I always hated Sports Day.

I don’t remember much about it before High school, except how it made me feel.

Fast forward many years to my own children’s Sports Days, and it got even worse. 

We enrolled our eldest in the local village-school type that my husband had gone to, whose buildings, atmosphere and teaching style would still have been recognisable to the surviving centenarians who would have been among its first pupils.

Our son was later diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, but until he started school we had no idea that there was anything different about him.

As far as the school was concerned, special needs in mainstream meant Dyslexia, and he clearly didn’t have that, so the teachers were clueless.

They blamed us for presenting them with a ‘problem child’ and gave up even trying to hide their dislike of him. #

To him the noisy, overly busy, and intensely social environment of school was a confusing, chaotic, torment. 

Sports Day, with its unusual routine, and noise, and crowd of spectators, was the worst day of the school year.

My boy had some genuine problems with physical coordination when he was little, which made sports and PE hard for him, and really frustrating because he was aware that all the others could do these things easily - he couldn’t and there didn’t seem to be a reason why.

The other kids laughed and the teachers got irritated with him.

Sports Day at that school took place not on the small yard, but on a piece of common land right next to it.

The ‘track’ was marked out with tape, and parents were instructed to stand outside the taped off area, and under no circumstances to enter it; if there was a problem, the teachers would deal with it.

I vividly remember the day when, struggling to the finish line long after all the other runners had crossed it (and greeted with stony silence from the assembled spectators) my boy tripped and fell.

He remained face down on the ground, sobbing.

Not one of the teachers moved to see if he was hurt, or help him. Against the ‘rules’ I ducked under the tape and scooped him up, under a hail of frosty glares.

Thank God it was his last year in that vile place.

He moved to Junior School that September, we got his diagnosis shortly after, and I kept him at home on Sports Day from then on.

Fast forward once again, this time only a few years, to Freddie’s Sports Day at Merryfields, our community Special School.

No matter what the weather, it is held in the easily contained environment of the school hall.

Karen (the teachers are all referred to by their first names) welcomed us all, and announced that, as the school’s watchword is ‘progress’ the purpose of Sports Day was to share with parents and carers some of the activities that the children do in PE, and to demonstrate to us how each activity helps them to make progress.

They activities would be non-competitive, the emphasis would be on sportsmanship, and on taking part – the objective was simply to complete the task, however long it took.

Freddie’s class did an egg-and-spoon ‘race’, using bean bags in the shape of fried eggs, and giant plastic spoons. Freddie dropped his ‘egg’ a few times, but he just shouted ‘oops’, ran back to grab it and plonk it on his spoon, then scampered to the line, laughing.

No first, second, and third was announced for any activity, each child was rewarded with their own round of applause when he or she finished.

Karen also explained that another important word in the school vocabulary is ‘differentiation’: Each child would have an equal opportunity to participate in an activity, but the activity would be differentiated to meet their needs/abilities.

One lad who I’ve only seen take part using a wheelchair before was able to get up on his feet this year, with a TA supporting him either side.

He had three plastic hoops to collect, covering about a third of the hall; another child in the same ‘race’ had six hoops covering the full length.

It took them about the same amount of time to complete the task, and they got an equal round of applause.

For some children, just being in the hall for even a few minutes when it is full of people and noise, and clapping, is an achievement in itself.

This too, was acknowledged, and there were plenty of TAs and volunteers to assist any child who was struggling.

Though the children are pushed to progress, the staff are sensitive to their limits.

I’m starting to look forward to Sports Day at Freddie’s school, because it acknowledges that the race of life has a staggered start and is run on a very uneven playing field, and it celebrates the art of forward movement for its own sake.

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