What are your memories of school sport and PE? Bitchy netball cliques, gym knickers and being forced to run around a cross country field?
Mine were anything but. Teamwork. Fun. Pride. Patience. Frustration. Ambition. Emotions, experiences and qualities that rounded my education and my personality. So why is it causing so many problems? How is it being allowed to fall by the wayside as the first ball to drop? You don’t let people skip maths because they just don’t like it or aren’t particularly good at it. So why are we frequently letting this happen with PE?
I get it. I was sporty. I was never at the back of the cross country course, I was never the last person picked for the team. I’m probably the last person who should be writing about this topic and I’m sorry if that comes across as arrogant. My view won’t match a lot of people. I clearly sit VERY much on the pro side of the fence.
But it’s not just what you intrinsically learn. Learning to lose, working as a team, the dedication and commitment to playing and training regularly, the competition element for team places, yes, but there is the other stuff. The girls I call my best best friends weren’t in my form group. I got to know them primarily through PE lessons, through netball, and athletics, and trampolining clubs and this was only made EVEN better when half of us chose PE at GCSE and A level. And I couldn’t wish for a bunch of more incredible girls and I quite frankly wouldn’t have got that anywhere else.
Unfortunately, it’s not all rainbows and sparkles for everyone. We are constantly being made aware of the decline of female participation in school sport, particularly at a secondary school level, where the realisation that you could talk back to a teacher and potentially refuse to do something has come about it most.
I am 99% sure that for most, a large part of the reason behind this is because people learn how to play the game. Come on, you will all know that, as a girl, if you didn’t want to take part, all you had to do was mention ‘female problems’ and the male PE staff would run away screaming. And the problem is, there is only so much that PE staff can do. Unfortunately, PE sometimes doesn’t have the same respect as a lot of the other curriculum subjects, especially once you get to GCSE level and above, where a lot of schools will reduce the dedicated hours, or even cut it out altogether. PE just doesn’t seem to attract the same level of respect in terms of consequences for not taking part – the problem is as a society we are getting so SO concerned with body image and freedom that PE staff simply can’t use the same level of discipline that say a science teacher would use if you kept skipping lessons.
But let’s not say I’m blaming it all on the pupils. Infrastructure, government cuts to funding, the selling off of school playing fields to developers, greater pressure from society to seemingly allow pupils to do what they want because enforced exercise is now no longer seen as fair…..are all attributing factors. Obesity is at a high point. Childhood and youth activity levels are at a serious low. Children aren’t getting the activity outside of school that they used to and if this isn’t at least partially tackled in the classroom, I don’t really know where we go from there. And that’s not OK.
If we don’t get sport and PE into children’s lives at an early point, what chance do we have later? And then what role models and encouragement will their children have?
There is a fine line between getting people to participate through new activities and losing the core tradition of a subject where you should be able to play the games and sports that are so typical to a school life in the UK. If you let people go to the gym in the PE hour, the problem is that you simply don’t have enough staff to supervise and what some of them actually do is read magazines and drink coffee….enough said.
Another factor often brought up is the lack of shower cubicles and time to get changed after lessons. And unfortunately, that’s apparently what we now need to do. #thisgirlcan is great as far as it stands, but try telling a teenage girl that she has 5 minutes to do her hair and get ready (despite the fact a lot of schools theoretical don’t actually allow make up….) and you have NO CHANCE of getting anyone to put in vaguely enough effort in a lesson to make it worthwhile….unless you are someone like me who is already on board with it and really could only half care about what they look like (sorry!)
Oh and let’s not forget the fact that obviously, aged 13, the only reason you would go into a school shower is because you are a lesbian. *facepalm* (and there we go into a WHOLE other subject but let’s leave that for another day)
So I guess my point of view is twofold. In my head I’m all for ‘just get on with it and do it, stop faffing around and bring back stricter rules’ but unfortunately in this day and age, that isn’t going to fly. It worked for me, it works for a lot who enjoy PE, but it’s not going to work for all.
So yes, let’s make changes up top to redefine what we incorporate into lessons and how we surround this with the relight infrastructure and enablers, however please please DO NOT trivialise the importance of PE and allow it to be treated as the weakest subject where all rules, values and qualities can be thrown out of the window.