Competition does not limit success;Letter

24th September 1999 at 01:00
I WAS saddened to read Another Voice by Sue Jones "All losers in the wrong competition" (TES, September 3) and especially to learn that someone with evident dedication and experience should be leaving her important job in dissatisfaction.

She indicts competition as a principal ill in education. I would like to put a more hopeful view. Fundamentally, competition is a feature of life in general, especially in the market place where so many of our society's activities are based, and from which much of the nation's wealth to support our public services is derived.

Is it not the main task of education to prepare children to make their way in and enjoy adult life? Somewhere an understanding of competition must surely figure.

I believe it is wrong to view competition as limiting success to a minority. There will always be those, in school and later in life, whose natural abilities, or better endeavours to use them, will put them ahead of others. Children are realists; they know that some come first and others come behind - but the followers don't generally regard themselves as failures. In any case, the same children don't come first in all activities. Ought we not to bring them up to believe that success is when someone knows that they have given their best and achieved something which reflects that? Children can grasp that concept.

It is a doctrine of despair to argue that competition has no place in the public service. Is it wrong for a school, a hospital or a warship (to take the three areas of my own life) to want to be the best in delivering the service to the public and nation for whose benefit they exist?

I do despair at the argument that competition against benchmarking is spurious because the benchmarks will shift. Of course, benchmarks should lift with better achievement. All around me I hear debate about adding value, and a wide recognition that performance tables and trends should be developed to reflect that.

Many schools are now able to say what achievement their results represent against pupils' individual abilities. But even when results are universally based on such assessment there will be some schools which will succeed more in lifting their children. Winners and losers, if you like - but not in the sense that those who do not come first, come nowhere.

All children are capable of success in my book - if our education system and their homes serve them as they deserve, there need be no failures. Human nature being what it is there will of course be some - but not because others are successes.

If I am wrong then it is time for me to leave the public service.

Sir Anthony Tippet, Chairman, Funding Agency for Schools, York

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