Play up, primaries. Or not

30th November 2012 at 00:00

You hear a lot about school playing fields at the moment. If politicians aren't trying to level them they're quietly selling them off. But with all the talk of sporting spaces there has been little mention of those who teach sport.

They say that sporting champions are made before the age of 10, so it is of some importance that children receive proper coaching early. However, the quality of PE teaching for many primary school children is a lottery at best.

If you work for one of those competitive, outdoorsy heads who spend their weekends rock climbing, chances are you're going to teach PE several times a week and spend your after-school hours shivering on muddy sidelines. Then again, you may have a head who never shows much interest in a subject that doesn't come with its own Sats, so happily directs staff to use their PE slot to rehearse the school play.

A teacher's own experience of school sport can also affect how they teach. My sporting education ended abruptly at 14 when we were given the option of swapping double games for touch-typing classes at the local college.

Mr Brighouse, on the other hand, was educated in a venerable institution where to play up and play the game was a daily ritual, and he still waxes lyrical about all the "great sporting opportunities" that were afforded him. Exactly where these opportunities have led him is still unclear, as his current sporting prowess consists of sitting through an entire test match without signs of movement. But it's no wonder that independent schools have such high standards of sport if children are taught PE from the start by specialised teachers, instead of being forced round the football pitch by someone whose last sporting activity was in 1975.

The PE training in my PGCE amounted to a few hours in a gym, where we were shown three ways to teach a handstand, and a playground session where we were left to invent our own team games (rather predictably, we used the time to come up with drinking games).

While I like teaching PE, I'm pretty bad at it. But on the back of the Olympics, determined not to let any budding Mo Farahs slip through my fingers, I was adamant that things would be different this term.

The first lesson took place on a field with grass so long that smaller children disappeared from sight as soon as the game started, and the ball refused to travel more than 10cm. In later sessions, we dealt with rain, lost inhalers and someone's thoughtful storage of furniture in front of the equipment, which left me wondering what skills I could impart using one flat basketball and three beanbags.

It was a huge relief when an outside provider was brought in. You get a bloke in a tracksuit with his own fully functioning sports equipment and detailed plans of activities to inspire, stretch and test. Overjoyed to be in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing, the kids will work their socks off.

If the government really cares about improving sport for younger children, it has to invest in sports teachers, because expecting your average primary teacher to excel in teaching subjects like PE and music is a bit like expecting a McDonald's chef to work shifts at the Ivy.

Until then I'm going to do what I always do when I spot emerging sporting talent: find the phone number of the nearest club and give it to the parents.

Jo Brighouse teaches at a primary school and writes under a pseudonym. Ms Anne Thrope is taking a short break. She will return at the start of next term.

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