Schools can use the 2012 Olympics to promote sport, tackling PE participation problems. Primary headteacher Angela Youngman looks at how

September saw the final handover of the Olympic Games to Britain. On 17 September the Paralympics flag was handed to the mayor of London. Overall, the Olympics have been a success story for Britain, with athletes gaining 47 medals (19 of them gold) in the summer games, and even greater success in September’s Paralympics with 102 medals (42 of them gold). With the handover complete, it is already being asked how Britain can consolidate and maintain this standard.

Bringing the Olympics home
The consensus is that children need to be encouraged to undertake more sports and physical activity. The prime minister, Gordon Brown, has demanded that more attention should be paid to sports in schools, particularly competitive sports. He states, ‘We want to encourage competitive sports in schools, not the “medals for all” culture we have seen in previous years. In sport you get better by challenging yourself against other people. A lot of sports are team games where people have to work together but they play against other teams.’

At the end of the Olympics, Brown set out proposals for extending school involvement in sports amounting five hours a week for sports and PE – compared to the current two hours. A taskforce headed by runners Dame Kelly Holmes and Christine Ohurugu, swimmer Rebecca Adlington, cyclist Victoria Pendleton and gymnast Beth Tweddle will aim to promote sports to girls. In addition, there are plans to train thousands more sports teachers in the wake of the success at the Beijing Olympics. The culture secretary, Andy Burnham, is said to be preparing to announce an increase in funding for school sports. According to Gordon Brown, ‘The Olympics can inspire people. More people will give up smoking, less people will become obese.’

Preparation in schools
Schools are seen as being at the forefront of preparations for London 2012. They are encouraged to participate in all aspects of the preparations. The stress on sport comes at a time when schools are encouraged to pay ever greater attention to all aspects of diet, nutrition and exercise. The number of obese children is increasing and fewer children are engaging with sports on a long-term basis.
For schools, the question is how they can take advantage of the different opportunities being presented to them. Cash will probably have to be sought for specific projects. Headteachers will need to consider potential requirements in their schools and be prepared to act quickly once an announcement of any new programmes is made. Linking with the new education programme being put forward by London 2012 will help. For the past year the London 2012 Committee has been working with schools to create a programme which meets all their needs, thereby linking the Olympics in all areas of the curriculum, not just sport.

Sebastian Coe, chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Locog), comments, ‘Our vision is to inspire and change the lives of children through the London 2012 Games, and our education programme is an integral part of our work to achieve this. By motivating young people in formal and non-formal education and capturing their imagination, we can help them fulfill their potential, and we can create a legacy that will continue long after the London 2012 Games have ended.’

The London 2012 Education Programme was launched to create a network of schools, colleges and other UK educational institutions in which young people are encouraged to demonstrate their commitment to the Olympian and Paralympic values. The interactive London 2012 website will support children in committing to the key values of respect, excellence, friendship, inspiration, determination, courage and equality. Resources, films and updated news support and shape children’s projects. The aim is to encourage children to develop goals and targets that are relevant to their school while building on existing national and local objectives. The website also includes resources about Olympians and Paralympians, giving an insight into their lives and interpretation of the values.

An accreditation programme is being designed to reward those who get involved with a range of opportunities, including the use of a special London 2012 education branding. Schools will need to demonstrate a commitment to the Olympic and Paralympic values in some way. Sport is encouraged, but is not compulsory. Schools are being encouraged to put their activities on the website, thus sharing best practices with other schools. Applications can be made from the summer of 2009 onwards.

Community involvement
Resources are being developed to complement the core programme. Over the next four years, eight key themes will be developed: internationalism; citizenship; practical learning; sport and PE; enterprise; sustainability and regeneration; culture and creativity; and healthy, active lifestyles. Typical of this is a website called The Pod for Greener Schools, which will explore climate change, energy and sustainability and how children and young people can make a difference in school, home and their communities.

For the Sports and PE strand, Locog is working closely with the DCSF and Youth Sport Trust (and equivalent bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) to ensure that any projects launched through this strand add value to the PE and Sport Strategy for Young People. Locog is keen to ensure that the London 2012 Games inspire children to fulfill their potential, whether it be through competitive sport, sports volunteering, and sport officiating or something else entirely.

Brenda Bigland, headteacher of Lent Rise Primary School, Buckinghamshire, is a contributor to the London 2012 education programme. She says, ‘Locog has worked hard to ensure the structure and content of their education programme has been informed by the view of children and young people, practitioners and education leaders from around the UK. The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games are a learning opportunity that should be seized by all.’

Tackling participation obstacles
One of the problems facing schools is how to encourage all children to take part in sport activities. Not everyone is interested in rounders, netball, football and rugby – especially older KS2 girls. Traditional team games may have little appeal, and as girls become more conscious of their maturing bodies, they may be reluctant to use communal changing and shower facilties. How can these children be enthused? The answer is to offer a wider range of sporting activities. Look at the Olympics: swimming is not just about speed; it is also about diving and synchronisation. Other alternatives include archery, cycling and dance, which also has widespread appeal to girls.

The Golf Foundation is working with schools to encourage children to take their sport. It has Tri-Golf, ideal for use in primary schools as it involves plastic clubs and soft balls with fun team games and activities. Children learn golf skills and skills for life: honesty, respect, cooperation, perseverance, concentration and self-motivation, thus linking into citizenship programmes and Every Child Matters. According to Ben Evans from the Golf Foundation, in some primary schools children now book slots during lunchtimes to play a game of golf. Teachers are trained by a golf professional from a local club who goes into the schools to teach Tri-Golf. At St Helens in Lancashire, a club professional delivered golf sessions to 12 primary schools and promoted a special Tri-Golf festival. The local golf club then closed two holes for a family fun day, and a piece of land has been earmarked for a junior-only practice area. Three new driving bays have been introduced specifically for visits from school groups.

One of the newest activities to be made available to schools is Lasertag, which is proving to be extremely popular. It can be played on specially designed forest sites owned by the firm Skirmish, on school playing fields or even in the school hall. Played by children aged eight years upwards, it resembles paintballing without the risk, as the participants are tagged using special lasers. Divided into teams, participants are set scenarios such as trying to capture another team’s flag or a fort. It is popular with both boys and girls. All enjoy dressing up in camouflage outfits, running around and trying not to get tagged. It is extremely active and encourages children to work in teams, liaising and communicating with each other.

Making room for sport
By far the biggest headache for headteachers is how to accommodate the three extra hours of sport demanded by the government. With timetables already over-stretched, something will have to give. Almost inevitably, some attention will be focused on out-of-school hour activities, such as after-school clubs and at lunchtimes. The Youth Sports Trust, supported by Sainsbury’s, has developed TOP Activity for seven to 11 year olds. It offers out-of-school activities aimed at those who may normally not be accessing physical activity through traditional routes. Schools participating in TOP Activity receive various resources such as activity cards, DVDs, music CDs and equipment bags to help deliver the programme. The activities on offer are grouped under four themes: Xpress yourself (salsa and cheerleading); Xercise highs (skipping and hula hoops) Xtra time (parachute games and Frisbee) and Xtreme Challenges such as limbo and seated volleyball.