in these days of global warming, there is a media obsession with watching for signs of shifting seasons. But the best indicator of oncoming winter is the primary playground, which will be filled with crying, red-faced children surrounding a creature in gloves, three scarves and a hat, issuing instructions.
At this time of year, games lessons cease to be a pleasure but because it is a no-planning lesson (though not in the PE co-ordinator's view), teachers plough on. It takes real effort just to get pupils into the playground. Lost kits are an epidemic and the "pants-and-vest" option will likely result in a trial for breach of human rights ("So, Ms Wilson, would you like to explain to the court what exactly is the educational benefit of teaching 20 children in their underwear how to play netball in a blizzard?") Lessons begin with the warm-up run, which helps to stretch muscles and provide vital minutes to send inside for all the gear that the teacher has forgotten yet again. Winners can be sent to the PE shed, and by the time the asthmatics wheeze over the finish line, every cone and coloured sash will be in place.
Games in primary schools are based on known sports but always improved by the addition of hoops, bean-bags and rules that take all the fun out of the game. Most activities have rarely been heard of in the wider world, although the England football team might have better luck if they applied their skills to benchball or bucketball. Surely it would cut down on the parental expenses of replica shirts if all a child had to do to emulate his hero was wear a red bib.
If the head is out on conference and you feel like getting some payback from that truculent Year 6 class, dodgeball can be good therapy for the stressed teacher. Once the games lesson is under way, it is usually only about 30 seconds before the first injury as a child slides across the gritted playground on their knees, past the teacher and head-first into the wall of the mobile classroom.
You have to pity the poor teacher: schools are often blamed for the decline of competitive sport, but it's hard to train the next generation of Beckhams when playgrounds are based on the theme of concrete and puddles.
I usually call a halt to games when presented with a third set of grit-filled, bloody knees. Another cue is when even the "sporty kid" (with separate pairs of trainers for games and the rest of the school day) starts rubbing his hands together tearfully. Then it's back in for a warming break-time coffee and to write the evaluation ("It went well.").
The children get changed, then spend their break standing at the edge of a large puddle until the inevitable happens ("How did you come to be soaking wet, Josh?" "No idea, Sir.") More from Henry in a fortnight