Turning Heads

On Thursday we took 120 kids from Wembley to Greenwich. It’s the second year running we’ve taken kids to the Observatory. This trip was like every trip at Michaela. The kids really shone.

They walked in single file and in silence, eyes front, from school to the tube. They stood tall and proud. Ties tight, shirts white, shoes shining bright.

As per normal,  we entered the tube car, we stood in silence, we got our books out, we read. When seats became available we sat. When adults needed a seat we immediately stood and offered our seats.

We changed at Canary Wharf. We formed a perfect line again. We stayed in order. We counted down, each person shouting out their number, in French, until we got to the ‘last man’, number thirty.

On busy, but narrow, pavements we stayed eyes front, silent, single file. Not a second was wasted.

Again and again, and this always happens when we take our kids out, members of the public congratulated the kids, congratulated the teachers, stopped and pointed, took photos as a perfect line of Michaela pupils proudly walked by. Michaela kids turn heads.

As ever, staff at the venue said they’d never seen such polite children. The kids shone in the shop. Their manners were impeccable. They spoke clearly to shop staff, they wished shop staff, ‘Have a nice day!’, they made great eye contact.

As we queued to enter the planetarium the kids showed off, reeling off loads and loads of French, using a broad range of structures, projecting beautifully, their accents stunning members of the public. French tourists were overheard discussing how smart and how polite our kids were. They also went on and on about how good our kids’ French was.

In the planetarium the kids were exemplary. You could hear a pin drop. They asked some superb questions. They demonstrated impressive science knowledge. They did themselves proud – yet again.

This is what ‘being Michaela’ is all about. Our kids turn heads. We’re not ‘normal’. We don’t want to be ‘normal’. We’re Michaela.

If you fancy working in a school  where kids are grateful, kind, hard-working and polite, if you believe in  didactic teaching and holding kids and parents to account, if you believe in ‘tough love’, if you’re willing to jettison everything  you’ve ever been told about ‘good practice’, if you believe the term ‘outstanding’ is a nonsense – you should get in touch.

 

 

 

 

 

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We’re Going to Wembley!

We don’t have any sports facilities on site. Our building is right next to  multiple tube and national rail tracks. Our yard isn’t very big. We have no green space. There is no nearby public park. There is nowhere to park coaches outside school. We are at the end of a long, very narrow, cul de sac. There is no easily accessible sports centre.

Every Wednesday afternoon 120 Year 8s, give or take, jog to the local Powerleague site. Thursday afternoon the Year 7s do the same. We hire 6 pitches where both boys and girls do a variety of football, fitness training and dodgeball. They’re trained by sports trainers who are coordinated, largely, by an outside organization. We have, at this point, with two year groups and 240 kids, no real PE department.

The kids go to the 4th floor at 1.30 to get changed. They change in silence. They then read in silence until everyone in the changing room is ready.

I say ‘silence’ and some of you are imagining oppression, coercion, child cruelty. It’s really not.

Some of the time we’ll not actually be silent. We could be chanting Kipling or a bit of Shakespeare or Invictus or Ozymandias. Often teachers are firing questions at the kids. These could be science, French, maths – it really depends who is on changing room duty.

Often we’re going round handing out marker pens because they still having marked all their kit with their initials.

Sometimes we’re checking they’ve tied their laces properly. They very often haven’t.

Then of course there’s often a lot of banter. I love to have a giggle with the kids. But it’s very much on the teacher’s terms.

The kids aren’t talking to one another. Kids will get a demerit if they’re dawdling, if they talk. Kids who ignore teacher instructions twice will change back into their uniform and miss PE. They know the expectations and the consequences.

Its a nice atmosphere. You may be imagining something else. That’s because you haven’t seen it.

when everyone is changed we go down four flights of stars in silence. We keep to the right all the way.

We line up in silence, eyes front, in the yard. 60 boys, 60 girls, give or take.

We give a pep talk. We remind pupils that the journey to Powerleague, in the shadow of Wembley Stadium, will be in silence.

At this point if a pupil ignores  a teacher twice he could also be sent back to change and therefore miss PE.

The Michaela ladies leave first. Our kids know ‘dames d’abord’. The Michaela gentlemen follow them. Everyone remains eyes front, single file, no one speaks. Teachers call out, ‘Close the gaps, Close the gaps!’

