Monday, June 28, 2010

British Sport – blame outdated PE in schools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:
  1. Rigid curriculum that excludes sports that the PE teachers don’t know/like
  2. Schools are shut for long holidays preventing continuity in training
  3. Sports facilities are not available outside school hours and during holidays
  4. Failure of PE departments to engage with coaches/clubs outside of the school
  5. 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.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with much of this. Schools treatemnt of sport is poor and damaging to the development of future talent thtoughout the British Isles.

I recently went to a "non competitive primary schools sports day" and it was laughable. No head to head races, no competition evident, no celebration of skills and abilities for fear of alienating the weaker performers (why can't we celebrate the success of the gifted and talented at sport when we do it at academic subjects?)

I also agree with you that in the more upper class sports the problem is less evident. England has a great trackrecord and current world position in sports such as Cricket, Motor Racing, Rowing. The independant schools should take some credit for this!

That said your view that the balame should be laid at the schools doors is somewhat myopic. There are other things at fault in British Sport that are equally as important. For example the poor showing of the English football team was far more to do with inept tactics for modern day football, a lack of effective man mgmt skills based on the intellect and culture of your players and a very powerful prem lg not allowing the national team to prepare like other nations (i.e using the ball for 6 mths prior). The Prem Lg is the best in the world and the core of the England side are champions lg winners, title winners and leaders within Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool. Therefore do not ignore the managerial mistakes in this under performance and lay that solely on the schools doorstep.

In addition there are also working/middleclass sports that we do well in such as Boxing, Cycling and Swimming. This success might be partly dispite the schools but nonetheless is success and thus points that there are other major factors at work that need to be addressed sport by sport whilst we overhaul the schools approach to PE and sport.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Barnaby Shearer said...

Unfortunately you argument that more people are turned off then on, applies to most school subjects.
Schools shouldn't offload responsibility for any aspect of learning onto external suppliers (though they should certainly seek to use external expertise and resources wherever feasible).
This is particularly true of sports which can be an important learning tool in themselves:
A significant proportion of students engage more easily with sport then academic intrigue. Any teacher should be able to hook most of mechanics, probability, economics, biology, nutrition, and reporting onto this interest.
Effective PE promotes heath and self-esteem, both positively correlated with learning.
Scheduling PE during the school day should allow for more effective spaced-practice in academic subjects.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

I'm not sure I agree with the statement that 'schools shouldn't offload responsibility for any aspect of learning'. I have never expected my sons' school, or any other educational establishment to teach them sport, music and a host of other skills they have picked up from working and learning in the real world. Mykids have learnt far more out of school than in school, even on academic subjects. I do agree with you about using sport in maths, biology etc. Now, if PE WERE effective, I'd also agree with your last point - but it isn't.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Francis said...

Hello again, Donald. You've written about your children's school before and I really do feel that they, and the other pupils, have been dealt a very poor hand by a staff/management that seems to have no respect for the parents.

Have you tried moving your kids to another school?

I have worked in many shcools over the years and all of them had competitive sports. My last school, a secondary modern in Trafford, had very successful boys' football teams and girls' netball. Their victories were always celebrated...espcially when we thrashed the local grammar schools!!

6:02 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Too late to change as they've just left the school. Brighton generally, has low performing state schools and ours actually had a drop in GCSE standards last year. But the problems there - little or no homework,class discipline etc. I hear all over. I have no doubt that many state schools are excellent but overall, I have some specific concerns,e specially over the lack of performance despite the massive increase in investment. I suppose I feel that the money's just gone on the old model.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Dook said...

You raise a number of important points but one I would disagree with is the connection between schools and sporting clubs.

As a junior sportsman in a very sports driven school (successful rugby, cricket, hockey, athletics, swimming clubs) both myself and my coach would have been aghast should the PE staff tried to tell me how to do things ... it wasn't until a new maths teacher joined the schools whilst I was in the VIth form who was also a martial artist and could understand my needs and specialism.

Thankfully, the PE staff were very flexible and allowed me (and a few others) to run our own training ... but that would probably not be allowed under H&S now!

6:39 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Interesting list of sports Dook. Why no football?

