It was the fittest of times, it was the fattest of times, it was the age of the tech, it was the age of the tradition, it was the epoch of competition, it was the epoch of mass participation, it was the season of spending, it was the season of austerity, it was the spring of activity, it was the winter of sedentary lifestyles, PE had everything before us, PE had nothing before us, we were all going direct to obesity, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
In June last year, Sir Michael Wilshaw, gave an impassioned speech at the Wellington College Festival of Education. He spoke about reclaiming the comprehensive, whilst at the same time releasing the OFSTED survey report about the educational background of those who participate in sports at the elite level. The document was called ‘Going the extra mile: excellence in competitive school sport.‘ The key point was that 42% of medal winners from the Olympic Games came from an independent educational background, although they only make up 7% of the population. He called on state schools to do better and gave us case studies for us to aspire to (although three of the case studies were independent schools). That was 8 months ago and nothing other than that paper has been offered to state schools. Just words and hollow at that. If you want state schools to compete against independent schools in producing elite sportsmen and woman, then words are not enough. Take my school and my partners for example.
My partner and I go to two very similar but different schools. Mine is a state school. Hers an independent school. Similar that both are all boys schools. Similar numbers of pupils. Similar numbers of staff. That is where the similarities end, especially when it comes to sporting provision.
|My School||My Partners School|
|Type of School||All boys state||All boys Independent|
|Number on roll||916||962|
|Number of teaching staff||62||70|
|Number of staff who run extra-curricular sport||9||63|
|Are teachers paid for this?||No||Yes if they are responsible for arranging fixtures and transport. £3000|
|Extra-curricular Sport||Optional||Compulsory – it is promoted to be just as important as academic results from the top of the school|
|Average Sessions a week||2 (if we are lucky)For example 1st XV train for an hour on Wednesday and Thursday after school.||5 For example 1st XV have 3 weights sessions in the morning a week, 3 afternoon sessions for 2 hours at a time and a video session after each competitive fixture focussing on team defence.|
|Average Squad Size||30||70-80|
|Facilities||4 rugby/football pitches, 17m by 12m gymnasium, 25 yard swimming pool, 2 cricket pitches.||9 rugby or football pitches. 4 cricket pitches. Indoor and outdoor swimming pool. 8 Badminton court sports hall. Free weights fitness suite. CV machine fitness suit. Gymnasium. Outdoor and indoor cricket nets. Rowing boat house.|
|How many competitive sports offered||8||17|
|How many students represent the school in a year?||300||780|
|How many competitive school fixtures last year?||101 Rugby
20 Cross Country
|Budget||To run PE and Sport at school £42,000. (of which around £30,000 is donated parents and ex students as ‘voluntary contributions’)||To run PE and Sport £490,000|
I have written about the divide of opportunity in sport between the state and independent sectors before. However the data above clearly demonstrates the clear gulf in funding, facilities and staffing there is between the two. What it also highlights is the following:
1. Time spent on sport – students at independent schools have more time to play and practice their chosen sports. It is built into their day, it is compulsory and for termly boarding schools it is easy to ensure they have free and curriculum time spent on sports. Lets take the respective 1st XV Rugby teams. My partners school they would have 3 x 1 hour weights session in the morning at the school gym, run by a outside strength and conditioning coach. They have 3 x 2 hour sessions in the afternoon to work on technical and technical aspects. They also video all their games and then will have a video analysis session run by a local club for them on the next day after the match. This specifically is focused on team defence and individual errors are highlighted in the session. At maximum during the week I would get to spend 2 hours with my team. In that time I would focus on key basic skills and tactical work as well as preparing them for their next game. I give them a fitness training programme (pre-season and during season) which I expect them to follow in their own free time, however it is very clear that only a few do this. The time given to students to develop their physical and technical skills and ability in sports is significantly higher in the independent sector.
2. Range of Sports – there is a growing amount of evidence that early specialisation in a sport for children is detrimental. It is even being suggested that a multi-sports approach might even help in producing more elite sports men and women. At independent schools they tend to play a multitude of sports. A typical boy at my partners schools will play rugby, football or hockey, cricket or athletics. They will also have time to play other sports. Specialisation doesn’t happen until the 6th Form and even then that is mostly confined to those that row. At my school children choose the sport they want to play. Typically if a child wants to play school football, which we offer in the second term, they will play for a club for the first term. They will only want to play football. There are very few students who play all four of our main sports. Playing a variety of sports reduces the chance of risk of injury and burnout, increases the chance of adulthood activity and creates in my mind smarter and more creative players.
3. Mass participation – everyone must participate, including staff. There is very little chance of opt out. The cries of ‘I don’t like this sport’ or ‘I can’t be bothered’ are drowned out by the collective voice of how important sport is. Having all children and staff involved in sport have huge amounts of benefits. Training is always competitive due to the numbers. Progress is easier to achieve and maintain because everyone is alway there. This is an issue in state school sport where numbers are poor. Students don’t turn up for a variety of reasons. It becomes hard to build momentum in their development. Numbers are so low that students know they can miss training sessions and still be picked for the team. This is not as big an issue when you have 4 or 5 teams per year group in each sport. Also having everyone involved in sport ensures that those students who in Year 7 that might not be physically developed or those with an attitude to drop out do not. They also have the chance to train and play at their level. I have seen and heard from colleagues in Independent Schools that many of these types of students, who are on the peripheries in Year 7 develop to being the backbone of teams in Year 13. At state schools these students would just drift away and never participate in the first place.
School sport can, if used correctly, be an educational tool to provide opportunities for students. Opportunities to learn to communicate, to learn to fail in a safe environment, to learn to work as a team, to gain the feeling of belonging, to learn commitment, to learn to place others above self interest, to learn how to socially interact and to do something for the sole purpose of it being fun and enjoyable, along with a myriad of other benefits. It is an extension and enrichment of the PE Curriculum to further allow students to learn in, through and about movement. What school sport isn’t for is to produce world class athletes. No matter how much I love winning or the thought that one day I would unearth and shape a raw talent that would dominate the world in their chosen sport, this isn’t why I go out of my way to provide opportunities for students to participate in school sport. It can’t be the driving force of school sport.
Going the extra mile sounds like a sacrifice and frankly it is. The sacrifice teachers give in the state sector to offer the opportunity of competitive sport to their students is high. Most of us don’t do it for awards or payment, being involved in school sport is our own reward. We do it to develop students, motivate them and hopefully get them being involved for a lifetime. Playing beyond school at university and club. This is what the government should be helping us strive for, mass participation in sport and physical activity beyond school, not the state sector winning more Olympic Medals. This is where we want support, and not just mere words.
I see a beautiful state school and brilliant young people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly active, in their triumphs and defeats on the sports field, through long years to come, I see the inactivity of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out. . . .
I see that child, a man winning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. . . .
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.