The Problem with School Behaviour Control: Why Golden Time, Merit Certificates, Attendance Awards, Green Badges & Traffic Light Systems May Cause More Harm Than Good.

The side of my fridge is cluttered with merit certificates, head teacher awards, attendance certificates and little cards full of smiley faces. Every Friday a newsletter is delivered to me by a hand freshly decorated in lurid nail polish hastily applied during ‘Golden Time’. At least 50% of the newsletter is populated with behavioural reward results of some kind – ‘writer of the week’, ‘tidiest cloakroom’, ‘certificates of merit’ and ‘100% attendance awards’ and I can’t help but wonder where did we go so wrong?


When did our education system become so obsessed with bribing children with rewarding carrots?

Are the powers that be really so all consumed by Gove’s visions of educational factories churning out behaviourally controlled drones? Are they really that blinded by his Matrix like plans that they stop viewing children as thinking, feeling individuals and instead see them as akin to laboratory animals in a 1950’s Skinner’esque conditioning experiment? This isn’t progress.

These strategies have major flaws. Their efficacy is arguable, particularly when holding a long-term view (though of course politicians rarely think long-term – why bother? They will be out of office and can blame the lack of results and complications on the new party in office, in a never-ending cyclical cycle). Not only is the efficacy questionable, but what is more concerning, is what we are doing to our children with this new rewards obsessed system. What are we doing to their motivation, ambition, confidence and drive? and how might this impact (negatively) on their future learning?


I am more than disillusioned with the current education system. If there was a way, I would home-ed my kids in a heartbeat. I am genuinely worried about the future of our children. Many parents agree, they instinctively feel that this constant bribing of our children with meaningless pieces of paper, badges, 10 minutes of ‘golden time’ and special awards is wrong. They would be right.

It goes beyond instinct though, There is a significant amount of scientific research that supports the notion that these behavioural techniques not only do not work in the long-term – but they may cause serious implications in our child’s future learning and willingness to engage with their own education.

Take for instance the ever-growing current trend of ‘rewarding the good’ – aka: bribery or ‘carrot dangling’. Does this really invoke long-term change? Can it motivate students to behave better, work harder, concentrate more and skip school less? Scientists would disagree.

The issue of intrinsic (internal) versus extrinsic (external) motivation is not a new one in the field of Psychology. What we really want our children to have is a strong internal drive to do well and learn more. That means this drive needs to come from within, in short they need to WANT to learn. How does this come about? Well – usually from an environment conducive to learning, age appropriate (largely focused on play and learning through the senses, particularly for younger children), full of objects, tools and people who inspire a child’s natural curiosity and natural scientist tendencies – an environment such as a forest school or an outdoor classroom perhaps with a teacher who is inspired by the child’s natural inquisitiveness and who fosters and nurtures it as delicately they would a seedling.

Add in to the mix parents who help the child to foster a sense of pride in themselves and a desire to keep trying and improving their skills. Simply put for the most successful education we need a child who wants to learn for no other reason than they want to learn! Because it is inspiring, because it is interesting, because it is FUN! Now how does that fit in with hundreds of stickers, crumpled pieces of paper with smiley faces, SATs and OFSTED inspection driven attendance scores?


The simple answer is – it doesn’t. These meaningless proverbial carrots don’t inspire anything, aside from a short-term behavioural change which then gives way to less desirable behaviour than existed originally. You see it’s not just a case of ‘take away the reward and the behaviour stops’, it runs deeper than that – take away the reward and the behaviour is often WORSE than it was before you gave the reward. This is what happens when you foster extrinsic (external) motivation in children – “if you do this, then I’ll do/you’ll get xyz”. Scientists  have illustrated this correlation many times.

If the rewards don’t work, then what about the punishments? Really rewards and punishments are two sides of the same coin. What of the children who don’t have a ‘green badge’ for their attendance? Or those who are on the red traffic light, sad face or ’15 minutes lost’  of golden time? Will this punishment and singling out (for that is what it is, however ‘cutesy’ it is packaged on the wall chart) make the child more motivated to ‘be better’ next time? Again, it’s a big fat NO. Of course not!

