Coming unstuck

20th March 2015 at 00:00

"This sticker-thon is wearing me out," says Mrs Frazzle. It's Friday lunchtime and she is slumped in a chair in the staffroom, reflecting on our latest initiative to improve attitude and behaviour. It mainly involves giving out reward stickers like there's no tomorrow. A glance at the playground confirms how much effort has been put into it. The children look like constellations.

Ryan, who is now the first child visible from outer space, has the most. His sweater is ablaze with shining stars and luminous sentiments. This is despite the fact that on Monday he expressed a profound disinclination to take any part whatsoever in a stupid sticker-thon. How heart-warming it is to see him pushing small children out of the way in his efforts to attract the attention of the lunchtime supervisors, who are giving out shiny pencils to the most-stickered students.

There is clear evidence that this latest initiative has improved behaviour and attitude in the short term. But does educational quantitative easing (pumping vast amounts of new currency into a school's reward system) work in the long term? Are we not in danger of creating hyperinflation in the sticker market? And what if devaluation sets in and our entire behaviour strategy comes unstuck? How long will it be before I need a wheelbarrow of shiny stars just to get Ryan to underline the date?

Back in the early 1960s, sticker-thons didn't exist. The only classroom currency in those days was Miss Heaton's stars, which she kept in a tobacco tin in her desk drawer (nobody knew where she kept her tobacco). Miss Heaton's stars were the lick-and-stick type and came in two varieties. There were the much-coveted silver ones, stuck on work deemed outstanding in terms of presentation, effort and overall quality. Then there were the gold ones, which were as precious as they were rare.

Miss Heaton's gold stars should be nothing more than a distant memory now. But at least one remains. In a tired old English composition book in a cardboard box in my loft, one gold star still shines brightly.

It was young Eddison's reward for a story he wrote entitled The Wind of Terror. Based on his experience of the Great Sheffield Hurricane of 1962, it is, in Miss Heaton's words, a splendid piece of descriptive writing. Stormy adjectives buffet the terrified reader, adverbs tear relentlessly at trees, similes crash down on the page like chimney pots, as that prince of destruction - the mighty metaphor - opens his mouth and roars.

"I've got it!" Mrs Frazzle suddenly unslumps herself. `What we need are those machines they use in supermarkets for pricing things up." She rises to her feet holding an imaginary sticker gun. "Du-du-du," she cries, as she pretends to affix several rounds of imaginary smiley faces on to imaginary children. At least, that's what I think she's doing.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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