Parents want more ‘healthy competition’ in schools

By Jasmine Stephens, Family Editor

When I was at school, competition was king and not just through the enforced participation at a multitude of sporting events. The school held annual speech days for each year group where prizes were awarded for achievement and effort and a specific award in each subject was presented to one pupil who was deemed to have achieved most highly. We also had inter-house sports leagues, talent shows and as well as our exam results, we were often told our ‘place’ in each subject on our school reports.

Considering this was a state school in the 1990’s, this all sounds very ‘Mallory Towers’ compared to the current trend within schools of little or no competitive activities amid fears students are under too much pressure. Parents aren’t happy about this; a recent survey has found that nine out of ten parents think schools should include more competitive situations.

The study by Find a Future, which manages the WorldSkills UK Skills competitions, revealed that parents believe that children who have taken part in competitive challenges and games will be more successful, ambitious and better prepared for both work and adulthood.

92 per cent of parents stated that they thought it was ‘unrealistic’ for children to grow up thinking they would always be successful and 84 per cent worry that the harsh reality of the world of work will be a shock to kids with little or no experience of competition. 24 per cent of parents have even gone as far as to complain to their child’s school about the lack of emphasis on winning.

Teachers agree. Nine in ten teachers surveyed said they believe it to be important for children to experience losing at an early age and over 50 per cent think schools ‘could do more’ to offer competitive opportunities.

Carole Stott, Chair of Find a Future, said, ‘Many schools have, in recent years, moved their emphasis for children away from winning and losing to simply taking part.’

She added, ‘We believe this is detrimental both to the individual and to the wider community, since competition motivates ambition and increases performance standards among those involved, as well as their classmates. Importantly, competition also creates role models who other young people look to emulate, driving up standards and creating an upward cycle of success which is enjoyed by the individual, their school or employer and ultimately the nation as a whole.’

As parents and teachers, our responsibility is to prepare our children for life beyond the safety of the home and school environment and the competitive element of work is part of that. Just as we can teach toddlers to take-turns and to share without destroying their sense of self-worth, it is possible to encourage older children to enjoy age-appropriate competitive situations which both teach them how to strive to win and give them a chance to learn that losing doesn’t equal failure, but is instead a valuable lesson of its own.

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