Larbert high school, Falkirk

25th November 2005 at 00:00
In August we implemented a scheme called Talent (the acronym for our school code of conduct). It's a system of sanctions and rewards where each pupil starts with 100 points. They can be awarded Talent points for good work or behaviour, and they can lose points if they don't meet the standards of behaviour or work that we expect.

It's possible to lose or gain up to three points at a time, and it's clearly set out in the school policy whether a particular breach of discipline carries a one, two or three-point deduction. A customised software system makes life easy for staff: they just log on and check the appropriate box on screen. It's much quicker than writing comments, giving out stickers or stamping a book.

With sanctions and rewards, the greatest challenge is always consistency.

Pupils respond more positively if they see rules being applied in the same way throughout the school. In the past, if a child arrived late for a lesson, you might get one teacher who would ignore it, and another who would treat it as a crisis. Under the new system, staff simply record the nature of the incident on the system, and the appropriate number of points is automatically added or deducted. So it's not possible to overreact.

We've marketed the scheme positively, flooding the school with Talent mousemats and posters, giving out goodie bags of pens, rulers and key rings and even bringing in a motivational speaker. By handing everyone 100 points, we're giving them something to look after. If we started from zero, those who lost points would be in minus figures, which would be demotivating. We're encouraging staff to award positive points, because it's all too easy to focus on the negative. The system allows me to see how many points each member of staff has awarded, so if someone isn't using it I can talk to them.

Every four weeks we award prizes for the students with the most points that month, and at the start of a new term everyone's total is reset at 100 points. But there is also a cumulative tally, which is reckoned up over the whole year; in June we have an activities day, when what pupils are allowed to do depends on their overall total.

Prizes are funded by local businesses and can be awarded to groups or individuals. Our first reward was for class of the month, where the best class won a tenpin bowling trip. No one wanted to let down their classmates, so it created positive peer pressure. Some months there will be a set number of prizes for the best performers, other months there will be a prize for everyone who reaches a target number of points. It's not bribery, just a sensible use of incentives.

Points totals are posted in form rooms every Monday morning, so everyone can see who's had a good or bad week. Having everything logged centrally means patterns quickly become clear. If a student fails to hand in a piece of homework their teacher might not see it as being too serious, but if it's also happening in other subjects, then the system will flag up that there's a problem.

Rewards are important, but you also need sanctions. There are various sanctions which can accompany the loss of points, such as a detention, or a piece of writing where the student is asked to reflect on their actions.

But the loss of a Talent point seems to be what bothers children the most.

If a student loses five points a letter is sent home; if they lose 10 points then the parents are invited into school for a chat. Getting parents involved as early as possible means any problems can be nipped in the bud.

We thought that Talent would appeal more to the 12 to 14-years-olds than to the older students. In fact, it's been the reverse. One of our 16-year-olds, a keen languages student, told her mum about a forthcoming trip to France. Naturally, her mum was concerned about the cost, but the girl explained that she would only be eligible to go if she got enough Talent points. So after just a couple of months, the system has become part of our students' way of thinking. We're monitoring the impact of the scheme closely, and our student council is giving us feedback from their end of things. It's early days, but so far more than 70 per cent of staff and pupils say that behaviour in school has improved. Hopefully, that means we've got the balance between sanctions and rewards about right.

Jon Reid Jon Reid is deputy head at Larbert high school in Falkirk. He was talking to Steven Hastings

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