Let’s give our state schools some prizes for putting play at the heart of learning

21 December 2010
Local Schools Network
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Last night, I attended my school’s prize-giving; the longer I stay at the school the more significant the event becomes for me. I was moved that pupils I had taught as 11-year-olds in Year 7 were now grown adults, returning to collect prizes that they had earned in the last year of their school life in Year 13. While their results were all very good — as you would expect — I was struck talking to them in the drinks reception before the ceremony that it was the inner confidence and passion that their teachers had given them that was crucial thing they seemed to appreciate; their eyes were lit by the fires of enthusiasm that their teachers had kindled. I have seen the same thing in many schools I have visited recently in my role as a journalist, researcher and guest speaker.

It made me think that there is something truly magical about state schools: they are places where many pupils learn to be motivated to “live their lives” in the spirit of “serious play”. Because state school teachers are well-trained, they encourage pupils to see learning as a game and as a playful activity; this breeds an inherent sense of joy in the nature of learning.

My school is a Specialist Sports’ College and has advocated the importance of competitive sports and sports generally for all its pupils. Sadly, because sports’ funding is being axed, we are going to suffer a great deal next year and are currently faced with the horrific possibility of some amazing teachers being made redundant. The wonderful “playfulness” that the sports’ college status has brought us may well be severely curtailed next year. I think it’s time that the powers-that-be recognised the absolute importance of play and its key role in motivating our learners: we need prizes to be given to the thousands of great state schools that do this day-in-day-out. We need to celebrate this vital issue much more than we do because without it, our pupils wouldn’t see the point in learning anything at all.

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