Unlocking Potential – A manifesto for PE and School Sport

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On Wednesday 14th January the Youth Sports Trust launched Unlocking Potential – A manifesto for PE and School Sport. Who are the YST and what is a manifesto? The YST is an independent charity, started in 1995, which aims to support the development of young people through physical education. They implement quality physical education and sport programmes for all young people in schools and the community. The Chair of the YST, Baroness Sue Campbell, made a plea to the government that inactivity is destroying a child’s potential. A manifesto is a published verbal declaration of intentions, motives, or views . In this case the YST want to make their views an agenda for political parties in the upcoming 2015 General Elections.

The current Coalition government and the YST have not seen eye to eye, especially with Michael Gove as Education Secretary. Under their watch the minimum compulsory 2 hour delivery of physical education was removed and the School Sports Partnerships was taken apart with a hastily reformed Primary School Sport Pupil Premium put in it’s place after much protest. These two changes have devolved the state of health and physical activity in young people. It seems current research from the YST, counter to what the government says, agrees with this. The current picture is damning.

Only 21% of boys and 16% of girls meet the guidelines of one hour of moderately intensive physical activity per day, meaning that that 1 in 3 children who leave primary school would be considered overweight or obese. In the manifesto it makes the point that low fitness levels are associated with a decline in academic achievement. This is most likely due to the increase pressure on pupils and school in obtaining excellent exam results. The associated mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are rising, as are type 2 diabetes and heart disease later on in life. The cost of inactivity is putting a strain on our economy, NHS and health and social care services. The cost of inactivity among today’s children is estimated to exceed £53 billion over their lifetime.

The YST makes 10 clear points why PE, School Sport and Physical Activity should be a priority in the next general election.

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PHYSICAL EDUCATION – Provide more quality time for higher quality PE

1. Make sure every child receives 5 hours of quality PE, sport and broader physical activity at school a week, including a minimum of 2 hours of high quality PE in curriculum time.

2. Provide better initial training for PE teachers, especially Primary School Teachers.

3. Ensure that every primary school has a PE Curriculum Leader and every secondary school has a Director of Sport to oversee provision.

I welcome the minimum requirement of 2 hours of PE back. I have never seen it as a ‘box ticking requirement’ for schools, but a way of ring fencing valuable curriculum time that didn’t allow us just to focus on the mind of the child. Since its removal in 2012 schools have been reducing it, especially at KS4, to allow extra time spent on English and Maths. The second point made I think is the most important. Currently primary school teachers have between 2 to 10 hours training on ITT to delivery PE. This is not enough in most cases to deliver high quality physical education, at what is one of the most important stages of a child’s motor skill development. It is also in my opinion a time where lifestyle habits can be formed. Interacting with primary school teachers on Twitter, I think they do an incredibly good job in the situation, especially with the workload and pressure they are routinely under. However I would say that this needs to be pushed further. There needs to be a primary trained specialist teacher of physical education in every primary school in the country. This will have one of the biggest impacts on the confidence and competence of a child to engage in a healthy and active lifestyle. 


HEALTH – Physical activity opportunities embedded into every school

1. Ensure every school has a programme to engage the least active.

2. Advocate the role of the schools in supporting the physical health and emotional wellbeing of pupils

3. Include children’s physical activity indications in the Public Health Outcomes Frameworks

This would be a step towards some joined up thinking between government, public health authorities and schools in ensuring pupil health and wellbeing isn’t an add-on and second to exam results and university entries. At my school we have already implement some ‘interventions’ for our least active and look to build on that next year after running the pilot. Whilst a lot of what is wrong at schools is done in the name of OFSTED, I do feel that having having health and wellbeing of pupils as part accountability process and league tables would lift the importance of a child’s health. This could have a great impact with Senior Leaders communicating this importance to the whole of the school community, including parents. Without SLT and parental support, levels of inactivity at school and home will remain high, it can’t be left to chance. Perhaps it could even be added as an independent 5th section to the OFSTED inspection framework (along with teacher health and wellbeing)?  However I may be getting over excited about this approach, as then it would require some form of measurement. The easiest to collate would be data from fitness testing. Would we as physical educators be required to constantly monitor the fitness of our students? Whilst I think there is a time and a place for this type of testing, this kind of approach would definitely have a negative effect on students enjoyment of PE and and potentially an active lifestyle. These proposals need to be carefully considered before being implemented.


SPORT – sustained competitive sport in school

1. Ensure all young people have the opportunity to participate in competitive sport as a participant, volunteer or leader.

2. Introduce a mandatory children’s coaching qualification

3. Develop a clear pathway for talented young people

I found that under the Schools Sports Partnerships that the networks for competitive sport were much more clearly organised. Whilst the primary school sport premium may of allowed schools better access to qualified coaches, of varying ability and experience, it has reduced the number of competitions available for schools to get involved in. Im very supportive of competitive sport and believe that it has an important part to play in a child’s development, physical, emotionally and socially. Whilst coaching qualifications and clear pathways are indeed important, it is not in my opinion the main thing that holds most schools back. Transport, staffing, time, facilities, resources and money are what prevents children from getting the provision and opportunity they require and deserve. I have visited 3 hugely successful state schools, that delivery high quality competitive sports provision, over the last year. What they all had in common was that they were financed fully by parents. One schools budget for rugby, was more than my PE and Sports budgets combined. I could easily put out twice as many teams as I currently do now, but I’m limited by finances, especially the cost of transport for fixtures. Support from staff outside of the PE Department has reduced over the last decade, this is due to the pressures of workload and now PRP. Both of these issues need to be tackled if you want more more sport provision, either on a house or school level. If we can widen the base of provision at school, get more young people playing into clubs, this will only allow talented young athletes the chance to be identified and excel. 


My initial thoughts of the manifesto were that what was being asked for was unrealistic and ‘pie in the sky’ thinking. What I’ve come to realise over the course of the week, and speaking to my colleagues in the PE department, that it’s not really enough. The health and wellbeing of our young people should be paramount to us all. It should be valued as much as academic excellence. As adults we need to force the issue and support this manifesto.I often heard quoted ‘what cost an ignorant population’, but now we need to consider the cost of a sedentary one as well. It will only become an agenda for debate in the next election if we get behind it. We can do that by emailing our MP and telling them why physical education, health and school sport matters to us. I urge you, especially teachers of PE, to do this now and help unlock the potential of the young people we teach.


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