'The legacy of the London Olympics is in tatters – too many schools are failing to provide PE'

PE encourages an active lifestyle in pupils and develops the confidence to get along with people, argues a former head

Colin Harris

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Pupils now spend less time participating in sport and PE in schools than pupils did back in 2012, according to the Youth Sport Trust. It's hardly the legacy the London Olympics was aiming for. 

Sadly, does this fact come as any surprise to those of us working in schools? It can be argued that the decline started back in 2010, when former education secretary Michael Gove axed £162 million of government money for sport.

Before being withdrawn, these funds were credited with increasing the number of youngsters playing at least two hours of sport at school – the number rose from almost 2 million in 2004 to more than 6.5 million in 2010. With this in mind, scrapping them with no alternative replacement was, by some measure, not Gove's greatest achievement.

Without these targeted funds, the money now allocated directly to us for the PE curriculum is being used not for sport, but to paper over the cracks of insufficient funding. Too many schools employ sports coaches, which then allows teachers time for planning, preparation and assessment (PPA). This has created a situation where we have fewer trained teachers providing PE.

Add to this the loss of competitive sport in many areas in the country, the rise of non-competitive sports days and, of course, the non-existent swimming provision at primary-level. All of these demonstrate the lack of funding PE has had in primary schools over recent years.

Few of us working in schools would disagree with Sport England that "pupils should leave their primary school physically literate and with the knowledge, skills and motivation necessary to equip them for a healthy lifestyle and lifelong participation in physical activity and sport".

Can schools honestly say that this is being provided for students? PE, much like many other creative subjects, has been squeezed out of the curriculum. Indeed, in most schools, it lags far behind the subjects that are crucial to learning and league tables alike, such as literacy and mathematics.

Despite this, there are some schools that buck the trend; schools that have a curriculum based on physical literacy as well as a broad and inclusive competitive programme, prioritising their pupils’ health and wellbeing.

However, too many schools are failing to provide PE. This is a real pity, as an active lifestyle provides pupils with the confidence and ability to get along with people. It allows them to cope with setbacks and deal with authority. It encourages pupils to concentrate and focus and creates a sense of identity, as well as promoting self-discipline.

Schools must recognise the importance of improving pupils' wellbeing by refocusing on the position of PE within our schools. Who knows? We might even improve our national teams while we're at it…

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were "outstanding" across all categories

To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue

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Colin Harris

Colin Harris

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were “outstanding” across all categories.

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