This is written in response to the Department for Education’s recent guidelines on behaviour and discipline in schools, in which it states that ‘extra physical activity such as running around a playing field’ could be used as a disciplinary measure.
The health, educational and societal benefits of physical activity are known and unequivocal. School is the one place where everybody gets the opportunity to take part in physical activity and, as such, has an important role in the development of a lifelong sporting habit.
The House of Commons Education Committee, in its report “ School sport following London 2012: No more political football” recognised school sport as a driver for improved health and educational outcomes, as well as helping to build character and facilitate skill acquisition. Investing in school sport is an investment in the economic and social health of individuals, communities and our nation. The DofE website itself states that “sport should be an important part of any school. Great schools have long known that sporting excellence and participation, alongside strong cultural opportunities, go hand in hand with high academic standards”. In addition, the incumbent Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the DofE, Edward Timpson MP, has himself highlighted the need “recognise the benefit it has in terms not just of physical health but of a child’s self-confidence and their ability to learn; it has a wider benefit to that child and to the school”.
There are many many schools and passionate, dedicated teachers that are doing a fantastic job, under difficult circumstances, of delivering physical education and encouraging physical activity in schools across the country. Their efforts need to be recognised and applauded. However, the policy framework for the delivery of school sport risks undermining these efforts and must be changed if we are to help drive forward participation in, and catalyse a passion for, physical activity and leave a positive, lasting legacy for generations to come.
Not only must policies be put in place that encourage (and empower staff to deliver) a range of physical activity, this framework must send the right messages to school staff, children and their parents about the vital role that such activity has to play in children’s lives. Action must be taken to alter children’s (and adult’s) perceptions of activity as being something that is negative, dull, onerous, fearful or hateful – to a situation where it is embraced as being fun, beneficial and, yes, trendy. Only when we reverse the negative perception of physical activity can we hope to engender the positive behavioural changes we wish to see.
That’s why I find it totally incongruous that the Department for Education’s recent guidance on behaviour and discipline in schools, states that ‘extra physical activity such as running around a playing field’ could be used as a disciplinary measure. [This is compounded by the Government’s decision, as of Sept last year, to disapply the current national curriculum programmes of study for PE at key stages 1 and 2. Meaning that PE is no longer statutory national curriculum subject for these age groups].
Using physical activity as a punishment is outdated and inappropriate. It will entrench lasting fear and loathing for sport amongst children and young people, running the risk that they will carry negative attitude to physical activity throughout their lives. Such a policy makes an absolute mockery of the DoE’s claim that “the government is determined to secure a significant and lasting legacy from the [Olympic] games, and to develop children’s enjoyment of sport and physical activity from an early age”.
Physical activity is a joy, a pleasure: something to be embraced and welcomed. We need the next generation to grow up wanting to be active. We need school staff, parents and children to view running around the school field (if they haven’t been sold off) as a pleasure, rather than a punishment.
I would call on the Government to remove any reference to the use of physical activity as a disciplinary measure in its forthcoming review of the guidance (December 2014). If we don’t act now, the dire consequences will be borne by all of us.