Many schools have end-of-year prize-giving assemblies and ceremonies. But do the right awards go to the right students?

But before we answer that question, let’s backtrack a little…

Why do schools have prizes, certificates, merit points, trophies and cups? Surely it’s to recognise those students who have performed particularly well in a curriculum subject, or in an exam, or on a musical instruments, or on a sports court or pitch, or contributed in an exceptional way to the life of their school over the course of the school year.

I was having the following conversation with a Year 7 student in a school I visited recently:

“We’re having our prize-giving assembly next week and everyone in our class will get certificates even if they haven’t done any work this year,” she said. “It’s not fair”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because some of us have worked really hard all year and then others haven’t but we all get certificates. So what’s the point of working hard?”

She’s got a very good point. What is the point of working hard? Certificates and prizes should be a reward for working hard or performing well – and not as an incentive to get your work done. Recognition should only go to students who’ve earned it. To give one to everyone devalues an award.

But there’s an even bigger problem.

I asked the student this question: “Would you rather have to earn prizes and certificates and risk not getting any at all than be in a school where everyone automatically gets a prize?”

“Yes,” she answered, “I rather not get a certificate simply for turning up. That’s silly. But teachers need to give certificates to students who really deserve them – not to someone who’s not worked all year then suddenly does his work on time in the last few weeks of term. That’s silly too.”

So that’s the bigger problem: what are teachers looking for when they give rewards? Students need to know and they need to help decide what behaviour, work and activities need rewarding. Teachers shouldn’t decide these things by themselves, the students in a school or class must be part of the process – otherwise rewards are based on what teachers want and not what students know is important.

And one last thing. Let’s end the pointless exercise of ‘everyone in the class gets a prize’. I once worked with a teacher who made sure everyone in her class got Student of the Week during the school year. That’s daft. So no matter how good or unsociable a student was, each student got the prize whether it was deserved or not.

Let’s look at my opening question again. Will the right awards go to the right students?




Article written by Ben Egerton

[colored_box color=”green”]This is an opinion-based article designed to provoke debate, discussion and further inquiry
amongst your students:[/colored_box] 

[colored_box color=”yellow”]Critical Thinking Challenges:

1) Do the right awards and prizes go to the right students in your school?

2) Is it a problem if a student who is – for example – good at maths, the piano and netball wins three prizes? What if someone always misses out because they’re second best at piano or third best at spelling?

3) Should schools have prize-giving?


[colored_box color=”green”]Practical Tasks:

1) With a partner, draw up a list of all the ways your school – teachers, parents’ associations, sports teams, music, kapa haka, and so on – rewards or recognises student achievement. What comments do you have about your school’s system: too much, too little, not enough, too much?

2) How would you like to be recongnised for your acheivements. Either by yourself or with a classmate, draw up a system that could be used in your class or school to keep track of how each student performs so that he or she can be rewarded for his or her achievements in a fair way.


[colored_box color=”red”]Have Your Say:
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4 Responses

  1. that’s not fair that everyone gets an award even if they don’t deserve it. I think
    it devalues the good people who actually deserve it.

    by kate

  2. I think that awards should only go to students that deserve it. It isn’t for the students that worked hard . Even though that is pretty generous of the teacher , some kids worked hard all year and some kids worked hard for a couple of weeks.

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