Prizes for all? That’s sooo yesterday…

Much has been written about the apparent ‘prizes for all’ culture prevalent in some schools. The need to constantly reward behaviour or achievement that meets the minimum standard at best.

It’s a culture which is largely ridiculed and examples are given of how this fails to uphold the values it purports to promote.

Presumably, at the school I was working in today, someone had taken note of this, and had extended this culture to its logical conclusion.

Although the clouds were threatening to disgorge a torrent upon the field, mercifully, bar a very small shower, the day stayed dry. The sun resolutely refused to shine, but as it was warm out, no-one complained. The children anxiously watched the sky all morning, keeping their fingers crossed, and failing utterly to concentrate on any task they were given, their minds only focused on the excitement to come – SPORTS DAY!

Well, there should have been excitement, but much of this seemed to have been wiped out by a very odd approach to ‘fair play’. At least, that’s what I was told it was.

The children were grouped in tiered teams, three teams of children ranging from Reception to Year 6, all in coloured t-shirts. They were all very excited, and proudly boasted of how they expected to fare in each of the events they were competing in. Due to the numbers of children taking part in sports day, they had each been assigned three events, based supposedly on their strengths.

So far, so good. The class I was with were enthusiastic and good-natured, smiles all round, and supportive of their team-mates, as well as their classsmates in rival teams. The ingredients were there for a really successful day.

Except, it wasn’t. Or rather, sports day went as intended by the Head and SLT, and probably as expected by the regular staff, but it rather baffled both me and the other supply teacher.

And a significant number of parents.

And quite a few of the children.

The events were traditional – egg & spoon, sack race, two different running races, and so on. The children lined up at the start, and on the blast from the klaxon charged as fast as they could towards the finish line. The first one to cross the line was given a sticker, as was the second, third, and all the other competitors. Identical stickers. Ones that read “I ran in a race”.

As the head explained to me, the children were to be told not to cheer on their friends, not to call out any names, just to cheer generally until the last person had crossed the line.

There was to be no awarding of first place, no winner recognised, all in the interests of ‘fair play’. Apparently giving credit to those who won, or even came third, would ‘disenfranchise those whose strengths lie elsewhere’. Promoting winners was ‘divisive’.

David (Year 6) refused to run in the egg and spoon race, he walked the length of the course instead. As he (admittedly logically) pointed out, “If I run hard I get the same as if I don’t bother. I can’t win, no-one can, so what’s the point?”

Some of the children cried “I want a sticker that says I won!”. Some of the parents complained that it seemed a bit odd, echoing David they wondered what the point of running a race was if there were no winners.

It’s inaccurate to say the children were competing, as a competition requires a winner, one who proves they are better, or more successful than the other entrants. The definition makes this quite clear: The activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others.

The coloured teams didn’t seem to mean much, no-one seemed to be taking note of which team had been most successful in each race. But then, as there were ‘no winners’, I’m not sure how they would have decided which team won anyway.

At the end of sports day the head took the megaphone and thanked everyone for all the support they had given to the children competing today. She was pleased to see that everyone had embraced her vision of a day for all to enjoy, one where although there were no winners, there were also no losers.

As the parents walked back towards the school I overheard one father saying “No f*****g winners? What did she do – pick the England team?”

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3 Responses to Prizes for all? That’s sooo yesterday…

  1. FiDaisyG says:

    This seems completely bizarre! I do not believe that physical activity should always be competitive but if they are going to stage a competitive event, then they should let the children compete. It does not have to be “winner takes it all” but winning should be acknowledged with at least, as the children requested, a different sticker. Any fairground will give them ideas of how to set up “everyone’s a winner” type activities that encourage participation but still reward a competitive edge!

    And if they really don’t want a competitive sports day, then they should stage an inherently co-operative event such as a gym display, circus skills or sponsored cycle ride instead.

  2. Pingback: Edubabble – Master teachers, how genes affect maths skills and research ethics

  3. Mike Tribe says:

    I coached soccer at my school for 25 years. One year, we had a new head who called me to her office and told me that 8-year-olds were too young for competitive sports and that I should start coaching non-competitive soccer. I assume she meant that one team would start with the ball, score a goal without opposition and then give the ball to the other team and allow them to score. Fortunately, there was such an outcry for the parents — the school is in Spain where they treat soccer REALLY seriously — that her idea was quietly dropped…

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