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Carrot approach to education to be dangled across the state

An initiative that rewards well-behaved students with movie tickets, canteen vouchers and toys is being expanded to all Victorian state schools.

The approach has been credited with improving classroom behaviour, reducing suspensions and detentions and boosting students’ grades.

But despite the hype, psychologists and education experts remain divided on whether rewarding students with prizes is a good idea.

The state budget allocated $9 million over four years so that every state school could implement School Wide Positive Behaviour Support, an initiative that has its roots in the US and rewards and teaches positive behaviour.

Williamstown High School students Elena, Saskia, Matthew and Jade are big fans of their school's positive behaviour initiative.
Williamstown High School students Elena, Saskia, Matthew and Jade are big fans of their school’s positive behaviour initiative.

Photo: Darrian Traynor

“Research has shown that [the initiative] is successful in reducing problem behaviour, improving school culture, and increasing academic performance,” an Education Department spokesman said.

At Williamstown High School, students receive “success passes” when they display positive behaviour, which may include helping a teacher carry a box of books, opening a door for their classmates or assisting someone who has fallen to the ground.

These passes are then placed into wooden boxes, with five names plucked out of each year level’s box at fortnightly assemblies.

Those who win the lucky draw can choose from a selection of prizes including movie tickets, canteen vouchers, permission to ditch their uniform for a day, iTunes credits, a supervised lunch at the beach and even a meal with the principal.

“It makes you feel recognised and appreciated by the teachers and staff,” Year 8 student Matthew said.

The 14-year-old has been awarded success passes for being respectful  during an excursion to the city, for improving in maths and for doing well on a challenging classroom task.

“It can entice people into showing more respectful behaviour in the school and the community,” he said.

The popular school adopted the initiative six years ago, and credits it with boosting attendance, reducing suspensions and improving students’ perceptions of safety, bullying and their connection to school.

The $9 million in state government funding will reimburse schools for prizes and materials and pay for coordinators and coaches. While the initiative is not mandatory, the Education Department is strongly encouraging schools to sign up.

University of South Australia Associate Professor Anna Sullivan said while rewards might help students in the short-term, they were not beneficial in the long-term and could also erode the joy of learning.

“We want to develop students who are intrinsically good; when they are out on the weekend we don’t want them to not do stuff because they are waiting for someone to reward them,” Dr Sullivan said.

But Williamstown High School principal Gino Catalano said the initiative was about more than rewards, and explicitly taught students to act positively.

Giant posters displayed throughout the school set out the behaviours expected of students in the classroom, schoolyard, community and online. These include putting litter in the bin, representing the school with pride and reporting cyber bullying.

“It’s about a student’s understanding of what expected behaviours are and working with them so they can understand what they are and at times there may be some consequences,” Mr Catalano said.

These consequences might include attending an after-school “re-teaching session” (previously called a detention).

Year 9 student Elena said said the approach moved away from a “crime and punishment scenario”.

“Instead of having a rule book and saying, ‘If you do this you’ll get a detention’, it is saying this is how we expect you to be behaving,” she said.

“This is what you should be aiming for and this is how you can help the school be a really good place.”

Category: CollegeSchool

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