British Sport – blame outdated PE in schools
England appear to be the new Scotland as British international football descends to a new low. But it’s not only football, in the Olympics we only seem to excel in sports where we have to sit down on expensive equipment like rowing boats, sailing boats, bicycles and horses. There is a clear class divide here as almost all of these medals come from people who attended public schools and have the money to purchase stuff the developing world can't afford. The rugger/footy divide is also, in effect, a class divide, one that’s at its worst in tennis, where bowing to the queen is a bigger news story at Wimbledon than the failure of a single English tennis player to qualify for the tournament. But in all the talk about foreign managers and goal-line technology and Premier league tiredness, and poor LTA leaders, one major causal factor is missing – the abject failure of our schools to encourage competitive sports.
My wife comes from a very sporting family, her father was a heavyweight boxing champion, one of her ancestors won the British Open at golf, her sister’s daughter broke the Scottish record for the backstroke twice this weekend, my nephew has been signed for a Scottish Premier team at age 10 and my own sons have competed at international level in Tae Kwon Do. What is strikingly obvious is the failure of the state school system to play any part in any of this success. They succeed in spite of their schools, who are largely indifferent to their success.
PE’s the problem, not solution
I attended a meeting at our school where parents railed against the failure of the school to have a basketball team, tennis team and so on. The school has two tennis courts that haven’t been played on for years and are without nets. What a waste of public land. School sports days were shambolic ‘who cares who wins’ affairs. When my son won a medal at the World Championships it didn’t even merit a mention in the school newsletter. All of the success I mentioned above came from being part of clubs,with talented coaches, outside of school. That’s where the success is nurtured.
There are, I feel, several systemic ills in the system:
- Rigid curriculum that excludes sports that the PE teachers don’t know/like
- Schools are shut for long holidays preventing continuity in training
- Sports facilities are not available outside school hours and during holidays
- Failure of PE departments to engage with coaches/clubs outside of the school
- Indifference to competition and success
OK, it’s easy to be a critic, so what’s the solution? As schools and ‘PE’ seem to turn more people off than on to sport, I’d scrap the whole system of PE teachers, and periods for PE in schools, and use the money to give vouchers to kids to spend on coaches and clubs outside of the school system. The extra time spent teaching other subjects should result in an increase in standards. More importantly, a wider range of sports would be available to young people with thriving clubs run by dedicated and professional coaches. At the start of every year as many external providers as you can muster should be invited into the school to demonstrate their sport and sign people up – a bit like clubs at Universities. The existing sports facilities should also be made available year round to external coaches and clubs who want to use the facilities. I’d also focus on habitual exercise, like football during breaks and lunchtime, and campaigns to get kids to cycle and walk to school, rather than by car and bus.