'If you play too much, only winning matters'

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A SCHOOLBOY race across an icy river . . . John Major's vision of competitive sport was alive and well last week at Wallington County Grammar School in Sutton, south London, writes Fran Abrams.

A competitive spirit is instilled early at Wallington. It is introduced by an assault course during which the 120 new boys must first plunge into the River Wandle, run a mile and a half cross-country, and scale a 7ft wall.

Even in music and drama, competitions are held regularly.

With a games afternoon plus an additional session, pupils do about two hours of sport each week. If they play in a school team - and most of them do - then a much bigger commitment is expected. Training sessions in rugby, for example, are held on two evenings a week and older players also help the younger ones to develop their skills.

The school's headmaster, Martin Haworth, says that the pupils enjoy this atmosphere. 'There is a natural sense of competitiveness within the school.

We bring that down to the house competitions, which are quite keenly fought,' he said.

Across London at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Islington, however, there is a very different approach, with the ethos much closer to the spirit of the National Curriculum, both present and future. While staff are not against competitive games, they do not introduce them in the first term.

Instead, children do swimming and gymnastics, and learn to use a ball.

Pupils here are every bit as enthusiastic as they are at Wallington. Sue Peck, head of PE, said: 'We encourage competition, but at the same time it's not our first aim. Our aims are to work together, to enjoy physical activity and to enjoy movement. Once they have the skills they can put them into a competitive arena.'

While Wallington fields 10 rugby teams on Saturday mornings, outside fixtures are a rarity at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson - parents near King's Cross do not have cars to collect their children and it is unsafe for them to walk home alone, staff say. But the school is one of the few in the country to have a separate dance department, and girls queue up to take part in lunchtime sessions.

Jamelia Ricketts, aged 15, is happy with the amount of competitive sport at the school.

'If there's too much it spills over into your personal life. If you play too much you think winning is the only thing that matters,' she said.

(Photograph omitted)