Scrap compulsory school sport – but not PE

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoicePredictably, because of the Olympics, there has been much discussion recently over funding of sports in the UK – including school PE.

David Cameron caused a fuss because he wants to cut the 2 hours a week of compulsory school PE, stating that Indian Dance is something “you and I probably wouldn’t think of as sport”.

Zoe on a Via Ferrata

Probably not what David Cameron would call “Sport”

It’s called PE. Physical Education – not “Sport”. This is the problem faced by the (And yes, I’m banging my usual drum here) male and pale crowd who probably did well in competitive sports at school – Boris Johnson and John Prescott also waded in on the side of school sport.

But ask on Twitter or elsewhere amongst the type of people in their 30s or older, particularly women, who engage in healthy physical activity and what to you find? Generally people who were put off by being pushed in the mud during school PE and regarded the whole thing as just an excuse for the bigger kids to have a go at the smaller ones. Many people, including myself, only rediscovered physical activity when they were older.

Despite being pretty fit (and I think being able to easily pass British Army fitness tests I can claim that easily) I simply do not like the kind of sports that are taught at school. I run, but I compete only against my own personal best. I climb and do Via Ferratas, but they are not competitive sports at my level. And I ride horses, which is rather more energetic than it sounds. Did you see any overweight riders winning medals in the equestrian events?

My kids are the same. They enjoy outdoor physical activities despite, not because of, school PE.

We need to continue to fund Physical Education at Schools, and make time for it but not on either David Cameron or Boris Johnson’s terms. Indian Dance is exactly the sort of thing we should be getting kids to do. Give people enough of a sampling of different activities that don’t involve having a ball kicked at their head and they’re more likely to find something they like and will carry on with in later life.

But please, not more “Sport”. I hated it, many others did too and we’re putting off the very people that need the most encouragement.


  1. More choice is school PE would be excellent – there are so many types of physical activity out there, and kids are much more likely to find one they enjoy if they don’t just do footy and cricket (disclaimer: I am beyond rubbish at ball sports because I don’t have good enough 3D vision to know where the ball is as well as because I don’t have the physical co-ordination).

    But also more encouragement for kids who are rubbish, more caring and compassion from PE teachers; yes, the very best may well benefit from a strict coach yelling at them that they can do better but that’s not a good way to approach coaxing kids into doing some exercise. More understanding of the way PE can be fun even when you are utter garbage at the activity you are doing. I had the good fortune to have really top notch PE teachers at school and genuine did enjoy a lot of things that I was really really bad at.

  2. Even within the male and pale there’s a distinct population who don’t benefit from team sports; I for one was always one of the bigger boys and so never had the intimidation problem, but my footballing skills were never up to much and the other kids never stopped pointing this out to me, which was the bigger issue.

    I’d argue the biggest single issue with it all is staff resource; my school had plenty of equipment for me to do things I actually wanted to, but I couldn’t actually use any of it until sixth form because until then we needed to be supervised with it and when you’ve got 25-30 kids per PE teacher, chucking them all on one rugby pitch is a far easier option.

  3. I’m not sure what you mean by “male and pale”… is it another way of saying “white men”? If so, I’m unconvinced that it’s a correlative factor. I’m 30, and when I was at school neither being male or being white made people more likely to do well at or enjoy sport in PE – there were sporty boys and sporty girls, of all ethnicities (at least at my first secondary school – the second didn’t have much in the way of varied ethnicity).

    I’m white, and male, and that didn’t feel like it was relevant to my enjoyment of sport at school – I had precious little enjoyment of it. In the mixed classes, I was knocked into the mud as often by girls as by boys.

  4. Oh, I failed to mention, I agree with the general sense of your post entirely. One of the most enjoyable packages of PE I had at schools was when we spent a few weeks at a time on circuit training – spending 30-60 seconds on each exercise, trying to beat your previous count. Intense physical activity, building coordination, fitness, challenging yourself – but much harder to shame or effectively exclude the less able.

    If we want to build teamwork, can’t we do it in less competitive ways? My educationalist hat is showing, but how about promoting genuine collaborative (not just cooperative) learning in school? Most people have to work as a team on a work endeavour far more than they need to do it in a sport.

  5. I totally agree with this sentiment. I hated team sports. I was always the last person chosen when they picked teams. Nothing alienates an already alienated child than be persistently told you’re the last one anyone wants on their team.

    Interestingly I have very good hand eye coordination. This meant any games that involved catching balls, throwing them or hitting them with things I did well. But these tended to not be the sports played at school. At one school hockey was the ‘punishment’ for not getting ready for sports quick enough. Guess who was always late from the changing rooms.

    When I got in to my senior years we were allowed to be more selective with our sports and often left to our own recognisance. So I went swimming and diving and used to catch the bus to the local ice rink with a small group of other students. I also joined a badminton club outside of school. I’m reasonably good at it too.

    Now I’m somewhat older I belly dance, climb occasionally and skate. The problem is not not wanting to do some PE but finding the time. But I know that if I were a child now I would not take kindly to being forced in to a traditional team sport at school. Its not like the sports proposed are the ones we particularly excelled at in the olympics. No we got more golds in non traditional sports.

  6. I personnally hate it but I don’t think I would make it not compulsory I think more choice in the sports I do would be nice, wearing jogging bottoms and not shorts(I have hairy legs…annoying) and also the teachers should be more supportive. I also think football, rugby and other potentially dangerous sports should be scraped, it should only be for peole who enjoy it.

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