***In the latest in the WikiLeaks saga, it appears our drafted blog post discussing Michael Gove’s School Sports Funding Policy must have been…maybe…possibly…perhaps not…leaked to Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport as it appears the Tories are already considering a U-Turn on the issue*** http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/9247522.stm
Should kids do Latin or Sport in School?
It would be safe to say that many of us working in the fitness industry have our roots in sports from as far back as our school days (and for some that is further than for others). This is particularly true at The Foundry, Personal Training London, where just about all our trainers and therapists played competitive sport, including rugby, skiing, football and Commonwealth Gymnastics. Whether injury, poor fortune, or just pure lack of ability stood between us and superstar status remains a hot topic of debate. However, the one thing we do all agree on is the importance of sports in schools and the effect it can have on developing an active lifestyle in our ever-expanded younger population.
You will understand then our disappointment when recently the Schools Secretary Michael Gove announced the withdrawing of a previously ring-fenced government budget for School Sports Partnerships, an initiative started to give kids access to sport in schools without trained staff to deliver it.
It seems time and time again these government plans over the decades seem to fizzle out without making any real impact. Instead the government plans to replace SSP’s with a national ‘olympics’ in schools – a return to the sports days of old perhaps? Egg and spoon anyone? This competition will in theory see the best kids from each school progressing to a national level by competing in leagues against local schools. It has been allocated a paltry £10m of Lottery money to fund it, which is meagre compensation for the £162m that is being taken from the budget of SSP’s that gives kids the opportunity to join in sports consistently, irrespective of ability.
No mention at first, but was it already on the cards?
Interestingly this decision seems to have been on the cards back when they announced the national competition in June. Jeremy Hunt’s speech on the initiative makes no mention of SSP’s at all, even though Denise Lewis said “This is a fantastic opportunity to build on the excellent work that is being driven by School Sport Partnerships across the country to develop and encourage competitive sporting opportunities for young people. Competitive sport, when delivered well, can benefit young people in so many ways – from developing social skills and breaking down cultural barriers to providing a platform for self-expression and a sense of achievement. As a naturally competitive person, I’m delighted that more opportunities are being created for young people to compete in sport at school.”
Gove assures us that this decision replaces an ineffective scheme that hasn’t been able to increase the amount of kids taking part in competitive sport. He also suggests that it might stimulate a revival in some team sports. Unsurprisingly his comments have seen stern and vitriolic rebuttal from advocates of the scheme who credit it with making significant improvements in getting more kids into sport at school over recent years. The ramifications is that school spending on sports will now be determined by headteachers and that they will now have to balance the books while still providing opportunities for kids to get into sport at school. While this will possibly create some opportunity in the private sector for firms to compete on the provision of sports coaching, it is going to put a real squeeze on those schools already struggling to make their budgets stretch and it is hard to see how this is going to help get our kids more active.
Sport or Health first?
Aside from the sporting implications, there is an even more worrying threat to our children’s health. We are a nation second only to the USA in our consumption of breakfast cereals, obesity is spiraling, and the prevalence of diabetes is expected to double with the next generation. If we don’t start getting to grips with this at grass roots level then it is only going to get worse. For many kids, whose lives out of school exist of computer gaming, facebook, and other sedentary activities, school provides the ideal opportunity to help them discover exercise and enjoyment through sport and we believe that the government should be doing far more to encourage this.
Instead though, Bonkers Boris Johnson and a host of other luminaries such as Ian Hislop and Joanna Lumley are pushing to see Latin worked back into the schools curriculum. This seems ad absurdum to me. Latin is a dated language with little practical application and grammatical concepts that are only used now by the most pedantic of grammarians. I can hear the teacher now ”Quentin, split infinitives are not allowed. To go quickly see the headmaster you must!”. An Oxford think tank also recently lent their weight to this suggesting learning latin is practically essential for the fabric of our very society. Boris goes even further citing the kind of examples only he could create for its use in the Telegraph (such as being held on a remote island by a group of latin speaking cannibals and having to convince them you are a deity in order to survive).
Which would you rather your kids did? Played sport or learnt Latin?
All this may well be true, although as far as I can tell the only real practical application children have for latin is to decipher Harry Potter chants. I agree with the esteemed Professors that the history of Britain is important and should be taught more in schools, and latin could well form part of that. However, to try and crowbar that into the curriculum at the same time as we see sports and exercise in danger of disappearing completely would be laughable were it not so tragic. Sport teaches concepts that an old language still can’t. It builds confidence and self-esteem, it improves health, teaches values of teamwork, practice, and achievement, and offers the less academically gifted the chance to experience success in an environment where they may sometimes struggle.
Olympic Legacy, or future health of the nation, in jeopardy.
Personally speaking, I am less concerned about olympic legacies or future sporting successes. This seems more like the national ego worrying that we may see our sporting power go the same way as our political power on the global stage than a real concern for the health of the nation. So few kids achieve the kind of success in sport that will allow them to make it a profession, and while that ambition should not be discouraged, our real concern is on the millions of kids now obese, inactive, addicted to sugar and junk food, and getting ill. This is the more sinister issue that is in danger of being missed and I find it disturbing that while our health secretary finds it necessary to consult with the likes of Macdonalds and Pepsico on ‘food responsibility’ we are continuing to reduce the ability for kids to discover the fun and rewards of sport for themselves.
As George Benson sang “I believe the children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way”. Let’s hope that common sense wins out here and that we see SSP’s preserved.
Latin think tank http://politeia.co.uk/sites/default/files/files/Latin%20for%20Language%20Learners(1).pdf
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