The Metropolitan Police Force is aiming to improve the lives of children in the London Borough of Southwark through a smartcard-based reward scheme.
The idea behind the Karrot scheme - the name was chosen following a competition run in the borough - was born about 18 months ago, when the Met spoke to 800 children to pinpoint their habits and problems, both inside and outside school.
From this research, the Met discovered that truancy, bullying and crime were the biggest issues for many of those interviewed. The children said they wanted to feel safer walking to and from school. Another common response was that they wanted to be rewarded for good behaviour.
As project manager Mark Scoular explains, the Karrot scheme has two main parts. First, under the reward card scheme, 8,000 children aged between 11 and 15 in the borough will be issued with smartcards. Points are earned for good attendance, punctuality and hard work. In fact, Scoular says teachers can award discretionary points for anything that the school deems to be important.
The points are recorded on a central database and pupils can check their "balance" either on card readers in schools or on the Web site (www.karrot.org.uk) so they can quickly make the connection between good behaviour and rewards.
The reward scheme is also linked to other local organisations such as the Youth Offending Team to help increase attendance at their after school activities. "From first thing in the morning until the last thing at night there is an incentive for kids to earn points," says Scoular.
But, as he makes clear, there is no point in having a reward scheme unless the rewards are good. The offers vary from rubbers and pencil cases to books and days out. Pupils can also pool their points to go on group outings or visit celebrities.
Karrot Kindness allows classes to nominate a pupil who has "got back to school against the odds" and reward them and their family with a trip on Eurostar.
The second part of the project is a mobile Internet cafe, which was showcased by the Met last December. It has broadband connectivity, an interactive smartboard, CD burning facilities, large screens for visually impaired users and its own generator to allow it to set up anywhere in the borough. "It is like something out of Star Wars," says Scoular.
The Met is also organising activities on the estates in co-operation with local recreational organisations and sports teams such as London Towers Basketball team and Millwall Football Club.
The scheme received £875,000 from the Government's Invest to Save budget and the Met raised a similar amount from the private sector. Five schools are set to roll out the scheme and the smartcards will be issued shortly.