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How to Get the Best out of Activity Passports

Activity passports for students isn’t a bad idea – especially if you use them to celebrate those young people who quietly do the right thing…

  • How to Get the Best out of Activity Passports

After months of ‘excited’ talk about the return of the blue passport post Brexit, just a few weeks ago we had the DfE releasing its own, primary focused version, aimed at encouraging pupils to try things beyond the curriculum such as baking a cake, visiting a museum and skimming stones.

Similar lists have been produced by organisations such as the National Trust in the past and they are full of lovely suggestions.

In fact, it’s impossible to criticise the good intentions of Mr Hinds’ ‘activities passport’, so I am going to try hard to control any cynical thoughts I might have about whether the lists reflect the practical realities of many children’s lives, and thoughts of how much of a middle class utopia they may appear to represent…

Been there…

This said, activity passports are not a new thing for many schools; indeed, we have had our own ‘Passmores’ Passport’ for every student for a number of years now.

Interestingly, our intent (seems to be a popular word at the moment!) was to highlight the vast array of opportunities our young people are given – but also to ensure we recognise the often quiet majority of students who turn up every day, do the right thing and represent themselves and our school with pride.

We were determined to ensure that we showed our appreciation for those young people who, let’s be honest, make it easier to be a teacher on a daily basis.

Our activity lists are full of things that form part of everyday life in busy schools such as participating in a House activity, volunteering to help at a school event or simply demonstrating a positive attitude to learning.

Obviously not every child has an interest in being in a school performance, for instance, therefore we don’t have an expectation that every activity is ticked off.

However, we do have a really strong belief that if a young person ‘buys into’ the school culture and life they will leave with a much richer and more rounded experience to look back on.

There have been some quite interesting unintended consequences. The students get the activity they have taken part in signed by the member of staff overseeing it, and it is then centrally signed off by the ‘Passport Controller’.

This is a chance for us to talk to each individual about what they have done; but it also gives us a checking process.

...Done that

Working in our community does mean that we are offered many exciting opportunities for our young people. However, they are often very focused on certain groups of students; those close to permanent exclusion or those in receipt of PPG for instance.

Do not think for one second that I am saying that we don’t want to give these opportunities to those particular groups of learners.

However, look at it from the perspective of a young person who turns up, does the right things, adds to the school community and wants to be a firefighter – but isn’t eligible for the week-long ‘Firebreak’ course at our local fire station because, as they see it, they are not ‘naughty enough’.

I have certainly had that conversation with a few students over the years and, although they understand when it is explained to them why, their disappointment is obvious and understandable.

I wonder how much we all take these students’ positivity for granted? How often do we make the time to appreciate them?

I remain a fan of the idea of activity passports, then – but I don’t want them simply to be a reflection of someone’s opinion of an ideal childhood; when they could be an opportunity to celebrate a young person being part of a positive school culture.

Vic Goddard (@vicgoddard) is head Teacher at Passmores Academy – as seen on Channel 4’s Educating Essex – and is the author of The Best Job in the World (Independent Thinking Press, £14.99).

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