6:51 PM  
Blogger thomas said...

Why stop at PE Donald? It is time to stop piddling around with SCHOOL systems and address EDUCATION systems. I do not swollow the whole Illich message it is clear we take things that humans have found pleasant, important, fascinating, interesting, curious, satisfying.... and make the boring, trivial, discouraging.......
I am working with a group of young teachers who area passionate about science who are clearly being disbarred from helping others engage with science because of schooling.

7:19 AM  
Blogger ctl_alt_del.geek said...

I can't help feeling that there is a growing trend toward the "we're all winners" that has pushed competitive endeavour of any kind to the margins.

In terms of sport, there simply isn't any enthusiasm from the staff and, an unfortunate truism across all disciplines, is that passion, enthusiasm and ability are attractive. If the role models are apathetic, the take up will inevitably be poor. Two from 3 of my children genuinely enjoy sport - but only pursued their interests outside school hours and premises.

Some of the best sports activities they have enjoyed are from enthused and enthusiastic peripatetic coaches: community rugby officers, 'street dance' coaches etc etc. People with time to prepare, and prepared to take the time - offering paths to additional resource. So (unlikely though it may seem!) I am forced to agree Donald :-)

3:05 PM  
Blogger Dook said...

Posh school (when assisted places still existed!) so football was something you played in the playground but not in school colours.

The school has since become LA run but still holds the same ethos on sports.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Dook - that's what I meant when I said that class attitudes divide sports and therefore reduces our national base and competitiveness. Public schools that ban football are no more than elitist arseholes. This class template on sport has destroyed our competitiveness in tennis and other sports.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Dook said...

Ah ... football wasn't banned, we just didn't play it competitively.
The LA would not allow us to play against their schools so we had to play other independent schools at the sports we could be competitive at. This was not just football, as we never competed against LA schools for athletics, swimming, cross-country, tennis, squash, basketball ... though a lot of us did play against each other at weekend leagues in various sports and had a brilliant time. I still swam with friends at other schools each week, I saved up for my own fencing kit ... but lots of us did that.

Then again, my assisted place only covered minimal costs for uniform, so I had basic kit, but not the expensive stuff you might expect of an independent school ... however, the only thing it restricted me from was playing cricket (a new set of whites each year?) and that really was no great loss. If I want to go and be outside on grass in the sun I want a blanket, a picnic and some sun tan lotion.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just like any skill, if we want anyone other than the ultra keen to still be interested by the time they reach their teens, we need to start sooner. Primary age. Kids need core foundation skills if they want to stay in sport - balance, coordination and agility. These can be achieved through playground games, after school clubs in a variety of sports and in theory through PE lessons.

Problem 1 Primary schools are not geared up for this, if they do anything its by linking with sport development local authority initiatives. Hit and miss and short term.

Problem 2 - Shortage of decent children's coaches and club school links.

Problem 3 - Shortage of decent private providers of multi sport clubs

Problem 4 - Misuse of competition in club settings and the total absence of competition in schools. Kids in some sport are burnt out by the time they are eleven due to too much competition and a single sport focus too young.

Whats the answer:

Quality and quantity of coaches/clubs need to improve, Children's coaching is not seen as a profession and is not valued, it needs to be.

Love the idea of vouchers, but would need to see the quality of the club session improve if we want to retain the kids

Would like to see sport, games and competition kept in schools - private providers coming in to the schools to offer this. This would strengthen the links and increase the profile of sport

Last, i would like to see the use of Wii type games in schools to engage and motivate kids to want to try different sports. My kids decided canoeing would be fun to try because of the Wii game.

Whatever we decide to do now, still means that ill be dead before England ever win the world cup!

8:45 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Pretty much agree with all of this but primary schools are as closed to outside organisations as secondary schools. It's a closed community with closed minds when it comes to child development. In my experience its parents who do all the chasing and provide the encouragement for participation in sport.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again the debate is very narrow, it seems all about schools. As the first post points out there are many many other reasons for a lack of success in some working class sports as you seem to call them. Sure schools and the rubbish they call PE are partly to blame but lets not loose sight of the other issues!

8:12 AM  

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