'Children need to learn life is competitive'

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Sarah Macneal

Primary school supply teacher

South Ayrshire

"You have to be very careful about what you say in a report because some parents take great offence if you write something horrible about their child. In that respect a report is not a true report any longer.

"I would much rather be told that my child is lazy, but there are some parents who just cannot take criticisms of their children.

"Children need to learn from an early age that life is competitive. You do find that some children are not very good at something but most children have something that they are good at, which you can praise them for.

"Gone are the days when you had a test every week and you were placed accordingly.

"There should be an element of competition within schools because children thrive on competition. There's nothing children love more than a spelling test and getting it all correct and it's one way of getting children to learn their spelling.

"Children love doing well, even the poor ones. If they get 10 out of 10 in a spelling test, they go: 'Wow, I can do it'.

"School policy guidelines have a section on reporting an assessment with recommended ways of putting things and it's all got to be based on the positive rather than the negative.

"There is too much falseness and no one wants to know the reality.

"I'm a traditionalist and think there should be more competition within the class. It is very hard on the children who never win anything. But you can do it in a constructive way with progress prizes."

Amanda Wright

P7 teacher

Greenhills Primary, East Kilbride South Lanarkshire

"We still do the old-fashioned sports days where children get awarded first, second and third. The whole point is that every child gets to compete in one race or another.

"It's about a whole-school effort, the infants, juniors and seniors all supporting one another.

"We still have the element of competition involved, although I am aware that seems to be frowned upon in some schools.

"There is an element of competition within the class among the children anyway. The children know which is the top or middle reading group, for instance, even though they are given different names.

"I have never been asked directly by a parent about the placing of their child. We always talk about the level a child is working on individually, rather than the group they are placed in.

"There is pressure at times when some parents think their child should be pushed faster but they seem to be supportive when we explain why they are not.

"I have children in my class at very different levels and they are all very accepting of one another, sharing and supporting each other.

"I think some schools are trying to be too politically correct to be honest."

Robin Easton


High School of Glasgow (independent)

"We believe very strongly in the competitive element within school. We have public speaking, debating, prize giving for general excellence, and medals and trophies for real winners on sports days.

"We don't think it's an unhealthy thing as long as winning doesn't become the be all and end all, as long as children learn the important thing is to do your best.

"I know that not all children can star in these areas but what we would hope is that the child who isn't a star in sports, for example, may be able to achieve in other areas.

"We try to ensure that all children are praised and encouraged, whatever their level of achievement. They are made to feel that whatever they have done is valuable and worthwhile. We would want all children to feel like valued members of a community.

"In the classroom we don't rank children any more, although we do work in ability groups, the idea being that one can teach more effectively if children are operating at the same sort of level, but we mix that with whole-class teaching so children don't always feel separated from others.

"We want to give parents as full a picture as we can about their children in reports but teachers, quite rightly, try to be as encouraging as they can be. They try to boost children rather than put them down, which wouldn't achieve anything. But at the same time there is no point in misleading parents."

Eleanor Conor

Information officer, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council

Dunbar, East Lothian

"The competition that springs to my mind most is that between parents. They want very much to know where their child is and why they are not at so-and-so's level. There are a lot of very ambitious parents and they miss the reassurance of the traditional marking system.

"Many parents think they understand the levels and where their child should be, making them much more demanding of the child and the school. A child will only progress when they are ready but this has been lost on many parents.

"It's important to have a baseline for children to be at a certain stage by a certain age but it's become almost an obsession with parents and we need to get away from that.

"The competitive element within schools has been creeping away for some time. It is all part of the cotton wool culture for children.

"Losing doesn't damage children. I'm sorry but you lose in life and children have to learn these hard lessons.

"I think that education authorities are more worried about parents suing them for harming their child's psyche rather than actually thinking about the child's welfare. They are more scared of the litigious society than they are of damaging children irreparably."

Des Spence

Glasgow-based GP

Father of three

"I think the rise of many of the conduct disorders we are seeing is because children aren't getting enough physical activity.

"School isn't merely about academic achievement, it's much more about socialisation and social skills.

"The sports that do exist at schools now are no longer competitive but to pretend that we all have to win is extraordinary. Life is competitive. To deny that in primary school is ridiculous.

"If you win all the time, it's so bland and modular and we lose much of personality in society.

"Team sports teach people the skills they need in life. The roles people take in team sport are often important for defining your roles later in life.

"I have never seen children who have been damaged by losing.

"As a profession, teachers are very wary of being criticised, which means that school reports now are very bland and they don't tell you very much.

You don't want them to be overtly critical but you want to hear a fair balance of your child's strengths and weaknesses - an honest reflection of your children."

Brian Whittle

Former Olympic runner

Father of two

Bothwell, Lanarkshire

"Everything was competitive when I was at school, even down to what we played in the playground.

"You can't produce this Utopian, sterilised society.

Competition is part of human nature. It's what drives us on and keeps us interested.

"Some kids might not be good at hockey or athletics or football or any sport but by removing it we are taking away the opportunity for the kids who might be good.

"The trouble is, by banning competition in schools what they are saying is that if you don't win you're a failure.

"Sport is really about personal goals. Kids absolutely love participating.

What I don't agree with is competitive parents, screaming at their kids from the sidelines.

"As a parent I want to know if my child is struggling in maths or is fine in English, because then I can do something about it. I don't want to have to wait until they are sitting their Standard grades before I find out.

"Sport in school has declined considerably in recent years. I am now developing a national project to encourage young people to participate in activity at school.

"Now we tend to measure schools and children by academics, by their qualifications. Are we saying that David Beckham is a failure?

"We have got the balance wrong. It would be a more rounded education if they were allowed to compete in activities, not necessarily to win but to experience a sense of personal achievement."

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