A system of rewards designed by pupils is proving a hit with teachers and children alike, reports Martin Whittaker
Name St John Fisher Catholic high school, Dewsbury
School type Voluntary-aided 11 to 18 comprehensive
Proportion of children eligible for free school meals 10 per cent
Improved results From 40 per cent of pupils gaining five or more A* to C grade GCSEs in 1997 to 51 per cent in 2003
Pupil representatives at St John Fisher don't just lobby the head about school uniform issues or whether mobile phones are allowed in school. The school council has developed a new way of recognising and rewarding achievement in the classroom.
The comprehensive in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, wanted to give its school council more teeth after an inspection report said pupils needed greater opportunities to air their views.
It is still early days - the reward system only began operating in September. But headteacher Kevin Higgins says handing the project over to the school council has motivated pupils.
St John Fisher Catholic high school is a mixed voluntary-aided 11-18 comprehensive. The social and economic backgrounds of its pupils are average - the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals is 10 per cent.
Pupils' attainment has improved sharply in recent years. In 1997, 40 per cent of pupils gained five or more GCSEs at grade C or better. In 2002, the proportion rose to 60 per cent but dipped back to 51 per cent last summer.
In its last inspection in March 2002, the Office for Standards in Education described it as a "good and much improving school" with few weaknesses.
Issues raised included more opportunities for pupils to voice their views, and better information for parents on their children's progress.
Systems were already in place for recognising achievement, but senior management felt they were too fractured and inconsistent. By giving the task of developing a whole-school system to pupils, the school could also address those weaknesses identified by Ofsted.
Pupils based their system on that used by science teacher Katharine Needham for rewarding achievement in class, where pupils build up points for getting questions right, and five points earns them a good comment. They also took the existing school journal, a booklet given to every pupil that acts as a timetable, attendance record and diary, and added a new achievement record.
The new system offers short-term rewards, but gives pupils targets to aim for throughout the year. Three good comments in one subject will earn an achievement sticker with a red star. Three stickers from any subject lead to a bronze certificate from the form tutor. Six stickers earn a silver certificate from the head of year. A dozen stickers are rewarded with a gold certificate, while 24 are worth a platinum certificate at the school's achievement assembly.
Apart from some guidance from staff, school council members led the project. As well as devising the system, pupils also designed the red-and-black reward stickers and individual reward charts for the classrooms, and got on the phone to negotiate with suppliers.
Finally they presented their system. "These pupils did extraordinarily well when they did their presentation to the staff," says deputy head Ray Hodgson.
"It's not often you get spontaneous applause. Here were our pupils taking control, producing a system which has clarity, which they can use to their benefit in the classroom. It's a fabulous tool."
In an initial evaluation of the system, four out of five pupils thought it worthwhile and said they could identify with it.
But isn't there a danger this kind of pupil power could bring some grumbling in the staffroom? "It seems to me that the staff have taken to it well. I think the acceptance stems from the fact that this has come from the grassroots," says Mr Hodgson.
The school's governing body was looking at improvements in the wake of the last Ofsted report, when the decision was taken to hand over the reward system to the school council. Dr Joe Cortis, chair of governors, says: "The school has a long tradition of having achievement assemblies twice a year, and governors are invited to present certificates.
"But I think the new system rewards in a far more timely way - much closer to the event rather than at the next assembly. And it's useful that the ideas came from the students themselves."