Sports Day - prizes all round or winner takes all?

20th Jun 2017

We are into Sports Day season and schools across the country, Radnor included, will be holding their annual events in the coming weeks.

I grew up in the States and don't remember anything quite like our British Sports Day peppering the summer calendar but there's no doubt it is a wonderful tradition that is still thriving today.

Hand in hand with the tradition goes the increasingly vocal argument about competition and the great divide between winners and losers in most of our schools. For some time now the mood in UK has been to shield children from the rigours of competition and ensure that everyone goes home with a prize.

Making children feel good about themselves at all costs, without necessarily considering the long term implications of this, has been a big feature of the educational debate recently. However, reading an article at the weekend it seems the tide may now be turning. The paper in question was trying to paint a divide between state and private schools but really the issue goes deeper than this. It feels like we are at an interesting cross roads in UK, the past ten years have been characterised by an increased focus on well-being and mental health only to see those terrible afflictions continue to blight young people at an alarming rate. This dichotomy between well-being and resilience is significant and something educators, and the wider public, are starting to consider more broadly.

Sports Day is at the centre of the debate right now but really it is a question which reaches into every aspect of education: to what degree can or should we train children to deal with the cut and thrust of the big wide world, versus insulating them from the genuine challenges of the world around them?

I teach Economics and often think in terms of outputs. Surely we should be developing young people who can cope with disappointment, understand that the world is increasingly competitive and that to succeed it sometimes means others fail?

These are harsh lessons and the job of a school is to strike the right balance between well-being and resilience. Producing confident, happy and compassionate kids who can take their place in the world, and perhaps win the egg-and-spoon at Sports Day, is a big part of being a great school.