At sixes and sevens

The phrase ‘at sixes and sevens’ is thought to have developed from an old game of chance with dice called hazard. The chances of winning were controlled by a set of rather arbitrary and complicated rules. It is thought that the expression was originally to set on cinque and sice (from the French numerals for five and six) which were mis-understood and poorly translated into English. Now the phrase has a meaning of ‘a state of confusion’.

Obesity levels in children are high. Children and adults are becoming more inactive and leading sedentary lifestyles. There is a worry that we are sitting on a physical and mental wellbeing time bomb that will have significant impact on our country, the economy and its health services. We are aware of the issues, but I think we are at sixes and sevens with the solutions, especially in the media. These issues have received a huge amount of press coverage in the last month, especially focusing around school’s role and responsibility in combating them. However there seems to be a state of total confusion. The articles seem to display a total disarray in what is the best approach, with groups of people either in a muddle or at loggerheads with each other.

The 2012 Olympics, at a cost of £9 billion was supposed to challenge the key issues. To build a legacy and inspire a generation to become more active. Three years on, and whilst 2/3 of the population were positive about the Olympics, an increase in activity levels have yet to materialise. ‘Since the Olympics, once-a-month participation figures show nearly 700,000 fewer adults are playing nationally funded sports. Since 2010, over 1.5m more people are not taking part in any sport. And that against the backdrop of a growing population base.’ The promise made in our hosting bid was ‘leaving behind a legacy of a fitter, healthier nation and transforming the lives of young people, together with regenerating a patch of east London and underlining the value of public investment in elite sport’, but this is still yet to fully happen. In fact some commentators feel that the legacy is actually a more sedentary nation. Was the idea of watching our best athletes, competing on a global stage, and exceeding expectations going to inspire the country to participate and be active? I can get behind that idea. Matt Coldrey shared with me a paper entitled ‘A qualitative study of the impact of the London 2012 Olympics on families in the East Midlands of England: lessons for sports development policy and practice‘ by Mackintosh et al (2014). In the conclusions it was suggested that we should question ‘the simplified suggestion that sporting mega events deliver assumed increases in sports participation.’ Perhaps all we do with hosting events like this is just make sport and being physically active the preserve of privileged or naturally gifted children? If routes and facilities to access those sports is difficult will uptake increase no matter how good a spectacle we put on for the world? Hindsight is a marvellous thing, but I now wonder what impact would have been achieved if even half of the cost the Olympics was invested into improving and increasing school, youth and community facilities for daily physical activity and sport?

So with concerns raised about whether the Olympics may have achieved what it set out to do, what suggestions have been offered as solutions?

Well obviously Physical Education is the key to solving the obesity and sedentary lifestyle problems. However a recent survey by Virgin Active, the University of Bedfordshire and primary school teachers nationwide, revealed teachers believe 39 per cent of children across the UK leave primary school with a negative attitude towards being physically active. The survey also suggests that nearly half of primary school pupils are leaving school without “basic movement skills” to engage in physical activity. Basic competency of movement is key in increasing the likelihood of a lifetime of purposeful physical activity. This is difficult to achieve with more than a quarter of primary school teachers feeling they don’t feel qualified to teach Physical Education. Current ITT provision for teaching PE at Primary School equates to a maximum of 10 hours of training. This is not enough to help prepare primary school teachers provide high quality PE at a time where the physical development of a child is hugely important and influential. Surely there is need to ensure a full-time primary PE specialist in every primary school in the country to support a child’s physical development, and not be left to chance via the Primary PE and School Sport Premium.

