Sport cuts are an exercise in futility

4th March 2011 at 00:00

When I started my teaching career, all my waking hours were consumed by it. It was more of a passion than a job, and the particular fascination of teaching primary school children was the wide and broad curriculum, plus the opportunity to bring into the classroom many of the things I was interested in outside school.

Forty-five years on and I'm still just as interested, although I think I have achieved a better work-life balance as the years have passed - a sentiment that my wife probably wouldn't agree with.

But I still get excited when the same passion is shown by young teachers today, and I'm fortunate in having a wealth of that kind of enthusiasm on my staff.

We have just finished our Family Fitness Week, an event that we started last year and made even bigger this year. Counteracting obesity and promoting physical fitness in our children has been high on the Government's agenda, and two of my youngest teachers got together to organise a rich programme of activities that would excite the children. It meant a huge amount of organisation outside school hours to ensure everything ran like clockwork, but it was time my two teachers willingly gave.

The activities were varied and there was something for every ability: an early morning run around Camberwell for the mums (I was amazed how many were up for that); a yoga hour; special sports sessions in the playground; a pedometer competition in which children clocked up an astounding number of steps and the winner didn't stand still for the entire week; a healthy food session where children and their parents took over a hall to create simple dishes; and a contest in which children could design a healthy meal that would be cooked for lunch by our kitchen staff.

The climax was a "dance-off" - one for infants and another for juniors. Children were invited to create a syncopated dance and throughout the week groups of them occupied every corner of the school, working on their routines.

To make the week even more successful, my two teachers worked closely with our local School Sport Partnership, whose co-ordinators are trained to work on specialist games and activities with young people. These coaches have come into our school regularly throughout the last two years and have had an immense impact on the children's enthusiasm for keeping fit and healthy. During Family Fitness Week their contribution was especially valuable. This made the news that their service was going to be axed particularly disturbing. Yes, primary teachers can teach games and physical education, but the current concerns about child obesity and lack of exercise make specialist tuition particularly relevant to schools like mine.

We hear ministers saying repeatedly that they want to see more competitive sport in schools and that the country should be gearing up for the Olympics, but then they decide to cut the funding for a project that was helping to do just that.

Local authorities are also always banging on about how children should have healthier lifestyles, but then they claim they haven't got the cash to prop up the services themselves. It will be nauseating if those who like talking about "the healthy future of our children" continue to undermine it.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email:

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