Yesterday morning, I awoke groggily to the news that sports medicine specialists were proposing mandatory tests for P.E. It took me a few minutes to realise I wasn't still trapped inside some kind of dystopian nightmare. British children are among the most tested in the world, and yet, it would seem, not tested enough - performance in physical education too must be transformed into a grade.
There are so many reasons why this is a complicated thing to argue against, and yet it's something I still feel incredibly uneasy about. It's natural that opinions on schools and teaching will be influenced heavily by one's own experience, so I will briefly outline my own. I went from a rural primary school where P.E was taught by the headteacher, wearing a shellsuit a top his own pinstripe two-piece, to a Prep school with a very impressive sports hall and Lacrosse lessons to boot. The changing-room gossip and ever-increasing fear of cross country at a state Grammar school soon followed.
I wasn't bad, I even made it onto a couple of school teams, fleetingly. I was skinny and flatchested and could run, fast. But I would never spend my weeknights competing with other schools and I was never one of the teachers' favourites - something that I've always found prevalent in sports classes. Ultimately, however, I never really found the whole affair hugely physical.
This is the nub. It's also, I suspect, why children are getting fatter and fatter. They're not being taught the importance, nor the joy, of moving around over sitting over a computer. Team sports can be fun, but too often they turn into a very obvious gauge of success or failure: you're good, you get to go on the top field and play a match. You're not? Well then spend half an hour pushing a ball around with a stick. The latter probably burns off less exercise than getting in and out of school uniform in five minutes.
With regards to the point of testing P.E, it seems superfluous because P.E is already such an openly competitive thing. It's a rare school in which the rising star in Physics is the boy every girl dreams of dancing with at the end of term disco. By contrast, training hard and spending your weekends playing sport is synonymous with cool in the teenagers' code.
In an ideal world, therefore, there shouldn't be a problem: teens aspire to be good at the subject which keeps them fit. Except there is a problem, a big fat one, literally. Would introducing grades convince kids to run around faster, apply themselves better, lunge further? No. Because if they wanted to succeed in the most cool subject in school, they would.
Instead, children need educating about why being physically active is good for you and shown how it can be fun - something I only learned through my own accord a year or two ago. Make games classes longer: 50 minutes is about enough time to run around the field once and push some balls around after games kits have been gotten in and out of, introduce something they enjoy doing not just because it's good for them - street dance or aerobics, swimming, gym sessions, bloody Zumba - everyone else is doing it, after all.
Good P.E teachers should engage pupils the same way a good maths teacher does, or a good art teacher - building confidence and creating genuine interest in a subject. It's hard to do that with a bleep test. It's even harder to do that knowing that your bleep test score will be taken down.
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