In this assembly Brian Radcliffe invites students to consider how and why we give awards. Students are encouraged to consider what awards they might give within their school


Leader: This year the African Award for Good Governance (officially called the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership) has not been awarded to anyone (1). You may not be familiar with this award but it’s actually the most valuable one in existence, in financial terms at least. The beneficiary receives a total of $5 million over the next 10 years and $200,000 a year for the remainder of their life. But before you all rush out to apply, let’s look at the qualifications…

The award must be given to a democratically elected leader from sub-Saharan Africa who has served their term as national leader and now left office (2). The intention behind the award is to encourage the spread of democratic government in southern Africa. The decision to not give the award out this year bviously raises a number of questions about politics in the region. Has nobody shown enough ability in governing?

Reader 1: Earlier this month Barack Obama was announced as the 2009 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. His own surprise at the award, worth about £1 million plus a gold medal, barely nine months after the start of his presidency, was shared by many people throughout the world. What had he done to deserve it? Some suggested maybe it was awarded for future potential rather than past achievement.

Reader 2: Despite playing only 30 minutes of England’s World Cup qualifier against Belarus on Wednesday October 14th, David Beckham was named man of the match. Millions of fans, together with the England team manager, Fabio Capello, were bemused at this decision as other players such as two-goal hero Peter Crouch were overlooked.


Leader: What might the public response to these awards tell us? The temptation is to consider on the one hand what it might say about the criteria used when choosing the winners, and the quality of the possible candidates on the other. What do judges look for when they make their decisions? Was there in fact only one set of judges this year that was brave enough to admit that none of the candidates was good enough this time? Beckham appears to largely be a man of the past in most people’s eyes; Barack Obama’s time is still very much to come; and sub-Saharan Africa appears devoid of much to celebrate in the political arena.

I’d like to suggest that there are three different types of award. There are those awards that reward past achievements, those that celebrate the experience of present improvements, and those that encourage future developments. Beckham deserves an award for his past services to football, there’s little doubt about that, but his performance in the match on that one night wasn’t generally recognised as anything exceptional. There have been African leaders whose governmental skills were worthy of recognition over the past few years, but not in the present time. Barack Obama displays the potential for bringing peace in his own nation, in the Middle East and in relations with Russia at some time in the future, but measurable results cannot be shown at present.


Awards can be very influential if approached in the right way. Recipients become role models for the rest of society. They are an encouragement to all of us that there is good news in the world and that we can make a difference. They also act as an encouragement to the recipients themselves, many of whom are motivated to even greater achievements. So how might such awards work in a school like ours?

First, what might be our criteria for rewarding past achievements? Some of it’s obvious, I think. There are top exam grades, sports victories, performances at local, national and international level, medals and certificates gained. These are awarded to the gifted and talented and their achievements need to be recognised. We should reward excellence. But if we’re honest those achievements are beyond the reach of most of us. Does that mean we’ll never share the pleasure of gaining an award? Surely that’s nothing but discouraging. So let’s be imaginative in our awards, adding categories, for instance, for students who’ve moved up a set; who’ve conquered a problem of consistent lateness to school; who’ve remembered to bring a pen to every lesson for a week. Maybe, for some of us, any of those would be a considerable achievement. Let’s together recognise the little achievements in the lives of most of us.

Worth an award?

How about celebrating the present experience? Why not a ‘boy or girl of the lesson’ award? It might be because of the way someone defused a potential bust up between friends, led their group in successfully tackling a difficult exercise, or maybe simply because they cracked a really funny joke (at the right time of course). Because of him or her, today has been a more enjoyable and satisfying day. That needs recognising and celebrating.

Worth an award?

But maybe the most interesting would be an award to encourage future developments. How good are you at seeing the potential in those around you? Can you identify what might be holding someone back: their nervousness, their lack of a vital piece of equipment, their poor planning, for instance? This could be the easiest award, one that each of us can make many times each day by a small word of encouragement, of praise or positive criticism.

So let’s create our own awards because, as the lady in the advert says, ‘You’re worth it’.

Meanwhile, think about the words of this prayer. Make it your own if you wish.

Dear GodWe recognise together the example of those who achieve spectacular success.We also recognise those whose achievement is a small personal advance in the face of great setbacks.And finally we recognise those who refuse to be discouraged by little apparent sign of change.We believe that together we can achieve something of significance here, today.And more than anything else we believe that tomorrow can be different if we each make some steps towards fulfilling our potential.



This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2009

About the author: Brian Radcliffe