We should keep the focus on sport, not just future Olympians
The opening ceremony marked the start of a two-week period in which everything good has inevitably resulted from the Olympics and anything bad has been the fault of the Coalition. In spite of the fact that he’s tried, in a ludicrously conspicuous fashion, to make himself the face of the games, I’m actually slightly sympathetic towards David Cameron’s plight.
Over the last few days, Gove has been shot-down for selling off state school playing fields and, after Lord Moynihan commented that 50% of Gold medal winners at Beijing were privately educated, Cameron has not endeared himself to the public sector by stating the following:
“The problem has been too many schools not wanting to have competitive sport, some teachers not wanting to join in and play their part.”
This has been met with widespread consternation from teachers who already perceive the Coalition’s recent reforms, which encourage unqualified “experts” into the classroom, as an attack on their profession.
Granted, Cameron is hardly a man of the public, but he’s right not to adopt a reactionary stance to Moynihan’s assertions. Olympic sports bear absolutely no resemblance to sports that are accessible to the average Joe on the street. Do you really think that if every kid from Tower Hamlets decided that they wanted to compete in the keirin in 2020, there could ever be a situation where they’d all be able to pop over to the local velodrome and be greeted by hundreds of cheery volunteers on those funny little pace bikes?
The Olympic legacy should not be about “inspiring the next generation of elite performers” but establishing systemic change to increase wholesale participation in sports. In turn, this would raise the level of sporting achievement in the country as a whole. All this talk of increasing the number of state educated medal winners is just nonsense. If the next World cup were to be held in the UK, would we look at the England squad and laud state schools for producing so many professional footballers? The answer is no. Elite athletes represent such a small fraction of the total population that it’s a moot point, World Cup (or London 2012) notwithstanding.
In saying this, there’s a reason that football is accessible to the working classes. Sports such as tennis and rowing require a lot of expensive specialist coaching even at grassroots level. Whilst it’s not fair that those from a privileged background are given the opportunity to try out a wider range of sports, it’s also unrealistic to introduce rowing and other Olympic sports into the state school consciousness.
That’s not to say that sports provisions are adequate in the public sector. Although facilities at your local comp can’t match up to those of a private school, the lack of specialist coaches is the main problem. In his mutterings about teachers not playing their part, what Cameron failed to articulate is that state schools are not structured in a manner that enables high quality sports instruction. Given resources and time-tabling are already stretched, if a school was landed with a magic pot of cash, it is not in the best interests of the head to provide specialist sports classes to mixed gender PE classes of 25 students. Firstly, the problem needs to be put in perspective, yet it is this exceptional level of instruction that is required for children to aspire to make sports a meaningful part of their lives.
Without specialist coaches, it is unfeasible to give PE teachers the responsibility of delivering expert sports instruction. Whereas many PE teachers may have competed at a high level in particular sports, this doesn’t automatically mean they are capable of coaching at a high level. This is why the majority of dedicated sports coaching received by state educated students occurs outside of school.
PE is divisive and, like Maths, can invoke a sense of stinging inadequacy amongst insecure teenagers. Should those who don’t want to do it be forced to do so? Exercise is essential for health, but over-emphasis on one-size-fits all PE classes will have negative consequences for both the athletic and the non-athletic. The critics of private schooling state that the foundations for education are provided at home. Shouldn’t this be the case with sports? Whereas education is a right, specialist sports tuition is not and this should not be the mandate of a school.
If Cameron and Coe are aiming for a realistic Olympic legacy, the government should look to make high-level sports coaching more accessible outside of school. Whilst this may involve greater collaboration between school and sports clubs for logistic purposes, this means de-prioritizing compulsory “PE”. With provision widened to local areas and not restricted to just individual schools, this will make coaching more cost-effective. It will also result in the “competition” that the PM speaks so highly of.
I’m glad that the “Olympics” has brought “sport” to the forefront of the public attention, but it’s the former and not the latter that has caught our imagination. Hopefully, the general public won’t forget about sports as quickly as they forgot about the societal problems that lead to the riots this time last year. If nothing else, I’m hoping that Ennis and co. will replace the vacuous celebrities that have acted as role models and glamorized a “something for nothing” culture amongst our country’s youth.
DC has set himself up for a fall with talk of this elusive “Olympic legacy”. Research has shown the economic impact of the Olympics to be mixed with cities rarely benefiting outside of exceptional circumstances. In May, rating’s agency Moody’s stated that the “infrastructural benefits” of London 2012 have already been realized and businesses will only receive short-term boosts to performance. The nation’s current buoyant mood will mean that politicians will face inevitable fallout when the bunting has been put back under the stairs and the public begins to ask: “so what now?” Whilst Cameron may wish to rephrase his comments, he is right (no pun intended) in downplaying the meaningless private-school/gold-medal link. If our Olympic legacy is going to have any meaning whatsoever, what we must aspire towards is systemic change, both in sport and in education.Tagged in: david cameron, Inspire a generation, London 2012, olympics, private education, Sport, state school
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