If you were punished by your boss for “not being good enough”, singled out from your workmates, or missed a social ‘do’, would you vow to ‘be a better worker’ next time? Or would you sulk, question your worth and feel a dis-connect with your boss? This is so blindingly, simply obvious I am stunned that almost every school in the country treat OUR children (for that is what they are – not the school’s, not Gove’s – OURS!!) in a way that they themselves would never want to be treated.

What about the cause of the behaviour? Why is that never investigated? (I know the answer of course – no time, no resources) what about the child from the family on the breadline who is malnourished and exhausted, who misses school because of ill-health (no ‘100% attendance’ certificate for him!), or the girl from a family who is treated poorly, whose parents don’t care about her education, or her really for that matter, the girl who has to put up with daily insults and ill-treatment from those who should love her the most. What chance does she have? When she makes it into school 15 minutes late in unwashed clothing, on an empty stomach and it all becomes too much – her pain externalised into a tirade of verbal abuse at a teacher or fellow student. Straight down to the sad/angry face, red light, ’15 minutes lost’ she goes… in the world does this system motivate her? (and in most cases she is the one who needs the most motivation, for her behaviour impacts on the whole class).


What of the children who try hard every day but are not naturally gifted, those who never achieve high grades or win awards, but those who often try harder than those who do (the ones who are naturally gifted – or even worse, those who never try and are then rewarded for the tiniest bit of effort that they display once in a blue moon), when do they get their award? When do we recognise the constant effort they put in each day, despite never achieving set goals?

What of the child who is too scared to ask to stay home because he knows he will lose his attendance score and the special treat offered, even worse when the special treat is offered to his class – for he would be letting them down if he was ill. How does it help his education when he goes to school feeling ill?

Is it just me that sees this? Are there other parents out there as dismayed as I am? Who roll their eyes at each newsletter ‘rewards and achievements’ section? Who is more interested in how their child feels about their own achievements – whether they were awarded for them or not?

The key to our child’s success does not lie in the domain of certificates, awards, badges and ‘special time’, the key is inside of them, just waiting to be unlocked.

Perhaps if the echelons of educational authorities spent more time on creating a learning environment that met our child’s needs and less money on certificate paper, badges, OFSTED inspectors and behavioural training courses the world would be a very different place – filled with a genuine love for learning and with it a significantly higher level of academic attainment.


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About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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43 Responses to The Problem with School Behaviour Control: Why Golden Time, Merit Certificates, Attendance Awards, Green Badges & Traffic Light Systems May Cause More Harm Than Good.

  1. Michelle Brooks says:

    I just wanted to say you put all my concerns about my little one attending school into words.

    • This is fantastic – so spot on. I bailed years ago as couldn’t bear the bullshit even when tiny – badges and big grins and overstimulation at mother and baby singing groups – my toddler would cry and cry, she was so overwhelmed and resistant to being choreographed – she was like a canary in a mine

  2. Every time I read your posts I feel more and more strongly about your expertise Sarah. It’s partly because I often feel like you’ve noticed the thought that’s picking away at the back of my mind! Your engaging style and evidence based approach are so well balanced, I enjoy reading your work and often agree 100% with your stance.
    This subject is something I feel particularly strongly about and like you would home-ed (or even un-school) if it were a viable option. I do hope this article gets shared far and wide, perhaps we can create a collective parental voice to articulate our shared objection.

  3. Gayle says:

    My eldest child is 3 so I’ve not experienced this yet, but it worries me as we consider schooling options. We try not to ‘condition’ our daughter at home, so assuming we go for mainstream education (other options being Steiner or some form of homeschooling, both financially problematic), I’m interested in how parents try to counter the effects of the reward/punishment culture, and indeed if it’s possible. As someone who did ‘well’ at school but nevertheless felt the damaging consequences – I’m only just starting to take risks and be prepared to experience failure – I’d love to know how to buffer my children against this.

  4. Jennie tindall says:

    I agree with all of the above. Especially about the 100% attendance. If your child gets ill at my daughters school and stays off, they don’t get entered into the prize draw at the end of term where one child can win a kindle fire. Only one child mind. Not much of an incentive anyway in a school of 1500! They get merit points and behaviour points. Once, my daughter got a behaviour point for being upset in PE because some other girls had been bullying her. I protested and eventually got it removed but then I am a confident parent. What about kids without assertive and involved parents? Merit points are very randomly given for each lesson so by the end of the year my daughter had over 1000! This was this meaningless as she couldn’t compare this total to others and only got a silver ‘certificate’ in assembly which she put straight in the bin. She’s high functioning autistic and none of this encourages her, it’s a distraction from poor teaching and ridiculous testing and constrictive curriculum. The teachers don’t get behaviour points when they get things wrong so none of the kids respect the system anyway.

