Points make prizes

Well done, young man

Another Monday, another couple of hours away from work to attend one of Isaac’s primary school’s events. (I swear someone takes register.) Today it was the end-of-year prize-giving assembly.

Well done, young man
Isaac receives a prize. And he didn’t even have to give a Pointless answer to earn it!

Prize-giving ceremonies fascinate me on the one hand and fire up the Proud Parent in me on the other. When I was in primary school we didn’t have any prize-giving or formal reports – this was long before the days of school league tables – and in secondary school everything about Speech Day (I don’t know why it was called that, given that 97% of it was about the handing out of prizes) was very much focused on academic achievement. Never mind the fact that my school turned out a celebrated (at the time) head boy, the son of a famous comedian, who turned out to be so well-balanced that he was recently jailed for child pornography offences, having spent eight years on the run in Hungary. True story.

I’m definitely in favour of fostering a healthy sense of competition. While I firmly believe that schools – and parents – need to maintain a balance between academic and non-academic development, I’m also of the opinion that schools shouldn’t fall into the trap of finding an excuse to reward everybody for any old thing. Awards should be an aspiration, never an expectation. And they should always be all about the child’s sense of pride and motivation, no matter how much of a Proud Parent I may be.

Isaac’s school awards prizes to recognise both academic achievement and progress, and a variety of non-academic contributions such as sports, helpfulness, attendance and having the most Facebook friends (or something like that). The split focus on non-academic awards pleases me rather a lot, although I am personally a bit dubious about the awards for 100% attendance. A prize for turning up. Hmm.

Even though Isaac is most definitely a scholarly type, I think it’s important that children recognise that passing SATS, GCSEs, SPAGs (that’s Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar, natch), MI5s, Double-Oh-Sevens and whatever other myriad of tests and exams our political lords and masters require kids and schools to stress over is not the be-all and end-all of things. Truthfully, it took me until university to appreciate that a big part of having a rounded life is simply to have a life in the first place. I wish I’d recognised that sooner – maybe growing up in an educational environment which recognised personal and social contributions as well as scores on an exam sheet would have helped me with that. I certainly don’t want my kids to have the same results-oriented view of the world that I had growing up.

Other than that, the event was one part Harry Potter and one part Oscars. The school House Shield – won, I think, by Hufflepuff – took the place of the Hogwarts House Cup. (I’m told it’s because the playing fields aren’t large enough to accommodate Quidditch.) And parents whose children didn’t receive a prize smiled and applauded politely when little Johnny/Jemima failed to win the Academy Award for Most Outstanding Achievement in a Comedy Starring Vince Vaughn That You Wouldn’t Be Ashamed to Take a First Date To.

Isaac, I’m glad to report, seems to understand the point of prizes as a tool for motivation as much as recognition. He’s always extremely proud whenever he wins any sort of prize, and appreciates that it is as likely to be for being considerate and helpful as it is for his academic prowess. That matters to me. As long as he appreciates there is a benefit to achievement in both his academic and personal development, that’s great. It may have taken me a long time to truly appreciate that, but then my boy is a whole lot smarter than his father.

Now, can I have a prize for that?