Withdrawing a student from school sport
Withdrawing students from school sport as sanction is a contentious issue and one I think requires thorough thought and forward planning. If used wisely and correctly it can have the desired positive outcome, however more often I believe it is used because it is seen as an easy stick to beat a student with.
I feel it is on the rise and in the last three weeks I’ve had students withdrawn from training for sport and representing their team (all extra-curricular activity) as a sanction for the following reasons: –
- failure to attend extra revision classes
- continual failure to hand in homework
- rudeness to a member of staff
- behind on coursework
- disruptive in language lessons
- poor academic attainment in a number of subjects
- poor punctuality
My own personal bias
My own personal bias means that withdrawal from school sport should only be ever used for issues directly linked to school sport, such as poor effort, punctuality and attendance with regards to training, poor behaviour when representing the school and then anything that might fall under the NGB rules for that particular school sport. Denying students the chance to train and play sport for the school is an easy option in my mind and I feel a vindictive one. I’m not comfortable withdrawing students from sport, especially when my main role is to promote an active and healthy lifestyle. Punishing either through exercise or withdrawing from exercise does not promote this aim.
Withdrawing a student from extra-curricular sport due to academic issues is a difficult one for me. If it is for a fixture that is during a lesson of a subject that the under performance is occurring in then I would fully support that student not being selected. In fact I have done this on many occasions to the detriment of the team. There is a long withstanding expectation in my school, that is clearly shared with both students and parents that if a student misses a lesson due to sport, then it is the students responsibility to catch up with any classwork or homework missed. It is also the students responsibility to give 48 hours notice of missing the lesson. Failure to do this results in a student being withdrawn from the next fixture.
However with more teaching experience and responsibility within school I do see the link between poor behaviour and using withdrawal from sport as fair sanction. Representing your school is a privilege and requires an element of trust especially for away fixtures. If a student is unable to treat their peers and teachers with respect and good manners in the classroom or during the school day, then how can they be expected and trusted to do this on the school field? Withdrawal from sport should be a final option though, once other avenues have been explored and exhausted, as participation has many benefits for the child. Denying those benefits to ensure good behaviour has to be seriously weighed up before the decision is made.
Outside the circle of PE
Whilst I know many PE teachers feel similarly as me and probably more strongly that withdrawal from sport is an unfair sanction, I thought I would try to gain insight from my PLN on Twitter and ask the thoughts of colleagues from outside of PE.
An initial response mentioned the film Coach Carter and the idea of the ‘student athlete’. This concept is about balancing the roles of being a full-time student and a full-time athlete. They are expected to meet or exceed the academic requirements of the educational establishment in order to play sports. The pressures on these students seem exceptionally high, especially as the sport is seen as a way of getting into university, gaining some form of scholarship or having the chance to play professional sport. The idea behind the student athlete is one I like, especially as they have to be aware of managing academic, athletic and social responsibilities whilst maintaining all three. Perhaps all students should be student athletes? However ‘student’ is the operative word and this must take precedence when deciding the course of an appropriate action or sanction. In the film, the basketball players are not attending class or meeting their required grades. The coach of the team shuts up the gymnasium and prevents them from playing until they meet minimum academic expectation.
Another good point made was that this sanction also has a negative effect for staff. It causes more work for those that run and coach the teams. It can effect their training sessions which they run unpaid in their own time. Should arbitrary punishments also make extra work for teachers not directly involved with the issues. If a student was committing some of the misdemeanors mentioned at the beginning within GCSE or A-Level PE I would not be withdrawing them from debating, drama, music or school trips, knowing full well that if I did I would be causing extra-workload and stress for my colleagues who ran them.
The crux of the matter
Reflecting on it, my real issue is not whether withdrawal from sport is used as a sanction, but how it is carried out. Firstly it is not part of the official sanction policy of my school. It is not mentioned in any policy or document this sanction could be used. If withdrawal from school sport is going to be used as an official sanction for poor behaviour or academic under performance then pupils and parents this must be made crystal clear.
Secondly the Director of Sport, Head of PE and/or the coach of the team must be involved in the discussion when using this sanction. Not being part of the process can cause problems that I have witnessed before. One potential problem is management of the team. It is time consuming and not knowing a student is unavailable on a certain day can cause a lot more work, especially if this is found out at the last moment. It can be embarrassing to the schools reputation if it turns up without the required amount of players to represent them. Another problem which can occur is where colleagues do not back each other up, with one or another going to SLT to ask them to over turn a decision. All this does is undermine teacher authority and can result in unprofessional conduct within the work place that students may witness.
Finally ensuring that the right people are part of the process makes the sanction more meaningful. It is a powerful statement if both academic colleagues and members of the PE Department deliver this sanction together, backing each other up. It sends out a strong message, not just to that student, but the rest of the school, that representing the school is a honour and privilege that can be taken away if expectations within school are not met.
The way forward
I want to support my colleagues within school and not make every withdrawal from sport a battle where we in the PE Department feel that our extra-curricular provision is seen as ‘not important’. So what are my next steps?
1. In conjunction with pastoral leaders and SLT rewrite our behaviour policy for next academic year to include not only withdrawal from school sport as a sanction, but all extra-curricular activities.
2. To ensure that any withdrawal from extra-curricular activity must involve the member of staff who oversees the activity before any final decision is made. If the sanction is appropriate then they must assist in explaining why the sanction has been given to he student
3. To highlight new policy in pupils handbook and school website.
4. To run a series of assemblies at the beginning of the year that explains how representing the school is a privilege and it could be taken away depending on poor levels of behavior and academic performance.
If you have any thoughts or ideas about how to rectify this contentious issue then I would be very grateful for your advice or feedback.