  5. Anjela kewell says:

    Sarah, may I say that I agree with almost everything you post. On this occasion I would like to add that I had exactly the same feelings you are having now when my children started school. The difference being that was 28 years ago!!!!!! I think parents know best what their children need but even then we were not encouraged to be involved with our child’s education. Things have steadily deteriorated until we now find ourselves with an education system ranked amongst the lowest in the developed world. Yet we are frowned upon if we criticise the system.

    I do agree with Michael Gove because I see his passion to give every child the best opportunity to enjoy their school days and gleen a love of learning. He has a hard job as many teachers do not wish to change or retrain. There are indeed many teachers who should not be In the profession. But of course we must not voice this opinion for fear of upsetting someone. But my child’s education has always been way above upsetting a bad teacher. My child’s future choices depend on the right education for his or her ability.

    There are many good schools in this country both private and state. BUT there are many bad ones that are consistently propped up. I was lucky enough to find a very good private school for my children. I went back to work and did two jobs to pay the school fees. I chose this line of education because we had only two state schools to choose from and they were both below my expectations. It was a hard decision but as we were in the grammar school corner of the country I felt it was worth working towards this. And yes contrary to popular belief if you look hard enough there are many private schools that can be afforded given a willingness to put education before anything else for five or six years. Many junior schools in the private sector will also help parents with school fees and every private school has a sceond hand shop that parents always use. It is even cheaper than going BHS for the shirts, skirts, blazers etc. unless you ask questions you will never be given this information freely.

    Unfortunately there also many parents who just cannot find that money however reasonably priced the fees are. I would truly love every parent to be given real choice for their child’s education. Whether it be a good quality private school or a good quality state school. I do not believe in catchment areas. But the real long term benefits would be the rigorous training of teachers and a strong desire to employ only the best I.e. Those who have a real gift and feel for teaching. It is a hard decision but carried out rigorously and then supporting those teachers with ongoing training whilst knowing they can be left alone to do an important job is the way forward in my opinion. But we must first acknowledge that many of our teachers are just not up to leading the future generations into a love of learning, a confidence to try anything they want. It takes strength and discipline but it could be done. Once you capture a child’s imagination you should not need any bribes whatsoever. Bribery shows weakness and a lack of understanding of each child in the classroom. Once those children have lost their imagination they lose the ability to enjoy learning.

    I am sure there will be many other viewpoints on this blog as every parent wants the best for their child. The bottom line surely is to stand strong and insist on excellence as the norm in our teachers. After all they hold a very precious responsibility in their hands. Can we really afford to be so cavalier with our childrens education. That is why I am supporting Michael Gove because I truly think he wants this for every child. We just cannot go sliding down the slippery road we have been on for so many years.

    As I am now a grand mother for the first time we as a family are having the very same conversations that I had with my parents. It is so that it has taken all these years for someone to put the child’s need before the teachers needs.

  6. Jo says:

    Totally agree. Well said. My child came home with a ‘Star of the Week’ award today. He has no idea what he did to earn it.

  7. Anjela kewell says:

    Sarah. Given that Michael Gove is the first person in a long time with a true passion for excellence it might be an idea for you to put your views to him. You right a very coherent and reasoned blog. I do think he has a tough job ahead of him. I also think we have the perfect opportunity to really put things on a different playing field. The old ideas have not worked so someone who has quietly and carefully thought things through should maybe given a voice. I know you would get my support. I certainly do. to and never have believed in meaningless rewards and bribery

    • Nicola says:

      I totally agree you should put your views to Michael Gove! My child has been provoked by kids 3 years older than him and reacted, and got put straight to red. Thing is I don’t mind that he is told, it’s the fact that the week their in trouble they miss reward but then at end of term they miss their reward again which can be months down the line. What do you think Sarah??

