Neil Short reports on the result of a small survey into sports provision in schools.

I have been looking at how schools are facing the sporting challenges posed by the 2012 Olympics. How are the talents of today’s primary pupils, some who potentially could take part, being recognised and nurtured?

In order to review the provision ‘on the ground’, I undertook two small-scale surveys. The first survey was directed at 20 primary/junior schools from eight different LEAs, over 50% of which responded (seven primary and four junior schools ranging in size from 143 to 517 pupils). The questions and the responses they elicited follow:

What facilities/provision do you have for sport and games in your school? If not how do you provide sporting opportunities for pupils?
All schools had at least one hall which was used for PE; playgrounds  of various sizes, some with markings for netball and/or basketball; a wide range of equipment both fixed and mobile; and in one case, a swimming pool on the school site.

Do you have a school field? If not are there facilities which you share with other groups? Does this create particular problems and how are these overcome?
All but one of the schools had a field. Again these varied in size from those which supported at least two football pitches and athletics tracks to smaller facilities which had to be augmented through the use of community areas. One school shared their field with the local football club. The one school without their own field were able to use facilities at the local high school.

Do you have to travel to make use of any facilities? If so how are transport costs met? Do you use parent volunteers to help the school provide these sporting opportunities for pupils?
In their responses to this question all schools indicated that they had to travel to access extra sporting facilities to extend the opportunities available to them. Access to a swimming pool was the main reason for any journeys made from the school with parents supporting financially, as observers or both. Some schools also used parents to assist with transportation to competitions, although for others this was not possible.

What are the main obstacles to the development of sport and games at your school? Does the staffing structure create a problem?
Here the picture was more varied and depended upon the circumstances of the individual school. The lack of a field or cramped facilities for PE was a concern for two schools. Lack of the appropriate skills and/or confidence to teach the subject was also mentioned by others, although most of the schools indicated that there was no shortage of enthusiasm on the part of the staff.  This was seen in the number of after school clubs which were offered. Three responses noted the difficulty in trying to ensure that physical activities were included into a ‘cramped timetable’.

What opportunities do you provide to enable pupils to compete in team games?
All schools indicated that there were opportunities for pupils to participate in team games. A wide range of inter-school competitions, festivals, leagues and tournaments were mentioned at local, district or national level in a large number of sports. Competition was also seen within lessons, clubs and within the house system in one school. In only one instance was there a difficulty noted in finding opportunities to compete against other schools.

Do you use any external agencies for coaching purposes?
All but one of the schools had utilised the expertise of a coach to assist with the development of sporting provision for their pupils. For five of the schools, the local football and/or rugby league teams or county cricket club through their involvement in community programmes had provided this service.  Coaches for other sports – karate, tennis, volleyball and canoeing were also utilised. This external provision had also enabled the skills of the teaching staff to be developed to the extent to which they felt more confident to deliver many areas of the sporting curriculum.

Have you been involved in any local/national initiatives to extend/develop sport in your school?
Besides the links with the local teams, eight of the schools indicated an involvement in the School Sport Initiative. This utilised links with the local high school and included the provision of facilities and expertise.  One of the responses indicated using the promotion of sport within their extended school provision.

Are there any health and safety issues which prevent you developing sport and games in your school?
Aside from an issue with a small hall and the use of cars for transportation purposes, none of the schools saw health and safety issues as a barrier towards the development of sport and games.

Is any provision made for those who show a gift/aptitude towards a particular sport?
The provision for children with a specific gift/aptitude was varied. Many of the schools directed them towards local teams or clubs depending on the sport and participation in coaching sessions was encouraged. Two schools included these activities on their gifted and talented register whilst acknowledging that more could and should be done. Individual achievement was recognised and celebrated in all but two of the schools.

What importance do you place on sport and games within the curriculum?
All schools placed a high value on the importance of participation in sport and games. It was seen as ‘an integral part of the education/wellbeing of the child’, an attitude shared by many schools. All attempted to provide at least two sessions per week despite pressure from other areas of the curriculum. One of the schools had achieved the Sportsmark Gold Award on two occasions and this enabled them to play an active role in the local area.

Five of the schools made additional comments. One repeated the importance of the academic/social/ emotional development of the child and also included a plea for ideas on additional funding. Following this theme, a second school indicated that equipment provided by Sainsbury’s had enabled them to build up resources.

Another school spoke of how lunchtimes and playtimes now included optional games activities which gave the children an opportunity to develop new skills. The appointment of a healthy schools manager had given a boost to the promotion of sport and games to both pupils and their families in a fourth school. The fifth school had plans to begin an assessment system which would enable Year 6 pupils to take their sporting record to the high school.

Reasons for optimism?

Whilst it would be unrealistic to take too much encouragement from the results of a small-scale survey, there are nevertheless some interesting features. The enthusiasm shown by all the schools for the development of sport and games was the most positive feature to emerge. All recognised the benefits to health and fitness and also how self-esteem could be raised through a programme of sporting activity. The desire to include two sessions per week was also an encouraging feature with some schools exceeding this already. The school which was fortunate in having a swimming pool on site, found it easier to meet the requirements of this programme.

In most cases these activities had been enhanced through external links. The use of local teams and clubs for coaching purposes had proved very beneficial in a wide range of sports. Teaching staff had also benefited through increased confidence levels. The School Sport Initiative had given a great boost to many schools through the expertise of high school PE staff and/or the use of facilities.

All of the schools had provision for PE/games with only one having to travel to use a sports field. Bearing in mind the high level of sales of playing fields seen in the 1990s and noted in the previous article, this is an encouraging feature. Facilities within schools were also seen as good. Although only one school within this survey noted the use of sports equipment provided through Sainbury’s, there will be many others who use vouchers from supermarkets, soap and confectionery companies for this purpose.

Apart from in one response, there were no real health and safety issues. However, those schools reliant on parental support for assistance with transport may find the recent legislation relating to booster seats will create problems in the future. It could result in fewer offers of assistance and therefore fewer opportunities for participation in a wide range of sporting activities.

There was a pleasing response to the questions relating to team games with most schools participating in competition across a wide range of sports. The rise of ‘non-competitive’ sports days in the past ten years has not been beneficial in developing the skills and attitudes required of a potential Olympic participant.

Similarly the haphazard manner in which specific sporting gifts and abilities are recognised and nurtured also leaves much to be desired. Whilst not wishing to see a replica of the systems used in some countries, a programme which provides for early identification of potential stars at primary school could and should be instigated to ensure they do not slip through the net.

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