Saturday, 11 August 2012

School sports and the Olympics

Let me start by declaring an interest.  When I was at school I hated PE and competitive sports largely because I was absolutely useless at them all and this was continuously made clear by the sarcastic comments of my teachers and the patronising attitude of my fellow students who were sports-oriented and very good at them.  You remember: let’s pick teams followed by being picked last and having the football or netball passed to you once or twice in the game.  It was only in the sixth form when we were given some choice that I took up badminton and thoroughly enjoyed it but by then the rot had already set in.  I still enjoy walking and gardening and use them to get my weekly dose of exercise but sport, whether competitive or not, never grabbed my interest.  Not surprisingly I have been less than enamoured with the Olympics though I am pleased with the success of Team GB, the enthusiasm of the crowds and the spirit demonstrated by those who volunteered to help. But I can’t say I’ll be sad to see its end.

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It’s no surprise that the government (any government in fact) is attempting to jump on the band-waggon of success by trying to revive competitive school sport in primary schools and emphasising the need for two hour a week of sport in secondary schools.  But it does smack of opportunism and one does have to question whether it is sincere in its prognostications on the issue.  Yes there has been significant enthusiasm created by the Olympics and, with growing levels of childhood and adult obesity, there is a need to boost physical activity but there is a serious mismatch between what may be laudable aims and the resources available in schools to achieve them.  Many, probably most primary schools do not have PE specialists or the fields necessary to make competitive sport for all students a reality.  Like constitutional reform, reform school sports cannot be seen as a priority when the economy is at best flat-lining and the euro crisis is far from over. 
Cameron may have said that ‘If we want to have a great sporting legacy for our children - and I do - we have got to have an answer that brings the whole of society together to crack this, more competition, more competitiveness, more getting rid of the idea all-must-win prizes and you can't have competitive sports days.’  But he also admitted that ‘some teachers’ did not want to join in and ‘play their part’, a characteristically patronising comment.  Why should teachers ‘play their part’ anyway especially if they have no interest in sport or in drama or music or dance for that matter?  Many teachers do make a huge contribution to sport in schools and good on them but for others it does not figure in their educational priorities if at all.  Their contribution may be in other areas, running clubs, helping with debating societies or working with Parent Teacher Associations.  Education, despite the quest for uniformity among politicians over the past two decades, has never been a one size fits all activity.  Just as students have a variety of skills and abilities, so do teachers and for some of use sport is not one of them.  Relying on teachers to achieve a cultural breakthrough in sport is doomed to failure...look what happened to school sport during the dispute with the government in the mid-1980s…it virtually disappeared outside school hours.  The Olympics may have been great, the enthusiasm engendered spectacular but I’d rather see kids running around kicking and football or riding their bikes that being enmeshed into a curriculum straight-jacket of government making and anyway it will be another bright idea next week!!!

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