A new report suggests PE lessons are on the wane in schools, but Sue Laidlaw argues that a love for physical activity and sports doesn’t necessarily have to start at school
If you struggle to keep your hallway free of an assortment of kitbags, dirty football, rugby, lacrosse or hockey boots, and are fed up with a constant stream of dirty kit, then the latest research might come as a surprise.
The biggest survey of its kind for over four years has just been published and suggests that there has been a considerable drop in the amount of time given over to PE in schools – in fact, there appears to be a significant drop to less than two hours per week. The survey, conducted by the Youth Sport Trust, also suggests that links between school and community sports projects have also fallen. All this sounds like disappointing news, particularly against the backdrop of hope and commitment following the London Olympics in 2012.
Whilst there is no reason to doubt that this is not accurate, perhaps it doesn’t paint the entire picture. In our local community, as well as in family life and amongst friends, there is certainly little evidence of lack of interest or activity in sport. Saturdays are a timetable of fixtures, early mornings and transportation; local parks are filled with eager little boys in football kit, and much older veteran boys doing their best to look as lively as the eager little boys! There is always someone going for a run, a bike ride or going swimming with friends – and, if I am honest, there are many levels of ability, too.
One can conclude that, for those who have a natural interest in physical activity, whether there are more or less than two hours sport in school, there will always be some outlet for that desire to get moving. It doesn’t need to be planned or expensive – kicking a ball around in the local park, climbing trees or climbing frames, or running round the block can all be on the agenda.
Perhaps what is more significant is making options for physical activity accessible and appealing to those children for whom it is naturally less appealing, whatever their age. Finding an activity that will engage young children can set them on a path to enjoying sport for life. It doesn’t need to be competitive – indeed this is the root of the problem for some children, but for others this is the key to success.
Sustaining interest into the teenage years can also be a challenge. One Headmistress has recently commented that many teenage girls are left with a lack of confidence and interest if an old-style approach to PE is adopted. However, many schools do a very good job in providing a wide selection of options, particularly for girls – Zumba and spinning classes to name but two, even if they are not interested in team sports and Saturday fixtures.
At home, offering options for interesting regular physical activities and resisting the temptation to preach on the subject can reap rewards. Getting out as a family to take the dog for a walk or organising a Frisbee competition (followed by a BBQ) might just get things going.
Whilst surveys can highlight these issues, it is surely the responsibility of not only schools, but parents, families, volunteers and communities to open the doors to all children – sporty and non-sporty, competitive and non-competitive – to experience the fact that physical activities are fun, and that there are many ways to do that and get fit.
Sue Laidlaw is Senior Partner at Laidlaw Education, Laidlaw Hall and Laidlaw School Search. Find out more at laidlaweducation.co.uk, laidlawhall.co.uk (020 8487 9517) and laidlawschoolsearch.co.uk (020 3674 2339)