* "I had done all I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it even so little." - Samuel Johnson When one of our teachers asked us to write about what prize-giving is all about, we didn't think there was much to ponder over until we discovered that in many schools, not least our own, prize-giving ceremonies are no longer traditional gatherings exclusively staged for the elite, but enjoy a contemporary atmosphere where awards are given for much more than "sheer brilliance".
Any headteacher would probably tell you that an aim is to build an ethos of achievement. What we have learnt from looking into prize-giving is that thoughts on how to create this ethos have changed. If you only prize perfection at a prize-giving ceremony and ignore those who strive to do better, then you send out a message to the vast majority of the students which simply says, "you don't cut it". However if you go to the other extreme and give out prizes to everyone regardless, you empty the word "prize" of its meaning and value. Something between these extremes seems to be what many schools are trying to achieve.
Liberton High is a prime example of a school currently recognising the achievements of those who have not only gained the best results but of those who have constantly motivated themselves throughout the year. At this year's prize-giving ceremony awards included: "effort in physical education", "outstanding achievement in mathematics" and a whole-school prize awarded by the school board for "school services".
And it is because achievement varies for each individual that awards for "outstanding quality in homework", "sporting achievement" and "support for learning" are presented. Irrespective of the achievement, each award achieves the same level of congratulation: each winner has succeeded, is noticed and rewarded. Talent is diverse and so are the awards.
A positive student management policy has been set up by the staff at Liberton High who are dedicated to recognising pupils' consistent effort so that awards for "good behaviour" and "excellent attendance" are now also given in the course of the school year. The Liberton ceremony isn't merely a cycle of "awards-prizes-applause", but also boasts a prominent leavers' ceremony. Leavers are given the opportunity to collect their records of achievement, reminisce on their school careers and say a few words about their time at Liberton.
Positive referrals from the teaching staff ensure that every pupil is encouraged to improve or maintain their standard of effort and achievement. "Positive student referrals make you realise that it is worth while putting in all the extra work, extra effort and extra hours to achieve the 'buzz' of having everyone praise you," explains Lana Rae, a sixth-year student.
The introduction of a PRAISE (Promoting Recognition Awareness In Students' Education) database has proved to be invaluable for instant access to each student's profile, as it ensures that the positive is recorded as well as the negative. Gwen Kinghorn, our headteacher, says: "You can talk as much as you like about the importance of raising achievement and improving results, but you must recognise that schools add value in many ways. If a student achieves something special or significant for them, their self-confidence and self-esteem will only be boosted if we show that we value and celebrate that success. At Liberton we value achievement in the broadest sense and recognise success in different ways depending on the nature of the achievement."
We asked what pupils think about our prize-giving and how it is organised. The response was overwhelmingly positive: "Prize-giving plays an important part in student recognition; the variety of certificates available acknowledges our results and underscores our efforts," Adam Shiels, a fifth-year student, explained. One fourth-year student commented: "Being told that you are doing well is fine but being able to prove this with a certificate is even better. Prize-giving is the way forward in student appraisal," Speaking personally, we find the prize-giving ceremony itself to be an emotional and rewarding experience as we see our peers acknowledged publicly for working hard, improving in effort, and excelling in a variety of subjects. Those who don't receive prizes this year will see that it is within their reach next year.
Scott Poulton has been head boy and Brooke Mackay-Brock a prefect at Liberton High School, Edinburgh.