Innovative Practice - Neither carrot nor stick

24th August 2012 at 01:00
Demonstrate that rewards and sanctions are not the only driving forces behind good behaviour

The background

Research into the psychological effects of encouraging children with sanction and reward techniques has shown that children grow up to be purely reward-driven. Our Lady of Pity Catholic Primary School (OLOP) in Merseyside wanted to challenge the traditional methods of sanctions and rewards, so with its faith in children's natural desire to learn - integral to the school's philosophy - it devised an initiative to achieve wholesome and effective results, both in the short and long term.

The project

All extrinsic sanctions and rewards have been removed. There is not a sticker nor parent slip nor naughty step in sight. For many schools, this would be a terrifying step to take, but at OLOP teachers insist that it works surprisingly well. Instead of the hope of a gold star, pupils' effort is based on their relationships with each other and the teachers, who have to be motivated and determined.

The school accepts that human beings inevitably make mistakes and that this is a part of learning. By passing this philosophy on to their pupils, they hope to demonstrate to them that people are not primarily motivated by material gains, but by building connections with others and fulfilling their potential.

"Without external drivers, the lessons have to be relationship based," says head Mark Cotton. "The teachers themselves have to be intrinsically motivated, life-long learners, living and breathing the values of education and unashamedly striving for greater knowledge and ever higher standards.

"Children feel safe and able to ask for help, rather than part of an environment wherein they are bribed or manipulated into desired behaviours."

Cotton says it is important to be honest with the pupils and teach them values so that they can develop strong relationships with each other and come to appreciate learning and recognise its significance - not just at school but throughout their lives.

By removing the traditional sanctions and rewards system, the school believes it has created an environment in which teachers teach unashamedly and pupils learn enthusiastically. Without the bribes of certificates and prizes, children learn for their own sense of achievement.

Tips from the scheme

Accept that it won't be easy. Children are used to getting gold stars for achievements, and without the threat of staying in at break time they may be tempted to misbehave. But teachers should assert their authority and encourage good work and behaviour through praise, rather than allowing a bad relationship to develop with certain pupils.

Create a passionate, engaging environment that will encourage strong, nurturing relationships between teachers and pupils. This is the starting point for the entire project - without personal links the system will not thrive, because children will not feel connected and will therefore not be motivated by anything.

Evidence that it works?

OLOP has been so successful that it has been invited to assist several other Merseyside schools. It was also called in by the local authority last year to support another school that had been placed in special measures and was operating without a headteacher.

The school has been praised by inspectors, who have noted that "pupils behave exceptionally well and have a keen sense of right and wrong". It was shortlisted for primary school of the year at the 2012 TES Schools Awards.


Approach: Removing all sanctions and rewards


Name: Our Lady of Pity Catholic Primary School

Location: Merseyside

Pupils: About 500

Age range: 4-11

Intake: Lower than average free school meals uptake

Ofsted overall rating: Outstanding (2008).

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