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Saying a farewell to the charms of sport and teaching

Two recent events have had a considerable effect on me. One was John Major's pronouncement about sport in schools, the other was the simultaneous retirement of four colleagues.

I listened to, and later read, Mr Major's opinions with growing frustration. The bit about left-wing authorities abolishing competitive sport was obvious codswallop and scarcely worth the attention of even one ageing brain cell. It was also quite easy to ignore all the silly stuff about the hours students once used to spend playing team sports. We all know that pre-l970 in most schools, attention was really paid only to the select few who might get into a school team. The rest - "the duffers" - spent hours trying to keep warm and dry. The only chance I got as a student to practise my favourite sport was when a generous English teacher stayed behind after school two evenings a week to supervise six of us.

But when the Prime Minister suggested that the other reason for the decline in school sport was the trade union action by teachers in the l980s, I got cross.

As far as I am concerned, the reasons are twofold: the imposition of contracts with 1,265 hours, followed by so many innovations that we ended up attending more meetings than there are days of the week. What chance, then, for extra-curricular sport?

This really got to me because I realised that I had spent 15 years acquiring the skills of a club badminton player. Then I became chair of a schools association and coached dozens of children over a three-year period. But then I moved on to senior departmental posts just as all the national contractual changes came in and, either because of lack of facilities or time, or because someone else already ran the school badminton club, I have subsequently put nothing significant into the game.

Now to the retirement event which gladdened me and saddened me. It was marvellous to see ex-colleagues, friends and family at a huge end-of-school farewell "do". The chats and the speeches were hugely entertaining.

Later, however, I grew strangely melancholy. Thinking back, the anecdotes with which we'd been regaled were about two main things.

The first was the fun that teachers used to get up to in the days before national curriculum, computer timetabling and rigid subject specialism divisions. In spite of the mayhem they depicted, things still seemed to get done. The second was that their stories were mainly about things that happened outside the classroom, many to do with non-curricular matters.

The reason for my melancholy was that I found myself wondering what I will say when my 15 minutes in the retirement spotlight come along. I have spent two evenings per week for the past 12 years at after-school meetings. These meetings stop me doing any departmental work or resources development, so I stay for another two, in my departmental base. The fifth I reserve for myself, or rather, to take my daughter to her swimming lesson. This is in addition to the marking I do between 10-12pm every night.

One of our current "retirers" ran the school badminton club. Last term, in a moment of madness, I told the head of PE that I might like to take over in September. Some hope! A major staff re-structuring exercise leaves me in charge not only of my department, but of assessment in the whole school.

So much for the badminton. Not a bad pointer for Mr Major as to why sport is vanishing from schools.

So, when I eventually retire - if I make it that far - look forward to some scintillating anecdotes and memories, everyone.

In fact, let's make a start as there will be so many. Did I ever tell you about the time I spent eight successive Thursday evenings sorting out our key stage 3 SAT entries? Laugh? I thought I'd never stop.

Colin Padgett is head of English at The Ramsey School, Halstead, Essex.

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