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Do children matter?

by Tim Middleton

For some time now, there has been a desire in some quarters overseas to give prizes to all runners in a school race because it is thought that it upsets children if some do not get a prize but others do; it does not matter whether they come first or last, they must all get the same prize or else their self-esteem will be destroyed. Such is one school of thought! Interestingly, for such thinking to be consistent, every child would have to be awarded a prize for their academic work, no matter how hard they tried or how able they were; they would all have to be given awards for music, no matter what sound they made. Oh, and everyone must be given a job, no matter how they work!

The thinking behind such a view may have something to do with the view that we must show that all children matter. Now, all children do matter, but we are right to question whether we do show it, whether they know it, as well as how we can show it. When we award prizes, trophies and awards, are we saying that those children matter more than those who do not? When we award colours to pupils in whatever area of school life, are we saying those who receive them matter more than those who do not? When we appoint some older children as prefects, are we saying they matter more than others? Our initial and immediate reaction will be to deny any such suggestion. It is not a matter of equality (where everyone receives the same), but equity (where everyone receives the appropriate).

We would be right to deny such an accusation, but we need to acknowledge that there could be a possibility by the way that they are received and by the way we present them. However, giving everyone a prize, no matter how they perform, does not show that they all matter (and children are not slow to realise that!) because it is also saying that what they do does not matter. The way to show they all matter is not by giving them all prizes or positions, but by a number of other means.

For all children to know that all children matter, schools must show that all subjects matter. Not every child is suited to every subject, but subjects should not be deemed more important than others (by teachers, parents or pupils). People still view academic subjects being more important than commercial or vocational (and therefore look down on those who do such subjects), while even within academic subjects, people consider English to be more important than Religious Education, Maths to be more important than Music, Sciences more important than Languages. No! If it is being offered, it matters!

Secondly, and similarly, we must show that all sports matter, major or minor, and that some are not more important to a school’s reputation than others. Too often great emphasis is placed on one or two sports and not on others, but this only makes children consider that they matter less. Some sports might require more practice, but the relevance and importance of the sport must not be different. However, we should not be thinking that team sports are deemed more important than individual sports as team sports take priority at school; schools primarily do team sports for the lessons that are learned through them which cannot be learned in the classroom whereas most of the lessons to be gleaned from individual sports can be achieved in the classroom.

Thirdly, schools must show that all teams matter, all classes matter, whether they are the first or last, the oldest or the youngest, the girls or the boys.

All the players in all the teams can try their hardest yet special treatment is reserved all too often to the ones in the top ones, being the flagship team or class of the school. Are we saying that a child only begins to matter when (or if) he gains a place in the first team (in a particular sport)? We are, if we do not show that all teams matter.

The fact is, though, someone has to come last in a race! Half the population has to be below average! There are not places in a team for everyone. However, those are not the factors that show if someone matters. All children do matter because even if they do not do well in one area (for example, work or drama) they may well do well in another (for example, sport or music). What schools must do is ensure each pupil has the opportunity to matter in the area where they are strongest. The best way that schools can ensure all children believe they matter is when all the children themselves show each other that they all matter, by the way they treat each other. They do not give everyone a prize for what they do; they give each other a pride in who they are.

l Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.

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