Physical Education or Sporting excellence?

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Albert Einstein


Inevitably, GB ‘s success in a number of sports at the Olympics has raised questions about sports in schools, the private/private /class divide and what we need to do to ensure a continuing legacy. Etc.

I say ” inevitably” but it is not inevitable at all. It’s just the narrative we choose to use-it would ave been the same if we had done badly or even averagely…..

( Coming soon: The “inevitable narrative” : A levels are becoming easier…)

As we debate these issues : How do we maintain/improve on these sporting achievements? / What do we need to redress the class divide in sporting achievement, we are avoiding different, more important issues about education, state funding and what we, as a society really want to gain from all this.

A few points if I may:

1)  The reasons why people from a private school background do proportionately well at sport is pretty obvious. More money, better  facilities, better coaches, richer parents able to fund out of school activities, equipment etc. Add to that the fact that many children born to inherited wealth have a sense of entitlement and there you go.. Should we be worried by this? To be honest I am more worried about the number of MPs who come through the private school mill (Personally I would get rid of charitable status from “public” schools but ..)

2) State schools have an implicit and explicit duty to look after the health- physical, emotional and intellectual-towards all of its students, not just an elite wh may become Olympian or world athletes. Schools have to concentrate on physical education not competitive sports. Judging from my tl- in response to Boris Johnson’s suggestion that children should do 2hrs of PE per day- many of you hated PE. These days teachers are generally doing a good job in engaging as many students as possible in PE- and if that means not only doing competitive sports but physical activities for the less competitive- such as Indian Dance  then that is great.

3) In any event, the role of state school in this or any other area is increasingly redundant. This government- under the guise of providing head teachers and governors more freedom- is eroding the concept of state provision. Academies and free schools are released from the “shackles” of the curriculum and won’t even have to provide nutritious food (or even qualified teachers.) The curriculum is often seen as a restraint on our teachers. But it can also be a way of society stating what we want from our schools. Effectively , this government has renounced the right to establish a national strategy on anything in schools.

3) So should state schools promote/encourage competitive sporting prowess? Of course. Where it is appropriate and in the best interests of the individual child. Same goes for talented artists, musicians, writers, scientists… It is for all schools to support, nurture and promote anything that a child does well. But whether any individual school can provide the resources to bring these talents on is another matter.

4) Solutions. The problems are wider than the current debate has allowed. Any one going to challenge the premiership football clubs who take on youngsters and stop them from playing/trying another sport?

What about the relationship between sports clubs and schools? How do so many of our children access additional resources if their parents/carers either don’t have the money and time or the inclination to foster their child’s ambitions and skills?

My simple/simplistic solution would be to introduce a “Wednesday afternoon of excellence.” Schools identify students’ areas of excellence/interest and where they do not have particular expertise in developing these talents students can go out to clubs or trainers on a Wednesday afternoon. (Or any other day) This would not just cover sport but any other creative activity ….. The funding could either go to schools so that they can buy in to services or to clubs/groups so that they can offer free coaching

This requires funding. But with less duplication, the money could go further.David Brailsford suggested in the Guardian yesterday that there wasn’t a problem with elite sports in GB….. But he said…

“Given the priority British Cycling has given to building its grass roots over recent years, it was no surprise to hear Brailsford call for a careful look at converting the nation’s newfound interest in sport into higher participation. “If we could collectively think how do we get retention, how do we make it fun, how do we signpost people to make it very simple. ‘I want to play beach volleyball, where do I go? OK, I go there.’ And there’s a good coaching system, a good child protection system in place, there are people running sport where parents feel confident that their kids can go there and they’re in good hands.” (Full article here )

Given the fact that  GB cycling  has had so much success, and that the seeds of that success were sown before the increase in funding, perhaps we- and our government- should take note…






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One response to “Physical Education or Sporting excellence?”

  1. Tim Whitemore says :

    You make some great points here. As much as the Olympics have grabbed the headlines and been widely deemed as a success the fact remains that almost 10 billion pounds was spent so that a relatively small number of elite athletes could indulge their selfish ambitions (that’s not a criticism of them BTW – good on them). If only the government was as keen to similarly fund physical endeavour in schools for all youngsters and not just the privileged few.

    Sport in (state) schools has always been a relatively poor relation but we are now counting the cost with record levels of obese children (child abuse?) who will never experience the physical confidence or attainment that can help to equip them for success in life.

    Surely there are intelligent ways of maximising opportunities for youngsters and providing a support framework to enable participation without breaking the bank. Your Wednesday proposal sounds eminently workable. Besides, physical exercise – like diet – has intrinsic value and should never be a soft target for funding cuts. It says everything about our society that we have let it come to this.

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