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The humane race

A pack of ideas aims to make sports day competitive without upsetting the losers, says Yolanda Brooks.

Like all sporting events, the school sports day has the potential to deliver triumph and humiliation in equal measure. And therein lies the dilemma for the teacher in charge of one of the big events in the school calendar.

Go for the ultra-competitive winner-takes-all strategy and you risk leaving the majority of the pupils feeling like failures. Opt for an all-inclusive, non-competitive day and you may rob some of their only opportunity to shine - and deny watching parents a bit of spectacle.

To help you organise a sports day that swings to neither of those extremes, Sport England has produced the Primary Schools Sports Day Toolkit.

Steve Mothersill, the Active Schools development manager and creator of the toolkit says: "In the past, sports days tended to focus on athletic achievement. With the toolkit, we are trying to get schools to celebrate the whole of the national curriculum."

The toolkit features a teacher's manual that includes everything from opening and closing ceremonies, finding volunteers, differentiation and scoring systems, and 28 laminated cards with activity ideas and information on how to run them.

Instead of running events one after the other, the toolkit has come up with an alternative model that sees children taking part in a circuit of events in different zones.

In each of the seven suggested zones - distance, endurance, height, problem-solving, skills, speed and target - pupils can participate in a range of activities that test their skills.

In the problem-solving zone, for example, the pupils can play a game called Stranded Sheep where they have to "herd" their blindfolded team mates by whistling. In the speed zone, there's a game called Beanbag Pick Up where pupils have to pick up as many beanbags as possible within an allotted time to score points. Instead of competing on an individual basis for first, second and third place, pupils contribute to their team's final score. This format not only keeps the action moving, says Mr Mothersill, it allows every child to feel they have a part to play.

"Ninety-four per cent of the schools involved in the pilot study said it increased activity levels and 100 per cent of schools said it improved inclusion. The toolkit increases activity levels and reduces exposure to lower-ability kids," he says.

St James Church of England primary school in Hereford was one of the testing grounds for the toolkit. Although inclusive team events are not something new at the school, the games they tried brought extra stimulus to the sports day, says John Pritchard, the school's PE co-ordinator.

"We have always had a strong team element to our sports days but when we tried four activities with Years 5 and 6 at last summer's sports day, the response from the children was very, very positive," he says.

At Red Marsh school in Thornton-Cleveleys near Blackpool in Lancashire, the toolkit suggestions were equally well received, says class teacher Rosemary Whittaker.

"We are a special school for children with severe and profound learning difficulties and we tried out four activities - slalom dribble, throw away, hunt the clues and hoopla. It was absolutely brilliant. The games dealt with different levels and they were very easy to follow. The children really enjoyed it and the parents were able to join in. It is nice to have something fresh and new."

Although the toolkit is aimed at the main sports day, it has plenty to offer general PE sessions. Most of the activities are easy to set up and the equipment requirements shouldn't be a problem for even the most meagrely stocked games cupboards.

Feedback about the activities has been positive, but Steve Mothersill believes that most schools will use the toolkit to add another element to the standard sports day rather than transform it altogether. "The traditional sports day with the competitive element still has its place, but the Primary Sports Day Toolkit is intended to meet both ends of the market," he says.

The Primary Sports Day Toolkit costs pound;15 (including pamp;p) and can be ordered online: www.sportengland.comactive_schoolsindex.htmor by calling the Sport England Active Schools Helpline Tel: 0800 169 2299

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