When all pupils are on Olympic Way, boys’ line next to girls’ line, we jog, very gently, to Powerleague. We stay head to head, parallel, silent, regularly stopping, one line of 60 boys, one line of 60 girls.

Teachers will issue demerits. A child can still be sent back to school. The teachers jolly the kids along. The kids are very proud.

Nobody has ever seen anything like this. The kids are phenomenal. Every single week members of the public stop, stare, point, smile, congratulate the kids and teachers, even take photos. The kids beam!

Nobody talks. The journey is completed  quickly and efficiently. We reach Powerleague. Time for another pep talk reminding Michaela kids how unique they are. They’re top of the pyramid. Top of the pyramid people make the right choices. They turn heads. “You just saw how the public reacts to you.” 120 kids moving as one, parallel lines, eyes front, giggling at the nonsense their teachers say to jolly them along. But the kids don’t talk to one another en route. They know the consequences.

From September 2016 we’ll be doing this three times per week. By September 2018 we’ll be doing this five times per week.

The return journey is very similar and starts around 3.35. Every week each year group has 1.30 to 4.00 devoted to sport once per week. They get changed quickly at the start and end of the session. They travel quickly, jogging as they go. We try to maximize time spent running around, having fun, doing sport.

If you know any really bright sports teachers, with massively high standards and loads of charisma, who believe that academic achievement is more important than sport but that sport should be a vehicle to develop character, if that sports teacher has an excellent academic pedigree and would want to teach an academic subject to the very highest standards, as well as coordinate sport, if that sports teacher likes the sound of discipline, efficiency, grateful, super polite pupils,  if that sports teacher reads Michaela blogs and thinks -Wow!!! I love it!!!

Tell him, or her, to get in touch!

Thanks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Zero Tolerance

It’s one of those soundbites that are bandied around, notably in education, that can mean a whole variety of things depending upon who’s saying it or hearing it.

There’s no hard and fast definition of ‘zero tolerance discipline’, for example. But here’s my take…

As a teacher you have to care enough to be tough with kids. You have to care enough not to indulge their bad habits. You have to care enough not to collude with society’s permissive values, the broader excuse culture which, my take, blights lives. Zero tolerance discipline is caring enough not to collude with or give way to parents whose values aren’t in line with the school’s.

You send your child to Michaela and he’s going to receive a superb education, in silent classrooms, where kids sit up straight, arms folded, no pen fiddling, no doodling, no gazing out the window or whispering to your mates on the sly.

You send your kid to Michaela and he’s going to be safe in the yard, the corridors, toilets, on the stairs, in the changing rooms, at the bus stop.

You send your kid to Michaela and he can be clever, hard-working, keen, put his hand up every lesson all lesson, use long words, express his ideas articulately and at length, talk about which university he’d like to go to – all of that – without any fear of being mocked or called gay.

You send your daughter to Michaela      she won’t be sexually harassed by male pupils. Corridors and lesson change overs are silent. Pupils walk in single file. Your daughter will be completely jewellery and make-up free.

You send your son or daughter to Michaela and you don’t have to worry that they’ll dread lunchtime because they’re friendless. Every child sits according to the seating plan teachers have designed.

Every lesson, every child has a full pencil case. No excuses.

Every lesson, books are distributed in silence, in seconds.

Every break, 240 kids fall instantly silent when any adult raises their hand.

Every lunch, 240 kids serve one another, clear up after one another,   say please and thank you to one another.

There’s no pushing, shoving, name calling, swearing, graffiti, litter, sexual harassment, pressure to be ‘street’, pressure to underperform.

At the end of the school day, there are lots of detentions. At lunch, there are lots of detentions.

You haven’t done your homework, you ‘forgot’ your homework, you ‘forgot’ your pen, you ‘slept in’, you rushed your homework – detention.

You send your kids to Michaela, they’ll learn loads, they’ll feel massively accomplished, they’ll feel safe, they’ll have great relationships with their teachers, they’ll learn to be polite, shake hands firmly, make eye contact, greet new people with pride, have self respect, respect others – they’ll laugh a lot, they’ll have the confidence to be themselves, they won’t need to feign a tough, street, anti academic, aggressive persona – just to survive.

Kids at Michaela work hard and are kind to one another – in every lesson, all day long, every day.

