School Sports for the Future

Yesterday, Ed Miliband tweeted about the decrease in time allocated to sports in the London borough of Southwark due to the loss of Sports Coordinators.

“Just met former school sport co-ordinator for Southwark. He organised competitive sport for schools but lost his job. Not his fault or schools.”

He followed it up with this.

“Southwark school sports co-ordinator also told me schools have now told him they are doing much less sports because of loss of support”.

Southwark is certainly not alone in losing out on this support but the situation is made worse by the high rates of obesity in the borough. It also has high rates of teenage conception, and borough officers work tirelessly in trying to deal with the problems of gang culture and youth crime.

Only this week on the news there was a report from a mobile youth unit that young people will not cross certain geographical ‘boundaries’ within the borough to attend facilities and activities. If you’re a youth living in Bermondsey it’s unlikely that you are prepared to cross the main road that separates it from Peckham, and vice versa, according to the young people themselves.

So it is indeed a shame that there were insufficient funds to continue with a successful Sports co-ordination programme in the borough when evidently many young people benefited from this.

That said, there were significant problems with the School Sports Coordination programme, and maybe this is something that Ed Miliband could consider as he thinks about its possible reintroduction.

The idea of the Sports Partnerships was that one, two or three secondary schools in a borough, dependent on their size, would act as a hub for school sports. There would be a team of workers that coordinated physical activity in the neighbouring or feeder primary and additional secondary schools. Programmes that were particularly well-managed held events where schools could come together to either practice or compete with one another.

The target, initiated by the previous government, was that every child should have access to a minimum of two hours physical activity per week. The aim was to encourage young people to participate in sport, to make them aware of their physical needs and to identify potential “stars” at an early age.

Furthermore it brought communities of schools together, encouraged cooperation as well as competition and made people aware of the added benefits of physical activity – like social integration, enjoyment, fun.

The actual target from the Labour government was that 100% of pupils had “access” to two hours physical activity a week. The additional aspiration was that this should increase to five hours.

As any teacher would tell you, how was that going to be remotely possible with the constraints on time from a very prescriptive National Curriculum? There simply wasn’t enough time in the day.

Also, as any primary school teacher would tell you, a significant percentage of an allocated 30 or 60 minute PE lesson involves getting children undressed and dressed so that by the time you get out to the playground or into the school hall, the “hour” lesson is dramatically reduced. There is very little time for 30 minutes of actual cardio-vascular activity. And what of the sports wallflowers who spend considerable time ‘doing’ PE by standing on a field waiting for a ball to magically make its way to them?

The target also included play times. So if there were organised games within a dinner hour, then this could count towards the two hours target. However, one suspects that very few schools, if any, actually observed and monitored which children were participating in lunch time activities. That would be an impossible task.

The other problem with the Sports Programmes was that there was a lack of cohesion between what they were providing and what additional borough services, such as Leisure Services, were providing – so it ended up being a competition between services as to who was providing what rather than concentrating on the needs of the children. This happened nationwide, not just in one borough.

Dame Kelly Holmes, appointed by David Cameron as an adviser on school sport, has today suggested that this previous target of two hours physical activity should be reintroduced.

The real amusement is in the Prime Minister’s response, and we have to admit that to some extent we agree with him.

Take a look at this extract from the link above.

The prime minister was asked whether the education department had removed the requirement for two hours of compulsory PE every week in schools. He said: “Every school has to deliver sport. What the last government did, which is not right, is if you just sit there in Whitehall and set a target but don’t actually do anything to help schools to meet it, you are not really solving the problem.

“In fact, by just saying: ‘I want you to do this number of hours a week,’ some schools think: ‘right, as soon as I have met that minimum target, I can tick a box and give up’.”

Oh the irony!

Cameron is completely right. Setting a target becomes a tick box exercise, which is precisely why we have had a generation of children taught to pass examinations (the tick box) rather than taught to learn and enjoy learning. What a sad paradox that nobody can see this extraordinary irony, from both sides of the political spectrum.

Ed Miliband is right to be horrified that school sport is dwindling once more at a time when the entire nation is in the throes of Olympic fever but it was his government that intensified the targets culture and it was his government  that set targets in other areas that took time and thought away from such necessary life targets as getting our children and young people to collaborate and participate in organised sports in school settings.

