Star of the Week … do some primary school rewards do more harm than good?

On a frosty winter’s morning in Oxford, pupils at St Aloysius’ Catholic primary school file into the hall for their end-of-week assembly. Today the headteacher will be handing out certificates to those who have displayed the school’s “virtues”. The head, Tom Walker, calls on one or two children from each class to receive awards highlighting how they have supported friends, or taken a risk, or perhaps played with a child who was on their own. The Guardian reports

The Virtues awards are new, replacing a system that rewarded academic work and good behaviour. Most primary schools in England use these sorts of schemes – often called Star of the Week. But there is growing unease among teachers, parents and experts who say awards can do more harm than good: that, if not managed carefully, they encourage unhealthy competition or an expectation of reward.

Another Oxford school, North Hinksey primary, has also introduced a values-based system. The head, Amy Pearce, says the problem with awards such as Star of the Week is that they risk excluding some children: “If you’re that child that doesn’t get one, I mean that’s just an appalling feeling.”

Discussions on the parenting forum Mumsnet echo the concerns. Common complaints are that well-behaved children are overlooked or that awards are arbitrary or biased. The most heartfelt concerns come from those whose children have been upset and demotivated. One parent says: “It’s destroying her confidence every week she’s not picked. She said she tries really hard and it makes her feel like her best isn’t good enough and that she’s rubbish.”

At St Aloysius, Walker says there had been complaints about the old system from parents who said their child felt “unrecognised” and “overlooked”. Under the new system, pupils can nominate examples of “virtuous” behaviour, and awards are often discussed with the class. Walker says the difference is that awards recognise behaviour that goes “above and beyond”. He says everyone can expect to receive an award at some point and the system is a conscious effort to move away from rewarding academic achievement or regular good behaviour.

However, the child clinical psychologist Naira Wilson says Star of the Week awards provide valuable acknowledgment or recognition. “Sometimes acknowledgment feels good, particularly if it is lacking at home.” She emphasises that this should be purely about the individual, not about comparison with others: “Having the public acknowledgment is demonstrating you’re important, but not that you’re better than someone else.”

Read the full article Star of the Week … do some primary school rewards do more harm than good?

Does your school still use Star of the Week? Are you comfortable with it or do you use a system similar the Virtues Awards? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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