Olympic star backs school sports days

OLYMPIC swimmer Karen Pickering has branded a school's decision to axe competitive races and sports days as "ridiculous".The Ipswich athlete was outraged to hear that Maney Hill Primary, of Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, had shunned traditional events like the egg-and-spoon and sack races in favour of "activity based" competitions.

OLYMPIC swimmer Karen Pickering has branded a school's decision to axe competitive races and sports days as "ridiculous".

The Ipswich athlete was outraged to hear that Maney Hill Primary, of Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, had shunned traditional events like the egg-and-spoon and sack races in favour of "activity based" competitions. The school has also banned parents from attending the event this year.

Karen, 31, said: "Children can't be sheltered from competition. It is the way the world works. They will have to come up against it when they go for a job interview.

"It is a bit ridiculous to try to protect them from it. It's quite a shame to isolate sport like that as there are many children for whom sport is the one thing they are good at. Academic work is competitive – children are graded.


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Karen, who has won 13 Commonwealth Games medals, including four gold, and has also been awarded an MBE for her services to sport, recalled her school sports days in Brighton.

She said: "Sport was the only thing I was any good at. I would have been very frustrated if I couldn't even have done that."

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David Crowe, headteacher at Sidegate Primary School, in Ipswich, said: "We have a wonderful sports day every year, with a competitive element. I think it is important that children should be allowed to succeed. We have to give them opportunities to try their best. Our children are divided into six clear teams with novelty races as well as some more serious races and games such as rounders or five-a-side in the afternoon.

"Because children are contributing towards an overall score, no child feels left out. No one takes it too seriously. The atmosphere is wonderful and the parents adore it."

Sue Sawyer, deputy headteacher at Woolpit Primary School, said the sports day would usually combine some non-competitive activities, like jumping over a pole or crawling under chairs, with races.

"We want to give all children a chance to take part so it isn't just a case of who can run the fastest. It's about balance," she said.

Walsham-le-Willows Primary School alternates, year by year, between competitive sports days and activity-based "theme" days.

Headteacher, Jenny Johnson, said: "I think parents would prefer the traditional kind of sports day where they can sit and watch their children compete. We feel that's fine for those children who are good at physical activities but not for the others. It's no fun competing against someone who is going to win every time. Sports days also involve a lot of sitting around, which can be boring.

"Last year we had a Royal Horse Show theme, where all the children made hobby horses and were given an apple and a carrot."

Sue Cooke, county adviser for PE and sport, said: "Our advice to primary schools is that they should aim for an inclusive event that features skills from the athletics lessons which children have participated in all term, with an emphasis on all the children taking part, for example through team events."

The Maney Hill School claims the new activity-based format will be more inclusive.

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