  8. Emily says:

    As a teacher at a primary school i find it difficult reading this post. Yes if children are endlessly praised and not sure why then this is a problem. But I have children in my class that frequently disrupt the teaching in my class. And yes we look to why but find it difficult to understand why. So what about the children that always do their homework, listen, follow instructions and always try their best. Should we not give them praise? They aren’t always the brightest or the quickest but they give it a go and don’t complain. But rather than give them the time they deserve i end up wasting time dealing with rude and disruptive behaviour! Is it wrong then to give the disruptive child a non verbal signal using traffic lights so it doesn’t waste the rest of the children’s time? Its very easy to criticise but what else should we do??

    • 01muffin says:

      You do have a point. It will probably be easier to take a different approach in private schools. In a public school you’re babysitting 30 odd kids.

    • Firstly, please know that this is not aimed at teachers. I am well aware that your hands are tied and these schemes come from above you. In answer to your question it’s tricky, because the system is so inherently wrong and ‘broken’ that much would be like placing a sticky plaster on a festering wound. The education system in this country is in dire need of a complete overhaul , what we are doing now is not working and it needs a complete rethink. Personally speaking what would I do? Place far more emphasis on free play, scrap homework for KS1 and KS2, intake at age 7, not 5. Scrap SATs and in a utopian world reduce class sizes, shake up the curriculum, give more support for SENs, educate all teachers (and especially heads) in developmental psychology (all approaches, not just behaviourist) & neuropsychology and make this at least 25% of their degree which would help everybody to understand where children are coming from and how their internal motivation works. I am not saying all behavioural techniques are completely wrong, but they have gross limitations and have evolved to be pretty much the only coping strategy used in schools today, which is very much wrong. What is needed is a shift in thinking about childhood, more respect for children (which ultimately fosters more respect for adults from them) whilst keeping them in a safe authoritative (not authoritarian as it is currently) environment where they thrive – Have a look at the Finnish schooling system (and their impressive outcomes) for inspiration.

      • J Hodgson says:

        Most of what you say is exactly what the majority of teachers say too. (I say most because the psychology points are not as frequently mentioned, though they make sense: We studied child psychology at teacher training college before they started changing the qualifications, against teachers’ advice) I have only been teaching 19 years and we have been asking for these things all of my career, and before that.
        I do hope that people are aware that we teachers have long been trying to be heard, but as in other walks of life , the people who know what they are dealing with everyday are not listened to.

  9. Michelle gowlett says:

    This is a great article! My son has struggled all through foundation stage due to these systems and I’ve gone on and tried to argue then but you might as well be talking to a brick wall!
    Am really enjoying your posts on gentle parenting Facebook sure but unable to cement and join in the discussions which is a shame. Would be great if this could be fixed.

  10. Carina Bowman says:

    Thanks for this Sarah. I am currently struggling with how to deal with the ‘child of the week’ system at my son’s school – by ‘deal with’ I mean how to help him cope with it and also whether or not to say something to the head teacher as it is a truly awful system – one of the worst examples of such a system that I have come across.

  11. Rachel Wilkinson says:

    Maria Montessori talked about intrinsic motivation in about 1920 and she was right then, why do we keep forgetting the best ways to educate our children with kindness and genuine interest in their development and individual skills and talents and go for the worthless bribery?!

  12. Shebafudge says:

    As a teaching assistant, I totally agree with this. The ‘rewards’ that really get me are the tick list ones where a child does something great and can’t have it ‘because they had it a couple of weeks ago’. My daughter came home from school once when she was in Year 2 or 3 and said ‘What is the point in behaving properly? If you want something good, you only have to mess around all week and then behave for a couple of minutes and the teacher’s all over you.’ Sums it up, I think!

  13. David Woodberry says:

    True, I think, Sarah, in many respects. Thanks.

    Your question “why this behavior?” (that needs rewards) is most relevant. Rewards (and punishment) are SYMPTOMATIC and coercive. Coercion is a necessary means of getting somebody to do something they don’t want to do, or to stop them from doing something they “should not be doing.” As community members we do need to respect each other and do no harm and for this a set of consistently applied rules need be in place. No less in schools. It is especially hard for teachers who have the nearly impossible responsibility of managing twenty or so developmentally and temperamentally diverse children while expecting them to learn the same thing, at the same rate, at the same time.. But herein lies the problem.

