Running, chasing, dodging, avoiding

23rd June 1995 at 01:00
You cannot keep sport and physical education out of the news about schools nowadays. It is not just league tables and other sporting analogies. John Major, no less, said a couple of weeks ago, "Sport is fun ... fun, fun, fun."

But then, it was the same "fun, fun, fun" Major who announced his educational blueprint for the 21st century: "I want children to learn to read, write and add up." That was the entire vision. Blink and you missed it. He certainly has a way with English, when in full flow. The language that begat Shakespeare also begat Mr Monosyllable.

As a sports nut myself I am delighted to see sport and PE at the centre of the curriculum. British teachers are now Olympic gold medallists at some events - throwing the box file, putting the SAT, tossing the national curriculum folder. There was nothing special about Rob Andrew's 40-yard drop kick that beat Australia in the rugby World Cup. We have teachers who can kick an out-of-date national curriculum folder into a wastepaper basket from 50 yards, and with their back to it.

If Linford Christie packs up international sprinting, there is absolutely no problem. Just paint the running track to look like a school drive. Then shout in a loud voice "Mrs Hardcastle has phoned in sick, is anybody free after assembly?" and 20 teachers will break seven seconds for the 100 metres.

The sport-and-education metaphor came up again with the sad news of a dramatic rise in the number of headteachers suspended by their governors. The National Association of Head Teachers complained that heads were treated like football managers. Slip down the league table and the head is fired.

How long before heads are interviewed in television sports programmes? "I was gutted, Brian. We've been taking each OFSTED as it comes, but it's hard to score against packed defences. The chairman assured me only last week that my job was safe, but then I read in the papers that he wants Ron Atkinson. "

If you look carefully at the PE national curriculum document, you can see the Government's master plan. Education is actually one big PE course. Take key stage 1, for example. The PE document states that pupils should be taught "running, chasing, dodging, avoiding". That sums up the behaviour of ministers in a nutshell.

Then there is key stage 2 with its "challenges of a physical and problem- solving nature, eg negotiating obstacle courses". This is obviously a reference to being a teacher. In the "swimming" section, there is a coded government tip for teachers on how to get to the front of the queue for a performance-related pay award. Just demonstrate "a variety of means of propulsion using either arms or legs or both".

It is in key stages 3 and 4 that the crucial government advice for teachers is to be found. Right at the top of the PE programme it says "How to prepare for particular activities and recover afterwards", which one half expects to recommend stiff vodkas before and after inspections and national tests.

The best hints for headteachers are also to be found in the "swimming" section. Dealing with disgruntled teachers is covered by the requirement for "two recognised strokes, one on the front and on the back", while the sections on "personal survival" and "rescue and resuscitation" duly recognise the strains of headship. "Synchronised swimming" is clearly for crawlers who always pretend they are of one mind with their chairman of governors.

There are even more opportunities for sport to inform and influence the world of teaching and learning. Some schools already have a football "yellow card" system for pupil discipline. Misbehave after a warning and you get a yellow card. Two yellow cards and your parents are brought in.

Inspectors could also use the cards held up by ice-skating judges. At the end of a lesson, up leaps the Russian judge (the registered inspector) with "5.1 for technical merit and 4.9 for artistic impression". Boos and hisses from the class for the inspector. Large bunches of flowers thrown on to the floor for the teacher, who weeps and is consoled by his coach (the school secretary).

Cricket might have a role to play here as well. Two OFSTED inspectors could sit in school assembly at each end of the hall. When assembly is finished, one inspector leaps up and shouts "owzthat!" in a loud voice.

If the assembly is illegal, and it usually is, then the other inspector stands up and solemnly raises a finger to signal that the deputy head is "out", his cracked solo rendition of the Beatles song "Strawberry Fields For Ever" not being deemed to be a fair substitute for "Onward Christian Soldiers".

My favourite physical education story at the moment is about the PE teacher who locked two inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education in the changing room. She was concerned that OFSTED inspectors were snooping around unannounced all over the place, so she decided to lock up the changing room so they couldn't get into it. Unbeknown to her they were already inside, so she unwittingly locked them in. The pupils in the school had been told to be really friendly to the inspectors, so when they saw these two reluctant prisoners at the window, frantically waving to be let out, they cheerfully waved back.

Schools have developed many different tactics for coping with inspectors, but locking them away is a brilliant new strategy. It was the most hilarious response to school inspection since the teacher who took a photograph of an OFSTED inspector fast asleep in his lesson. As a way of funding sporting activities, schools could run a "lock up OFSTED week" to raise cash (pay a tenner into school funds, or we won't let you out).

"Fun, fun, fun", as our Prime Minister so eloquently put it.

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