This fortnight of Olympic enjoyment has been utterly brilliant, and the excitement and admiration for Team GB in Britain is still at fever pitch.
And rightly so.
Our GB competitors have broken records, outperformed their expectations and demonstrated high levels of intelligence through their gratitude and empathy. The camaraderie and peaceful friendliness around the city has been so wonderful to participate in and to witness: the crowds of people collectively enjoying a range of sports shown on huge screens in places such as Hyde Park and Victoria Park have been sensational.
It’s been wonderful, it really has.
Naturally, the success of Team GB has brought the inevitable debate about school playing fields and how many hours schools should dedicate to sport. These are both healthy debates, and should have taken place long before the Olympic successes in both Beijing and London drove them further and faster .
However, we now have a serious dilemma, and one which clearly demonstrates why politicians should not be in charge of setting educational agendas and practice in this or indeed any country.
As usual, all politicians are being reactive rather than proactive. They are talking about competition and competitive sport when, as we have already stated in our previous blog, this is not the issue.
A decade or so ago, health professionals were warning about the projected levels of obesity in this country. Unless something was done immediately, half the population were going to be categorised as obese within a couple of generations. This wasn’t scaremongering. It was the stark reality, scientifically and statistically managed by experts, where everyone agreed that this was an undisputed trajectory.
Politicians listened, and all of a sudden, finances were available for school sports programmes as well as national programmes for measuring the weight of every five and eleven year old in the country. Various health initiatives were put in place and the government introduced the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda which had five key objectives, one of which was dedicated to becoming healthier.
We’ve written previously about this issue. Each of these outcomes – Being Healthy, Being Safe, Enjoying and Achieving, Making a Positive Contribution and Economic Wellbeing – was supposed to carry equal weight. This was wonderful news to those of us who believed in the holistic development of the child.
Only there was a problem.
In order to implement this strategy, the focus obviously had to be on children. Where do most children gather together with a legal enforcement to do so? Schools.
So, schools had a tremendous job to do n supporting the ECM agenda, and would have done so successfully had it not been for a single factor.
Academic league tables.
Schools were effectively only judged on one aspect of their work. Although there was plenty of lip service paid to such things as physical health, mental health, emotional wellbeing and teenage conception rates, essentially there was no effective judgement in schools other than academic achievement, or more accurately – attainment.
Ofsted’s school inspection teams marginally observed and graded a school’s commitment to ECM but without a real understanding of what it entailed. It was, as Cameron rightly pointed out this week, a tick box exercise rather than looking into the sustainability of programmes of support on these vital areas of child development.
There were no league tables of how schools were supporting the mental health and emotional wellbeing of their pupils. There were no league tables to explain how many students were involved in creative pursuits. There were no league tables evidencing the positive contribution that pupils were making to their school and wider society. There were no league tables showing how effective work on self-esteem and anti-bullying were evidenced.
As soon as a “league table” of obesity was published, school managers suddenly responded and wanted interventions to prevent them being at the top of a table that they didn’t want to be top of.
Reactive instead of proactive; it’s not just politicians who’ve been caught up in this mentality.
We’re certainly not advocating league tables for all these things. Putting trust back in the management of schools would be far more sustainable with better all-round outcomes for our children and young people.
The previous government initiated a thoughtful programme that finally looked as though it was considering the all-round needs of the child, only to ignore it in its implementation of other policies.
Which is why Tony Blair’s comments on the radio yesterday were so excruciating.
Quite rightly, he talked about the fact that sport and physical activity are not just about participation in an event or an activity. They’re also about social development, personal development, impact on health, and so on.
He was right. It’s about all of these things. So why can’t this allegedly intelligent man see that this sort of holistic child development wasn’t effectively integrated and implemented during his watch in Parliament?
Why can’t he see that his “education, education, education” mantra was solely about attainment – to the detriment of the very issues of child development he was advocating in his interview yesterday?
It’s a crying shame. It really is.
And now we are on the bandwagon of sustaining the Olympic glory. Cameron’s response to this is to suggest that every school should return to competitive sports.
This is NOT the answer. It is reactive and is not looking at the very issues that Blair discussed.
It is NOT considering the needs of every child. It is potentially elitist and extremely damaging for those pupils who cannot and will not compete. It is NOT looking carefully at social and personal intelligence.
Now, if more emphasis on competitive sports was coupled with education for empathy, self-worth, learning that winning at all costs is not the be-all and end-all of life, then it may, just may be acceptable. But as we have seen from previously implemented policies, this is just not going to happen.
We are caught in a mindset that says we need to be the best, at all costs.
Everyone loves a winner. Many have thoroughly enjoyed this Olympic experience and many want more success in Rio in 2016. But at what cost?
If we invest in sport and competitive sport alone, what is going to happen to the other areas of the curriculum that are so vital for children – arts, music, the study of humanity?
There are no Olympics for music but during the last fortnight we’ve had a healthy reminder of our record in that area..
Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony medley of British musical successes should not be forgotten. The world rocked, and still rocks, to the sounds of Pink Floyd, The Who, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones amongst many, many others. Emeli Sande reduced masses to tears with her pitch perfect rendition of “Abide with me”. Dizzee Rascal made the youth get up from their seats and go “Bonkers” during the Opening Ceremony
We are potentially a nation of musicians. Who is going to call for more music in schools to continue this wonderful legacy?
We watched in awe at the choreographed wonderment of Akram Khan’s tribute to the victims of the London bombings in 2007. We watched how our nation transformed from a rural economy to becoming the heart of the international industrial revolution. We saw Sir Tim Berners-Lee applauded for inventing the Internet, even though most would walk past this genius on the street without realising just how much he has influenced our lives – far more so than individual athletes.
Who is going to call for more investment in IT, for finding the Izambard Kingdom Brunels of the future?
Who indeed is going to invest in finding the next Danny Boyle or Kenneth Brannagh or even the next Mr Bean? In other words, how much potential artistic and creative talent goes unrecognised and undiscovered in every country – especially those that value only academic attainment?
It’s about the scales and the balance once more.
We are delighted in the success of Team GB but we must not be blinded by it.
A true legacy of these Games needs to look at all aspects that have contributed to both the success of the athletes and the positive development of our nation, and this does not lie in two hours of competitive sport for all primary school children.
It is about intelligent learning and intelligent living that has an absolute grounding in shared values, social and personal intelligence and a need to empower children and young people to be the best they can be in whatever way they choose.
Imploring politicians is probably futile but in order for our society to flourish we do need to invest in sport, but not in sport alone. We need children and young people to know why they should be physically intelligent, why they need to consider the needs of others as much as their own aspirations, and why they need to enjoy in order to aspire.
We have an opportunity here that needs to be considered.
When the Olympics are finally over we all need to take some time to consider who we are as a nation, and what we need to do next in order to get better – in every single respect. We’re a nation of boxers and horseriders, swimmers and sailors, cyclists and runners, and so much more.
In the eyes of many throughout the world our ‘financial services’ industry disgraced itself and brought shame to the nation by playing the considerable part it did [along with Wall Street] in crashing the world economy. These Olympics may have played an important role in shining a new light on the real Britain and its multicultural population, and in rehabilitating us as a nation where fair play, togetherness, creativity and human qualities are paramount. It’s up to all of us to make sure this happens. The real Olympic spirit can help make a much better world.
- Sport, Education and Multiple Intelligences (3diassociates.wordpress.com)