A recent study by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on a Fit and Healthy Childhood, reported by the BBC, says PE has for too long been the ‘Cinderella subject’ in UK schools and needs a ‘radical shake-up’. It highlights the need to develop a life-long passion for physical activity, recommends personalised PE programmes for children, touches on the benefits of outdoor education and describes PE as ‘the missing link in the crusade to promote the health and wellbeing of children.’
I could not agree more and the creation of the Sport and Wellbeing Department at my school, alongside a rejuvenated outdoor education programme, has been designed to address many of the issues raised in this study. We no longer have PE lessons, but Wellbeing lessons, which include fitness testing, fundamental movement and hand eye coordination. There is plenty of physical activity, but also classroom sessions based around nutrition, mindfulness and leadership, which links into our PSHEE programme. Our aim is not only to increase fitness and confidence at school, but also to teach pupils how to look after themselves long after they leave school.
The study comments that girls can be put off by a focus on competitive sports ‘and run the risk of being disenfranchised from physical activity.’ I would argue that boys are equally in danger and the need to provide alternative options, particularly individual pursuits, such as judo, as well as vibrant outdoor education is vital. Having walked up Snowdon with all our Year 9 pupils two weeks ago, the sense of pride and enjoyment for the pupils was palpable as well as the physical achievement. Options such as caving, climbing, cycling and canoeing, as well as walking, whether it be part of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme or the challenging Ten Tors, all teach valuable life skills, but also create alternative and potential long-term paths to maintaining physical wellbeing.
This is not to say that team sports have become redundant. Girls and boys still thrive in a team environment and I would not wish to see an element of competition removed from school sport, as long as it is tempered by sportsmanship and a sense of perspective. Independent schools have a proud record in producing elite sportsmen and women and will continue to do so with high calibre coaching and hard-working pupils. Nevertheless, we must keep an eye on the educational benefit of team sports for all and ensure that it remains enjoyable and educational. Not all wish to be elite players, but they still want to be part of a team and schools have a duty not to engage in an arms race of competitiveness that removes all the fun. It is easy to boast of an unbeaten season, but a good season should really include wins and losses if it is to be truly educational.
The truth is that the majority of pupils will not continue team sports beyond school, and it istherefore all the more important that an increasingly sedentary generation understands the importance of physical fitness in their working lives. More than this, they must see that their physical and mental wellbeing are closely linked, know how to look after themselves and see that there are numerous ways to remain active beyond team sports.
Ultimately our job as educators is to instil lessons for life and whether we call it PE or Wellbeing, I agree that it is a cornerstone of education.