Cross-country runs are recalled fondly by very few of those who endured them. For many, they seem like freezing exercises in futility in which suffering souls shiver their way around a muddy field until a sadistic teacher ends their ordeal.

One who looks back more happily is Mick Waters (right), of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and therefore the Government's leading adviser on what gets taught in schools, including PE.

As a pupil, Mr Waters started a trend at his school that eschewed the teacher-endorsed approach to cross-country. "Me and my friends decided we would walk," he told a London conference. "We had a lovely time strolling around the cross-country course."

He said everything worked out fine because the rebels, initially only two or three of them, always ensured they finished in time to catch the bus back to school.

After several months, young Waters's band of happy pedestrians had swelled to about 15 followers, he said. This prompted his now older and better self to come to the point of the anecdote: dropping out of any educational activity may be contagious and should be discouraged in all children.

We are none the wiser about whether Mr Waters took part in other renowned cross-country alternatives, such as sneaking off for a hamburger or a crafty fag.


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