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I Am Fed Up With Awards!

I was asked this week if my schools would take part in yet another award scheme. This time it was for sports and, yes, we could gain Bronze, Silver or Gold awards simply by jumping through some simple hoops (not literally). My heart sank. I was shown the tick-list of criteria for the awards. As usual the first two, Bronze and Silver could be achieved quite easily through self-assessment, whilst the Gold award required a lot more boxes to be ticked, including the one marked 'development plan', and required external assessment. The format was pretty familiar, as this structure was the same as found in most of the award schemes we have either been involved in, or asked to be involved in.  The Green Flag Eco award scheme was much the same. One of my schools was heavily involved in this scheme before I arrived, and had already achieved Silver awards and their first Green Flag, the top award possible at that time. The school and the pupils were now fully engaged in striving for their second Green Flag. At this time the carrot was dangled was that once you had attained your third Green Flag award you then retained the Green Flag permanently. We achieved our second Green Flag and continued to work hard to achieve the third. Staff and pupils were well into the work and the school met every criteria as we recycled everything, reduced our carbon footprint and made sure sustainability was a key thought in everything we did in the school and the community. Our school letterheads now included the logo of the Eco award and it's influence was found everywhere. As we neared the assessment for our third Green Flag we heard the criteria had changed and we would no longer be given a permanent award if we achieved the three Green Flags. I think this is the point when we decided to think again about our involvement in this scheme and other similar ones.

We looked again at the purpose of what we were doing. We talked to pupils and we talked to parents. They quite liked the awards and seeing the flags and certificates on display. The point I made to them and to staff was that I felt the awards were not the things that were important, it was the processes and practice that was crucial. If we really believed in being Eco-friendly and environmentally aware, and that this was important to ourselves individually and as a school then the practices that supported this should be ones that are embedded in our ethos and culture. They are what we do. And they were. My point was if that is the case, why bother about the awards? We should be doing what we do because we believe it is the right thing to do. We were already applying this principle and attitude to everything we do in terms of school development, so it was relatively easy for us to come to the conclusion that we should apply the same values to everything we do. We changed our approach to everything. From that point we decided that our approach to everything would be driven by our values and what we believed to be right, not a desire to jump through hoops to achieve some award.

We stopped chasing awards but we still kept developing and improving what we did, but in a deep and sustainable way, driven by values. So it was from this standpoint that I assessed the latest award scheme we were being asked to take part in this week. However, this was not my decision alone and I took it to all the staff to see what they thought. When I explained the scheme I could tell by the look on their faces and lack of response what they were going to say. The said that sport and physical activity was important and everyone recognised this, and that is why we provide our pupils with so many opportunities, within the curriculum and without, to be active. We do this because it is important, not to win an award, not even to meet some arbitrary Government set target, but because we believe we should. They asked what was the point of participating in another award scheme if we were doing everything they were looking for already. This would be more work, in terms of paperwork and plans, therefore would eat into available time, for no discernible gain.

If someone wants to come along and give us an award for what we are doing, that would be great. But awards are not the drivers for anything we do, those are our values and principles. five of our teachers received awards from the GTCS this summer for their work using practitioner enquiry practices to develop their teaching and the learning in their classrooms. The awards were nice, but they were a by-product of their desire and commitment to be better teachers and to improve what they do for their learners. They would have still been doing what they did whether they were likely to get some award or not. They are driven by their professionalism and their values, as are we all. It is the same with all school development. We are doing what we do because we believe in it, not because somebody else tells us what we should be doing or, worse, because we think that is what the HMIe want us to do. Michael Fullan speaks of 'right and wrong drivers' in schools, we believe we have the right drivers for what we do, and awards are not them.

I heard today I have been selected randomly to be interviewed as part of our council's application for Investors In People recognition. That could be messy!

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