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Last Updated: Friday, 4 February, 2005, 12:32 GMT
Reward scheme combats truancy
By Melissa Jackson
BBC News education reporter

Pupils at St Thomas Aquinas High School.
Model pupils are rewarded
A Manchester secondary school aims to halve its truancy rate in two years with a reward scheme for children.

Pupils can trade reward points for treats including driving lessons, a game of pool at breaktime or a place at the front of the lunch queue.

Nationally, the truancy rate remains unmoved, but it is falling at St Thomas Aquinas High School.

In 2003, the school's rate was more than three times the national average.

Head teacher John O'Callaghan expects it to drop to below 2% later this year.

He took over as head teacher at the inner city school 12 months ago with a mandate to improve performance, attendance and punctuality rates.

Ten months before he arrived, the Roman Catholic school had been placed in special measures after failing its Ofsted inspection.

The 500-pupil mixed comprehensive's truancy rate was 4% in 2003, compared with a national average in all maintained secondary schools of 1.1%.

Head master John O'Callaghan
It's a bit like the Tesco clubcard reward scheme
John O'Callaghan, head master
Mr O'Callaghan's scheme brought it down to 3.2% a year later and he expects it to drop to below 2% later this year.

He says he took a three-pronged approach to the school's problems.

His first priority was "to make the school itself a worthwhile and enjoyable place to come to".

He said: "If they're coming to lessons that are boring or a curriculum they find irrelevant then they're less likely to come to school."

The curriculum was completely overhauled to make it better suited to the children's needs.

His second battle was to tackle low attendance levels with both the children and their parents.

He said: "There are a whole set of sanctions for pupils if they come in late and we have clearly stated to parents that we will take them to court if they don't comply with the rules."

Points mean prizes

The third element was to recognise that pupils should be rewarded where attendance and improvements had been made.

He said: "We have introduced a merit system where pupils get points and trade them in for different rewards."

Pupils in years 10 and 11 (15 and 16-year-olds) are trading in their points for driving lessons and other rewards include discounts at the school shop and on school trips.

Mr O'Callaghan said: "It's a bit like the Tesco clubcard reward scheme.

"It's a daily system. Every day that you come in on time, you get a number of credits and they build up."
It's not bribery, it's just recognising the good work the vast majority of pupils do
John O'Callaghan
Pupils also receive a raffle ticket for every credit they are awarded and a draw is held each term with cash prizes of between 10 and 50, but last term, an Apple ipod was up for grabs.

It could be seen as an elaborate bribe system, but the head master rejects this idea.

"It's not bribery, it's just recognising the good work the vast majority of pupils do," said Mr O'Callaghan.

"Schools need to be an attractive place for youngsters where they can learn and see that they can make progress.

"This system rewards and recognises everyone and they are all engaged in this system."

The school's performance has already improved.

In 2002, only 15% of pupils were achieving the equivalent of five GCSE A* to C grades. Last year it went up to 32% and this year it is expected to reach 40%.

Why truancy is education's oldest problem

Schemes fail to dent truancy rate
04 Feb 05 |  Education
Rise in teenage truancy figures
16 Sep 04 |  Education
Parents face fines over truancy
23 Nov 04 |  Bristol/Somerset
'Few' blamed for school absences
10 Dec 04 |  Cambridgeshire

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