PE and Sport has been under the spotlight this week and has been making headlines.
Sport England launched its THIS GIRL CAN campaign, to help persuade more women to adopt lifelong sporting habits. Through their research they have identified that less women participate in sport and physical activity than men, but a significant amount would want to get involved, but don’t due to a number of key issues. My initial thoughts of the advert were positive. Something that made being active and playing sport look good, no matter what size and shape your body. A campaign that potentially doesn’t shame or exclude women, but empowers them. I thought it tackles some of the key issues which prevent women from taking part in sport; body image, self confidence, sport being a man dominated environment and clothes and equipment. However some critics of the campaign, make an excellent point, that once again it’s about sex not sport. Whilst promoting the benefits of a physically active lifestyle they could also highlight ‘on how exercise strengthens friendship, reduces the stress of work and care and gives us physical and emotional strength.’
New research carried out by the University of Cambridge, showed that 676,000 deaths each year in Europe were down to inactivity, compared with 337,000 from carrying too much weight. However, both a sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary choices need to be tackled to ensure that we can reduce many preventable deaths. It is recommended that 20 minutes of brisk exercise, such as walking, could have substantial effects. Researchers said avoiding inactivity helped reduce the risk of death by 7.35%, compared to 3.66% by cutting obesity. This is very similar to what Gretchen Reynolds suggest in her excellent book ‘The First 20 minutes of exercise.’ However this does lead me to worry that Physical Education in schools will become focused on doing, and not teaching students the knowledge to take responsibility for the health of their own bodies. Perfect timing then for Andy Burnham, the Labour shadow health secretary, to launch his party’s new plans for public health this week. A combination of empowering the public to take responsibility for their health, through meeting the minimum activity recommendations and putting a cap on sugar, salt and fat sold in children’s food. Whilst I welcome those changes, I’m not sure it solves the issues. Until the Government, Public Health Authorities, the Education system start sending a stronger message to parents and children on how important health and activity is and that they must take responsibility for it, I’m not sure we will have any meaningful change.
The University of Essex published research in December, about the associations between showering behaviours following physical education, physical activity and fitness in English schoolchildren. The study was of 3921 pupils aged 11–16 years olds from eight different schools. They found that 53% of boys and 68% of girls said they never shower after PE. Pupils who did not shower after PE were less physically active and engaged in fewer team sports. Girls who did not shower also had lower cardiorespiratory fitness than those who did. However they did say they could not infer causality, and further study would be needed to see if whether not being able to shower was a barrier to physical activity. Anecdotally I have been teaching PE to boys aged 11-18 for over 12 years now. I do not think the lack of time and facilities for showering in the schools I have worked have prevented children from taking an active part in either PE or Sport, however there are some obvious hygiene issues it would overcome. Whilst I agree with the sentiment that any obstacle to children being physically active needs to removed, I think the cost and time need to ensure showering for every student would be better spent elsewhere. Also the current culture within teaching now would make me and I’m sure many of my colleagues feel very uncomfortable supervising children in an environment where showering would be expected. Perhaps this is a sign of the times.
However the biggest story of the week, was the release of the Youth Sports Trust National PE, School Sport and Physical Activity Survey Report closely followed by the launch of their Unlocking Potential: PE and School Sport manifesto. The Youth Sport Trust PE and school sport survey saw 1,392 primary schools and 554 secondary schools respond, of which I was one of them. The findings aren’t overwhelming positive, although it needs to be taken into account the low number of responses compared a similar survey in 2010.
Time for PE in the curriculum has reduced, especially at KS 1, 2 and 3. This isn’t particularly surprising considering Michael Gove decided to withdraw the need for schools to ensure at least 2 hours of compulsory of PE within curriculum time in 2012. I’m surprised that time at KS 4 has gone up, knowing a number of schools that have reduced core PE in favour of an extra lesson in GCSE English or Maths. Give another year or so, due to our results driven educational system, I’m sure we will see a big decline of PE in Year 10 and 11. The other area that concerns me is the decline in school-club links:
One of the main goals of physical education and school sport is to get children competent, confident and knowledgeable to engage in an healthy and active lifestyle outside of the classroom. Having them enjoying certain sports in class and then actively encouraging that into participation at clubs is something all PE teachers should be doing. The question we need to ask is does a decline in links also amount to less children doing activity outside of school? The feeling is there is a trend of inactivity within todays youth, and that is due to two decisions by the current coalition government. The dismantling of the School Sports Partnership, which I have written previously on, and no longer making it compulsory to deliver two hours of high quality PE in the classroom.
The YST’s Unlocking Potential manifesto is a positive step in lobbying the government for changes and making Health, PE and School Sport an agenda for the battle in the 2015 elections. At its heart is three key areas:
1. Physical Education – To provide more time for higher quality PE
2. Health – to ensure physical activity opportunities are embedded into every school every day
3. Sport – to ensure their is sustained competitive sport in school
In my next post I will try and have a deeper look at the manifesto. However to help ensure this does become an issue for the next general election the YST asks us to contact our local MPs and make them aware of the issues and why high quality physical education and school sport is important to the health and wellbeing of children. You can do that by emailing them directly. The YST have produced a handy guide and template to do this. I already have. Will you?