Thankfully, judging by the recent draft National Curriculum proposals from the Labour Party, it seems they have seen the error of previous ways and are now suggesting a much more rounded and grounded curriculum based on personal development, shared values and a love of learning (to be discussed in a later blog).

There were problems with the School Sports Programme, mainly due to a lack of coordination, a distinct difference in facilities in each school and a disparity amongst senior managers in schools as to the purpose and effectiveness of such programmes. The targets were manipulated in the same way as every other target. There was no clear means of recording precisely how much cardio-vascular activity each child was doing. Often, the recording for government purposes, amounted to going into schools and asking children to raise their hands if they had had 30 minutes, an hour or two hours activity within the week. Ofsted didn’t look at the amount of time spent on activity. As long as it was evident that there was allocated time for physical activity, then that was fine. Despite PE maintaining its compulsory status in the new National Curriculum, Ofsted inspectors are certainly not going to be spending vast amounts of time looking at this area of the curriculum when the key judgements on a schools’ attainment lie very distinctly in their management of teaching and learning in English, Maths and Science.

David Cameron’s suggestion that teachers should think long and hard about providing after-school activities on a voluntary basis is also contentious and divisive. They haven’t got time. A teacher does not work from 9.00 – 3.30, especially with the amount of paperwork that has been required from them by successive didactic governments.

Another extract from the link above.

Cameron, speaking on LBC radio, said the problem was not a lack of funds. He urged more teachers to give up their free time to teach sport as well as their main teaching subject. “We need a big cultural change, a cultural change in favour of competitive sports. That’s what I think really matters. The problem has been too many schools not willing to have competitive sport and some teachers not willing to join in and play their part.”

Neither is the problem about the competitive nature of sport.

Many commentators this fortnight have stated on numerous occasions the vast difference between the attitudes of the overpaid and sometimes aggressive footballers in their pursuit to finish top and those of the Olympians. The emphasis is entirely different, and there is no way that you can say the Olympic athletes are not competitive – both at team and individual events.

As we said in our previous blog, to be a truly brilliant athlete you need to employ all of the intelligences and not just physical intelligence.

Competition can be healthy, especially when it involves groups of people working together intelligently, empathising, caring, considering one another as well as their individual ambition. There is a misconception that all left-leaning local authorities have a natural inclination to avoid competition and competitive games. This is not true.

The problem is not competition or lack of competition. It is the development of attitudes and values associated with competitiveness that has sometimes been mismanaged. It is about perspective and guess what – values; shared and individual.

We could be in danger, with the success of the Olympic Games, of being too reactive and of pouring money into sports without considering what actually enables positive competition in the future. Good quality sport in schools needs as much careful management as any other subject. It requires money and expertise, of course. But it also requires a very clear commitment to a multi-intelligent approach to learning. Competing with yourself can be positive. Competition between teams has real benefits, as long as the attitude is right.

Each political party can throw lumps of school playing field turf at one another to exemplify our blame culture over who is responsible for the demise of school sports but what they must all consider is what actually makes a great athlete, and a great human being. We would certainly love to see more success and build upon what has been a fantastic experience of these Olympic Games but we need this to be done intelligently.

We also need to consider the needs of the many as well as those of the elite few, and nurture the abilities of all if we are going to have a true legacy of brilliant sporting activity in our schools.



Guardian letters::

Creating a level playing field for school sports

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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3 Responses to School Sports for the Future

  1. Corinne says:

    I’m appalled that David Cameron is suggesting teachers in the UK begin volunteering their time for this. Its insulting. If the UK government want a comprehensive sports program, then they need to take responsibility and fund it, rather than suggesting teachers to work for FREE so that they can implement their policies. Grrr – it makes me angry!


    • 3D Eye says:

      It’s priceless isn’t it? But so too is our former PM talking about how important PE is for social skills, personal development and health. What a pity he didn’t think about that when all his didactic targets put sport, creativity and arts on the back burner. Politicians have absolutely no idea of the demands of a teacher’s job. It’s incomparable to anything else & they still seem to be deluded into thinking it’s a 9-3:30 job!


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