None of that happens by accident. It happens because of our version of zero tolerance.

We give them love. We give them tough love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But what would Ofsted say?

I knew if I used the O word you’d take a sneaky peek! God, teachers are predictable!

When I used to give inset for a living that question was always up there,”But what would Ofsted say?” Another popular question was, “I’m good but I need to be outstanding. What do I need to do?”

I gave my last inset July 2014. I don’t know if the preoccupations of teachers have moved on much since then. I don’t know because where I teach, “But what would Ofsted say?” is very rarely mentioned.

Ofsted could visit us anytime from September 2016. You know how quickly time passes. It’s round the corner. If Ofsted arrived tomorrow what would they find at Michaela?

We don’t mark books. We don’t do pair or group work. We don’t differentiate in the ‘traditional’ sense. We, the teachers, talk loads. We’re all, more or less, would-be actors. We love an audience. We love telling kids stuff.

In mfl things couldn’t be more different from what you’d expect. No pictures. Not one. No games. Never. No textbooks. No listening exercises. No pair or group work. No choral repetition.

We produce tightly packed booklets. All ability levels use the same resources. I don’t really understand what ‘progress’ means so Year 7 use phrases like, “c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire” and “bien qu’il le faille parfois.”

All classes use past, reasons, opinions, future, subjonctive all the time. We don’t ‘do’ the perfect tense or ‘do’ the subjunctive. We don’t ‘do’ grammar. And yet grammar is all we do. It’s everywhere.

What would you see if you popped into an mfl at Michaela. Kids read out loud lots. They love it. One kid at a time. Bottom sets, top sets. They love reading out loud. The texts are longer than you find in gcse exams. The vocabulary is pretty authentic I think. It’s not always easy to pronounce.

“Apprendre une langue étrangère n’est pas forcément évident. Si on a envie de réussir il faut lire chaque lettre. C’est vrai que les Anglais ont  pas mal de problèmes parce qu’il y a beaucoup de lettres qui ne se prononcent pas en français mais quand même, ça ne vaut pas la peine de rouspeter. Ça ne sert à rien en tout cas. Et de toute façon personne n’est parfait, certainement pas moi. L’erreur est humaine – comme le dit le dicton.”

That’s the typical kind of language Y7 and 8 practise. We’re always going for nice little nuggets that can be used in a broad range of topics. We like stuff kids can chuck in over lunch, “ce n’est pas la mer à boire” or ‘je ne demande pas la lune” or “c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire”.

So If you popped in kids would be reading at length. One at a time. The rest really listening. They’re a gorgeous bunch of kids. Or rather, we’re developing a school culture that turns kids from ordinary Y6 into extraordinary Y7 and beyond.

They listen. They correct one another’s pronunciation. It’s a lovely atmosphere. They support one another. They’ve got keen ears and very impressive accents. They speak a lot more quickly than gcse listening exams generally. They have no problems with silent letters when réaligner alors. They do a lovely rolled R. They’re reading lots, reading out loud, so speaking, lots, they listen to me and their peers very, very carefully and they write a bit too.

I was bursting with pride yesterday at 8.3. We revised orally loads of language from last year. They had the English and the initials that corresponded to the French translation. They sounded great. Their memory was brilliant. They wrote up the answers in a very earnest, but very proud, manner.

You can give our kids 50 sentences, a real mixture of proverbs, idioms, structures, tenses and topics and they beaver away. No silly questions. No work avoidance tactics.

This was Period 5. Just after lunch. At lunch break they’d been dancing and giggling and teaching teachers to dance. Others were shooting hoops. Others were playing table tennis. The mood was high. Teachers were laughing as much as the kids.

Anyone who reads my tweets knows I am immensely proud of our kids. It’s ridiculous how much I love teaching them.

But what I’m seeing more and more is that the teachers are finding themselves. Everyone is becoming more themselves. Their personalities are to the fore more than ever. I love that. Yes, our systems and routines are remarkably consistent across staff but we’re losing the robotic quality I’ve seen in schools sometimes. ‘Teach like a champion’ is all good and well, but ‘Teach like a champion  who trusts himself, who is confident to giggle with the kids, who has the self-awareness to  really let their personality shine through’, that’s always infinitely more important to me.

