A popular reward scheme that allows pupils to accumulate prizes for good work or behaviour has been accused of encouraging gambling after running lotteries for high-tech gadgets.
Pupils signed up to the Vivo Miles scheme, which claims to have more than 1.2 million users, could use their points to enter draws for electronic goods, including iPad minis and Kindles.
Vivo Miles, which was launched in November 2008, has proved popular with schools looking to motivate pupils with rewards that typically include relatively cheap prizes, such as mobile phone credit, sports equipment and games.
Schools themselves fund the rewards, which has led to criticism in some quarters that the initiative is a waste of taxpayer money. But it has now come under fresh criticism for running lotteries for more expensive prizes.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said motivational reward schemes were a "healthy part of school life" but running a lottery for children "crossed a line" and sent out "the wrong message".
"I want children to know that hard work pays off, not that having a flutter is a way to plan your life," he said. "Children need to learn that if they want big stuff, they need to save for it."
Although the raffles only cost the equivalent of between 1p and 5p to enter, pupils could make numerous entries. Some, commenting on the Vivo Miles Facebook, said they had spent several hundred electronic points on the lotteries, rather than using them on the gifts on offer in their online "Vivo Shops".
The organisers insist that the lotteries were only supposed to be open to secondary school pupils, but admit that two primary schools were also "inadvertently" included. All the lotteries have now been stopped.
One parent, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she had reported Vivo Miles to the Gambling Commission after she became aware that her son was able to enter a lottery. "It was the most brightly coloured, fun thing that you could see on the website and it was being promoted with pop-ups, too," she said.
"There's something that makes me very uncomfortable about children working hard to get their rewards, then spending them on a raffle. While it may all be legal, we surely have to look at the morality of encouraging children to gamble."
Adrian Burt, managing director of Vivo, said it had decided to trial the raffles for three months after it was suggested by schools themselves. About 500 secondaries are signed up to the Vivo reward scheme.
"The raffles are no longer active while we review feedback from all stakeholders," he told TES. Although the Facebook page tells children that a "contribution" will be made to charity from every raffle entry, Mr Burt said it had always been the company's intention for all the proceeds to go to charity.
He added that schools were in control of how pupils earned their points, and the choice of options they could redeem them on. "We work intensively with teachers and students to ensure that the options are agegenderlocation-appropriate and motivational, all the time keeping within the very limited budgets of the schools," he added.
Points mean prizes
Examples of prizes and privileges children can save up for if their school is part of the Vivo Miles reward scheme:
Privileges agreed with schools:
- Sit on a chair in assembly
- Skip the lunch queue
- Five minutes' extra break
- Pens, pencil cases and other stationery
- Mobile phone top up
- Rubik's cube
- Portable speakers
- Hair straighteners
- Camping mat
- Charity donation.