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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
School 'houses' improve behaviour
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Online education staff

Harry Potter
Gryffindor's finest - if an idea works, use it, says head teacher
A house points systems is achieving a "vast improvement" in pupils' behaviour, says a head teacher.

His Harry Potter-style system of putting pupils into houses has been used in a school in one of the country's most deprived areas.

The head of Gateway Community College in Tilbury says the success of the house system has proved wrong the "inverted snobs" who were against it.

The school has also introduced a strict uniform policy.

Gateway Community College has replaced two failing schools - where more than 90% of the pupils left with fewer than the benchmark of five good GCSEs.

'Culture change'

Against such a daunting history of failure, head teacher Mark Morrell says that in his first year he has tried to radically change the whole culture of the school.

We're using the house system to encourage pupils to invest in the life of the school - rather than treating the school as an enemy
Mark Morrell, head teacher

As part of this he has put in place a system of four houses, named after castles - Windsor, Leeds, Rochester and Dover - with points and prizes for the most successful.

Brothers and sisters will be put into the same houses as their siblings and the sports day will be like a "mini-Olympics" in which the houses will compete.

Mr Morrell says pupils have been really motivated by this structure - which particularly rewards involvement in the school's non-academic and after-school events, such as sports and clubs.

"We're using the house system to encourage pupils to invest in the life of the school - rather than treating the school as an enemy," he said.

"There had been times when behaviour was out of control - but with the same kids and the same staff, there has now been a vast improvement in behaviour."

'Inverted snobbery'

Putting in place the house points system was intended as a positive way of recording pupils' contributions - and as a deterrent for misbehaviour.

But he said he had to overcome a "kind of inverted snobbery, a sense of political correctness and accusations of elitism" against a system associated with independent and traditional grammar schools.

There were also initial complaints about a strict enforcement of a uniform policy - but he says pupils soon accepted the changes and the "feel of the school is fundamentally different".

And he says there is no reason why such schools should not borrow ideas from the private sector or anywhere else - as long as the ideas work.

The school will get its first GCSE results this summer - and the head is anticipating that academic improvements will match the improved behaviour.

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