Praise where praise is due;School Management;The Sweeney

28th May 1999 at 01:00
On the car radio The Proclaimers sang "Sunshine on Leith", and the sun blazed just along the coast at Portobello for the annual Holy Rood awards ceremony.

The evening was sponsored by Royal Mail and more than 150 young people proudly appeared in school uniform to receive awards for achievement, effort, hard work, good behaviour and service to the community. The entire range of ability was represented and all felt equally valued and recognised. It was far from the prize-giving of yesteryear, when only academic excellence was rewarded.

The awards were presented by Teresa Gourlay, a champion of education in Lothian and Edinburgh. After a distinguished career in teacher education, Teresa became church representative on Lothian's education committee. She has the appearance of a benevolent auntie, but packs a powerful punch when principles require to be defended.

Teresa urged the packed audience to value learning and spoke of the durability of knowledge and skills, calling on parents to foster achievement and ambition.

Before awards were presented, the school's jazz band, under the direction of Dan Hallam, set an upbeat tone with "Curtain Call Blues". Pupils were marshalled with military precision as they rose to collect their awards, and all were photographed at the moment of presentation. Their peers cheered as names were read from the roll of honour.

The staff of Holy Rood turned out in force, despite the ever-increasing frequency of evening events in which they are invited to participate.

As the audience poured out of the hall, the band played "I Feel Good" and Dan Hallam urged them to clap in time. The title exactly reflected the sentiments of everybody involved. The power of praise is often left untapped in schools. In Holy Rood, we have recently established a system of "praise cards", which formally recognise achievement and progress. Individual departments have their systems of rewards, and pupils highly value these.

One pupil, recently enrolled from special school, completed a booklet about snakes as a project in English. Staff ensured he was given access to a computer and a fancy plastic cover was provided to complete the job. The English had faults and some of the pages were sparse, but the self-confidence engendered by the finished article was immense.

Staff too value acknowledgement and affirmation. If senior managers fail to recognise the dedication of teachers, others are unlikely to fill the gap. The recruitment crisis in certain areas and subjects is an inevitable consequence of our failure to value teachers' professionalism. Acknowledgement and affirmation would do as much for colleagues as the acceleration of the stalled pay award.

Most pupils want to do their best and like to have their achievements recognised. Staff are keen to do a good job and respond to acknowledgement and affirmation. The Holy Rood awards ceremony provides an opportunity for the school to recognise achievement.

When the Minister for Education takes over his portfolio within the context of the new parliament, he will not need to be a brain surgeon to see the powerful potential of praise and recognition.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher of Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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