And the winner is…

It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part. A fine sentiment but not exactly a sentiment that is universally accepted. In some situations, and for some people winning is the aim, it is all that matters, and it can be acceptable to approach challenge in this way but just not very often. As a community we regularly consider the role of competition in the school environment. Most of the time we are keen to harness its motivating power, take for example the weekly Junior School ritual of announcing the house points total. Those with most enjoy the feeling of having won and those who are not wearing the victor’s laurel crown are encouraged to commit to the winning of more valuable house points during the next week. Sometimes there is a good deal of satisfaction in coming second, our rugby 7s squad can feel very proud of the recent silver medal in the Paris tournament, losing by two points in the final seconds was a blow, but it does little to diminish the fact that they only lost one match and played superbly.

When winning is the only point in playing the game or taking part in the competition then problems emerge. I’m certain that Josephine in Year 12 will be delighted in having come first in the COBIS Art competition and rightly so, it is a magnificent achievement. I suspect that she would have been just as pleased with her submission had it not taken the top honours – the fact it has is not only a bonus but fair recognition of her significant talent. I once worked at a school that enjoyed an unbeaten rugby season, what impressed me the most about that was a comment made by the all-conquering captain which was something along the lines of, we need to find some tougher fixtures. Even when winning we should seek answers to important questions. I’d be worried if we only ever competed because we knew that we were going to win and I’d be equally concerned if we approached competition without a will to win.

That we can’t win all the time is a valuable lesson in itself. Perhaps we should say that it is not simply the taking part that is important but the spirit with which we compete. Surely this competition thing is all about trying to do the best that is possible? Whether it is pitting ourselves against a times table test or shooting the crucial match winning goal, young people learn an awful lot about themselves when they test themselves. They learn when they win, and they also learn when they don’t. This week I was lucky enough to have cake with a group of Year 11 pupils who had excelled in their mock exams, I didn’t get the sense from them that they were going to sit back having gained the accolades, I was pleased to sense their interest in doing still better next time. In schools winning can take many forms but it is the race within ourselves, the competition to get the most from ourselves that we must seek to fulfil. If that is the case, then the taking part is important.

I hope that you have great half-term holiday.

Nicholas Hammond