It’s an interesting point that one of the few areas of school staff recruitment which is not in crisis is the subject of PE.
But the recent arguments regarding the teaching of rugby in our schools highlights the uncertainty around the whole field of school sport.
A few years ago, a meeting was held by the DFE to look into the re-writing of the national curriculum. It was a large gathering, with representatives from just about every sporting association in the country. Even sports hardly played in schools. Badminton, swimming, volleyball – they were all there. Even a couple of teachers were invited along.
Three things came out of that meeting.
Firstly, that everybody agreed maintained school sport was suffering. Not enough time, resources or expertise (especially in primary schools) was available.
Secondly, there had to be change. In fact, whole scale change, as long as each person’s sport was given proper coverage. Morning, afternoon and after school would have to be devoted to these activities just to get half of them in the curriculum. English, Maths, Science? They would need to go, or be constrained to lunchtime clubs (unless there was an Eton Fives or Quidditch practice for the upcoming school match)
Thirdly, and significantly, whatever we said, Mr Gove would do what he wanted. So, nothing new there.
Not a lot seemed to change; maintained schools continued with a couple of lessons a week where they could be squeezed in. Primary schools started the day with a group dance, highly embarrassing for most of the staff and the older kids and the independents continued to offer little but sport – rugby and cricket of course. I think the girls were allowed to do something as well.
Then, firstly the FA got involved with school football. Their interventions caused very mixed feelings. The eleven a side game disappeared for all but the oldest school boy and girl players. It meant that students actually got to kick the ball during a game, rather than wait idly at right back chatting to the left winger about the latest computer game.
But when the RFU decided that enough children were being knocked out and concussed, they reacted with a nuclear bomb to crack an admittedly major nut.
Few could disagree with the rules regarding head injuries. Removal from the game, a period of assessment, a gradual return to play. But, hidden in with this was a complete overhaul of the game, especially with the younger players.
Now, I don’t think many of us would disagree that sport has its place. Physical fitness lends itself to better health, better academic performance, better self-esteem. It is hard to argue against it.
I don’t want to get into the competitive v non-competitive sporting activity argument in this blog. Suffice it to say, both have their place, and both should be provided and respected. For many – not all, though – students, competition is important. Anybody who has taught sports, either in school or at a club, will know that as important the skills aspects of a session might be, what the boys and girls want is their game at the end.
Where rugby had an advantage over all the other games was that it was not just the highly coordinated, fast and athletic child who could thrive. There was a place for every shape, size and build. Without wishing to be politically incorrect (I speak as one such child myself, so that gives me an excuse) it was a life saver for the tubby boy or girl who loved their sports. While football passed them by in a flash, bat and ball sports called for a level of dexterity they had yet to develop and running any distance was hell, they could pick up a rugby ball, run ten yards and make a contribution to the game.
Well, that is on its way out. Now, for the younger ages, there are no specialist scrum players – nearest to the ball packs down. With a naivety of astonishing severity, the RFU believe that all teachers will abandon their will to win, as will the pupils, and adopt a kind of sporting meritocracy in which they all take an equal part.
It won’t happen. At least, not in many minds.
Then, in the last couple of weeks, rugby received a further nail in its coffin with the very public denunciation of the tackle. Get rid of it, get rid of any contact, get rid of scrums the ‘experts’ cry.
Fortunately, the rugby world has denounced this move. It seems to overlook that, if the game is to survive in anything like its present form, then tackling, scrummaging and contact will remain a part of it. I am not a medical expert, but it seems to me that it is better to teach a child to tackle when they are eight, and small enough to avoid causing harm to their opponent, than when they are fifteen or sixteen, six feet two, twelve stones and highly mobile. Getting it wrong then, and we will have problems on our hands.
There have been serious, life threatening injuries. Not as many as in other sports, but there still have been some. But putting that up against the benefits to fitness, health, enjoyment, self-esteem, team spirit and collaboration rugby, and other sports, offer makes the risk seem one worth taking.
Not in a compulsory, get your knees dirty and don’t shirk the tackle boy sort of way, but definitely for those who want to play.
School sport is under threat. It has its place, and an important one at that, in the curriculum. It needs to offer non-competitive activities alongside team and individual games and it needs to be left to teachers, schools and their pupils to decide what works best.