    Twenty temperamentally and developmentally diverse kids will still have at least three things in common: an inclination to play, a high level of curiosity, and a natural desire to learn. If allowed, of their own volition, they will collaborate to develop all sorts of learning experiences; they will freely express ideas and opinions; will argue, sometimes heatedly, about what is right and wrong, how a game should be played, but they will do so with the deep intrinsic desire to learn, to play, to have fun, to be with each other, without a moment’s thought for extrinsic rewards.

    But if these twenty kids are asked to learn math when they want to read, to read when they want to write, to sit still when they want to move, to be serious when they want to play, to listen to stories when they want to act them out, to be quiet when they want to speak, to speak when they want to be quiet, in other words to follow to others’ dictates and not their own, they are going to rebel, are going to be unhappy,they are gong to require some form of tight structure to maintain order.

    So what happened here?

    Without asking the children how they feel about school (and listening to them) and what they would like to learn, without asking them what is right or wrong and for their input in rules that apply to them, and without acknowledging that children’s mental and physical health is deteriorating annually, and without accepting responsibility for any this, educators and policy makers blithely and blindly made decisions “on children’s behalf,” and continue to propose changes which promise to their lives even more stressful, unhappier.

    Rewards say to a child: “I know you don’t want to do this, but you must do what I say because I (or the people who made decisions on MY behalf) know better than you about what you need. Here is something (a reward) for you that will prevent you from objecting, that will have you comply.”

    Like adults, children have a democratic right to have a say in their lives. To allow them to have a voice in their education is the only way I can see that would diminish the need for rewards. If this means the dismantling of current system then so be it.

    • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with “dismantling the current system”. I’ve had several quite rude comments re. this blog saying “so – how would YOU fix it, don’t highlight problems unless you highlight solutions” – but it’s not that simple. In short I don’t think the current education system can be fixed, it does not understand or provide for the needs of children, therefore no ‘quick fix’ measures will really make a difference. It’s like trying to repair a car with new, small parts when the problem is a faulty engine – the problem will always remain and until the engine is changed the car will never run well. A complete education reform is what is necessary. That’s not a popular idea and I doubt it will ever happen in my lifetime but there’s no getting away from the fact that that’s what’s necessary!

      • David Woodberry says:

        It may be that the current system, which is already under increasing financial and cultural pressure will be the source of its own demise. Clearly parents and kids are recognizing problems, evidenced by the rapid growth of homeschooling, unschooling, freeschooling etc. And charter schools, while still under the auspices of the school district in which they are situated, and which have elements of coercion, are at least offering more play time, less testing, more outdoor programs etc. There is one institutional movement that is wonderful: democratic schooling, an example of which is the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, US, which was founded in 1969, and which has spurned a bunch of similar schools across the country. .Anyhow thanks for lobbying for our kids.

  14. alis says:

    Excellent blog – I agree completely. Incidently, here’s Dan Pink, who has rounded up some research which supports your position.

  15. carolynbailey says:

    So, as a parent new to the concept of gentle parenting. I have an interest, but not the knowledge of the psychology, to know if I am doing all that I could to help inspire my children to be intrinsically motivated? For example my 11 year old son, (3rd, of four children,) started secondary school last September. He enjoys school, but rarely eats or drinks during his time there, not enough time, (according to him.) Probably, (my opinion,) more likely that there is something else that he would rather do? Spends little or no time on homework, as he would rather be playing Minecraft, or some form of technology all of his waking hours, (if he could!) I believe that there is always a natural consequence for our actions. Constipation through not drinking, decreased bone density from poor nutrition. Can children understand and fully appreciate these consequences before maturity? A few minutes more spent on one line of hurried homework, rather than being completed with minimum effort, ‘Well I did it, didn’t I? The sense of pride and knowledge that you did your best. What would you suggest that I could read or do, to help me understand the psychology that would help me to inspire him, to become more intrinsically motivated? Can I do any more to help him remember that his body needs food and water? Also that technology has a time and place within his life, but his life is not technology! The world is now a very different place to when I was a child and my knowledge of how to adapt to parenting children of today is sometimes a difficult journey!

