Skip to main content

Legacy may be a let-down

So, after the Olympic Games, David Cameron has announced that competitive team sports will be mandatory for all primary children.

I have to admit I was one of the sceptics about the Games, which is probably why I found the TV series Twenty Twelve so amusing. Things were bound to go wrong. Transport would snarl up, the organisation would be chaotic. And even if all went well, we wouldn't win many medals.

Although the media seemed to take pleasure in jumping on the few things that did go wrong - the G4S shambles and the hurling of a water bottle being the most notable - nobody could have been more delighted than me when things turned out so successfully. Right from Danny Boyle's astonishing opening ceremony, we were able to feel a sense of national pride again.

But then, of course, the fact that most medals were won by privately educated contestants reared its ugly head. Newspaper columnists and media panellists joined in the attack; state schools are rubbish at teaching sport, children are taught that competitive games are wrong and that everyone has to be a winner, most of the playing fields have been flogged off to raise cash and because the government has stopped monitoring the hours primary schools give to physical education, lots of them don't do it.

I listened to a political radio programme in which a panellist patronisingly described how she had visited a school where the boys were prone to very poor behaviour in the afternoons because the female teachers "simply hadn't realised boys needed to get out, kick a ball around, and get rid of all that pent-up energy". Probably, the teachers were trying to get some maths and English into them in case Ofsted came along and threatened their school with failure. And one columnist, who delights in knocking state education, described his son's sports day and how the good runners had to stop at a prescribed line so that the tubs of lard could catch up. Then they all held hands and walked over the finishing line in harmony. Yes, of course that is ridiculous, if true, but had it been my son, I'd have discussed it with the chair of governors or moved him to a different school.

There are many worthy sporting achievements in state schools, and enormous commitment from the teachers of medal winners, as TES highlighted recently ("Inspire a generation?", cover story, 10 August). But as culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said, a lot more money is needed, and unless it's going to come from National Lottery funding I don't see it happening.

Even when money is allocated, it sometimes disappears before it reaches schools. Some years ago, primaries in inner-city areas were given #163;22,000 for games equipment. The money was handed to a company that drew up playground designs, plastered playgrounds with advertising boards and delivered what looked like Anderson shelters for storing the equipment - a grand's worth of hoops, balls and bats. Another initiative, which was much more successful, treated schools in socially deprived areas to regular visits from specialist PE teams. But last year it stopped through lack of funding.

Which is why I'm not optimistic about this latest announcement. Teachers, like Alan Watkinson who inspired Mo Farah, may have to continue being the sole catalyst for success for a while yet.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email:

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you