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Andy Reed

There needs to be cross-party consensus about what we want to achieve with physical education in schools, says Andy Reed

Andy Reed
The number of young people taking part in school sport competitions is declining shutterstock

The release of the DCMS Taking Part 2016/17 quarter 4 survey caused almost no news or reaction. Yet the survey showed that the numbers of pupils taking part in sporting competitions against other schools dropped from 31 per cent to 25 per cent. Other indicators showed declines in National School Sport Week, pupils playing in teams and being members of sports clubs. In the past we would likely have seen an outcry in the Daily Telegraph, but now nothing.

Have we stopped caring or is everyone simply confused? The more I look at school sport policy the less I understand about what we’re trying to achieve for children.

As adult participation policy has moved away from a focus on sport to one on physical activity, we’ve seen the same happening in school policy. This shift, however, has happened without being part of a wider plan for what we want children to have achieved by the time they leave school, thus making things muddled.

In search of a solution
After years of just defining the problem, we need a clear solution. We must look at what we want to achieve and then work backwards to how it can be done. The Department for Education (DFE) states that by years 11 and 12 students should have “the opportunity to plan and participate in a regular, frequent and balanced programme of physical education that, among other things, contributes to, and helps to sustain, a healthy and active lifestyle”.

How do we achieve this?
I would love to see the DFE Education Select Committee Report: School sport following London 2012: No More Political Football become a reality. We need a cross-party consensus both inside and outside parliament about the purpose and objectives for school sport.

Perhaps a great first start would be to define what school sport is. Is it competitive sport, physical activity or physical literacy? They are all different enough to require different inputs and lead to different outcomes.

A collaborative approach
A consensus should include advice from a variety of professionals about what the end goal looks like for a 16- to 18-year-old leaving school. While the emphasis is likely to be on physical activity rather than sport, I don’t believe it needs to be one or the other. We can create a mix that gives young people the base they need to be active in whatever way they choose.

If we can collaborate on this clear approach we can stop school PE and sport being kicked around at the whim of each new administration inside DFE and create a generation of young people who are well equipped to lead healthy lifestyles in the future.

Andy Reed is the founder of Sports Think Tank, former MP for Loughborough, and chair of SAPCA sportsthinktank.com

Originally published in Sports Management 2018 issue 1
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