent fever", as they strove to gain extra points for effort, behaviour and attitude.

Those who achieved a set number of talent points by the end of the year were awarded two days of special activities. Teachers, parents and pupils have responded positively to the programme, led by Mr McGowan, who was secretary of the national discipline task group. The task group, set up by Jack McConnell when he was education minister, resulted in the Scottish Executive's Better Behaviour - Better Learning strategy.

An online survey showed nine out of 10 staff thought the talent system had been effective. Chris Somerville, an English teacher, liked the "platform for rewarding positive behaviour in a way that kids could see and aspire to". If they do a particularly good piece of work, he adds a talent point.

John Martindale, faculty head of humanities, is positive about the "attitude training and getting the kids striving to do their best". S3-S4 boys were the group most interested in their score, he said. "It became quite cool to achieve a high level of points."

Chris McNally, principal teacher of pastoral care, says it is helpful to have positive comments from teachers about pupils, not just the negative ones that have traditionally gone to guidance staff.

The school's survey also found approval among the pupils, two-thirds of whom believed the policy was encouraging them to behave better and more than half that it was encouraging other pupils to behave better.

The school's senior management team - or senior leadership team, as they now prefer to be called - report that in the past year, they have:

* Created a highly effective and enhanced BeCo (behaviour co-ordinators) team.

* Developed their electronic system to support discipline, called On The Button.

* Launched strict policies on dress code, timekeeping and attendance.

* Given pupils more of a say in restructuring the pupil council.

Another key focus has been on improving the quality of learning and teaching, with the school investing in sending 12 teachers on the London-based Alite accelerated learning programme run by Alistair Smith.

They will now train other teachers in the school in the Alite methods, which deal with the most effective approaches to learning based on what is known about how the brain works, about attention and motivation, and about different learning styles.

The talent initiative is expensive, as Mr McGowan admits, and it has only been made possible by viring funds from one budget to another, private sponsorship of some of the incentives and tapping into specific local and national budgets.

* eader 18

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