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Senior Deputy Head’s Blog – Prize-Giving Ceremonies

posted on July 5th 2018 in Headmaster's Blog

Are Prize-Giving ceremonies elitist and demotivating?

The Guardian reported in July 2017 findings from a survey that 57% of parents with children in primary school said their sports day was ‘non-competitive’.  In 2015 The Telegraph ran an article on how at Eton years ago all boys were herded into the school hall and their exam results read out loud in rank order with the lowest scoring boy being declared a ‘General, Total Failure’.  One can see from this why some schools in recent years have felt that a move to a more non-competitive ethos would be a healthy thing!

The move away from National Curriculum levels and much more focus on pupils reaching their individual targets hopefully is helping all schools and parents move away from comparing pupils with their peers.  Our new approach to monitoring and reporting is following this trend by emphasising the importance of each pupil doing the very best they can do based on their own ability profile rather than comparing them to the score that their peers managed to achieve on one test on one particular day.

Which brings me onto Prize-Giving and competitions in school in general.  I still remember at school being disappointed at not being given the “Straight A/A*” prize because I had achieved a B grade in just one of my GCSEs. Everyone who had achieved straight A/A*s filed up in a long line to collect a certificate and be applauded with proud parents watching on. It felt to me as if the vast majority of pupils had therefore all done better than me because my eight As and A*s simply weren’t good enough.

Recognising and celebrating the success of pupils that have done well is never something that we would wish to lose at school.  We are rightly proud of the fact that our pupils achieve well at external examinations and that some go on to the top universities and highly academic careers.  However, our celebrations cover much more than just academic prizes in external examinations, including a range of co-curricular awards and celebrations, for example Public Speaking or charitable endeavours.  We have this year for the first time moved our school Prize-Giving from the autumn term to the summer term to focus on the overall celebration of pupils’ work throughout the year, and to move away from a heavy focus on GCSE or A Level results. We have also changed our allocation of prizes so that we recognise the pupils who have attained high marks in their academic subjects, but have also added Minerva prizes to celebrate those who have consistently shown resilience and perseverance throughout the year. No longer will we just celebrate the highest achievers. We also intend to celebrate the equally (and ultimately more) significant quality of developing resilience in the face of challenges. We have also added a new trophy this year, the Amherst Cup, to celebrate the pupil who has most fully lived the mission of our school in all they do and embraced our three core values of ‘Care, Challenge and Confidence’.  Intellectual prowess must always be celebrated and applauded, but so should the living out of the wider philosophy of our community. To quote our mission statement, we aim that our pupils ‘will go into the world and make it a better place’ and our Prize-Giving will reflect this ethos.