Cancelled prizegiving causing controversy

Inset, Principal Cameron Lockie

Silverdale School will no longer hold an end of year prizegiving, saying that rewarding some children over others does not align with its values.

The decision is believed to be a first for New Zealand primary schools.

Principal Cameron Lockie and his senior leadership team, with the support of the Board of Trustees, announced the decision in the school newsletter last month.

No prior consultation with the school community took place and the feedback after the announcement was vociferous.

Among parents’ concerns were a lack of opportunity for reward and recognition for their children that could result from not having a prizegiving event.

Mr Lockie says the decision was based on abundant evidence that awards and other external incentives undermine intrinsic motivation.

“For the majority of children who don’t receive awards, the prizegiving spurs boredom, anger or resentment,” he says.

“Handing out awards at the end of year prizegiving doesn’t align with our beliefs and values.”

Silverdale’s end of year prizegiving awarded children in each class with Most Improved, Commitment to Learning, Classroom Citizen, Excellence in Literacy and Excellence in Mathematics certificates.

However, Mr Lockie says it is too difficult to select just one student out of a class of 20 to 30 for these awards.

He says some awards will still be handed out throughout the year and there will be placings at sports events and activities such as speech competitions. Where these have trophies, they will be given out on the day or at the next assembly.

“Sporting awards are easy to give out – if you win cross-country, you get first, it is not subjective,” Mr Lockie says.

“But try explaining to a child who has tried hard all year that they didn’t get the Commitment to Learning award because someone else was trying harder. This is subjective – how do you judge who tries harder?”

He says excellence comes from a school culture that fosters collaboration and provides opportunities for children to lead, especially where they have special talents and skills.

“Separating out individuals for special notice makes no sense. Schools are not about ranking and sorting. They are about learning and creativity in a safe and caring environment. They are about empowering all children, not just the ones that are strong at the core subjects,” he says.

Massey University associate head of the institute of education, Dr Jenny Poskitt, says the school’s decision is a brave one that could signal the beginning of a new trend.

She says the philosophy of education is changing, focusing on the need to prepare young people for the environmental, social and political challenges that lie ahead.

“Ultimately education is about optimising the skills and talents of every student,” Dr Poskitt says.

“You want to celebrate every individual’s achievement and the progress they have made. If we want lifelong learners, we need to acknowledge things like effort, responsibility, helping others and independence, as a recent OECD report has highlighted. But how do we do it in a way that values each individual but doesn’t undermine anyone?”

She says Silverdale School is to be admired for taking a stand and showing leadership, while admitting that it is normally wise to consult with the community. “This doesn’t necessarily alter a decision, but it adds to your understanding of the community’s values.”

She says by not having a prizegiving you run the risk of some students not striving for excellence, and not having a celebration and closure.

“Anyone who has got an award knows the sense of pride and achievement, which extends to those connected with you,” Dr Poskitt says. “It can also build character and resilience in those who miss out.

No one wins all the time and we learn from mistakes and failures. However, there can be students who get multiple awards while others get nothing and become demoralised. The challenge will be how the school recognises and values all its students and parents, while helping the community understand what 21st century learning is all about.” she says.

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