The hottest way to curry favour with pupils

28th August 2009 at 01:00

Indulge an English teacher and play "guess the genre" with me, will you? Pardon? You want incentives? Tut, tut. What happened to good old personal satisfaction?

Here's a scene from a story. Nine children eat spicy curries in an Indian restaurant, supervised by grinning adults. Chillies burn their tongues. Lime pickle scorches throats. One child cries as he tackles a vindaloo. And still the adults smile, their gleaming eyes fixed on the children.

What do you reckon: horror, crime or science-fiction?

Let's move on to speculative discussion. Why are the children there? Maybe this is punishment for torturing smaller children in the toilets. Perhaps they're devil spawn?

The scene is actually based on a real event. These children are from Glenfield Infant School in Southampton and this curry is their reward for not truanting. Their names were selected at random from a list of good attendees to win every infant's favourite meal: the Bombay Bum Burner.

Now, I'm sure it wasn't as sinister as I imagined. And I'm sure the teachers really ordered mild kormas, wisely avoiding headlines such as "Tots traumatised in chilli challenge".

But the school received disparaging comments about its scheme and had to assure critics that this was not an attempt at "bribery". I would agree - since when was curry the incentive of choice for infants?

Don't get me wrong. Incentives are essential and many schools now motivate students with vouchers for DVDs, pizzas or theme parks. But let's not forget the satisfaction of achievement for its own sake.

I asked my Year 10 form what motivated them most to work. "Instant chocolate" and "teacher praise" came top. Don't overdo the praise, they said - overdoing the chocolate is apparently OK - but a nod and a "well done" meant a lot. Even if it was a bit embarrassing, one explained, it was worth it. Their efforts were being acknowledged.

That makes a lot more sense to me for older students. It's simple but effective. But why not for the little'uns too? Surely better than curry.

I've had three children, and when they were small, if we wanted them to tidy their toys, the best incentive was turkey dinosaurs, chips and a pint of ketchup. But a curry? The suggestion alone would have had them clutching their tummies in mock agony. However, Glenfield may have struck upon an interesting form of reverse psychology, motivating pupils through offering unattractive incentives.

I think I might try a similar approach with my new Year 12s when I get back to school next week. They had their GCSE results yesterday; they'll be ripe for some incentives.

For every C achieved in their AS-level exams next June, I will offer a Val Doonican CD. For the Bs, we'll have a slap-up meal at a raw veg and fresh fruit restaurant, and then dance the night away at an over-50s club to Cliff Richard's new album.

And for the A-grade students? An evening in with their parents to discuss safe sex, drugs and budgeting. Every 17-year-old's idea of a dream night, surely?

Fran Hill is an English teacher at an independent girls' school in Warwickshire.

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