The Olympic Games has raised the issue of competitive sport and individuals daring to be the best.  BBC News reported on how privately educated children are significantly more likely to be competing in the Olympic Games than their state educated counterpart. So far discussion seems to have revolved around the issue of finance which is undoubtedly a factor when it comes to sports like horse riding, rowing, sailing etc that require significant financial investment and parental support. I wonder though if another factor at play is the demise of competition in schools? Gone are the days in all but a few state schools when children compete in sports on a regular basis. It’s generally not seen as politically correct for children to win in sports, unless as part of a team. Take sports day in the average school where the youngest children do joint activities to produce a winning team. I can’t help feeling that this is fundamentally unfair as not all children naturally excel academically and yet may have a real talent for sport. By removing all competition we are also removing these children’s opportunity to shine and grow. When it comes to more formal learning achievements, no matter what names are used to disguise ability groups in maths and literacy, children have a keen grasp of where they come in the class hierarchy. Clearly we don’t want children to leave school feeling disengaged and a failure at anything, but equally we need to recognise and find ways of nurturing each child’s individual talents. A spirit of taking part and teamwork are obviously essential, but if we are to nurture future champions in schools we also need to make it acceptable for children to compete and win.

In cases where the glass ceiling has been raised on what children with special educational needs can achieve, the results have been surprising with all children’s performance rising, much like a pacemaker in a long distance race. We can’t all be good at the same thing but offering opportunities to practice the art of competition enables children to perfect, improve and consolidate performance or aspire to be better. The Olympic values of fair play, hard work, determination and team spirit are key in fostering children as unique individuals with their own talents and aptitudes to be embraced, not hidden under a bushel. The new prime areas of physical development and personal, social and emotional development will undoubtedly go some way to encouraging the development of these core strengths and skills. Now it’s time to pass the baton to children and get ready to celebrate their special talents.

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