Monday 13 August 2012

Issues in the schools sports debate

The debate about school sports intensified over the weekend as the Olympics drew to a close with David Cameron's call for more compulsory competitive sport in primary schools drawing criticism from commentators who remembered, with horror,  being forced into physical activity by what they saw as bullying PE teachers.

Others drew attention to Cameron's political hypocrisy and opportunism in the wake of Michael Gove's cuts in the School Sports Partnerships. It is worth remembering the warning issue in November 2010 by leading athletes including Olympic Gold Medal winner Tessa Sanderson about this LINK
With one ill-conceived cut you are on the brink of destroying everything schools, clubs and the national governing bodies of sport are doing to ensure this and future generations embrace sport and physical activity, not shun it.

As past and present Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European athletes, we cannot stand by and watch as your government threatens to destroy any hopes this country has of delivering a genuine London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic legacy.

The future health of all our children is at risk if you axe this funding. We urge you to act now, please, prime minister, and look again at the permanent withdrawal of funding for school sport partnerships before you condemn millions of children to a lack of sporting opportunities and therefore a bleak future of lethargy, obesity and unhappiness.
At a school level there are issues over the difference between compulsory sports activities, other physical activities (including the dance that David Cameron derided) and physical activity in free play during playtimes. Some research has indicated that children expend more energy, in crude terms 'sweat more', during their free playground games than during PE lessons. However there are gender differences in the level of exercise and differences between schools in terms of the amount of playtime and rules governing playtime. Pressure on the school day from the academic curriculum has led many schools to shorten lunch breaks and for junior age pupils afternoon playtimes are often a thing of the past. Further pressures emerge from concerns about health and safety and behaviour which can lead to bans on particular games which are seen as dangerous or causing conflict. The expansion of primary schools to take in more pupils leading to loss of play space is an additional factor in Brent.

The National Children's Bureau LINK published a Fact Sheet in 2010 on the Benefits of Playtime which described the restrictions and also outlined the benefits that go beyond exercise to promotion of pupils' in independent  negotiating skills and opportunities for mixing across age, social and ethnic differences.

Sonia Lannaman
The euphoria over the achievements of Black British athletes which has been a major aspect of this Olympics also has another side.

In the 1970s the achievements of athletes such as Sonia Lannaman (pictured) were seen as ground-breaking exemplars for a community suffering from racism and disadvantage, where black children were failing academically. There were reports that Sonia later regretted the impact of a concentration on sports on her academic achievements but I have been unable to locate a source for this.

Concern developed amongst black  parents that teachers with a stereotyped view of their children were steering them towards sports activities, rather than academic success.  At a practical level this often meant that they missed out on lessons because of training and fixtures, were not entered for key  examinations and therefore missed out on further and higher education.

An influential book Race, Class and Education by Len Barton and Stephen Walker LINK outlined the repercussions of this arguing that although for some children participation in sport represented a 'colonisation' of one part of school life where they could succeed, it produced unrealistic aspirations and expectations, which eventually led to their exclusion from the labour market.

Tessa Sanderson with primary pupils
 It is interesting to note that Tessa Sanderson, a 1984 Olympic Gold winner, was at pains to emphasise the importance of academic achievement alongside sports achievement. She has described how her parents and teachers kept her focussed on education: 'Education is the key to success'.  She went on to found the Tessa Sanderson Foundation and Academy to encourage your people into sport LINK.

 There are echoes of the 70s in her recent interview where she said:
With some young people today it can be a bit touch and go. I know some young black kids feel they are not worthy because there is no work, they just go home or hang around all day, which is why I am so pleased we have this academy because when they come in here, I can tell them, 'You are bloody worthy'. I've had Asbos come in, rough kids, but I know through sport they can become great kids.
The Foundation's Mission Statement makes the importance of education clear:
 The mission statement of The Tessa Sanderson Foundation and Academy is to create a unique youth sport programme in the London area for disabled and non disabled youngsters to enjoy all sports and the opportunity to participate at a higher and level without jeopardising quality learning and education.
As we discuss the Olympic legacy for Brent children we need to bear in mind the complexity of the situation.  Although Brent schools are doing well there remain concerns about under achievement of some groups and the Brent  School Improvement Service, the London Challenge, and projects such as ACES are doling valuable work. It is important that we invest in them as well as sports facilities and bear in mind the pitfalls outlined above.

1 comment:

trevor said...

when you play with fire you get burned...politicians are like fire they destroy and in the process hurt many people with their lousy ill thought out ideas.
it is high time people stopped looking to these confirmed hypocrite incompetents for solutions to problems they and they alone have created.
in fact the more I read stories based on the so called prime minister and his bunch of time wasters I cannot help but sigh deeply and shake my head and wonder once again how much longer do we have to put up with him and his lot?
I swear if there was a waste bin specifically for the dumping of incompetent politicians, he would be the first one I would dump in it and seal it over so tightly that there could be no chance of him emerging again in order to cause the country more problems stress and frustration.
Mr Cameron does not belong in government, that is a place for serious people who put principle before profit and don't operate with double standards.
the longer Cameron remains in government he not only shows he is unprincipled but also a hypocrite of breath taking proportions and he is causing no end of problems for the already long suffering people of this country.
children are not safe in the hands of this hypocrite incompetent...if rubbish bins are created for the dumping of trash, then Cameron and his lot have shown themselves to be trash and they deserve to be dumped as soon as possible...the people of Brent and Britain on whole deserve so much better.