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Curriculum - Ahead of the game

As 2012 approaches, schools are using the values of the Olympic movement to inspire their pupils. And the benefits extend far beyond PE

As 2012 approaches, schools are using the values of the Olympic movement to inspire their pupils. And the benefits extend far beyond PE

A group of pupils, aged between 13 and 18, are transfixed by the interactive whiteboard at the front of the classroom. The subject of today's lesson is Derek Redmond, the British athlete who famously tore his hamstring during a race at the 1992 Olympics.

The pupils watch in awe as Redmond hobbles along the track with pain etched on his face. He is joined by his father, Jim Redmond, who barges past the security cordon to help his son across the finish line. As the crowd erupts to give the athlete a standing ovation, the pupils break out in an impromptu round of applause.

"The children are incredibly impressed by the clip," says PE teacher Ross Towler. "I think they feel inspired by Redmond's commitment and determination, and this is exactly what we are trying to achieve."

After the UK's successful bid to host the Olympics in 2012, the teaching staff at Tong High School, a specialist sports college in Bradford, recognised the opportunity the forthcoming Games presented for their pupils.

"The Olympic and Paralympic Games are about much more than sporting excellence," says Mr Towler. "They are based on a tradition of fair play and honourable sports competition and, most importantly, they are about friendship and teamwork. This is a great motivating tool for disaffected pupils and those who dislike PE."

There is no ignoring the countless political and public debates about disaffected teens, not least the rise in those who are not in education, employment or training (Neets). Schools and youth organisations have found that sports and physical activity can play a role in improving their attitudes and chances.

"Sport and physical activities have traditionally been associated with the promotion and reproduction of various character-building values, attitudes and morals," says Dr Rachel Holroyd, a researcher into youth sport at Loughborough University. "So, perhaps unsurprisingly, they are viewed by many as a suitable strategy for encouraging pro-social behaviours."

Tong School has had its fair share of disaffected pupils. Mr Towler supports Dr Holroyd's view: he says engaging with sport through the Olympic values has been profoundly influential in turning pupil behaviour around. In his tutor groups, Mr Towler encourages older, and often disaffected, pupils to take on leadership roles. They are encouraged to chaperone younger pupils, to help them with group exercises, and even to give presentations.

"This has helped several pupils to become more enthusiastic about school, even if PE isn't their strong suit," he says.

Tong School is one of many that is involving the Olympics in its sports curriculum. In many cases, schools have signed up to the Get Set initiative, an education programme created by the organisers of the 2012 Games. The programme is designed to help schools, colleges and local authority education providers across the country to support children in the development of their leadership, personal and life skills through sports.

"The programme offers a huge range of opportunities and resources targeted at primary as well as secondary level," says a spokeswoman for London 2012.

"We try to provide children and young people with a chance to prove that they can reflect the values in their lives, places of learning and local communities in a sporting context."

Schools can download interactive learning resources designed to encourage people to think about the Olympic and Paralympic values and the London 2012 Games through the use of games, fact sheets, films and news articles.

"The idea is that schools teach their pupils about Olympic and Paralympic values and integrate these into the sports curriculum and into their whole-school development planning and ethos," the 2012 spokeswoman says.

"This is in order to involve as many children and young people as possible in the excitement of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games."

The idea behind Get Set is to be cross-curricular - so the programme is not only part of PE. When Tong School celebrated "1,000 days until the Olympics", Mr Towler asked pupils to think about where they saw themselves in 1,000 days' time, and what they wanted to achieve by then.

"This is a brilliant way for children who are not enthusiastic about sports to get involved - the cross-curricular aspect means that pupils can excel in a range of ways," says Mr Towler.

The programme has also made a huge difference to PE at the school. Pupils started to apply what they regarded as Olympic values during PE lessons, and this has started to shape the overall ethos of the school, says Mr Towler. "The entire atmosphere has improved as a result of the scheme," he says.

Mr Towler remembers one pupil who had been known among teachers for unruly behaviour and violent outbursts. When Mr Towler suggested he become a pupil leader for the Tong Games (a project held over a four-week period, which allows every pupil to participate in a range of events), he wasn't enthused.

"We had to convince him to join in," says Mr Towler. "Since taking on leadership responsibility, his overall behaviour has improved drastically and his attitude towards sports has improved as well."

The values that Tong School is trying to embrace include respect, fair play and knowing one's limits. "It is about excellence - how to give the best of oneself, on the field of play or in life, and progressing according to one's own objectives," says Mr Towler.

"However, it is also about friendship - how to understand each other through sport despite any differences. This helps to motivate previously disaffected pupils using sport."

At the Tong Games, pupils compete against their peers and gain points for their school community. Points are not only awarded for those who finish first, second and third, but also for pupils who demonstrate a commitment to the Olympic and Paralympic values through their participation. They are asked to demonstrate respect for their opponents and good leadership skills. The event was so successful in the summer term that they have also held the Tong Winter Games.

Other schools have experienced similar successes. Joseph Whitaker School near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire has twinned with a school in Brazil, using the Olympic and Paralympic values as a background for building self- esteem, attendance and achievement among both their pupils and those in the Brazilian partner school.

The school is now using the Games to enhance PE in other ways, too. "The school used `1,000 days to go' until the Paralympic Games to celebrate and raise awareness of disabled sportspeople, by teaching sitting volleyball, goalball (a game developed for visually impaired players), boccia (a game for wheelchair athletes) and Paralympic table tennis," says Faye Rogerson, who teaches PE at the school.

Years 7 and 8 then held an interform goalball competition. The school's sports leaders have been teaching it to other pupils ever since. "It was amazing to see how pupils thrived on the activities," she says.

Oak Lodge Primary School in Bromley, southeast London, is using the Games to attract pupils to extra-curricular activities. Teachers have timetabled three hours of activities before school, after school and at lunchtimes to complement the two hours they already offer within the curriculum.

"Pupils are involved in deciding what is offered through these clubs, which helps to get each and every pupil to take on some responsibilities," explains a school spokeswoman.

Judging from the success stories, the link between physical activity and personal development that has been inspired by the forthcoming Games is clear.

The acid test of the impact of the Olympics will be in how many of the schools continue their commitment to these values once the Games are over.

Using the Olympics in class

  • Focus on one Olympic value at a time. This might be for a single lesson or a themed week of lessons. The Olympic and Paralympic values are: friendship, courage, determination, excellence, equality, respect and inspiration.
  • Play a game around "knowing your values" - is one obviously dominant or under-represented? Which of the values do the pupils think best sums up your school's ethos?
  • View films of Olympic moments. Who do pupils most admire and feel inspired by?
  • There are more resources for schools, and suggestions on how to embed Olympic values in your school at
  • For a selection of classroom resources on the Olympic Games, visit

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