A recent report from ukactive highlighted a lot of these issues and once again raised them at a national level. However the media focused on one or two of its many solutions. Firstly the introduction of fitness testing in primary schools and secondly that of increasing activity within lessons through standing in class or physical punctuation Kung Fu Style, neither of which I feel is going to help promote an active and healthy lifestyle, but is about burning calories. However child inactivity is a bigger threat to health than child obesity so I can understand why measurement of fitness is once again being promoted. Perhaps we need to turn to technology to help? The Youth Sport Trust publication The Class of 2035: promoting a brighter and more active future for the youth of tomorrow suggests we need to be both worried and optimistic about the role technology has in our children’s life and how with a better understanding of it we can use it to promote a generation that is fit for purpose. The YST are probably right that PE does need to embrace Technology and take control of educating our pupils in using wearable tech for their own health and wellbeing. The worry I have is that tech is seen as the saviour of PE or that it is used as a external motivator to get children moving, when perhaps we should be looking to develop more intrinsic forms of motivation. It doesn’t help shift my natural bias against using tech in PE when you read that a quarter of kids think that playing computer games is exercise or that Active computer games may actually be a better source of physical activity for kids than playing outside. We also need to be aware of the dark side of technology in our promotion of physical activity, that if we invite it into our lives, it may not be us that are making the choices.

Although many of the articles written seem to be highlighting the many benefits of both PE and School Sport can have on children, such as building resilience and learning how to work as a team or helping them concentrate for study in their academic studies, there is hardly one promoting the inherent value in being physical and moving. Through focusing on the justification for PE’s place in the curriculum, have we’ve moved our sights from process to outcomes and could this be an issue in itself? It means we don’t talk about or promote unstructured play as an important part of a child’s physical and social development, or building more safe and accessible places such as parks for families, or putting  physical activity at the heart of the community through multi-sports clubs that promote participation, not single sport clubs that promote talent and success. There is also very little mention of a parents responsibility in overcoming the issues. Parents, schools and local communities, supported by the government must work together if sustainable solutions are to be found. If we can nurture school and grassroots sport, with support from families and the local community they live in, the entire country will benefit.

Those in power to make the decisions and those who have the power to lobby and influence those decisions need to work together. Edward Timpson, the Minister for Children and Families and Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Sport and Tourism have a big job on their hands to get things right. It is both right and good that these are issues are being raised on a national level. Even some confusion can be beneficial as it means ideas are being shared and debated. That in itself can help bring some consistency, clarity and understanding which is what we desperately need as we can’t keep leaving future generations of children’s physical health and wellbeing to chance and the roll of the dice.

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3 thoughts on “At sixes and sevens

  1. Although this is somewhat tangential to your very good points about more sport opportunities for children, I think the importance of creating life-long sport opportunities sometimes gets overlooked. For example, in my area there are many recreation centres (run by city governments) that offer discounted admission/user rates for children and young teens, to get them to be active. But then a significant number of those children and teens stop coming when they become old enough to have to pay the adult rates. Ideally, plans to encourage sport activity for younger people would include ways to keep them active throughout their lives.

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    1. Both in Ireland where I have visited many times and Italy where I have worked they have the multi-sports clubs that are the heart of their communities. Grandparents help out and socialise, parents play and they bring their children. When the children are old enough they begin to play. This then creates a cycle of support, playing and activity that is part of both he family and the community culture. Fees are low because it is less about making money, more about providing for the community. It focus on the social side as much as the physical side and keeps bringing people back. They then invest time, effort and money in it to ensure it is there for the next generation. I know sport and sport clubs in England have moved away from this model, especially with private firms trying to make huge profits out of it. Is it any wonder then there is a significant drop of in people being physically active?

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  2. […] I am aware that as teachers of PE, conducting these tests on our own, there will be a high level of variability with the results. That they are fraught with validity and reliability difficulties, mainly due to the inconsistency and lack of standardisation of testing procedures. However along with observations in our gymnastics, gaelic football and running tests my department feel there has been a year on year decrease in starting ability of our pupils within PE. Our traditional curriculum is no longer accessible for our pupils who struggle with it. Added to this is the increase in ability to not perform basic tasks. In the period from 2011 to 2014 we had only three pupils in Year 7 who had difficulty with tying shoelaces. This year I have twelve in just my class. Changing time has significantly increased as pupils need constant help to get themselves ready. So this is the Olympic Legacy? […]

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