As part of our ‘Big Issues in Sport’ series, former Sport Editor, Jack Pethick, looks at the issues within Sport and Education.
According to research figures carried out by the National Obesity Observatory (NOO), for 2014/15, 19.1% of children in Year 6 (aged 10-11) were obese and a further 14.2% were overweight. Of children in Reception (aged 4-5), 9.1% were obese and another 12.8% were overweight. This means a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds were overweight or obese. These figures were similarly supported by research released in 2015 by both University College London and also King’s College London, which suggested that between 1994 and 2013, the number of 11-15 year-olds in the UK rose by almost 10%.
This research suggests that children are becoming obese at a dangerously young age, right when sport should be at the heart of their lives, especially within education. However, are the statistics really shocking when we consider how little sport is part of the National Curriculum?
According to the Governments National Curriculum:
Physical Education (PE) is a compulsory part of the curriculum for all pupils at every Key Stage, from age 4 to16. It is up to schools to determine how much time is devoted to PE in the curriculum but Departmental guidance recommends that they should provide pupils with a minimum of 2 hours curricular PE per week.
As someone coming from a fairly sporty background, going to a Private School where I had sometimes over 8 hours a week of sport per week, I find this statement on sport teaching requirements in the National Curriculum shocking. Just 2 hours a week for children to exercise is not enough to keep children engaged with sport at such a crucial age, particularly in the increasingly digital age that we now live in. Increasingly, children are taking to video games and watching television rather than playing outside or joining after school sports clubs. I personally believe that sport is and should be a key component of every child’s education, particularly at a young age. Sport plays a vital role in developing social skills that will be used throughout life, increasing a child’s concentration and learning capacity, as well as being probably the best way to make friends. I fully understand and appreciate that core subjects such as Maths and English should take priority for children in their school learning, however, 2 hours a week is simply not enough in my opinion.
However, the biggest problem for me is not the lack of time spent on sport in schools, it is that we do not currently have enough quality sports teachers and coaches in schools, and that furthermore there is a lack of incentive for people to become good sports coaches. We all have that stereotypical view of a P.E. teacher:
Now at some point in your education, you have more than likely had this P.E. teacher: someone who is uninspiring, unengaging and unimaginative with their teaching methods. This is not to say of course that all P.E. teachers are like this, and I do believe that this stereotype is beginning to change. However, the already incredibly limited time that young kids have in sport is being hindered yet further a lot of the time, by a large majority of P.E teachers who lack dynamism and commitment in their teaching. In 2013, a Government report titled ‘Evidence on Physical Education and Sport in Schools’ stated how an Ofsted report had said:
Not all pupils have a good physical education, with some schools not providing enough ‘physical’ aspects in PE, other schools not teaching PE in enough depth, and there is only limited access to a high standard of competitive sport. Further improvement is required in approximately a third of primary and a quarter of secondary schools (Ofsted, 2013).
As a consequence of both this lack of teaching time and lack of quality teaching, a large percentage of young children are becoming disenchanted with sport from a young age, leading to increases in obesity levels and placing further pressures on what is already strained NHS. The British Government desperately needs to find a way to change this as it will only bring exponential benefits: Children will be healthier and more engaged with sport, education levels will increase as a result of the increased learning and concentration capacity, teaching standards will get better and pressure will be reduced on the NHS.
If such an aspiration cannot be achieved by altering the National Curriculum accordingly, then I would personally like to see more investment in grass roots sports clubs and youth organisations such as Ambition by the Government, or indeed a reintroduction of things such as boys clubs which were around in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. For those unfamiliar with these, these were effectively clubs ran by local people, which had facilities for kids to play any sport they liked, whether it was having a kick-about on a football pitch or playing snooker or table tennis, and all done for a minimal fee per week.
Overall, sport definitely needs to be a larger part of children’s education if we are to tackle these shocking child obesity statistics in an increasingly digital age, and one where access to unhealthy foods is becoming easier and easier for young kids. Sport should be an essential part of childhood, not just for the huge health benefits it brings, but because quite frankly it’s fun! The current amount and quality of Physical Education in schools does not allow this, and this needs to change for the benefit of all.