I’ve been doing this a long time. I’m more than 20 years older than many of my colleagues. I’m very proud of our kids. I’m very proud of my colleagues too.

Sometimes I try to step back and look at the school like a visiting parent would. I look at the corridors and lessons through different eyes. It takes my breath away!

Those kids, those families, they’re bloody lucky to have Michaela!

The manners, the confidence, the handshakes, the smiles, the way in which kids project their thoughtful answers across a silent lunch hall to an appreciative and respectful audience of 120 peers.

The way our kids behave on the street, their ties neat, their shirts tucked in, they stand next to the railing so to not block the pavement, they’re not shouting, nor swearing, nor dropping litter.

We’re teaching them to be lovely people. They’re polite, they work hard, they blow me away with théière knowledge of science, humanities, art, literature, maths, music – the list goes on.

So what woukd Ofsted say? If they don’t  see the love, the learning, the character, the charisma, the passion, the compassion, the professionalism, the pride, the joy, that I see every single day in every classroom – they must be mad!

its a  joy teaching at Michaela. If you  fancy joining us get in touch!

 

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Pace, Progression, Checking for Understanding

I was talking to a lovely, keen, young teacher earlier this week and she said she’d been told that she needed to work on, “Pace, progression and checking for understanding.”

I hate words like that! What does any of that actually mean? It’s so “teacher speak”! It’s so, “let’s self-flagellate”, so “I’ve heard this from “expert observers” so it must be true”. That’s not to criticise the super keen teacher who said these words. It’s the dreadful nit-picking, “mean anything you want it to mean” nomenclature of observations that does my head in! Grrrrrr!

This kind of language doesn’t encourage useful self-reflection, I’d argue. I’d say this kind of easy-sound bite feedback sows the seeds of self doubt, often needlessly and even harmfully. And you reap what you sow. Throw meaningless, nebulous, ill thought out feedback at someone enough and what you get are teachers who beat themselves up instead of building themselves up.  You get teachers who, instead of looking at the reactions of the kids in front of them, focus on the reactions of the “expert observer” behind them, furiously tick-boxing their every move.

So let’s have a look at what these words might actually mean. What does “pace” mean? Well, I reckon it can mean a million and one things and it very much depends upon who is saying it. I reckon that, too often, people are told to work on their “pace” when the observer feels that the “outstanding” lesson needs to be buzzy and whizzy, with loads of activity changes, where, as I once read in an Ofsted document many moons ago, “a tangible air of enthusiasm fills the room.”

Too often observers aren’t keen on the teacher talking, on the kids listening, soaking up the wisdom of the sage on the stage. I was told, just today, by a PGCE student soon to graduate from Cambridge, that a lesson should  be 90% pupil talk and 10% teacher talk. That’s the rule apparently. Though a think the word “student” was used rather than “pupil”. Grrrrrr!

So, “You need to work on your pace.”, in too many cases, can mean, “You’re expecting the kids to listen and learn. That’s not much fun is it? You’re demanding too much of them. Make it active! Make it “engaging”!” “Engaging”, another one of those bloody awful words that are simply a euphemism for, “Dilute the learning! Give the kids something light and fluffy that’ll distract them and not demand too much of them intellectually! With any luck they won’t kick off!” Grrrrr!

I’m always going to say that, generally, kids need to listen lots. Their teachers should have lots to say. And it should be cracking stuff!  It should be delivered with aplomb, charisma, energy, passion, conviction and savoir-faire. There’s the rub! If you’re boring, if you’re delivery is flat, if you don’t love what you teach, if the intricacies of effective delivery don’t excite you, then yeah, chances are your lessons will be like watching paint dry.

I’m not advocating teacher as stand-up comic, though a bit of humour does go a long way, but I am advocating stage presence. Why stage presence? Because, a lot of the time, you need to be centre stage, teaching didactically, emphatically, explicitly and unapologetically. There is no magic ratio for teacher: pupil talk. But oh how we love a formula! Tick! An acronym! Tick! A sound bite! Tick! An exclamation mark! Tick! Oh, sorry! That’s just me!

Progession? God knows what that means! At one point it was crazy, meaningless NC levels that, in MFL certainly, straight-jacketed kids and teachers alike. Progress? You tell kids stuff, they practise stuff, they memorise stuff, they then own the stuff you’ve taught and they can draw upon it at will. The more stuff you teach, that they remember and re-use, the more “progress” they make. Is it any more complicated than that? I don’t think so.