  16. Lucy says:

    Sadly I don’t think it’ll ever change. It was having such an impact on my daughter I decided to remove her from the education system at Christmas and the difference is incredibly. We haven’t even started with any structured learning as yet but she learns new things every day without the fear of shame and humiliation if she makes a mistake ir struggles to deal with strong emotions. Schools don’t have time to teach as they are to busy trying to control our children and turn them into robots!

  17. Sarah Ockwell Smith : ‘If there was a way, I would home-ed my kids in a heartbeat.’

    Then why don’t you? Home education is completely legal in the UK and it is easy to deregister your children from school, if they are already there. Legally, parents are responsible for their children’s education, whether they send them to school or not. There are good support networks across the country for home educators, both online and in real life, with many local groups organising activities, trips, social events etc.

    It does take commitment from the parents, it often requires reconsideration of priorities and putting work or personal projects on the back burner. It can mean rethinking your financial situation. But that’s what you do in life, you decide what your priorities are and you organise your life around those.

    There is usually a way.

  18. Jenni Bailey says:

    I cant agree with you more. Thank you! My son’s school has a system where they are given plastic wrist bands as a reward for reading a certain amount each week. I told the teacher at the beginnin g of the year that we would not be participating and she said he was going to feel left out when all the othets had them but he didnt Well, he doesntknow the difference, could care less about the bands the other kids have (but dont wear). Reading is supposed to be the reward in itself. Not something we get rewarded for doing. Grrrrrr. Anyway, thanks for the lovely post!

  19. Ex-Teacher says:

    [Essay alert]

    Democracy means 51% of uneducated, misinformed morons are used to install the rules for the other 49% to follow. A (true) Republic gives every individual a set of guaranteed rights that can never be broken, even if the 99% are against it – tough, you are free from their misguided tyranny to think for yourself. A republic protects the freedom and the rights of each individual with natural laws.

    For a Republic education system the only way is to home educate or community school with a set of basic guaranteed standards that each child should work towards in their own time (this is not a national curriculum). Every other type of mass-schooling will to some degree erode the individualism of the child and create unnatural behaviours, hopefully the child will self-correct in adulthood. But the schools themselves can’t help the already ‘failed adults’ that are now these children’s parents and whom are more detrimental to their psychological well-being and ingrained, unnatural behaviours.

    For a socialist education system, you just need bark-like-a-dog pavlovian/skinnerian training.

    For a capitalist education system, you just need bark-like-a-dog pavlovian/skinnerian training

    For a communist education system, you just need bark-like-a-dog pavlovian/skinnerian training.

    This is why our children appear to have no individual rights in much of our mass-schooling system. There are none; it’s up to the school what is acceptable for the child to endure, and most don’t even think about this.

    Lots of parents do a great job correcting a school system’s misgivings. Others are oblivious to the damage because they themselves are damaged and see only the one reality.

    As a young teacher from the UK (now ex-teacher after several years service) I saw all sorts of shocking teaching strategies including a PGCE trained teacher with a small, already impeccably behaved class, start using a loud whistle to stop them working or to get their attention before he spoke. He was in his low twenties. I quit the profession shortly after this when I realised he’d merely applied the most perfectly fitting science to Ofsted’s learning outcome system and was a firm believer in this pavlovian strategy (for humans). His entire class hated the way they were treated but never voiced it to the teacher. He still teaches today. How do you combat the teachers’ own values, aloofness and arrogance (actually disdain for other sentient human life it seemed) from permeating your child’s psyche?

    A true Republic or Home School should achieve this. The whole system is politicised by those who pull the strings with money, power and influence. Most teachers ridicule and demean many of their students behind closed doors – kind of like letting off steam. The problem I saw with this, was that these were their TRUE feelings and the softly spoken kind-hearted teacher became Mr. or Mrs Hyde. It’s just a job after all, and they really don’t care that much about the revolving door of other people’s children – well, not as much as you the parent would.

    [Apologies for any terrible English – typed in a rush and sent]

    [Also apologies to those teachers I met who were like a surrogate parent with no abnormal character traits, and also the good schools who are a thorn in Ofsted’s side]

  20. ldabagia says:

    Well said. Read Alfie Kohn, Dan Gilbert, and Dan Pink. You may find some answers.

