Hits and surprises…

Hits and surprises as judges reveal the Man Booker’s shortlist of five golden decades… 
– The Guardian, Monday 28 May 2018

During the 1980s there were wide discussions in British Schools about the role of competitive activities, usually sport in schools. The newspapers had great fun with the situation and made it sound like the end to competitive sport and games in schools. A quick trip to a school in the UK will, almost without exception, find competitive sport as part of the curriculum and an integral part of any extra-curricular offer. In many independent schools sport and therefore competition remains an integral part of the school experience. Whilst they receive less publicity there are also literary, debating, artistic, mathematical and music competitions to name but a few. We participate in many such contests each year. Such competitions have a long history. In Ancient Greece, playwrights competed and poets performed. They also invented the Olympics. Competition for the Greeks was a natural part of life. Today we have poetry medals, architecture prizes and an ever expanding list of prizes for literature (see above). Not much has changed.

Maths QuestWe have enjoyed significant success in academic and artistic competitions this year and there are more to come. Early this week I had to award the Headmaster’s Prize for Art. Many in the school community ran in the recent 10km race from Chatou to Saint-Germain and indeed we scooped the team prize. Winning is great. But where there are winners, there have to be losers (not a word we tend to use much in schools). In the modern world the “loser” tag is a potent one. Perhaps we should remember that many have to lose in order for one to win. In an examination there is often only one person who can be top of the class; for them to be the winner the rest of the examinees must play their part. We don’t usually consider them to be losers, nor should we, for if the examination or the competition was well judged then all will have risen to the challenge, all will have benefitted. I once worked in a school with an unbeaten rugby team. For me this was as much an indication that we needed to find some stronger opponents as being a reflection on the team’s skills.

Carefully managed competition is a good thing. It is important that our pupils understand that losing is not always as bad as it may seem for we can learn much in defeat. That said we should encourage them to strive to win. At the end of term there will be academic prizes for those who have come top. We have had sports dinners and other awards ceremonies. Does this mean that we do not value the efforts of those who do not take the victor’s laurels? No, of course it doesn’t. Whilst I’d always make sure that young people understand the value of taking part, I don’t see an enormous problem with playing to win or aiming to come top. We must also have an understanding that no-one can (or should be) top of everything all of the time.

As we enter the season of exams, of sports days and of other competitions I hope that we can all find time to celebrate achievement not only of those who win the deserved prizes but to all who have achieved.

Nicholas Hammond

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