In French nothing is “hard”. It’s just a case of remembering, practising, owning the language. That takes an eye and ear for detail, exposure, time and patience. No miracle formula I’m afraid.

Checking for understanding? Some kids are shy. You don’t get much out of them through Q&A. But you’ll look at what they’ve written down and you soon see if they’ve got it. Is it too easy to rely upon the same kids all the time when doing Q&A? Yes. Shoot me! I’m human! But forgive me if I don’t make a grab for the traffic lights.

(I’ve recently started giving a kid in each class a paper register and he takes off who has answered questions in the session. It’s an experiment. It’s interesting to see. We’ll see how it goes.)

But you know, I think we ask too many questions anyway. I think we should be telling more and asking questions less.

(Though I am loving this kind of choral to and fro that I’ve recently started with classes, whereby I say the French and they reply in unison with a word for word translation: Maintenant/Now, Si/If, vous voulez/you want, vous pouvez/you can, enlever/ lift off, vos vestes/your jackets.)

Where was I?  That’s it, I think we should all “mind our language” and think a little more carefully about the observation feedback we give.

We should avoid the all too easy throw-away jargon that doesn’t even remotely get close to the nuts and bolts of teaching.

We should be more aware of what we, personally, believe brilliant teaching to be.

We should focus much less on what we think we’re supposed to say, like and do.

We should do all we can to free teachers from their slavish desire to do things “right” and instead nurture in them a desire to do the “right” thing.

And yes! We should use fewer exclamation marks!

As ever, if you fancy working in a school where you’re paid to think, where kids do as their told and where teachers focus on what works as opposed to the vagaries of edufashion – think about Michaela for September 2016. September 2015 is all wrapped up. Thanks

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Monsieur “Bad Practice”

I talk too much. I talk quite a bit of English too and that’s really, really bad because I should only ever speak to them in French. I don’t do starters. I don’t do plenaries. I don’t do targets. I don’t do written objectives. I don’t give them written feedback. I never ask myself if the stuff we do is “engaging”. I don’t differentiate with loads of different sheets. I never tell them how to get to the next level. I kind of go off piste in lessons quite a bit. I don’t do lesson plans. I make kids copy sometimes – especially the weakest ones. I don’t do group work. I don’t do much pair work. I don’t do powerpoints. I don’t use pictures. I scribble on the board a lot. My writing isn’t very good.

Yet my Year 7s readily use past, reasons, opinions, future and subjunctive. They read out loud with aplomb. They read new words they’ve never seen before  – most of the time. They’ve mastered all of the high frequency vowel combinations of French. They almost never say the silent letters they come across. They make lovely liaisons. They memorise long scripts with varied tenses and eye-popping idioms. They break language down and build it up again really beautifully. Their accents are coming along really, really well. Guests are always impressed by the kids’ accents. Bit weird when they listen so much in lessons and do so little pair and group work. Instead they listen to me lots and they read as I speak and then they read out loud, one person at a time, sometimes reading the same passage several times. You think they’d be bored but they really like it. They’d probably be better off  not listening to my French accent. I’ve only been learning French for 35 years and I listen to hours of debate and discussion on French radio daily. They’d probably get more out of a few “sondages” where they are a bit more kinaesthetic and talk to each other.

Their spelling is cracking. They always use the French alphabet and they love spelling out loud. They love words like “beaucoup” and “malheureusement” because, according to the kids, these words are “fastoche”. “C’est simple comme bonjour!” and “C’est un jeu d’enfant”. I guess I’ve just been lucky.

Can you imagine if I were a “proper” French teacher and if I did lots of games and group work and carousels and they worked stuff out for themselves? Wow! The kids would be able to….who’s to say?

I don’t play games. I tell the kids the literal meaning of the French. I say things like: I like to play at foot, I am gonED to the centre sporty, My teacher of French me takes the head, He me taps on the nerves, He is break-feet. Poor kids. Loads of them are listed as being EAL. I don’t even show them any pictures. Yet they are really good at French. They memorise all of this stuff and recycle it and break it down and play with it. One of them the other day wrote on  the board : Je prefererais le francais sans Monsieur Forgeron parce qu’il parle trop et il est completement chauve. (Sorry! I can’t do accents on here. The kid’s accents were perfect. That’s another thing! I don’t use technology. I’m truly rubbish!)

