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You can’t judge a school by its sports fields

23 August 2012

There’s a glass case in the hall of Number 10 at the moment which contains a large sports bag with two shiny Olympic medals poking out. This wasn’t left behind by a Team GB athlete: it’s actually an enormous, elaborate cake, complete with icing zips. Downing Street staffers are looking forward to eating this part of the Olympic legacy soon.

A considerably less tasty leftover from the Games is the row over school sports provision. During the Olympics, I argued that the Prime Minister’s interventions on the matter were largely unhelpful, but as Fraser and Matthew d’Ancona have pointed out, schools selling off old tennis courts to pay for new gyms, or a proliferation of Indian dancing classes will become more common under the freedoms they now enjoy. The key for politicians is to make it clear that it’s a good thing they aren’t in charge of what one school chooses to do with its sports provision.

Daniel Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, has a letter in this week’s Spectator in which he argues that you can’t judge a school by its playing fields, anyway. The sorts of venues Harris academies use in lieu of their own field would make even the most unsporty pupil swoon (maybe even Melissa Kite, who speaks for many in her piece this week about how much she hated school PE). You can read the letter in full below:

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Sir, Many of us in the education world are baffled by the political furore over school sports fields. Harris Federation runs 13 academies, largely in tight urban spaces. All manage to deliver outstanding sports lessons. Why? Because of the skill of our sports teachers and the vision of our sponsor, Lord Harris of Peckham, who once dreamt of becoming a professional footballer.

Harris Boys’ Academy East Dulwich has sport as a subject specialism but almost no outside space of its own. Bizarrely, in 2008 Southwark Council would only provide planning permission to build the school on condition that we would not use the park opposite for sport. Our local MP, Harriet Harman, has not helped our efforts to get this reversed.

Yet the school’s PE department still manages to provide an outstanding sports programme, using the Peckham Pulse swimming pool, King’s College London’s sports grounds and the Herne Hill Velodrome, where Bradley Wiggins began his cycling career. We annually hire our local sports stadium, engaging 10,000 students in a day of competitive sports. A little imagination can deliver a great deal.

The Olympic legacy ought to be about giving pupils the thrill of competition and an outstanding experience of sport. And this is about far more than whether a school owns an on-site playing field.

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Show comments
  • Maringa

    I wholeheartedly support that a lot can be achieved with imaginative use of existing local facilities and a helpful local parks department. My sons play cricket for Spencer CC in Southwest London which manages to give about 700 children regular cricket by use of council facilities. This considerable achievement needs some committed and hardworking organisers but there are a surprising number of those in our communities. If volunteer clubs can manage this why not schools with large numbers of paid professionals?

    • HFC

      Volunteers ain’t sheep.

  • Max

    Most people who won gold medals at the Olympics were middle class, educated at private schools.

    As for sport at school, I detested it, what about those of us who are academically minded and not good at sport, throw me a ball and I wouldn’t be able to catch it, not co ordinated at all, where do we go ? It just made me a liar, a truant and a forger, I was excellent at forging my mums handwriting to make up excuse notes to the teacher.

    I got 4 hours of sport a week, the PE teachers were all psychopaths, it was all football, football, football. It was torture. I was practically suicidal by the end of it. It took me 15 years to get over it. It was a traumatizing experience.

    • HFC

      ‘…a liar, a truant and a forger…’. So which career have you settled into, Max?

      • Archimedes

        That’s Max QC to you!

      • Max

        ”So which career have you settled into, Max? ”

        The best qualifications ” lying, forging, ” a journalist of course !!

    • Publius

      There is no place in the state school system for the academically minded (unless you count the hated grammar schools). Pandering to the mob is the order of the day.

    • Michael990

      No football at my school fortunately. But rugby was compulsory to 15. Then I escaped to the fresh air of cross country and nice trotting/strolls with my friends!.

      • Max

        Michael 990, when you actually think about it, school is not about education, it’s a way of parents to get rid of their children, it’s a baby sitter. I never learned anything, all my teachers were thick.

        • HFC

          Demonstrating your journalistic skills, eh Max? No generalisations or sweeping statements here, just analysis and conclusion…

          • Michael990

            And just possibly a touch of teenage arrogance?

  • Arthur Seeley

    One point that many seem to miss is that although a school may have closed and the children no longer use it does not mean that the field is unused. Many schools make a little money by allowing junior football to be played on the fields at weekends. You rob the community of that facility if you sell it off for ‘development’.

  • Radford_NG

    23 Aug. c.11.35am.BST………I remember an headteacher of a middle-class comprehensive on TV declaring she didn’t allow cricket as it was a white middle-class game:the item in question was as to why England was being beaten by the West Indies; where they start out playing on the dust-patch by their huts [ “….with those little pals of mine/Ramadin and Valentine.” : but that was another generation ].//……..//It used to be said : “If you want a fast bowler,all you’ve got to do is go up to Yorkshire and shout down the nearest pit-head and they’ll send six up on the lift”.//……..//A recent TIME magazine had a photo of young boys in Abbattabad playing cricket on the bull-dozed site of ben-ladins compound.//……So what do you make of all that?

    • Nicholas

      The headteacher was clearly a typical left-wing bigot with an outlook as narrow as her knowledge of the post-Empire legacy of that most English and civilised of games – cricket. That sort have been and will continue to be the ruin of this once great country, with their ignorance, their lies, their subterfuge for political gain and their need to control not just activities but speech and even thought too.

      Left – Fascists.

  • bumpkin

    When I was at school we had a school hall that was used for PE lessons and morning prayers (no it was not a faith a school). We also walked from school to the local park for football. We didn’t feel deprived because the school had no playing field.

    • tele_machus

      Melissa clearly agrees……… “To her, it still wasn’t funny. More than 20 years later, and on the night I was invited back to present the prizes, my lack of enthusiasm for school sport still made her look me up and down with a stare that said, ‘You are a dangerous subversive.”
      Who the hell cares whether you do Indian dancing or your only exercise is skipping along to the local park and hanging out on the swings?

  • Judy

    Holland, which did very well in the Olympics medals in relation to the size of its population, has no in-school sports provision whatsoever. When secondary schools in the UK had lots of unsold off playing fields during the eighties and early nineties, Britain had very low gold medal totals at the Olympics. There is no demonstrable relationship between possession of sports fields and either elite achievement in sports or average levels of participation in sports. I too was the sort of games-phobic Melissa Kite’s article speaks for. I was definitely the last to get chosen for any divide-the-class-into-teams exercise, or even for choose-a-partner. I could have done games avoidance at national level. However, I now go to my local private leisure gym 3-5 times a week and love it. That’s because it’s luxurious, like a spa, and the trainers are fantastic individuals who just project happiness and delight and never, never tell you off for anything or rank or compare the people in the class. And I’ve even learnt to live with collective changing rooms. My school experience successfully put me off regular physical exercise for four decades. Some achievement.

    • Michael990

      Like the NHS really. I mean would you go to a hotel where you were in a room with only partitions that contained 6 or more people you didn’t know?

  • In2minds

    “the Peckham Pulse swimming pool, King’s College London’s sports grounds and the Herne Hill Velodrome”, all rather dangerous for little girls who wear the burka.

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