I once wrote that Paul was a dying breed of teacher. The academic member of staff in a state school who saw the value in school sport, but more than that who didn’t just pay it lip service. That even through the pressures and strains placed on him to deliver his subject and ensure no child failed, he made time to run a school team.
I still speak to the previous Head of PE in my school, long since retired to the coast of Pembrokeshire. A small Welsh man with a big heart who served the school with dedication for 35 years. He tells me of the good old days when this ‘beast’ roamed free on the rugby pitch, the football pitch, the cricket square and the hockey pitch. At least two members of staff per team. Over half the teaching staff outside the PE Department ran school sports team and those that didn’t ran extra curricular clubs. All voluntary and based on goodwill, because they passionately believed in the education and learning school sport provided to the child involved. Conversations of school sport filling the staff room and filtering beyond. Those days are in the past, the present is a stark contrast. All responsibility of maintaining that legacy falls squarely on the PE Dept with the assistance of Paul. In my school Paul has become an Endling.
An Endling is an indvidual that is the last of his species, like Lonesome George, a Pinta Island Tortoise on the Galápagos Islands. Unlike Lonesome George, who passed away in June 2012, or Turgi or Toughie or other Endlings who species will cease to exist with their passing, Paul’s could be saved. Through a programme of conservation, the work that Paul does could have been more valued. Perhaps some form of renumeration to retain Paul’s commitment to school sport and perhaps entice others to join him. To see that the 8 hours a week of extra contact time with pupils outside was important to those children’s development and wider education beyond the classroom. By viewing what Paul does on the school field not as an extra, above and beyond his role as a teacher, but as central to it. If something is truly valued, as many Headteachers I meet say school sport is, then a way to preserve Paul and his species could and should be found.
However the landscape of our schools is changing. The narrowing of the curriculum, performance related pay (which can have a big impact on the earnings and career of a teacher like Paul), focus solely on outcomes and metrics that are easily measurable, intervention rather than enrichment, new intiative after new intiative and a constant change of curriculum, examinations and educational focus driven by politics means a classroom teacher neither has the time or the energy to invest in school sport. The value of what Paul does on the school sports field can never be measured in pure outcomes. The time he spends developing relationships, fostering a love of sport and builing a sense of place, belonging and affiliation for those children in his care cannot be defined by a single number. Nor should it as it is priceless. The environment of schools today are not conducive to the academic member of staff who wants to run a school sport team. It is indeed toxic to this rare and wonderful breed.
Paul is a proper role model, especially to the young men in our school. He combines the mind and the body, through the teaching of his subject and the coaching of sport. He is a kind and considerate person who takes an active role in the personal welfare of the children of the school and he also plays in the school rock band. I admire and respect all that he does to educate and help shape the potential of all those he comes into contact with. I tell him daily how much I value his contribution and effort and so will the children in the future, but I fear that is not enough. I will mourn the passing of Paul’s breed of teacher within my school. It is no longer an ‘if’, but a ‘when’ this will happen. The pressure on Paul to deliver in the classroom means that it will not be long till he regretfully is unable to run a school sports team and go the way of the rest of his species. I fear that moment might be the beginning of the end of school sport in its current format, the weight being too much on my department to carry on.
Sir Michael Wilshaw said those that win on the school sports field win in the classroom and encouraged us all to go the ‘extra mile’. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, how can you go the extra mile when you are expected to run a marathon daily? School sport is built on the goodwill and dedication of teachers like Paul and all the others like him that still exist in dwindling numbers in schools around the country. What Wilshaw and his ilk fail to realise is goodwill is not an endless resource ready to be tapped into and mined whenever a school needs it. It is fragile and finite. It needs to be protected and nourished for when it ends it is gone for good never to be got back. When it ends so does the breed of teacher like Paul and possibly school sport with him.
Thank you Paul for all you do.