  21. Sarah Grice says:

    As a teacher who is passionate about helping and teaching EVERY child and has never once thought of the children in terms of a revolving door, I am thoroughly insulted by this blog. Gove has no say over our discipline policy so this is aimed at us. Believe me if there was no discipline policy you would be complaining. We always aim to engage every learner an I would love to invite you into my class and see the innovative strategies employed to teach your child. The reward/punishment is rarely employed as kids do want to learn – but the joy and motivation they get from praise encourages them as is right and proper. In the juniors and beyond is where the sort of discipline you are talking about happens (over 7years old) not 5 year olds where only good is praised. We NEVER keep punishing as ignore too causes and EVERY child is looked at on an individual basis so sometimes losing 10minutes golden time is a good learning curve that actions have consequences- but if a child regularly repeats the action we ALWAYS look at root causes and have open communication to discuss reasons for behaviour.

  22. ContentedMummy says:

    Teachers have a class of 30 kids to teach. It’s parents who are responsible for their kids behaviour, not teachers. If they were ready to learn, engaged and listened to at home, then they wouldn’t need these behaviour/ reward schemes. This blog is extremely naive.

  23. Roy says:

    I see that you have a child that is succeeding with all these decorations of “child of the week”, etc. I was searching the net for views on this topic from the quite opposite direction. No matter how hard my child works, she is never rewarded to be the child of the week. She has been so good, working so hard, significantly improved herself during a short amount of time. Getting all the math assignments right, reading three books, 100 pages each in two weeks, writing 2 whole pages in her assignment, in all being a good girl in class, but still no “child of the week”. Today she broke down in tears investing so much effort to “win” that “price”, but still not receiving it, seeing the girl that always bullies her get promoted “child of the year” three times since last fall. Saying that she never got that award, is not quite right. She got it in the spring last year just because her mother complained to her teacher that she never got the recognition that she felt she deserved, but it must have felt for her that she got it more in a pity than really deserved this way…

    I feel, like you, that “motivational” promotions like “child of the year” on a psychological level is not working quite as it is meant to work, rather they should remove the whole thing, and give each child personal individual feedback when they are doing really well. That must be a much better motivational factor for every child rather than promoting the few children that is the teacher’s favourites over and over, leaving the “losers” feeling that they are “no good”. It is of course not at all true that any child really are losers, but it sure must feel that way for the children who never win regardless of how hard they try.

    Scrap the idea that competition promotes or motivates “good behaviour”. Give individual feedback instead! Be constructive!

  24. Jude says:

    My goodness this is biased though.. I see where they are coming from, it can be OTT these days, but in life there are always consequences… if you keep hitting someone as an adult, you’ll eventually end up in jail. If you do badly at work, despite what this article says, you’ll get warnings, and eventually get the sack. As an adult, you don’t get away with bad behaviour, so as a child, I think its fair that the same applies. And I don’t think you need a forest school to want to learn – my two love to learn at their regular school, are always full of enthusiasm for their topics etc – purely for the fun of learning. Its our job to teach the child right from wrong, mostly by example, but when they learn bad behaviour from other sources, they need to know its not OK, and frankly telling a 6 yr old doesn’t necessarily always work. Consequences such as no TV is what they can relate to. And reward charts – don’t we as adults often get work bonuses for a job well done, or ‘treat’ ourselves for achieving a goal? Lets allow our kids the same pleasures – yes, working hard at school will mean you learn heaps and be great at this or that, but also getting them to set themselves a goal and having a reward of a late night or movie trip is fabulous too. “You did it! lets celebrate!”. Our school has the traffic light system, but its very subtle, the main thing is the wonderful values the school teaches the children daily by example, discussion, and explaination. As for rewards, the children that ARENT the confident, upfront, naturally gifted ones tend to get more – they give each child a goal to work on, whether its trying to speak up in class, focus more etc, its not all about getting 10/10 on their spellings! that doesn’t come into it. Its all about balance.. make sure what you’re doing with your child works with YOUR child. And that they understand why what we are trying to teach them is important, like the article says – you cant just treat them like Pavlov’s dog, they need to understand why things are right/wrong too. But I think there is definitely a place for celebrating achievements and having consequences for doing wrong.

