Primary schools the length and breadth of the country have been in the grip of some of the greatest challenges they face every year. It is not the national tests, or the forthcoming introduction of nursery vouchers. No, it is none other than the annual athletics events.
Who are these events for? Certainly not the children. If you can, step back and observe what actually happens.
Groups of children will be milling around chatting and generally having a thoroughly relaxed time. Socialising with teams from other schools is par for the course, as is the little brother or sister syndrome, where the young sibling runs away and is last seen belting hell for leather at right angles across the track. Competitors are to be found poking about in the jumping pits, making complicated patterns prior to the long jump, or pulling up clumps of grass to use as ammunition. It is a reasonably safe bet that athletics is the last thing on the minds of these young competitors.
If you watch some of the parents, however, a different picture emerges. Obsession with winning at all costs; screaming and shouting at their offspring who are not running as fast as Linford Christie did last week; abusing marshals and judges because the split-second photo finish didn't go the way it ought to have. Watch out particularly for the parent who runs in the relay race on the inside track, charging down any spectator silly enough to get in the way. Note the parent who reduces a child to a shaking, exhausted mess after a long race, the child who has run and run only to hear that he or she should have tried harder.
Why on earth do we do this year after year? Why on earth do we, as teachers, allow such a spectacle to take place in the name of sport? Answers on a postcard to John Major, Downing Street, re: Raising the Game.