Kindness is a grade booster

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
When school became a 'no put-down zone' pupils' scores soared, writes Roger Smith.

It all started because we needed a quick fix. My school wanted a fast way to raise boys' achievement because, by doing so, we would boost the standards of the whole school.

We had discussed the usual options of learning styles, breaking sessions down into shorter blocks of time and targeting particular boys for teaching assistant support, as well as how we could attract more positive male role models into school.

Then someone said she had visited a school which had a "no put-down day" once a fortnight, when no one was allowed to ridicule or unfairly criticise any one else. This became the idea, the quick fix that we thought would work.

Making the whole school a "no put-down" zone to minimise unfair criticism, points scoring and ridicule linked well with our "no blame" ethos, where problems are made to be solved and mistakes rectified, rather than being hung round an individual's neck like a millstone.

But we wanted to do it all the time - not just once a fortnight. Many of our boys were reluctant to express their views, try new ideas and develop anything challenging and original in front of their peers.

They were afraid of sneering reactions if they got an easy question wrong or expressed an idea that was in any way different.

We had professional posters made saying "No put-down zone". We held assemblies to explain what putting someone down actually meant. Most children across the school knew exactly what it meant and knew how awful it made them feel.

They were well aware of such comments as "That's a stupid thing to say", or 'That's not very good, is it?' and the mob syndrome of encouraging others by saying "Don't listen to himher, she has stupid ideas".

Many boys said that they did not answer questions in case their friends laughed at them if they got the answer wrong, and each teacher talked to their class so that they could explain the concept in an age-appropriate way.

Posters went up in corridors and classrooms, and after one Monday morning assembly, that was it - the school really was a no put-down zone - and didn't we know it?

During the first day children were enthusiastically complaining about each and every real and perceived put-down. In class there were intakes of breath if any answer, explanation or shared pieces of work were greeted in any way other than fairly.

Children knew what they had to do and seemed to recognise instantly that the school was a better place without put-downs. They were less afraid to make mistakes and quickly came to see that there was nothing wrong in having a go, even if it meant giving the wrong answer.

It worked. It was simple and easy and it did make the boys braver and less self-conscious. They were able to be more adventurous in design technology and, when their models did not work, to eagerly start again.

It raised standards across the board for girls and boys, and with regular reminders we all kept at it. Even in the staffroom there was the occasional "Was that a put- down I just heard?"

And after a few months of being a no put-down school, our national curriculum test results showed an average 10 per cent increase in boys'

scores in maths, English and science.

Roger Smith was head of Milverton primary school in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, when the "no put-downs" system was developed. Any thoughts? Write to primary@tes.co.uk

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