Marking small steps can lead to higher achievement
Photo: Joel Fulgencio/Unsplash

I remember my first, official school award.

In 1971, at Maresfield Bonner’s CE Primary, I swam a full 10 metre length of the school swimming pool. It was one hell of an effort!

For the rest of the week, I hassled Mrs Humphreys, my teacher, relentlessly, checking and double checking that I would receive my certificate in the following Friday assembly.

I still have that certificate, over 50 years later.

The scene of John Tomsett's first certified achievement

As you might guess, that miniscule triumph meant a great deal to me.

Indeed, throughout my 33-year teaching career, the positive impact of success upon my students’ sense of self-concept (what they themselves think they can achieve) has been clear.

When I was head of sixth form at Hove Park School, we observed regularly that success improved students’ self-concept, which, in turn, increased students’ success.

As Virgil said in 19 BC, hos sucessus alit possunt quia posse videntur: ‘Success nourishes them: they can because they think they can.’

The relationship between self-concept and achievement is explored thoroughly by Professor Daniel Muijs in his book, Effective Teaching: Evidence and Practice.

His review of the research on this key issue concludes that ‘what matters to achievement is self-concept’.

Muijs goes on to explain the key conundrum to those of us working to improve the sense of self-worth of students in our schools today: ‘The effect of achievement on self-concept is stronger than the effect of self-concept on achievement.

'Therefore, the best way to improve self-concept is probably to improve pupils’ achievement.’

According to Muijs, the most important thing we can do as teachers to improve students’ self-concept is ‘to ensure that all pupils experience success.’

I have been reminded of Muijs’ research evidence about the importance of success to our students, whilst researching the latest book in the Huh series on the curriculum with Mary Myatt

We have been interviewing leaders in Alternative Provision.

Gerry Robinson, executive head of Haringey Learning Partnership, said, “What we needed to do, quite rapidly, was improve our young people's sense of worth, their confidence in themselves, their ability to see themselves as successful learners.”

John D’Abbro, who was executive headteacher of the New Rush Hall Group for nearly 30 years, used to say to his students: 'The bottom line is, if you come to one of our Pupil Referral Units, you will be successful.'

For John, failure was not an option.

Sarah Marrion, Deputy Headteacher, Wirral Hospitals' School, echoed Muijs’ comments: 'If young people feel successful, they are ready to learn.'

So, a taste of success does wonders for everyone of us, but especially for some of our most vulnerable pupils.

High-flyers will always feel a great sense of self-worth, but to those students who struggle academically, who may have learning disabilities or specific additional needs, recognition of their achievements means everything.

Programmes such as the Unit Award Scheme fit perfectly with this idea.

Rewarding students who may struggle in mainstream schooling with certificates every time they successfully complete a personalised, clearly defined unit of learning gives them clear evidence of their skills, knowledge and experience.

Because it is personal to the learner, the teacher is free to deliver the content in the most appropriate way, without set specifications, schemes of work or resources.

This achievement can boost their self-concept, increase engagement and improve motivation.

This helps learners of all abilities to make progress on their lifelong learning journey.

As Eugene Dwaah, CEO of the Evolution Sports Group, who leads a range of provision for students who find it hard to learn in mainstream schools, said to us: 'We celebrate every little success, even if it’s the minutest thing.'

Eugene could have been talking about my swimming award, all those decades ago.

John Tomsett is a teacher of 33 years and an author of books about school leadership.

On February 6 John will be in an AQA webinar sharing his experience of curriculum provision for learners with additional needs.
Click here to sign up for the free online session

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