Parkour leaps into sport timetables to curtail copycats
Teachers are including potentially dangerous "free running" in PE lessons to keep pupils safe after communities complained they were being terrorised by untrained children attempting the underground urban sport.
The boom in popularity of parkour has left children desperate to emulate the discipline - but they are putting themselves and buildings at risk by experimenting in public places.
PE staff in both secondary and special schools say they have been left with little option but to include the daredevil sport - which sees participants using buildings, roofs and street furniture as an urban obstacle course - on the curriculum so they can give pupils training.
But they also believe parkour could be a valuable addition to the timetable, particularly for children with social and emotional problems who lack confidence. Increasing numbers of educational programmes are being set up.
Free running has elements of gymnastics and martial arts. Schools are building dedicated parkour areas with soft flooring to make it safer for pupils.
Jean-Paul Jesstiece, who runs educational programmes for Airborn Entertainment, a firm run by urban performers, says schools now realise the huge popularity of the sport.
"The problem we have at the moment is that councils regularly complain to organisations like us that children are causing damage by running over cars and buildings. What they need is a safe haven to train in and that doesn't exist - leisure centres ban children practising unless they are supervised," he said.
"What we teach pupils is that with the great power of learning parkour comes great responsibility. We educate them not to damage buildings."
Mr Jesstiece said the discipline of the sport helps children to learn respect. He is increasingly being asked to teach young offenders and children in detention centres.
Pupils at Grappenhall Hall School in Warrington, a specialist centre for those with emotional and behavioural difficulties, will soon have their own 70sq ft parkour unit, with split levels and cushioned flooring thanks to a grant of pound;14,000 from the local school sports partnership and Awards for All. It is thought to be one of the first units of its kind in the country.
Graham Chatterley, PE teacher, started free running sessions in the school gym, with the help of experts, after reports his pupils were trying out the sport locally.
"They were getting in trouble for climbing on roofs and we thought those skills could be focused. There's lots of similarities with gymnastics, we can teach it without children getting into trouble."
The school's foray into free running has made Mr Chatterley interested in providing other urban sports for pupils. The parkour unit will have skateboarding ramps and a football cage. The pupils go climbing every week and Olympic boxing champion Courtney Fry is a school mentor, working with boys in danger of antisocial behaviour.
"Mainstream PE lessons often start with theory, but in special schools we just get pupils started and keep them active," Mr Chatterley said. "It's much better to teach them how to do this sport safely."
Children at London pupil referral units were given parkour lessons in the summer.
- The aim of parkour is to go from A to B using only the human body to overcome obstacles. Those who practise the sport are called a traceur (male) or traceuse (female).
- To move around the urban architecture free runners need strength, speed and balance. Fans say it helps them to develop mental clarity, confidence and self-discipline.
- Free running can be seen at the beginning of the James Bond film Casino Royale.
- Senior physical instructors from the Royal Marines have been using elements of parkour to train new cadets.