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.