Is it time for a conversion?

7th November 1997 at 00:00
As I look out of my first-floor classroom window I can see our playing fields - green, except for two patches of churned mud which represent the only pitches which are still used for soccer and rugby.

The rugby pitch is used by all the school teams and the youth club. Lack of facilities? Selling off of school playing fields by local authorities? Not at all. More than half of our several acres is left untouched.

Last week one of the boys asked the head if we could put one of these fallow pitches into service. The answer was that the school budget will not allow for the purchase of new rugby posts. The old ones, like the cricket nets, have been destroyed by night visitors.

Have we reached the stage when we should ask whether school is the place to "teach" what traditionalists always think of as sport - competitive team games?

Last year I finally gave in to the pressures on my time and energy, both limited by my position and age - 45 - and gave up running a football team. I was also tired of parents' complaints.

We do not have a sports hall or mini-bus, we're on a split-site and we have only two full-time PE staff. Miraculously we are still one of the best rugby league schools in the country and an excellent soccer school, with two boys signing professional terms in the past few years. This week a rugby team travelled 100 miles in a borrowed mini-bus to play a cup match. The two teachers are older than me and will probably reach home about nine tonight.

Their reward for this is complaints from other staff about lessons needing to be covered, pupils missing important curriculum areas and threats to cut the budget because hiring the bus is so expensive.

Yet who can blame hard-pressed staff under the tyranny of national curriculum demands, tired from an 88 per cent teaching commitment and exhausted from last week's OFSTED inspection? Or blame a management trying to balance a strict budget?

For me, extra-curricular activities are an extension - but integral part - of teaching and learning. When I refereed a match last year, a parent complained about one of my decisions. I explained that I was not a "ref" but his son's teacher, and that if he complained again I would abandon the match. So I pose the question again: Is school any longer the appropriate place for sport? Or should we, like the French, expect children to attend clubs after school - and, incidentally, bear the cost?

The great pity is that teacher provide such a vast pool of talent. I have taught with enough quality footballers to field a semi-professional team, county badminton and tennis players, a member of the British Olympic judo squad, a Great Britain rugby league team member and an international cyclist. It would be a great shame to waste all the experience and expertise, but wasted it will be if it goes down the drain with teachers' goodwill.

Kevin Fitzsimons is head of English in a Hull comprehensive

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