'Sport can fix bad behaviour – and stop teachers from quitting'

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picture of Charlie Rigby

New research has found that two-thirds of primary school children aren’t reaching basic fitness levels for their age group – an awful statistic. With the emphasis on creating a generation of test-passers and box-tickers, exercise and sport are being neglected in schools. Child obesity rates are soaring as a result.

Yet what is perhaps more worrying is what this means not only for children’s health, but their ability to learn and, ultimately, to make the most of their potential. Exercise is proven to have numerous benefits both in the long and short term and its neglect is of great concern.

The government is currently throwing millions at teaching – with many leaving the profession due to the stress they experience in dealing with disruptive children. To be clear, disruptive children are not something new, but with the limitation of outdoor activity, it is hardly surprising that poor behaviour, caused by a lack of focus, is driving teachers out in droves. A great deal of this disruption could be reduced by reintroducing classic, old-fashioned sport to the curriculum.

The introduction of more physical activity may be a simple notion, but it has been neglected by previous educational administrations. Instead of being oriented towards test results, we should instead be improving children’s ability to learn while minimising disruption. Health and fitness play a massive role in this.

A single lesson can be enough to bring benefits. Exercise pumps children full of adrenaline and endorphins, leaving them ready (and more importantly, willing) to learn. In the long term, general fitness boosts energy levels, furthering children’s ability to focus over a prolonged period of time without tiring or getting bored. Fitness also has psychological benefits and has been shown to reduce students' stress. 

Those who neglect sports at a young age often lack certain skills that are essential for the real world. This is why universities place such emphasis on sporting backgrounds. Through sport, you learn not only self-reliance and teamwork, but resilience, grit and determination, which are key to character development.

They say that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, and we have a duty to give every child proper access to sport in order to give them a well-rounded education and create valuable contributors to our society.

Charlie Rigby is founder of the Challenger Trust, a government-backed organisation providing learning outside the classroom.

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