My Year 7s give oral answers like this. I say “Comment dit-on: I went to the cinema.” They give me the answer but then they add stuff like: “Mais il faut un accent aigu sur la lettre E” and “Evidemment il faut ajouter un E si c’est feminin.”

I  say stuff like: La langue francaise – they reply in unison – the language French – n’est pas – isn’t – compliquee – complicated – en fait – in fact – c’est plutot facile – it’s rather easy – en general – in general – elle est une langue – she is a language – plus ou moins – more or less – logique – logical. We go back and forth like that me providing the English and them the French or vice versa.

I give instructions in little chunks where they provide the English. Maintenant – now – on va – one is going – faire – to do – quelque chose- some thing – un peu – a bit – different – different. Mais – but – tout d’abord – all first/first of all – il faut – you must – copier la date et le titre – copy the date and the title – comme d’habitude – as usual/of habit.

We go back and forth like that a lot. They understand every single word. I should really make them guess and use gestures or pictures I suppose. But, as I said, I am “Monsieur Bad Practice”.

They always do long dates and titles and they always underline double or triple vowels. They always add little dots under the silent letters – or as the kids call them – “les lettres muettes”.

Dates are sometimes in the format: aujourd’hui c’est le huit mai mais hier c’etait le sept mai et demain sera le neuf mai

Titles are often something like: Franchment j’en ai marre de mon prof de francais. Il me saoule je te jure. Il est casse-pieds. Et en tout cas il parle beaucoup trop.

We read out loud a lot. We look at patterns in words a lot. I talk loads! They have to listen to me speak French loads. They have to answer questions, in French, about things like this.

I say: C’est tres ennuyeux – I don’t do the liaison – they then tell me – la lettre S a la fin n’est pas muette parce qu’il y a une voyelle. Il faut une liaison

They know loads of stuff like: il faut souligner toutes les voyelles evidemment. Le ordinateur? Il faut enlever le E et puis il faut ajouter une apostrophe – ca creve les yeux! They use these type of expressions all the time.

As I say, I’ve just been lucky I guess. If I’d given them group work and games, lots of pictures, a few card sorts and let them work the French out for themselves, like a “proper” French teacher, I guess they would be really good by now.

If you fancy working in a school where you think for  yourself, where you can experiment, where your subject expertise is prized, where kids behave beautifully and thank you for the lesson as they leave, whilst shaking your hand, you might like to think about Michaela. We are fully staffed for September 2015 but you might fancy a move in September 2016. We will have 3 year groups in September 2016 – Years 7,8 and 9. We’ll be looking for lots more teachers to teach across the curriculum. If you fancy a visit sometime you’re always welcome. It’s a happy little school right next to Wembley Park tube station – dead easy to get to.

 

Cheers

 

 

 

 

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Praise Where It’s Due

At my school we have a behaviour system built around merits and demerits. I’ve never been keen on these systems. In lots of schools horrible kids tend to get bucket loads of merits just for sitting in a chair and being slightly less abusive than usual. Lots of nice kids tend to get ignored. The basics of good manners seem to be praised to a ridiculous extent when really they should just be part of the fabric of normal human interactions.

Some teachers hand out merits like dolly mixtures. Some just can’t be bothered. Then of course there are those schools that tell you for every negative comment you must give four positives. How on earth anyone is supposed to track that stuff I’ll never know. Also logging merits on the computer is a pain. And of course, give it a few month into Year 7 and the appeal of merits soon starts to wane. So no, I’ve never been a fan of merits.

As for demerits – what actually happens to these kids who are a real pain in your lessons?

‘Demerit!’, ‘That’s your second warning!’

‘Big deal! Tell someone who gives a monkey’s!’

The same kids keep getting demerits. Nothing really happens to the kids. Teachers get sick of logging stuff only to find nothing’s ever done and so demerits crumble away too. And of course there are the schools where the teacher who gives the most demerits or detentions or uses ‘on call’ most is under the microscope. There are always those schools where the awkward, lazy, mouthy kid encounters the determined, focused, perhaps a bit naive, teacher who actually thinks the behaviour system is meant to be applied to the letter.

