FOR sixth form pupils at Sandhurst School, attending lessons is a bit like shopping at Tesco's.

Each time they walk through the door in the morning they collect shopping points by registering their attendance with a Connexions "reward card".

The 120 students, aged 17 and 18, redeem the points at local shops and sports facilities. Those with almost 100 per cent attendance records are automatically entered for a prize draw. Additional points are also awarded each term for improved work and effort.

The smart cards have been issued as part of a Department of Education experiment to encourage youngsters to stay on at school.

Bracknell Forest Council has been given a £370,000 grant by the DoE to run the pilot scheme at the borough's seven secondary schools, including Sandhurst.

Each card bears the student's photograph, name, date of birth and personal identification number.

Jane Ward, development manager for the project, said: "These days children often prefer to leave school and earn some money, rather than continue with their education. This points scheme is the equivalent of giving pupils benefits to encourage them to continue their education."

Mrs Debbie Smith, Sandhurst School's sixth form head, said the scheme was proving popular with the students. But she emphasised that she did not regard the cards as an incentive for the pupils to attend regularly.

"Attendance among our sixth formers has always been good," she said. "It's no more than we would expect when they reach this stage of their education."

The experiment is due to end in June next year, by which time the DoE hopes to have enough information to decide whether to launch the scheme nationwide.