Sport in schools: levelling the playing field

Friday 20th June 2014

Another day, another set of unfavourable comparisons between the state and independent sector, but if ever there was a playing field that needs to be levelled, it is the sports pitch. During London 2012 I had the privilege of working on the Get Set education project, a multi-faceted programme developed by Nick Fuller and his education team at LOCOG. One of my tasks was to prepare a set of 13 case studies, spanning the whole of the UK and highlighting great practice in primary, secondary and special schools.  Our focus was on how these schools had used London 2012 to engage their pupils and their communities in sport and in extolling the kind of Olympic and Paralympic Values that Michael Gove might now, post Trojan Horse, want to define as ‘British’.

I don’t know if Ofsted have picked up on the resultant publication, Get Set Case Studies,  in their report – like most busy practitioners, I’m forced to live off the headlines. Whether the inspectorate did fall up on our paper or not, every opportunity should be used to highlight the great work at these state schools: castigation has its place but is not always the best route to improvement – the kind of detailed exemplars that we provide, across over 50 pages, might offer a different way forward, notably for those schools keen to learn how success might be achieved.

That said, Sir Michael Wilshaw is right to point out the shortcomings of sports provision in too many of our state schools, right to point out the link between sporting success and academic achievement  and right to say that this is not all about funding and facilities (even if the playing fields of Eton, Rugby and Harrow are credited not just with the production of our sporting superstars but many of our politicians, our captains of industry and our military elite), but he is wrong to allow these observations to contribute to an ongoing narrative that continually paints the state sector as always the poor relation.

Yes, too few of our Gold Medals were won by state educated competitors and the worlds of cricket and rugby union, in particular, are sports in which state educated pupils are under represented but we do need to celebrate those state schools – and those inspiring state school based PE teachers – that have given us Ennis, Farah, Pendleton, Rutherford and many others.

The School Sports Partnerships that Michael Gove so hastily abolished on coming to office enabled state schools and state school based practitioners, often without the best facilities, to share resources and coaching expertise and to work with local independent schools and colleagues based there. Perhaps Mr Gove could make a start on the national strategy that Mr Wilshaw rightly calls for by reversing this decision, and re-energising those partnerships while the memory of London 2012 is still fresh and while many of the relationships that formed the partnerships remain in place. That might level this particular playing field, and give competitive sport and high quality physical education its proper place at the heart of every child’s education.

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