  25. R says:

    If you really want a revolution in the education system elect an administration that supports the autonomy of the education profession. The structures within which we operate are set by non-educators with their own political agenda. What is required transcends politics. Look to the Finnish system. They do not impose a disempowering ‘accountability’ regime of endless standardised tests, performance related pay, nothing ever being good enough. The Finnish system is not about the endless surveillance of teachers and yet they consistently have the highest performing children in Europe. But they have the worst ‘disruption’ indicators – classrooms are noisy, the kids are up and out of their seats, kids appear to disengage – When challenged about how they prevent children falling through the gaps the response is definite: we have good teachers. Nothing more. Nothing less. No rewards. No motivators. Small cultural incentives – you can’t get married if you are illiterate. Guess what? They are all literate. Teachers are engaged in research orientated practice. They look at what’s not working, collaborate and fix it. Real personalisation – not contrived individual education plans, communication plans, readiness for learning plans, plans for this and plans for that most of which are never implemented because of the endless and unnecessary pressures. In the UK, as young teachers, we passionately engage in the profession. To start with it’s not a job but a profession. We enter education full of ambition and determination to change lives and make a real difference. Then we get a harsh reality check and return to traditional ways of working within a system that doesn’t work. We are like antibiotics getting consumed by powerful bacteria, weakening us and rendering us ineffective. We start ticking off our checklists. Checklists are for jobs not professions. Professions are build on trust and responsibility. Only 10% of applicants in Finland get into initial teacher education. It is an aspirational profession that is harder to get into than medicine. They recognise medicine and education are about saving lives. But that education is also about shaping lives too. Our system is massively outdated. Ever wondered why we have a six week holiday when we do? The industrial revolution. That’s how outdated we are! Bring on the revolution.

  26. Josie Aston says:

    As a teacher, I agree with some of what you say (I have never seen the point of attendance awards that penalise those unlucky enough to be ill) but I do wish we could drop the comparisons of the UK and Finland. They are such different countries and the UK has a hugely larger and more diverse population, hence different problems. France, the US or Germany might be more relevant comparators, but we rarely hear anything about what they do. Also, people disagreeing with you is not the same as being rude. I encourage debate in my classes and don’t expect students to agree with me!

  27. Josie Aston says:

    Sorry, have just realised it’s the comments referencing Finland, not your post!

  28. Matthew's Dad says:

    Sorry – this is nonsense. Sarah you make several errors. The biggest is that you view the subject through the eyes of an adult not a child. I discussed this with my children aged 5 and 9. The younger really values the reward system the older is less interested and the rewards they receive are less frequent. In young children intrinsic motivation is fleeting, unpredictable and fickle – as they mature so does their capacity to learn for learning’s sake. You assume this reward system is a static one. As children get older there is a weaning from a reliance on extrinsic to intrinsic motivators – or at least that was my experience. Yet I needed what I had learnt as a youngster to make the most of those intrinsic motivators.

    As for you comments about working adults – any good manager will use a combination of intrinsic and external motivators to get the best out of his staff. You also assume that people respond similarly to both types of motivation. I seem to recall a study demonstrating that introverts have a tendency to one and extroverts the other.

  29. Angela says:

    I hear what you are saying, but what would you suggest instead?

  30. Josh says:

    Spend a week in a classroom and see how your entire tone will change. Or better yet, teach them discipline at home so teachers can focus our attention on the quality of instruction.

  31. Jason Morrow says:

    Thanks for this, I am a teacher, and I strive for a classroom without carrots and sticks. I disagree with everyone that discounts what you say because you are not a teacher. The best teachers I have worked with don’t use these systems, they have engaging classrooms, they have interesting lives and share their experiences with their students.

  32. victoria mack says:

    very interesting, agree with you whole heartedly, have never used this with my children who are keen, enthusiastic and love to learn new things. I am currently doing a research piece for my HNC course and am trying to put in an alternative to the traffic light system currently in place in my class of 6/7 yr olds. I have been looking for ‘hard facts’ to back all this up to talk to the parents about. do you know where I might find some information on this? thanks a lot.

  33. Danni says:

    Thank you!
    I have never been a fan of reward systems and now my daughter is in school and I work in another it is clear:
    Kids stop caring about the systems and they become ineffective.
    Some are arbitrarily applied and sometimes awards don’t make sense eg class star is a child you KNOW has not been behaving as would be expected.

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