Reward trips for schools – From ‘well done’ to ‘wheeeeeee…!’

Rollercoaster in motion, representing reward trips for schools

You should approach reward systems carefully, says Daniel Harvey – but there’s no denying the thrill of a theme park trip for doing well…

Daniel Harvey
by Daniel Harvey

For the past few years, it’s been my privilege to be the senior leader with responsibility for student behaviour and attitudes and to lead the pastoral team.

An important aspect of this work has involved overseeing the rewards budget. However, something about the term ‘reward’ has never sat right with me.

Should we, as teachers and leaders, really talk about ‘rewarding’ behaviour and reduce achievements to a transaction involving vouchers? Could a school instead focus on ‘recognition’? This allows for a more discerning, just-in-time process that lets students know you see and value their efforts.

“Something about the term ‘reward’ has never sat right with me”

Rewards versus recognition

A reward is something you receive because you’ve done something good and/or worked hard. Recognition is public appreciation for an individual or group’s efforts or actions.

My own approach has been to value and appreciate student success in a timely manner. This adds to student motivation and builds positive student attitudes to school.

However, there are many students who demonstrate consistently great behaviour and attitudes to learning. What concerns me is that these students sometimes don’t receive enough recognition from staff to indicate that we see their efforts and success, and don’t take them for granted.

I’d argue that special events – particularly trips – shouldn’t be the main way we recognise student achievements and successes. Rather, they should sit atop a firm foundation of frequent, more straightforward reward events. End of term reward trips for schools can sometimes take place too far out from when a student genuinely excelled. What we need are for all reward events to be both motivational and supportive of future behaviour.

Mixing it up

Building a varied and effective reward repertoire over the school year will allow for more consistent recognition to take place. I know some heads of year who organise regular pizza parties for select groups of students. This involves lots of pizza, music and games during lessons.

A primary school where I’m vice-chair of governors runs an annual Christmas Movie cinema trip for all students. This definitely adds to the magic of the season.

Prior agreements with the cinema regarding tickets, food and drink purchases and other issues help to ensure a smooth and enjoyable visit every time. Secondary schools could look at potentially turning their main theatre or hall into a temporary cinema. You could even order in treats at scale.

In summer months, a visit from an ice cream van could provide a ‘short and event’ reward event. However, this may be better suited to smaller schools, given the logistical issues involved with numbers, size of queues, temperatures and so forth.

Reward trips for schools

Drayton Manor is a theme park local to my school. As any educator in the West Midlands will tell you, late July sees the park rammed with school students from around the region having a great time.

Admittedly, the wait times for rides sometimes touch 90 minutes and the teacher-filled coffee shop queues are often long.

Staff can expect to field requests to supervise students on StormForce 10. This is a ride guaranteed to leave everyone a soaking mess.

But in my experience, students do appreciate it when you choose them to go on such trips. This is especially so if parents and carers know their selection was on the grounds of good behaviour and attitudes.

I’ve previously used our reward budget to subsidise costs to parents. With help from the school’s business manager, I’ve also identified innovative ways of reducing the accompanying transport costs to and from school.

Finally, pre-COVID, some of my colleagues came up with perhaps the best reward/recognition event of them all – our School Summer Festival. We invite chosen students from all years – again, based on buy-in to school values and expectations – to an afternoon of music, magic, fun fair activities and free ice cream. The event has proved to be a success both times we’ve run it. I look forward to its return next year.

Daniel Harvey is a GCSE and A Level science teacher. He is also lead on behaviour, pastoral and school culture at an inner city academy.

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