This teacher gives merits when deserved and demerits when warranted. This teacher uses ‘on call’ liberally because the kid’s behaviour is bang out of order. This teacher complains to the HOY and SLT because the system isn’t being applied. This teacher soon becomes known as awkward, out of step, unrealistic, too demanding. He can’t cope. That’s why he uses ‘on call’ so much. Or else he’s just too old school. If he did a bit more group work, you know a bit more ‘kinaesthetic’, like on your pgce, he’d be ok. The kids wouldn’t kick off. And, of course, in lots of schools there’s that insidious climate of, ‘Don’t use ‘on call’ too much! They keep a log. They’ll use it against you when looking at performance management.’

So, yeah, on balance, I’ve never been a fan of merits and demerits and prizes and…

For goodness sake! Is it too much to ask that a kid brings a pen, shuts up for five minutes and then makes a decent stab at some work that I can actually read?

It is very early days at Michaela, we only have 120 Year 7s, 7 teachers and 4 TA’s – so we’re a tiny school. But merits & demerits actually do seem to be working very, very well. And, to be honest, it blows out of the water everything  I’ve seen visiting hundreds of school and training thousands of teachers during a career of around eighteen years.

With us, much to my surprise, kids value merits, kids come up to you at break and spell 48 word medical conditions they’ve found on the net, using the French alphabet. They do that, partially, for a merit. Kids do extra homework without being asked – for a merit. They’ll reply to the most banal question like, ‘Comment dit-on, the weekend last?’ , with ‘Mais c’est évident M. Forgeron, ça crève les yeux en fait, c’est: le week-end dernier’, they’ll do all that for a merit.

It’s not purely for the merit of course, though they are competitive and they do remind you if they find you haven’t logged a merit when you should have. They like showing off, feeling clever, stretching themselves, standing out from the crowd.

We can give merits for kids who SLANT beautifully – sit up straight, arms folded, no fiddling, listening attentively, asking and answering questions, kids who ‘track’ the teacher and don’t let their eyes wander.

We can give merits to kids who use STEPS beautifully – sir, thank you, excuse me, please and smile!

We can give merits for kids who go to town on HEAPS – hands away from your mouth when you speak, good eye contact, don’t mumble – articulate! And of course, project! Everyone needs to hear your answer. And yes! Of course you’ll repy in extended full sentences.

There are loads and loads of rules. And because there are loads of rules there are loads of reminders about what ‘Being Michaela’ really means. There are loads of opportunities to receive praise, to receive positive recognition.

The kids like the league tables for IXL completion, they like the 100% badges for perfect attendance and punctuality across the half term. They like  the bronze, silver, gold badges denoting the number of merits gained and your ranking in the year. They like the reward event where, at the end of half term, if your attendance, punctuality and merit/demerit balance are good, you get to watch a film with the rest of your form – you have popcorn too. Our last couple of films have been Invictus and Long Walk to Freedom – they all know the poem by heart and they’ve all read the book in class.They like the subject prizes given twice year. This year maths gave out 4 Rubic cubes and humanities gave out rulers covered in hieroglyphs. Every kid in the school can spell ‘hieroglyph’. The vast majority can spell it using the French alphabet.

We shake hands a lot. We give them responsibilities a lot. We give them opportunities to demonstrate, as I always tell them, that they’re ‘top of the pyramid’ people. There are squillions of people at the bottom of the pyramid, taking the easy choices, developing bad habits, searching for lame excuses.  There are millions that resolve to change but never really commit. There are thousands and thousands who do have a go, who do try to make the right choices but fall by the way side pretty soon. There are only a handful of people who know what they really believe in, who constantly keep their commitments, who always get back up and refocus when things go wrong. They’re the top of the pyramid people. Elitist? No. You get to the top of the pyramid and you stay at the top of the pyramid, because of  the millions of choices you make every day.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, merits are really working for us. It’s early days. There’ll be ups and downs. Merits are  just part of the jigsaw.

Are the kids ‘intrinsically motivated’? There’ll always be the early adopters and the laggards but, yes, I think, very largely, our kids ‘get it’.

Merits aren’t the whole story, doing stuff you can be proud of when no one is looking, doing stuff you can be proud of even though nobody else but you may ever know – that’s getting through.

Next time I’ll maybe talk about the demerits.

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