Monday, 21 November 2011

The humiliation of the school PE lesson

There's an interesting article on the BBC website today by Dr Andrew Franklin-Miller about the 'Missed Olympic opportunity' to get children exercising.

Dr Franklin-Miller, an expert in sport and exercise medicine says: "Teachers and parents need support with training and a curriculum that builds on the lessons learnt in athlete development, and sport talent identification, not to build potential superstars but to change a lifestyle."

Children are fat and don't exercise enough, we are constantly told, and the finger of blame is variously pointed at parents, schools, junk food manufacturers, the government and computer games.

I'm not sure who is to blame (probably all of the above and more) but I agree with Dr Franklin-Miller that PE is not properly taught at schools. The focus seems to be on achievement of certain skills, not how to be fit. Where are the lessons, at the beginning of term, that suss out who is fit enough to run a cross country race and who needs a bit of training first? Just telling a class of kids to run a mile long cross country course serves only to establish who is already fit and put right off those who are not. Everyone is different - some can sprint, others better at endurance. (Just because a girl is tall doesn't mean she can throw a shot putt or discus Mrs Richards, she might prefer - and be better at - running.)

I would hope PE has changed since I was at school. I remember being terrified of my first cross country run. There had been talk about people fainting and coughing up blood (you know how dramatic kids can be!) There was no training in how to do it nor any preparation like running shorter bits first. There seemed to be the basic assumption that children were fit and able to do it and had been born with the knowledge of how to do it. No wonder so many people grow up hating running, particularly of the cross country variety. (Although I loved cross country running there was no way I would have admitted it at school. I wasn't considered a 'runner' then and I wouldn't have put myself forward for the school team. I just have the satisfaction of knowing that the last time I ran cross country at school I came back first.)

Perhaps schools should take a look at the resurgence of running among women in their 40s and older. This has been encouraged by the Race for Life series, non-competitive 5k runs raising money for Cancer Research. I and so many other women like me started off that way. We read Running made easy by Susie Whalley and Lisa Jackson and followed their six week plan to go from walking to running for 20 minutes. (This is probably the most inspirational book I had read - the fact I have now run three half marathons is testament to its efficacy!) It breaks training down into achievable bite-sized chunks, makes it fun and tops it with a liberal sprinkling of motivation and inspiration. At the end (presuming you do the 5k Race for Life) you get a goodie bag and a medal. It's fun, it's addictive and its contagious.

Back to school days though and the weekly popularity contest of netball or hockey team selection (chosen in order from prettiest to fattest and lamest) and the humiliation of the changing rooms and showers. Why was it vital for a fully clothed female teacher to stand in front of the showers and take a register of who was showering and who was not? If you couldn't shower you had to shout across the changing rooms that you had your period. That was in addition to the naked scrutiny of your peers. Who wants to be unclothed in front of bitches and bullies? You had to have a thick skin and a lot of body confidence to survive that unscathed.

I look at my own children and wonder if they are to be put off sport at school as I was. Not yet, but then they are at primary school in Wales where sport is the second religion. I suspect the rot might set in at of secondary school so I plan to teach them what I have learned about being fit first. They are both rather envious of my running medals and have ambitions to get their own. That, funnily enough, has been the plan all along.


  1. I love sports, both watching and participating, but I hated school PE, not because I wasn't any good, just the whole attitude of it.

  2. I quite enjoyed school sports, but then I didn't struggle with them. I think the thought of being tested would have really put me off though. Well done for being such a shining example to your girls.
    (Ooh, the word verification is 'farke' which is a bit like what I do at the end of a long run if my diet isn't right ... better not tell the girls that though, it might put them off again!)

  3. I liked PE at School and when my academic time table during O levels didn't fit in with the PE/games schedule I got to do a subjected called Games theory, which saw me working alongside the teaching staff learning to become an umpire/referee in the various sports taught.

    As for the shower debate - I found having a verruca was a good excuse too and lasted for weeks, thus excusing me that humiliation!

  4. I hated school sport because I have zero balls skills and everything seemed to be to do with balls. I developed very high level skiving skills which stood me in good stead in later life though. I was well into my thirties before I discovered that I was good at and loved walking and the gym. Seems to need to be solitary and non competitive and then its great!


I am sorry to have to add word verification thing again but I keep getting spammed.